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Srivaisnava women

From: Vasudha Narayanan (vasu_at_religion.ufl.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 27 1997 - 06:24:38 PST

Dear members of the bhakti group:
Srimathi Kalyani had raised some interesting questions about stri dharma.
There is a lot to be said about it, but I will content myself with
observations on just two interesting Srivaishnava women.  The first woman is
the "other" Andal; not the Andal that we are all familiar with, but Andal,
the wife of Kurattalvan, and mother of Parasara Bhattar.  This Andal
exemplifies the strength and joy that comes with a complete surrender to
God.  she was not simply cognisant of philosophy; her behavior seems to
radiate it.  She was faced with one of the worst tragedy that we tend to
associate with earthly life-- the death of a grown child.  When Parasara
Bhattar attained the sacred feet of the lord, she said: "He who has all
(owns all), has taken in his hand what he owns; should we be question this?"
Later, when Parasara Bhattar's brother Sri Rama Pillai showed his intense
grief, she actually rebuked him by asking if he was sad that his brother had
attained this great joy (of reaching God).  
In the Srivaishnava tradition, some women seem to have been scholars.  This
brings us to the second woman Tirukkoneri Dasyai (who probably lived around
the 14th -15th centuries) has written a beautiful commentary on Nammalvar's
Tiruvaymoli.  It is known as Tiruvaymoli vachakamalai or Vivarana Satakam.
>From the first reading, it seems strikingly similar to the earlier
commentaries in language and theme, and yet the whole format is unique.  For
instance, while the commentaries written by the traditional commentators are
on all the verses, the Vachakamalai focusses only on a hundred verses chosen
from 1102; one from each unit of 11 verses in the poem.  These are
considered as the fragrant "blossoms" and are woven into a verbal
commentary.  The author sees the entire poem as elucidating the meaning of
the very first verse, and so she weaves phrases from the first verse into
the comments on the later ones.  Like a flower garland in south India which
is held together with twinings of fragrant herbs and silver threads, she
weaves the first verse around the whole poem, holding it together. She is
also the only commentator to illustrate her work with drawings, pictorially
depicting important themes of the poem. Each time Tirukkoneri Dasyai uses
the words of the first verse to interpret the meanings of the later verses,
she teases out a new meaning, gives a different nuance, giving the reader a
breathtaking kaleidoscope of linked images and pictures.  For example, the
word "cutar" is used as an adjective for the Lord's feet (ati) in the first
verse; in subsequent verses, she uses this word in many different ways.  It
is almost like an accomplished singer who can sing the same line in so many
different ways to vocally, emotionally, and spiritually convey the various
meanings of that are imbedded in it.
I'm sorry for this long post-- I get carried away on this topic.
With best wishes, Vasudha Narayanan (PS: Note for Smt. Kalyani
Krishnamachari-- I'm Ranga's wife; you may remember us from Naperville, 1979-80)