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
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 theSudhaKrishna Rangasami also has an excellent piece in the Hindu on Margazhi.
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.
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 Margazhishe 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).
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.