(Note: The story about how she got the sobriquet ‘Soodikodutha Sudarkodi‘ (the one who wore the garland and then offered it to the Lord) used to thrill me every time when my maternal Paati/ grandmother used to narrate it. Paati herself was an epitome of bhakti and was it a coincidence that she was also born on Aadipooram and was named Andal? Today, I remember both the Andals with love and gratitude for showing what pure Bhakti is all about.)
Today is Thiruvaadipooram, the thirunakshatram (birth date) of Andal, one among the 12 Alwar saints in Vaishnava tradition. The day is ruled by the Pooram Nakshatram (Tamil) or the Purva Phalguni star which is the 11th among the 27 stars. It is the Tamil month of Aadi (July–August) and is hence known as Aadi Pooram.
The story of Andal’s birth is amazing and her life is a divine inspiration to understand the path of Bhakti. She was ‘born’ in the holy environs of Sri Vattapatrasayi Temple in Srivilliputtur. The story goes something like this. Vishnu Chittar, also known as Periyalwar, was devoted to ‘Vatapatrasayee Sreemannarayana’ – as Lord Vishnu is known as in this temple. He would prepare garlands from the choicest flowers from the temple garden that consisted of jasmines, parijatha, lotus and chamomiles.
One morning as he was strolling in the garden among the thulasi (basil) plants, he found the most beautiful and angelic infant baby girl who lay there calm and cheerful. Vishnu Chittar was astonished to find this baby among the beauty of Nature (Prakriti) and in the house of the Omnipresent force (Purusha). Vishnu Chittar adopted this baby as his own and named her Godadevi (meaning one who is born of the Earth). And thus, this beautiful divine maiden made her advent on the Earth and was considered Ayonija (not born to human parents), just like Sita. The Vaishnava devotees consider her as an incarnation of Mother Earth or Bhudevi and express their respect and salutations to Godadevi in a beautiful Sanskrit shloka:
Pandye visvanbharam Godam
Which translates as: “I bow in salutation to Sreeranganayaki (Andal, the consort of Sreeranganyaka), Godadevi, born in Karakata Lagna of Purvaphalguna Nakshatra of the month of Adi, in the Thulasi garden of Sri Villiputtur of the world-renowned Pandya kingdom”.
Andal composed the Thiruppavai– which is a spiritual odyssey in itself. The stanzas are allegorical in nature and reflects the spiritual seeker’s visionary journey to Vaikuntham (the abode of Lord Vishnu). She also wrote the Nachiyar Thirumozhi, a set of 143 verses.
You can read a short article about her life here written by S. Venkatesh and perhaps I will attempt an account of her life at a later date.
Srivilliputtur: It is no wonder that Srivilliputtur is an important pilgrim centre, because of the Vataparashayanar or Vatapatrasai temple. It is one of the 108 Divyadesam temples which the 12 alwars have sung praises about. Vatapatrasai means the Lord who sleeps on the banyan tree leaf. The vision of the Lord Krishna on a banyan tree was given to Sage Markandeya when the dissolution of the Universe was happening when the sage finds that the entire universe was drowning in the deluge. He feels helpless when suddenly Markandeya spots a little child floating on a banyan leaf on the dangerous torrents, grabbing his lotus-like toe and placing it in his mouth. At the next instant, Markandeya finds himself sucked into the baby’s body and, to his surprise, discovers the whole world, with all its realms, safely tucked inside the child, quite oblivious to the calamity outside.
In mythology, Srivilliputtur is part of Varahakshetra and was ruled by a queen called Malli, who had two sons called Villi and Kandan. The brothers once set out on a hunting sojourn in the Puthur forest, where unknown to Villi, a tiger killed Kandan. Villi kept searching for him and exhausted he lay under a tree, when he got a dream, where the Lord instructed him to build the city. Hence the city got to be known as Villiputhur. The Sri got added after the divine maiden Andal’s birth. It is believed that the sages Bhrigu and Markandeya were saved here from the demon Kalanerai, who would disturb their worship.
Built in the Dravidian style, it is a grand temple and has a tall Raj Gopuram or tower, and a huge reservoir or Pushkarini. Indeed, the Tamil Nadu government has adopted the 32 feet tall tower of Andal-Sreerangamanar- Vatapathrasayi Temple as its emblem. Of the several kings that gave generous endowments to the temple, a special mention has to be made to Thirumalai Nayak of Madurai, who stayed in Srivilliputtur for a while and beautified the town with palaces, temples, tanks and choultries. The temple consists of two separate divisions, the Vatapatrasai in the north-east and the Nachiyar temple in the south-west. In between these two is the Nandavanam (temple garden).
The principal deity in the Nachiyar temple is Andal and Rangamannar (Vishnu). Andal is also known as Ranganayiki or the consort of SriRanganatha of Srirangam. Lord Garuda, who has supposed to have brought Lord Vishnu from Srirangam to Srivilliputtur, is seen next to Lord Vishnu and there is no separate sannidhi for him. He is known as Mapillai Thozhan (or friend of the groom). The thulasi vanam where Andal was discovered has a separate shrine for Vishnu Chittar. Next to the Andal shrine is a two-tiered temple dedicated to Lord Narasimha on the ground floor and Lord Vatapatrasayi in the second floor. The Vatapatrasayi temple has the Lord in a reclining posture.
In some of the Vishnu temples, the male priests dance to the divine music in front of the deity. In the Vatapatrasai temple too, this old tradition is observed known as Arayar Sevai. During the Margazhi season (December- January), the priests perform to the musical verses of Nalayira Divya Prabandham (4000 sacred hymns praising Lord Vishnu).
Thiruvadipuram is the day for celebration here and the temple chariot is taken out during the festivities.
There is another fascinating account of how Sri Ramanujacharya born many centuries later fulfilled a vow that Andal had undertaken but couldn’t fulfill, by making the sweet dish ‘akkaravadisal’, (an Iyengar delicacy), and presented it as prasadam to the Lord. The grateful Andal, thereafter called out to Ramanuja as ‘annale’ (elder brother in Tamil), even though she was born centuries earlier. Saying so, the idol of Andal is supposed to have taken a step forward.
Srivilliputtur is 80 kilometres from Madurai. The milk sweet Palgova is very famous here and the sweet got it’s GI tag (geographical Indication tag) in from the Geographical Indications Registry of India. Srivilliputhur Cooperative Primary Milk Producers Society granted the GI tag to Srivilliputhur Palkova. The Palkova is made from the milk from cows reared in and around Srivilliputtur and have greater fat content.
Timings of the temple: 6 am – 12 noon
4 pm – 9 pm