Alwars (in pure Tamil "AzhwAr") means "One who immerses himself". They really, deeply immersed themselves in their devotion and bhakti towards the Lord Sriya: Pathi Sriman Narayanan. The AzhwArs are reported to be incarnations of NithasUris of Sri Vaikuntam, namely, the weapons, the Vanamaali, the GarudA, et al. They lived like human beings and burst out bhakti laden great works for the sake of humanity. The works of Alwars stood mysteriously a replica of the Vedas themselves and therefore came to be known as Dravida Veda. In fact, there is a view that even the great Rishis are no match to the greatness of the Alwars because these 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 Alwars is called ' Divya Prabandham' are 4000 poems (pAsurams).
These works of AzhwArs are non-paralleled in every sense- be it in sentiment, style or syntax.They take even a casual reader on a guided tour into the esoteric exegesis of the Vedas without offending the provisions of exclusions and prohibitions enjoined in the study of the Vedas in original. (by Sri Anbil Ramaswamy, USA)
AzhwAr's paasurams (poems) called naalaayira dhivyap prabhandam composed by twelve AzhwArs.The paasurams were collected and brought out by one of the much revered Sri vaishnava AchAryAs called Sriman Naathamuni. By the time of sriman Naathamuni (9th century A.D.) the AzhwAr paasurams were not lost or unknown. It was by divine grace of Sriman Narayanan that Sriman Naathamuni came to know of the Tamil poems praising Lord Vishnu. It is believed that Sriman Naathamuni heard some devotees visiting his home town of VeeranaaraayaNapuram (present day kaattu mannaarkudi near Mayilaadurthurai or Mayavaram) singing a few (11) Tamil songs starting with "aaraa amudhE adiyEn udalam" and ending with
"... kurugoor sadagOpan
(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, present day 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 whetted 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 peoms) praising Lord Vishnu composed by the twelve AzhwArs. Sriman naadhamuni called this collection of paasurams or prabhandams naalaayira dhivya prabhandam or draavida vEdham.
There is much debate about the exact historical dates for the twelve AzhwArs. It is believed that most of the AzhwArs lived prior to kali yuga, i.e. at least 3000 years ago. Others place the aazhvaars in the range of 7th through the early parts of 9th century. In any case, we can be sure that the AzhwArs lived much before Sriman Naathamuni (826 A.D.) since during his time AzhwAr pAsurams had become virtually unknown. (Courtesy: from Sri Vaishnava Home page of Sri Mani Varadarajan,USA)
Due perhaps to historical reasons, much of these treasures had been lost to humanity for a while. It was given to the great Naathamuni to retrieve and revivify them in their pristine glory for the benefit of posterity. The long line of the lineage of preceptors who followed him kept the torch burning and handed them over to successive generations . We can justifiably be proud of the rich heritage . It is our duty, therefore, to familiarize ourselves with the lives and works of these preceptors , the least we can do as a token of our gratitude for the invaluable treasures bequeathed to us.
Given below is the description of the lives of AzhwArs.
* to read our Azhwar's works (ie) "Naalaayira Divya Prabandham", please click here
* "Naalaayira Divya Prabandham" - English translation
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