- The Alvars, “those who are immersed in God,” are the 12 poet-saints of South Indian VAISHNAVISM. They lived between the seventh and 10th centu-ries. Their devotional songs, written in the Tamil language, were collected in the Nalayira Divya Prabandham (The sacred collection of the four thousand songs) by Nathamuni, the first of the great Vaishnavite teachers of Tamil Nadu.The songs of the Alvars are used today in Tamil Vaishnava temples and in ritual contexts alongside the sacred SANSKRIT recitations. They praise Lord VISHNU in an intimate, highly passion-ate style, frequently referring to his incarnations as RAMA, KRISHNA, and other deities. The acts and adventures of all these incarnations are lovingly recalled and praised. The poems frequently refer to the well-known shrines of the Tamil country, which were visited by the Alvars in their pilgrim-ages and travels.The Tamil Alvars are Periyalvar, ANDAL, Kulasekalvar, Tirumalisai, Tondaradipodi Alvar, Tirupanalvar, Maturakavi, Tirumankai, NAMMAL-VA R, Poykai, Putam, and Pey. The latter three are the earliest, dating from 650 to 700 C.E. Two Alvars stand out for their brilliance: Periyalvar (c. ninth century), who composed beautiful verses in praise of Lord Krishna as a child, and Nammalvar (c. 880–930 C.E.), who is the most prolific poet in the Nalayira Divya Prabandham. Nammalvar’s main work, the 1,102-stanza Tiruvaymoli (The divine words from the mouth) was intended to encapsulate the Vedas. The only female Alvar was Andal; her poems expressing her love for Ran-ganatha, the form of Vishnu found at the most sacred Tamil Vaishnavite shrine at Srirangam, are used in Vaishnava wedding ceremonies in Tamil Nadu.Further reading: S.M.S. Chari, Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Alvars (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997); Vidya Dehejia, Antal and Her Path of Love: Poems of a Woman Saint from South India (Albany: State Uni-versity of New York Press, 1990); Alkondavilli Govin-dacharya, The Holy Lives of the Azhvars or the Dravida Saints (Bombay: Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1982); David N. Lorenzen, ed., Religious Movements in South Asia, 600–1800 (Delhi: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 2004); V. K. S. N. Raghavan, A Brief Study of the Tirpallandu of Sri Periyalvar, the Tirupalliyeluchi of Sri Sondaradippodiyarlvar, and the Kanninunsiruttambu of Sri Madhurakaviyalvar (Madras: Sri Visishtadvaita Pracharini Sabha, 1983); A. K. Ramanujan, trans., Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Visnu by Nammalvar (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Kamil Zvelibil, Tamil Literature. Vol. 10, fascicle 1, A History of Indian Literature. Edited by Jan Gonda (Weis-baden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.