The Tiruppāvai (The Sacred Vow) is a short poem of thirty verses composed by Kōtai, a 9th century mystic and poet. The poem describes a vow undertaken by young cowherd women of Gokula (Tamil, Āyarpāṭi) to win Krishna for themselves. The poem has a complex, multi-layered structure, animated by the quest for a mysterious paai-drum and eventually Krishna himself. The poem ends with a refrain, ēl ōr empāvā(Hey girls, this is our vow), which is likely what gives it its name. The poet Kotai comes to be known by the name Āṇṭāl, She Who Rules, for legend has it that she did in fact win Vishnu’s love, merging with him at the temple in Srirangam.

Excerpted from. Venkatesan, Archana. The Secret Garland: Andal’s Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirumoli. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2016.

  1. Mārkaḻi Tiṅkaḷ

It’s the full moon of Margali
a good day

to bathe
precious girls, richly adorned
dear to Ayarpati
land of abounding prosperity.

The son of Nandagopa
fierce with his sharp spear,
the youthful lion-cub of Yasoda
woman of matchless eyes,

dark-hued and lotus eyed
his face the sun and moon
that Narayana alone can grant us the parai-drum.
Undertake this vow
the world will rejoice

el or empavay

2. Vaiyattu Vāḻvīrkāḷ

People in this world
listen to the rituals of our pavaivow:

We sing of the supreme one
who rests silently
on the ocean of milk.

We eat no ghee, drink no milk
daily we bathe before dawn.

Kohl doesn’t darken our eyes
flowers don’t adorn our hair.

We do nothing that’s wrong
speak nothing that’s evil

We give freely
offer alms to those in need

We live joyously
trusting all this will liberate us

el or empavay

13. Ellē Iḷaṅkiḷiyē

Girl, delicate as a parrot
are you still asleep?

Don’t clamour so shrilly
I am coming.

Enough of these false promises
we know all your excuses.

You’re the clever ones
but can’t you let me be?

Come now. What else is there to do?
Has everyone else gathered?

Yes, everyone is here
join us and count them for yourself.

Come sing
of the mighty one
who killed the rutting elephant

of the one who destroys
the malice of his enemies

of enigmatic Mayan
who is unsurpassed

el or empavay

16. Nāyakaṉai Niṉṟa

Guardian of the mansions
of our master Nandagopa

You who guard his gates
where banners and flags fly high

Unlock these jewelled doors.

Just yesterday
enigmatic Mayan
dark and lustrous as a gem
promised Ayarpati’s innocent girls
the resounding parai-drum

So we’re here
pure and unsullied
to awaken him
with our singing

Don’t bar our way at the outset
please open these doors

el or empavay

19. Kuttu Viḷakkeriya

The lamps are ablaze
you laze upon a bed with stout ivory legs
and five fine qualities
your broad chest draped in flower garlands
rests upon the breasts
of Nappinnai
her hair entwined
with heavy blossoms

Please answer us.

lovely woman with large eyes
darkened with kohl
how much longer
will you prevent him
from rising?

We know
you can’t bear to be apart
from your beloved
for a single instant

But this does not befit you
it is unfair

el or empavay

24. Aṉṟivvulakam

Long ago you measured these worlds
We praise your feet.

You razed southern Lanka
We praise your strength.

You kicked Sakata, killed him
We praise your fame.

You threw that calf, broke him like a twig
We praise your anklets.

You lifted the mountain as an umbrella
We praise your virtue.

We praise the triumphant spear held in your hand
that ravages your enemies.

In all these ways we praise your mighty deeds
we are here now to ask for the paraidrum

show us compassion

el or empavay

  1. Ciṟṟañciṟukālē

We came at the break of dawn
to worship you

to praise your lotus feet
bright as gold

listen to the reason for our prayers:

you were born among simple folk
who tended cows

you can’t refuse our small services
know this Govinda

We haven’t come here
for the paraidrum

We are yours alone. We serve only you.
for all time, for this birth, for every birth that follows
direct our every other desire toward you

el or empavay