The Alwars – those who are immersed in love of God

By editor - 9.11 2017


The Tamil word alwar means one who is immersed in love of God or one who has become mad in love of God and, therefore, the twelve great saints of Sri Vaishnava order are called alwars.

The spontaneous and intense love for God distinguishes the alwars from even the most exalted devotees, who were known for their wisdom. The alwars were so engrossed in their devotion to their beloved Lord that they forgot their bodily needs.

For example, Nammalwar, the foremost of all the alwars, did not even move an inch from the hollow of the Tamarind tree in which he was sitting in contemplation on his beloved Lord till he left this planet at the age of sixteen years. He had focused all his mental faculties to contemplate on the Supreme Lord to the extent that he did not even bother to have food or water till he was on this planet.

Thirumazisai-alwar did not want his focus on the Supreme Lord to be disturbed even by Lord Shiva, the foremost Vaishnava, and his consort Parvati. Therefore, Lord Shiva fondly and respectfully referred to him as Bhakthisara, which means the essence of bhakti. Their love for God was so intense that they would constantly see His pastimes with eyes anointed with love.

Once when Nammalwar was contemplating on Damodara lila of Lord Krishna, Nammalwar had a vision of little Lord Krishna as tied to the mortar by his mother Yashoda. Nammalwar was so agonized to see the rope that was tied around Lord Krishna hurting the Lord’s tender waist when the Lord was pulling the mortar between the two Arjuna trees that he lost his consciousness and did not regain it for six months.

All the twelve alwars preceded the acharyas by a few centuries and were the contemporaries of Nayanmars, the renowned saints from Shaiva cult.  

According to the revealed scriptures, the alwars were not ordinary mortals but the incarnations of different paraphernalia of the Supreme Lord Narayana and they were never bound by the dualities of this material nature or by their karma to be born on this planet like others. The incarnations of the alwars was foretold by sage Khara-bhajana in the 38th, 39th and 40th verses of chapter V of the XI Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam.

The alwars incarnated to make the esoteric spiritual knowledge that was closely guarded accessible to the common man. The alwars revealed the complex spiritual knowledge that was originally enshrined in Sanskrit language through their spontaneous outpourings in Tamil, the language of the common man.

The alwars have totally sung 4,000 hymns in Tamil, which are classified into four different parts – mudalayiram, periyathirumozi, thiruvaymozhi and iyarpa – and are called Nalayira Divya Prabandam.

The Sri Vaishnavas consider the Divya Prabandam as the fifth veda and Sri Ramanujacharya has profusely used the quotes of Nammalwar in his Sri-Bhashya, a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, and other works to refute the Mayavada philosophy.

The alwars have referred to 108 sacred places where the Lord has manifested in different forms and these 108 sacred places are called Divya-deshams. The pious Vaishnavas aspire and try to visit all the 108 Divya Deshams in their lifetime.  

The alwars came from all classes and castes probably to indicate that Bhakti transcends all mental barriers that divide the human beings.

Nammalwar, who is considered to be the Kulapati or the head of the Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya, was born in a Shudra (Vellala) family.
Thirumazisai-alwar was born as a Brahmin but was raised by a family of wood cutters,.
Periyalwar, Thondaradipodi alwar, and Madhurakavi– alwar were born as Brahmins.
The first three alwars – Poygai-alwar, Bhutat-alwar and Pey-alwar – manifested themselves in different flowers in the temple tanks.
Periyaalwar found Goda Devi in the Tulasi Garden.
Thirumangai Alwar was born in Kallar (thieves) caste.
Thirupani-alwar belonged to a caste of untouchables called “Panar”.
Kulashekara-alwar was a King.

The alwars appeared on this planet and enacted their pastimes in between the concluding days of Dwapara yuga or 5050 B.C and 2800 B.C.