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Festival image of Nila (left to the image of Vishnu) in Thirukkadigai
Nila Devi (spelt also as Niladevi and Neela Devi) or Nila is a Hindu goddess, described as the third consort of the god Vishnu, along with Shridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhudevi. She becomes the consort of Vishnu in his avatar as Krishna. She is popular in South India, particular in Tamil culture as a consort of Vishnu. She is identified with the goddess Nagnajiti (a wife of Krishna) or Napinnai (Pinnai, a favourite Gopi of Krishna in Tamil tradition).
Niladevi appears in the Vaikhanasa Agama text. Some texts mention that Vishnu's Iccha shakti takes three forms: Shridevi, Bhudevi and Niladevi, representing the three gunas; Niladevi is associated with tamas. The Sita Upanishad mentions that these three forms as those of goddess Sita; Niladevi besides tamas, is associated with the sun, the moon and fire. She appears as Krishna's gopi in Cherusseri Namboothiri's Krishnagatha.
According to a dhyana mantra of Vishnu, in his Param aspect, he is depicted seated on the serpent Shesha with Lakshmi on his right and Bhudevi and Niladevi on his left. Niladevi may be also depicted standing behind Vishnu with her two co-wives. In a depiction in the British Museum, Vishnu as Vaikuntha-natha ("Lord of Vaikuntha) is seated on Shesha between Lakshmi and Bhudevi, while his foot is supported by Niladevi.
Nappinnai – Krishna cult is mainly limited to the Tamil-speaking world. Nappinnai is often referred to as Radha or Rādhārānī or "Radhika" in North India. The name Nappinnai is found in Divya Prabandha of Alvars and Silappadikaram. Andal (one of the Alvars) wanted to perform devotion to her Krishna like Gopikas did in Dvapara Yuga. She in her Tiruppavai, wakes up Nappinai before waking up Krishna. As per Srivaishnavism, complete surrender to the Lord is performed through his consort and in Sri Krishnaavatharam specifically, it is performed through Nappinai.
What Bhu Devi (Bhūmi devi, Goddess of earth) is to Varaha avatara and Sri Devi (Sita) to Rama avatara, is Neela devi to Krishna avatara. Neela devi took avatar as Nappinnai, daughter of Kumbagan (brother of Yashoda) and Krishna won her hand after conquering the seven ferocious bulls of her father. Nappinnai's brother is Sudama. Sri Parasara Bhattar describes Krishna, intoxicated by her beauty, as "Neela thunga sthana giri thati suptham".
Velukkudi Swamy, a proponent of Vishishtadvaita Philosophy says that Andal, singing Nachiar Tirumozhi as the daughter of Periyalvar, mentions about Rukmini. But singing as a Gopika in Thiruppavai she mentions only Nappinnai. Alvar mentions the three nachiars (consorts) as Pon mangai(Sri devi), nila mangai (Bhudevi) and pula mangai (Neela Devi) the consort of senses. It is Neela devi who keeps Bhagavan under control by her bhogam. Swami Vedanta Desika says in Daya satakam - "nisAmayatu mAm nIla yat bhOga patalai: druvam". Lord Krishna was a Yadava kshatriya varna by birth, thus he married Rukmini according to that. He was brought up as a Yadava vaishya by varna (gopa), hence he married Nappinnai according to that. Neela suuktam also says - ghruNAhi - ghrutavai - payasvati, etc., mentioning the characteristics of a gopika.
Krishna’s wedding to Nappinnai
After waking up Nanda Gopalan and Yashoda, the gopis proceeded to wake Goddess Nappinnai who is the consort of Lord Krishna and the incarnation of Neela Devi Nachiar.‘Oh daughter in law of Nanda Gopalan,’ addressed the girls. We know that Lord Krishna was only a child while residing in Vrindavan. Yashoda and Nanda Gopan hadn’t even performed the Upanayanam ceremony for Him. Then how did the Lord marry Nappinnai while at Vrindavan? After lord Krishna’s incarnation Neela Devi Nachiar incarnated as the daughter of Yashoda’s brother Kumban near Nepal. As she incarnated after the Lord, she came to be called as “Pinnai” and as she is always good, the prefix “nal” was added to her name thus changing her name to Nappinnai. As soon as Nappinnai incarnated the happy Kumban purchased seven identical male calves from the market. ‘I am going to raise these seven bulls with my daughter. The young man who controls these seven when my daughter comes off age will get her hand in marriage!’The next day when Kumban visited the barn, he was surprised to see that the calves had grown into adult bulls overnight as they were Asuras in disguise. The bulls started to torment the people and Kumban was unable to find a person who could control them. Soon Nappinnai turned three years old when Yashoda visited her brother along with a five year old Krishna. ‘Your son is very beautiful! I can see that He will turn into a handsome youth. I wish I can promise Nappinnai to Him but I made a foolish vow that I will give her hand in marriage only to the man who can control all seven bulls tied in my barn,’ said Kumban.‘Uncle, don’t worry,’ said Krishna, ‘I will subdue those bulls this very second!’Kumban laughed at the sweet child but was terrified when Krishna went in search of the bulls. ‘Yashoda stop your son! I am afraid that He might get hurt!’ As Yashoda and Kumban rushed to the barn they found that Krishna had killed all seven bulls with one blow! ‘What a marvel!’ exclaimed Kumban. As promised he gave Nappinnai in marriage to Krishna but as they were only children, Kumban allowed Yashoda to take Nappinnai with her so that she could raise the two together. This story is mentioned by Swami Desikan in Yadhavabudhayam.
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