Tiruppāvai of Āṇḍāḷ | verses 18-20


Stanza 18

O Daughter-in-law of Nanda Gopa the owner of many mighty elephants.
 and who possesses strong shoulders never turned back on the foe.
Nappinai! Lady with charming fragrant tresses! Open the door!
 Listen to the roosters crowing everywhere.
Flocks of cuckoos coo incessantly from the bowers of madhavi flowers.
 You, so expert with the ball, we will chant the names of your Lord.
With your lotus-red hands and jingling bangles,
 Come, joyfully open the door!


In this stanza the Gopīs address the wife of Śrī Kṛṣṇa — Nappinnai.

This is where the South India tradition differs from the North Indian version in which Kṛṣṇa was unmarried while in Gokula:

According to the Southern tradition Kṛṣṇa married Nappinnai after a competition in which he restrained and yoked seven wild bulls.

Nappinnai is identified with Nila Devī (who is also identified with Rādhā), one of the three consorts of the Lord, the other two being Śrī devī and Bhūdevī.

It is important to note that all three of these are in actual fact various manifestations of Mahā Lakṣmī who accompanies the Lord on each of His incarnations.

According to Śrī Vaiṣṇava theology Lakṣmī is the mediatrix between the Lord and the jīvas:

Through her beauty and grace (anugraha śakti) she tempers the absolute justice of the Lord (nigraha śakti) and causes him to have compassion and liberate jīvas.

In Śrī Vaiṣṇava temples it is customary to go first to the shrine of Lakṣmī and entreat her intercession before proceeding to the shrine of the Lord.

Though the Gopīs knew of the necessity and efficacy of approaching the Lord through the mediation of His consort, Nappinnai, yet in their enthusiasm to see him, they addressed him directly (in the previous stanza).

And when there was no immediate response from the Lord, they realised their mistake and corrected it by resorting to the proper channel, and so in this stanza they appeal to Nappinnai to mediate on their behalf.

The question sometimes arises whether it is really necessary to have a mediator and to resort to the Universal Mother as well as to the Lord.

The answer is that the mercy of the Divine Mother is in itself the mediation; fire can be extinguished with water, but to cool water when it becomes hot, water itself will serve the purpose.

O Daughter-in-law of Nanda Gopa — The Gopīs address Nappinnai as the daughter-in-law of Nandagopa, though she was the daughter of the King Kumbha.

The reason is that Indian women are more proud of the family to which they belong by marriage than that of their birth.

In the Rāmāyana Sītā began a description of Herself to Hanumān by saying "I am the daughter-in-law of Daśaratha, the fire of enemy-armies."

Nanda Gopa! the owner of many mighty elephants.— How can one expect Nandagopa, a village-headman to possess elephants?

The answer is; the Prince Vāsudeva and Nandagopa are such close friends that the property of one is as good as that of the other and Vāsudeva had many elephants.

who possesses strong shoulders never turned back on the foe — refers to the immense strength possessed by Nandagopa who is protecting Kṛṣṇa against the machinations of Kamsa.

Nappinnai! — The Gopīs address Nappinnai in a familiar manner, for after the birth of the Lord Kṛṣṇa, every young girl in the Gokula claimed relationship of daughter-in-law to Nandagopa;

and as such Nappinnai remained silent when they addressed her as 'daughter-in-law of Nandagopa'. So they had to address her again by calling her name.

Lady with charming fragrant tresses! — "The overwhelming fragrance of your hair betrays your presence, even though you remain silent and pretend that you not home!"

You, so expert with the ball, — Periya Acchān Piḷḷai gives a beautiful commentary: —

Kṛṣṇa is the partner to be enjoyed by Nappinnai, the ball is her toy. She has in one hand 'the contained' (dhāram ) and on the other hand 'the container' (dhārayanan):

she has in one hand 'substance' (vibhūti ) and on the other hand the possessor of all substances' (vibhūtimān). This dichotomy establishes the puruṣākara-bhāva.

The ball that she holds in her hand represents the Universe which is an object of Līlā – sport for the Lord. In the ball game with the Lord she is the winner and this augurs well for the welfare of all beings.

With your lotus-red hands and jingling bangles — the prominence of the bangles is that apart from their natural beauty, Lord Kṛṣṇa will never allow Himself to become separated from Nappinnai.

According to Hindu custom when a husband dies the wife breaks her bangles. Nappinnai is not one who has to suffer in separation from Kṛṣṇa like Āṇḍāḷ.

Come, joyfully open the door! — You must rise from your bed and walk at least a few feet to open the door. This is said this because Nappinnai was obviously trying to open the door while lying on the bed! And don't open the door reluctantly!

In this verse the five senses are mentioned as being sublimated and directed to the goal of life which is the service of Lord Kṛṣṇa.

(1) gandham kamazhum — refers to the nose and its sense of smell,
(2) pēr pāḍa — to the tongue and its sense of speech
(3) vaḷai olippa — to the ear and its sense of sound
(4) vandu — to the body and its sense of actions and
(5) tiṛavāy — to the eye and its sense of sight (here in seeing the bolt).

It is said that on one occasion, when Śrī Rāmānuja was going on his daily round for alms reciting this poem, to which he was specially attached, he found himself in front of the house of his ācārya, Periya Nambigaḷ.

When chanting this stanza, the outer-door of the house which was bolted, was abruptly opened by Attulai, the daughter of Periya Nambigal, as the last words of the stanza — "With thy hand of red lotus and with the jingling of beautiful bangles, come and gladly open the door" — were sung.

Śrī Rāmānuja, who was deeply immersed in the sentiment (bhāva) of the stanza, at once imagined her to be Nappinnai herself and fell into a rapturous trance.

The incident was, of course, reported to Periya Nambigaḷ, who recognised the stanza at once, even before it was mentioned to him.

Thus, it is quite clear that Śrī Āṇḍāḷ had an amazing effect upon Śrī Rāmānuja who liked to be called 'Tiruppāvai Jīyar' or the 'Tiruppāvai Saint' when he had numerous other titles and appellations of honour and distinction.

Tradition has it that he chanted the Tiruppāvai everyday till the end of his life-time for the good of himself and for the good of posterity.

Śrī Rāmānuja also established the recital of the Tiruppāvai in Lord Veṅkaṭeśa’s Temple at Tirupati and also instituted the recital of Nacchiyār Tirumoḷi on Thursdays when the God was to be dressed in flowers, without all the jewels and clothing.

One of the smaller outer-shrines in Govindarāja's temple is dedicated to Śrī Āṇḍāḷ and it is built at the instigation of Śrī Rāmānuja.

Esoteric Purport

“O Nappinnai! akin to an ācārya who dispels false ego in others! O Mother! who awakens the Lord's desire to protect His devotees, thereby facilitating the devotion of all!

We want to enjoy your company, and to have our ignorance dispelled. The time is auspicious and filled with 'sattva guṇa' and so the devotees are waking one another to serve Kṛṣṇa. Those who have fully realised the truths of revelation are calling for you!

O Universal Mother! who embraces with one hand the Cetanās, and with the other Īśvara! Dispel our ignorance so that we may attain enlightenment. If you comply with our request our vow will be successful.”

Stanza 19

The standing lamps are burning all around, on a downy bed,
 on a cot with five qualities, and ivory legs you lie, garlanded,
Your broad chest resting on the bosom of Nappinnai.
 Her tresses adorned with flowers, at least open your mouth!
And you with wide eyes darkened with kohl,
 Will you never allow him to rise?
Are you unable to bear separation from him for one second?
 This is unfair and does not behove you.


In this stanza, Nappinnai is awakened for the ultimate purpose which is to gain union with Kṛṣṇa:

In the previous stanza they requested her to come and open the door, and when she was about to start from the bed to open the bolt, Kṛṣṇa restrained her from doing so, for He desired that Nappinnai should not grace them before He did.

So the Gopīs began again to awaken Kṛṣṇa, but this time Nappinnai prevented Him from joining with them and so they again entreated Nappinnai to allow Kṛṣṇa to arise!

In the Ārāyirappaṭi it is stated —

"Unless you obtain the grace of the couple — Lord and His spouse — you won't realise your goal, but will suffer like Śūrpaṇakhā and her brother Rāvaṇa:

Śūrpaṇakhā approached Rāma without the mediation of Sītā, and suffered mutilation. Rāvaṇa tried to abduct Sītā in Rāma's absence, and he was destroyed".

On the other hand the demon "Kākasura" attacked Sītā but his life was spared because the couple were together!

The standing lamps are burning all around, on a downy bed ……… Your broad chest resting on the bosom of Nappinnai: — In these lines we can detect a hint of jealousy towards Nappinnai:

While the Gopīs seek the Lord in thorny forests and sandy cattle-yards, this Nappinnai has the great fortune to be able to lie beside Him all night long. Not in the least discomforted by having to search for her beloved! Oh, what great fortune she has!

on a cot with five qualities, and ivory legs — the couch supported by tusks of the elephant Kuvalayāpīḍa which was killed by the Lord. The commentators consider the four legs to be representative of the Varṇāśrama Code:

The 4 divisions of society: Intelligentsia, administrators, entrepreneurs, & the proletariat.
The 4 stages of life: student, householder, retiree, and monk.
The 4 goals of life: righteousness, wealth, sensual pleasures and Liberation, and
The 4 means (Yogas): works, knowledge, devotion and Surrender.

on a cot with five qualities — This expression is interpreted in many ways — It may mean cotton-bedding or a bed having five qualities i.e., beauty, coolness, whiteness, softness, and fragrance or a bed formed out of five substances: tender leaves, flowers, cotton, soft wool, and silk.

The inner esoteric meaning implied is the "Artha-pañcaka" or the Five Truths which are the foundation of the Vaiṣṇava Faith (discussion to follow).

Your broad chest resting on the bosom of Nappinnai — This form of address hints that the Lord will do as Nappinnai wants him to do, for he is easily manipulated by her love & devotion.

at least open your mouth! — "You need not even rise from your bed, but at least say something to allay our fears and grant us solace, but even this you do not do!"

From the previous two lines we can also infer — "Even if you give your chest to Nappinnai can you not at least give your mouth to us?" i.e. speak a word to us.

And you with wide eyes darkened with kohl — Nappinnai is addressed in this way.

The Gopīs say:

"We have taken a vow not to apply kohl to our eyes, but on the other hand you have adorned your eyes. So should we not also behave like you?"

This is unfair and does not behove you. — The expression tattuvam means this behaviour is not befitting your svarūpa or essential being and atahavan means that it also does not conform with your svabhāva or nature.

The "essential being" for Nappinnai is to be the mediatrix, which she is not complying with right now. Her nature is to be compassionate, but now she is being cruel because she does not allow her Lord to get up from bed.

Esoteric Purport

"O Omniscient one who is sleeping in the minds of the seekers of Salvation upon the base of the knowledge of Artha-pañcaka!

O You who are lying on the couch of this Material world (Līlā vibhūti) with the four kinds of 'action' as the four legs — the four types of actions which arise from ahaṁkāra, which are to be extinguished are:

1. śeṣatva-kartṛtvam — pursuing dependence on temporal things and people.
2. jñātṛtva-kartṛtvam — pursuing knowledge of purely material nature
3. kartṛtva-kartṛtvam — pursuing action for accomplishing material goals
4. bhogtṛtva-krtṛtvam — pursuing enjoyment of temporary pleasures

and with the four puruṣārthas as the joints!

Please open your mouth to utter at least a word of consolation to us".

(But Kṛṣṇa remained silent, and realising their mistake, that they had not followed the proper path of seeking mediation through the Universal Mother, began to address Nappinnai):

O Nappinnai! Who is dazzling with brilliance, due to your immaculate nature (śuddha sattva guṇa)! You are never separated from the Lord, for you cannot bear the slightest degree of separation!

As you are the mediatrix it is not befitting to both your 'svarūpa' and 'svabhāva' to hinder us from uniting with the Lord. So, you must help us by making your Lord join our company so that our kainkarya nonbu may end successfully.

Stanza 20

O Valiant Lord who hastens before the Thirty Three gods,
 out of grace, to remove the fear of their enemies; Arise O Lord!
Compassionate and skilful, you who strike fear into the hearts
 of your enemies, O Lord Immaculate and Holy, Arise!
O Nappinnai! Goddess of beauty and fortune! with cup like breasts,
 enchanting rosy lips and slender waist, please arise!
Give us the fan and the mirror and your husband too,
 at this very moment, for helping us to fulfil our vow.


When the Gopīs criticised Nappinnai's actions as not befitting her 'svarūpa' and 'svabhāva' Nappinnai was hurt and remained silent.

The Gopīs then turned to awaken Kṛṣṇa and so they began to wake him up singing His glory. He also kept silent, and the Gopīs thought that perhaps, Kṛṣṇa Himself might have been angry with them for their rebuking of Nappinnai and, if that were the case, they wanted to pacify His anger by eulogising Nappinnai.

According to Vaiṣṇava theology the Lord possesses absolute justice (nigraha śakti) while Śrī possess absolute compassion (anugraha śakti).

The Lord is captivated by her exquisite beauty and grace and responds to her entreaties to temper justice with compassion and to redeem the fallen sinners. The Lord Himself is requested because He is not only the Goal but also the Means to the Goal.

O Valiant Lord who hastens before the Thirty Three gods, — Godā addresses the Lord directly in a taunting manner:

He has the ability to guide and protect the 33 gods and to dispel their fear and yet delays to come to the aid of these simple milk-maids who have come to seek His help!

"You have granted protection to those who are immortal: whereas, you cannot help us, who are totally dependent on your grace!

You have afforded protection to those gods who are selfish, arrogant and ungrateful but we are unselfish, helpless, and are longing for your companionship and the chance to serve you!"

hasten before — The idea implied here is that the Lord as the Protector should not have waited to be approached but should have taken the initiative.

O Lord Immaculate and Holy, — The beauty of this address lies in the fact that although the Lord terrifies and dispatches His enemies, He will not, in the least, be tainted with sins and will remain perfectly pure.

Give us the fan and the mirror — The two stand as indicators (upalakṣa) for the other accessories necessary for the celebration of the Nonbu.

The fan esoterically represents the cooling of the mind and drying out of the ego appearing as inner heat.

The mirror represents self-analysis and reflection on one's true nature.

ippōdēy emmai nīrāṭṭu — This phrase alludes to sexual union.

Periya Acchān Piḷḷai comments on this verse as follows:—

It is customary to give credit to the Purohit who performs the rites of the marriage, as the one who is responsible for the successful conclusion of the marriage, though strictly speaking, the marriage is due to the couple becoming enamoured of each other.

Similarly though Kṛṣṇa Himself has promised the Gopīs His companionship still the credit will go to Nappinnai, if she makes the Lord join them.

Esoteric Purport

“O Īśvara! who dispels the fear of the approach of ignorance in devotees! Please wake up and give Darśan!

O Impartial One! O Valiant One! that strikes terror in the hearts of the enemies of your devotees! You remain silent even after all your devotees call for you to come out and join them.

O Mother! Paragon of devotion, beauty and dispassion and O Mediatrix! Please wake up! Dispel our false ego (ahaṁkāra) and sense of possession (mamākāra) in our service to the Lord! Grant us the true knowledge of the Self and unite us with your Lord!

(In this verse, 'men mulai' stands for 'the budding devotion'; 'cevvāy' — for 'beauty', 'marungul' — for vairāgya or dispassion; 'ukkam' — for the removal of ego – ahaṁkāra and possessiveness – mamākāra; 'tatoli' for 'svarūpa jñāna' i.e-, knowledge of one’s total dependence on the Lord.)

According to ācārya Paramparā, this verse is a commentary on the expression "Śrīyai namaḥ" "Śrīdharāya namaḥ", and one can see in this stanza the significance of the Divine Couple (Justice and Mercy).

In stanza 18, 'Śrī' is awakened; and in the first half of Stanza 19, 'Śrīdhara' is awakened. But the latter half of Stanza 19 shows that, one hinders the other, from being the first, in showering the grace on the Gopīs.

So in this stanza, we find that both of them are being awakened together.