This special section features the 108 temples and celestial
Abodes of Vishnu revered in the tamil hymns of the Alwars,
of the 1st millennium CE.
Alwars: Sri Vaishnavism is one of the pre-eminent
traditions of Hinduism. An unbroken lineage of teachers, (the
Acharyas) and a wealth of literature in Tamil and in Sanskrit
and the Vishishtadvaita philosophy form the backbone
of the Sri Vaishnava religion. Twelve saint (poet) devotees
- the great Alwars lived their lives dedicated to expressing
their devotion to MahaVishnu - considered to be the supreme
manifestation of Divinity in the Vaishnava system of beliefs..
These saints composed verses in chaste tamil, and revitalized
the religious spirit of the region, sparking off a renewal
of devotional worship in what is generally referred to as
the Bhakti movement. The first of the twelve, Peyalwar, Bhootattalwar
and Poikaialwar lived in the first half of the first millennium
Paasurams: Srivilliputtur in
southern Tamilnadu, is home to Perialwar, and his foster
daughter Andal; the works of Andal are very well known to
the tamil world. The Tiruppaavai hymns written by Andal (a
manifestation of the mother Goddess) are chanted in congregations
throughout Tamilnadu during the cold month of Margazhi, in
the cool pre-dawn hours, in temples as well as in the streets
that surround temples. The 30 hymns constituting Tiruppavai
have been recorded by several artists, and the national radio
station All India Radio (used to) broadcast(s) a hymn each
day throughout the month of Margazhi. Also composed by Andal
is 'Vaaranam Aayiram' (Kanaakkanden Tozhi), describing
Andal's dream of her marriage to Narayanan (Vishnu). This
work is chanted during Sri Vaishnava weddings. A popular version
of Vaaranam Aayiram sung by S. Janaki hit the charts in 1990.
Amalanaadipiraan, a decad of 10 verses composed by
Tiruppaanaalwar of Uraiyur, describing his
ecstasy upon seeing the image of Ranganathar at Tiruvarangam,
is held in great reverence. Tondaradippodialwar has composed
several verses in praise of Ranganathar at Srirangam.
The most prolific poets of the Alwars were Nammalwar and Tirumangaialwar
(8th - 9thcentury CE).
of these verses is the revered Naalayira Divya Prabandam.
Credit for this compilation goes to Nadamuni (923 - 1023 CE),
who upon hearing Nammalwar's verse 'Aaraavamude' being chanted
at Kumbhakonam, researched into and compiled
the works of all of the Alwars. The lineage of spiritual leaders
of the Sri Vaishnava way of life, held these works in the
highest regard, considering them equivalent to the Vedas.
The Alwar paasurams therefore have been chanted in temples
for centuries together (in a manner similar to that of chanting
the Vedas in sanskrit).
of Arayar Sevai involving the expressive
recitation (enactment) of the paasurams originated during
the period of Nadamuni, at Srirangam. This tradition exists
even today at Srirangam, and at Srivilliputtur
and Alwar Tirunagari (and at Melkote in Karnataka).
The descendants of the family of Nadamuni are the torchbearers
of this tradition.
Desams: The verses of the Alwars, speak
of the glory of Vishnu, of instances from the puranams. of
the devotion of the Alwars and of the glory of the temples
(and locales) enshrining Vishnu (which they had visited).
The entire decad of verses commencing with Amalanaadipiraan
praises Ranganathar at Srirangam. Some of
these verses only refer to (or address) temples in which Vishnu
is enshrined as in the case of Nammalwar's hymns referring
to the deity enshrined in Srivaikuntham in
two verses in a decad of verses dedicated to Tiruppulinkudi.
Pillaipperumaal Iyengar's work Tirupati Andadi captures
108 of the shrines, mentioned in the works of the Alwars.
These shrines are hailed as Divya Desams, hallowed by the
hymns of the saints.