The queen of the jasmine country by Sharanya Manivannan

The author re-imagines how Kodhai becomes Andal, the only woman among the twelve Alvars, or devotional poets who sang hymns in praise of Vishnu.

The story is set in Tamil Nadu in the ninth century. Kodhai, a baby abandoned in a tulsi grove, is found and adopted by a Brahmin couple.

Her father Vishnuchittan weaves garlands of tulsi and jasmine for the deity and sings his praises.

When a young Kodhai is caught one day wearing the garland that is meant for the deity, she is rebuked by a horrified Vishnuchittan.

But when Vishnu himself refuses to wear the garland unless she wears it first, Kodhai becomes his consort.

But Kodhai is a lonely young woman and craves a man comparable to her god. In the hope of finding him, she observes the pavai nombu vow in the month of Margazhi, the rituals of which are described in the 30 verses of the Tiruppavai.

Her prayers go unanswered and her desires slowly give way to frustration.With the knowledge of words, Kodhai discovers her undying longing for a greater love that she had been harbouring within herself that perhaps would set her free and not chastise her in shackles of familial bonding.

In an essence the story is less about the works of a great poet, a saint and more about the loneliness that one feels, an aching that wants her to belong to someone, and not just anyone, but the beholder of worlds, Vishnu himself.

The writing style is poetry-as-prose sort of, that is her trademark and pulls the reader deep into her world, it stalls the flow of the story in several parts.

But the depth in research is evident and Manivannan packs into less than 150 pages a difficult story narrated in her quintessential rich style with a lot of beauty of the ordinary things like the smell of flowers and camphor, the taste of milk and ghee, the sight of the colours of Madurai, and the feel of the dampness of the tulsi grove.

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