ANDAL is an incarnation of Sri BHUMI DEVI the Divine Consort of SRIMAN NARAYANA, who took birth on this earth to liberate suffering human beings from worldly bondage. She sang thirty sweet songs, called THIRUPPAVAI containing the cardinal principles of Sri Vaishnava Dharma during the month of MARGAZHI. Singing these songs, with understanding of their inner meaning, will bring to us peace, prosperity and above all Divine Grace. ANDAL, though a Brahmin girl, assumes the guise of a cowherd and yearns for Everlasting Happiness and Service of the Lord. It is the age-old practice of Sri Vaishnavas to sing these stanzas every day of the year in the presence of the Lord in the temple as well as in their homes. This practice assumes special significance during MARGAZHI so much so that each day of this month gets its name from a pasuram. It may appear in the beginning that Andal is intending to perform a particular religious vow to marry the Lord and thereby obtain His Everlasting Company, and that she is inviting all her girl friends to join her. It is only towards the end of TIRUPPAVAI that we learn that she did not actually go to any pond or river or perform a religious rite. She was actually praying for eternal service to the Lord to be granted. It is the Soul's inner craving to redeem itself and to reach His Divine Nearness in order to serve him ("Attaani- cchevagam" as her father PERIYAZHWAR calls it) which forms the real purport of this poem.
Sri Andals story runs thus:
Around 1100 years back, there were 12 alvars who sang many verses in the name of Lord Narayana to show the path of devotion to people. Vishnusitthar was one of them, called as "Periyalvar" by devotees. He was using all his wealth to do service to the Lord in Srivilliputhur Temple. One early morning when he was gardening at his back yard, near a thulasi plant, he found a beautiful box. To his amazement, he opened the box and found a cute, little baby girl who had brightness written all over her. He named her "Kothai". "Ko" refers to earth and "tha" refers to given by.
Kothai had the best childhood, in the midst of "satsang", hearing all good stories on how lord helps people who seek out to him with devotion. Periyalvar used to make a floral garland every day and offer it to lord. Kothai, grown up to a teenage girl by now, was so attracted by the beauty of the garland that she used to wear the garland, look in the mirror and remove it. One day while she was doing this, Periyalvar came into the house. Shocked at his daughters action, he cried before the Lord to forgive him and her daughter, made another garland and offered it to Lord. That night the Lord came in dreams of Periyalvar and asked him as to why the garland offered did not have any fragrance? Lord himself answered by explaining the divinity of Kothai and asked Periyalvar to offer the garland only after she wears it. She was also named "Andal" from that day. Since Kothai mesmerised the lord himself by her devotion, she was named "Andal" (meaning one who ruled).
Andal spent all her time thinking of the Lord and singing in his name. As an unmarried girl with a desire to reach lord, she undertook fasting in the month of Margazhi and sang sang 30 verses in praise of the Lord and these verses were called "Thiruppavai". On reaching the marriageable age, Andal told her father that she will marry only the Lord. One day, Lord Sri Ranganthan came in Periyalvars dreams and asked for Andal to be married to him. When Periyalvar and Andal reached Sri Rangam and had the darshan of Lord Sri Ranganatha, Andal walked towards the lord, with full devotion and disappeared at the feet of the Lord.
Goddess Andal believed that the way to experience the Divine is straight-forward requires only a pure heart and mind, devotion to Lord, or in other words, "Bhakti".
(extracted from contribution by Sri S. Venugopal; compiled by S. Swaminathan)
ARUDHRA - 02-01-1999
This festival is observed in the month of Margasirsha (December/January), when the star Arudhra holds sway. The occasion is especially favourable to propitiate the dancing aspect of Lord Siva (Nataraja). It is believed that Arudhra in the constellation of Orion can pour such magnetic forces into the bodies that will bum all dross and retain only pure gold. The star going by the name Arudhra has for its presiding deity Rudhra, symbolising an aspect of the destructive force in the universe. Hence, worshipping Nataraja is considered sacred for purifying lower and coarser emotions.
The story of Nanda who is said to have merged with Lord on this day is as follows:
There was a wealthy Brahmin in a village called Adhanur, under whom Nanda, an untouchable was working. He had an ardent desire to visit the Chidambaram Temple to have the Dharsan of Lord Nataraja but the Brahmin ridiculed him, being a low caste and Chidambarain was inaccessible even to the great saints. However, finally the Brahmin in order to get rid of his importunities, gave him permission to go, but only after cultivating his vast lands before the Arudhra festival day, which by any means was an impossible task. But due to the Lord's miracle Nanda got all his tasks done overnight. The Brahmin then realised the greatness of Nanda and sent him to Chidambaram, seeking his forgiveness. At Chidambaram, Nanda got himself purified in the fire and merged with Lord Nataraja as a brilliant light.
There is a custom of preparing a Neivedyarn called "Kali". The myth deriving the origin of this custom is as follows: Once there lived a great devotee of Lord Nataraja called Sendanar. He was imprisoned by the King for no fault of his but due to the devotion and faith of his wife to her husband's teacher called Pattinathar, at whose prayer, Lord Vigneswara at once restored Sendanar to his wife in a miraculous manner from the prison. Sendanar was then directed to go to Chidambaram, earn his livelihood by selling twigs for fuel and to feed one devotee of Lord Siva everyday out of his earnings. He did this for a long time. But one day, (which happened to be Arudhra day) due to heavy downpour, his twigs were so wet that he could not sell any of them. However, he was able to exchange this for a pack of flour, prepared a simple preparation called "Kali and offered the same to an aged Brahmin, who disappeared with a quantity of Kali which was subsequently found strewn in the Temple which was picked by devotees and eaten as Prasadarn. The custom of preparing Kali on the Arudhra day is said to have arisen since then.
Although this festival is observed all over, Chidambaram is considered sacred and important. The other places held sacred for worship of Lord Nataraja are:- Tiruvalangadu near Madras, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Kuttalam near Tenkasi and Perur near Coimbatore.
On this day, let us pray and obtain the blessings of Lord Nataraja.