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Used In Worship

Tiruppavai (the Holy vow), Andal’s celebrated work, is used in daily worship during Maghshar (December-January). In this work she imagines herself to be Goda, one of the gopis of Vrindavan. She imagines her town to be Gokul and Vatapatrasayi Mandir as Nandagopa’s palace. In 30 verses she exhorts maidens to perform the Katyayani vrat. In olden days the gopis used to perform this vrat as a prayer to have Krishna as their husband. It was also observed to get good rains. Nowadays, girls perform this vrat while praying for a good husband. Andal races through the streets, lanes and bylanes of Srivilliputtur waking up her friends. The purpose of her vrat is to pray to Krishna to become her husband. She imagines that she and her companions are in Vrindavan. Her companions thus become the gopis of Vrajamandal. The reason for waking them up in the morning is so that they could all go to the Yamuna for bathing. These songs are sung during the vrat. According to tradition, the elders of Vrindavan locked up their girls in rooms as they disliked the idea of their meeting Krishna. But they were set free to perform the vrat which, among other things, prevented drought. The classic brings out the fact that worshipping Krishna should not be treated as a personal affair between him and his devotee but should be participatory in nature that is why the Katyayani vrat is chosen as the occasion.

When Goda came of marriageable age, Vishnuchitta was greatly worried. The girl had to be married. But how was the question. He was a man of limited means, and finding a match would be ex-tremely difficult. He did not reckon with the higher forces that were at work in this matter. But who would like to give his son in marriage into an ordinary family? Vishnuchitta was indeed perplexed. He was weighing the pros and cons like an ordinary father. He had to find a husband for his adopted daughter to keep off the idle sneers of the world. So, one day he asked Goda, “Whom would you like to marry?” She replied, “The Lord of Sriranga Kshestra. I shall marry no one else, except Sriranganatha.” The answer, which delighted the father, showed the extent of love the would-be bride bore for Bhagwan. But it introduced a new dimension to the matrimonial issue. The father was finding it difficult to find a mortal bridegroom for his daughter, and now the daughter is demanding the hand of Ranganatha himself. It is said that Goda performed the Katyayani vrat on the advice of her father when she expressed the desire to marry Ranganatha (the Lord).

God's Role

Meanwhile, God himself took a hand in the affair. He appeared to Vishnuchitta and the priest of Srirangam Mandir in a dream and told them he wanted to marry Goda. Vishnuchitta’s worries were over. His prayers had been answered. The devout Goda succeeded in finding a husband for herself. Vishnuchitta was thinking how to go to Srirangam as it was quite distant. He appealed to Vallabhadeva for help. The king made all arrangements for the wedding and led the bride’s party from Srivilliputtur to Srirangam with all pomp and pageantry, caparisoned elephants, horses, etc. Andal was decked out in her bridal best. When she was led into the Mandir and came face to face with Ranganatha, legend has it that she miraculously united with the murti of the recumbent God. She was sixteen when this miracle happened. This is the ultimate in devotion and supreme example of personal love. We have in this a parallel of Mira uniting with her Gopal at Dwarka.

Now let us return to the Katyayani vrat preparations. In the poem, when Andal reaches Nanda’s palace she finds all the principal characters – Krishna, Balaram, etc. – fast asleep. She had to wake up Krishna so that he could participate in the celebrations. That being of paramount importance she enlists the support of Niladevi, one of Krishna’s consorts. Other consorts like Rohini and Satyabhama do not figure in the poem. As if to explain their absence, Andal establishes a bond with Niladevi by calling the consort her uncle’s daughter. Niladevi on her part promises to do everything in her power to wake Krishna up. At first, no amount of cajoling succeeds. Finally, Krishna is woken up.

Invitation To Girls

Goda adapted the episodes described in the Bhagavata in her narrative. Briefly stated, the first five verses are introductory in nature. In them she invites the girls to participate in the Katyayani vrat. They are exhorted to obtain from Krishna the drum which symbolizes union with him and to bathe in the Yamuna. She then narrates to her companions the difficulties in performing the vrat. Various restrictions and prohibitions are described. These are set off against the benefits that accrue from the observance of the vows, however difficult they might be. The rain god is also invoked for good rains so that people can reap a plentiful harvest.

The maidens are still sleeping and they have to be woken up. Verses 6 to 15 deal with this.

Goda asks them not to be lazy. After collecting the entire group she imagines she was going to the palace of Nandagopa. After waking up Nanda, Yashoda, Balarama and Niladevi, Krishna is woken up. These developments are narrated in verses 16 to 20.

The last ten verses express total surrender to Krishna after erasing the sense of I-ness and mine-ness. In the 29th verse the maidens say they are looking for any material symbols to signify their love for Krishna. Now the vow is about to be fulfilled and the girls prepare to deck themselves in their best and prepare to enjoy a feast.

In the last verse Goda sets out the advantages of reading the poem and the fruits that flow from it.

In one of the earlier verses before Krishna is woken up he is invoked thus: “O son of him who is blessed with countless generous cows, showering milk that overflows the vessels placed under their udders, wake up. O the firm One, the protector of those who seek refuge in you, and the effulgent, shining all over the universe, wake up. In the same way as your enemies, overcome by your prowess, have come to your doorstep, to bow down at your feet, losing their strength and pride, we have come to you, to glorify your feet and pronounce benediction.”

This is a prayer of Goda to Krishna: “O Lord, you, born as the son of another lady and you grew with her in concealment. As you grew up, frustrating Kamsa’s evil plans, he could not bear it and you became as fire in his stomach. We have come praying to you, who are madly in love with those who seek you. If you would give us what we want (the drum), we shall ever sing your glory, that is worthy of goddess Lakshmi, and your might. With our sorrows dispelled, we shall rejoice.”

Another prabandham emphasizes the prowess of Krishna who killed several demons like the horse demon, Kesi, and wrestlers Mustika and Chanura, sent by his uncle Kamsa. The same prabandham also stresses the importance of group effort in worshipping God however exalted a position one may have attained:

“We have kept back the other girls who were proceeding to the ritual and we are standing here to call you. O lady of intense longing. Get up! If we sing, to the accompaniment of the drum, about the God of gods, who slew the demon (by splitting his mouth) and the champion wrestlers, and worship him, surely he will take pity on us, enquire about us and shower his grace on us.”

It is quite clear that Goda and her companions are more interested in meeting Krishna and they use the vrat only as an excuse. Their request for implements is a part of the plan, as the articles are always with Krishna. Their intention was to serve Krishna permanently by giving up all other wishes. They pray to the Lord to bless them.

Andal and the other Alvars promoted madhur bhav (bridal mysticism) in their compositions. Goda considered herself to be the bride of Krishna. The Vaishnava tradition considers each Alvar to be an article or person connected with Vishnu. Thus Vishnavnuchitta is the vehicle of Vishnu and Andal is Bhudevi (consort of Vishnu). 

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