Facts about Alwars – The Bhakti Saints of South India


Alwars, also spelt Alvars, were Tamil poet-saints who showcased their extensive Bhakti (devotion) to Lord Vishnu and his avatars; through their songs and poetry. While they are dated to have lived between the 7th and 8th Centuries A.D., traditionally they are considered to have lived atleast 3000-5000 years ago. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about the Alwars.

1. Meaning of the word ‘Alwar’:


‘Alwar’ means someone who is deeply immersed and it is because of their extreme devotion to Lord Vishnu that they came to be known as Alwars.

2. There Were 12 Alwars:


In all, there 12 Alwars but orthodoxy considers only 10 Alwars; excluding Andal and Madhurakavi Alwar.

3. Revival of Bhakti Movement in South India:


It is through their songs that the Bhakkti movement was revived in South India; by bhakti to God through love and ecstasy.

4. The 108 Divine Places:


Through their songs, they praised 108 Divya Desams (Divine Places) of Lord Vishnu. In other words, they showered praise on 108 temples of Lord Vishnu. Out of these, 105 are in India, one is in Nepal and the two others are considered to be beyond Earthly realms.

5. The 4000 Songs:


The Nalayira Divya Prabandham is a collection of 4000 of the songs composed by the 12 Alvars. These songs were said to have been sung at the Divya Desams.

6. The Only Female Alwar:


Andal is the only female Alwar and she was a major source of inspiration for many other female members of the Bhakti movement in the later centuries. There is also a temple dedicated to her in Srivilliputhur in Tamil Nadu. In this temple, she is worshipped as a consort of Lord Vishnu.

6. Breaking the Barriers of Caste:


In a time where only certain castes were into the composition of music, etc; Alwars were not from any particular caste and had different origins.

7. Introducing Tamil Into Religion:


They were instrumental in making religious practice in South India independent of Sanskrit language.

8. Devotion vs Rituals:


The Alwars were also among the first ones to go beyond rituals and instead, started the culture of devotion as the only path of salvation.

9. Their Legacy of Vaishnavism:


The Alwars’ literature is said to have given rise to five different philosophical traditions (sampradaya) of Vaishnavism.

10. The Alwars of 1000 Songs:


Nammalwar and Thirumangai Alwar are the two Alwars who composed more than 1000 songs each; with Nammalwar writing 1100+ songs himself!