The Azhwar Saints


AZHWAR SAINTS

In every Vaishnavite temple in South India, one hears beautiful poetry in Tamil in praise of Vishnu . One well-known song is



This song and many others were written by Azhwars.

Azhwar means one who is "immersed" in the experience of God. They really, deeply immersed themselves in their devotion and bhakti towards the Lord Sriman Narayanan. Tradition reckons 12 Azhwars. All these Azhwars are one of the Amsams of Lord Vishnu, ,namely, the weapons, the Vanamaali, the GarudA, et al. There is a view that even the great Rishis are no match to the greatness of the Azhwars because the Rishis got their 'jnAnam' ( wisdom) as a result of their own actions of 'spiritual merit' ( Punyam) whereas the wisdom of the Alwars was the direct result of the Lord's divine grace and therefore called ' Divyam'. It is because of this that the works of Azhwars are called ' Divya Prabandham'.

Out of these 12 Azhwars one was a woman and two were kings. The first three Azhwars,viz., Poigai Azhwar, Boothath Azhwar and Pei Azhwar were called as "Mudhal Azhwars" as they lived during the same period and were born in the same year, same month and contiguous stars (Thiruvonam, Avittam and Sadhayam).

The period of the Azhwars based on Indian Historians range from 500 A.D for Poigai Aazhvaar, Bhoothatthaazvaar, Peyaazhvaar and Thirumazhisai aazhvaar ; 550 A.D. for Nammaazhvaar and Madhurakavi aazhvaar ; 600 A.D. for Kulasekaraazhvaar and Periaazhvaar ; 650 A.D. for Sri Aandaal ; 700 A.D. for Thoddaradippodi aazhwarand ThiruppaaNaazhvaar and 750 A.D. for Thirumangai aazhvaar

There are about 3800 compositions (known as Paasurams) of the 12 Azhwars available now. The well known 30 songs of Thiruppaavai are among the 173 composed by Andal, probably the first female composer of the world. The style of the 1360 compositions of Thirumangai mannan (Thirumangai Azhwar) is believed to be specially suited for music and dance. Ariakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar is responsible for re-introducing Thiruppaavai into Classical Music of South India. Late Shri V.V. Sadagopan, Musicologist, Professor of Carnatic Music, Delhi University, dedicated his life to bringing back many more Azhvaar Pasurams into the Musical realm.



Discovery of Azhvar Pasurams

By 850 AD, the compositions of the Azhvars had become almost totally extinct in the Tamil Country. It is believed that Sriman Naathamuni heard some devotees visiting his home town of VeeranaaraayaNapuram (present day Kaattu mannaarkudi near Mayilaadurthurai or Mayavaram) singing 11 Tamil songs starting with "aaraa amudhE adiyEn udalam" and ending with
"... kurugoor sadagOpan

kuzhalil maliyach sonna Or
aayiratthuL ippatthum,
mazhalai theera vallaar kaamar
maanEy nOkkiyarkE."
(NammazhwAr's Thiruvaaymozhi 5.8.1 - 5.8.11)

Sriman Naathamuni was greatly excited and enchanted with the exquisite beauty of the poems. He approached the devotees and enquired about its origin. The ending of the 11 poems, "aayiratthuL ippatthu,"(means this ten of the thousand) suggested that there are many more such poems (may be thousand?). This possibility intrigued Sriman Naathamuni.

Unfortunately, the devotees were unaware of any other poems besides the eleven they had just finished reciting. However, they suggested to Sriman Naathamuni that he may try enquiring in the town of Thiruk kurugoor (AzhwAr thiru nagari) near Thirunelveli. So he set out to travel from Kaattumannarkudi to Thiruk kurugoor, a long journey indeed in his time. There he found one Paraangusa daasar. From him, Sriman Naathamuni learnt 11 more paasurams called 'kanninuN sirutthaambu'. These were composed by Madhurakavi AzhwAr and all 11 paasurams are in praise of kurugoor SadagOpan (Nammazhwar). Sriman Naathamuni was excited to have doubled his collection. But this only enhanced his desire to seek out the more than 1,000, promised in the first set of paasurams he fell in love with at his home town.

Paraangusa daasar suggested that he repeatedly recite this great kaNNinuN sirutthaambu (sung in praise of Sri Sadagopan- NammazhwAr) in the hope of pleasing the Lord.


Sriman Naathamuni took his advice sincerely and recited it about 12,000 times! It is said that NammAzhwAr was impressed with Sriman Naathamuni's persistence and appeared before him. NammazhwAr was so impressed that he revealed to Sriman Naathamuni not just the 1102 paasurams of his own "Thiruvaay mozhi", but also all the rest of the paasurams composed by the other eleven AzhwArs. From this, we may deduce that it is Sriman Naathamuni, who gathered the Tamil treatise (these 4000 poems) praising Lord Vishnu composed by the twelve AzhwArs. Sriman Naadhamuni called this collection of paasurams or prabhandams 'Naalaayira Divya Prabhandam' or 'Draavida Vedham'.

He set them to music as they were originally sung by the Azhvars. He taught them to his nephews Melagaththaazhvaan and Keezhagaththaazhvaan and also to his son Isvaramuni and grand son Aalavandhaar. Later Aalavandhaar taught those to his disciples Peria Nambi, Peria Thirumalai Nambi, Thirumalai Aandaan etc.. They in turn taught them to Sri Ramanujacharya (1017-1137 AD), who publicised them among his followers.

There is much debate about the exact historical dates for the twelve AzhwArs. It is believed by devotees that most of the AzhwArs lived prior to kali yuga, i.e. at least 3000 years ago. Historians place the Aazhvaars in the range of 5th to 9th century. In any case, we can be sure that the AzhwArs lived much before Sriman Naathamuni (826 A.D.) since it was only during his time that the AzhwAr pAsurams had become unknown.

Out of the 12 Azhwars four were from Thondai Naadu, four from Pandiya Naadu, three from Chola Naadu and one from Malai Naadu. Andal who is also called as "Soodikkodutha Sudar Kodi" is said to be the daughter (brought up) of Peri Azhwar has created "Thiruppavai" in which she considers Lord Vishnu as her husband. She is the only lady Azhwar. The Azhwars came from all walks of life and all strata of society. In the Tamil-speaking region of South India, these saints revitalized the Indian religious milieu, sparking a renewal of devotional worship throughout the subcontinent. Traveling from place to place, from temple to temple, from holy site to holy site, they composed exceedingly beautiful poetry to their Divine Beloved, Vishnu, as an expression of their love for Him. Anyone can see why their poetry was so attractive; at once both impassioned and philosophical, their words cut across all barriers of caste and class, attracting all to their faith. In doing so, they sculpted a new religious heritage of intensely emotional bhakti, or love of the Divine, whose impact is still felt today in the Indian religious life.


Poigai Azhwar

Birth Place
Thiruvekoo (Kancheepuram)

Year/Month/Star
Chiththathri/Aipasi/Thiruvoonam

Amsam
Thiruchangu (Panchajanya)

Boothath Azhwar

Birth Place
Mamallapuram

Year/Month/Star
Chiththathri/Aipasi/Avittam

Amsam
Gadhaayudham

Pei Azhwar

Birth Place
Mylapore(Chennai)

Year/Month/Star
Chiththathri/Aipasi/Sadayam

Amsam
Nandhagam(Sword)

Thirumezhisai Azhwar

Birth Place
Thirumezhisai (Chennai)

Year/Month/Star
Chiththathri/Thai/Maham

Amsam
Chakra

Namm Azhwar

Birth Place
Tirukurugoor (Azhwar Tirunagari)

Year/Month/Star
Pramaashi/Vaikasi/Visakam

Amsam
Vishwaksena

Peri Azhwar

Birth Place
Srivilliputhur

Year/Month/Star
Krodhana/Aani/Swathi

Amsam
Garuda

Andal

Birth Place
Srivilliputhur

Year/Month/Star
Nalla/Aadi/Pooram

Amsam
Bhoodevi

Kulasekhara Azhwar

Birth Place
Thiruvanjikkallam

Year/Month/Star
Paraabhava/Maasi/Punarpoosam

Amsam
Kowsthubam

Madhurakavi

Birth Place
Thirukollur (Azhwar Tirunagari)

Year/Month/Star
Eeswara/Chithirai/Chithirai

Amsam
Ganamsam

Tondar-adi-podi Azhwar

Birth Place
Thirumandangudi

Year/Month/Star
Prabhava/Markazhi/Keetai

Amsam
Sri Vaijayanthi Vanamaalai

Tiruppaan Azhwar

Birth Place
Uraiyur (Trichy)

Year/Month/Star
Purdhurmathi/Kathigai/Rohini

Amsam
Sri Vatsam

Tirumangai Azhwar

Birth Place
Thirukurayalur (Thiruvali)

Year/Month/Star
Nalla/Karthigai/Krithigai

Amsam
Saarangam (Bow)



If you want the full text of all the 4000 verses composed by the 12 azhvaars, thiruvarangaththu arayar, and Sri Vedanta Desikar, you can down load them in Readable Romanized Tamil format in the World Wide Web

You will find there also information on how to search and print them in Tamil or Roman script.

Click here to view a slide show of all the 12 Azhwars.