Madangalil aval Margazhi
Malargalile aval malligai
Of the months, she is Margazhi
Of the flowers, she is jasmine
Why is a beautiful woman compared to the month of Margazhi? Margazhi is the much poeticised month in Thamizh calendar. Tamil Nadu experiences tropical climate with hot summers, blustery monsoons, and sweltering post monsoon heat. The Margazhi month that falls between mid December to mid January is a hiatus before the mercury picks gradually up through the months of Thai (mid January – mid February), Masi (mid February to mid March), Panguni (mid March to mid April) to climax with agni nakshatram the 14 day hot period at the end of Chithirai (mid April to mid May) and the beginning of Vaigasi (mid May to mid June).
That is for the earthly calendar. What about the calendar of the devas? In the deva lokha one human year equals one day. The six months from Aadi (mid July to mid August) to Margazhi corresponding to the southern solstice make up the night of the Gods, the six other months make up the day of the Gods. So the beautiful month of Margazhi is the dawn, the Brahma muhurtham, when the celestial beings wake up for their day. So we spend the whole of the Margazhi month gently coaxing the devas, the blue hued and lotus eyed Vishnu to wake up.
This is the holy month in the Hindu Tamil calendar when people immerse themselves in devotion, there are no marriages held in this month, men and women are expected to spend their time visiting temples, invoking bhagavath nama through japam, meditation and by singing bhajans. The mornings begin with women drawing large kolam, they then visit temples where they sing the proverbial ‘Thiruppavai’ composed by the Vaishnavite woman mystic Andal. Group of men and women sing bhajans and circumambulate the streets around temples.
Margazhi is synonymous with Andal’s ‘Thiruppavai’, a collection of 30 verses that correspond with the 30 days of the month.
the daughter of the devout Brahmin of Srivilliputtur,
who offers cool, fragrant, green lotus-garlands to the Lord –
Kodai is the composer of these verses.
Thirty in number,
a string of Thamizh verses
when rendered with passion and devotion
O, my friend,
secures the grace of my Lord,
whose eyes shine crimson.
He is fortune embodied,
the handsome husband of Lakshmi.
Identifying herself with the ayarpadis or the cowherd community, Andal, the fifteen year old girl sang these songs of deep and pure devotion twelve hundred years ago during the beautiful month of Margazhi in a village called Srivilliputtur not very far from the Pandya capital of Madurai. Andal the mystic poet was the adopted daughter of Periazhvar, a Vaishnava saint, who found the orphaned child in the brindavanam of the temple in Srivilliputtur. He named the child Kodai and the beautiful child grew in an ambience of godliness, she accompanied her father to the temple every day and wove the garland of flowers with great care that the devout man offered to Lord Vishnu. She spent the day in the temple with her father, listening to the songs that he sang in praise of the Lord.
Being a child of circumstances, the girl grew with an abiding love for the Lord whom she started seeing as her lover. She dreamt of visiting the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, pined for the lord and sang songs pleading her lord to come and take her away from the binding world. Her ‘Thiruppavai’ songs are replete with the rasa of Bhakti and devotion, the plaintive cry of the jiva yearning for union with the paramatma is brought out in a simple manner as the songs effortlessly move between earthly images and the ethereal as they delineate the legend of the Govinda, the cloud hued cowherd of Gokul.
Historically the songs serve as a source for the rituals and practices followed in the Thamizh country during the eighth and ninth centuries. The songs allude to Pavai nombu, a ritual observed by young girls and women to bring prosperity to the land and happiness to all the people. It is generally believed that the nombu was observed for Katyayani (a form of Durga). Women and girls observing pavai nombu woke before dawn, bathed in the river and made an image of Katyayani with the clay found in the river bank and offered prayers to the Goddess.
‘Thiruppavai’ commences with a group of girls routing their way on a cold Margazhi morning to the banks of the river to observe nombu for the Lord who measured the world with his three strides. Andal says to her companions –
We will sing in praise of the Lord
Who rests on the waves of the ocean
We neither partake of rich foods, milk nor ghee
Having bathed we do not adorn ourselves with kohl or flowers
We follow a virtuous life and are gentle on our words
We offer gifts to the needy
We are blissful as out thoughts turn toward liberation.
The entourage straggling to the river wake up the girls still sleeping, chiding them for their negligence of duty towards the Lord.
Apart from the bhava of Bhakti, the poems are evocative of Margazhi thingal, the beautiful Margazhi morning laden with dew that inspired a sensitive girl to write a poem that is as much, according to me, a dedication to the Margazhi day that carries kisses of cold nights, as much as it is a dedication to her Lord. The dawn takes a long, long time to come by as the eastern skies nudge the daybreak with tinges of the purple and orange. So does her Lord takes his time, agonises the nayaki.
Illustrations: Lalitha Thiagarajan