"Vanjanai illA anbu kondavaL". Kanthimathi of Nellai, whose love is pure and free from deceit.
It was during a train ride around 6-7 years ago when Spotify serendipitously played a song that stirred something in me immediately. As Vid. Dr.Nithyashree Mahadevan's powerful voice delivered a statement in the raga Nalinakanti, (listen on YouTube here) my eyes began to get moist. A sense of relief crept all over me. Wiping away tears, I looked up the song and the composer behind it, who turned out to be Smt. Mangalam Ganapathy. The composition I’m talking about is ‘Nalinakanthi Kanthimanthi' and the line is "Vanjanai illa anbu kondaval" - She, whose love is guileless, undeceitful.
Over the years, I've tried to comprehend what exactly it is about that line that leaves such a lasting impact on me, and my connection to it has only grown stronger. This Navaratri, I finally had the opportunity to begin translating these emotions on canvas.
My inspiration comes from Smt. Mangalam Ganapathy's composition coupled with a popular poem by the poet Thachanallur Azhagiya Chokkanatha Pillai, "Varadirindhal ini naan un vadivel vizhikku mai ezhudhen."
In the latter poem, the poet adopts the voice of a mother imploring the Jaganmata Kanthimathi, who has taken the form of a child, to come closer. When the little girl hesitates, the mother playfully resorts to mock threats. "If you don't come, I shall not decorate your beautiful eyes with collyrium, or your bright forehead with a tilakam. You won't receive an exquisite gem-studded necklace either. I shall not speak to you pleasantly. Why, I won't even look at your face. I shall not nurse you or hold you at my waist to show you where the temple chariot passes. I won't give you sweet kisses, or put you in your ornate cradle to gently rock you to sleep." And then the mother's tone shifts from threatening to an earnest plea, "O sweet child who crawls on the strong, broad chest of Himavan, Mother Kanthimathi of Thirunelveli, please come to me! Delay not, grant me your grace.”
Initially, I was skeptical of the tone in this poem, especially in this era of mindful parenting. However, I soon realized my perspective was flawed, because, even as we humanize the divine, there are no strict rules for devotion. I began to reflect — how many times, in moments of crisis and despair in my own life, have I directed my anger and frustration towards God? One moment I’m chanting the Sahasranama, and in the next, I’m doing a different kind of Archana! It's a similar sentiment, for all is fair in Bhakti. And yet, Her love remains pure. She is, indeed, "vanjanai illa anbu kondaval." It was then that I understood that this line from the Mangalam Ganapathy composition speaks to me because only a child's love can be that pure and sincere. This is why I celebrate the child form of Devi, because children do not hold grudges; it's only adults who harbor hatred and resentment. The child-like stubbornness is exhibited by the devotee, but the Jaganmata in child form is quick to respond, rushing towards the devotee when invoked for grace. Isn’t this a beautiful, interchangeable mother-child relationship transcending our wildest imagination? At this point I offer my gratitude and pranams to both these poets and to Vid. Dr.Nithyashree Mahadevan, I will always hold these two poems close to my heart.
This beautiful convergence of two poems written in two different centuries brought so much joy, reassurance and calm to me. I am delighted to share these emotions in me with the world through this artwork.
In all the times when you yearn for love and support, only to feel disillusioned by the world around you, I wish for the words “Vanjanai illa anbu kondavaL” to echo in your heart. She is our only safe haven, sole refuge. My prayer for you this Navaratri is that you find strength in the assurance that there *is* someone, perhaps this little Bala, who will embrace you without conditions, with just pure love.
வாராதிருந்தால் இனி நான் உன் வடிவேல் விழிக்கு மை எழுதேன்
மதிவாள் நுதற்குத் திலகம் இடேன் மணியால் இழைத்த பணிபுனையேன்
பேராதரத்தினொடு பழக்கம் பேசேன் சிறிதும் முகம் பாரேன்
பிறங்கு முலைப்பால் இனிதூட்டேன் பிரியமுடன் ஒக்கலை வைத்துத்
தேரார் வீதி வளங்காட்டேன் செய்ய கனிவாய் முத்தமிடேன்
திகழும் மணித் தொட்டிலில் திருக்கண் வளரச் சீராட்டேன்
தாரார் இமவான் தடமார்பில் தவழும் குழந்தாய் வருகவே
சாலிப் பதிவாழ் காந்திமதித் தாயே வருக வருகவே !
A little bit more about the artwork:
Thirunelveli was once known as Venu-vanam, a land covered with bamboo forests. The goddess Kanthimathi is traditionally draped in white during the final pooja of the day, symbolizing how the entire world is absorbed into her. Only at the break of dawn is she adorned in a different color. In my imagination, Kanthimathi spends her time playing in the paddy fields and bamboo forests until dawn, which is why she is still in white. And then her mother goes in search of her and calls her to get dressed and prepare for the day. She also goes by the name Vadivudai-amman, She, who has a beautiful resplendent form. What makes someone beautiful more than the radiance of love does? White, in this context, symbolizes purity, representing her pure, guileless, unadulterated, divine love - her vanjanai illa anbu.
You can buy prints here.