Not long ago some readers had expressed that it would be useful
to have an exclusive book chronicling the life and works of all azwars.
Perceiving the merit in their observation, I have brought out this book.
which I hope will be well received. The azwar. whom I call the 'divine
dozen', are messengers of the Lord - some consider them to be
extension of Lord's avataaras - conveying in their lyrical works Sriman
Naaraayana's establishment in terms of creation etc., the mutual bond
between soul and supreme soul (Jeevaathma-Paramaathma),
interpretation of holy manthras like dvaya manthra ; and some of the
works elicit the messages of the four Vedas. Azwar's works themselves
are known as Tamil Vedas.
Adien has followed the course of presentation as per Veda nth a
Desikar's Prabhandha saram. Thanians have been presented with
meanings. Azwars' lives and works have been narrated in a synoptic
I thank Mrs. Sudha for the DTP type setting, Sharada Prasad for
timely printing (for release during Sri Nammaazwar Thirunakshathram)
and Kiran for' an attractive cover design.
Like the upanishadhic seers, azwars experienced the Lord,
Brahman, in their inner vision and by realizing Him demonstrated
that Brahman who was philosophically the highest was also intuitionally
loftiest - they delved deep into truths and expounded them to the
common people. The spiritual experience of the azwars found
expression in the form of hymns steeped in bhakthi, and collectively
they are called the Naalaayira Divya Prabhandham.
The azwars are ten in number but with Sri Andal who descended
to the Earth at Sri Villiputthoor in just the same way as Seethadevi,
and counting Madurakavi azwar. the staunch devotee of Sri
Nammazwar, the number goes up to twelve; Sri Andal in the only
woman 8zwar amongst the dozen azwars. In this treatise Adiyen has
attempted to present the lives of all the twelve azwars, along with
their works covered in a synoptic manner.
Tamil Vedas : 4000 Divya Prabhandham
The spontaneous outpourings of the twelve azwars which are
characterised by lyrical beauty and bhakthi are known as Prabhandham
or Tamil Vedas. The hymns known as 'paasurams' in Tamil by the
twelve azwars together total up to 4000 numbers and therefore they
are termed as Nalayira Divya Prabhandham - 'divya' means divine or
celestial and 'Prabhandham' means compositions.
Unlike the Sanskrit Vedas, Tamil Vedas or Prabhandham do not
restrict the recitation to some only; all vernas and women are allowed
to partake in learning and recitation. 4000 Divya Prabhandham is
taught in religious institutions and temples in South India in particular.
Rendering of a few hymns regularly during the 'shaartumurai' as a
part of the 'aradhanarn' in temples and homes has been in vogue for
centuries now; a minimum of two pasurams in the morning puja is
Lofty 'Azwar', defined in short !
An azwar is so called because he delved deep into divinity, that
is, immersed as he was in divine thoughts and ennobled experiences,
he let them pour over spontaneously in the form of hymns, rare lyrical
psalms. They realised the Lord directly and left those experiences for
posterity, inviting one and all to partake as it were in experiencing
Lord's divine attributes, His sports, His leelas and broadly His mercy.
Azwars' 'Avataaras' Prophesied
Generally people talk of ten avataaras beginning with 'Mathsya'
(these ten being 'vibhava' manifestations) and ending with 'Kalki'.
But it is widely believed that God has not stopped appearing with just
that. The ten avataaras, and another set of fourteen avataars of the
Lord like Kapila, Prithu, Hamsa etc. are extension of His basic ten
manifestations. There may be more to come!
The Bhagavatha Mahapurana by Veda Vyaasa had prophesied
the birth of these azwars as follows:
"Kalaukalu bhavishyanthi paraayanaaha kwachith
kwachith mahaabhagaaha dramide shuscha bhsurishah
Taampraparni nadeeyatra krutamaala payaswinee
Kaaveri cha mahaabhaaga pratheecheecha Mahaanadhi //
The text means that the holy saints devoted to Sri man Naarayana
would be born in Kaliyuga on the banks of the holy rivers of the
Dravida land (near) Taampraparni, Kruthamaala (Vaigai), Payasvini
(Papanaashini) and Cauvery rivers.
Fixing the age of Azwars
Traditionally our saints or rishis did not like to leave their personal
traces excepting their experiences with the Lord or Vedanthic texts,
as they attributed everything to the Lord Himself. Hence one has not
paid heed to relate his name, period and contributions for posterity to
The first three azwars, known as Mudhal azwars were born on
consecutive days in 4200 BC. (Aippashimaasa thiruvonam ;
Aippashimaasa avittam and thulaamaasa shadhaya) in the siddhaarthi
samvathsara ; in the same samvathsara Thirumazishai azwar was also
born ; Nammaazwar was born in 3101 BC (Vaikaashi vishaaka).
Madhura Kavi azwar was born in 3222 BC in dwapara eon
Kulashekara azwar was born in 3073 BC (maashi punar
pooshattheyil) ; Peri azwar was born in 3054 BC (aanithannil
perunjothi thanil) ; Sri Andal was born in 3003 BC (aadipooram) ;
Thondaradippodi azwar was born in 2803 BC (maarghazimaadha
Thiruppaan Azwar was born in 2758 BC (Kaarthihei maadhatthil
oorohininaal) ; Thirumangei azwar was born in 2702 BC (Kaarthiheiyil
The period of birth shown above is as per 'sampradhaaya'
determination (tradition). Modern researchers give different periods
of birth : for e.g. Dr. N. Subha Reddiar places the date of birth of
Nammazwar to 787 AD. The stars and months of birth as also the
order of presentation are according to Swami Desikan's "Prabhandha
Saaram". Only one azwar, Madura Kavi, is seen to have been born in
Azwar's Compositions :
'NALAYIRA DIVVA PRABANDHAM'
The term 'Nalayira' meaning 4000 is the total sum of hymns of
twelve azwars : but the 24 compositions to which they belong
falls short by 108 and with the consent of Sri Ramanuja, the 108
hymns in praise of himself by his contemporary known as
Thiruvarangathamudhanaar go to complete the figure of 4000. Sri
Vedantha Desikar follows this system of formation; Amudanaar is not
an azwar, but an ardent devotee of Sri Ramanuja.
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