Alvars(‘those who are immersed in the love of God’) – SriVaisnavism, the religion and Vishistadvaita, its philosophy, are of hoary antiquity. If the philosophy is traced to the Upanishads, the religion is traced to Narayana Himself. However, this religion is rooted to Bhagavatam, Narayaniya section of Mahabharata, Visnu Purana and Pancharatra. The Alvars are important, even pioneering, leaders of the religious cult.
SriVaisnava tradition has such 12 Alvars, all of them belong to Tamil Nadu and lived during the Pallava period (7AD-9AD). The first three Alvars – Poygai, Pudam and Pey are ascribed with TiruvandAdi of 300 verses. Tirumalisai’s works are Nanmukhan Tiruvandadi and Tiruccandaviruttam. The next Alvar, Kulasekhara wrote Sanskrit hymn ‘Mukundamala’(rare combination of devotion and poetic beauty). Periyalvar is the sixth in the series has written Tiruppallandu and Tirumoli which contains descriptions of childish pranks of Lord Krishna as seen by Yashoda.
Andal(Godadevi), the seventh was the adopted daughter of Periyalvar. She is the only woman among the Alvars. Tradition considers her as the Avatar of Lakshmi or Bhudevi. Refusing to wed any man, she led the life of a lover of the Lord, like the Gopis of Vrindavan. Her work Tiruppavai consisting of 30 verses is sung and discoursed during the Dhanurmasa. Nacciyar Tirumoli is also her work. She is said to have disappeared into the image of Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam.
The eighth Alvar being Tondarippodi who is attributed with Tirupalliyelucci and Tirumalai. Tiruppani, the ninth Alvar, was a pariah who lived in a hut near Srirangam. Amalanadippiran was composed by him. It is said that Lord Ranganath commanded a priest to take Alvar on his shoulders into sanctum sanctorum where he merged with Him. Tirumangai Alvar is the next who wrote six works starting with Periya Tirumoli. Madhurakavi and Nammalvar were contemporaries and their lives were interwoven. Nammalvar is regarded as the greatest of Alvars. His four works are : Tiruvittam, Tiruvasiriyam, Periya Tiruvandadi and Tiruvaimoli.
The whole mass of compositions of Alvars is known as Divya Prabandham and they are regarded in status equal to Vedas and so they are called ‘Dravida Veda’. The teachings of these Alvars can be briefly summarized as :
• Narayana is the supreme Lord.
• He is both immanent and transcendent.
• He is the personification of all perfection.
• Apart from Rama and Krishna, he is manifesting himself in the icons that are devoutly worshipped as Arcavatara.
• Devotion to Him, devoted service to Him and total surrender onto Him is the surest way of attaining Him.
This is a very famous poetic treatise in Tamil composed by Andal(Godadevi). There are 30 verses. Here, Andal imagines that she is one of the Gopis performing the special Katyayani Vrata to get Lord Krishna as her husband. In her imagination, her little town(Srivilliputtur) becomes Nandagokula and temple of Visnu becomes Nanda’s palace. She goes about streets of the town early morning, waking up her girl friends, to go to Yamuna river for bath and worship of Katyayani(Parvati).
This highly poetical treatise is centered round the Krishna-bhakti, love of Krishna as one’s lover and husband. All the verses have been set to music and they are very popular. Singing them during Dhanurmasa has become a tradition in Srivaisnavas.
To view the Tamil and English versions of Tiruppavai, click here.
Source : A concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism by Swami Harshananda, President, Ramakrishna Ashram, Bangalore.