Andal, the mystic poetess who inspires stage and kolam artists

A little girl discovered in a temple garden by a childless Brahmin who became her foster father turned out to be one of the most revered mystics in India and a beloved poetess, dear to the hearts of Tamil people. Brought up in an atmosphere of piety by Periyalvar, one of twelve Alvar saints of South India, she carved a niche in devotional poetry with two major works dedicated to Vishnu. Her unique personality and devotional verses have inspired dancers, musicians for centuries. Today, her living presence continues to stimulate the imagination of kolam artists. The ecstatic lines centred on Krishna and his deeds convey with simplicity and depth the passionate quest for enlightenment.

Meeting with Andal: Gomathi, Prathima and Vidhya

Hymn 3 of Tiruppavai

ஓங்கி உலகளந்த உத்தமன் பேர் பாடி
நாங்கள் நம்பாவைக்குச் சாற்றி நீராடினால்
தீங்கின்றி நாடெல்லாம் திங்கள் மும்மாரி பெய்து
ஓங்கு பெருஞ் செந்நொலூடு கயல் உகளப்
பூங்குவளைப் போதில் பொறிவண்டு கண்படுப்ப
தேங்காதே புக்கிருந்து சீர்த்த முலை பற்றி
வாங்கக் குடம் நிறைக்கும் வள்ளல் பெரும் பசுக்கள்
நீங்காத செல்வம் நிறைந்து ஏல் ஓர் எம்பாவாய்.
"We bathe in the clear waters at the break of dawn. We sing the glories of the supreme lord who spanned the worlds and measured them. Eternal prosperity surely will be ours...three times a month there will be abundant rains; in flooded fields of tall red paddy carp will jump and play; spotted beetles will idly dream in bright blossoms of water lily; our pots will overflow with milk from the heavy udders of our cows, large, placed, yielding. Plentiful indeed our gain."

Gomathi confides that kolam changed her existence: "Drawing helped me to overcome very tough situations. Nowadays, I draw portraits of the gods and strongly believe that the Divine speaks to me through kolam. This Margazhi, I selected the first lines of the third hymn of Tiruppavai that describe Vishnu in his Vamana (dwarf) incarnation. I placed him in the center part of a free hand lotus kolam." Vamana grew to a cosmic form and measured the three worlds in two strides and put his third step on the head of King Mahabali.


Prathima selected the lines 3 to 8 that speak of rain, flooded paddy fields, water lilies, cows, bees and grains. The seemingly overlapping lines of the sikku kolam translate perfectly the water that wrinkles the surface of a rice field as well as the play of fishes in it. Such a brillant and poetical combination that highlights the potential of this type of kolam.

"..Three times a month there will be abundant rains; in flooded fields of tall red paddy carp will jump and play; spotted beetles will idly dream in bright blossoms of water lily; our pots will overflow with milk from the heavy udders of our cows, large, placed, yielding. Plentiful indeed our gain."

Hymn 4 of Tiruppavai

ஆழிமழைக் கண்ணா! ஒன்று நீ கைகரவேல்
ஆழியுள் புக்கு முகந்து கொடார்த்தேரி
ஊழி முதல்வன் உருவம் போல் மெய் கறுத்துப்
பாழியந் தோளுடைப் பத்மநாபன் கையில்
ஆழிபோல் மின்னி, வலம்புரிபோல் நின்று அதிர்ந்து
தாழாதே சார்ங்க முதைத்த சரமழை போல்
வாழ உலகினில் பெய்திடாய் நாங்களும்
மார்கழி நீராட மகிழ்ந்து ஏல் ஓர் எம்பாவாய்.
"... Your form is dark as the hue of the primordial lord of deluge. Your lightning flashes like the brillant discus in the hand of Padmanabha of broad -shouldered beauty. Your thunder resembles the resonance of his Valampuri conch. Like the stream of arrows from his saranga bow, rain upon us, do not delay. Let plenty come to all as we joyously dip in the Markali waters."

Gomathi draws Vishnu in the form of Krishna, the master of all the rain that falls on earth. The Lord is surrounded by lightnings and falling water from the black clouds. The scene takes place on a banyan leaf referring to the infancy of the god as floating on a leaf, sucking his toe in the chaotic waters of the dissolved cosmos.


Hymn 4 of Tiruppavai

"Your form is dark as the hue of the primordial lord of deluge. Your lightning flashes like the brillant discus in the hand of Padmanabha of broad -shouldered beauty. Your thunder resembles the resonance of his Valampuri conch..."

Vidhya explains that her Marghazi kolam represents elements of the 3rd and 4th hymns in which Andal sings the glory of  Lord Narayana. She has chosen to set the scene on a large sikku kolam pointing in all directions as to symbolise the pouring rain. The four coloured thumbnail symbols are metaphorical images to represent Vishnu with his attributes. The verses compare the thundering roars to the sound of  his shankha or conch and the flash of lightning to his dazzling chakra or discus. From the 3rd pasuram, she drew the bright blossom of a water lily and the generous cow with heavy udders. Sri Andal symbolic presence is shown by thirunamam placed in four directions (devotees apply it as a mark of respect to Vishnu).

All Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirumoli verses are translated by Vidya Dehejia, Antal and Her Path of Love.

The header image of Andal has been drawn by Gandhimathy S. who was also part of Issey Miyake perfume venture.  

For further reading on Sri Andal, Marg has published a wonderful book.

Pasuram 3, Ongi Ullagalandha 
Tiruppavai, pasuram 4, Aazhi Mazhai kanna