The Story Of Aandal
Aandal was the only woman saint among the Azhwars, the Vaishnavite poet saints of South India. Azhwar literally meant “immersed“ in the love of the lord. The 12 Azhwars were, along with the 63 Nayanmars (devotees of Lord Shiva) responsible for reviving the “Bhakthi” movement in Southern India.
Taken a vow of celibacy, Vishnuchittar dedicated his life to the services of Lord Narayana at the temple in Srivilliputhur.
He got up early in the morning dutifully and after taking a dip in a nearby pond, would rush to gardens to collect fresh flowers weaving them into a garland for the Lord. He would do this with great devotion and while doing this he would recite hymns for the Lord.
Once the garland is ready he would take that to the temple of Lord Narayana, known there as Vada-Pathira-Saayee Perumal. The chief priest there would adorn the garland woven by Vishnuchittar to the Lord.
After worshipping the Lord adorned with his garland, he would move away to go home to have something to eat. He always say to himself, ‘if I have some money, I would renovate this temple’. A destitute like him can only wish.
King Vallabha Deva Pandiya who was ruling from Madurai had some doubts about spirituality. He was seeking answers to his spiritual doubts but none who came forward was not giving the explanation to his satisfaction and the announced rewards were sitting without any recipient.
One night, Lord appeared in the dream of Vishnuchittar and told him to go to the king and clear his doubts.
Vishnuchittar was not a learned person and was a simple devotee whose only skill would be to weave garlands and so he had self-doubts of his ability to talk on such deep subjects. However, he could not disobey the Lord and so went to the court to see the King.
To his utter surprise, words flowed out of his mouth like a spring and he cleared all spiritual doubts of the king, much to his joy. The king rewarded him well and sent him home with honor.
Vishnuchittar spent all the rewards to renovate the temple of the Lord.
One day, as usual, Vishnuchittar went out on his early morning round of collecting flowers for making the garland. To his surprise, he found a beautiful baby girl under a Tulasi plant.
Vishnuchittar who was living all alone himself didn’t know what to do with the baby. Picking it up, he ran here and there to investigate if anyone left it there to answer the call of nature of the morning or to take a dip in the nearby pond.
None was nearby and later the village elders whom he ran with the baby for advice, suggested to him it is a gift of god and to raise it himself.
Vishnuchittar did not have a family of his own and lived alone himself, had taken the baby home and named her “Kothai”. He became the father, mother, and all for the baby and brought her up with great love, and Kothai grew hearing the beautiful divine stories of Krishna and Rama, so much so that the little girl was constantly thinking of only the Lord.
The girl was growing fast and Vishnuchittar was happy that he has someone near and dear.
One morning, as was usual, her father had made the garland for the Lord and had gone out leaving the garland. When Kothai glanced at the garland, she has seen that many times before but today a strange desire to wear the garland arose in her.
The offering to the Lord is generally very sacred and no one would dare to even imagine using something which is to be offered to the Lord.
But little Kothai was an exception. “Let me see how I look with this garland,” thought she. She would have been all of five or six years then.
In a flash, she picked up the garland and wore it around her neck, with the long garland reaching the ground. She admired herself in the mirror there and kept it back as soon as she heard her father coming in.
“Kothai, I am off to the temple, back soon and take care,” said Vishnuchittar leaving with the garland, blissfully unaware that the garland had been ‘used’ by his own daughter. The garland then adorned the Lord.
Kothai continued this every day, secretly wearing the garland and admiring herself in the mirror and then the same garland went to the Lord VadaPathiraSaayee.
One day the Lord decided to make public the devotion of child Kothai to the world.
That particular day, when the garland was handed over by Vishnuchittar to the priest for decorating the Lord, there was a strand of human hair sticking to the flowers. On seeing this, the priest got furious and scolded Vishnuchittar.
“What an unholy thing is this!” he thundered. “How come there is a hair in the garland? Do you not know that only the purest of things are offered to the Lord? Take this back!”
Saying thus, he flung the garland back into the hands of Vishnuchittar who was trembling with shame and embarrassment. He, a skillful garland weaver, could not figure out how a hair could have got into the garland when he was taking so much care to weave it.
With a heavy heart, he walked back to his home, mentally tired of the shock and shame he had faced in the temple.
That night, Vishnuchittar could not sleep. He could not figure out where a long hair could attach itself to this garland he made with so much devotion and care. His questions had no answer and he spent the night with not a wink.
In the morning, as usual, he collected the flowers and made them into a beautiful garland. He took care that no hairs are in it like the previous day.
That day too, he left the garland and went out but came back almost immediately when the sight he saw shocked him. The little Kothai was wearing the garland and admiring her beauty in the mirror.
“Kothai!” he cried out aloud, much to the shock of the little girl who was taken aback on seeing her father see her wearing the garland.
“Oh my god, what an unholy act! What can I do now?” Vishnuchittar lamented beating himself on his forehead.
“I have committed a grave sin! There is no recourse for me! Narayana! Narayana” he became hysterical.
Kothai, unable to watch her father lament thus started to cry.
Vishnuchittar was in no mood to pacify the crying little girl. He threw away the garland and rushed away and plucked fresh flowers again and made a new garland hurriedly and ran to the temple before the auspicious time ends.
That night Vishnuchittar went to sleep disturbed. Lord Narayana appeared in his dream.
“Why have you discarded the garland worn by Kothai?” demanded he. “You only saw her wearing the garland today, but, you were unaware that I was happily wearing the garland worn by her for a long time”. “ I will continue to wear only the garland worn by her as it contains the scent of her pure devotion. Please do as I wish!”. Saying this the Lord disappeared.
Vishnuchittar woke up with a surprise and looked around and the little girl was still crying without sleep. He went near her and pacified her and told her of his dream. The reddish eyes of the little girl showed refreshing surprise and from the next day onwards she continued what she was doing in secrecy.
She was then on known as, ‘Soodik Kodutha Sudar Vizhliyal’. (the girl with the bright eyes who worn (the garland) and gave out (to the Lord)
As she grew up, Vishnuchittar was worried about her marriage and that he should find a good groom for her. Andal, on the other hand, had her mind transfixed on Lord Krishna who was Narayana himself, whom only she saw as her bridegroom. Her father had told her stories of Lord Krishna’s plays and his teasing of young girls when he was young.
“I am the bride to the Lord!”, much to the surprise of all, she declared, “I will marry only Lord Krishna!”.
She was thinking of the Lord and praying to him every day to request him to take her as his bride.
Every morning in the month of Margazhi, she would wake her friends up and after having a bath in the cold waters, go about singing the praise of Lord Krishna through hymns known as “Tiruppavai” which was composed by her.
She urged the other friends of hers also to pray to Lord Krishna in the month of Margazhi to get a good bridegroom which even today many girls do.
Vishnuchittar was getting more and more worried about the future of Kothai as he, as a grown-up adult, knew of the impracticality of his daughter marrying the Lord.
One day, Lord Ranganatha whose abode is Srirangam, appeared in the dream of Vishnuchittar and expressed his desire to marry Kothai. He instructed Vishnuchittar to bring Kothai to Srirangam bedecked as a bride where he would accept her as his wife.
Vishnuchittar, who was elated, at this dream of his, conveyed this to his patron and friend King Vallabha Deva Pandya who made all arrangements for Kothai to be brought in a palanquin bedecked in all bridal finery, accompanied by an array of elephants and horses which was a symbol of status, along with a lot of gifts for the Lord.
All the people of Srivillipithur were overjoyed to see the happenings to their darling Kothai and accompanied her with her father to Srirangam which is about 250 kilometers from Srivilliputhur.
The bride’s procession reached the temple of Srirangam and no sooner Kothai got out of her Palanquin, she rushed to the Sanctum Sanctorum of Sri Ranganatha followed by her father and all others. The moment she saw her Lord, she ran into the inner precincts of the Sanctum and there was a flash and Kothai had merged with the Lord Ranganatha body and soul!
All the people were spellbound by the miracle that happened in front of their eyes. Vishnuchittar was tearful, sad at the thought of losing his dear daughter at the same time extremely happy that his daughter had been accepted by the Lord as his consort.
Andal had become the Goddess.
Sri Ranga with Luxmi and Aandal
Kothai is said to have been about fifteen years old when she merged with the Lord. Early marriages were the order of the day in ancient India,
Apart from Tiruppavai, Andal had composed ‘Nachiyar Tirumozhi,’ a set of 143 verses. Even this day, Tiruppavai is chanted with great zeal and fervor this month of Margazhi early in the mornings in all Vishnu temples and by the public in general.
Vishnuchittar was himself known as Periyazhwar (elder Azhar) and it is interesting to note that he had sung verses to bless the Lord to live long!!! He had this privilege as the Lord was his son-in-law!!
An interesting thing is that the Tamilnadu Government has the tower (Gopuram) of the temple of Srivilliputhur as its logo!!