Tiruppāvai of Āṇḍāḷ | verses 1-3


Introduction — Part A

The opening stanzas 1 — 5 deal with the four fundamental Śrī Vaiṣṇava doctrines, a knowledge of which is an essential prerequisite for spiritual development.

These are;—

1. prāpya svarūpam — the nature of the goal of life;

2. prāpaka svarūpam — the means which can directly lead us to the goal;

3. adhikāri svarūpam — the qualifications required for an aspirant who wants to reach the goal through these means;

4. phala svarūpam — the results of such a spiritual quest:- the destruction of Karma and care for the wellbeing of others.

Stanza 1

The auspicious full moon of Margali is here -
 maidens bejewelled and intent on bathing, come out!
Darling girls of the cowherd clan
 whose hamlet brims over with beauty and wealth;
That cruel sharp spear — Nanda's son,
 Young lion of Yaśodā with her love-filled eyes
Cloud-hued, red-eyed, sun and moon for his face
 Nārāyaṇa, himself has offered
His gracious drum for us
 To sing his praise and gain the world's.


In this stanza a few of the Gopīs invite the other Gopīs from among the five hundred thousand families of Aypāḍi Gokula) to rise early and to join them so that they can all go together in a group to ask Lord Kṛṣṇa for the parai (a drum — symbolic of puruṣārtha or the goals of life).

Here we are introduced to the concept of satsang or pursuance of the spiritual goal in a company of like-minded seekers.

The month of Mārgazhi (Mārgaśīrṣa in Sanskrit— December-January) is the most pleasing month of the year (Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad Gita 10;35 that amongst the months He is

Mārgaśīrṣa), and according to astral time it corresponds to the early morning (brahma-

Muhūrta) of the Devas. The weather is cool and this is also the month in which the Sattva Guṇa is most predominant.

auspicious full-moon day — The full-moon day is considered to be most auspicious for the commencement of devotional activities. Besides, in the moonlight all the Gopīs can see each other very clearly, and all of them can go together in a group to enjoy Lord Kṛṣṇa's company.

As these girls have moon-like countenances the whole area has the appearance of hundreds of full moons! The term naṇṇāḷāl further denotes that the days that have already passed have been unhappy ones, having been spent in vain, being separated from Kṛṣṇa.

to bathe — The act of bathing here also has a spiritual connotation of 'bathing' in the river or lake of Bhakti (Devotion) to Kṛṣṇa. Bathing in the river of Divine Love will remove the heat of suffering of this world and the dirt of material nature. It will bring peace of mind and purity.

"To bathe" in Tamil poetry is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Sex is often used in Classic Hindu literature as a metaphor to describe the union of the jīvātman (individual Self) with the Paramātman (Supreme Self); being the most intimate, pleasant and tender of all human interactions it is an apt way to describe the indescribable union of the jīva with God.

Those who want to come may come to bathe: — This expression indicates that there is no restriction whatsoever for anyone to merge his/her self in the Universal Self by means of bhakti. Thus it is evident that all are equal in the eyes of the Lord and those who approach to worship Him should not go alone but always in company. Here the focus is upon a peculiar tenet of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism; — a solitary quest for God is not likely to be as fruitful as a quest in the company of other devotees. Unlike the worldly pleasures which dwindle on being shared with others, Divine Bliss increases when shared with others. The company of a like-minded person whose heart yearns after the Divine, is a great asset in spiritual life. Furthermore, a devotee always desires to share his/her enjoyment with others. In that mood, here, we find Śrī Āṇḍāḷ inviting all those who want to perform the 'pavai nonbu' to come to bathe and partake of the Divine Bliss along with her.

bejewelled damsels — This denotes that all the girls are bedecked with beautiful ornaments in order to attract Lord Kṛṣṇa. The jewels also refer metaphorically to the qualities of virtue and righteousness which are the true ornaments of the jīva.

Aypadi flowing with abundance — Gokula is flowing with milk, ghee, food and other necessities, and so there is no lack of anything whatsoever, because the Lord Himself incarnated there in Nanda-gopa's house. This is the place where Lord Kṛṣṇa's qualities shine a thousand-fold more than when He was in Paramapada as Nārāyaṇa. In Paramapada His 'transcendence' is the prominent quality, but here in this Gokula, sauśīlya (tender compassion) and saulabhya (accessibility) are the outstanding qualities that he displays.

wealthy young girls — The Rishis of Daṇḍakāraṇya, fascinated by Rāma's beauty, were sexually attracted to Him; and thus in order to fulfil their desire, He ordained them to be born again as Gopīs to enjoy His companionship in this the Kṛṣṇa Avatāra. The term Śrīman — ’wealthy’ indicates companionship and service (Kainkaryam) to Lord Kṛṣṇa. In the Rāmāyana Vibhīṣaṇa is addressed as 'antarikṣa gata Śrīman', when he was lingering in the sky empty-handed, seeking surrender to Rāma. It is also said that Gajendra was addressed as Śrīman when he was struggling in the jaws of death caught by the crocodile

Nandagopa, the skilled and severe lancer: — Nanda-gopa is given these attributes to stress the fact that he was ever alert like a sentry guarding Kṛṣṇa from Kaṃsa. In actual fact Nanda-gopa, was by nature very peaceful and compassionate, but after the birth of Kṛṣṇa he became aggressive in order to protect him. Some commentators take this description of a sharp spear to refer to Kṛṣṇa himself because he is so cruel to the Gopīs by stimulating their love for Him but not requiting it.

Son of Nanda-gopan and lion-cub of Yaśodā — The words have a beautiful meaning; that Kṛṣṇa is a 'archetypal son' always obedient to his foster-father and is even somewhat afraid of him. But to his mother Yaśodā , he is a 'lion-cub', constantly causing trouble by his pranks and jokes.

Yaśodā , the beautiful-eyed: — Yaśodā was able to enhance the beauty of her eyes by constantly looking on the divine form and divine pastime of Lord Kṛṣṇa. The expressions give the feeling that Nanda-gopa was guarding Kṛṣṇa with a spear, while Yaśodā was guarding Him with her arrows (the word, arrows denoting 'eyes'.)

Cloud-hued, red-eyed, sun and moon for his face — Kadir madiyam: has a dual meaning — just as the sun has power to nourish and to destroy, so has the Lord, but the power of destruction is used only against His enemies. For His devotees, He showers compassion and love, and like the full-moon brings joy to all beings.

Nārāyaṇa alone: — The full import of this sacred name cannot be adequately conveyed in English. Pillai Lokācārya defines the name as follows; —

 The word 'Nārāyaṇa' is comprised of two words; —

'Nara' which is the totality of eternal substances, viz. — The Lord's qualities of knowledge, bliss, purity, power, strength, tender love, condescension, etc; the Divine Form of the Lord, effulgent and youthful; divine ornaments and weapons; the Divine consorts; the eternally free Selves; the umbrella and other emblems of the Lord's sovereignty, the divine gatekeepers and other members of the retinue; the liberated Selves, the great cosmic space; the primordial matter; the Selves in bondage; Time, intellect and its manifestations; the various worlds and the devas; and all things, animate and inanimate.

'Ayana' means the refuge or substratum or ground for all these; besides, it also indicates, one who has all the above substances as His ’abode’ i.e., one who resides in all these substances. From this it is clear that all things exist in Him and He exists in all things.

Only for us — the suffix ē in Tamil is added for emphasis. By using it here Āṇḍāḷ indicates her total conviction that the Lord Himself will produce the drum.

a drum — This drum is one of the accessories necessary for the performance of the vow according to stanza. 26. However, what is actually indicated by this word here is not a physical drum, because in stanza 29 it is clearly stated that the 'parai' is symbolic of ever- lasting, unmotivated service to the feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa

To sing his praise and gain the world's. — The intention of the headmen of Gokula in allowing the Gopīs to go and enjoy Kṛṣṇa's company and to celebrate the vow is to obtain rain. When the rains come everyone will shower praise on the Gopīs.

elōr empāvāy — This formula is the refrain of the lyric, it is called the Tiruppāvai as each stanza ends with the words 'Em-pāvāy '.

Esoteric Purport

O Cetanas (Selves)! who are matchless in jñāna (wisdom), bhakti (devotion) and vairāgya (dispassion), who are the inhabitants of this place wherein reside great people totally absorbed in service to the Lord!

Come and enjoy Bhāgavat anubhāva (the union with the Lord) at this auspicious time!

The Lord is the supreme ācārya of ācāryas, the Refulgent, the All-merciful. The sight of His Divine Form will remove all our distress. His eyes glow with love and power, He is like a raging conflagration to enemies and like cool moonlight to His devotees.

He is Lord Nārāyaṇa, who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, and repository of all good qualities. He is the only refuge and the only one able to fulfil our desire and to grant us the fruits of the vow which is being undertaken by us for the welfare of all beings.

Stanza 2

O People of the world, listen to what we shall do,
 How we shall observe these sacred days. We shall praise the feet
of that Supreme One Lying on the Ocean of Milk;
 No ghee, no milk shall we take, and at dawn we shall bathe:
No collyrium for the eyes; no flowers bound in the hair.
 Avoiding all proscribed deeds, refraining from gossip;
Giving alms, and making offerings all we can,
 and joyfully seek our liberation.


In this stanza the Gopīs are describing the vow that they will be performing and the austerities they will undertake:

They will sing the praises of the Supreme Being said to be reclining in yogic trance upon the serpent couch Ananta Śeṣa (Infinity) in the sea of milk (the cosmos), contemplating upon the welfare of all beings; sentient and insentient.

The feet are the objects of worship because the devotee considers him/herself so humble that s/he is unworthy to even look upon the body or the face of the Supreme Being.

Supreme One Lying on the Ocean of Milk: — this line refers to the three hypostatic emanations that He adopts for the creation (Pradyumna), sustentation (Aniruddha) and transformation (Saṅkarṣana) of the universe. Whereas in the next verse "Ongi ulagalanda uttaman" refers to the Vibhava which are the incarnations that He takes. (Note: in the first verse transcendence is mentioned and in the 5th verse immanence is mentioned.)

Avoiding all proscribed deeds — this means; avoiding those acts which cause hurt to other living beings by word, deed or thought.

Giving alms, and making offerings all we can, — By 'aiyam' is meant giving of alms to befitting persons. By 'pichai ' is meant giving of charity to brāhmins and sannyāsīs.

Esoteric Purport

O Cetanās! who are fortunate enough to enjoy the pastimes of the Lord in this Earthly Playground (Līla-vibhūti)! Please listen to what we would do and what we would avoid for the proper fulfilment of our vow (Kainkarya nonbu):

We shall continually sing the glories of the Lord who gently reclines on the Milky Ocean, contemplating the liberation of this universe.

We shall restrain all our other desires; we shall engage in our daily duties (karmas) suited to our station in life (varṇas).

We will not intentionally adopt jñāna (Gnosis – the path of knowledge), Bhakti (devotion) or other paths of yoga as our means of attaining the Lord.

Although the Lord is characterised by infinite loving kindness (Vātsalya), still, we should not approach Him directly with the view to obtaining His favour but through someone who is intimately connected with Him.

We should try to preach, as much as we can, about the glory of God and His devotees.

In this way, if we should strive for our liberation by surrendering ourselves to Him, we are sure to attain fulfilment of our vow of service (kainkarya nonbu).

Stanza 3

If we sing that Great One's name, who shot up and measured the earth
 with a single stride; and go for our ritual bath,
Thrice a month will the rains fall and no drought will come,
 Swelling red paddy, the kayil fish wriggling amongst them,
And spotted bees will doze in the blue lilies.
 Big cows with their udders full will yield milk at a touch.
A flood of milk to fill our cans to the brim;
 And wealth unfailing will fill the land.


In this stanza Godā pays her obeisance to the incarnation of Vāmana in which He appears as a young student — Brahmachārin, to ask three strides of land from the pious & generous but supremely egoistic and acquisitive demon king Bali.

The land was granted and the Lord immediately expanded His form, and with two strides covered the entire manifest universe. He then asked Bali where the third step should be placed; Bali bowed His head for the Lord to step thereupon. Bali was pushed down into the nether regions and was granted immortality and sovereignty over the nether worlds.

The ācāryas praise this incarnation above the others because everything belongs to the Lord anyway, yet, He takes the form of a poor brāhmin boy and goes to seek a favour from a human being. It is the only incarnation in which no-one was injured and everyone received the grace of the Lord.

In contemplating upon this most compassionate of the divine incarnations at the outset, and stating the results that they hope to obtain, Godā is expressing her great confidence in being able to secure the Grace of the Lord.

that Great One — there are four categories of people in this world;

1. adhamādhaman — who does evil in return for the good received;

2. adhaman — one who does not give anything in return for good rendered; or according to Peria-acchān-Piḷḷai — one who lives at the expense of others.

3. madhyaman — one whose help is commensurate with the help received. (Peria-acchān-Piḷḷai defines it as 'one who feels that others too should also live as oneself')

4. uttaman — one who does good to others without expecting anything in return. (Peria-acchān-Piḷḷai describes it as 'one who feels that others should live comfortably even at the expense of one's own comforts'.)

Such an Great One is the Lord who measured the world as Trivikrama; for He set His lotus feet on the heads of all without any discrimination whatsoever — prince or peasant, rich or poor, the philosopher or the fool, all experienced the touch of His Divine Feet though they have not done anything good to Him.

If we sing that Great One's name — praising the name of the Lord, and not praising the Lord Himself. Thus we infer that the 'name' of the Lord possesses greater efficacy than even the Lord Himself.

The Rāmāyana tells us that Hanumān crossed the sea with the greatest of ease after reciting the name of Rāma; but, on the other hand Rāma himself had to build a bridge with great difficulty in order to cross it!

In order to chant the Lord's names no qualification or spiritual discipline is necessary. The lord's name itself confers all qualifications. One who is about to take bath in the Ganges need not take a preliminary bath in some pool!

Thrice a month will the rains fall — The reasons for three rains per month are not only that the land will flourish but also the King's administration, the meditations of the sages, and the virtue of the people will flourish in the land.

Swelling red paddy, — The tallness of the paddy is specially referred to here because the Gopīs always think about the high stature of the Lord. To them all things in nature possess an affinity with the Lord.

(Great ācāryas like Bhaṭṭar and Ālavandār, if they happened to see red lotus flowers in paddy fields, with full-grown paddy stalks bending before them, used to be reminded of the lotus feet of the Lord, being worshipped by many devotees prostrating themselves.)

The term 'ongu' used suggests that the paddy crop cannot grow horizontally due to the luxuriant growth on the sides.

the kayil fish wriggling amongst them: — The fish are wriggling between the tall stalks of paddy due to the lack of space for them to swim about. Fish used to be cultivated in the paddy fields to eat the mosquito larvae.

Esoteric Purport

O Cetanās! Sometimes a jīva may, by the infinite grace of God, obtain jñāna or knowledge about the Supreme Godhead.

This is an indication that the Lord dwelling within one's being (Antaryāmin) is greatly pleased with one and in order to liberate one from the bonds of Samsāra, crowns one with His lotus feet.

If we chant the glories of the names of Nārāyaṇa while under the pretext of celebrating the vow, the false identification of the Self with the body will spontaneously vanish.

A true realisation of the threefold-nature of the Self (svarūpa-traya) will dawn on us as a result of the increase in sattva guṇa. Those who are able to associate with such realised persons greatly value what they have attained.

In the heart of such sages (jñānis) Bhagavān dwells in all His glory, along with Mother Lakṣmī. Such a realised jñāni will teach the disciples all that they ought to know, so that they too will attain self-realisation like themselves, and bless them with the ability to experience God (Bhāgavat guṇa anubhāva).

In this way, there is no doubt that our kainkarya vow will have a successful end and there will be prosperity in the land.