Festive image of Nammazhwar
The word alwar means the one who dives deep into the ocean of the countless attributes of god. The Alwars are considered the twelve supreme devotees of Vishnu who were instrumental in popularising Vaishnavism. The religious works of these saints in Tamil, songs of love and devotion, are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham containing 4000 verses and the 108 temples revered in their songs are classified as Divya Desam. The saints had different origins and belonged to different castes. As per tradition, the first three alwars, Poigai Azhwar, Bhoothath Azhwar and Pey Azhwar were born miraculously. Thirumalisai Alvar was the son of a sage, Thondaradippodi Alvar, Madhurakavi Alvar, Periyalvar and Andal were from brahmin community, Kulashekhara Alwar a kshatriya, Nammalwar a Vellala, Thiruppaan Alvar a paanar and Thirumangai Alvar a kallar. The Divya Suri Charitra by Garuda-Vahana Pandita (11th century), Guruparamparaprabhavam by Pinbaragiya Perumal Jiyar, Periya tiru mudi adaivu by Anbillai Kandadiappan, Yatindra Pranava Prabavam by Pillai Lokacharya, commentaries on Divya Prabandam, Guru Parampara (lineage of Gurus) texts, temple records and inscriptions give a detailed account of the alwars and their works. According to these texts, the saints were considered incarnations of some form of Vishnu. Poigai is considered an incarnation of Panchajanya (Krishna's conch), Bhoothath of Kaumodakee (Vishnu's Mace/Club), Pey of Nandaka (Vishnu's sword), Thirumalisai of Sudarshanam (Vishnu's discus), Namm of Vishvaksena (Vishnu's commander), Madhurakavi of Vainatheya (Vishnu's eagle, Garuda), Kulasekhara of Kaustubha (Vishnu's necklace), Periya of Garuda (Vishnu's eagle), Andal of Bhoodevi (Vishnu's wife, Lakshmi, in her form as Bhudevi), Thondaradippodi of Vanamaalai (Vishnu's garland), Thiruppaan of Srivatsa (An auspicious mark on Vishnu's chest) and Thirumangai of Sharanga, Rama's bow. The songs of Prabandam are regularly sung in all the Vishnu temples of South India daily and also during festivals.
According to traditional account by Manavala Mamunigal, the first three alwars namely Poigai, Bhoothath and Pey belong to the Dvapara Yuga (before 4200 BC). It is widely accepted by tradition and historians that the trio are the earliest among the twelve alwars. Along with the three Shaiva Nayanars, they influenced the ruling Pallava kings, creating a bhakti movement that resulted in changing the religious geography from Buddhism and Jainism to Hinduism. The alwars were also instrumental in promoting the Bhagavatha cult and the two epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The alwars were instrumental in spreading Vaishnavism throughout the region. The verses of the various alwars were compiled by Nathamuni (824-924 AD), a 10th-century Vaishnava theologian, who called it the "Tamil Veda".
Sri nammalvar-Subbiah kumara valai