Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
What is the hallmark of a devotee? You may come up with any number of answers– like constant adoration of the Lord and Master, singing His praises, performing all sorts of service to Him prompted by overwhelming love and affection, etc. All these are no doubt important elements of devotion, but there is one more, which Bhaktas normally resort to, to remind them constantly of their Lord—viz., adopting His name as their own. They prefer to be called by any one of the innumerable holy names of the Lord, so that it reminds them of Him and His glory, every time others call them by name. Just as pots and pans in a household are often branded with the owner’s name to indicate whom they belong to, we too are named after the Lord, to proclaim the inalienable and eternal relationship we have with Him, of Master and Slave, of Seshi and Sesha. It is thus that we have a Ramanuja, a Venkatanatha, an Azhagia Manavaala Perumaal Naayanaar, et al.
In sharp contrast to this haloed practice, one devotee (and no ordinary one at that) has been named the “Conqueror”. Going by the depth of dedication, attachment, love and immeasurable affection this devotee has exhibited for the Lord, one would expect this person to have adopted a name signifying undying devotion to the Supreme Being Sriman Narayana. However, belying our expectations, we find this devotee being called, rather surprisingly, as a “Conqueror”.
The haloed name of Sri Andal is on everyone’s lips, at least during the month of Margazhi. Temples and homes resound with the sweet strains of Her Tiruppavai, discourses galore are delivered on the apparent and esoteric purports of this incredibly sweet composition, competitions are conducted for children in reciting the thirty verses and so on. So much importance is attached to Andal’s outpourings, that one worthy goes to the extent of saying that those who know not these verses are but a mere drag on this planet—”Kodai tamizh iyyaindum iyndum ariyaada maanidarai vaiyyam sumappadum vambu”.
We come across the strange phenomenon of a lady holding court in the elite male club of Azhwars. What is stranger is that while the others are “Azhwars” (meaning those immersed in divine experience), this Lady is “Andal” (one who conquered or ruled). What a contrast—a subjugator rubbing shoulders with those who have been thoroughly vanquished by the Lord! Azhwars admit to being comprehensively won over by Emperuman-
“Tottrom mada nenjam Emperuman Naaranarkku” says Sri Nammazhwar, admitting to defeat at the hands of the Supreme Being. “Jitante Pundareekaaksha!” exclaim the Maharshis of the Sveta Dveepam, describing how they have been won over by the lotus-eyed Lord. Amidst all these accounts of abject defeat at the hands of the Lord, we have too an “Andal”, whose very name indicates a Victor, a Ruler, a Conqueror beyond compare. What could be the reason for this rather unsuitable name for a devotee who immersed Herself more in Krishnaanubhavam than perhaps any of the other Azhwars? Let’s see how meaningful this sobriquet is.
1. Sri Kodai Naacchiyaar is indeed “Andal”, because She comprehensively won over the Lord Himself. The uncontrollably independent Supreme Being loses all His sovereignty before Goda Devi, asserts Swami Desikan in Goda Stuti. And such loss of independence is caused not by any strenuous effort by Andal, but through a mere flick of Her eyebrows. The Lord, whose duty it is to award appropriate punishment to mortals for their innumerable errors of commission and omission, loses the will to do so, quelled by a mere glance of Goda Devi, who intercedes on our behalf and saves us from certain Hell. Here is the beautiful slokam from Goda Stuti, for your enjoyment—
“Gode! gunai: apanayan pranata aparaadhaan
bhrookshepa eva tava bhoga rasa anukoola:
karma anubandhi phala daana ratasya bhartu:
svaatantrya durvyasana marma bhidaa nidhaanam”
Swami Desikan goes to the extent of saying that Sri Periazhwar was able to obtain the Poorna anugraham of the Lord, only after he started adorning Him with garlands made more fragrant by association with Sri Andal’s hair.
2. Andal triumphs over not only the Supreme Lord, but over ignorant mortals like us too. She wins over even our stony hearts, through Her simple but nectarine outpourings, which appeal to the scholar and student alike. She wins us over by the irresistible charm of Tiruppavai, which sits sweet on our lips, whether sung or recited, with or without devotion. Incredibly hard indeed would be the heart, which can remain unmoved by these poignant pastoral verses!
3. Andal’s mastery and control extends over Nature too—She attained rare mental maturity at an extremely early age, deeming the Lord to be Her all – “unnum soru, parugum neer, tinnum vettrilai ellaam Kannan Emperuman”. When many of us still find it difficult to spare even a concentrated glance for the Lord even at the mature age of fifty or sixty, we find this young Lady conquering human nature comprehensively and devoting Herself to the Lord, even before entering Her teens. “Pinjaai pazhutthaal” is how Sri Mamunigal describes this lady, indicating the incredible maturity She attained at an age when children would still be playing with dolls.
4. In an endearing display of extreme affection and love, Andal reverses the role of Master and Slave subsisting between ourselves and the Lord. Normally, it is we who consider it our good fortune to be favoured with garlands and cloth worn by the Lord and wear them with pleasure. “Udutthu kalainda nin peetaka aadai, uduttu kalattha tundu, toduttha tuzhaai malar soodi kalaindana soodum it tondargalom” says Sri Periyazhwar, pointing out the devotee’s delight in wearing flowers and clothes cast off by the Lord. However, in the case of Sri Andal, it was Emperuman who sought out the garlands and upper cloth worn by Goda Devi and wore them with much relish. In fact, Sri Vatapatrasaayee of SriVilliputtur refused to wear garlands, unless they were made fragrant by association with Andal, bestowing on Her the sobriquet, “Choodi koduttha Sudar Kodi”.
Sri Ranganatha accepts the flowers already worn by Andal, with a bowed head, considering it a singular honour to be favoured thus, says Swami Desikan—”dhatte natena shirasaa tava mouli maalaam”.
5. Andal ruled over the lands and hearts of the residents of Malli Naadu, according to another Acharya—”Malli naadu aanda mada mayil”
Considering all these, is it any wonder that Sri Kodai Nachiyar goes by the sobriquet “Andal”? Having demonstrated Her indisputable control over mere mortals, Acharyas and over the Lord Himself, could there be a better name for this Divine Bride, than that of “Conqueror”?
Srimate Sri LakshmINrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore