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Nammalvar (also Nammazhwar,Nammaazhvaar, Nammazhvar, Nammaalvaar, Nammalwar) was one of the twelve Alvars, well-known for his many hymns on devotion to Vishnu. Tradition gives him the date 3102 B.C. (i.e., the beginning of the kali yuga), but scholars give him a date 880–930 A.D which is more realistic based on the events recorded. He was born in the asterism Visakham, in what is now Alvartirunakari (also known as Tirukkurugur), Tamil Nadumarker. His name means "our own alvar" (alvar means "one immersed in God"). He was also known as Maran and Sadagopan.

Child Prodigy Discovered

He must have been born fully enlightened because as a baby he never cried or suckled and never opened his eyes. According to tradition, as a child he responded to no external stimuli and his parents left him at the feet of the statue of Vishnu. The child then got up and climbed into a hole in a tamarind, sat in the lotus position, and began to meditate. It appears he was in this state for as long as sixteen years when a Tamil poet and scholar in North India named Madhurakavi Alvar saw a bright light shining to the south, and followed it until he reached Nammalvar's tree. Unable to elict any reaction from the child, he asked him a riddle: " If the small is born in a dead's body(or stomach), what will it eat and where will it stay?" meaning, if the subtle soul is embodied in the gross body, what are its actions and thoughts? Nammalvar broke his lifelong silence and responded, "That it will eat, and there it will rest!" meaning that if the soul identifies with the body, it will be the body but if it serves the divine, it will stay in vaikunta and eat(think) of God. Madhura-kavi realized the divinity of this child.

First Disciple

Madhura-kavi was himself a great devotee, when he asked Nammalvar the "right" question and made him speak. Immediately he took him for his Acharya (Teacher, Guru). Nammalvar consented to being his guru, instructed him in the confidential doctrines of Vaishnavism and thereafter glorified Lord Vishnu. He composed on the spot a thousand hymns praising Vishnu, each one starting with the last word of the previous poem. We owe it to Madhurakavi for setting them to music. Madhurakavi became the Alvar's student and went on to compose poems about his prodigal master.The following is an interesting episode regarding the way the two of them met. MadhuraKavi Alwar was on a pilgrimage in North India, when all of a sudden, he began to observe a bright light shining forth from the southern direction. This seemed to be beckoning him and so he began to proceed in the direction of its source. His travails brought him to the scenic banks of the River tamraparani, to the Hamlet/town if Kurugoor. He observed that the light that drew him emanated from a divine being, one seemingly in his teens sitting within the hollow of a tamarind tree. He spent his time scrutinizing all these. He then proceeded to try and gain the attention of the one under the tree by various means, finally resorted to asking him a question which goes as follows :

MadhuraKavi Alwar : settrathin vayitril siriyadhu pirandhaal, yethai thindru enge kidakkum ?

NammAlwar : Atthai thindru Ange Kidakkum.

These word were the first the Great One ever spoke. These simple words carry a world of meaning that could fill eons of thought and a ton of discussion.

Writings

His contribution of four works (numbering 1296 hymns) to the four thousand of the Divya Prabhandham includes the entire fourth thousand and part of the third thousand. these works are
  • TiruvAymozhi (1102 verses),
  • Tiruviruttam (100 verses),
  • TiruvAsiriam (7 verses) and
  • Periya Tiruvanthadi (87 verses).


tiruvaymozhi describes ranganatha as a metaphor to discussing the philosophical details in
  • the nature of the paramatma
  • the nature of the jeevatma
  • the means for the jeevatma to attain the goal of Paramatma
  • the blocks and hurdles on the way and
  • the goal moksha.
The latter 2 are described in detail in the srivaishnava website [95009].In the Srivaishnava canon these four represent in the Tamil language the four Sanskrit vedas, respectively, the Sama Veda, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. According to tradition "He poured the cream of these vedas" into his songs and poetry that were the result of deep mystic experience . Though Nammalvar did not visit any of the 108 divyadesam temples talked about in the Vaishnava religion it appears from his works he must have had the vision of all the archa forms in the temples he had glorified in his hymns.

Acme of Devotion

The subject matter of the four works was certainly the five principles, namely, the Lord, the soul, the means, the end, and the obstacles to spirituality. Through all this ran a thread of the acme of devotion to Lord Krishna. Whatever Krishna ate, whatever He drank, whatever betel He chewed was the dearest to the saint. The supreme object of life was to be at the Lord's lotus feet and to serve him eternally in blissful love. Therefore seek Him all your life, praise Him, surrender to Him, speak of His glories and exploits, revel in His majesty and continue the recitation of His names. This was his message to the world at large. Like the Buddha who appeared in the northernmost part of India and finally engulfed not only India but Asia and the whole world by his teachings, Nammalvar was the star of the southernmost part of India whose work engulfed the whole world of Vaishnavism.

A sample hymn

Makes me serve him all the time and everywhere;
Anchors me thus by seating himself in my mind;
Swerves me not by gracing me in his service alone;
Krishna's wish is my wish, my pleasure, my glory.


(#3102 of Sacred Book - By Sri. Srirama Bharathi Araiyar)

Sources

  • A.K. Ramanujan, introduction, in Nammalvar, trans. A.K. Ramanujan, Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Vishnu.
  • Sri Srirama Bharathi Araiyar 'Sacred Book'. 1995: Dhivya Prabhanda Pathasala, Jalladam Pattai - Chennai, India 601 302.
  • A. Srinivasa Raghavan, Nammalvar, (in "Makers of Indian Literature" Series), Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, India, 1975/1998.
  • Sujatha, (Tamil), (in Alvargal - Oor Eliya Arimugam), Visa Publications, Chennai, India, 2007.


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