Andal
(c. ninth century C.E.)
   Andal was the only woman among the ALVARS, the 12 Tamil Vaishnavite saints.
   There are no reliable historical data on Andal, only two hagiographies. Tradition says she was born in Srivilliputtur in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Her father, Vishnucitta, who was also a saint under the name Periyalvar, is said to have found her as an infant girl while he was hoeing his sacred basil (basil or TULSI is sacred to VISHNU). The infant was recognized as an incarna-tion of Bhudevi, the goddess of the Earth, who is consort and wife of VISHNU and a form of sri.
   Andal’s father raised her as though she were Sri herself. As a young girl, when her father was absent, she would dress up as a bride and put on the garland her father had set aside to be offered to the Lord Vishnu. Any handling of PUJA flow-ers ordinarily makes them unfit for offering, and when her father discovered her doing this, he was very upset. He put the flowers aside and did his puja without the garland. That night Vishnu appeared to Periyalvar in a dream, saying that Andal’s wearing of the garland had increased its desirability to him.
   After this time Andal became even more focused on worship of Vishnu. She refused ordinary marriage, wishing only to be a bride of Vishnu. She composed Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirmoli, two poetic works in devotion to Vishnu. Not knowing which form of Vishnu his daughter was obsessed with, Periyalvar sang songs to each of the 108 manifestations of the Lord in various places. Andal responded to the song to the Lord of SRIRANGAM, the most prominent South Indian Vaishnavite (see VAISHNAVISM) shrine. Once again, in a dream, Vishnu appeared to Peri-yalvar and said that he would accept Andal as his bride. It is said that Vishnu himself arranged for Andal to be taken from Srivilliputtur to Srirangam with a fabulous marriage party. When she arrived at the shrine she approached the reclining image of Vishnu there and disappeared into his image, never to be seen again.
   Both of Andal’s short poems, which are included in the Tamil Vaishnavite sacred text Nalayira Divya Prabandhan, use Tamil motifs to praise Vishnu. Her Nacciyar Tirumoli focuses particularly on Vishnu’s forms as Krishna and Venkatanatha (see TIRUPATI). The sixth hymn of Nacciyar Tirumoli, which reenacts all the marriage rites, is recited at all Vaishnavite weddings in South India.
   Further reading: S. M. S. Chari, Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Alvars (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997); Norman Cutler, Consider Our Vows: An English Translation of Tiruppavai and Tiruvempavai (Madurai: Muthu Patippakam, 1979); Vidya Dehejia, Antal and Her Path of Love: Poems of a Woman Saint from South India (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990); Alkondavilli Govindacharya, The Holy Lives of the Azhvars or the Dravida Saints (Bombay: Ananthacha-rya Indological Research Institute, 1982).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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