Stucco image of Nammalvar in Kalamegha Perumal temple

8th century CE[1]
PhilosophySri Vaishnavism, Bhakti
Religious career
Literary worksTiruviruttam
Periya Tiruvantati

Nammalvar (Tamil: நம்மாழ்வார், lit. 'Our Alvar'; IAST Nammāḻvār) was one of the twelve Alvar saints of Tamil Nadu, India, who are known for their affiliation to the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. The verses of the Alvars are compiled as the Naalayira Divya Prabandham, where praises are sung of 108 temples that are classified as divine realms, called the Divya Desams. Nammalvar is considered to be the fifth in the line of the twelve Alvars. He is highly regarded as a great mystic of the Vaishnava tradition. He is also considered to be the foremost among the twelve Alvars, and his contributions amount to 1352 among the 4000 stanzas in the Naalayira Divya Prabandam.

According to traditional scriptures, Nammalvar was born in 3059 BCE in Alwarthirunagiri;[2] historically he flourished in 8th century CE.[1] In Hindu legends, Nammalvar remained speechless from the moment of his birth, sitting under a tamarind tree when he first interacted with Madhurakavi Alvar, who saw a bright light shining to the south, and followed it until he reached the tree where the boy was residing.

The works of Nammalvar were compiled by Madhurakavi as four different works, the Tiruvaymoli (1,102 verses), Tiruviruttam (100 verses), Tiruvaciriyam (or Tiru Asiriyam - 7 verses) and Periya Tiruvantati (87 verses). The works of Nammalvar contributed to the philosophical and theological ideas of Vaishnavism.

The Garudasevai festival in Nava Tirupati, the nine Vishnu temples in the Thoothukudi region, and the Araiyar Sevai during the Vaikuntha Ekadashi festival of the Srirangam temple are dedicated to him. The verses of Nammalvar and other Alvars are recited as a part of daily prayers and during festive occasions in several Vaishnava temples in Tamil Nadu.


Festive image of Nammalvar

The word alvar means the one who dives deep into the ocean of the countless attributes of god.[3][citation needed] The Alvars are considered the twelve supreme devotees of Vishnu who were instrumental in popularising Vaishnavism. The religious works of these saints in Tamil, songs of love and devotion, are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham containing 4000 verses and the 108 temples revered in their songs are classified as Divya Desam.[4][5] The saints had different origins and belonged to different castes. As per history, the first three alvars, Poigai Alvar, Bhoothath Alvar and Pey Alvar were born miraculously. Thirumalisai Alvar was the son of a sage, Thondaradippodi Alvar, Madhurakavi Alvar, Periyalvar and Andal were from the Brahmin community, Kulashekhara Alvar was a kshatriya, Nammalvar was a Vellala, Thiruppaan Alvar was a paanar and Thirumangai Alvar was a kallar. The Divya Suri Charitra by Garuda-Vahana Pandita (11th century), Guruparamparaprabhavam by Pinbaragiya Perumal Jiyar, Periya tiru mudi adaivu by Anbillai Kandadiappan, Yatindra Pranava Prabavam by Pillai Lokacharya, commentaries on Divya Prabandam, Guru Parampara (lineage of Gurus) texts, temple records and inscriptions give a detailed account of the alvars and their works. According to these texts, the saints were considered incarnations of some form of Vishnu. Poigai is considered an incarnation of Panchajanya (Krishna's conch), Bhoothath of Kaumodakee (Vishnu's Mace/Club), Pey of Nandaka (Vishnu's sword), Thirumalisai of Sudarshanam (Vishnu's discus), Namm of Vishvaksena (Vishnu's commander), Madhurakavi of Vainatheya (Vishnu's eagle, Garuda), Kulasekhara of Kaustubha (Vishnu's necklace), Periya of Garuda (Vishnu's eagle), Andal of Bhoodevi (Vishnu's wife, Lakshmi, in her form as Bhudevi), Thondaradippodi of Vanamaalai (Vishnu's garland), Thiruppaan of Srivatsa (An auspicious mark on Vishnu's chest) and Thirumangai of Sharanga, Rama's bow. The songs of Prabandam are regularly sung in all the Vishnu temples of South India daily and also during festivals.[5][6]

According to a traditional account by Manavala Mamunigal, the first three alvars, namely Poigai, Bhoothath and Pey, belong to the Dvapara Yuga (before 4200 BC). It is widely accepted by tradition and historians that the trio are the earliest among the twelve alvars.[4][5][7][8][9] The alvars were also instrumental in promoting the Bhagavatha cult and the two epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.[10] The alvars were instrumental in spreading Vaishnavism throughout the region.[11] The verses of the various alvars were compiled by Nathamuni (824-924 AD), a 10th-century Vaishnava theologian, who called it the "Tamil Veda".[12][13]

Sri nammalvar-Subbiah kumara valai

Early life

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According to traditional scriptures, Nammalvar was born on the 43rd Kali in 3059 BCE as an amsha of Vishvaksena, Vishnu's army commander.[2] He was born at Thirukurukur (modern day Alwarthirunagiri) in the southernmost region of the Tamil country.[14][15] Many sources regard him to have been born to a princely Vellalar family of Shudra status (To prove world that "caste is not based on birth and it is based on action").[16][14][17][18][1] Some caste associations claim him to be a Vaishya, like the All India Vaishya Samaj in 1988.[19] Dr. P. Jayaraman in his book "A Brief History of Vaishnava Saint Poets: The Alwars" where he mentions that Nammalwar belongs to Vellalar, a Vaishya caste.[20] Nammalvar's grandfather, Tiruvalmarban Pillai, is a Vellalar and comes under the Vaishya Caste.[21] J. V. Chelliah a popular Tamil scholar who translated the Ten Idylls into English states that Paṭṭiṉappālai (Commonly dated between 1st to 2nd Century CE) has mentions that Vellalars belonged to the Vysya caste, They followed the 4 Vedas, they were commonly involved in agriculture, taking care of cattle, trade and other business pursuits.[22]

Tradition says that he must have been born fully enlightened because as a baby he never cried or suckled and never opened his eyes. According to legend, as a child he responded to no external stimuli and his parents left him at the feet of the deity of Sri Adhinathar in Alwarthirunagari. The child then got up and climbed into a hole in a tamarind, sat in the lotus position, and began to meditate. It appears he was in this state for as long as sixteen years when a Tamil poet and scholar named Madhurakavi Alvar was born in Thirukolur (who was elder to him by age) and had travelled to North India on a temple trip. As he was performing his Nityaanushtanam (daily rituals) one day, he saw a bright light shining to the south, and followed it until he reached the tree where the boy was residing. Unable to elicit any reaction from the child, he asked him a riddle: "If the small is born in a dead's body (or stomach), what will it eat and where will it stay?" meaning, if the subtle soul is embodied in the gross body, what are its actions and thoughts? Nammalvar broke his lifelong silence and responded, "That it will eat, it will rest!" meaning that if the soul identifies with the body, it will be the body but if it serves the divine, it will stay in Vaikuntha and eat (think) of God.[23] Madhurakavi Alvar realized the divinity of this child.

It is believed that in the Kali Yuga, the doors of Vaikuntham (The abode Of Vishnu) was opened first time for him by Narayana himself and it is believed that the followers of Swami Nammalvar have the most easy access to the supreme abode. Following his moksha his family entitle as the Subbiah Kumara Pillai by holy Vaishnava acharyas and they serve him and believe him to be Sriman Narayana Tiruvadi. After the passing of Nammalvar, Madhurakavi Alvar composed 10 pasrams called Kanninin Sirutambu. He gave a word that whoever reads this 11,000 times with devotion will get vision and blessings of Nammalvar whenever they visit his abode at Alvarthirunagari.

Nammalvar was one of the twelve alvar poet-saints who immersed themselves in a love of Vishnu and who had a considerable knowledge of ancient Tamil literature and its variants of traditional stories concerning Vishnu and his associates, as well as the philosophical differences between Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.[15]

Madhurakavi Alvar was his first disciple. Swami Madhurakavi Alvar composed 11 pasurams in praise of his Acharya, Swami Nammalvar known as Kanninun Siruthambu, which are included among the Nalayira Divya Prabandham.

Swami Nammalvar with Madhurakavi Alvar and Nathamunigal


He contributed four pieces of works to Divya Prabhandham. These works consisted of 1,296 poems, making him the most prolific contributor to the 4,000 hymns written by the Alvar poet-saints.[14] These works are:

Tiruvaymoli describes Ranganatha as a metaphor for discussing the philosophical details in

In the Sri Vaishnava canon, these four represent (in Tamil language) the four Sanskrit vedas, respectively, the Sama Veda, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. According to tradition "He poured the cream of these vedas" into his songs and poetry that were the result of deep mystic experience. Though Nammalvar did not visit any of the 108 divyadesam temples talked about in the Vaishnava religion, it appears from his works he must have had the vision of all the archa forms in the temples he glorified in his hymns.[24]

Style of composition

The distinction of Nammalvar with his contemporaries is above the devotional aspects in writing, the visualization and dramatic movement. He mentions Vishnu in various aspects frequently in all his verses. The poems of Tiruvirrutam are depicted fully between the lone context of the hero and heroine. Most of these are utterances of the hero, heroine, her friends to the heroine or her mother to the heroine. The heroine always perceives her hero, Vishnu everywhere around her. As per Varadachari, Tiruviruttam is "an account of the pilgrimage of the soul to its transcendence over its ignorance, sleep and sloth in which it is caught up in the body". While medieval poetry is considered self-pity and repentance, his works always have a message of hope.[25]


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Nammalvar is regarded as one of the top three Hindu mystics in India, with the other two being Manickavasagar and Kabir.[26] Nammalvar is considered greatest among the twelve alvars and his contributions amount to 1352 among the 4000 stanzas in the Nalayira Divya Prabandam.

The Garuda Sevai utsavam (festival) in the month of Vaikasi (May-Jun) witnesses nine Garudasevai, an event in which festival image deities from the nava tirupathis temples namely, Mayakoothar Temple, Makara Nedunkuzhai Kannan Temple, Rettai Tirupathi - South Temple, Rettai Tirupathi North Temple, Vaithamanidhi Perumal Temple, Adhinaatha Perumal Temple - Thirukkurugur, Kaaisinavendhan Temple, Vijayaasana Perumal Temple, Sri Vaikuntanatha (Kallapiran) Temple are brought on Garuda vahana. The festival image of Nammalvar is also brought in Anna Vahanam (palanquin) and his verses dedicated to each of these nine temples are recited. The utsavar of deities of each of the nine temples, travel through the paddy fields in the area, reach Alvar Thirunagari. The verses dedicated to each of the nine Divyadesams are chanted with music and dance in front of respective utsavar deities. It is the most important of the festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.After this paasuram recital is completed, the Alvar utsavar in anna vahanam and the nine Perumal deities in Garuda Vahanam come around the maada veethi [temple street] of Alvar Thirunagari. Then, each divyadesam Perumal utsavar bid farewell to their most relished jeevathma Nammalvar and return to their respective temples. Amongst these Perumals, when Alvar most favourite deities of Irattai tirupathi leave after the utsavam, Alvar is saddened by their departure and will wait until they take a turn to their divyadesams. This episode of the Garuda Sevai is known as "Vidaiyaatri Utsavam". The saddened Alvar is taken into the temple by Alvar Thirunagari's deity Polindhu Nindra Piran by showing his beauty. This garuda sevai is to show how Alvar has sung paasurams on each perumal without moving an inch from his Thirupuliyazhwar. All the Perumals come to the Holy Tamarind tree to get sung by the Alvar.[27]

Devotees during Vaikunta Ekadasi

The Pagal Pathu and Ra Pathu festivals are celebrated in the month of Margazhi (December–January) for twenty days in Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam. The first ten days are referred to as Pagal-Pathu (10-day daytime festival) and the second half as Ra Pathu(10-day nighttime festival). The first day of Ra pathu is Vaikunta Ekadashi. The eleventh day of each fortnight in the Tamil calendar is called Ekadasi and the holiest of all Ekadasi in the Vaishnava tradition is the Vaikunta Ekadashi. Nammalvar, one of the 12 alvars, is believed to have ascended to Vaikuntha (the heavenly abode of Vishnu) on this day. The devotion of the 9th-century poet, Nammalvar, and his perceived ascent to heaven are enacted annually. During the festival, through song and dance, this place is affirmed to be Bhoologa Vaikunta (heaven on earth).[28] Araiyar Sevai is a divine colloquium of araiyars, who recite and enact Nalayara Divya Prabanda, the 4000 verses of alvars (Vaishnavite poets of the 7th–10th century).[29][30] Araiyars are born to the Araiyar tradition most prevalent in Sri Vaishnava families in Srirangam, Alvar Thirunagari and Srivilliputhur.[29] The tradition of Araiyar Sevai was started by Nathamuni, a 10th-century Vaishnavite who compiled the works of alvars.[30] It is believed as per Hindu mythology that 330 million demi-gods came down to witness the event.[31] The festival deity is brought to the 1,000-pillared hall on the morning of Vaikunta Ekadashi through the Paramapada Vasal (gate to paradise). Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims rush to enter it after the gate is opened and the deity passes through it as it is believed that one who enters here will reach Vaikuntha (heaven) after death. The gate is open only during the ten days of Ra Pathu (10 days of the nighttime festival). On the last day of the festival, the poet Nammalvar is said to be given salvation. The performance is enacted by priests and images in the temple depicts Nammalvar as reaching heaven and getting liberation from the cycle of life and death. At that point, a member from the crowd of devotees, who are witnessing this passion play, goes up to the centre stage and requests Vishnu to return Nammalvar to humanity, so that his words and form in the temple will continue to inspire and save the devotees. Following this performance of the salvation of Nammalvar, the cantors are taken in procession around the temple.[28]

See also


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  3. ^ "Meaning of Alvar". Retrieved 2 July 2007.
  4. ^ a b Rao, P.V.L. Narasimha (2008). Kanchipuram – Land of Legends, Saints & Temples. New Delhi: Readworthy Publications (P) Ltd. p. 27. ISBN 978-93-5018-104-1.
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  14. ^ a b c Sadarangani, Neeti M. (2004). Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception, Cultural Encounter and Impact. Sarup & Sons. p. 28. ISBN 9788176254366.
  15. ^ a b Carman, John B. (1994). Majesty and Meekness: A Comparative Study of Contrast and Harmony in the Concept of God. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9780802806932.
  16. ^ "Nammalwar in whose Honor Vaikuntha Ekadashi is Celebrated". 26 April 2015.
  17. ^ Ramanujan 2005, p. xi
  18. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2007). Historical dictionary of the Tamils. United States: Scarecrow Press, INC. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-470-82958-5.
  19. ^ Gupta, Ke.Si. (1988). Vaishyas in India, Volume 1. India: All India Vaishya Samaj. pp. 5, 38. VYSYA. SAINTS. NAMMALVAR. According to tradition Nammalvar is the first amongst Alvars of Ramanuja Visista Advaita Siddhantha and he was is known traditionally one who born in a Vysya family .
  20. ^ P., Jayaraman (2019). A Brief History of Vaishnava Saint Poets : The Alwars. India: Vani Prakashan. p. 60. ISBN 978-9-38901-269-9. Nammalwar belonging to the Vellalar, Vaishya community
  21. ^ Ramesh, M.S. (2000). 108 Vaishnavite Divya Desams: Divya desams in Malai Nadu and Vada Nadu. T.T. Devasthanams. p. 95.:"A vysya by name Tiruvazhmarba was married to lady by name Brindha . They had no children . They prayed to the Lord of Tirupatisaram and were blessed with a daughter named ******* Udaya nangai ."
  22. ^
  23. ^ Swami, Parmeshwaranand (2001). Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Purāṇas. Sarup & Sons. p. 908. ISBN 9788176252263.
  24. ^ Das 2005, p. 29
  25. ^ Das 2005, pp. 41-44
  26. ^ Chattopadhyaya, Brajadulal (2009). A Social History Of Early India. Delhi: Pearson Education India. p. 240. ISBN 9788131719589.
  27. ^ "Garudasevai". The Hindu. 25 October 2002. Archived from the original on 30 June 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  28. ^ a b Mittal, Sushil; G. R. Thursby (2005). The Hindu World. New York: Routelge. p. 474. ISBN 0-203-67414-6.
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  31. ^ Murdoch, John (1904). Hindu and Muhammadan festivals. Asian Educational Services. p. 13. ISBN 9788120607088.