To understand the proper meaning of Sastras is very difficult. We have to properly interpret some of the texts, which seem to be conflicting with each other. There are also inner meanings and secret meanings of the various mantras and slokas.
So, all these things can be properly understood, only by learning under a Guru or Acharya. So, the Acharya is most important, for properly understanding our religion and philosophy.
2. What is the Chronology of our Sampradaya (Guru parampara). Who is our first Guru?
Lord Narayana is our first Guru. He taught Vedas to Brahma and Brahma in turn taught the Vedas to others. Hence at the head of our line of Gurus is Lord Narayan
3. Who comes next?
Next in the line of Gurus is naturally our Goddess Mahalakshmi and then comes Vishvaksena or Senai Mudaliyar. This is aterm of respect , traditionally used for denoting Vishwaksena). He is the controller of Vaikunta or Paramapada.
Vishwaksena taught Nammalwar or Satakopa the philosophy of Vishistadvaitam.
4. Who comes next after Vishvaksena?
Nammalwar or Satakopa comes next.
5. How man the Alwars are there?
There are ten Alwars. Some people include Andal and Madhurakavi and say there are twelve Alwars.
6. Why were they called Alwars?
‘Alwar’ in Tamil means ‘one who is immersed’. Since these saints were always immersed in the Lord and His qualities, they were called Alwars.
7. When were they in this world? What was their period?
We say that they were in this world before and near the beginning of Kaliyuga. That is more than 5,000 years ago. The modern research scholars say that the Alwars were between the sixth and ninth century A.D.
8. Can you briefly tell me about the Alwars?
The first three Alwars are called Poigai Alwars, Bhutattalwar and Peyalwar. All the three together are called the first alwars, because theses three were the first in the line of Alwars and they lived during the same period.
Poigai Alwar was born in the month of Aippasi in the Star Sravanam. Bhutattalwar was born in the month of Aippasi in the star Avittam and the Peyalwar in the same month, in the Star Sathaya on three successive days!
9. Where were they born?
Poigai Alwar was born at Kanchipuram. Tradition has it that he was born in a tank and hence is called Poigai Alwar. (Poigai = Tank).
Bhutattalwar was born in Mahabalipuram and Peyalwar in Mylapore, Madras.
10. Who came next?
The next Alwar was Tirumazhisai Alwar. He was born in Tirumazhisai near Madras, in the month of Thai in the star Makha.
Then came Nammalwar or Satakopa. He was born at Alwartirunagari in the month of Vaikasi and star Visakha. Nammalwar is considered the chief of the Alwars. He expounded the system of Visishtadvaita Philosophy in clear terms in his works. Hence he is given the greatest importance among all the Alwars.
Madhurakavi was his disciple. Madhurakavi was born in Thirukkolur in the month of Chittirai, star Chittirai also.
Next came Kulasekhara Alwar. He was born in the month of Masi and star Punarvasu. His birth place is Vanjikkalam. It is not clearly known as to where exactly this place is. Some people say that it is Karur and some others say that it is in Kerala.
11. Who came next?
Next was Perialwar, who was born in Srivilliputtur in the month of Ani and star Swati. Andal was found among the Tulasi plants in Srivilliputtur in the month of Adi in the star Puram and was brought up by Perialwar.
12. What about the other Alwars?
Thondaradippodi Alwar was born in Tirumandangudi near Kumbakonam in the month of Margazhi and the star Kettai. Tiruppanalwar was born in Woriur, near Tiruchi, in the month of Karthikai and the star Rohini.
The last among the Alwars was Tirumangai Alwar, who was born in the month of Karthikai and star Karthikai in Kuraiyalur or Tirunagari near Sirkazhi.
13. Can you indicate briefly the works of the Alwars?
Nammalwar was the author of four Prabandhas which form part of the sacred 4000 verses, called Divya Prabhandha. The Prabhandhas of Nammalwar are: Tiruvaomozhi, Tiruviruttam, Tiruvasiriam, Peria Tiruvandai
The four works are equated to the four Vedas. Tiruvaimozhi, in particular, is called the essence of the Sama Veda.
Poigai Alwar is the author of Mudal Tiruvandadi. Bhutattalwar of Second Tiruvandadi and the Peyalawar of Third Tiruvandadi – each comprising 100 verses. Tirumazhisai Alwar authored Tiruchanda Viruttam and Nanmukhan Tiruvandadi. Madhurakavi authored Kanninun Siruthambu. Kulasekhara Alwar authored Perumal Tirumozhi and also Mukunda Mala in Sanskrit. (His authorship of Mukundamala is disputed by some people.)
Perialwar authored Perialwar Tirumozhi. Andal gave to the world Tiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi. Thondaradippodi Alwar – Tirumalai and Tiruppalli ezhucchi. Tiruppanalwar – Amalanadipiran.
The last in the list of Alwars is Tirumangai Alwar who wrote six Prabandhas and these are equated to the six angas of the four Vedas of Nammalwar. The six Prabandhas of Tirumangai Alwar are: Peria Tirumozhi, Tirukkurunthandakam, Tirunedunthandakam, Tiruvezhukutrirukkai, Siriya Tirumadal, Peria Tirumadal
14. Who is next in the line of Gurus, after Nammalwar?
After Nammalwar come Nathamuni, who was born in Kattumannar Koil near Chidambaram, in the month of Ani and star Anusham.
His disciple was Uyyakkondar who was born in the month of Chittirai and star Karthikai, in Tiruvellari.
His disciple was Manakkal Nambi who was born in the village Manakal, near Lalgudi in the month of Masi and star Makham.
The next in the line of Acharyas is the great Alavandar of Yamunacharya. He was the grandson of Nathamuni and was the disciple of Manakkal Nambi. Alavandar was born in the month of Adi and star Uttaradam, in Kattumannarkoil.
15. Please tell me further the line of Acharyas.
Alavandar’s disciple was Peria Nambi who was born in Srirangam in the month of Margazhi and star Kettai.
Then comes the great Ramanuja.
Afterwards, there are two lines. There is one line of Acharyas of whom Vedanta Desika was the most prominent. There is another line of Acharyas which goes on to Manavala Mamunigal.
Ramanuja (1017-1137 A.D.) was born in Sriperumpudur in the month of Chitrai and star Tiruvadirai.
Vedanta Desika (1268-1369 A.D) was born in Thoopul near Kanchi in the month of Purattasi and star Sravanam.
Manavala Mamunigal (1370-1443 A.D.) was born at Sikkil Kidaram, in the month of Aippasi and star Mulam. It is also said that he was born in Alwartirunagari.
16. But I heard that Ramanuja had five Acharyas?
Yes. 1. Peria Nambi was the chief or principal acharya. Then Ramanuja learnt meanings of secrets (rahasyas) form
2. Tirukkottiur Nambi. He studied Tiruvaimozhi under.
3.Tirumalai Andan. He learnt stotras, under
4. Alavandar Alwar and studied Ramayana under 5. Tirumalai Nambi, Thus he had five acharyas.
17. What are the other names of Ramanuja?
Ramanuja is also called Bhashyakara, Yatiraja, Udayavar, Emberumanar and Yatiswara
18. Can you indicate briefly the works of these great acharyas?
Nathamuni gave us two works – Yoga Rahasya and Nyayatattva. Alavandar gave to this world 8 works. These are: Agama Pramanya, Purusha Nirnaya.
Three Siddhis called Siddhi Trayam, namely, Atma Siddhi, Iswara Siddhi and Samvit siddhi. Then Gitartha Sangraha, Stotra Ratna and chatus Sloki. The next great Acharya Ramanuja gave us nine works or nine gems. These are: Sri Bhashya, Vedanta Dipa, Vedanta Sara, Vedartha Sangraha, Gita Bhashya, the three Gadyas, namely Saranagati Gadya, Sriranga Gadya and Vaikunta Gadya and then Nitya.
The works of Vedanta Desika are more than 100 in number.
They cover different fields like devotional stotras, kavya, drama, works on philosophy, and commentaries on great works.
It is a wonder how a person could write so many works within a life span. It is difficult for us even to read and understand all his works in a life time.
All works are equally important. I will give you the name of some of the works.
19. What are the most important works of Sri Desika?
Rahasyatrayasara is a book which gives in detail the inner meaning of the three secrets or rahasyas. In the process, it expounds our Vaishnavite philosophy. It also dwells at length on the prapatti or saranagait as the means of attaining salvation.
20. What are some of the other works of Desika?
We have Taparya Chandrika. This is a lucid commentary on the commentary of Bhagavad Gita that was written by Ramanuja. Paduka Sahasra describes the greatness and beauty of the paduka of Sri Ranganatha in 1000 verses. Yadavabhyudaya gives the story of Sri Krishna. The slokas of Yadavabhyudaya are full of something supreme. It is because of the greatness of this work that it has been commented upon by Appayya Dikshitar, the great Advaita scholar.
We have Sankalpa Suryodaya. This is an allegorical drama, again explaining the Visishtadvaita philosophy.
We have the work Sata Dushani. This contains arguments against Advaita philosophy. As the name indicates, perhaps, it was intended to have 100 arguments. However, we now have only 66 arguments left, all against Advaita Philosophy.
We then have the devotional verses or stotras. Some of these are : Hayagriva stotra, Dasavatara stotra, Bhagavad Dhyana Sopana, Gopala Vimsati. Daya Sataka on Sri Venkateswara of Tirupati, Sri Stuti and Garuda Panchasat.
Nyayaparisuddhi, Nyaya Siddhanjana, Adhikarana Saravali and Tattvamuktakalapa are works on our philosophy.
21. What are the works of Manavala Mamunigai?
He wrote beautiful commentaries on Perialwar Tirumozhi and Ramanuja Nutrandadi; on Mumukshuppadi, Tattvatraya and Sri Vachana Bhushana of Pillai Lokacharya; on Acharya Hridayam of Alagiamanavalapperumal Nayanar; and on Jnanasaram and Prameyasaram of Arulalapperumal emberumanar.
He also wrote Upadesaratnamala, Arthi prabandha, Yatiraja Vimsati and Tiruvaimozhi Nutrandadi, besides other works.
22. What about other Acharyas?
There are number of other Acharyas who have contributed significantly to Vaishnavism. I will mention some of the Acharyas now. You can refer to other books for fuller details. Kurattalwan wrote Panchastavas: Sri Vaikunta Stava, Atimanusha Stava, Sundarabahu Stava, Varadaraja Stava, Sri Stava
Tirukkurukaippiran pillan wrote commentary (6000 padi) on Tiruvaimozhi.
Kidambi Achan; Embar;
Engalazhvan wrote commentary on Vishnu Purana.
Parasara Bhattar wrote commentary on Vishnu Sahasra Nama (Bhagavadgunadarpanam), Sri Rangaraja Stava and Srigunaratna Kosa, besides others.
Nanjiyar wrote commentary on Tiruvaimozhi (9000 padi); and Sri Sukta Bhashya. (This is disputed by some people.)
Vatsya Varadacharya (Nadadur Ammal) wrote Tattva Sara, Prapanna Parijata among others.
Sudarsana Bhattar wrote Sruta Prakasika and Sruta Pradipika, bothe commentaries on Sri Bhashya.
Appullar wrote Nyayakulisa.
Periavachan Pillai wrote beautiful commentaries on Divya Prabandha, besides many other works.
Vadakku Thiruveethi Pillai wrote Edu Commentary on Tiruvaimozhi (36000 padi).
Pillai Lokacharya wrote 18 Rahasyas – the more important being Mamukshuppadi, Tattvatraya and Sri Vachana Bhushana.
Alagiamanavalapperumal Nayanar wrote Acharya Hridayam, besides commentary on Tiruppavai and other works.
(Pillai is a term of respect, and not to be confused with the present day use of this word.)
To be continued…
Source: A Dialog on Hinduism By Sri V.N. Gopala Desikan
Note: The azhwars are not presented in chronological order (of their birth) in the picture above