Andal is the only female Alvar among the 12 Alvar saints of South India. The Alvar saints are known for their affiliation to the Srivaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Born in 10th Century CE, Andal is credited with the great Tamil works, Thiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi, that are still recited by devotees during the winter festival season of Margazhi. Andal is known for her unwavering devotion to Lord Vishnu, God of the Srivaishnavas.
Andal is believed to have been discovered under a tulasi (holy basil) plant in the temple garden of Srivilliputhur by Periyalvar, one of the most revered saints in Hinduism. The child was named Kodhai. This is popularly thought to mean “a beautiful garland” in Tamil. However, this is unlikely because in ancient times Kodhai was a popular personal name for men as well as women. In the Sangam period, this is evidenced by use of the name, Kodhai, in a Purananuru poem about a Chera king, Ko-k-Kodhai. The name “Kodhai” is often written in Sanskrit as “Goda”. Andal has been accepted as a reincarnation of Bhūmi Devi (Sri Lakshmi, the Earth Goddess).
Aadi Pooram, or Adi Puram, in the Tamil month of Aadi (mid July to mid August) celebrates the birth of Andal who is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Aadi is the fourth month in the Tamil Calendar and Pooram is one of the 27 nakshatrams or stars.
The festival is a major event at the Srirangam Sri Ranganath Temple as it is believed that Andal through her unwavering devotion became the wife of Sri Ranganath (Lord Vishnu). Another major event is the car festival of Sri Andal Temple at Srivilliputtur in Virudhunagar District.
Legend has it that a Vaishnava saint named Periyalwar of Srivilliputtur had no children. He prayed to Sri Ranganatha and Goddess Lakshmi for a child. Pleased with this ardent devotee, Goddess Lakshmi appeared as a child on a field in which Periyalwar was ploughing. Periyalwar gladly accepted this divine gift and this happened on a pooram day in the Aadi month.
Periyalwar continued with his devotion and used to make a garland with Tulsi leaves for Sri Ranganatha. Andal grew up to be a maiden and was in the habit of secretly wearing the Tusli garland meant for Sri Ranganatha. One day Periyalwar found this out and scolded her and took a fresh garland. But the fresh garland fell off from Sri Ranganatha’s neck and it continued so in spite of several attempts by Periyalwar. Finally, Lord Vishnu appeared before Periyalwar and said that he will only wear the garland worn by Andal as she is none other than Goddess Lakshmi.
Andal during her lifetime penned several verses singing the praise of Sri Ranganatha. Thiruppavai and the Nachiyar Thirumozhi are the famous compositions of Andal.
In North India, Radha Rani is celebrated as the “Queen of Bhakti (devotion).” Similarly, in South India Andal is remembered for her pure love and devotion. In the thiruppavai, Andal, as a Gopi in Ayarpadi, emphasizes that the ultimate goal of life is to seek surrender and refuge at the Lord’s feet. Initially, the Gopis ask Krishna for the Parai and other materials needed for fulfilling their vow, which they observe in the month of Marghazhi. But towards the end of the hymn, the request assumes philosophical tones, and their only wish is to serve Lord Vishnu at all times, vividly describing the permanent bond between the Paramatma and the Jivatma. The Gopis view Krishna as the Supreme Brahman (Lord).
Andal extols Krishna’s Paratva, which coexists with His Saulabhya when He is in the midst of devotees. She praises Vamana for saving Indra; how He grew in size as Trivikrama; and how He measured the world with His auspicious feet. As Rama, He went to Lanka to kill Ravana and retrieve Sita. Then, as child Krishna, He saved Himself from the dangers posed by the emissaries of kamsa who came to kill Him. Andal sings about how Krishna protected the entire Vrindavan people from many dangers; and how He saved the Vrindavan from the torrential rains by holding the Govardhana hill as an umbrella at the tip of His little finger.
Marrying the Lord
One of the ancient stories about Andal tells that she dressed herself as a bride, looked in a mirror, and wore a flower garland. Periyalvar, busy in his daily preparations to go to the temple, took that same flower garland to the temple. The temple priest noticed a strand of Kodhai’s hair on one of the garlands and became annoyed that a used flower garland had been offered to the Lord Vishnu. Periyalvar was shocked, and realized that Andal had worn the garland. Meanwhile, Andal was happy thinking that her Lord would have accepted her garland. She grew sad, however, when Periyalvar rebuked her saying that Lord Vishnu had refused to wear the garland.
Later Periyalvar tied together new garlands for Lord Vishnu made up of fresh flowers and took them to the temple. Miraculously, however, the Merciful Lord said that He wanted only the garland which had been worn by Andal. Periyalvar, in complete awe, immediately rushed to his house and brought the garland that Andal had worn (Periyalvar is believed to be an incarnation of Garudan, the vehicle of Lord Sri Vishnu). Thus, it became Periyalvar’s wish that Andal should marry only Lord Sri Vishnu. Andal then told her father about her beautiful dreams in which the Lord came on an elephant to wed her. Andal described how she had composed her dreams into poems such as ‘”Vaaranam Aayiram”.’ The poems describe how Andal and Lord Sri Vishnu got married according to customs and rituals. The bride, Andal, was then taken to the Srirangam temple where she entered the sanctum sanctorum and was ushered into the Lord’s presence.
Periyalvar and others present were wonderstruck on witnessing these events, but the wise Periyalvar remained balanced and the absence of his daughter never disturbed him or broke his heart. As a father, he felt that his daughter was married and sent to her husband’s home.
So, Aadi Pooram is major festival in Vishnu temples. Various incarnations of Goddess Shakti are worshipped on this day. If the festival falls on a Friday it is considered highly auspicious and the festival is celebrated more elaborately with numerous rituals.