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AzhwArs: Introduction

From: Sadagopan (
Date: Sun May 28 2000 - 07:25:19 PDT

Dear BhakthAs :

The work on the creation of the Lives and works 
of the AzhwArs and the 108 Dhivya Desams is 
progressing well.The graphics, the voice overs
are nearing completion. The scanning of the images 
are yet to be done.

The reference material for those intersted to know more
about the AzhwArs as side bars is being compiled.Here is 
the first of those sets of information in detail .

The nexttask is to compile the lives and prabhandhams of
individual AzhwArs. The document on madhura Kavi, who
established the importance of AchArya Bhakthi has been 
completed and will be posted. rest will follow.

May the SaraNya Dampathis bless the progress 
of this project in service to the Sri VaishNavA Community,

RaamAnuja Daasan , V.Sadagopan

The Life and works of AzhwArs: Introduction

The twelve AzhwArs flourished in south India 
somewhere between the fifth and ninth centuries
of the first millenium . The Bhakthi movement in
India got a great boost from their Tamil hymns,
which are profound and spontaneous outpourings
of their bhagavath anubhavam ( the enjoyment of
the Divine being) . Their hymns add up to 4000 
in number and are revered as " the sacred collect"
(Dhivya Prabhandham ). They house a rich vein of
philosophical and theological ideas central to 
the VisishtAdvaitha VedAntham : TattvA (ultimate
reality ), HithA (the means for attainment of 
that reality )and the PurushArthA ( the supreme
goal of life) .In the second millenium , AchArya 
RaamAnujA developed further the theory of Supreme
reality expounded by AzhwArs into a clear doctrine 
with all its philosophical implications and 

Dr.S.M.S.Chari has commented in his excellent book 
on AzhwArs ( Philosophy and the Theistic mysticism of
the ALwArs ) that the AzhwAr's works belong to 
the fourth period  of development of Sri VaishNavam.
He identifies Sri VaishNavam as the oldest monotheistic
religion rooted in the VedAs and upanishads that developed
in four stages during its growth: (1) Vedic and Upanishadic
period (2) IthihAsA and PurANic period(3)Agamic period
and (4)the AzhwAr's period. The mystical hymns of 
the AzhwArs laden with the highest experience (anubhavam)
of the Supreme being as Sriman NaarAyaNA is consistent with 
the teachings of VedAs, Upanishads , IthihAsAs , Saathvika
PurANAs and Sri VaishNavite AagamAs.

The essence of the twenty four dhivy prabhandhams of 
the twelve AzhwArs as summarized by Dr.S.M.S.Chari is 
as follows: " The most striking feature of the Reality 
as portrayed prominently by the ALvArs is that 
the Supreme Being of VedAnthA is a personal God 
in the name of Sriman NaarAyaNA , who possesses 
not only infinite auspicious attributes  but also 
a spiritual body bedecked with weapons and ornaments ". 

Swamy NammAzhwAr , who is considered as the doyen of 
all the AzhwArs considers this Supreme Reality 
(Sriman NaarAyaNA )as the One endowed with 
"infinite auspicious attributes par excellence".
Swamy NammAzhwAr's definition of this Supreme Reality
has been brilliantly summarized further by Dr.S.M.S. Chari
this way : " He possesses infinite , unsurpassable bliss .
He is essentially of the spiritual knowledge and bliss .
He is distinct from the material objects , which are cognized by 
the sense organs and also (distinct )from the sentient souls,
which can be comprehended by the mind cleansed of all
impuriites through yogic practice. He exists at all times 
and in all places. There is none , who is higher than Him 
and equal to Him."

Dr.S.M.S. Chari goes on further to comment on 
the special relationship between this Supreme Reality 
and the sentients(jeevans) as well as the insentient
(prakruthi).Dr.Chari states : " All the sentient 
beings and the non-sentient entities in the universe
derive their existence (sattA ) from that One Supreme
Person . Their sustenance (sthithi) also is dependent 
on Him . All their activities are controlled by His will
(Sankalpam) . He abides in ALL that exists in the universe 
as their anthrAthmA and controls them from within.He pervades
every particle of water in the ocean , every minute 
particle of ehter and earth and all the subtle 
individual souls. Though He is in every object and in
every place, He is invisible. He is the One , who creates
the universe and dissolves it. The universe is organically 
related to the Supreme Being in the same way as the physical 
body is related to the soul within... This ParamAthman
as a transcendental reality remains unaffected by 
the defects of the universe (and its beings) even though
He is hidden in all objects as antharyAmin... The fact
that ParamAthman though abiding in all entities in
the universe is free from defects and also endowed with 
auspicious attributes reveal the twofold characterestric
of Brahman known as Ubhaya-lingathvA , as pointed out by 
the VedAntha SUtrA and strongly upheld by the VisishtAdvaitha
VedAnthA . This theory is fully reflected in the hymns of
NammAzhwAr (and the other AzhwArs).
The significant feature of the philosophical theory 
of reality is the presentation of the concept of 
the organic relationship of body and soul . The Supreme
Being , which is equated with the universe is conceived as 
the Universal Soul (Athman) and all that exists in 
the universe as its body(SarIra). This concept of 
body-soul relation ( SarIrAthma-bhAva) constitutes 
the unique doctrine of VisishtAdvaita VedanthA (PradhAna-
paritanthrA ) as expounded later by RaamAnujA ...The relationship
that exists between IsvarA and the universe is of the nature of
AdhAra-AdhEya.That is, IsvarA is AdhArA, the Supporter and 
the universe is AdhEyA , the supported , as in the case of 
jIvA and the body." 

Dr.S.M.S. Chari analyses brilliantly the concept of
Godhead as a Supreme person (PurushOtthamA ) and the way 
in which the Upanishads , IthihAsAs and PurANAs, AgamAs
and the AzhwArs dwell on them. He says: "The concept of
Godhead  as a Supreme Person (PurushOtthamA ) has 
several aspects. It covers God's essential nature
(SvarUpA ) , the divine attributes (djivya-guNAs), 
the divine personality ( dhivya mangaLa vigrahA ), 
the divine incarnations( dhivya avathArAs), and 
the divine activities ( dhivya leelAs). The Upanishads
have accorded greater importance to the essential 
nature of God as the Supreme Being. The AgamA treatises 
have paid more attention to the visual aspects of the divine 
personality .The IthihAsAs and PurANAs , on the other hand,
have emphasized the divine attributes and divine functions.
The religious have developed their attention to such 
selected divine attributes as are of emotional appeal
to the devotees. The AzhwArs on the other hand , have
dwelt on ALL these aspects of the Divinity (Divine 
Attributes, Divine Personality, Divine Incarnations and
Divine Activities). The uniqueness of the Dhivya Prabhandhams
(of the AzhwArs ) lies in presenting a grand description of 
the Divine Being full of emotional appeal to the devotees. "

The Dates of the Twelve AzhwArs

Both VedAntha Desikan and MaNavALa Maamuni support
the chronological order of the twelve AzhwArs in 
this sequence :

1. Poygai AzhwAr
2. PUthatthAzhwAr
3. PEy AzhwAr
4. Thirumazhisai AzhwAr 
5. NammAzhwAr
6. KulasEkarar
7. PeriyAzhwAr
8. TonDaradippodi
9. PaaNAzhwAr
10. Thirumangai

ANDAL and Madhura Kavi are remaining two of 
the set of twelve AzhwArs . ANDAL is the avathAram
of one of the divine consorts of the Lord and is
the foster daughter of PeriyAzhwAr . Madhura Kavi is 
the prime disciple of Swamy NammAzhwAr . ANDAL and
Madhura Kavi are thus contemproaries of PeriyAzhwAr and 
NammAzhwAr in a cheonological sense.

There is a wide variation in the dates of 
the twelve AzhwArs. They range from dhvApara YugA
to Kali YugA . Modern scholars accept dates ranging 
from the 5th to the 9th centuries A.D based on
historical facts referred to in the Paasurams 
of the AzhwArs. It is important to know that 
the precise determination of the dates of birth 
and the length of their lives  of the AzhwArs 
are not "really relevant " for the study of 
their philosophy and the understanding of
their upadEsams as AchAryans to uplift those
suffering from SamsAric afflictions. 

The 24 Prabhandhams of the Tweve AzhwArs

The divine -collect of the Four Thousand 
has been classified into 24 individual prabhandhams
with four parts. 

The first part consists of the ThiruvAimozhi of NammAzhwAr
with 1,102 hymns.

The second part houses the Periya Thirumozhi of 
Thirumangai with 1,084 hymns along with ThirukkurunthANDakam
(20 hymns) and ThiruneDunthANDakam (30 hymns). 

The third part, MudalAyiram, is constituted by 
the two prabhandhams of PeriyAzhwAr (ThiruppallANDu
and PeriyAzhwAr Thirumozhi), ANDAL (TiruppAvai and 
NaacchiyAr Thirumozhi)  , KulasEkarar (PerumAL Thirumozhi) ,
ToNDaradippodi ( ThiruppaLLIyezucchi and ThirumAlai), 
ThiruppANAzhwAr (AmalanAdhipirAn ) , Madhura Kavi 
(KaNNInuNN SiRutthAmpu) and the Thirucchandha Viruttham 
of Thirumazhisai . 

The fourth and the final part , IyaRppA , contains
the three ThiruvandhAthis of Mudhal AzhwArs
(Poygai, PUtham and pEy ),Naanmukhan ThiruvandhAthi
of Thirumazhisai , the remaining three prabhandhams 
of Swamy NammazhwAr ( Thiruviruttham , ThiruvAsiriyam and 
Periya ThiruvandhAthi) ,the three more prabhandhams of
Thirumangai ( ThiruvEzhukURRIrukkai , SiRiya Thirumadal,
Periya Thirumadal ) and RaamAunsa nURRandhAthi of
Thiruvarangatthu AmudanAr .

The dhivya Prabhandham (divine collect of 4,000 hymns)
is considered as the elaboration of the three rahasyams,
ashtAksharam, Dhvayam and Charama slOkam ,sacred to
the Sri VaishNava samprahdAyam. 

The Commentaries on the Dhivya Prabhandhams

All the 4,000 hymns have been commented on by our 
poorvAchAryAs. Among them , the entire set of of
24 prabhandhams have been commented on by only
two poorvAchAryAs , PeriyavAcchAn PiLLai and
the Periya ParakAla MahA Desikan . 

The first of all these commentaries is by
ThirukkurhaipirAn PiLLAn , a direct disciple of 
AchArya RaamAnujA; latter commissioned PiLLAn 
to write this commentary on Swamy NammAzhwAr's
ThiruvAimozhi. This commentary is known as
Bhagavath Vishayam and consists of 6,000 padis
or granthAs( a unit of 32 letters). PiLLAn has
followed his AchAryan's views strictly in 
this grantham. This commentary is terse and precise
at the same time.Swamy Desikan salutes this commentary
as the most authentic one to comprehend the mind
and message of Swamy NammazhwAr.

There are seven other commentaries on ThiruvAimozhi
in the following chronological order. Most of them,
unless otherwise indicated are in MaNipravALam,
Sanskritized Tamil  :

1. NanjIyar(1113 A.D), the disciple of ParAsara Bhattar(9,000 padi)
2. PeriyavAcchAn PiLLai (1168 A.D)(24,000 Padi)
3. Vadakku ThiruveedhippiLLai (1167 A.D) (Idu 36,000 padi)
4. VaadhikEsari Azhagiya MaNavALa Jeeyar(1242 A.D),12,000 padi
5. RangarAmAnuja Muni (1650 A.D), Sanskrit Commentary : 9,000 padi
6. Periya ParakAla Swamy (1676 A.D),18,000 padi
7. SaakshAth Swamy (1700 A.D),24,00o padi.

Swamy Desikan's detailed commentary (Nigama parimaLa )
unfortunately does not exist anymore. It would have been
wonderful to enjoy the ParimaLam (fragrance ) of Nigamam
( Tamizh vedam) from NigamAntha MahA Desikan. We are
fortunate however to have his other two Sanskrit works ,
Dramidopanishad SaarA and DramidOpanishad Taatparya-
RathnAvaLi.To these commentaries , we have to add 
the insightful grantham of Azhagiya MaNavALa PerumAL
Naayanar (brother of Sri PiLLai LokAcchAr and a 
contemproary of Swamy Desikan )dealing with the inner 
meanings of Swamy NammAzhwAr's ThiruvAimozhi. Among 
these commentaries , those of Swamy Desikan , Azhagiya MaNavALa 
Jeeyar (1242 A.D),SaakshAth Swamy and Periya parakAla Jeeyar 
are close to PiLLAn's 6,000 padi. Those of Nanjeeyar, 
periyavAcchAn PiLLai and Vadakku ThiruveethippiLLai 
are considered by Dr.S.M.S Chari as somewhat independent
commentaries of ThiruvAimozhi. 

The Life and the upadEsams ofthe AzhwArs:
1-3. Mudal AzhwArgaL (Poygai, Putham and Pey )
4.   Thirumazhisai AzhwAr
5.   NammAzhwAr
6.   Madhura Kavi
7.   PeriyAzhwAr
8.   ANDAL
9.   KulasEkarar
10.  ThoNDaradippodi
11.  ThiruppANAzhwAr
12.  Thirumangai AzhwAr 

These will be described under individual headings.

RaamAnuja Daasan , V.Sadagopan     



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