They were known as Alwars because they immersed in God-love. The hyms of the Alwar saints are known as Nalayira Divya Prabhandam, a book of four thousand verses. These hyms were collected by the great scholar Nada Muni. The Divya Prabhandam is a sacred treasure of divine knowledge that contains the quintessence of the Vedas, Itihasas and the Puranas in an attractive form.
THE THREE ANCIENT ALWARS
Poygai Alwar (Saroyogi). Bhudattalwar and Peyalwar are the three most ancient Alwars. They were born-saints. They are called the ‘Pioneers of the Alwars’. Poygai Alwar was born at Kancheepuram. Bhudattalwar was born the next day in Tirukadarmallai, the present-day Mahabalipuram. Peyalwar was born the next day at Mamayilai, now called Mylapore.
ygai Alwar laid great stress on Jnana. Bhudattalwar laid great stress on Bhakti and Peyalwar on renunciation. They realized and uttered the same essential truths. They realized and sang the essential unity of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu. The verse of these three ancient Alwars are collectively known as Antadis. In an Antadi, the last word of each were forms the first word of the succeeding one.
The ancient Alwars showed perfect tolerance towards Saivism. Poygai Alwar says that there is but one God who is variously called Siva and Hari, that His vehicle is either Garuda or a Bull, and that His action is either destruction or preservation. He says also that the Supreme Lord is one and the same, though He appears in two forms as Hara and Narayana.
The message of these ancient Alwars is: “Control the senses. Remain in the holy company of devotees. Do total surrender to lord Narayana. Repeat His Name always. Worship Him. Meditate on Him. Sing His glory. His grace alone can save you.
Periyalwar means ‘Great Alwar.’ Periyalwar was known by the name Vishnuchitta also as his mind was ever absorbed in Lord Vishnu. He was the foster-father of Andal.
The Parliament of Religions was held in Madurai. Professors of every faith in the country attended the conference. Vaishnavites, Saivites, Saktas, Jains, Buddhists and Pasupadas were all present on this unique occasion. Heated discussions went on. No one satisfied the king. Vishnuchitta attended the conference and took a prominent part in it. The king was quite convinced. He was highly satisfied.
Periyalwar has given us two poems. The first is the Pallandu in twelve verses. The other is a collection known as Periyalwar Thirumozhi in four hundred and sixty-one charming verses of fine melody. Pallandu is given the foremost place in the collection of works of all the Alwars.
Nammalwar is the first great mystic and poet. He is also known by the names Satakopar and Vakulabharanar. Nammalwar was born in Thirukkuruhur, now called as “Azhwar Thirunagari”.
Nammalwar was born of Kariar or Vellala Pillai. Nammalwar experienced “Sarvam Vishnumayam Jagat. The whole world is full of Vishnu”. He would embrace a tree or a calf or a pillar say: This is my Lord Hari”.
Madhurakavi a learned Brahmin from the Chola country who was well versed in the Vedas came to Maran’s village and asked him an abstruse philosophical question. “If within a dead thing a small thing were to take birth, what will the latter eat and where will it sleep? The meaning is: If within the inanimate matter or body, the subtle soul or Jiva were to take birth, what would it feed on and where would it rest? Maran replied “The small thing will feed on it and rest therein. It means The subtle soul encashed in matter of prakirti will feed on it. The Prakirti will enjoy pleasure and pain the body and rest in it. Or it will enjoy God and rest in God”.
Madhurakavi was struck with admiration at the subtle and wise answer. He became Maran’s disciple. Madhurakavi carefully wrote down the song-as they were sung-on palm leaves and published them after the death of Nammalwar.
Kulasekhara was a pious king of Chera dynasty or king at Calicut.
Kulasekhara was an ardent devotee of Sri Rama.
Kulasekhara has sung many hymns on the Lilas of Sri Krishna and Sri Rama, on the love of the Gopis and the glory of Krishna, and on the glory of Rama and His chivalrous deeds.
Thondaradippodi Alwar was born in a Choliya Brahmin family in Thirumandangudi. He was named Vipranarayana. He was devoted to God Ranganatha of Sriangam.
Thondaradippodi Alwar and Thirumangai Alwar ware contemporaries; and hence, thondararippodi Alwar also seems to have belonged to the 6th century A.D.
Thiruppan Alwar was born in Woraiyur, near Tiruchirapalli. He was known by the name Munivahana as he was carried to the temple on the shoulders of Saranga Muni.
Thirumangai Alwar was born in Thirukuraiyalur . He was a petty chieftain. He was a brave warrior and a dauntless hero. He said with tears of repentance, “I have wasted my life in lust. The lord has saved me. I committed atrocious crimes. I plundered even the Lord. I was very wicked. The Name of the Lord has saved me. Hail, Hari! Hail, Vishnu”.Thirumangai Alwar went from temple to temple and composed hymns in respect of eighty-six temples. He met the great Sivacharya Thiru Jnana Sambandhar at Sirgazhi and was honored by him.
Thirumazhisai Alwar or Bhaktisara was from Thirumazhisai, a village near Madras.
Andal, who is also called as "Soodikkodutha Sudar Kodi" is said to be the daughter (brought up) of Periyalwar has created "Thiruppavai" in which she considers Sriman Naryanan as her husband. She is the only lady alwar. Nachiar Tirumozhi also express her burning love for God. There is a major temple dedicated to her in Srivilliputtur, and a shrine in the Srirangam Temple.
According to tradition, Periya Alwar used to care for the flower gardens at the Vishnu temple in Srivilliputtur. Periya Alwar used to make flower garlands for Lord Vishnu. One day he was shocked to find a human hair in the basket of flowers. The next day he watched and saw Andal standing in front of her dressing mirror wearing a garland. He scolded her and sent a fresh garland for the Lord. That night the Lord told him in a dream that he only likes the garlands worn first by Andal. While tending the garden he found Andal as a baby and then raised her as his own. She refused any mortal man and said she would marry only the Lord.