The famous legend of Kotai-Andal tells us the story of a girl who resolves to marry Lord Vishnu and no one else. In this quest, she appropriates a garland meant for him – an act that gives her much notoriety because eventually, her love finds its mark and she becomes Vishnu’s bride at the great temple of Srirangam. For this extraordinary feat, she earns the title ‘Andal’ – she who rules. Andal, who as a poet then christens herself ‘Kotai’, is now considered a mystic and revered as a goddess.

The only woman of the twelve Alvar poets (600-900 CE), Andal is credited with the great Tamil works, ‘Tiruppavai’ and ‘Nacciyar Tirumoli’, which are still recited with great enthusiasm today.

Ananga, I asked you and your brother:
‘Is it still possible to live?’
Unite me
with the lord of Venkatam
who holds in his hand
the disc tipped with fire.

In one of her most well-known poems, the ‘Nacciyar Tirumoli’ she opens with an invocation to Kamadeva (the God of desire). She requests him to act as a mediator in her quest for Vishnu’s love and in her plea, reveals the expanse of her desire. Her verses are bold and sensual, full of bodily desire and urgency.

Coax his glance
Toward me
persuade him to turn his face
bright as a lotus 
Toward me
Make him shower his grace
Upon me
 //
From childhood
I pledged my broad, swelling breasts
To the lord of Dvaraka
Quickly unite me with him. 

Her all-consuming love for Vishnu apparent in each verse.

There is only one thing left to say: 
Grant me the pleasure 
Of clasping the feet of Kesava
who claimed my womanhood
Let such glory be mine

Masterfully translated by Archana Venkatesan, her book of poetry ‘The Secret Garland’ brings out the translations in a voice relevant to a reader today – to interpret a 9th century verse for the 21st is a feat few accomplish so well. Read on to find the full poem, ‘The Song to Kamadeva’ pleading to intercede on her behalf with her beloved, Vishnu.

 

In the month of Tai – Andal’s Plea to Kamadeva

1.1
In the month of tai
I swept the ground, drew sacred mandalas.
In the beginning of maci 
I decorated the street with fine sand:
Adornment its sole purpose
 
 Ananga, I asked you and your brother: 
‘Is it still possible to live?’
Unite me
with the lord of Venkatam
who holds in his hand
the disc tipped with fire.
 
1.2
I dressed the streets with fine white sand
Bathed at dawn, fed the fire
With thorn-less twigs
I have completed my vow to you, Kamadeva
 
Now take up your bow
String a honey-drenched flower
Write the name of the only one
dark as the ocean
who ripped apart the bird
Aim it at him
Unite me.
 
1.3 
Three times a day
I offer fragrant blossoms of datura and marukai
to your feet
My heart seethes, still
If I must refrain from saying: 
‘You are without honour’
 
Then ready your arrows woven with flowers
Write the names of my beloved:
matchless Govinda
essence of all wisdom
master of Venkatam
Aim it at him, pierce him
Let me enter that glorious light.
 
1.4
Ancient Kamadeva, 
I painted the walls with your names, 
Your banner bearing the shark, 
Horses, attendants waving their fly whisks your black bow.
Have you even noticed?
 
From childhood
I pledged my broad, swelling breasts 
To the lord of Dvaraka
Quickly unite me with him.
 
1.5 
Manmatha, my breasts swell
For that lord alone
who holds aloft flaming disc and conch.
If there is even talk of offering my body to mortal men
I cannot live
 
It’s equal in violence to a forest jackal
Stealthily entering to sniff sacrificial food
Learned Brahmins, the holders of the Vedas, 
Offer gods in heaven.
 
1.6
Even through the month of pankuni
I kept my vow to you, O Kamadeva
I mimic lovely young people
Who excel in the arts of love
 
All day I watch the streets for my lord 
dark as rain clouds
lustrous as dusky kaya blossoms,
resplendent as black karuvilai blooms
 
Coax his glance
Toward me
persuade him to turn his face
bright as a lotus 
Toward me
Make him shower his grace
Upon me
 
 1.7
O Manmatha
I cooked fresh, newly harvested grain
I offered you sugar cane, sweet rice, raw paddy
And learned men praise you with great words
 
Coax Tiruvikrama 
who long ago measured worlds
To caress this delicate waist, these broad breasts
Great glory will be yours in this world.
 
1.8
My body is filthy, my hair unkempt, my lips pale
I eat only once a day
Radiant mighty Kamadeva
Take note of my vow
 
There is only one thing left to say: 
Grant me the pleasure 
Of clasping the feet of Kesava
who claimed my womanhood
 
Let such glory be mine
 
1.9
O Kamadeva
I worship you three times a day
I offer fresh flowers at your feet
If I can’t serve the perfect lord
dark as the ocean
My endless tears, my unfulfilled love, 
My pitiful cries – ‘ Mother! Mother!’
Will taint you: 
 
I am like an ox laboring under a yoke
Beaten and left to starve.
 
1.10
Kotai of Vishnucittan
King of Puduvai
city of towering mansions that rise like mountains
Sang this garland of sweet Tamil
To plead with Kamadeva
with his sugar cane bow and five-flower arrows
To unite her with the lord
who broken the tusk of the elephant
as it screamed in agony, 
who ripped apart the bird
that one dark and lustrous as a gem.
 
Those who sing this soft song of plea
Will remain forever at the feet 
of the supreme king of the gods. 

Source: The Secret Garland translated by Archana Venkatesan. Get book here.

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