Andal’s Tiruppavai – Music of the Bhakthi Saints


Krishna the cowherd in watercolour- I painted this years back

Gopala Gopala Gopi Vallabha Gopala
Govinda Govinda Rasa Leela Govinda

The Bhakthi movement refers to the spiritual movement initiated by the Shaivite and Vaishnavite saints of India in the seventh century. From espousing the dualism of Dvaita Vedanta to the monoism of Advaita Vedanta, the Bhakthi saints brought a transformation in the spiritual growth of the country. Many of them spread their message through the form of devotional hymns – bhajans, abhangs, vachanas, dohas which the common man could easily relate to. I will be writing a series of posts tracing the path of Bhakhi saints across India and their musical contributions.

We begin with Andal, the female Alwar saint and her work – the Tiruppavai also referred to as paasurams. The twelve Alwars who were believed to have lived from 5th to 10th century CE were part of the Srivaishnava tradition of Tamil Nadu in southern India. They devoted their lives to the worship of the Hindu God Vishnu and his 8th avatar (incarnation) Krishna.  The 4000 hymns composed by these saints are referred to as the Naalayiram Divya Prabandhams.

Andal was the only female among the Alwar saints. Her hymns known as Tiruppavai are in the form of  octets and specially sung by devotees in the month of Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January in the English calendar). Andal was adopted by the Alwar saint Periyalvar as a baby when he discovered her lying under the Tulasi plant in a garden at Srivilliputhur. She is also referred to as Godhai and Nachiyar. Apart from the Tiruppavai,, Andal also composed the Nachiyar Tirumozhi, a set of 143 verses praising Lord Krishna.

The Tiruppavai is distinct for the intense piety and simplicity of thought reflected in the lyrics. It is often believed to be the essence of the Vedas. In the Tiruppavai, Andal speaks of how total surrender of oneself and continuous service at the Lord’s feet would lead to  moksha (liberation from cycle of rebirth).

Here is a rendition of the ninth Tiruppavai in raga Hamir Kalyani by the maestro Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

The last Tiruppavai lists the advantages accrued by devotees who sing all the thirty paasurams with piety in the month of margazhi. Here is a rendition of the tiruppavai sung by M.L.Vasanthakumari in raga Surutti.


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