Andal
The Vaisnava poetess

Preoccupied from the earliest times with divine knowledge and religious aspiration the Indian mind has turned all forms of human life and emotion and all the phenomena of the universe into symbols and means by which the embodied soul may strive after and grasp the supreme. Indian devotion has especially seized upon the most intimate human relations and made them stepping stones to the supra-human relations and made them stepping stones to the supra – human. God the Guru, God the Master, God the Friend , God the Mother, God the Child, God the Self, each of these experiences-for to us there are more than merely ideas, - it has carried to its extreme possibilities. But none of them has it pursued, embraced, sung with a more exultant passion of intimate realization than the yearning for God the Lover, God the Beloved. It would seem as if this passionate human symbol were the natural culminating-point for the mounting flame of the soul’s devotion; for it is found wherever that devotion has entered into the most secret shrine of the inner temple. We meet it in Islamic poetry; certain experiences of the Christian mystics repeat the forms and images with which we are familiar in the East, but usually with a certain timorouess foreign to the Eastern temperament. For the devotee who has once had this intense experience it is that which admits to the most profound and hidden mystery of the universe; for him the heart has the key of the last secret.

The work of a great Bengali poet has recently re-introduced this idea to the European mind, which has so much lost the memory of its old religious-traditions as to welcome and wonder at it as a novel form of mystic self-expression. On the contrary it is ancient enough, like all things natural and eternal in the human soul. In Bengal a whole period of national poetry has been dominated by this single train and it has inspired a religion and a philosophy. And in the Vaishnavism of the far south, in the songs of the Tamil alwars, we find it again in another form, giving a powerful and original trun to the images of the our old classic poetry; for there it has been sung out by the rapt heart of a woman to the Heart of the Universe.

The tamil ward, Alwar, means one who has drowned, lost himself in the sea of the divine being. Among these canonized saints of Southern Vaishnavism ranks Vishnuchitta, yogin and powt of Villipattan in the land of the Pandyas. He is termed Perialwar, the great Alwar. A tradition, which we need not believe, places him in the ninety-eighth year of the Laliyuga. But these divine singers aare ancient enough, since they precede the great saint and philosopher Raamanuja whose personality and teahing were the last flower of the long-growing Vaishnava tradition. Since his time Southern Vaishnavism has been a fixed cred and a system rather than a creator of new spiritual greatnesses.

The poetess Andal was the foster daughter of Vishnchitta, found bly him, it is said, a new born child under the sacred tulsi plant. We know little of Andal except what we can gather from a few legends. Some of them richly beautiful and symbolic. Most of Vishnuchitta’s poems have the infancy and boyhood of Krishna for their subject. Andal brought up in that atmosphere, cast into the mould of her life what her foster-father had sung in inspired hymns. Her own poetry-we may suppose that she passed early into the light towards which tshe yearned, for it is small in bulk, -is entirely occupied with her passion for the divine Being. It is said that she went through a symbolic marriage with Sri Ranganatha, Vishnu in his temple at Srirangam, and disappeared into the image of her Lord. This tradition probably conceals some actual fact, for Anda’s marriage with the Lord, is still celebrated annually with considerable pomp and ceremony.

We give below a translation of three of Andal’s poems:

To the Cuckoo


O Cuckoo that peckest at the blossomed flower of honey-dripping champaka and inebriate, pipest forth the melodious notes, be seated in they ease and with thy babblings, which are yet not babbling, call out for the coming of my Lord of the Venkata hill. For He, the pure one, bearing in his left hand the white summoning conch shows me not his form. But He has invaded my hear; and while I pine and sigh for his love, He looks on indifferent as if it were all a play.

I feel as if my bones had melted away and my long javlin eyes have not closed their lids for these many days. I am tossed on the waves of the sea of pain without finding the boat that is named the Lord of the highest realm. Even thou must know, O Cuckoo, the pain we feel when we are parted from those whom we love. He whose pennon bears the emblem of the golden eagle, call out for his coming, O bird.

I am a slave of Him whose stride has measured the worlds. And now because He is harsh to me, how strange that this south-wind and these moonbeams should tear my flesh, enfeebling me. But thou, O cuckoo, that ever divest in this garden of mine, it is not meet that thou shouldst pain me also. Indeed I shall drive thee out if He who reposes on the waters of life come not to me by they songs today.

I dreamed a dream

I dreamed a dream, O friend

The wedding was fixed for the morrow. And He, the Lion, Madhava, the young Bull whom they call the master of radiances, He came into the hall of wedding decorated with luxurian palms.

I dreamed a dream, O friend

And the throng of the Gods was there with Indara, the Mind Divine, at their head. And in the shrine they declared me bride and clad me in a new robe of affirmation. And Inner Force is the name of the goddess who adorned me with the garland of the wedding.

I dreamed a dream, O friend

There were beatings of the drum and blowings of the conch; and under the canopy hung heavily with strings of pearls He came, my lover and my lord, the vanquisher of the demon Madhu and grasped me by the hand.

I dreamed a dream, O friend

Those whose voices are blest, they sang the Vedic songs. The holy grass was laid. The sun was established. And He who was puissant like a war – elephant in its rage, He seized my had and we paced round the Flame.

Ye others


Ye others cannot conceive of the love that I bear to Krishna. And your warnings to me are vain like the pleadings of the deaf and mute. The boy who left his mother’s home and was reared by a different mother, - Oh. Take me forth to hi city of mathura where He won the field without fighting the battle and leave me there.

Of no further avail is modesty. For all the neighbouts have known of this fully. Would ye really heal me of this ailing and restore me to my pristine state? Then know ye this illness will go if I see Him, the maker of illusions, the youthful one who measured the world. Should you really wish to save me, then take me forth to his home in the hamlet of the Cowhereds and leave me there.

The rumour is already spread over the land that I fled with Him and went the lonely way leaving all of you behind-my parents, relatins and friends. The tongue of scandal ye can hardly silence now. And He the deceiver is haunting me with his forms. Oh, take me forth at midnight to the door of the Cowherd named Bliss who owns this son, the maker of havoc, this mocker, this pitiless player; and leave me there.

Oh grieve not ye, my mother. Others know little of this strange malady of mine. He whose hue is that of the blue sea, a certain youth called Krishna – the gentle caress of his hand can heal me, for his yoga is sure and proved.

On the bank of the waters he ascended the Kadamba tree and he leaped to his dance on the hood of the snake, the dance that killed the snaked. Oh take me forth to the bank of that lake and leave me there.

There is parrot here in this cage of mine that ever calls out his name saying “Govinda, Govinda”. In anger I chide it and refuse to feed it. ‘O Thou’ it then creies in its highest pitch, “O Thou who hast measured the worlds’. I tell you, my people, if ye really would avoid the top of scandal in all this wide country, if still uye would guard, your weal and your good fame, then take me forth to his city of Dwaraka of high mansions and decorated turrets; and leave me there.

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New India
15.05.1915

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