Nammalvar
(c. 880–930 C.E.)
   Tamil Vaishnavite poet-saint
   Nammalvar, “Our Own Alvar,” was the 11th and greatest of the 12 ALVA R S, the poet-saints, of Tamil VAISHNAVISM. He composed four works, of which the 1,100-verse Tiruvaymoli is most influential. Also celebrated are Tiruviruttam and Periyatiru-vantati.
   According to legend Nammalvar was born in a Vellala family (technically SHUDRA or ser-vant class) to his father, Kariyar, and mother, Utaiyanankaiyar, in Kurugur (Tirunagari) in the Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu. The pair had prayed for a child at a temple at Tirukkurungudi and were told there that the child would be a part of VISHNU himself. Vishnu sent his minister Vishvaksena (theologically a part of Vishnu) to be incarnated as the child.
   Maran (the later Nammalvar) was born only 43 days after KRISHNA himself passed from the world. As a baby, he is said never to have cried or drunk milk, but to have been possessed of a beatific, divine smile. After 11 days the parents took this divine child and placed him in the creche of a tamarind tree. The child, in a deep trance, opened neither mouth nor eyes for 16 years.
   As Nammalvar was in this trance, the 10th of the Alvars, Mathurakavi, was traveling in the north of India. One night he saw a vision of blazing light in the south, which told him that a saint had been born there. He managed to find the young person seated in MEDITATION, looking impervious to the outside world. To see whether he could distract Nammalvar he dropped a stone on the ground and Nammalvar opened his eyes. Mathurakavi tested him with a difficult riddle; when he answered insightfully the older saint bowed down and accepted Nammalvar as his mas-ter. At this moment the transcendent vision over-whelmed Nammalvar and he began to pour forth his devotional songs in a continuous stream.
   Further reading: John Carman and Vasudha Narayanan, The Tamil Veda: Pillan’s Interpretation of the Tiruvaymoli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989); Alkon-davilli Govindacharya, The Holy Lives of the Azhvars or the Dravida Saints (Bombay: Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1982); A. K. Ramanujan, Hymns for the Drowning (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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