Towering Giants of Spirituality.
The twelve Alvars and sixty-three Nayanmars, the last of whom lived in the 9th century A.D. -- all of whom were inspired and God-intoxicated devotees who transmitted their divine infatuation to millions.Some of them have left behind an imperishable legacy of devotional Tamil poetry -- nAlAyira prabandham (considered to be the essence of the Vedas, in Tamil), tevAram and tiruvAchagam. These have been rarely equalled either in quantity or in quality ever after. The one held in greatest esteem among the Alvars is Nammalvar. He is the 'soul' of the twelve Alvars. Tradition dates him at 3102 B.C. but scholars ascribe him to the seventh century A.D. He sang of God and trumpeted about Him because he simply could not resist that urge in him. His contribution to the four thousand prabandhams is as many as 1352. He poured the cream of the vedas into his songs. Next in line is Perialvar who delighted in worshipping the Lord as mother, nurse, devotee and lady love. To Andal, the divine gift to him in the form of a daughter is attributed the tiruppAvai, a most beautiful string of 30 verses giving expression to the purest love of God -- equivalent to the love of the cowherdesses of Brindavan for Lord Krishna in mythological times. While the Alvars are devotees of Vishnu, the Nayanmars are devotees of Siva. The foremost among them are four: Tirunaavukkarasu-naayanar, also known more popularly as Appar, whose miracles have been chronicled everywhere in Saiva literature and history. His soul-stirring songs are clear and emphatic and show him as an exemplary devotee of the Lord. His junior contemporary, Tiru-jnaana-sambandar, was a wandering minstrel who sang poems after poems in his very short life of 16 years and triumphantly re-established the Saiva branch of Hinduism in opposition to religions like Buddhism and Jainism. Sundarar, who was in such great friendly intimacy with the Lord without ever being oblivious of His Divinity, that he made use of His services even for settling domestic quarrels; he was the first to sing the praise of the sixty-three Nayanmars. Manickavachagar, whose unique bridal mysticism, undivided loyalty and exclusive devotion to the Lord, find immortal expression in his exquisite poems like tiruvAchagam, which is a work of devotion-cum-wisdom par excellence known to melt even the hardest of hearts. To this day these 75 saints are a living tradition.
Tiruvalluvar, of perhaps the third century B.C., known all the world over for his tirukkuraL (referred to as the Bible of South India, by Schwietzer), is held in sacred esteem by the entire Tamil world. It is difficult to find a greater teacher of Dharma in all its aspects than this eminently practical eclectic, within the larger framework of a liberal Hinduism. His was an honest and convinced thinking that would be guided only by one's own conscience.
Naatha-muni, of the ninth century A.D., the foremost Acharya of the Vaishnavas, who collected the Tamil prabandhams, classified them, made the redaction, set the hymns to music and spread them everywhere. He is said to have received the divine hymns straight from Nammalvar by yogic insight.
Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhwa, of the 9th, 11th and 13th centuries A.D., respectively. (One school of research ascribes Sankara to the third century B.C.). To this triumvirate of Supermen must be given all the credit for the superlative fame of India as a spiritually great Nation. Successive generations of the Acharya-lineages originally institutionalized by them, are still carrying the torch. Deep thinking, profound scholarship, lucid exposition, high poetry, mystic power, compassion to the core -- in all these, none of them have been excelled either before or after, though each had a style, a genius, a method and a philosophy of his own and thus a distinctive stamp on the cultural, religious and spiritual milieu of India.
February3, 1999
Copyright V. Krishnamurthy
Homepage Overview Beginning of this Section Previous Page