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Re: Questions on Alvars

From: Badrinarayanan Seshadri (
Date: Mon Aug 07 1995 - 14:07:23 PDT

Eswar Josyula ( asked:

* I have some basic questions on the "Alvars".
* Is it Alvar or Alzvar or Azhvar?  What is the meaning of this word?
* What is the sanskrit equivalent of this word?

I think just a couple of weeks back we discussed about
this.  Mani might still have the material archived in his
site (
For those without access to www, perhaps he can repost

using the accepted roman thamizh transliteration scheme
(in the absense of any diacritical marks), the way to
write this word is


'zh' is a letter characterestic of the language thamizh,
not found in other languages (is that so?). Somewhat close
to the way americans pronounce 'r', I think. In most books
'zh' is represented as `l' with two dots underneath.

The most direct meaning I will ascribe to this word is
'someone who is immersed in the Lord'. The word 'aazh' is
the root for words meaning deep, depth, to immerse in,
deeply involved in etc.

Mani informed us that Fredholm Hardy suggests that the
word could have meant 'one who rules' based on the root
word 'aaL' (= to rule).

This word is used in addition to the 12 main aazhvaars,
some more like kooraththaazhvaan. In the latter case, it
is used as a respectful title and nothing more.  Rama's
brother Lakshmanan is referred to as iLaiyaazhvaar and
hence aadhisEsha is also referred by the same title.  In
colloquial toungue, aazhvaan also refers to a mischivous
person. I am not sure how this last meaning came about -
most possibly a corrupted reference to Rama's monkey army,
and particularly Hanuman, and from there to monkeys in
general and from there to a monkeying mischief maker.

The 12 main aazhvaars are denoted by 'yogi' in sanskrit,
as in bootha yogi, saara yogi etc.

* The number of Alvars is 12.  Who recognized these individuals as Alvars
* for the first time? Are there more to come?

It was naathamuni who recognized the 12 aazhvaars and what
is remaining of their works. There are no revelations or
scriptures that talk about the number of aazhvaars etc.
(at least I do not know of any) and by all accounts we
aren't going to see any new aazhvaars. If anyone claims
so, he/she would be an imposter.


Graduate Student
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Cornell University