Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Andal, Ranganath’s Beloved
The eastern horizon had brightened up with the early golden rays of the sun. The music of nature was in full swing with the chirping of the birds and the humming of the bees. In a beautiful flower laden garden, Vaishnava devotee Acharya Vishnuchitta was busy plucking flowers. Flowers of different hues, different fragrance, all collected in his basket. He poured out his heart into making the most beautiful garland and his eyes got transfixed after decorating the Lord with them. Tears rolled down his eyes. That was his everyday job, to string garlands for the Lord. He yearned for that moment when he stood watching the Lord wear his garland, every morning and evening. He had tended this flower garden with all his love and care putting in all his owned and inherited wealth into this garden. Once, in an assembly of learned men, from all over, Vishnuchitta had won a debate voicing the significance of the theology of devotional service, Bhakti. He had been awarded with some gold coins. He invested all those to beautify the garden. The garden was his reason for living and in every branch of every tree, in every creeper, he felt the divine touch of his Lord.
Acharya filled up his basket with mogra, jasmine, champa and when he approached the tulsi garden, he gave a sudden cry. On the ground, on a bed of tulsi leaves, lay asleep a beautiful baby girl. She looked angelic. Was she human or a celestial being? What should he do with the baby? So many questions went through his mind. A voice from the sky announced, “You have surrendered yourself completely at my feet. This baby girl is the fruit of all your devotion. Take care of her as your own and offer me this child along with all the garlands that you make for me. She has been born to spread loving devotional service. She herself will bind Krishna in love and will spread the nectar of love to countless human beings.” There was nothing left to ponder. Vishnuchitta picked up the child and took her in his arms. The merciful Lord Ranganath had bestowed the guardianship of the girl on him. He placed the girl at the altar, at feet of the Lord as devotees crowded around to have a glimpse of the child. Everyone was curious and the sanctum sanctorum was resounding with indistinct murmur. At that instant, the garland from the Lord shred and fell on the child. All doubts were cleared with the blessings of the Lord. Everyone cheered and praised Vishnuchitta.
The childless couple’s joy knew no bound. They named the girl, Andal. Their home lighted up with the chitter chatter of the child. The girl followed her father like a shadow and was very dear to him. She used to lose herself in caring for the plants in the garden, plucking flowers, stringing garlands for the Lord and decorating the deity. The couple was deeply in love with the girl. There was an irresistible attraction for her which was not a bonding of this material world. This was how the Lord had showered His love on them. The child blossomed into a charming, radiant adolescent. She grew beautiful by the day, filled with love and devotion for the Lord. Her eyes used to swell up with tears listening to the Vaishnava poems and tales, and her heart would become anxious on being separated from the Lord. Her fondness for the Lord was on a rise. The pictures of the pastimes of the Lord got painted on her adolescent mind. She started pouring her heart out in her melodious songs. Devotees swarmed around her to listen to her, have a glimpse and find out who this girl was. Tales of Andal spread far and wide.
The garden of her father was very dear to Andal. Every morning, after waking up, Andal used to go to the garden, pluck flowers, follow her father to the temple and decorate Ranganath with her garlands, one by one. Her body trembled, tears rolled down her eyes and her heart rejoiced looking at the lying figure of Narayana. The eyes of the onlookers also got wet, seeing her.
Andal had heard the stories of the pastimes of Lord Ranganath and like the Gopis of Vrindavan, she had also lost her heart to Him. The undettered, amorous love of the Gopis soaked her heart. In the idol of the lying Ranganath, Andal envisioned the image of Krishna who is love incarnate. She cherised the thought of Krishna with the enchanting smile and the divine flute on His lips, adorned with peacock feather. The stream of love and devotion overflowed in her heart. Ranganath and Krishna became one. Andal was born to love Krishna. Her deepest emotions unfolded in her poems and verses. Many noted scholars and devotees used to look at her in joy and wonder when she sang her own verses in her melifluous voice.
One day, Andal and her father were busy stringing garlands for the deity, in their cottage. A new desire took shape in Vishnuchitta’s mind, to string a unique garland and offer it to the Lord. He danced with joy on seeing the beautiful garland. How wonderful will it look on the Lord! Satisfied with his work, he kept the garland aside and went out to attend to his chores. Andal couldn’t take her eyes off the garland. She was engrossed. The irresistible image of Krishna, wearing this garland kept dancing in her eyes again and again. Andal, in the mode of Gopi bhav, kept on thinking of decorating her Lord. But wasn’t Krishna’s happiness more desirable? She had already surrendered herself to Krishna anyways. Rather than finding pleasure in Krishna, wouldn’t it be superior to please Krishna herself? She thought of decorating herself with the garland and offering herself at the feet of the Lord. She would gratify Ranganath, the love of her life. Deep in her thoughts, she subconsciously took the garland and put it on herself. This was not the first time she had done this though. These intense feelings were beginning to appear often. Many a times, she had stealthily worn the garland intended for the Lord. But that day, her feelings were uncontrollable, her heart restless. Dreaming to rejoice the Lord, she kept on looking at her gorgeous self in the mirror again and again. Thinking aloud, she said to herself, “This body is not mine. This youth, this beauty, this love, wearing this garland, it’s not for me. All this is for the ever youthful, dark complexioned Krishna, who is more effulgent than a million suns. My life will be fulfilled if I can arouse love in Him.”
After completing his work, Vishnuchitta arrived at the door of his cottage. It was already late and he had to rush to the temple with the tulsi and the garlands. But what he saw was incomprehensible. How could his daughter commit such a deed? He had made the garland for the Lord with so much care. All his effort was wasted. He was devastated seeing Andal wearing the garland. Andal snapped back into reality and became conscious of herself. She took out the garland and stood with her head down in shame. Vishnuchitta, heartbroken, hurried to the garden to again pluck flowers. He prayed to the Lord to forgive Andal for her mistake and stringed another garland for the deity. He offered the garland to the deity and looked at Him with tear filled eyes, “O Lord! Please accept this garland and pardon my daughter”. But the deity didn’t seem happy. As he watched, the garland tweaked and fell on the floor. Vishnuchitta felt ill at ease anticipating some misfortune. He shed silent tears at the feet of the Lord and left the temple.
On his way home, he chanced upon a dark kid, signaling him to come near him. But as soon as he got closer, the kid disappeared. He heard a voice, “Vishnuchitta! I was waiting for your daughter’s used garland. Wearing the garland that has already been worn by Andal, makes me happier. Why did you make me a new one? Everyday she wears the garland and then sends it for me.”
“But my Lord! How can I bring you used garland?”
“No, No. You are mistaken. That garland is not used, rather drenched with her devotion and adoration. She dresses up in the garland to make me happy. I need Andal’s garland soaked with love for me.”
Vishnuchitta’s heart was filled with gratitude and tears of joy rolled down his face. He bowed down in reverence.
Stories of Andal’s devotion spread throughout the region. She came to be known as Sri Rangannath’s beloved, His dearest paramour, a great saint. She became more and more immersed in deep thoughts, praying, worshipping, singing and dancing for Krishna. When Andal reached marriageable age, Vishnuchitta started worrying. He wanted his daughter to get married but Andal refused saying she had already accepted Lord Ranganath as her husband. After that, Andal’s penance of love and devotion became more severe. Just like the Gopis, who had observed Katyayini Vrat, the vow of worshipping Goddess Katyayini to get Krishna as their husband, Andal also observed the ‘Thirupavai’. In the company of young, unmarried girls, she used to bathe in the river, sculpt an idol of Krishna in sand and spend hours worshipping and singing for Krishna with steadfast devotion. Her only desire was to get Krishna as her husband.
His daughter’s state of affairs disturbed Vishnuchitta. He thought that a change of place might help. He took his daughter and started to travel places. But the fire in her passionate heart didn’t seem to die down. At last, Vishnuchitta returned to SriRangam, back to his divine deity Sri Ranganath. On beholding Lord Ranganath, there arose a passionate storm inside Andal. The desire to unite with the Lord intensified. She lost consciousness and fell down on the altar. Days went by filled with unbound joy. But the love strung heart waited for the day of union. “This life, this youth is wasted if it can’t be offered to the Lord”, She thought to herself. Andal took a vow. She would drown in the Kaveri and give up her life, if she is not united with the Lord. This would be the only way to quench the flame of desire that burnt her heart.
Ranganath was touched. Now, it was His turn to please His beloved. That night, Andal dreamt that the Lord stood beside her, dressed as the groom and she in the attire of a bride. People assembled all around. Their marriage ceremony was going on. The atmosphere was charged up with the sweet laughter of her friends. Standing beside the Lord, she felt intoxicated. She woke up from the dream but the nostalgia lingered making her body and mind immobile. She didn’t share her dream with anyone. At the onset of dusk, Vishnuchitta, after finishing his worship, arrived at the door of his cottage. To his surprise, he saw a big procession coming towards his place. There was a big commotion, the earth and the sky reverberating with sound of the drums and trumphets. A beautifully decorated palanquin carrying Sri Rangannath’s idol, in the midst of His devotees, was progressing towards his place.
Vishnuchitta, went forward and asked what was the occasion. The answer blew him away. That day, the Lord was coming to his home. The previous night, the priest and the servitors of the Lord, had received an incredible order in their dreams. The Lord had announced that he would marry the most fortunate daughter of Vishnuchitta. So, they brought Sri Rangannath’s idol at the most auspicious time for the most auspicious ceremony. The marriage was instituted according to the vedic rites with great pomp. Vishnuchitta gave his daughter away to the Lord. The next day, the bride, adorned with precious jewellery and garments, set off to Rangannath Temple, the house of her husband, in a palanquin. Hundreds of devotees, cheering enthusiastically, followed her. Andal proceeded to the sanctum sanctorum. The wait was over. Her body trembled in ecstasy. Tears, her offering of love, flowed down without barriers. The moment that she was waiting for all her life had arrived. She stood in front of her Lord, with the garland in her hand. Unaware of the outside world, she moved forward, her body swaying, into the inner sanctum and fell down at the feet of the Lord. The door closed behind her. Everyone looked on with wonder. They were amazed and scared. After sometime, the door opened. Everyone saw the lifeless body of Andal, embracing the Lord passionately, her hands around His waist. She had left this material world to be the spiritual consort of the Lord.
More than a thousand years have passed. But people still recount the stories of Andal’s devotion and love for the Lord. Even today, the vaishnavas, aspiring for the Lord’s mercy, sing the verses written by her and prostrate at her feet.
The world watched on as you sang in ecstasy, unaware
Relentless in love stringing flowers with care
You made the Lord ask for your garland
And He came seeking your hand
The only woman among the twelve Alwar saints
Ah! The fervour your verses have incited
O Andal! O Beloved of Ranganath!
What a masterpiece of love have you painted!
Image Credit: Eila Sahu