A great devotional poetry of eighth century
Around 1200 years ago Andaal, also known as Goda Devi, penned a unique poetry of 30 songs (Paashuram in Tamil) with eight lines each, called ‘Tiruppavai’, which is very popular and relevant even today recited every day. When women were denied access to education and caste restrictions were predominant, Goda learnt Sanskrit, Tamil, Vedas, Upanishads and Tamil prabandhams which explored the Sri Vishishta Advaiata (qualified monism) of Sri Vaishnava (worshipping Vishnu as the ultimate God) and wrote Tiruppavai in her 13th year, in praise of Parabrahma (Supreme Lord) depicting ways of Jnana (the wisdom) and Bhakti (complete devotion) to attain solvation and liberation from vicious birth-death-rebirth cycle.
In abode of Lord Venkateshwara in Tirumala, the songs of Tiruppavai replace the Suprabhatam for entire month. Lord wakes up hearing Tiruppalliyochi of Vipra Narayana and Tiruppavai of Goda. Even otherwise, every day, Tiruppavai is recited by Veda Pandits every day.
Found in Tulasi Garden
Vishnu Chitta (known as Periaalwaar, the elderly devotee of Vishnu) found a baby girl in the flower garden consisting of Tulasi (basilica) plants. Tulasidalam is considered as sacred and offered to Vishnu. Like Janaka King who found Seetha in his farm, Vishnu Chitta took her as his dear daughter as the gift of graceful God. He named her Kodai (string of Tulasi) and bringing her up amidst chanting of vedic shlokas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, reciting the devotional poetry of Tamil Aalwars, Ramayana and Bhagavata, etc. Hearing the descriptions of Lord Vishnu, Goda developed a strong devotion and impeccable affection towards Vishnu. Among varied forms of Vishnu, she thought Sri Ranganatha of Sri Rangam as most beautiful and dedicated herself to him and was dreaming to marry him to become is loved wife. Name Kodai has been transformed into Goda.
The garland of poems
Vishnu Chitta is devotee of Lord Vatapatrasaai of Sri Villiputtur, near Madhurai of Tamil Nadu. He used to offer garlands from the garden of tulasi and varieties of flowers. Goda as a teenage girl was verifying whether the garland was done well and adorable for Vatapatrasai, in whom she saw various forms of Vishnu including Ranganatha. She used to wear it and then see in the mirror or reflection in the well and then used to put them back in the basket to be offered by her father. One day he found a piece of hair and got disturbed as sacred garland was spoiled before it was offered to God and now unfit to adore Vatapatrasai. The legend goes to say that Lord Vishnu appeared in the dream of Vishnuchitta and said “my dear periaalwaar, I love to wear the garlands which were once worn by Goda. In fact I want her to first to decorate herself with those flowers and strings of garlands before they are given to me. She is my loved devotee.” Vishnuchitta was surprised and discovered that Goda is not ordinary girl and she came on to this earth and to his garden with a divine purpose. Since then, he considered her as his dear mother which expression is described in Tamil as ‘Aandaal’. Goda became Andaal since then. Father generally affectionately calls daughter as his mother.
The only women Aalwaar
Aalwaar is a meaningful designation given to ultimate devotees of Vishnu. The Sri Vaishnava clan recognized twelve Aalwaars. Goda and her father Periaalwar were respected as Aalwaars. Goda is the only woman Aalwaar.
Aalwaar means one who governs us. Teacher or Guru who guides us to divine abode of liberation of soul is called Aalwaar. Among these highly devoted 12 Aalwaars several are not of Brahmin origin. This shows that there was no caste-based recognition of discretion.
Tiruppavai was Goda’s maiden poetry composed at her 13th year. At 15th year she wrote Naachiyar Tiruvai Mozi. Tiruvai Mozi is sacred Tamil Veda composed by Nammalwar and his disciples. Goda’s second piece of Tamil devotional literature ‘NaachiyarTiruvai Mozi’ was respected at par Tiruvai Mozi. In this second work, Goda expressed her strong emotional bonding with Ranganatha, and desire to dedicate her life to him as wife. According to her the devotion as wife is supreme form of love which could take him nearer to Supreme Lord and bless with ultimate happiness, Brahma Aanandam or Parama Anandam.
Her birth (appearance) is in Tulasi garden. He name is Kodai (Tulasi Maala), she loved to lace affection with strings of flowers and tulasi for the Lord Ranganatha and offered every day to Vatapatrasaai in Sri Villiputtur. She was called Paadi Kodutha Naachiyar (=a female devotee who rendered songs for Lord), Shoodi Kodutha Naachiyar (= a female devotee who decorated flowers first on herself and offered to Lord). The Poet-Emperor Sri Krishna Deva Raya wrote a Kaavya in Sanskrit “Aamukta Maalyada” on the love story of Goda, which also means who wore flowers first and offered to Lord. The legend says Ranganatha appeared in the dreams of temple authorities and directed them to send Palanquin to Sri Villiputhur to bring his lover Goda and her father Periyaalwar to perform their marriage in Sri Rangam. After the marriage was performed, Goda went into the sanctum sanatorium of Sri Rangal and disappeared. Devotees consider it as merging of soul (Jeevatma) into ultimate sole (Paramaatma).
Krishna’s activities are always on Goda’s mind
Goda was always thinking about Krishna’s activities in Brindavan, on the banks of Yamuna. She was dreaming herself in the role of Raadha, the river in Sri Villiputtur as Yamuna and all her friends as Gopikas. From such deep thinking of Goda, emerged the 30-stanga poetry Tiruppavai, considered as embodiment of essence of Upanishads and Vedas. It refers to innate stories of Bhagavat, Ramayan and explains the philosophy of ‘complete surrender’, love for all living beings- humans, animals, trees, shrubs and plants. Each Paashuram (song) is set to such a form that it is easy to sing and compose dance around it. Almost all temples of Lord Vishnu all over India, recite the 30 poems of Goda every day during the month starting from December 16 to January 14, ending with Sankranti. It is described that Goda performed a ‘vraata’ (in Telugu ‘Nomu’= a dedicated performance of rituals with restricted food and strict timing discipline of worship of Vishnu) for 30 days. Each days, she wakes up before sun rise, takes her friends by waking up each with a wake up poem, reaches out Lord Krishna in Nandarajam (Vrepalle near Madhura) wakes up Nanda, Balarama, and Krishna, who arrives into central hall of his abode, looks at Gopikas (group led by Aandaal) listens to their songs and presents the boon as desired. This is the format of Tiruppavai (the sacred vratam). It is also called Kaatyaayani Vratam. According to another narration, Lord Krishna prescribed the rules of this Vratam to get over the draught situation in the Nanda King’s kingdom. He commands the Gopikas and friends to reach him next morning to know the method of performing this Vrata and promised to give the tools and equipment required for this. Whole night the team of Gopikas led by Goda were sleepless imagining the pleasure of being with Supreme Lord on the pretext of Vrata. The Tiruppavai emerged out of this deep thinking of synchronisation with playful lovely Krishna of Brindavan.
Equal access to divine knowledge
Goda is an elevated soul who prepared a blueprint for every devotee in the form of a thirty day plan with certain restrictions on food, conduct and devotion, singing the songs of Krishna at early hours of beginning of winter. Equality is her principle theme of poetry and securing access to knowledge without caste and gender discrimination runs through her life and works. Like sunshine the knowledge is for all, it is up to them to put the grace of light to appropriate use and achieve supreme results.