Tiruppāvai of Āṇḍāḷ | verses 28-30

Stanza 28

We follow our cattle and eat in the woods,
 ignorant folk of the menial cowherd clan. Yet it
is our good fortune that You have been born amongst us.
 O Govinda, immaculate One, the bond we have
 with You can never be undone by anyone.
 Unsophisticated milk-maids as we are, out of love have
we called You by trivial names, don't be angry O Lord!
Nor withhold Your gracious drum!

Commentary

In this stanza Godā declares that Kṛṣṇa is the end as well as the means:

These humble cowherd folk do not follow the way of knowledge (jñāna), works (karma) or devotion (bhakti), they have simply surrendered themselves totally to the Lord (prapatti).

The prapanna recognises that he or she is worthless, lacking in intelligence and means to effect ones own salvation, once the prapanna has placed complete faith in Kṛṣṇa it becomes His obligation to redeem the fallen one.

This stanza deals with the means, which can directly lead us to the goal:

The means is the Lord Himself, the magnitude of whose glory and grace infinitely exceeds the depth of our lowliness and impurity.

The gift of Grace is entirely dependent upon the will of Kṛṣṇa — no good works, knowledge or devotion or even self-surrender (prapatti) can induce Grace from the Lord.

Though there is no means except the Lord Himself, we must and ought to make ourselves fit for receiving Grace by acknowledging our helplessness (akiñcinyam),

realising that there is no other means (ananya-gatitvam) and take refuge in Kṛṣṇa having realised the indissoluble relationship between ourselves and him.

This is done by contemplating upon the Lord's infinite goodness and mercy and on our weakness and sinfulness, by submissively apologising for past misconduct and by praying for Him to take us under His gracious Feet.

The following important points are made by Godā:—

kaṇavaikaḷ pin śenṛu— In this line, the Gopīs refer to (1) their dearth of meritorious actions, i.e., their vocation is simply to “follow their cows to the forest” — this is the result of their past karma and indicates a lack of merit.

aṛivonṛum illāda āy kulattu — A people which has no claims whatsoever to knowledge - they refer here to their (2) simplicity and lack of any social status.

kuṛaivonṛum illāda govindā — You, Govinda! who have no wants and no imperfections whatsoever — here they refer to the (3) Perfection of the Lord's attributes

uṛavēl namakku ingu ozhikka ozhiyādu — the relationship between you and ourselves here cannot be dissolved not matter what either of us may do. They refer to the (4) Indissoluble relationship between the jīvas and the Lord.

śīriyarulādē — “Pray, do not get offended at our failings” - they beseech (5) forgiveness for their past sins and failings.

iṛaivā! nī tārāy paṛai — O Lord! Grant us our hearts' desire — here they refer (6) to the attainment of their Puruṣārtha.

The above-mentioned six points are the stages to perfection for a prapanna or one who has taken refuge in God.

We follow our cattle — The Ayar girls say that their Guru is the cow, which is devoid of any good birth, knowledge, or conduct.

This is a metaphor denoting total lack of means to attain the Lord:

A person after his initiation (upanayanam) is expected to learn the Vedas and Śāstras under a Sat-ācārya noted for his birth, erudition, and conduct.

After learning and gathering sufficient knowledge he is expected to perform his duties regularly; then, conquering the senses, he must cultivate dispassion

and then through Yoga, he must attain Self-realisation (ātma-jñāna), and to realise the essential nature of the Jivātmā, and that of the Paramātma and lastly, attain the Supreme Beatitude.

So one is expected to mount up these steps initiated by his ācārya.
The Gopīs hint that their ācārya is only the cow and no Vedic Pandit at all!!

going to the forest — The Lord told the Gopīs that their vocation of tending the cattle in holy places can be counted as 'Karma Yoga'.

They reply that these forests are not sanctified like the Daṇḍakāraṇya or Naimiṣāraṇya by the presence of sages, but they are thorny forests where the wicked demons and hunters reside.

To this, the Lord replied: "As you are milk- maids, your ordained profession is the tending of cows," and it can be reasonably counted as Varṇa-Dharmānuṣṭhāna; further, your stay in the forests can be considered as equivalent to Vānaprastha-Dharma.

Thus, under these circumstances, your vocation may be counted as KARMA YOGA.

Hearing this, the Gopīs refuted all His arguments in one word, i.e. — “we do nothing but eat. O Lord!

We go to the forest not with the idea of doing Varṇa- Dharma or of upholding the Vānaprastha-Dharma, but only with the sole idea of filling our belly and eking out our livelihood.”

eat in the woods — “We will eat as soon as we reach the forest” — “without giving in charity even a morsel of food to our neighbour. Moreover, we will be going on eating while we are walking. We don't care for other's hunger.”

ignorant folk of the menial cowherd clan. — "O Kṛṣṇa! Do you think that we have any learning whatsoever? Not at all, for how can you expect knowledge in gluttons?"

We are not wise like Vidura or Śabarī, our knowledge is due to our vocation (karma) and not due to devotion (bhakti). Even that vocational knowledge is directed only to eking out our livelihood and not towards attaining salvation.

When such is our case, you may perhaps be under the impression that we can attain wisdom at some time in the future. –

But O Lord! We are born in a race which occupies one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. Being so ignorant, we take the liberty of approaching you because we are fortunate in having you born in our tribe!”

is our good fortune that You have been born amongst us — We have actually brought you up, the embodiment of Virtue, by feeding you with milk and food. When you are in our midst, it is not necessary that we should do any other Dharma. You are the guiding-light to our tribe.

The expression goes "Kṛṣṇam Dharmam Sanātanam" and Yaśodā achieved all greatness by having you as her son. Similarly, we also achieved all our greatness by being born as contemporaries among the Ayar People in which you are born.

This statement denotes the pride they feel for, the Lord, who of His own accord, has come to their very abodes and also endeared Himself without any reserve so that they can utilise Him in whatever way they pleased.

O Govinda, immaculate One — The All-perfect Govinda! — the Ayar girls hint that "You (Lord) are on a higher level and we are on a lower level. Please direct your flood of grace into the abyss of our hearts."

Bhaṭṭar also told the Lord of Śrīraṅgam "You are a lofty mountain and I am a deep abyss; please fill this abyss with your grace."

Śrī Vedānta Deśikan in his Daya-śatakam says that Lord Veṅkaṭeśa by His infinite Grace made Guha, Sugrīva, Śabarī, Kuchela, the hunch-backed woman, Mālākāra and the Gopīs all equal.

the bond we have with You can never be undone by anyone — The relationship between you and ourselves cannot be dissolved, try as you or your relatives, or we or our relatives, or all of us together may might!

 According to Piḷḷai Lokācārya, the Paramātma and Jīvātmā relationship between the Paramātma and the Jivātmā is said to be of 9 kinds — nava vidha sambandhaḥ:

1. Parent – child; 2. Protector - The protected; 3. Master – Servant; 4. Husband – Spouse; 5. The Goal - The seeker; 6. The owner - The possession; 7. The supporter - The supported; 8. The Super-Self - The Body; 9. The Enjoyer - The enjoyed.

In these nine ways, the Paramātma and Jīvātmā are inseparably intertwined and cannot exist in isolation from each other. Separation between the two is impossible!

Unsophisticated milk-maids as we are, out of love have we called You by trivial names — This expression gives reasons for addressing the Lord by familiar terms requesting at the same time His forgiveness. The reasons are (1) ignorance (2) innocence and (3) abundant love.

Nor withhold Your gracious drum — nī tārāy paṛai — “You give us the drum” — The stress is on the word 'you'.

The bhāvārtha is — He turned to Nappinnai, standing near and asked her to bestow what they wanted because as a woman, she knew the mind of the Gopīs better;

 to this they retorted:— "she has already bestowed what we wanted i.e. You! (cp. Stanza 20) and hence it is now your turn to bestow the 'parai' or the Puruṣārtha".

Esoteric Purport

“O Svāmin! We have spent our time in feeding our body, but not our spirits, thinking that the impermanent 'samsāra' in the be-all and end-all of our existence.

Though we are devoid of knowledge (jñāna), devotion (bhakti) and dispassion (vairāgya), yet, we are born among a people, which seeks refuge in You alone and in none else, as a panacea for its evils.

You, the Omniscient, Omnipotent Almighty have descended to a low level to be born amongst us, only for the purpose of bringing us joy and happiness.

It is our great fortune that you have heartily and freely mingled with us without any reserve and thereby we have achieved the goals of our lives.

O Govinda! You are the owner and we are the owned and if anyone were to analyse this relationship in depth, he would find that it is indissoluble either by You, the All- powerful, or us mortals.

O Lord! When we failed to realise your greatness, we might have called you by 'small names' due to our ignorance; again when we realised your greatness, we might have continued to call you by 'small names' due to our abundance of love.

Please don't get angry, but forgive us, showering your Grace upon us, granting our desires.”

Stanza 29

In the early hours of the morning, we have come to worship You,
 and praise Your golden, lotus-like feet.
Born are we in the cowherd caste, You
 should not decline our service and homage.
Harken O Govinda! Not only for today do we seek the drum,
 but for ever more, seven times seven births, we
would be one with You, and serve You and You alone;
 Change all our other desires O Lord!

Commentary

The commentators consider this, the penultimate verse to be the most important one.

In it Godā declares emphatically that the purpose of all this observance is not the mere drum but disinterested eternal love and service to Kṛṣṇa alone. The jīva is dependent upon Kṛṣṇa for its existence and its goal is to serve and live for His pleasure alone.

The elders of Vrindāvan wanted the maidens to perform the vow for rains and for their getting good husbands, but the maidens have lost themselves totally in God-love to the exclusion of all else.

The material goal has been transformed into a transcendental desire to love and to serve Kṛṣṇa. They have even rejected the concept of heaven and actually desire to take more births in order to serve and love Him.

We find that the highest purpose of life was outlined in the opening stanza (No. I) in somewhat veiled language.

That veil is now unceremoniously brushed aside, and the highest Puruṣārtha or object of human ambition is clearly declared by Godā. This is the crowning stanza of the entire prabandham and contains the quintessence of Viśiṣṭādvaita Philosophy.

In the early hours of the morning — This conveys the meaning that, as we are very young girls, it is not convenient for us to rise from our beds in this chilly weather, even after the day has dawned.

We have come to you even though you should have come to us! It is said that in the very early morning — brahma-muhūrta, ignorance or ajñāna will vanish and spiritual wisdom will develop.

we have come — from our couch to your couch, we came, after surmounting vigilance, gate-keepers and inner bedsteads.

Born are we in the cowherd caste, — having been born in a caste which ekes out its livelihood by grazing cows —

There must be some purpose for you to incarnate amongst us. If you reject our kainkarya or service your incarnation becomes useless.

You should not decline our service and homage. — “You cannot refuse to take us as your personal servants” — Here service denotes antaraṅga kainkarya, or personal service.

Our service to your lotus feet should be unceasing, like Lakṣmaṇa’s service to Rāma. Even though we may go astray, you must turn us into the right path of kainkarya to you.”

Harken! — The Gopīs stress this, because Lord Kṛṣṇa has completely forgotten about the purpose for which they have come to Him, being deeply absorbed in their devotional sentiment (bhakti) towards Him.

O Govinda! — This word stresses that the Lord was a cowherd and therefore did not understand what the girls were after.

Further, 'Govinda' insinuates that the Lord should not think of Himself as a Mahā-Vārāha, Vāmana or a Hayagrīva but only as one endeared to the Gopīs.

Not only for today do we seek the drum but for ever more! — Having heard the request of the Gopīs, Kṛṣṇa agreed to give them the drum, but the Gopīs replied that they had not come for the drum, even after specifically requesting it nine times!

Kṛṣṇa was mystified, then the Gopīs explained that obtaining the 'parai' was only an excuse to dupe the elders of this Gokula who had isolated them from Kṛṣṇa for so long.

Their real purpose was the darśana and kainkaryam (service) to Kṛṣṇa.

The question arises: "Should the Gopīs have deceived the elders that they were going to perform the nonbu?"

The answer is that according to Śāstra, in affairs of marriage and in times of distress the telling of lies is permitted.

Here the Gopīs have the intention of uniting with Kṛṣṇa and are in danger of dying in separation from Him, so under these circumstances there is no harm in deception.

but for ever more, seven times seven births — Kṛṣṇa said:— "I have now understood that you desire to serve me this day alone.

To this, the girls retorted: — “No, not to-day only! but for ever more and for all births to come, we shall not only do service to you and only you, but also will remain related to You.”

With this declaration the Gopīs totally reject any desire for svarga or heaven — a place of personal enjoyment, but declare that they would prefer to be born 49 times here on earth in order to serve Kṛṣṇa!

we would be one with You, — Related to you, our existence has meaning; unrelated to you, we have no existence —

This is the Śeṣatva-jñāna or realisation of our dependent relationship to Kṛṣṇa and the corollary of this realisation is kaiṅkarya or Service to Him. Our relationship is indissoluble and is true of all times, of all places, and in all circumstances.

The Gopīs say that they wish to serve Kṛṣṇa as Lakṣmī, the Universal Mother, had done in all His Avatāras:

Lakṣmī followed Him in all His incarnations. She was Sītā in the incarnation of Śrī Rāma and Rukmiṇī in this incarnation as Kṛṣṇa and it is said she was with Him in His other incarnations also.

Here they convey their desire to serve Him like Ādiśeṣa.

This service is beautifully expressed by Poigai Āḻvār —

"If he travels, an umbrella; if he sits a throne; if he stands sandals; within the deep sea, always a raft; a jewelled lamp, fine silk, a couch for embraces, the Snake will be for Tirumāḷ."

The Gopīs desire to have the intimate relationship that existed between Daśaratha & Rāma; between Vidura & Kṛṣṇa, between the wife & husband; and even, if perchance, any separation were to occur, it must be a separation like Sītā's and not like Bharata's or Nammāḷvār’s.

and serve You and You alone — "Service to you alone is our nature and conversely, to accept our service gladly is your nature!"

The Jīva is a 'śeṣa' or servant, that is, one whose existence is for the sole benefit of another, that is Lord Kṛṣṇa.

Service then, is the only form of prayer and devotion which a person who has realised the real nature of the jīva, can properly offer to the Lord;

and when it is absolutely untainted by egoism in all the three stages of its origination, its doing, and its result, it constitutes the highest goal and end of human existence.

Even if any element of pride enters in the origination or doing of service, or if it is made for the pleasure of the doer, or the joint pleasure of himself and the Lord, and not for the sole pleasure of the Lord, it will be imperfect.

Change all our other desires O Lord! — Śrī Āṇḍāḷ uses the most beautiful words at the conclusion of this crowning stanza, thereby depicting the Prayer of Prayers, the Prayer for all lovers of God and for all time.

Śrī Āṇḍāḷ prays not for the suppression of desires, but for the sublimation of them into God-cantered desires; that is to say, she prays to Kṛṣṇa that He be pleased to convert all her desires into the one desire for Him.

The intensity and extensiveness of the basest desires towards the material objects should be sublimated into a desire for God and should be diverted towards spiritual attainment.

Esoteric Purport

“O, Protector of all! Wisdom has dawned upon us during the most auspicious early morning. We, who pined in grief at your separation, have come to prostrate before you and bless your lotus feet.

You are born in this world to protect all of us and as such you are duty bound to accept our Kainkarya - service.

But don't think that you can send us away accepting our service only for to-day, for we approach you with the fervent desire, to have an indissoluble relationship with you at all times, places, and in all circumstances.

We desire to render service, not for our personal pleasure, not for the joint pleasure of ourselves and yourself, but for the sole pleasure of yourself.

Perchance, we may desire for other baser objects, confounded by the 'rājasa' and 'tāmasa' guṇas. Then you need not ask us what our desires are nor grant us our desires.

Stanza 30

The lovely well-bedecked and moon-faced girls sang to Keśava,
 Lakshmi's Lord, Who has churned the Ocean full of ships.
and secured the drum which they desired.
This story has been retold, by Godā, daughter of the best of Brahmins, of Villiputur,
with his garland fresh and cool, In a garland of thirty verses in classical Tamil.
 Whoever will chant these thirty stanzas regularly and faultlessly,
Will surely win the grace of the magnificent four armed Lord Tirumāḷ,
 With red eyes and comely face, and be happy evermore.

Commentary

In this final stanza in accordance with poetic tradition Godā gives her name, parentage and a summary of the nature of her work.

The concluding stanza also deals with the benefit one gains from a recitation of this poem,

i.e. that all those who even simply recite this poem would have the Divine Grace showered on them by the loving Lord and His consort Lakṣmī, both in this world and the next.

For anyone who learns this poem or recites it with devotion, the benefit will equal that of one who has actually acted in the role of a Gopī and has performed the vow.

Bhaṭṭar used to say that just as the mother-cow shows compassion to its stuffed calf and yields milk as it would for its living calf,

similarly God will bestow His Grace upon us also though we do not possess either the ability to emulate (anukāram) of Āṇḍāḷ or the ability to practice (anuṣṭhāna) of the Gopīs.

The lovely well-bedecked and moon-faced girls — Their faces are bright as the full-moon because of their being in the company of the Lord;

They are well-ornamented, for according to Stanza 27, they wore these ornaments which were given to them by Nappinnai and Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

Keśava — The Possessor of glorious hair — The Gopīs began with the feet of the Lord and ended with the head.

Lakshmi's Lord, Who has churned the Ocean full of ships — Godā mentions the incident of the churning of the ocean by the devas with the object of obtaining the nectar of immortality.

During that incident Lakṣmī arose from the sea and was taken by the Lord as His eternal consort.

The churning of the ocean is the actual churning of the mind with the churning stick of devotion to extract the ambrosia of ecstatic love and service.

The ships represent the jīvas who are tossed about on the ocean of mundane existence and require a pilot in the form of the Lord to cross over to the other side.

This story has been retold, by Godā, — sung by Godā, who had experienced all the mental and emotional anguish of the Gopīs and hence has become faultless.

Sung — unlike the Vedas which were born of its own accord, without any originator, the Tiruppāvai took its origin from the tongue of Godā and is therefore superior to even the Vedas; the Lord Kṛṣṇa is certainly superior to Kṣīrābdi-nātha (Lord Nārāyaṇa depicted reclining upon the serpent couch).

the best of Brahmins, of Villiputur — bhaṭṭa-pirān refers to Viṣṇucitta; Godā's father who was also a saint.

He is known by this honorific title, for in the Pāṇḍya’s court he defeated his antagonists in arguments and established firmly, that the Supreme Almighty is Viṣṇu, and none else. His service to the Lord Kṛṣṇa Vaṭapatraśāyi of Ṣrivilliputtur consisted in making the garlands for the daily use in the temple.

In a garland of thirty verses in classical Tamil — Just as the Universal Mother took her birth as Śrī Āṇḍāḷ, the Upanishads took their birth as Tiruppāvai.

'Mālai' - garland of verses – denotes that this prabandham is not only beautiful and pleasing to the ear, but one to be praised.

Further Kṛṣṇa gave Godā only a flower (cevippu — St. 27), but in return she gave him a garland.

Whoever will chant these thirty stanzas regularly and faultlessly — Not leaving out even a single stanza —

If even one gem is lost in a necklace, it will spoil its beauty, similarly, even if one verse is left out without being sung, the beauty of the Tiruppāvai will be diminished.

Godā states that even a correct recitation of the verses, without devotion, will bring the desired effect of winning the grace of the Lord as long as it is done with a concentrated mind.

It is enough that one simply recites the verses even without understanding their inner meaning.

eṅgum — “here and elsewhere” — inbuṛuvar— “will attain happiness”:— in this world they will attain fame, and in the next they will attain Liberation.

Esoteric Purport

The Lord Viṣṇu churned the Milky Ocean, without causing even a slight motion to the ships:

He used the Mandāra Hill as the churning-rod, the Snake Vāsuki as the rope and through His effort attained the Goddess Lakṣmī as His consort,

similarly, the Lord has churned the 'ocean of Samsāra' with His mercy, without creating even a slight discomfort to the body of the Cetana, using His Sankalpa or Wish as the churning-rod; and His Grace as the rope, and attained a thing more precious than even Lakṣmī, i.e, the Jivātmā.

The devotees of the Lord with bright faces, filled with knowledge (jñāna), devotion (bhakti) and dispassion (vairāgya), went to His very presence out of extreme love, and attained their desire of selfless service (kainkarya puruṣārtha) though ostensibly seeking the drum.

This account of how the Gopīs approached the Lord and obtained their desires is beautifully sung by Śrī Āṇḍāḷ, the daughter of Viṣṇucitta of Śrī Villiputtur and it is a Prabandham containing a garland of Tamil verses fit to be sung in groups and fit to be celebrated for all ages to come.

Those who recite these verses without leaving out a single stanza shall obtain here and in the world to come, eternal happiness through the Grace of Kṛṣṇa, (the consort of Lakṣmī) with red eyes, beautiful face and with four big mountain-like shoulders.

Tradition has it that at the age of 32 Bhaṭṭar had a carbuncle on his back incised. But the only anaesthetic he would permit was the chanting and hearing of the Tiruppāvai songs. When the surgeon operated on the carbuncle he did not show any pain whatsoever.