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Alvar Saints and Their Celestial Songs: Some Glimpses

Item Code: NAQ692
Author: N. Rajagopalan
Publisher: Sri. N. Rajagopalan Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2016
Pages: 398
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 470 gm
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Book Description

The Srivaishnava tradition holds on to the Sanskrit Vedas and the Nalayira Divya Prabandham known as Dravida Vedam as the two authorities (Pramanam) for establishing the Siddhanta. All the Acharyas in the lineage were rigorously trained and proficient in both the scriptures known as the Ubhaya Vedanta. The two Vedas are like two eyes that enable us to get a whole, panoramic view of the Tatva, Hita and Purusharta. The major differences between the two begin with their origin. The Vedas are Apourusham', meaning not created by anyone but the Nalayira Divya Prabandham has the glory of association with the sacred tongue of the Azhwar saints. The Vedas are vast and contain two parts namely the Karma Kandam and the Gnana Kandam. The former contain various prescriptions for day to day living, rituals and ceremonies while the latter part, the Upanishads are exclusive Vedanta. The verses of the Azhwar saints are pure, distilled experience of the Almighty flowing from the Yogic vision of the Seers.

The Tamizh verses are melodious, magical and enable us to peep into the rapturous flood of emotion in the hearts of these mystics. The Azhwars themselves spoke of their verses in words filled with awestruck joy and declared that the Almighty too was enamoured with their songs. Thondaradipodi Azhwar's last verse of Thirumalai where he pronounced that his work was sweet to the Lord "Empirrakku iniyavare" is just one example. When the Mudal Azhwars spoke, the Lord stood amidst them eager to soak in the adoration; he followed Thirumazhisai Azhwar captivated by his verses; he begged Nammazhwar to confer his verses of adulation on his Archa forms. Unlike the Vedas which issue commands and speak cryptically the Azhwars appeal to us with an understanding of human nature and the inexorable compulsions of life.

The Vedas can be taught only to a select few, the Brahmins, that too only the males among them. The hymns of the Azhwar's are open to all who have the desire to learn. The Azhwar saints condensed the substance of the vast, inscrutable, tough Srutis into nectar like classic Tamizh verses which pack the wisdom of all scriptures into them. The Dravida Veda is Intamizh, Sentamizh and Gnanatamizh. Swami Desikan has summarized the importance of the Nalayira Divya Prabandham in his Tamizh composition Prabhanda Saaram Verse 18 thus.

Andamila aarana naalagi ninra adan karuttai azhwargal aayndeduttu

Seyya tamizhal arul seyda vagay togayyum sindamal ulagankal vaazha venru

Sandamigu tamizhmarayon toopul tonrum vedantaguru mozhinda prabhanda saaram

Sindayinal anudinamum sindiporkku semamadam thirumaltan karunayale.

Interestingly Swami Desikan's Tamizh works collectively known as Desika Prabandham consists of 24 compositions equaling the total number of works in the Nalayiram. The Vedantacharya whose scholarship in the Ubhaya Vedanta was legendary, reveals his partiality towards the Tamizh Vedas by declaring himself a "Sandamigu tamizhmarayon". In the Vedic way of life it is customary to introduce oneself stating the Gothram, Veda branch to which the family belongs as in 'Bharadhwaja Gothram yajus saka adhyayi'. Swami Desikan, proudly proclaims himself, as belonging to the clan of chanters of the Tamizh Vedas. This declaration sums his devotion to the Nalayira Divya Prabandham. His Prabhanda Saram is a rich tribute to the divine hymns of the saints wherein the Vedantacharya with usual brilliance captures the uniqueness of each of the Prabhandhams, the lives of the saints who sang them, the number of verses in each work. All this is achieved within the eighteen verses which can be easily stored in memory.

The Acharya was a prolific writer and has left behind a wide range of works in Sanskrit, Tamizh, Prakrit and Manipravala. He is perhaps the first in the Guru Paramparai to have written in the Dravida language. (Though there are a few verses like Tanians to Prabhandas attributed to Acharyas before him including Ramanuja). The parallel quality of the compositions in both Sanskrit and Tamizh is striking and is the delight of scholars. The beauty of his Sanskrit can be compared to the Stotras of Koorathazhwan and Parasara Bhattar while the sweetness of his rich Tamizh verses makes us wonder if the poetry is that of the Mudal Azhwars or Thirumazhisai piran. The Vedantacharya's scholarship in each of the languages seems to add to the felicity of expression in the other. Every one of his compositions, as short as a Nyasa Dasakam or long as Paduka Sahasram flow from contemplation of the divine, are surcharged with emotion and take the form of Upadesa for our welfare. In his Prabhanda Saram, the Acharya issues a command repeating it twice, with the intention of drilling the message into us. The crux of the edict issued by him is "Studying the Nalayira Divya Prabandham should be a lifetime preoccupation".

"Eththisayum vazha ivar padi vaitta nalayiramum engal vaazhve!"

"Tuyya tamizh irubattu nangin pattin togai nalayiramum adiyongal vaazhve!"

All the Acharyas in the illustrious Guru parampara have, like Swami Desikan, reveled in the boundless, mystical depths of the Arulicheyal. Acharya Nathamuni the foremost in the Acharya Paramparai after Swami Nammazhwar, was fascinated by the melody of the verses and is credited to have brought back the hymns which were lost over time by Yogic contemplation. The classification of the twenty four prabhandas into four parts as they are used today was done by Nathamuni. What Sage Vyasa did to preserve the Vedas was done by this Acharya to the Tamizh Vedas. The ceremonial recital of Thiruvaimozhi started by Thirumangai Azhwar at SriRangam was revived and expanded to include the works of all Azhwars by Nathamuni. The Nalayiram was also tuned to be sung in the Lord's presence with talam as these verses are not only chaste, classic Tamizh but are Isai Tamizh too! It was the melody of the decad 'Aaravamude' which ends with the line 'Kuzhalin maliyach chonna orraayirattul ippattum' that charmed Nathamuni. Anecdotes in the commentaries speak of the ecstatic anubhavam of Sri Alavandar, Thirumalai Nambi, Embar, Anantazhwan, Koorathazhwan, Bhattar, Nanjeeyar while dwelling on the verses of the Azhwar saints.

Bhagavad Ramanuja is revered as the Thirupavai Jeer as he chanted Thiruppavai without fail during Bhiksha. Ramanuja revived the ceremonial chanting of Nalayiram in temple worship and the art of the Araiyars. He was hailed as the foster mother to Nammazhwar's Thiruvaimozhi by Parasara Bhattar. "Eendra mudal tai sadagopan moympal valartta idaththai iramanusan". The Acharya breathed life into the Tamizh Vedas by initiating the Vyakhyana tradition with Pillan's Aarayirappadi commentary to Thiruvaimozhi. Ramanuja's ability to reconcile the Bheda, Abheda and Ghataka shrutis can be directly traced to the profound understanding of Thiruvaimozhi says Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Nayanar in his Acharya Hrudayam "Bhashyakarar idu kondu sutra vakyangal orungaviduvar". Thiruvarangath Amudanar's Ramanuja Nootrandadi speaks of Ramanuja's admiration and understanding of the verses of the Azhwars' particularly Thiruvaimozhi in glowing words. "Pantarum maran pasuntamizh aanandam pai madamai vindida engal iramanusa muni vezham", "Thiruvaimozhiyin innisai mannum Pantarum Pukku nirkum ramanusan" are a few verses which capture this adoration.



The devotional hymns of the Vaishnava saints of South India revered as the AIvars, collectively called the 'Nalayira Divya Prabandham' form an integral part of the rich literary, philosophic, and spiritual inheritance of India and areheld in high esteem as equal in every respect to the Vedasand Upanipds. The Vedas are held to be 'apaurwya' or impersonal. But the hymns of Divya Prabandham were the ecstatic outpourings of the Tamil saints who were divine emissaries and trod the serene countryside on the banks of Tamraparani and Calved and shores around Marnallapuram and Mylapore, immersed in the depths of the ocean of Divine Love. The language of these saints was Tamil. These mystic seers who had seen and known Sriman Narayana at close quarters, face to face , purport to give us through their songs a true and graphic account of the Divine, as they actually realized Him, His qualities, and attributes, and the place of jiva or individual self in the scheme of creation, and in relation to God or Hvara. Their mission was to infuse the Divine Consciousness in men, low and high, vain and humble, seeker and sinner. Their poetry was suffused with the lore of the Ramayana, Vishnupurana and the Bhagavatha, the Pancharatra and Vedic truths. Making immense use of these sources, their mystico-religious consciousness synthesized the sacred truths contained in them to articulate through their hymns an integral philosophy of Divine life. To them God was a living presence experienced in the totality of His Being and manifestation in myriadform. The universe is real pervaded and permeated by His presence which is both transcendent with and beyond it and immanent in very cell and atom in an intrinsic organic relationship. All the twelve Alvars have dwelt either directly or indirectly on the three fundamental doctrines of Vedanta, namely, itattva', or Reality, the 'hita' or means of attainment and the 'purushartha' or the supreme goal. They had an intuitive apprehension of the ultimate Reality or `paratattva' of the God-head as within man's reach, of the nature of the soul bound but yearning to be freed, and of the spiritual discipline that leads the soul to the attainment of the supreme goal. Their moving hymns not only reflect but reach into the deep yearning of the human soul to seek its Source, and in some blessed souls as these saints themselves, the ecstatic fulfiment of that yearning. It is this unparalleled spiritual soul-stirring sweetness of their songs suffused with philosophic truths and devotional fervor that invests this great Tamil Prabandham appropriately called "Aruliccheyal Amudham", with the right to take precedence over the Vedas in the processional outing of the Divine Lord.

The VigWadvaita or the Ubhaya (twin) Vedanta as it is known,draws its inspiration and derives its strength equally from the two sources, viz. the Vedas of Sanskrit origin and the Divya Prabhandam of Tamil. Though of equal validity, one is really complementary to the other in the sense that the fundamental principles revealed to and by the Rishis of yore, are interpreted by the Ajvars in the light of their own mystic experience. Ubhaya Vedanta does not signify two Vedantas, one in Sanskrit and the other in Tamil, nor is it to be taken necessarily to mean the same Vedanta or Vedantic thought that is given expression to in Sanskrit and in Tamil respectively as understood in common parlance , but in a more real sense, stands for the philosophy of Srivaishnavism known as the Vig4tadvaita which describes the essence of all existence as one in two or two in one. That was Sri Ramanuja's mission - the exposition of the `Sareera-Sareeri-Bhava' ( Body-Soul- relationship) between the world and God as the ultimate meaning or Parama-Tatparya'of the Upanigads, the Sutras and Divya Prabandham: Ubhaya Vedanta' thus is a characteristic expression ingeniously patented for and by Vaishnavas of South India who are followers of Vg4tadvaita, for it is their proud privilege to be endowed with a religion and philosophy presented uniquely in differentiated non-dualistic form. This has been elegantly summed up in the words of a 'Sampradaya' doyen of yester year, Sriman V.V.Srinivasa Iyengar as follows. "If true religion should be popular and popular religion should be true, it would appear to be necessary to be presented in this twin form. Piana' and bhakti are seen here functioning in mutual complementarity. Transcendental metaphysics and logic merges seamlessly with inner inspiration and direct enjoyment when the sweetness of Tamil is added to the pure milk of Sanskrit". It is the mellifluous Divya Prabandham of the Alvars which paved the way for this consummate and supreme spiritual synthesis of one in two and two in one the ideal of all synthesis. Swami Vedanta Desikan's contribution was monumental in this. It is said that Lord Ranganatha was so pleased with his achievement that He conferred the title of `Ubhaya-Vedantacharya' on Sri Desikan.

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