The Alwars (also spelled Azhwars) are a group of 12 ancient Vaishnava saints who lived in Tamil Nadu and are famous for their poetry in praise of Vishnu. The collection of their 4000 poems, known as the Nalayira Divya Prabhandam, is considered by many to be the "Dravida Veda", or South Indian Veda. The Alwars are crucially important figures in the history of Vaishnavism; it's the principles and beliefs embodied in the Alwars' poems that ultimately gave rise to the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member).

Now as I discuss in this question, the Alwars are believed by Sri Vaishnavas to be incarnations of various attendants and attributes of Vishnu; here is who each Alwar is an incarnation of:

  1. Poigai Alwar - Vishnu's Panchajanya Shankha

  2. Bhoothath Alwar - Vishnu's Kaumodaki mace

  3. Pey Alwar - Vishnu's Nandaka sword

  4. Thirumazhisai Alwar - Vishnu's Sudarshana Chakra

  5. Nammalwar - Vishnu's general Vishwaksena

  6. Madhurakavi Alwar - Vishnu's bird Garuda

  7. Kulasekhara Alwar - Vishnu's Kaustubha gem

  8. Periyalwar - Vishnu's bird Garuda

  9. Andal - Vishnu's wife Bhumidevi goddess of the Earth

  10. Thondaradippodi Alwar - Vishnu's Vanamala garland

  11. Thiruppan Alwar - Vishnu's Srivatsa mark

  12. Thirumangai Alwar - Vishnu's Sharanga bow

Now since the Alwars' poems are in praise of Vishnu, you'd naturally expect them to contain references to numerous attributes and attendants of Vishnu. So my question is, which of the Alwars mention the gods that they themselves are incarnations of. For instance, does Nammalwar (whom I discuss here) ever mention Vishwaksena, the general of Vishnu's army whom he incarnated from?

The reason I ask is that I'm wondering if the Alwars tried to avoid mentioning the gods they were incarnated from. For instance, Periyalwar's famous Thirupallandu poem praises various attributes of Vishnu, but it neglects to mention Garuda. Perhaps that's because Periyalwar did not want to praise himself. Also, it might shed light on why Sri Vaishnavas associate each Alwar with a specific god.

You can read the Naalayira Divya Prabandham, the compilation of all the Alwars' poems, here.

  • Both Periyazhvar and Madhurakavi Azhvar were avataras of Garuda?
    – Surya
    Dec 14 '15 at 13:27
  • Yes, they were. That's always puzzled me as well. If it helps, in traditional Sri Vaishnava works, Madhurakavi Alwar is described as an incarnation of "Vainateya", whereas Periyalwar is described as an incarnation of "Garuda". Perhaps that means that there are two Garudas, one who is the son of Vinata and who lives in Vyuha Vasudeva's ocean of milk, and another eternal Garuda who lives in Vishnu's highest abode of Paramapadam and has no birth or death. Dec 14 '15 at 14:08
  • But Periyazhvar is also described as Vainateyamsam in a Sloka I heard.
    – Surya
    Dec 14 '15 at 14:44
  • 1
    @Surya Is that in a shloka listing all of the Alwars, or just a standalone shloka about Periyalwar? Because in a standalone shloka people would be imprecise and just use all the epithets of Garuda, just like they use Krishna's names to refer to Venkateshwara. In any case, like I said the two Garudas thing has always puzzled me; perhaps I'll post a question on it. I can understand Madhurakavi Alwar being an incarnation of Garuda, since Garuda is a servant of Vishvaksena and thus it makes sense for Madhurakavi Alwar to be devoted to Nammalwar. But I'm not sure why Garuda became Bhudevi's father. Dec 15 '15 at 2:07
  • None of the Azhwars saw themselves as Divine. In fact, all saw themselves as being undeserving of His Grace. The story was added to offer an apologetic on their diverse castes. Mar 3 '18 at 3:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .