Hinduism Āḻvār
by
Archana Venkatesan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0063

Introduction

Āḻvār refers to a group of twelve Vaishnava poet-saints from Tamil-speaking South India who lived between the 6th and 9th centuries. The term Alvar (singular) is derived from the Tamil root āḻ, “to dive,” and in the noun form means “those who dive deep.” Thus Alvar, which is both a title and a designation, emphasizes the experiential and emotive dimension of the poets’ roles in the formation of Tamil Vaishnavism. Nāthamuni (c. 10th century), the first preceptor of the sect of Srivaishnavism, is credited with compiling the poems of the Alvars into a collection known as the Nālāyira Divya Prabandham (The divine collection of four thousand). This article focuses on primary sources of the Alvars that are available in translation and select primary sources about the Alvars (such as hagiographies) that are important in understanding their significance to the formation of Tamil Vaishnavism. The hagiographies are, however, not available in English translation. In addition, this article covers the commentarial traditions associated with the Alvars in general and some Alvars in particular. Translations of Alvar poets are listed twice, first under Translations and again under Individual Alvar Poets.

Reference Resources

There is a substantial range of online resources available, most of which are maintained by practicing Srivaishnavas. They include detailed English commentaries on particular Alvar texts, such as the lavishly illustrated e-books authored by Satakophan (Sundarasimhan), a traditional Srivaishnava scholar. Introductory websites such as the Sri Vaishnava Home Page have sections devoted to the Alvar.

  • Sri Vaishnava Home Page.

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    This site offers a basic introduction to Srivaishnava tradition. It has a separate link devoted to the Alvar poets. The links to the Alvars provide temple images of the saints, a brief hagiography, and on occasion, translations into English of the a few Alvar verses. The most significant resource at this site is the bhakti archive, a listserv that was active from 1994 to 2003.

  • Sri Vaishnavam.

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    This is a site on Srivaishnavism that provides links to a number of video clips of ritual activities at important Srivaishnava temples. It also provides e-books and articles, some of which are submitted by subscribers. While there is no section devoted specifically to the Alvar poets, the videos seek to situate the poet-saints in a contemporary ritual environment.

  • Sundarasimhan.

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    This site offers detailed commentaries on the poems of several of the Alvar poets. These English notes are based on those composed by medieval Srivaishnava commentators. Commentaries are available for Āṇṭāḷ’s Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumolḻ, Toṇṭaraṭippoṭi Āḻvār’s Tiruppaḷieḻucci, Periyāḻvār’s Tiruppallāṇṭu, Nammāḻvār’s Tiruviruttam, and Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār’s Tiruneṭuntāṇṭakam.

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