The Alvars, who laid the foundation for the Vaishnavite movement, were the pioneers of the religion of love. Along with the rest of the country, South India was feeling the impact of Jainism and Budhism during the few centuries before, and in the early centuries of, Christian era. It was during this period ,Alvars with sweet melodies in the popular tongue on their lips, wandered through Tamil land.Thus was set in motion a new revival of Bhakthi movement.
The precise dates of the different Alvars cannot be determined. But it is generally agreed that they lived at different periods during the three centuries beginning from A.D 500.Their influence was mainly confined to the Tamil speaking areas ruled by the four kingdoms of the Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Chera. According to tradition the Alvars were Twelve in number. It is significant that most of them were of humble parentage, and did not attach any importance to caste. However, the character of their lives inspired by divine love endeared them to the people, and differences of caste or position were washed off before this tide.
It was their bhakhti literature that attracted Sri Natha Muni (A.D.824-924),the first of the acharyas of Vaishnavism towards them .The doctrine of self-surrender, later developed by the acharyas , was derived from the Alvars.The acharyas were well-versed in Sanskrit and Tamil.They had a thorough knowledge of the Vedas, Upanishads, and other scriptures. Sri Ramanuja belonged to this line of acharyas.Sri Natha Muni took upon himself the task of popularizing the songs of the Alvars.He classified and arranged them metrically, to be chanted in temples side by side with the Vedic hymns. These poems of great beauty are known by the name 'Divya Prabandham’, numbering over four thousand. The twelve Alvars were:Poigai,Bhutattar,Pey,Tirumalisai,Nammalvar,Madhurakavi,Kulasekhara,Periyalvar,Andal,Tondaradippodi,Tiruppan, and Tirumangai.
*' Bhakthi Poonga' , a tamil book by G. Ethirajulu Naidu, Dr. N.V. Krishna Warrier's introductions to' Verakkuru', a book based on the early Tamil literature ,a translation of Sangha poetry in Malayalam,translation of early Kannada poetry , M.Govindan's study on Mahakavi Tholan ,Ponnambalam Arunachalam's "Philosophical study on East and West",Ayyappapanicker's and D. vinayachandran's studies on thina concept, Satchidanandan's in depth study on Bhakthi literature and his poems on the same subject are available and I request to read them along with this note.
*Thanks for the Tamil language,which is part of my life.
Nammalvar occupies the formost place among the Alvars.Out of his contribution of 1296 verses to the Divya Prabandham ,his magnum opus,Tiruvaimoli,contains 1102.He was born to a vellala (farmer) couple at Karungur-called Alvar Tirunagari now- in Thirunelveli district .His earlier works ,Tiruviruttam, Tiruvasiriyum ,and Peru Tiruvandadi , contain 100,7,87 verses respectively.
Enemies rejoice,dear one suffer,
Death covers everything, men are deceived
Riches ,friends, high heritage,
Dear sweet heart,and one’s own dwelling,
All are left behind; quick Death carries
All ,with suddenness.
O what is this Nature
That spreads destruction?
Like bubbles on water, this life never abides;
Monarchs, surrounded by regality ,disappear unknown.
O seek His lotus feet ,the only refuge.
The great magician,
He ,a mystery poet disguised,
Entered my life and heart unseen,
And filled my whole being.
Tirumangai was the last of the Alvars. Born to a kalla couple,he was named Nilan, owing to his blue complexion.He has to his credit a number of works, Peria Tirumoli, Tirukkuruntandakam, Tiruneduntandakam, Siria Tirumadal, Peria Tirumadal, and Tiruvelukutrirukkai. His verses a total 1360,thus contributing the largest share to the four thousand verses of the Alvars.
He who destroyed the evil demons,
Aided by monkeys and bears,
That Lord, who is my honey and milk,
His name did I utter.
Torturing your body
And imprisoning life,
And throwing all the
Five senses in agony,
Why do you dry up in fiery austerities?
Reach Chitrakuta where flora and fauna
Smile in adundence.
Devote yourself to His worship.
Kulasekhara is well known for his celebrated Sanskrit hymn Mukundamala. He was the son of the king of the Chera kingdom, corresponding to the present Kerala state.His tamil work Perumal Tirumoli consists of 105 psalms, divided into ten sections.
Shall that day dawn when lovers of the Lord,
With songs enchanting on their lips,
Shall dance together in ecstasy?
When the ground shall
Turn muddy with their tears of joy,
In that holy Flood ,holier than the Ganga,
When shall I roll in delight?
A particle of sand the earth is,
The ocean, a little drop,
Fire, a tiny spark twinkling,
Vayu,a feeble breath,
And space a mere minute hole.
They think of this fleeting world
As if full of eternal good;
They who always greedily brood
Over food and raiment for this fleshy mould.
O save me from their company ,
They travel in evil avenues.
Periyalvar was born to a Brahmin family in Srivilliputtur, in the kingdom of the Pandyas. His only work known as Tirumoli contains 461 stanzas. Most of these refer to the Krishna incarnation.
The flock of deer
With tremulous eyes,
Their mouthfuls of grass slip off
At the call of Krishna’s flute;
They stand enchanted like
Deer in a picture.
O fool,you call your sons
With earthly names, of mortals
Who reach dusty graves.
O call them with His numerous names,
The blue one,the cynosure of all eyes.
A reference has already been made as to how Periyalvar found a a female child under a ‘tulasi’ bush in his garden. He brought her home, and his wife, too, was overjoyed .They named her Goda (in Tamil,Kodai). The word means ‘she who was born of Mother Earth '.
Andal 's mysticism has been compared to that of Mirabai and St.Theresa.Her two works are Thiruppavai and Nachiyar Tirumoli,containing 30 and 143 stanzas respectively. They have found an esteemed place in Tamil literature.
O my dear cuckoo,
Are you unaware of
My bones are all softened.
My spear-like eyes
Remain unwinked for days many.
Caught in the sea of distress,
I look for that ferry boat,
Called the Lord of Vaikunda.
Would you not call Him of golden hue,
Whose banners bear the royal eagle?