Andal was a tamil mystic poet, a bhakti saint who was known for her unusual devotion of offering garlands to the Lord after wearing it herself.
She was named as Kothai or Godha who later came to be known as Andal, meaning – one who ruled the Lord and as ‘Sudikodutha Sudarkodi’ (One who offered the garland to the Lord after adorning it on herself). She was the only woman among the twelve Alwars (the earliest proponents of the bhakti movement in medieval India) who dived deep and drowned themselves in the love of the divine.
Amid a cluster of divine smelling Tulsi plants in Srivilliputtur, (Periyalvar) found a little baby and named her Kothai.
“Let us name her Kothai! We will bring her up as our own child. She is the Divine’s blessing”, Vishnu Chitthar also known as Periyalvar said to his wife. They have found an infant under the Tulsi plant in the temple premises and they felt immensely happy. Vishnu Chitthar was an ardent devotee of Lord Ranganatha, offering garlands to the temple and living a simple life of great devotion. As a most beloved daughter, Kothai grew up in an atmosphere of love and devotion for the Lord. He doted on her in every respect, singing songs to her about the Lord, teaching her all stories and sharing with her his love for tamil poetry. As she grew up, this undivided attention grew manifold that she could not imagine a life without the Lord. While it was Vishnu Chitthar who delivered flower garlands to the temple to adorn the Lord, Kothai was trained to make these garlands too.
Slowly she started weaving the garlands, using the choicest of flowers and leaves, with immense love braiding it to such perfection. One day Kothai saw herself in the mirror and thought, “How will my Lord look when he wears the garland I have made today?” She wore it upon herself first and felt ecstatic and danced. This continued day after day as she was more and more consumed by love. One day while the garland was being offered at the temple, they saw a long strand of hair. Vishnu Chitthar was upset and the very next day caught Kothai doing this sacrilegious act. He was upset and rebuked her.
Kothai was sad and apologetic and she stopped wearing the garlands. That night,Vishnu Chitthar had a dream where the Lord asked him, “Why did you discard Kothai’s garland instead of offering it to me. To me the garland she wears is a symbol of immense love and devotion. I cannot have a better offering than a garland worn by Kothai.” He realized his folly immediately and recognized the divine love existing between Lord Ranganatha and his daughter. In times, she came to be known as ‘Andal’, the girl who ruled over the Lord and wrote beautiful poetry.
She wrote, “ Dear kohl, you know well the pangs of parting from your beloved, please go to the golden- hued, Garuda-cloaked lord and convince him to come to me. I long to bathe his long feet, the dark lord of Villiputtur, where swans bob, where my eyes, which have like fighting carp known no rest, can finally settle. I’m begging.” Cover picture : Painting by Manisha Raju from Chennai