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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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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        Alvar Compositions

        The compositions of the Alvar poets are collected in the Divya Prabandham (The divine collection of four thousand). The poems are grouped into four main books of approximately one thousand verses each. The poems are not organized chronologically, instead being divided in the following manner: Mutal Āyiram (First thousand), Iraṇṭām Āyiram (Second thousand), Iyaṟpā (Third thousand), and the composition of Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi. Although the Rāmānuja Nūṟantāti is not an Alvar composition, it is included in some editions (usually Vaṭakalai versions) of the Nālāyira Divya Prabandham, where it follows the Tiruvāymoḻi. Vaṭakalai versions of the Divya Prabandham also count both compositions of Periyāḻvār (Tiruppallāṇṭu and Periyāḻvār Tirumoḻi) as one. Both editions mentioned in this section include the Rāmānuja Nūṟantāti. There is no critical edition of the Nālāyira Divya Prabandham, and therefore there is not much that distinguishes the two editions listed here; they are published by reputable Srivaishnava presses and are also the editions most easily available.

        • Annankarachariyar, ed. Nālāyira Divya Prabandham, Tamil Text. Kanchipuram, India: Annankarachariyar Institute, 1972.

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          This edition is by one of the foremost traditional Srivaishnava scholars of the 20th century.

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          • Iyengar, A. A. Krishnaswami, ed. Nālāyira Divya Prabandham, Tamil Text. Tiruchirapalli, India: Srinivasa Press.

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            This edition is a liturgical Teṅkalai edition of the Nālāyira Divya Prabandham, and therefore marks the liturgical line breaks with an asterisk. The edition also includes Teṅkalai liturgical resources such as Maṇavāḷa Māmuni’s (Periya Jīyar) Upadeśa Ratnamālai.

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            Hagiographies

            The lives of the Alvar poets are collected in several hagiographies composed and compiled from at least the late 12th century. The hagiographies are primarily composed in a hybrid commentarial language known as Maṇipravāḷa (gems and coral), which combines Tamil and Sanskrit vocabularies. However, one of the most important hagiographies, the Divyasūricaritam (The lives of the divine beings; Garuḍavāhana 1978) is composed in Sanskrit. The hagiographies are important because they not only record the legends of the twelve Alvars but also track the changes that occurred as Tamil Vaishnavism consolidated itself into a major South Indian sect known as Srivaishnavism. These hagiographies have not been translated in their entirety. There is considerable debate about their dates, with many scholars arguing that the Guruparamparaprabhāvams are later than the Divyasūricaritam, primarily because of the manner in which each deals with the life of Rāmānuja and other ācāryas. Furthermore, scholars have convincingly argued that the split between Vaṭakalai and Teṅkalai, the two sects of Srivaishnavism, did not occur until at least the 17th century. The fact that Guruparamparaprabhāvams are associated with each of the sects has further strengthened the case for their later dating. However, it is more likely that the hagiographies of the Alvar poets represent the earliest strand of the texts and the stories of the Srivaishnava teachers are later additions. Finally, the Sanskrit Divyasūricaritam is clearly aware of the sacred topography of the 108 divyadeśas (divine sites), identifying them by name, which is a further indication of its much later date.

            • Garuḍavāhana. Sri Divyasūricaritam, Sanskrit Text. Edited by T. A. Sampath Kumaracharya and K. K. A. Venkatachari. Bombay: Ananthacharya Research Institute, 1978.

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              A kāvya-style c. 15th-century Sanskrit hagiography of the twelve Alvar poets composed by Garuḍavāhana Paṇḍita of Srirangam. Traditional Srivaishnava regard this text as the earliest of the Alvar and ācārya hagiographies. The version of the text published by the Ananthacharya Research Institute is accompanied by a Hindi paraphrase of the Sanskrit text.

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              • Sri Vanibhusanam Publishers. Guruparamparaprabhāvam 3000, Maṇipravāḷa Text. Tiruvallikeni, India: Sri Vanibhusanam Publishers, 1913.

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                The 17th-century Maṇipravāḷa hagiography of the Alvars and the major teachers of the Srivaishnava traditions. This version of the text is associated with the Vaṭakalai (northern) branch of Srivaishnavism.

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                • Srinivasa Appankar Swami, et al., eds. Guruparamparaprabhāvam 6000, Maṇipravāḷa Text. Chennai, India: Ganesh Publications.

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                  The 12th-century Maṇipravāḷa hagiographies of the Alvars and the major teachers of the Srivaishnava traditions. This version of the text is associated with the Teṅkalai (southern) branch of Srivaishnavism.

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                  Lives of the Alvar Poets

                  While there are many retellings of the hagiographies, the systematic study and analysis of their legendary lives is relatively recent. For the most part, these studies are limited to the study of particular Alvar poets, where the hagiographies are read for the history they encode about the developments in Srivaishnava theology and/or the institutions associated with this emergent system in Tamil-speaking regions. Although there are substantial differences in the lives of the Srivaishnava teachers as recorded in the Teṅkalai and Vaṭakalai Guruparampara hagiographies, there are very few variations in their respective versions of the hagiographies of the Alvar poets. As a result, there has not been a serious study of the role of the hagiographies in canonizing the Alvar poets. Govinacharya 1902 is an excellent place to begin, as it offers accessible paraphrases of the lives of the twelve Alvar poets. Read together, Hudson 1993 and Venkatesan 2007, examinations of the hagiographies of Āṇṭāḷ, suggest ways in which different approaches to these hagiographies can be brought into fruitful dialogue. Hardy 1991 and Hardy 1992, on two very different Alvar poets, offer an important perspective on the role of caste in the construction of Srivaishnava hagiography and in canonizing poets both minor (Tiruppāṇāḻvār) and major (Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār).

                  • Govindacharya, Alkondavilli. The Holy Lives of the Azhvars or the Dravida Saints. Mysore, India: G.T.A. Press, 1902.

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                    One of the earliest prose accounts of the lives of the twelve Alvar poets, rendered in English.

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                    • Hardy, Friedhelm. “Tiruppāṇāḻvār: The Untouchable Who Rode Piggy-Back on the Brahmin.” In Devotion Divine: Bhakti Traditions from the Regions of India; Studies in Honour of Charlotte Vaudeville. Edited by Diana L. Eck and François Mallison, 129–154. Groningen, The Netherlands: Forsten, 1991.

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                      An essay that discusses the incorporation of the low-caste musician saint Tiruppāṇāḻvār into the canon of twelve Alvar poets and posits reasons, including that of influence from the North Indian traditions, for his inclusion.

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                      • Hardy, Friedhelm. “The Śrīvaiṣṇava Hagiography of Parakāla.” In The Indian Narrative: Perspectives and Patterns. Edited by Christopher Shackle and Rupert Snell, 81–116. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1992.

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                        A study of variations in the hagiographies of the last of the Alvar poets, Parakālaṉ-Tirumaṅkai, as a means to read the changes within the institutions of emergent Srivaishnavism, rather than as a source to uncover historically verifiable facts about the poet.

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                        • Hudson, Dennis. “Āṇṭāḷ Āḻvār: A Developing Hagiography.” Journal of Vaishnava Studies 1.2 (1993): 27–61.

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                          An examination of Āṇṭāḷ’s hagiography in terms of how it reflects the Bhāgavata religion as it manifests in her poetry as well as in the later traditions associated with her.

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                          • Venkatesan, Archana. “Who Stole the Garland of Love: Āṇṭāḷ Stories in the Śrīvaiṣṇava Tradition.” Journal of Vaishnava Studies 15.2 (Spring 2007): 189–206.

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                            A survey of the hagiographies of the female Alvar and the manner in which they reflect her changing position from an Alvar to a goddess.

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                            Alvars as Poets

                            Some of the most significant scholarship on the Alvars pertains to the study of their poetry and seeing in it a distinct shift from the Caṅkam antecedents of love and war poetry. Research in this area has focused primarily on select poets—Nammāḻvār and Āṇṭāḷ—with a few important works, such as Cutler 1987, which offers an analysis of the earliest three Alvar poets: Poykai, Pēy, and Pūtam. These works also compare the Alvar poets to the Nāyaṉmār, who are their Tamil Saiva counterparts. Cutler and Ramanujan 1999 is foundational for the ways in which it maps the emergence of a Tamil bhakti poetic aesthetic; Cutler 1987 expands on many of the ideas that are introduced in that essay. Read together, these two sources offer a thorough introduction to the ways in which Tamil bhakti poetry distinguished itself from poetic forms that preceded it. Influenced by and building on these two works, Venkatesan 2007 analyzes one specific kind of poem featuring the female voice in three Alvar poets. Dehejia 1988 is intended as a basic introduction to the Alvar and Nāyaṉmār poets and is a good place to start if one knows nothing about these poets.

                            • Cutler, Norman. Songs of Experience: The Poetics of Tamil Devotion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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                              A seminal work that analyzes and maps out the rhetorical strategies employed by the Tamil bhakti poets that distinguish the bhakti poem as a genre. It compares the poems of select Nāyaṉmār and Alvar poets, including the three earliest Alvar poets, Poykai, Pēy, and Pūtam. The book also includes clear English translations from the compositions of Poykai, Pēy, Pūtam, and Nammāḻvār.

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                              • Cutler, Norman, and A. K. Ramanujan. “From Classicism to Bhakti.” In The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan. Edited by Vinay Dharwadker, 232–259. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                                This significant article traces the ways in which the bhakti poets altered the antecedent Tamil Caṅkam literary traditions to produce a distinctive new genre of poetry. The article emphasizes the transformation of the war (puṟam) poems of Tamil Caṅkam literature in the hands of the Tamil bhakti poets.

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                                • Dehejia, Vidya. Slaves of the Lord: Path of the Tamil Saints. New Delhi: Munsharam Manoharlal, 1988.

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                                  A basic introduction to the lives and poems of the Alvar and Nāyaṉmār poets. This book also includes a discussion of their iconography, accompanied by photographs of important bronze images.

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                                  • Venkatesan, Archana. “A Woman’s Kind of Love: Female Longing in the Tamiḻ Āḻvār Poetry.” Journal of Hindu Christian Studies 20 (2007): 16–24.

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                                    Compares the poetry of Nammāḻvār, Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār, and Āṇṭāḷ to demonstrate the distinct differences in the voices of their heroines.

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                                    The Religion of the Alvars

                                    The poetry and the religion of intense, ecstatic devotion of the Alvar poets are intimately tied. As Cutler shows in Songs of Experience (Cutler 1987, cited under Alvars as Poets), the emergence of devotionalism in South India shaped the birth of a new genre, which he refers to as bhakti poetry/song (bhakti pāṭal). Keeping this in mind, there has been a great deal of scholarship on what constituted Alvar devotion. While Hardy 1983, a monumental work, locates the religion of the Alvar poets in ecstatic devotion to Krishna characterized by the endless cycle of separation and union, works like Narayanan 1987 analyze how the strains of Tamil ecstatic poetry and Sanskrit mythologies and philosophical systems came to constitute Srivaishnavism. Much of this research has focused on the ways in which Alvar poetry was incorporated in developing Srivaishnavism as one half of the dual stream known as ubhaya Vedānta (dual Vedanta), with the other stream being the Sanskrit philosophical tradition; works from traditional scholars, such as Chari 1997, examine the influence of Sanskrit philosophical systems in the poetry of the Alvars. Another important stream of scholarship, such as Vijayalakshmi 2001, has been comparative, specifically focused on the development of the competing sectarian group of Tamil Saivas between the 9th and 12th centuries in Tamil country.

                                    • Chari, S. M. S. Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Āḻvārs. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1997.

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                                      A work that reads Alvar poetry against the background of Vedanta, and for the ways in which it reflects the fundamental concepts of Srivaishnava theology. These include the notion of the transcendence and immanence of Vishnu, the form and purpose of surrender to Vishnu, and the nature of the soul.

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                                      • Hardy, Friedhelm. Viraha Bhakti: The Early History of Kṛṣṇa Devotion in South India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983.

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                                        A detailed and comprehensive study of the development of Alvar devotion, which the author argues is characterized by the pain of unrequited love for Vishnu in his form as Krishna. Within this framework, Hardy analyzes each of the Alvar poets and their compositions.

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                                        • Jagadeesan, N. Collected Papers on Tamil Vaishnavism. Madurai, India: New Rathna, 1989.

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                                          A collection of twelve research papers discussing the development of Vaishnavism in Tamil country, with a focus on ritual practice. While none of the twelve articles directly concerns the Alvar poets, they provide a lived perspective on Vaishnavism in Tamil country. Topics covered include Vaishnavism in the Caṅkam period, sites sacred to the Tamil Vaishnavas, and nomenclature used by the Srivaishnavas.

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                                          • Kalidos, Raju. “Dance of Viṣṇu: The Spectacle of Tamil Āḻvārs” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3d ser., 9.2 (July 1999): 223–250.

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                                            A discussion and survey of the motif of dancing in the poetry of the Alvars, arguing that these poetic references are the inspiration for later representations of dancing in various visual media.

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                                            • Narayanan, Vasudha. The Way and the Goal: Expressions of Devotion in the Early Śrī Vaiṣṇava Tradition. Washington, DC: Institute for Vaisnava Studies, 1987.

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                                              A study of the development of Tamil Vaishnavism (Srivaishnavism) and the role of the Alvar poets in its formulation. The book examines how the Alvar poets constructed their relationship to Vishnu and how the later traditions, embodied in the figures of commentators and teachers canonized and analyzed this literature. Narayanan also offers a comprehensive appendix, cataloguing the references to various Vaishnava myths in Alvar poetry.

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                                              • Vijayalakshmi, R. An Introduction to Religion and Philosophy: Tēvāram and Tivviyapirapantam. Chennai, India: International Institute of Tamil Studies, 2001.

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                                                A comparative examination of the development of the philosophy and religion of the Alvar poets and their Saiva counterparts, the Nāyaṉmār. It pays attention to the articulation of networks of sacred places in both traditions and the most important philosophical ideas that can be found in the work of the poets.

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                                                Sacred Sites and the Alvar

                                                There is limited scholarship on the Alvar poets and the development of pilgrimage routes to designated sites that came to be known as divya deśa (divine place). There are 108 such places, 106 of which are terrestrial. A number of works examine the history of a particular site—for instance, Srirangam—but most of these make only passing mention of the relevance of the Alvars to the development of the site. While Dennis Hudson’s magnum opus (Hudson 2008) adopts an art historical perspective to argue for the development of a single temple site and the various religious and ritual influences that the site marks, Young 1978 carefully charts the historical development of the divya deśas.

                                                • Hudson, Dennis. The Body of God: An Emperor’s Palace for Krishna in Eighth-Century Kanchipuram. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                                                  An examination of the sculptural program of the 8th-century Vaikuṇṭha Perumāḷ temple in Kanchipuram as expressing the Bhāgavata theology consistent with that expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhāgavata Purana, the esoteric Pāncarātra Āgamas, and the poems of the Alvars.

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                                                  • Young, Katherine. “Beloved Places: The Correlation of Topography and Theology in the Śrīvaiṣṇava Tradition of South India.” PhD diss., McGill University, 1978.

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                                                    A historical survey of the development of the cult of 108 sacred pilgrimage sites that are associated with the Alvar poets and mentioned in their poetry.

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                                                    Individual Alvars

                                                    The majority of research on the Alvar poets has focused on the study of specific individuals, especially the most important poet, Nammāḻvār, and the sole female poet, Āṇṭāḷ. For the most part, research in this area has progressed in two directions. The first is through translation of the compositions of the poet in question. We do not have complete scholarly translations into English of all the Alvar poets (that is, of the entire Nālāyira Divya Prabandham), and only a few poets have had their entire corpus translated. Despite the huge amount of scholarship on Nammāḻvār, his four compositions have yet to be translated in their entirety. There are almost no good English translations of the majority of the Alvar poets, including the very important Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār and Kulaśekhara Āḻvār. The second direction of scholarship on individual Alvars considers the relationship between the poet’s compositions and the Srivaishnava commentarial traditions, particularly in the case of Nammāḻvār. This section is organized according to the general dating of the Alvar poets and includes both translations and studies of individual Alvar poets. The section Translations is devoted solely to available translations of their works.

                                                    Periyāḻvār

                                                    Ate 1978 is the only major study of Periyāḻvār, one of the most significant of the Alvar poets.

                                                    • Ate, Lynn Marie. “Periyāḻvār’s Tirumoḻi: A Bālakṛṣṇa Text from the Devotional Period in Tamil Literature.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1978.

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                                                      A comprehensive study of this important Alvar poet and his poetry. The appendix includes a complete translation of Periyāḻvār’s Tirumoḻi, the poet’s sole composition of 300-odd verses.

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                                                      Āṇṭāḷ

                                                      As the sole female poet, Āṇṭāḷ has attracted a great deal of scholarly interest. The material available on her ranges from translations of her two poems to detailed studies of the Pāñcarātra ritual esoterism encoded in her poetry. Scholarship on Āṇṭāḷ may be divided broadly into two categories. In the first category are translations of her two poems, Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi. Because of its enormous theological significance, there are several translations into English the Tiruppāvai. Generally, these translations pair the short thirty-verse Tiruppāvai with a similar composition by the later Saiva poet Maṇikkavācakar (Āṇṭāḷ 1979). In contrast, there are only two scholarly translations of the Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi (Āṇṭāḷ 1990, Āṇṭāḷ 2010). In this latter perspective, emphasis is placed on how Āṇṭāḷ’s two poems relate to and inform each other. The second category of work on Āṇṭāḷ has focused on the ritual and religious dimensions of her work, seeing in her poetry the influence of the Bhāgavata religion and certain esoteric ritual practices. Hudson 1996 and Hudson 1980 explore the ritual dimensions of Āṇṭāḷ’s poetry.

                                                      • Āṇṭāḷ. Consider Our Vow: Translation of “Tiruppāvai” and “Tiruvempāvai” into English. Translated by Norman Cutler. Madurai, India: Muttu Patippakam, 1979.

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                                                        A comparative study and translations of two pāvai poems, one composed by the Vaishnava poet Āṇṭāḷ (Tiruppāvai) and the other by the later Saiva poet Māṇikkavācakar (Tiruvempāvai).

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                                                        • Āṇṭāḷ. Āṇṭāḷ and Her Path of Love. Edited and translated by Vidya Dehejia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

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                                                          A basic introduction accompanied by scholarly translations of Āṇṭāḷ’s two poems, Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi.

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                                                          • Āṇṭāḷ. The Secret Garland: Āṇṭāḷ’s Tiruppāvai and Nacciyar Tiruppāvai. Translated by Archana Venkatesan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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                                                            Translations of Āṇṭāḷ’s Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi with notes based on the commentaries of the 13th-century Srivaishnava exegete Periyavāccaṉ Piḷḷai.

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                                                            • Hudson, Dennis. “Bathing in Krishna: A Study in Vaiṣṇava Theology.” Harvard Theological Review 73.3–4 (1980): 539–566.

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                                                              A study of Āṇṭāḷ’s Tiruppāvai based on the commentary by the medieval Srivaishnava writer Periyavāccaṉ Piḷḷai.

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                                                              • Hudson, Dennis. “Āṇṭāḷ’s Desire.” In Vaisnavi: Women and the Worship of Krishna. Edited by Steven J. Rosen, 171–211. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996.

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                                                                An exploration of Āṇṭāḷ’s Nācciyār Tirumoḻi with a focus on the ways in which it reflects esoteric Pāñcarātra ritual practice.

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                                                                • Jagannathachariar, C. The Tiruppāvai of Śrī Āṇṭāḷ: Textual, Literary and Critical Study. Madras: Arulmigu Parthasarathy Swami Devasthanam, 1982.

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                                                                  The author provides a commentarial paraphrase for each of the Tiruppāvai’s thirty verses based on the major commentaries to the Tiruppāvai.

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                                                                  • Kalidos, Raju. “Hymns of Kōtai: An Essay in Eroticism.” In Sectarian Rivalry in Art and Literature. Edited by Raju Kalidos, 117–138. Delhi: Sharada, 1997.

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                                                                    An examination of the ways in which Āṇṭāḷ uses eroticism in her poetry, with a specific focus on the Nācciyār Tirumoḻi.

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                                                                    • Sri Ramanuja Vedanta Center, ed. Śrī Āṇṭāḷ: Her Contribution to Literature, Philosophy, Religion, and Art; A Compilation of Lectures during the All India Seminar on Andal, August 13–15, 1983. Madras, India: Sri Ramanuja Vedanta Center, 1985.

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                                                                      A collection of essays based on the proceedings of a conference on Āṇṭāḷ. Papers discuss a range of topics, including the place of Āṇṭāḷ’s poetry in contemporary dance performance, epigraphical evidence associated with the cult of Āṇṭāḷ, and the symbolism of the drum in Āṇṭāḷ’s Tiruppāvai.

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                                                                      • Venkatesan, Archana. “Āṇṭāḷ and Her Magic Mirror: The Lives of a Poet in the Guises of a Goddess.” PhD diss. University of California, Berkeley, 2004.

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                                                                        A study that traces the apotheosis of Āṇṭāḷ in the context of emergent Srivaishnavism. It examines Āṇṭāḷ as represented in hagiographies, visual culture, and the performing arts.

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                                                                        Nammāḻvār

                                                                        Although there are as yet no complete translations of Nammāḻvār’s four works, substantial portions of the Tiruvāymoḻi are available in English translation. Scholarship has examined the central role of the Tiruvāymoḻi in formulating Srivaishnava doctrine, its status as the Tamil or Drāviḍa Veda, and the commentarial traditions associated with the poet. The bulk of this scholarship has justifiably focused on the Tiruvāymoḻi’s vast commentarial traditions, seeing in their development both the canonization of the Tiruvāymoḻi and the development of Srivaishnava theology (Carman and Narayanan 1989, Clooney 1996). For instance, Carman and Narayanan 1989 focuses on the formative commentary on Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi to argue against Friedhelm Hardy’s contention about Alvar religion as Krishna bhakti. Scholars such as Francis X. Clooney have discussed the rhetorical mechanics of commentary and the resulting theology by focusing on those sections of the Tiruvāymoḻi that Srivaishnava deem significant (Clooney 1988, Clooney 1991).

                                                                        • Carman, John, and Vasudha Narayanan. The Tamil Veda: Piḷḷāṉ’s Interpretation of the “Tiruvāymoḻi.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

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                                                                          A discussion of the development of the commentarial traditions associated with Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi with a special focus on the earliest commentator, the 12th-century Tirukurukai Pirāṉ Piḷḷāṉ. The book includes translations of substantial portions of the Tiruvāymoḻi in an appendix.

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                                                                          • Clooney, Francis X. “Unity in Enjoyment: An Exploration into Nammāḻvār’s Tamil Veda and Its Commentaries.” Sri Ramanujavani 6 (July 1983): 34–61.

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                                                                            An introductory examination of Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi and its most important commentaries.

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                                                                            • Clooney, Francis X.“‘I created land and sea’: A Tamil Case of God-Consciousness and Its Śrīvaiṣṇava Interpretation.” Numen 35 (1988): 238–259.

                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/3269973Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              A systematic analysis of the commentaries to a set of important verses in the Tiruvāymoḻi (5.6), in which the poet, in the voice of the heroine, speaks as a god, declaring, “I created land and sea.” The article also includes a translation into English of 5.6 of the Tiruvāymoḻi.

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                                                                              • Clooney, Francis X. “Nammāḻvār’s Glorious Tiruvallavāḻ: An Exploration in the Methods and Goals of Śrīvaiṣṇava Commentary.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 111.2 (April–June 1991): 260–276.

                                                                                DOI: 10.2307/604018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                A close reading of the commentaries on one of the set of “girl-songs” (5.9) in Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi to understand the systematic manner in which a commentary builds on its preceding word.

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                                                                                • Clooney, Francis X. Seeing through Texts: Doing Theology among the Śrīvaiṣṇavas of South India. Albany: State University of New York, 1996.

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                                                                                  A detailed, thought-provoking study of the Tiruvāymoḻi and its commentaries with a focus on the text’s theology.

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                                                                                  • Nammāḻvār. Hymns for the Drowning. Translated by A. K. Ramanujan. New York: Penguin, 1993.

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                                                                                    Masterful translations of selected verses from Nammāḻvār’s 1,102-verse Tiruvāymoḻi and 100-verse Tiruviruttam. The book’s afterword charts the literary development of Tamil bhakti with particular emphasis on the most significant, recurrent motifs in Nammāḻvār’s poetry.

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                                                                                    • Narayanan, Vasudha. The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation, and Ritual. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

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                                                                                      A study of the performative dimensions of the Tiruvāymoḻi in the context of temple ritual. The book pays special attention to the annual festival of recitation in December at the important Srivaishnava temple of Srirangam.

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                                                                                      • Narayanan, Vasudha. “The Realm of Play and the Sacred Stage.” In Gods at Play: Līlā in South Asia. Edited by William Sax, 177–204. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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                                                                                        An introductory examination of the role of temple ritual performance in the transmission of the Tiruvāymoḻi. The essay focuses on the ritual practices of the temple of Srirangam.

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                                                                                        • Venkatesan, Archana. “Double the Pleasure: Reading Nammāḻvār’s Tiruviruttam.” In Passages: Relationships between Tamil and Sanskrit. Edited by M. Kannan and Jennifer Clare, 257–269. Pondicherry, India: Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2009.

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                                                                                          An analysis of Periyavāccaṉ Piḷḷai’s commentary on verse 26 of Nammāḻvār’s Tiruviruttam. The article demonstrates how commentators utilized their knowledge of antecedent Tamil literary theory.

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                                                                                          Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār

                                                                                          Next to Nammāḻvār, Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār is the most prolific of the Alvar poets. Furthermore, he is a very significant figure in the development of the temple culture of Srivaishnavism. In many ways, he may be regarded as beginning the institutionalizing process that enabled the myriad Vishnu traditions of the south to coalesce into Srivaishnavism. However, the scholarship of Tirumaṅkai is sparse, and there is no full-length study devoted to him. This comes through in the dispersed scholarship available on him—some scholars focus on his caste status (Clooney 2002), and others on his poetic felicity (Hopkins 2007 and Venkatesan 2007). Given that Tirumaṅkai belonged to the kaḷḷar community, scholarship has touched on the relationship of caste and devotional practice in Srivaishnavism (Clooney 2002).

                                                                                          • Clooney, Francis X. “Fierce Words: Repositioning of Caste and Devotion in Traditional Śrīvaiṣṇava Ethics.” Journal of Religious Ethics 30.2 (Fall 2002): 399–419.

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                                                                                            Using the crucial opening decade of Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār’s Periya Tirumoḻi as the basis, and various commentaries on the same, the article seeks to understand the arguments around devotion, caste, and birth status for Tamil Srivaishnavas.

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                                                                                            • Hopkins, Steven P. An Ornament for Jewels: Love Poems for the Lord of Gods by Vedāntadeśika. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                              Although this work focuses on the great 14th-century poet and philosopher Vedāntadeśika, the final chapter offers a brief essay and wonderful translation of ten verses from Tirumaṅkai’s Periya Tirumoḻi (3.1–10)

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                                                                                              • Venkatesan, Archana. “Why Abandon a Lovely Rabbit to Chase after a Crow? The Talaivi in the Maṭal Poems of Tirumaṅkaiyāḻvār.” Paper delivered at “Tropes, Territories, and Competing Realities,” 11–14 May 2007, Toronto.

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                                                                                                An analysis of the Tirumaṅkai’s Ciṟiya Tirumaṭal, a poem in which the heroine threatens to ride a horse made of palmyra fronds to force Vishnu to return her love. It focuses on how the poet adapts a Caṅkam motif into a Tamil devotional context.

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                                                                                                Tiruppāṇāḻvār

                                                                                                Tiruppāṇāḻvār is a minor Alvar poet who contributed just ten verses in the Prabandham. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is very little scholarship available on him.

                                                                                                • Hopkins, Steven P. “In Love with the Body of God: Eros and the Praise of Icons in South Indian Devotion.” Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies 2.1 (Winter 1993): 17–54.

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                                                                                                  A comparative study of Tiruppāṇāḻvār’s brief ten-verse poem Amalaṉātipirāṉ and the Bhagavaddhyānaśopānam, a Sanskrit poem based on it composed by Vedāntadeśika, a 14th-century Srivaishnava philosopher. The article includes a beautiful translation of Amalaṉātipirāṉ and Deśika’s Sanskrit homage to it.

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                                                                                                  Translations

                                                                                                  Scholarly translations of Alvar poets into English fall into one of two categories—anthologies that are meant to offer a representative sampling of one or more poets, and translations essential to demonstrating the influence of Alvar poetry on the development of Srivaishnavism (Narayanan 1987). Many of the former can be found in studies of Tamil bhakti in general, such as Cutler 1987, where they are employed to make particular points about the development of a new genre of poetry in Tamil.

                                                                                                  • Cutler, Norman, ed. and trans. Songs of Experience: The Poetics of Tamil Devotion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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                                                                                                    Offers accessible translations of select verses of the first three Alvar poets and also verses from Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi.

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                                                                                                    • Narayanan, Vasudha, ed. and trans. The Way and the Goal: Expressions of Devotion in the Early Śrī Vaiṣṇava Tradition. Washington, DC: Institute for Vaisnava Studies, 1987.

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                                                                                                      Representative examples of the poetry of Alvar poets. Although the author does not translate any single Alvar work in its entirety, she offers examples of their poetic styles and examples that illustrate the distinctive slants in their articulation of bhakti poetics. These include lovely examples of Kulaśekhar Āḻvār’s lullabies to Rama.

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                                                                                                      Individual Alvar Poets

                                                                                                      There are very few translations of the entire corpus of an Alvar poet. Lynn Marie Ate translates the entire Periyāḻvār Tirumoli as an appendix in her dissertation (Ate 1978). There are two translations of both of Āṇṭāḷ’s compositions, Tiruppāvai (by Vidya Dehejia [Āṇṭāḷ 1990]) and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi (by Archana Venkatesan [Āṇṭāḷ 2010]). In both books the emphasis is on Āṇṭāḷ as a poet. Although Nammāḻvār is the most important of the Alvar poets, there is no complete scholarly translation of any of his four works, including the Tiruvāymoḻi. However, substantial portions of the Tiruvāymoḻi are available in research articles or academic books on Nammāḻvār. The most comprehensive of the Nammāḻvār translations is by Carman and Narayanan (Nammāḻvār 1993). There is no academic translation into English of the entire Nālāyira Divya Prabandham.

                                                                                                      • Āṇṭāḷ. Consider Our Vow: Translation of “Tiruppāvai” and “Tiruvempāvai” into English. Translated by Norman Cutler. Madurai, India: Muttu Patippakam, 1979.

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                                                                                                        Accessible translations of the thirty verses of the Tiruppāvai and the twenty verses of its Saiva counterpart, Tiruvempāvai.

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                                                                                                        • Āṇṭāḷ. Āṇṭāḷ and Her Path of Love. Translated by Vidya Dehejia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

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                                                                                                          An excellent introduction to Āṇṭāḷ with accurate translations of both the Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi.

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                                                                                                          • Āṇṭāḷ. The Secret Garland: Āṇṭāḷ’s “Tiruppāvai” and “Nacciyar Tiruppāvai.” Translated by Archana Venkatesan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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                                                                                                            Translation of both the Tiruppāvai and Nācciyār Tirumoḻi accompanied by extensive notes based on the commentarial traditions.

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                                                                                                            • Ate, Lynn Marie. “Periyāḻvār’s Tirumoḻi: A Bālakṛṣṇa Text from the Devotional Period in Tamil Literature.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1978.

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                                                                                                              Translations of the entire Periyāḻvār Tirumoḻi are included in an appendix to the dissertation. The translations are not very poetic but are accurate.

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                                                                                                              • Carman, John, and Vasudha Narayanan, eds. and trans. The Tamil Veda: Piḷḷāṉ’s Interpretation of the “Tiruvāymoḻi.”. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

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                                                                                                                Accessible translations of substantial portions of the Tiruvāymoḻi. Many of the translations are accompanied by notes on Tirukurukai Pirāṉ Piḷḷāṉ’s (the commentator’s) reading of the poem.

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                                                                                                                • Hopkins, Steven P. “In Love with the Body of God: Eros and the Praise of Icons in South Indian Devotion.” Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies 2.1 (Winter 1993): 17–54.

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                                                                                                                  Evocative translation of all ten verses of Tiruppāṇāḻvār’s important poem Amalaṉātipirāṉ.

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                                                                                                                  • Hopkins, Steven P. An Ornament for Jewels: Love Poems for the Lord of Gods by Vedāntadeśika. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                    A beautiful translation of ten verses of Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār’s Periya Tirumoḻi accompanied by the parallel poem composed by Vedanta Deśika that was inspired by it.

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                                                                                                                    • Nammāḻvār. Hymns for the Drowning. Translated by A. K. Ramanujan. New York: Penguin, 1993.

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                                                                                                                      A groundbreaking translation of select verses from the Tiruvāymoḻi and Tiruviruttam that provide the flavor of the original.

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