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ANDAL'S GARDEN: The Love Letter

January 16, 2021

Specially curated and presented by Dr. Anita Ratnam and on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, the morning presentations of Margazhi month starting from Dec 16, 2020 titled ANDAL'S GARDEN featured verses from Andal's Thiruppavai, while the evening presentations titled 'ANDAL'S GARDEN: The Love Letter' were devoted to verses from Nachiyar Thirumozhi, a lesser read masterpiece by the 9th century female saint Andal.

Sharanya Chandran (Bharatanatyam)

@ chandran.sharanya

Andal sees the cuckoo birds enlivening her grove, the dazzling peacocks, the beautiful trees, fruits and flowers - all of whom remind her of her dark Lord, her dear Kannan. Tormented by them, she brands them all as the five great sinners! "You took on his hue, just to torment me!" she blames them mercilessly.
Andal then pleads to the cuckoo bird to call out her coral-lipped Lord's name, and plead with him to come to her instantly. Should it not do her bidding and call out to her Lord? She threatens to even drive the bird away from her bower!

Sharanya has been learning, choreographing and performing Bharatanatyam for over 25 years. An integral part of Natya Vriksha founded by her mother/ guru Geeta Chandran, Sharanya assists with teaching and curating festivals. She is also trained in nattuvangam. She is a recipient of the Swami Haridas Sangeet Kala Ratna Samman, The Yuva Natya Shiromani award, Parampara Award and the Chitra Kala Sangam Award. Sharanya pursues her career as a development professional.

Archana Raja (Bharatanatyam)


The Nachiyar Thirumozhi is a lesser read masterpiece by Andal, compared to her magnum opus, Thiruppavai. This spectacular work is a more visceral exploration of her relationship to her Lord, Sri Ranganatha. The second poem in this work describes the mischievous Krishna taking delight in destroying the girls' sandcastles - a metaphor for how He ravages their inner minds too.

We have toiled over them until our backs throb...
Allow us to enjoy the fruit of our labor,
O Lord, alpha and omega, let us gaze
with pride for a passing moment on what
we have so carefully built.

Sifting particles of sand, we've wearied
our wrists thick with bangles,
even as you lounge on approaching waves, laughing no doubt.
Don't wreck our sandcastles.

You cross our courtyard just to show us
your sublime smile, never revealing
whether or not you intend to smash our sandcastles
and our hearts as well.

Oh Govinda, who leaped to span
the waist of the earth and the wet
of the sky, if you embrace us like that,
what will our neighbours say?

(Translation by Ravi Shankar, 'ANDAL: Autobiography of a Goddess')

Archana Raja is a Bharatanatyam exponent from the Bay Area, a 'B' grade Doordarshan artiste, trained for the last 19 years under the tutelage of first Sheela Unnikrishnan, and currently Renjith and Vijna Vasudevan, and Vidhya Subramanian. She has performed in solo and group productions across the world. Recipient of the CCRT scholarship and Nritya Ratna awardee, Archana currently runs her own school called Laya School of Dance.

Dr. Pranamya Suri (Kuchipudi)


My heart is filled with eagerness, hope, pain. Oh rain! You fall on Venkatam mountain where my handsome lord stands. These little raindrops that coalesce end up pouring into the river, which empties into the ocean. In the same way, my love for Him overflows and will eventually reach that ocean which He reclines on. Each element of the rain only reminds me of Him and torments me more. The peacock, cuckoo, ocean and the clouds have failed me. Will you, at least, convey my message of love to Him? Upon His tight embrace, my heart will melt like wax, like wax that makes its way for bronze. (When a Panchaloha vigraham is made, first the surface of the wax is covered with clay. Molten metal is poured into the clay, which melts the wax). Will you unite Him with me... and then pour out your heart's content!
(Adapted from translations by Archana Venkatesan)

Dr. Pranamya Suri is a well established Kuchipudi dancer, and the student of Srilatha Suri, Dr. Sobha Naidu and Jai Kishore Mosalikanti. Pranamya is also a physician and is currently pursuing her medical residency. She was founder and former president of Echoes of India, a non-profit organization, through which she installed 14 water purification plants in India (serving more than 70,000 people) and established the first medical clinic in Kuchipudi Village, as well as in Nalgonda.

Bindu Rajendren (Mohiniattam)


'A dance to the rain clouds' is a lament to the clouds that explores some of Andal's thoughts during a rainy day. Bindu uses translation of the poem 'Vinnila melappu' by Dr. Archana Venkatesan (from Nachiyar Thirumozhi) interspersed with verses from her own poetry to portray the hope and anguish cascading through Andal's mind. Andal compares herself to the earth and envies her. Although the thirst of parched earth has been quenched by the welcome embrace of rain, Andal's desire for her Lord remains unfulfilled...

Clouds spread like blue cloth
across the vast sky
Has Tirumal my beautiful lord
of Venkatam, where cool streams leap
come with you?
Tears gather and spill between my breasts
like waterfalls.
He has destroyed my womanhood.
How does this bring him pride?

Clouds that spill lovely pearls
what message has the dark-hued lord
of Venkatam
sent through you?
The fire of desire has invaded my body
I suffer.
I lie awake here in the thick of night,
a helpless target for the cool southern breeze.

(Excerpted from 'The Secret Garland: Andal's Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirumoli' by Archana Venkatesan)

A RAIN SONG by Bindu Rajendren
grey sheathed sky
roaring drumbeats echo
conspicuous silence

singer of mist
whisper of songs
lullaby caressed zephyrs

translucent pearls and broken silences
a capella twinkling into life
effusive drizzle dance

arched trees and branches
drenched in fluid indulgence
errant diamonds on emerald leaves

parched earth, soul outstretched
wet, wild and delicately fragrant
an embrace after eternity.

Bindu Rajendren is a Mohiniattam practitioner based in Brisbane, Australia. An obsession with letting her mind wander is often what inspires Bindu's dance choreographies, paintings and poetry.

Aniruddha Knight with Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan

@ aniruddhaknight / @ mads_kalai

Aniruddha Knight

Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan
PALLANDU PALLANDU are the opening two words of the very first Pasuram of the 4000 verses called the Divya Prabandham. Andal's THIRUPPAVAI and NACHIYAR THIRUMOZHI are a part of these 4000 verses composed by 12 Alwar saint poets.
Composed by Andal's foster father Vishnu Chittan, the opening verses are considered most auspicious and are always chanted daily during prayer. They describe the glory of Vishnu's form holding the conch and the discus and whose radiance sends fear among the enemies and courage to devotees.
The next set of verses are from Andal's Nachiyar Thirumozhi where Godai, a maturing teenager is calling out to Kama Deva.

I worship You Manmatha with fresh-cut paddy, sugarcane,
Sweetest jaggery, flattened rice, with
The pour of mantras chanted by holy Brahmins
And plead that he who is Vamana
And Trivikrama too touches me with his sacredness
Touches my breasts, my waist so slender
I live only for this pleasure-- pray help me
And enhance Your glory.

(Translations by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, 'ANDAL: Autobiography of a Goddess')

The performance ends with the ritual chanting of the 29th Tiruppavai where ANDAL seeks no moksha but multiple rebirths so she may serve her Vishnu in song and chants.

Aniruddha Knight, grandson of T Balasaraswati and son of Lakshmi Knight, is the Director of Bala Music and Dance and Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts. He is a 9th generation descendant of a 200-year-old family of dancers and musicians from southern India.

Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan, an architecture graduate and a gold medalist in his Post Graduation, specializes in conservation and architectural research. He is a popular speaker on a wide range of topics associated with heritage, religion and literature. He is currently pursuing his doctoral research on "Temple Town Planning" and also serves on government instituted panel for conservation of temples in Tamil Nadu.

Shreyasi Gopinath (Bharatanatyam)

@ shreyasigopinath

None of you can understand my ailment or find a cure for it. Instead, please take me to the bank of the river where the one whose complexion is that of the clouds jumped from the Kadamba tree on to dance on Kaliya's hoods. If He gently passes His hands over me, I will be cured of my sickness. Please take me to Him....

Bharatanatyam enthralled Shreyasi as a child; at a very young age she started training under Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan, by 15 she moved to Kalakshetra to pursue her dream. After her Post Diploma, she moved back to Delhi and mentored with Guru Jamuna Krishnan. Shreyasi is a Ministry of Culture scholarship holder, graded Doordarshan artist, empanelled with IRCEN. She has performed widely in both India and abroad.

Dr. Anupama Kylash (Vilasini Natyam)

Goda, from Āmuktamalyada of Sri Krishnadeva Raya is a precocious young lady, emotional and fiery in spirit. In this Padyam, Goda, filled with love and longing, but finding no way to unite with her beloved Lord, has a tiny spat with her friends, as she derides Vishnu in no uncertain terms. She says:

"He should never have taken these human forms of a God, Sage or King. He has only caused suffering to innumerable women in these forms! He should have stayed -
A Fish! What? What do you all say? In this form, he protected the knowledge of the Vedas? So what, when he hardly has any knowledge of a woman's innermost desires?!
Should have stayed - A Turtle! Oh! You say he lifted the mighty Mandara mountain on his back?! So what, he played the Gods and Demons against each other and stealthily gave nectar to the Gods!
Should have remained - A Wild Boar! Oh he rescued and united with Bhudevi in this form, did he? So what, when he left so many women alone, to suffer his desertion?!
He should have stayed - A Man Lion! What? He killed a ferocious demon king in this form?? Didn't he come running at one call from a little child? Yet, he ignores the repeated calls of all the women longing for him!!"

How does this tirade end? Watch to find out!

Dr. Anupama Kylash is a practitioner of Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam and an academic with a Doctorate in Dance. She has performed widely in India and abroad, presented several papers and conducted workshops on a wide range of subjects. An author of two books and several articles, she currently serves as Faculty in the Department of Kuchipudi, University of Silicon Andhra, California.

Vidha Lal (Kathak)

@ vidhalal

Vidha uses choreographic abstractions as take off points from the many names that are associated with Lord Vishnu. The words of Thiruppavai verses are braided with musical elaborations so that the dance can be reimagined as Andal finds echoes among the crumbling walls and corridors of Delhi's abandoned spaces. Bridging imagery from Thiruppavai where Krishna is Trivikrama who strides the worlds, Andal calls out to nature to carry her message of love.

Vidha Lal is a senior disciple of renowned Kathak Guru Geetanjali Lal of Jaipur Gharana. Vidha is a recipient of Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.

Divya Nayar (dance theater)


I'm not sure how often the translation of a poem inspires dance movement; this was a first for me! Priya Sarukkai Chabria's translation of this verse of Nachiyar's Thirumozhi, was a revelation for its sheer decadence in 'unraveling' the ullurai in Andal's words.

With the guidance of this beautiful translation as spoken word, I have played with the motif of spirals -a reflection of the scenery and Her state of mind in this verse.
This is followed by the next and final verse in Her message to the clouds - a benediction for those that recite Her sacred verses with conviction.

Clouds clashing like rutting elephants trumpeting with trunks entwined over Vengadam's peak -
ask him who sleeps on the snake's stupendous loops to awaken to
my distress, to be not twisted
in his words. He, Supreme Guardian of All ignores me as he slumbers, head secure beneath its hood.
I blossom in love, a vine yearning to wrap around him. How
will universes assess him if he lets me wither?

(Verse: Nachiyar Thirumozhi 8.9 - Mada yanai pol
Translated by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, 'ANDAL: Autobiography of a Goddess')

Chennai based dancer and musician Divya Nayar began dancing at Kalakshetra as a part-time student and trained further with Sheejith Krishna at Sahrdaya Foundation. She has toured and performed extensively as an ensemble artist, and continues to be a student of the arts as she forges her path ahead as a soloist, educator and choreographer.

Ileana Citaristi (Odissi)

The world of Andal's poetry is completely new to me. I am slowly entering into it through the Andal's Garden series. I am only at her doorstep. I have imagined her as an adolescent girl discovering her sensuality through her passionate love towards her God. The conch becomes the object of her plea, she talks to her, caresses her, reprimands her, tries to discard her, finally surrenders to her.

Dr. Ileana Citaristi is an Italian-born Odissi and Chhau dancer, teacher and choreographer, based in Bhubaneswar since 1979. She was awarded the 43rd National Film Awards for Best Choreography in 1996 and conferred with the Padma Shri by the President of India in 2006 for her contributions to Odissi dance. Author of three books, she is imparting training in Odissi and Chhau dance in her own institution Art Vision in Bhubaneswar, founded by her in 1996.

Ragini Chandershekar (Bharatanatyam)


Verses 4 & 7

O! Queen of Jasmines, do not make painful afflictions on me;
O! Splendorous and virtuous consort of the Lord,
I surrender unto you, you being our refuge!
He, the son of Dasaratha who cut asunder the nose
Of the immoral, murderous demon, Surpanaka,
If His words become fallacious,
Will not my birth also turn out fictitious!

O! lofty peacocks moving here and there
Unfurl your feathers splendid, as you dance!
Ignoramus that I am unfortunate, as to have
Not seen your dance divine; Govinda enthralled me and took all my wealth away,
Leaving my soul in dire straits!

(Adapted from the translation by Vankeepuram Rajagopalan)

Ragini Chandershekar, the daughter-disciple of celebrated dancer-teacher-researcher Jamuna Krishnan, has a performing career of more than 30 years. A senior empaneled artiste with ICCR and SPIC MACAY and a graded artist with Doordarshan, Ragini is a ranked outstanding artist with the Festival of India empanelment of the Ministry of Culture. A recipient of the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar and Yuva Kala Bharati, her dance is a seamless blend of movement, poetry, music and aesthetics.

Yashoda Thakore (Kuchipudi)

This verse by Parashara Bhattar bows to Goda who captured and experienced Krishna through her garlands. Andal is then teased by her friends in Vedanta Desikar's verse, as the one who fell in love with someone who sleeps on a snake and rides a bird.
To this Andal, our little loveable girl, Rangamannar and Garudalwar, do I surrender.

Yashoda is a dancer of Kuchipudi and Devadasi Nrityam. She teaches at the Department of Kuchipudi, University of Silicon Andhra.

Divya Kasturi (Bharatanatyam)

@ divyakasturico

Oh cool clouds, residing in Venkatam,
please descend to his red feet and appeal to Mal
who has red eyes and has
Churned the sea filled with shells.
Tell him that my soul would survive only
if he enters me one day and
wipes away the red sandal paste smeared on my breast

(Nachiyar Thirumozhi 8.7
Translated by Palaniappan Vairam Sarathy)

A message...then...and now...

This is an attempt at unravelling the 'bold and the beautiful' Andal's Nachiyar Thirumozhi 7th verse of chapter 8. I set out to understand and internalise unsurpassed love, devotion, identity, extreme surrender nestled into a state of a 'being'. The 'being' unfurled layered with physicality, music, sound, voice, textures of nature all envisioned through the lens of a camera painted with shades of emotion, obsession almost that continues to inhabit me and my surroundings everyday... the search continues...

Divya Kasturi is a multifaceted dance artist and Carnatic vocalist with a Masters in South-Asian Dance Studies, London. Alongside her classical explorations being a Chennai girl and a 'Kalaimamani' awardee, she has an avid interest in integrating technology and dance. Her long-standing experience working in Television & Media in Chennai as well as British Physical Theatre in UK having worked with Simon McBurney (Complicite), enables her unique artistic creations. She also trains the next-gen through her Divya Kasturi Company-youth talents, UK.

Ramya Ramnarayan (Bharatanatyam)


Thirsting for Kannan's sapphire body, I lie
Prone. Pray don't gather to mock me! He is
My lord. Your words burn like tamarind juice
Sluicing a sore. He does not know the agony
Of a woman cased in separation. Quick, bring
The pitambar that wraps his waist
And fan me with its golden length so its scented
Breeze cools my fever.

He killed Kamsa whose eyebrows are like thick
Black bows; my lord's eyes shoot sidelong
Glances, swift arrows that find their mark
In my heart. Wounded and defenceless
My world quakes. Yet not once has he
Reassured me, 'Do not fear'. Should he part
With the tulasi garland that adorns his chest
Bring it to smear on my breasts.

(Translations by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, 'ANDAL: Autobiography of a Goddess')

Ramya Ramnarayan is a protégé of two exponents of Bharatanatyam, S.K. Rajarathnam Pillai and Kalanidhi Narayanan. She is a gallery artist with Pentacle, roster artist with Young Audiences of NJ, Eastern PA and empanelled artiste with ICCR. An A grade artist with Doordarshan, she has performed widely in India and USA. Her awards include Kalaimamani and Nadanamamani.

Krithika Rajagopalan (Bharatanatyam)


"Vinnila Melappu" is the eighth Thirumozhi with Andal telling her plight to the clouds and sending them as her messenger to Govinda, who is stationed in Thirumalai.

Ceaseless storm canopy unfurling beneath
The covering sky, roof beneath its roof
Do you declare the coming of my splendid Tirumal
From high Venkata where dreaming waterfalls plunge?
My tears spill and crash between the full
Hills of my breasts. My love is sworn to secrecy.
Yet he makes me break my vow.
How does this honour him, tell?

(Translations by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, 'ANDAL: Autobiography of a Goddess')

Krithika Rajagopalan, daughter/disciple of Hema Rajagopalan, is an actor, choreographer, performer, voice over artist, collaborator, TedTalk Junkie, and a student for life. She is the teacher and principal dancer at Natya Dance Theatre, San Francisco Bay Area.

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