Epigraphical Evidence on Nammalvar and other Alvars


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Amongst the twelve Alvars, Nammalvar is revered as the central figure and his Tiruvaymoli as the Sama Veda. It is considered so sacred that it is recited only in the temple premises whereas the pasurams of the other Alvars recited even outside. Such is the reverence with which Nammalvar’s Tiruvaymoli is held by the Srivaishnavas. Old inscriptions clearly show that this popularity was not confined to any particular place or period but widespread in space and time.

Ukkal (North Arcot District) – An inscription of the beginning of the eleventh century (during the period of Rajaraja Chola I) mentions the presence of Tiruvaymoli-Devar and the recitation of Tiruppadiyam in the Vishnu temples.

Tribhuvanai (Pondicherry) – An inscription dated 1048 A.D. from the temple of Viranarayana Vinnagar records the donation of seventy-two velis of land as charity and also for feeding Srivaishnavas who recited Tiruvaymoli.

Ennayiram (North Arcot District) – An inscription (M.E.R.1918 para 28) of this place dated A.D.1023, records the interesting fact that the assembly (sabha) of this village in order to secure success to the king, made certain charities to the local Vishnu temple of Rajaraja Vinnagar in the village which was also called Rajaraja Chaturvedi-mangalam. The charities made provision for maintaining a Vedic college and a hostel. It also provided for the recitation of Tiruvaymoli and for the feeding of twenty-five Srivaishnavas in the Matha attached to the temple. This inscription would clearly bring out the importance attached to the Tiruvaymoli which was to be learnt and recited along with the Vedas.

Uttaramerur (Chingleput District) – Two inscriptions of the period of Rajendra Chola I, 11th Century, record donations to provide for distribution of food to the Srivaishnavas reciting Tiruppadiyam during the worship. It also mentions endowments of land for maintenance of three persons to recite the Tiruvaymoli regularly in the temple (176 and 181 of 1923).

An inscription dated 1048 A.D. from the temple of Viranarayana Vinnagar records the donation of seventy-two velis of land as charity and also for feeding Srivaishnavas who recited Tiruvaymoli.

Srirangam (Tiruchirapalli District) – It was a great centre of Vaishnavism even from the Sangam period and almost all the Alvars praised it in their hymns. An inscription dated A.D. 1085 refers to the recital of the TiruppalliEluchi and Tiruvaymoli regularly in the Srirangam temple (61 of 1892).

Tirunelveli District – At Alvar Tirunagari, the birthplace of Svami Nammalvar, an inscription refers to him as Tirukkurugur Mamuni (21 of 1927). The Tiruvaymoli is itself referred to in an inscription as “Satagopan-pattu.” At Nanguneri, there is an inscription mentioning t h e deification of Nammalvar. At Mannarkoil, there was a mandapa named Nalayiravantirumandapam for the recital of the Prabandham.

Tirukkoilur (South Arcot District) – It is a very sacred place for the Srivaishnavas since they consider that it was here that the first three Alvars met for the first time and commenced singing the Divyaprabandhas. An inscription from the Trivikrama Perumal temple dated A.D. 1171 refers to the recitation of Tiruvaymoli during the festivals in the month of Aipasi (October-November) and vaigasi (May-June) (343 of 1921).

Kalladaikurichi (South Arcot District) – A record of the thirteenth century from the Krishnan temple refers to the presiding deity as “Nalayira-Vinnagar- Emberuman.”

Kanchi – Kanchi was another great centre of Vaishnavaism. There are many temples sung by the Alvars like Paramesvara Vinnagaram, Uragam, Padagam and Varadarajasvami temple. In the latter temple, there is an inscription dated A.D. 1058 mentioning special service in honour of Bhutattalvar and Poigai Alvar. Another record dated A.D. 1242 mentions that a group of fifty – eight Brahmins recited the Tiruvaymoli in the temple (557 of 1919). Another record from the same temple dated A.D.1359 mentions that the Hoysala king Ballala I listened to the recital of the Tiruvaymoli in the abhisheka mandapa of the temple (572 and 585 of 1919).

Tadikkombu (Madurai District) – An inscription dated in the sixteenth century found in the Sundararaja Perumal Temple records that the assignment of the services of the temple were divided into eight divisions, one of which was to recite or study the sacred texts of Sri Ramayana Kavya, Srimath Bhagavatam and Tiruvaymoli in the temple (293 0f1955-56).

Tirumalai-Tirupathi (Andhra Pradesh) – Tirupati or Tiruvengadam has been a famous Vaishnava centre from immemorial times. Hundreds of verses have been sung by the Alvars in praise of this temple. The association of Acharyas like Sri Ramanuja, Tirumalai Nambi and Anantalvan with the temple made it very sacred for the Sri Vaishnavas. There are shrines for all the Alvars and Acharyas in the Govindarajaswami temple at Tirupati. There is a prominent shrine for Sri Ramanuja at Tirumalai. There are numerous inscriptions in Tirumalai and Tirupathi mentioning several grants for the recital of Tiruvaymoli and other parts of the Divyaprabandham on various occasions in the temples. The recital of Madurakavi Alvar’s verses “Kanninun Siruttambu” in praise of Nammalvar was given great prominence at Tirumalai and Tirupati. An inscription dated 1476 A.D. makes a particular mention ofthis. It says: “Chittiraiyil Cittirai Matura Kaviyin Kanninun Siruttambu Ramanuja nandavanattil … Emberumanar Sannidiyil Nammalvar attai tirunakshattiram Vaikasi masattil Tiruvaymoli Kettaruli … ‘ (200T.T).

An inscription dated 1543 A.D. mentions the recital of the Tamil hymns in front of the Lord offirumalai. An inscription of the fifteenth century mentions donation for the maintenance of a service called Tiruvaymoli Sirappu in the temple of Tirumalai (494 T.T.). This donation was made by one Singarpillai in the name of his Acharya Alagia Manavala Jeeyar.

Nammalvar shrine at Alvar Tirtham (Tirumalai) – There is a big shrine for Svami Nammalvar at the foot of the Tirumalai hill now called KapilaTirtham. There is a beautiful vigraha for Nammalvar in his usual seated posture. A Sanskrit inscription found in the inner wall of the shrine praises the Alvar in glowing terms as a great sage (muni) who had attained the Divyajnana and who with his compassion (Daya) to save the humanity from the diction of the Kali initiates men in the Brahmavidya. All the foregoing inscriptions which are only a few selected samples out of the numerous ones would clearly bring out the importance given to Svami Nammalvar, his Tiruvaymoli and other hymns of the Alvars in Tirumalai and Tirupati temples from the olden days.

Nagalapuram(Andhra) – In the Srivaishnava temples in Andhra Pradesh, compositions like Tiruppavai and Tiruvaymoli are regularly recited and festivals for Alvars and Acharyas are celebrated.

Mvsore – Similarly in the Karnataka area, the influence of Srivaishanavism spread even during the times of Sri Ramanuja and continued in later times also. Thus, the Alvar cult and their Tamil movement became the life breath of the Ramanuja school of Vaishnavism. Wherever the Srivaishnavas went and settled down, they disseminated the message of the Alvars and Ramanuja. As Svami Nammalvar was the central figure and his Tiruvaymoli the heart of the Divyaprabandham, the Srivaishnava movement centred round his personality. He was hailed as the apostle of the Tamil Veda ( vedam tamil seyda maran sadagopan). Manavalamahamuni in his famous Upadesartnamalai paid a glowing tribute to all the Alvars and their divine songs of Divyaprabandham and also to the Acharyas who wrote commentaries on them and spread their message.

The great Tamil poet, Kavichakravarti Kamban, was profoundly influenced by Nammalvar’s pasurams and teachings. He paid a glowing tribute to Nammalvar in his famous work Sadakoparantadi. He mentions that the recital of the Tamil songs of Nammalvar was the most important part in the festivals of a Vishnu temple. Thus, the reverence shown to the Alvars and their hymns, and the worship and festivals held in their honour in the Srivaishnava temples, are all part of a great historical movement in which the common folk and the elite participated alike.


SrI Nrisimha Priya

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