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Who is Nappinnai?

From: Parthasarati Dileepan (MFPD_at_UTCVM.UTC.EDU)
Date: Tue May 30 1995 - 06:20:55 PDT

The name Nappinnai, or just Pinnai, is unique to
Thamizh, NeeLaa being the equivalent in Sanskirit.
Aazhvaars use Nappinnai almost exclusively for Lord
Krishna's consort.  References to Pinnai is found in
non-sri vaishNava Thamizh literature as well, such as
Chilappathikaaram and Paripaadal.  These precede
aazhvaar paasurams by at least 100 years.

Who is this Nappinnai?  Due to the association with
Krishna and Gokulam it is intuitively satisfying to equate
Nappinnai with Radha.  But is this tenable?  If not, what
alternative association is plausible?

Until just a few years ago I simply assumed that
Nappinnai must be Radha.  Then, I heard someone
contradict this view.  Now, in "Viraha-Bhakti" (page
221-225) F. Hardy [1] suggests that Nappinnai and
Radha are NOT one and the same.  However,  the
alternative he offers seems farfetched to me.  First let me
present the reasons for disassociating Nappinnai from
Radha, followed by Hardy's alternative suggestion, and
finally my own guesses.

Nappinnai and Radha:
All of aazhvaar's works are free of specific references to
the name Radha.  Aazhvaars did not shy away from other
northern names, albeit they Thamizhized them, such as,
sireedharan, irudeekEsan, uruppiNi (RukmiNi), iraaman,
vaidhEvee, ilakkumaNan, sanagaraasan (Janaka),
iraNiyan,   kancan (Kamsan), etc., etc.  If they
intended to refer to Radha, they surely would have used
something like iraadhai, in stead of Pinnai.  Interestingly,
Hardy says Bhagavatham, a Sanskrit work by a South
Indian in line with aazhvaar paasurams, is also free of
the name Radha.  Further,  Nappinnai is portrayed by
aazhvaars as Krishna's wife while Radha is supposed to
be his mistress.  One may then speculate that legend of
Radha was not well known in the south during aazhvaar's

Hardy's alternative:
First, Pinnai is to be understood as "after" and not plaits
as in Pinnal.  Thus, according to Hardy, Pinnai is
younger sister and the Nal in Nal + pinnai (= Nappinnai)
is just an adjective.  Then, Hardy goes on to suggest that
Pinnai is Krishna's younger sister, Subhadra.  Further,
this Subhadra is none other than Kali for Kali is
referenced as Krishna's anujaa in Mahabharatham.
Another unlikely source Hardy cites is
Chilapathikaaram.  In vEduva vari (12.20 - 22) we have
the name Neeli for Kali with Kamsan referred to as her
maternal uncle, i.e. maaman.  (Here Chil. has Neeli
kicking Sagadam to death!!)  Thus, Hardy suggests,
Neeli is indeed NeeLaa and she is Krishna's younger
sister (pinnai) Subhadra.   To reconcile all of this with
the erotic association between Nappinnai and Krishna
found in thamizh literature, Hardy hopelessly suggests
that (1) Subhadra is only a step-sister for Krishna, not a
real one, and (2) the Thamizhs making these erotic
associations were not aware of or have forgotten the true
identity of Nappinnai.

My guess:
Hardy is right to reject "the one with beatiful plaits" for
Nappinnai, but there is no justification for interpreting
Pinnai as younger sister, that too to Krishna.  If nappinnai
is Subhandra that would be an important part of our puraaNaas.
It is incredulous that aazhvaars, who otherwise show remarkable
familiarity even with obscure legends described in puraaNaas
would be unaware or forgotten such an important association.
My guess is that pinnai simply means the one who came later.
Then, pinnai is Lakshmi, the one who came after MoodhEvi,
i.e. Munnai, from thiruppaRkadal.  Or, pinnai could mean
the second thaayaar, i.e. Bhu dhEvi, after the first, i.e.
periya piraatti.  Thus, Nappinnai is piratti incarnated
as a gopikaa in Gokulam.

What do you think?

[1]  "Viraha-Bhakthi: The Early History of Krsna
Devotion in South India," Friedhelm Hardy, Oxford
University Press, 1983.