Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Margazhi, Andal, Thirupaavai - Why is it so special for South Indians ?

Thirupaavai. I am not a big expert in music. But if somebody asked me to name the best I have heard in this art form, I would name M.L. Vasanthakumari's rendition of Thirupaavai without hesitation. Come mid-December and Suprabhatham takes a vacation for 1 month. Suprabhatham and Thirupaavai operate in mutual exclusion mode, with the latter taking sole control of the Maargazhi mornings(Margazhi is a month in Tamil Calander that goes from Dec 15 - Jan 15). Since childhood, I have woken up to this enchanting music. For a long-time though I didn't know the marzhaai- thirupaavi connection and asked my mom to play "that music" which she occasionally played during the year. If you are unfamiliar with South India then this month is one of the distinguishing features of S.India. Temples are literally hyper-active this time of the year with morning rituals starting at 4:00 AM. Everyday of this month is totally special. With this being music season and all - If you want to talk my grandma' in Chennai - you'd find it hard to get an appointment.

Thirupaavai along with Naachiyar thirumozhi are composed by Andal. It contains verses that reflect what is now being popularly called as "bridal mystism". These are verses which depict a women's dreams, expectation and love for her (would be) husband. In fact in some Vaishnavaite weddings, the bride is dressed in Andal's attire (with a side pointing kondai hair style) during the Mangalya Dharanam stages. So what is the story behind Thirupaavai. Let me tell you. I have heard this story narrated to me many times, read about it a lot. So let me narrate it in my own words ( and in the process hugely borrowing from everybody).

Sri Vishnuchittar, popularly known as PeriAzhwar, performed daily puja for Lord. Ranganatha of Srivalliputhur. On the Tamizh month of Aadi (July15 - Aug15) and on the day of the Puram star ( There are 27 stars every month - adi puram occurs during the first week of August) while PeriAzhwar was plucking flowers in his garden required for his daily puja, he noticed a girl child in his garden. As a childless person, PeriAzhwar took this to be a blessing, named the girl Kothai. Many years passed by. PeriAzhwar had the habit of plucking Tulasi leaves and making a Tulasi Garland to be offered to the Lord. One fine morning, he saw Kothai wearing the garland he had kept for the Lord. Enraged, he scolded her for the sacrilege and prepared a new garland for the Lord. That night Sri Ranganatha appeared in PeriAzhwars dreams and conveyed that he only wanted the Garland worn by Kothai, because she was Bhooma Devi herself. Kothai also came to be known as "Choodi Kodutha Naachiyar" as a result of this.

At an early age, she began to believe that Lord. Krishna was her husband. So when she grew up, she refused to consider marriage proposals. She expressed a desire to marry none other than Lord. Ranganatha. She in fact wore the Tulasi garland because she thought she was the Lord's bride. She composed her dreams about marriage into 143 verses of poems, which came to be called Naachiyar Thirumozhi. The verses reflected an intense love for the Lord and a desire to marry the ideal husband. Andal's story culminates after she composes Naachiyar Tirumozhi. She derives the name "Andal" because she conquered the Lord through her love and devotion. So Sri Ranganatha of Srirangam appears in PeriAzhwar's dream and commands him to bring Andal to Srirangam. Andal's story ends when she merges with the Lord in Sri Rangam.

Nappinnai, Kothai or Andal, as she is popularly known, is the only woman among the 12 Alwars. Regarded as an incarnation of Bhooma Devi, she composed 173 of 4000 Divya Prabhandams composed by Alwars. 30 of the 173 verses are called as Thirupaavai and the other 143 verses are called Naachiyar Thirumozhi. Ramanuja who codified the use of Divya Prabhandams in temples and a man's daily life also standardized the puja procedures in Vaishnavaite temples. Thereby most temples do the same thing every day and follow a fairly standard procedure. While Naachiyar Thirumozhi is used during marriage rituals, the 30 verses of Thirupaavai are spread out and sung on the 30 days of Margazhi with 1 verse everyday. Thirupaavai is an important Sri Vaishnava composition, re-enforcing the fundametals of Vaishnava philosphy. The last two verses of it also form part of the daily Thiru-aradhana in the mornings.

Some of the media commentaries found on Thirupaavai is as follows. Prema Nanda Kumar talks about "Dawn Ritual" and says

Among the living traditions of India's ancient culture, the Pavai Nonbu has an endless fascination about it. It is astonishing that a rite which goes back by two millennia and more is still adhered to by eager practitioners with a rare sense of prayerful dedication

and also goes on to say
As the month of Margasirsa (December-January) reverberates with early morning recitations and special offerings in temples, serial lectures by eminent scholars and soul-enthralling dance and music performances on the stage, Tiruppavai retains its mystery when one tries to explain the verses. For each verse is a solid mandala by itself while it remains an inalienable part of the
whole. Like Indra's necklace of pearls, each pearl reflecting all the rest, in Tiruppavai each verse relates to all the other 29 paasurams. One or many, it is nothing but Ananda, the sheer Delight of existence which is the ambience of the Pavai Nonbu.
SudhaKrishna Rangasami also has an excellent piece in the Hindu on Margazhi.
Come December, Chennai metamorphoses into a happening metropolis on the tourism map with homesick NRIs and rasikas from all over the country descending on the city to soak in the ambience of its centuries-old cultural tradition. The month-long extravaganza — kalakshepam, upanyasam, harikatha, namasankeertam apart form the kutcheries — has something to whet the appetite of every cultural aficionado, young and old. The music season runs in tandem with the Tamil month of Margazhi
she also mentions, Velakudi Krishnan who has become my first and favorite commentators on religion/philosophy.

Another distinction that the `Tiruppavai' has is in the extensive commentaries that have been written on it. Hagiographical accounts recount that Ramanuja held this hymn in very high esteem (he was known as Tiruppavai Jeeyar). It is the time of the year to relive this spiritual experience by listening to discourses on the Tiruppavai. They are being held at: the city centre of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (M. V. Ananthapadmanabhachariar), Bharat Kalachar (Velukkudi V. Krishnan), Narada Gana Sabha (Kalyanapuram R. Aravamudachariar) and Sri Tyaga Brahma Gana Sabha (Sudha Seshaiyyan).

There is another interesting element to Thirupaavai. As U.Ve.E.S. Bhuvarahachariar Swamy comments
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 Thiruppavai that we learn that she did not actually go to any pond or river or perform a religious rite; She is actually praying to be granted the service of the Lord for all eternity. 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 PeriyaAzhwar calls it) which forms the real purport of this poem.
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,like for example the first day (12.16.97) is called MARGAZHI- TTINGAL.
When I think of "Naachiyar Thirumozhi", I am reminded of my recent trip to Oppiliappan Temple, Kumbakonam. We were participating in the Kalyana Utsavam. As part of the marriage rituals the Vaaranam Ayiram verses (the ones that all end with "kana kanden thozhi naan" you get to listen to parts of this in "Vaishnava Janato" song in Hey Ram movie). are sung. I swear I have never enjoyed a better rendition of Vaaranam Aayiram. One or two people would sing the leading verses and three other people would join and chime in only when the words "kanaa kanden thozhi naan" was sung. The temple folks were so awesome that at the end of the utsavam, I approached one of them and asked if I could record it. Maybe next time I'll really record it.
When I think of Thirupaavai, I am reminded about a cold, very cold morning in Thirupathi on the last week of December, 2000. My uncle, brother and I had a rare chance to participate in the Margazhi morning rituals in Thirupathi. The Jeeyar Of Ahobila Mutt, Thirumala-Thirupaathi visits the temple twice in the morning during Margazhi and perform morning rituals. It is always a rare event to witness anything the Jeeyar does. The stunning rendition of "Thirupaavai" and other parts of Divya Prabhandam had me mesmerised. I neither have the talent or knowledge to recite Tamil verses in such an amazing speed. The atmosphere and intensity that day was simply electric. But whenever my brother and I talk of Thirupathi, that morning is still fresh in our memories. It was one of those "you had to be there" moments.


Anonymous said...

I also used to think MLV's rendition was the best until I heard Sudha Raghunathan. These days, I listen to both during this time of the year depending on the mood. Also, in Thirumalai, the tradition of singing thiruppavai and the prabandham songs is a daily occurrance during the thomala sevai. I had the great fortune to attend one of those a few years back. It was a little weird listening to the telugu priests singing the Tamil verses. It took me some time to figure out what they were reciting.


anush said...

Reminds me of the Tiruppavai competition and all that I partcipated when I was young! Add to the nice renditions you've mentioned the mellifluous tone of a nadaswaram (exactly like the one that comes in Hey Ram). Nice post.

Anonymous said...

really a fantastic post.kudos to your knowledge in all aspects and fields of life......may be its the birth time that has got something to do with it... :-)

Anonymous said...

ur current post is one of the reason why i like tamil nadu and tamilians so much. i dont know if i am one in my previous incarnation but it is this culture and tradition that i am more attracted to than anything else.keep up the traditions and culture ... none of the other states can match ...when it comes to preserving the ancient wisdom and knowledge.i feel sad when we loose these assets in the form of modernisation.

tilotamma said...

My mother once won a gold coin at school in a Tiruppavai competition. I should check if she still remembers the verses.

fieryblaster said...

the desire to hear thiruppavai songs is long pending. thanks for the info abt M.L.V's version.

R said...

Reading your article was a pleasure. I would like to add a little bit, bringing out the inner complexities of this great composition. Kavignar Kannadasan, in his lecture titled "Arthamulla Indumadham" (Meaningful Hinduism), has mentioned this point. The verse of Thiruppaavai, starting with "Azhi Mazhai Kanna onru nee..." is an example of how our ancient people had put science in perspective of spirituality. The verse explains the process of formation of rains. A devotional hymn, teaching scientific processes... interesting, isn't it?
Probably one reason as to why we shouldn't be hasty to dismiss our scriptures in the effort to look 'cool'?

WA said...

Beautifully written, haven't heard Sudha Raghunathan's rendition will hunt for it.

Aswin Anand T.H. said...

Even i enjoy every morning in chennai...my brother was in thirupathi for a whole week last year assisting the temple guys & u know what the treat was??? they were 1 of the audience for the early morning poojas.

Superb blog !!!

Ram said...

I was about to write a fiery response to the Ganguly post but this post totally cooled me off ;-)

Watch my blog for a response after Saturday's team picks! ;-)

Bala said...


He was dropped after delhi test. He has played no ranji matches at all. He skipped the only ranji match that was avaibale. do you think his selection for pakistan series could be merit based? what will you celeberate for?

Even if he scores 400 in an innnings after getting selected this way, I would not respect it at all.

Yadayada said...

Hi Hawkeye

MLVs rendition of Thirupaavai is just awesome. One more piece of information. Srimath Ranga Ramanuja Mahadesikan at present in Mumbai recites one Thirupaavai every day which is recorded and uploaded in the following link every day. It feels so good to hear that especially when you are far from home.


Joey Tribbiani said...

Amazing post.... would love to read the complete translation of this piece.. thiruppaavai.

On a totally different note, if you happen to meet Ximena L, your senior at MBA, say my hi to her..


Srikanth said...

Interesting post!

I have heard the Tamil Vaishnava texts being recited in a sing-song manner - is there a notation of some kind for the notes they use (akin to the vedic accents for the Sanskrit texts)?

Anonymous said...

Good blog and all. But I hope you discern the difference between a tamilian and a south indian! Cheers

Anonymous said...

Good writeup...

Once u learn it, u remember it for life.(Well... as long as u say it the whole month every year) I dont remember who taught me or when but I've always known it...Happens when u learn it very young.


visithra said...

ah margzhali one of my fav times but from the thiruvembavai side ;) i so miss the music season ;)

Hema said...

Wonderful most at the most appropriate time. Just to enjoy the sheer music, i wake up 1 hour before to recite thirupaavai, tiruvembaavai and tirupalliehuchi. I enjoy reciting manicka vasgar's tiruvenbaavai, just the sheer recitation sounds so musical and serene. The most fantastic way to start a day despite loosing 1 hour of sleep in the cold UK Weather :)

Rajesh said...

Bharath Ram,
You missed mentioning about the divya desam. I thought all Iyengar's have the Andal Kondai during marriage.

What is the difference between Ramanuja's Vishsista Advaitam and Adi Sankara's Advaitam. Both say jeevatma and paramathma are one . What am I missing.

Anonymous said...

I think You might have missed the concept of Brahman. It is said there is the Jiva(soul), the Atma(spirit) and the Brahman (Ultimate Principle, Supreme spirit).

According to Adi Shankarar, The Atma & Brahman are one and the same. When a Jiva attains selfrealisation it becomes the atma and so the Brahman itself.
But according to Sri Ramanujar, the jiva upon self realisation becomes Atma but remains dictinct from the Brahman. The atman lives with & enjoys the same pleasures as the Brahman but though they are similar, they are not identical.

Do read the comments on Hawkeyes's Vishnu Sahasranama post for further differences. I hope I helped you.


Pat Iyengar said...

The ethos of THIRUPPAVAI was best brought out by the inimitable Ariyakkudi and later by MLV. All others seem to only render the words without understanding the THATHVARTHAM.


Anonymous said...

Can somebody post or link to the site with the swara notation for all the Thiruppavai ( MLV version)

nAradA said...

Good crisp writing on Tiruppavai. Couple of small corrections:
1. You probably meant to say "bridal mysticism" and not "mystism"
2. VishNucittar found the girl baby under the tuLasi bush and named her gOdhA (in Sanskrit) and kOdhai (in Thamizh).Later on when she merged with the Lord in Srirangam he called out "ANDAL" (one who ruled me and the Lord). ANDAL was never known as nappinnai. nappinnai is the Thamizh equivalent of nILAdevi, the third of the consorts of the Lord. ANDAL herself refers to nappinnai in 18-20 pasurams of TiruppAvai.
Here are some links on the identity of nappinnai:



Also here is a link to an article on ANDAL's dream "vAraNamAyiram":

nAradA said...

The URLs did not show well in the last post> Let us try again.




Vijay Srinivas said...

Sooper Blog.. Keep writing.. u write awesome.. and one more correction.. the jeer of Ahobila Mutt doesn't do the chanting in the early morning, it is the Jeer of Mutt(I think Beddha Jeeyar Mutt) opposite to the Temple. They fought for this right for a long time before being given the right to conduct Saatrumurai for the Lord.

Once again a great blog

Shru said...

Hi! I am an anonymous reader! I was googling for Andal Thirupaavai nacchiyar thirumozhi....ur blog was the first resource. I am looking out for the song which ends with 'kana kanden thozhi naan' Can u please help me with the link or if its available somewhere? The Cd name or somethin? Thank u very much.....

JK said...

Please check this out and see if you can share this with like minded folks.



Arumugam Arivalagan said...

I still remember those of my young days in a village of about 1000 families. I use to wake up at 4 am and go and swim in the nearby farmland well and go to the Perumal temple and join with the villagers and chant the mantras. It has been wonderful days.