Thiruppavai – Mystery behind the Song

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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Throughout this month a song called Thiruppavai, a devotional song in praise of Lord Krishna, is sung very early in the morning.

In Tamilnadu, from about December 15th to January 14th is known as the month of ‘maargazhi’ ( called ‘maagh’ in north India ). It ends on pongal day, on 14th January, which is called makar sankranti in north India.

I reached Chennai on 30th November 2004 to take over as Chief Justice of Madras High Court, and soon thereafter maargazhi began.

ThiruppavaiThroughout this month a song called Thiruppavai, a devotional song in praise of Lord Krishna, is sung very early in the morning, more often by women (though also by some men).

This song, Thiruppavai, was written many centuries ago (maybe a thousand years ago) by the poet saint Andal, a young woman originally named Goda who lived in the town of Srivilliputhur (which I later visited).

It is (Thiruppavai) sung throughout maargazhi not only in Tamilnadu but also wherever Tamilians are found, even in America and Canada. In Toronto, which I visited recently, I found it was sung by many Srilankan Tamil ladies.

Since I became the head of the judiciary of Tamilnadu, I decided to learn something of the culture of the people of Tamilnadu. I therefore got a copy of Thiruppavai (in English translation), and read it carefully.

What struck my mind most was the accurate description of the Mathura countryside, though that was far away in north India (about 2490 kms) from Tamilnadu.

ThiruppavaiThere is accurate depiction of herds of cattle with tinkling bells, musical sound of butter churning, conch sounds from temples, chirping of birds, girls bathing in ponds, and other minute details of the ambience of Mathura region, which I have visited several times, and I can vouch for the accuracy of these details..

In those days there were no modern methods of transport, no aeroplanes, trains or cars, so obviously Andal (Goda) could not have travelled far from Srivilliputhur.

How could she describe in such detail the ambience of the Mathura region, which is 2490 kms away in north India with such accuracy? This is still a mystery to me, and requires research.

I send my best wishes for a Happy Pongal to all Tamilians and other south Indians.


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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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