Paavai Nonbu, Sri Andal and the Importance of Margazhi


It is not yet dawn. But soon it will be. Periyazhwar [ Vishnu Siddhar] walks on, immersed as he is in Narayana . He is collecting flowers and tulsi from his nandavanam for his Lord.

Drawn by a strange light, he walks close to a tulsi plant and finds a beautiful baby girl there.

The baby looks up at him as though she expects, or rather she knows that he’d pick her up and take her home as his daughter.

After all he is a bhakta who enjoys the bliss of Krishna from mother Yasoda’s angle,his mother’s heart goes out to the child that looks abandoned.

She grows up in his home as Godai, and her devotion for Narayana grows too.

Why and how like-minded souls are drawn together is something we can never know. Periyazhwar brought her up as he knew how best to. She was progressing very fast spiritually speaking and was completely immersed in divine ecstasy. This made her “try out” the garlands he used to make for Narayana’s Moorthy in the temple at Srivilliputttur where they lived.

Goda Devi looks at the mirror and Narayana smiles back.

One day the father discoveres this and is pained that his daughter had done something very wrong.He doesn’t offer the garland to his Lord that day . His Lord meets him in his dream and says that he would only wear garlands that Godai tried first and wouldn’t wear any other garland !

The Azhwar comes to know of Godai’s state and she too makes it clear that she would not marry a human and would only marry the Lord of Vaikuntha.

In divine yearning she composes the Thirupaavai and a collection of verses known as Nachiyaar Thirumozhi- The auspicious words of Nachiyaar [ meaning a queen or a high –born lady]

When her time comes, the Lord instructs Periyazhwar to bring Godai as a bride to his temple at Srirangam.

On that day, a bedecked Godai walks in to the temple with her Father.

The then Pandya King Vallabha Deva is there too with his entourage to watch that extraordinary event. He had been informed too about the event through a dream.

The Sutradhaari /Director had arranged for a deserving audience to the grand finale of the play he had conceived.

She walks in to the sanctum –sanctorum and unites with her Lord in light.

Andal [ she who reigns translation] as she is popularly known is also the only Azhwar who has a separate shrine in Vishnu temples of TN.



Paavai nonbu is a vrat/nonbu [austerities that are observed for a specific purpose] observed by young women who want a good husband. The practice has been in Tamilnadu since the sangam age .It is also referenced in Bhagavatham where it is said Kathyayani is worshipped by young women who pray for good husbands.

Paavai in Tamil means a doll or an image .Young girls throughout the month of Margazhi [ between Dec 15 th and Jan 15 th] wake up before sunrise every morning , bathe and make an image of the Goddess and pray to her. Their mothers help them with this worship.

Paavai is also a poetic tradition in ancient Tamil where the devotee who worships his/her ishta Devata from a Nayaki /Madhura bhava. [ the devotee is the yearning woman and her Lord is her beloved ] sings about the pavai nonbu she observes for attaining the goal. Manicka Vasakar ,assumes such a bhava  and melts in his bhakti for Lord Shiva. The sadhak becomes a woman and the Lord is her only refuge.

While his Thiruvempaavai is a way for the devotees of Lord Shiva to practice the all-sacrificing Nayaki-Bhava , the much more famous Thirupaavai by Shri Andal , one of the 12 Alwars/Vaishnavite bhaktas is a way for the devotees of Vishnu to practice their Nayaki bhava.

Thiruppaavai  [ said to have been composed between the 5 th and 7 th centuries] consists of 30 verses each, one for each day of the Margazhi month. It starts with the word Margazhi thingal [ the month of Margazhi]

Nachiyaar considered to be an avtara of BhumiDevi [ Earth]  starts waking the young women of the cow-her village [ symbolically the devotees who walk her path of bhakthi] right from the first verse .We shall refer to Sri Andal as  Nachiyaar [ a high born woman/lady/queen]hence forth, as she, at the completion of her austerities, attains the Lord and becomes his consort.

In her eyes,Srivilliputur is Brindavan or Ayarpadi [ cow-herd village of Sri Krishna] , all the women there are Gopis and the Vatapathrasayi temple is NandaGopa’s house .

She calls  to them so that they can all go the river to have a bath and thus start their nonbu together.

The first few pasurams deal with this “ Arise , Awake!” of sleepy sadhaks.

All of us are sadhaks/seekers in our own way , yet many of us need the final push from a Guru-figure.

Here, Guru-Andal does that skilfully, at times calling out in a sweet way [ if the Gopi/Sadhak will wake up with sweet entreaties]

எல்லே! இளங்கிளியே! இன்னம் உறங்குதியோ?

Elle ilankiliye ,innum uranguthiyo?

You, young parrot! Are you still asleep?

At times she wakes them with harsh –sounding [ but very necessary ] words

உன் மகள் தான்
ஊமையோ அன்றிச் செவிடோ ?

un magal thaan oomaiyo andri sevido?

Is your daughter deaf and dumb?

And again, in another verse, she saysHavent you heard the cry of anaichaththan [ a bird] , you demon of a girl?

Her use of the phrase pei pennae [ Demon of a girl!] makes us smile. Pei thookam [  demonish sleep/a state of tamas] has to be won over, if the seeker has to reach anywhere.The sadhaki has to wake up , utilise the golden oppurtunity of margazhi and thus strive for salvation.

However, one can enjoy these verses from even a purely poetic point of view as well.There is a prayer in the fourth vesre for rain; it’s a beautiful imagery of a heavy tropical downpour.

ஆழிமழைக் கண்ணா! ஒன்று நீ கை கரவேல்
ஆழியுள் புக்கு முகந்து கொடு ஆர்த்தேறி
ஊழிமுதல்வன் உருவம்போல் மெய்கறுத்துப்
பாழியந்தோளுடைப் பற்பநாபன் கையில்
ஆழிபோல் மின்னி, வலம்புரிபோல் நின்றதிர்ந்து
தாழாதே சார்ங்கம் உதைத்த சரமழைபோல்
வாழ உலகினில் பெய்திடாய் நாங்களும்
மார்கழி நீராட மகிழ்ந்தேலோர் எம்பாவாய்

Nachiyaar orders the Lord/rain GodWithout withholding anything from us, enter the ocean , drink up huge amounts of water, then grow dark like the Lord of the great deluge, shine like the Chakra in the arms of Lord Padmanabha, resonate like the valampuri sankha [ conch] ,kick up a steady downpour from your divine bow Saarnga,let there be such a rain for the World’s welfare, we too would have our Margazhi’s holy bath”.

Rain is needed for the World outside us as we know it-within us we need a heavy downpour of divine wisdom that would wash away all that binds us to the World.

Rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder strikes every one of us with its beauty and power. Nachiyaar sees the chakra in lightning and hears the conch when there is thunder.

The steady rain drops beat down merrily and they remind her of the quick arrows from his divine bow.

The phrase saarngam udhaiththa sara mazhai is very intense and powerful . It brings to mind that very instant, the image of a loud, pouring rain .

The gopis wake up and join her, the party walks to the temple [ Nandagopa’s house ] and wakes Nandagopa , Yasoda , Krishna , Balarama and Napinnai , a true devotee/a Gopi . Nachiyar refers to her as the daughter-in-law of  Nandagopa.[a realised soul who is one with Krishna].

She sings his glories in many verses, her devotion evident in every word she speaks.
The following verse praises Narayana , his divine lilas and prays for salvation at his feet.

அன்று இவ்வுலகம் அளந்தாய்! அடிபோற்றி
சென்றங்கு தென்னிலங்கை செற்றாய்! திறல் போற்றி
பொன்றச் சகடம் உதைத்தாய்! புகழ் போற்றி
கன்று குணிலா எறிந்தாய்! கழல் போற்றி
குன்று குடையா எடுத்தாய்! குணம் போற்றி
வென்று பகைகெடுக்கும் நின்கையில் வேல் போற்றி
என்றென்றும் உன் சேவகமே ஏத்திப்பறை கொள்வான்
இன்றுயாம் வந்தோம் இறங்கேலோர் எம்பாவாய்

Then you measured the World, the feet we worship, you won over Lanka , the might we worship,the wheel you kicked as a baby, thy glory we worship, the calf-demon you flung, the feet [ or Kazhal- the ornament worn on one feet by males], the mountain you lifted up as a n umbrella, thy nature we worship, the spear in your hands that destroys enemies we worship, and we come here today, seeking you, show us mercy , let ‘s observe the paavai  nonbu.

They then sing his glories, they are the loving devotees of the Lord and they do not seek worldly benefits but they seek something far greater, the Lord himself.

The Lord relents and they rejoice . The last verse tells us [ as per ancient poetic tradition] , the phala sruti-[fruits of reading these verses ] is his grace and hence bliss [ eNGkum thiruvaruL  peRRu inpuRuvar empaavaay]

திருவாடிப் பூரத்து செகத்துதித்தாள் வாழியே!
திருப்பாவை முப்பதும் செப்பினாள் வாழியே!
பெரியாழ்வார் பெற்றெடுத்த பெண் பிள்ளை வாழியே!
பெரும்புதூர் மாமுனிக்குப் பின்னானாள் வாழியே!
ஒரு நூற்று நாற்பத்து மூன்றுரைத்தாள் வாழியே!
உயரரங்கற்கே கண்ணியுகந்தளித்தாள் வாழியே!
மருவாரும் திருமல்லி வள நாடி வாழியே!
வண்புதுவை நகர்க் கோதை மலர்ப் பதங்கள் வாழியே!

It ‘d be apt to end this article with the thaniyan [ separate verse] that praises Sri Andal.

Glory be to her who was born on the Aadi -Pooram day!

Glory to her who gave the thirty versses of Thirupavai!

Glory to the daughter of Periyazhwar!

Glory to the younger Sister of Sri Ramanuja!*

Glory to her who gave the hundred and forty three verses!**

Glory to her who gave the beautiful garland to Lord Aranga!

Glory to  “Malli “Srivalliputtur and may it be prosperous always!

Glory to the flower like feet of the Maiden of Srivilliputtur!

*A delightful account says Sri Ramanuja performed the prayer -wish of Godai on her behalf. She , after the divine wedding, merged with the Lord in light and did not complete the prayer.He ,after centuries did so and is considered her elder brother.

**the 143 verses of Nachiyaar Thirumozhi [ The holy words of the lady/Queen]

Manickavasakar whose time period was much earlier sounds very similar in his Thiruvempaavai-here a Nayika longs for Lord Shiva and attains him .

However any comparisons that focus on who was influenced by whom would be futile and meaningless.

Any number of people , at any point in time, see/experience the same thing and express themselves more or less the same way. It is the similarity in experineces that does the talking here.

They have put what they have actually experienced here and it is because by imbibing the words  and their meanings, it would be possible for any one living in any time period to experience the same.

Otherwise a Rajasthani Queen  who lived many centuries later than Sri Andla Nachyaar would not sound similar to her.

The Paavai literary tradition may be unique to Tamil, but the tradition of the devotee considering the Lord as her beloved is common in the bhakthi tradition.

Nachiyar’s itraikkum ezhezh piravikkum unthannodu utrome aavom [ for this and the seven and seven births we’d be yours, and we’d serve you ] and Mirabai’s janam janam ki dasi [ Your slave Lord, in every birth ] was born out of the all surrenderimg Nayika state.

Sri Nachiyar prays for rains and thus the welfare of ordinary people , Mirabhai prays ” Hari tum haro jana ki pir” [ Lord, remove the sufferings of people]

In her Hari Awam ki awaz [ the sound of Hari’s footsteps] Mirabai talks about the parrot and cuckoo that speak sweetly . Andal in another collection of verses ,in abject misery as she is longing for Krishna  begs the cuckoo to take her message of love to him.

May be the cuckoo’s cooing reminds her of the divine music from his flute .

A  devotee can get completely immersed in bliss  thanks to the  sweet verses of Thirupaavai. A lover of words would find a new gem everytime he/she reads the verses.

Whichever way, the Thirupavai is a precious gem in Tamil bhakthi literature.

Note: This is by no means a well read, scholarly  account of the Thirupaavai. I have just started reading the verses seriously but felt I should share the presence of this rare gem here. Better informed readers can appreciate the gem much better.


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One Reply to “Paavai Nonbu, Sri Andal and the Importance of Margazhi”

  1. Steeped as she is in Tamil bhakti lore, Narensomu is able to enjoy the intense love that devotees like Andal can feel for their Ishtadeva and include us in her experience as well. This is not therefore a mere exposition on the austerities observed by Andal and her sakhis or the accompanying paavai verses, which talk of the longing of the lovelorn Gopis for Gopalakrishna. It is an invitation to all the devotees of Krishna to join Sri Andal and forget themselves a little in Krishnabhakti, while singing the shower of divine love that the Tiruppavai verses happen to be.

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