Poetic expression of devotion
The Andal festival, organised by the Prakriti Foundation, will not only provide an insight into the saint-poetess' life and works, but also bridge the gap between tradition and modernity. A curtain-raiser.
The Prakriti Foundation has organised an Andal festival on December 8 and 9, prefixing it just before the advent of Marghazhi, and also the music festivals.
At Sundar Mahal, Padmavathy Road, Jeypore Colony, off Gopalapuram (ph. 8203582), a treat awaits the Chennaiites. Two eventful days for those who are interested in the simple, wholesome love and devotion of Andal to the Supreme. The festival wraps up discussions, paper presentations, performances and an exhibition on the Srivaishnavite saint-poetess, who had lived for a brief span sometime between the 7th and 9th Century. Varahakshetra (Srivilliputhur) Puranam authenticates that Andal had been found as a five-year old child in the garden by Periazhwar, who donned the role of a foster father. He brought her up in grand style showering her with love and affection. She had sent messengers to the Lord himself, and finally became one with the Lord at Srirangam. The sensuous, imaginative and imagistic excellence of her poetry (173 poems which include the 30 songs of Tiruppavai) is unique, for expressing the highest of philosophy in the simplest of Tamizh.
Says Ranvir Shah, founder, Prakriti Foundation, ``There is so much of contemporary relevance in tradition, especially in Andal's life and works. Marghazhi reverberates with Tiruppavai strains and learned discourses that may attract those who are steeped in tradition. This festival is a conscious drive to look at Andal both as a religious figure in the Srivaishnavite tradition, and as a motif of feminine youth and poetry, in the social/anthropological frame as perceived in popular contemporary imagination. Andal continues to live in various present-day contexts, in calendars, panchangams, kalyana mandapams, in the South Indian concept of brides who are adorned with the typical Andal kondai or hairdo during the muhurtham".
The programme has been planned to bridge the gap between East and West, and between tradition and modernity. It is being flagged off with Tiruppavai recitation by Padma Narayanan and group on December 8.
Katherine Young, (a Srivaishnavite scholar and professor of Hinduism at the Faculty of Religious Studies, Mcgill University, Canada), and Archana Venkatesan (Ph.D. scholar, University of California, Berkeley) have sent papers.
These will be read alongside talks and presentations by scholars such as K.K.A.Venkatachari (Indological scholar), Prema Nandakumar (a scholar in religion), K.V. Raman (Archaeological Foundation), Sujatha Vijayaraghavan (musician and scholar) and Srilata Muellar (Heidelberg University).
Kalyanapuram R. Aravamudhan is to render the story of Andal in the Kathakalakshepam mode, (Dec 9, 6.30 p.m.) followed by Priyadarshini Govind's padams in Bharatanatyam.
An interesting event called the Arayar sevai is part of the programme. This unique tradition is still practised in four places - Srivilliputhur, Azhwarthirunagari, Srirangam and Thirunarayanapuram (Melkote).
The Arayars first recite the Azhwar's songs, explain their inner meanings as handed down to them by their ancestors and then perform abhinaya. At Melkote, Arayars only recite pasurams; they do not perform abhinaya.
Prakriti Foundation has arranged for the Arayar sevai to be held at Nithyakalyana Perumal Temple, Tiruvidavendai, near Mamallapuram at 6 p.m. on December 8. The 73 year old Arayar of Srivilliputhur, Sri Srinivasa Rangachary Swamy and his son Balamukundan will be performing for the first time outside Srivilliputhur.
There is a photography exhibition of Srivilliputhur and Andal by Satyajit Dhananjayan, and an exhibition of images of Andal in traditional and contemporary forms by Lily Vijayaraghavan and Shanta Guhan. There is a garland display by Indira Venkataswamy, a well-known researcher on flowers and their place in temple worship.
There will also be a display of parrots made of leaves. The Andal at Srivilliputhur carries a parrot made of leaves and flowers. For over five generations, a single family has been engaged in making this parrot everyday. It adorns the hand of Andal and is given away as prasadam to a VIP devotee the next day. It is unique to the Andal temple at Srivilliputhur and it takes five hours to make a parrot. Its body is made of tapioca and the beak of pomegranate flower. Its wings are made with arali flowers and its feathers from the leaves of the Nandiavattai plant.
When asked why he had decided on a festival for Andal, Ranvir Shah of Prakriti Foundation, says, ``Three years ago, I got interested in Indology and I started reading more. Chennai being a centre for cultural fecundity, there is scope for sharing and learning. The more tradition is revisited, the stronger it becomes. When redefined, traditions change, (and need to) due to the dynamic reality of the present and to meet the contemporary demands. Today's youngsters are reluctant to accept tradition without questioning, and rightly so. As custodians of culture and tradition, is it not the responsibility of every parent to assess the quality and merit of what is going to be handed down to the next generation in terms of way of life, identity etc? These are very important questions that need valid answers. The uniqueness of Indian experience is that it is alive and vibrant. Even our temples are vibrant and connected to the past where to this day archanas are performed."
There is much in the life and contributions of Andal that reaches out beyond the closely-knit Vaishnavite community and culture, which this festival tries to capture.
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