Sunday, January 25, 2015

12 Alwars (Saints) of Sri Vaishnava Sampradayam in Hinduism

Who are Alwars?
The Vaishnavas of Vaishnava Sampradayam, the followers and worshippers of God Vishnu, (popularly known as Srivaishnavas), boast of their 12 Alwars as the great seers of enlightenment. Alwars are those who preached and practiced the lifestyle of Sri Vaishnava sampradaya and showed to people how to reach God through their unconditional devotion. Each Alvar is an embodiment of a certain part or element of Lord Vishnu. So, the Alwars represent God's own form in human form. They were sent to this world to restore dharma and spirituality among people.The Alwars stressed the importance of surrendering before the Almighty with pure devotion as the only way of attaining moksha.

The title "Alwar" or "Alvar" (sometimes written as 'Azvar' to stress its Tamil pronunciation) refers to people (saints) immersed in God - in God's bhakti and knowledge. Alwars wrote songs showing their utter, pure devotion and profound love towards God. They practiced everything they preached and got themselves reunited with God after leaving their body. To know more click here

Twelve Alvar saints and one sage
There are 12 Alwars according to this Sri Vaishnava sampradaya. A poetic verse or stanza (in Sanskrit) designed for prayer describes the names of these Azvars as follows:

"Bhutam Sarascha Mahadahvaya Bhattanatha
Sri Bhaktisara Kulasekhara Yogivahan
Bhaktanghrirenu Parakala Yatindra Mishran
srimat Paramkusha munim pranatosmi nityam"

So, the twelve names according to above verse are as follows:

Sanskrit Name                                  Dravida (Tamil) Name

1) Bhuta Yogi                                             Poothatta Alwar
2) Saro Yogi                                               Poigai Alwar
3) Mahadahvaya  Yogi                                Peyalwar
4) Bhattanatha  (Vishnu Chitta)                    Periyalwar
5) Sri or Andal (Goda Devi)                        Andal (Chudi Kodutha Nachiyar)
6) Bhakti Sara                                             Tirumozhi sayyalwar or Thirumalisai Alvar
7) Kulasekhara                                            Kulasekhara Alwar
8)Yogi Vahana                                            Thiruppani Alwar
9) Bhaktan Ghrirenu (Vipranarayana)             Thondaradippodi Alwar
10)Parakala (Kalivairi)                                Thirumangai Alwar
11)Mishra Kavi (Madhura Kavi)                  Madhura Kavi
12)Parankusa (Satakopa)                            Nammalwar (Karimaran)

In the above verse, one more name "Yatindra" is also mentioned (after Parakala in the third line). This "Yatindra" refers to Sri Ramanujacharya, the great sage, and preacher of srivaishnavism. But his name is not included in the 12 Alwars. In the above verse, it is stated that we are bowing with great devotion and respect to all these 12 alvars and also to the great sage Ramanujacharya. Yatindra means the great sage.

Chronological Order
The names in the above verse have been placed to rhyme for prayer purpose even though almost of all of them have been mentioned in the serial order.
The exact chronological order of these Alwars or saints has been established by many seers as follows:

1)Poigai Alwar:
He lived during 4200 BCE and believed to have lived for 3000 years along with Poothatta and Peyalvar. He rendered 100 verses in praise of God Vishnu.

2)Poothatta Alwar:
He is also believed to have lived during Poigai Alvar time for 3000 years and rendered 100 verses in praise of God Vishnu.

3)Peyalvar:  
Lived along with Poigai Alwar during the same period for 3000 years. He also rendered 100 verses.

4)Thirumalisai Alvar:
He also lived round about the same period of 4200 BCE but for how many years not confirmed. He created 96 verses and another 120 verses.

5)Madhurakavi Alvar:
He lived during 3100 BCE for about 450 years and created Kanninun Siruthambu 11 verses. He got drawn by some amazing light and went in search of that light crossing hills and forests through thousands of miles. There he met Nammalvar under a tree and was inspired by him and became his disciple.

6)Nammalvar:
Nammalvar lived also during 3100 BCE but he lived only for 32 years. He spent most of his life from early childhood without eating anything and sitting under a tree in meditation. Madhurakavi Alvar reached him and tested his knowledge and became his disciple. Nammalvar composed the most number of hymns and verses and was the topmost contributor for spreading the Vaishnavism. He is the author of Thiruvaimozhi with 1102 verses. He also wrote many other works like thiruvasinyam,  periya thiruvandhadhi, thiruvirutham.

7)Kulasekhara Alvar:
He was a Chera dynasty king who lived during 3075 BCE for about 67 years and developed love towards Lord Vishnu in the form of Sri Ram and renounced the kingdom. He composed Perumal Thirumozhi with 105 verses.

8)Periyalvar:
Lived around 3050 BCE and is the father of Goda Devi or Andal. He is known as Vishnu Chitta also. He lived for 87 years. He was a priest in Villiputtur temple. He found Goda Devi in his Tulasi plants and brought her up. He composed Periyalvar Thirumozhi with 473 verses.

9)Andal:
Andal previously known as Goda Devi appeared as a baby to Vishnu Chitta in 3005 BCE in his tulsi plants and was brought up by him. She developed utter love towards Sri Krishna and worshipped Him and determined to marry Him. She used to wear the flower garlands that she made for God to test them and then offer to God. God also liked those garlands and insisted that Vishnu Chitta should bring only those garlands worn by her for his worship. Andal composed Thiruppavai with 30 verses in praise of God which are recited by people during the Pongal month culminating into makar Sankranti for attaining the blessings of God and attain moksha. She also composed some erotic verses in love of God known as Nachiyar Thirumozhi numbering to 143 verses. She united with God by marrying Him after completion of the Thiruppavai and settled in the temple with God as an idol. To read the full story of Andal or Goda Devi click here.

10)Thondaradippodi Alvar:
Thondaradippodi Alvar lived around 2800 BCE. He composed Thirumalai and Thirupalliezhuchi.

11)Thiruppan Alvar:
Thiruppan Alvar lived around 2760 BCE and composed 10 verses.

12)Thirumangai Alvar:
Thirumangai Alvar lived around 2700 BCE for 108 years. Just like Nammalvar, he also contributed much to the Vaishnavism literature by composing many works. He composed Periya Thirumozhi with 1084 verses and some other verses.

All these compositions of these Alvars are combinedly known as "Nalayira Divya Prabandham" meaning a holy book of 4000 verses. This Nalayira Prabhandam is the sacred epic book for all the vaishnavites. These verses are recited at all important festivals and spiritual ceremonies of the vaishnavite community.

You can view these verses at this Link.

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