One of the greatest of god-intoxicated devotees, Nammalvar (a Tamil name, pronounced nammALvAr), is the ‘soul’ of the twelve vaishnava ALvArs. Like the Buddha who appeared in the northernmost part of India and finally en’gulfed not only India but Asia and the whole world by his teachings, Nammalvar was the star of the southernmost part of India whose work engulfed the whole world of Vaishnavism. Tradition gives him the date 3102 B.C. i.e., the beginning of the kali-yuga; but scholars give him a date from the 7th century to the ninth century A.D. He must have been born fully enlightened because as a baby he never cried or suckled and never opened his eyes. It appears he was in this state for as long as sixteen years when another ALvAr Madhura-kavi by name, who was himself in such a state of high spiritual evolution that he asked him the ‘right’ questions and made him speak and took him for his AcArya. Nammalvar consented to being his guru, instructed him in the secret doctrines of Vaishnavism and thereafter could not resist the urge of singing about God and trumpeting about Him. We owe it to Madhurakavi for setting them to music. 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 had glorified in his hymns. His contribution of four works to the four thousand prabandhams includes the entire fourth thousand and part of the third thousand; these works are tiruvAymozhi, tiruviruttam, tiruvAsiriam and periya tiruvandadi. In the Vaishnava cannon these four represent in the Tamil language the four Sanskrit vedas, respectively, the sAmaveda, Rgveda,Yajurveda and atharvanaveda. He poured the cream of these vedas into his songs of scintillating Tamil and matchless poetry that came out of his deep mystic experience. The subject matter was certainly the five principles, namely, the Lord, the soul, the means, the end, and the obstacles to spirituality. Through all this ran a thread of the acme of devotion to Lord Krishna. Whatever Krishna ate, whatever He drank, whatever betel He chewed was the dearest to the saint. The supreme object of life was to be at the Lord’s lotus feet and to serve him eternally in blissful love. Therefore seek Him all your life, praise Him, surrender to Him, speak of His glories and exploits, revel in His majesty and continue the recitation of His names. This was his message to the world at large.
enakkE Atchey ekkAlattum enRu en
manakkE vandu iDaivIdu inRi manni
tanakkE Aga enaikkoLLum IdE
enakkE kaNNanai yAn koL chiRappE
Makes me serve him all the time and everywhere;
Anchors me thus by seating himself in my mind;
Swerves me not by gracing me in his service alone;
Krishna’s wish is my wish, my pleasure, my glory.