Alvar's Response to Religious Pluralism



Bhakti was the launching pad for the Alvars.  Tamil classical principle akam provided them a mode of expression for their spiritual experience.  The general characteristics of Alvars, their life-stories, works and religious attitudes are concrete backgrounds to study the response of Alvars to religious pluralism. It is also essential to remember that the immediate successors of Älvärs were the Ācāryas who were essentially inspired by the Alvars.  At the same time, the Ācāryas remained faithful to the Vedic tradition.
It is appropriate to trace the response of Cańkam age to religious pluralism, before considering the response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvars because it had influenced their religious orientation. Response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvars may be analyzed under two parts.  One is the theoretical framework available in the writings of the Alvars and the other is the relevant insights for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.

6.1 Response to Religious Pluralism
The expression ‘response to religious pluralism’ is used to denote the degree of relation between Alvars and other religious traditions.  It is therefore, confined to the realm of religions.  There are multiple reasons to analyze the response to religious pluralism as reflected in the bhakti tradition of Alvars.  One of the reasons is their context.  During the time of Alvars there was growing religious mobility.  The whole world witnessed the origin and developments of many religious traditions.  It was the time the two non-Vedic religions-Buddhism and Jainism were flourishing.  These two religions began to affect other religions, which already existed in south India.  Their popularity was due to the patronage of various emperors. M. S. Purnalingam Pillai states the impact of their influence as “the predominance of Buddhism and Jainism in the Tamil land and the frequent conversions of Saivas and Vaishnavas to them filled the other Hindu religionists with horror.”[1]
As these two religions began to grow fast, the Hindus (Vaisnavas and Śaivas etc.) were alarmed that they might lose their number.  It was the time the Aryan influence dominated the native Indians.  It needs to be remembered that Jainism and Buddhism emerged as protest against the Aryan religious practices.  There are scholars who would suggest that these two religions are not protest movements against Aryan religion, but offshoots of Sramana movement.  The fact remains that the Sramanas were indigenous ascetics, who always voiced against the Vedic practices. 
The context witnessed not only the growth of these two religious.  There was rivalry between the Vaisnavites and Śaivites.  K. A. Nilakanta Sastri summarized the context as, “the growth, on the one hand, of an intense emotional bhakti to Siva or Vishnu and on the other, of an outspoken hatred of Buddhists and Jains are the chief characteristics of the new epoch.”[2]  Hence the general scenario was marked by the struggle among Buddhism, Jainism Vaisnavism and Śaivism. 
Another remarkable characteristic of this context was that the Aryan religion had already influenced the Tamil religious practices.  New myths were created to demonstrate that the Tamil deities were the manifestations of the Aryan deities.  There is sufficient reason to hold that Tamilnadu witnessed the era of unfriendly relation between religions because of the Aryan influence and their tendency to grade religions.
This specific context has lots of parlance with the present situation in India.  Many, for political gains, in the name of the majority Hindus losing the number, manipulate the religiously sensitive Indian context.  This has created indescribable difficulties among the people of diverse religious traditions.  This has caused a rift between religions and people.  Hostility, antagonism and unfriendly relations hamper the friendly co-existence of the people of India.
Of course, the situation of the Alvars was a little different in that the rulers determined the general religious context.  At the same time the Alvars also never failed to utilize the royal support to establish their own claims.  Even some Alvars caused inconvenience to others in the name of religion.

6.2 Diverse Perspectives
Plurality is the essence of the life of the Alvars and their works.  The twelve Alvars represent variety of perspectives.  It was cautioned earlier that, one should not look for a specific worldview in the works of Alvars.  At the same time whatever one is looking for also can be found in their works.  This is the general outlook of the works of Alvars, which is an encouraging phenomenon for a relevant Christian theology of religions in a multi religious context. 
As the Tiruvāymoli takes the representative role for all the works of Alvars, it is said that it allows readers to compose it in various ways; for there is no insurmountable obstacle to various favored creative responses.[3]  To be specific, all the Alvars did not use the same standard or judgment with regard to other religions. Often the same Ālvār maintained diverse viewpoints towards other peoples and religions.  As there are opportunities for multiple perspectives in the bhakti tradition of Alvars it shall be legitimate to choose the relevant and viable one for a relevant contemporary theology of religions.  Every religion practices varieties of approaches towards other faiths.  No religion goes by a single perspective.  It is the duty of the interpreters (especially theologians) to indicate a relevant perspective in accordance with the context and need of the people (society). This is where the historical-textual method is very relevant. It will not be unjustified, taking the present context into serious consideration, if one looks for pertinent point of view in the works of Alvars, although they are seemingly exclusive and developed in the context of rising religious mobility.

6.3 The Perspective of Cańkam Epoch
It is appropriate to consider the religious situation that prevailed during the Cańkam age, before attempting to analyze the response of Alvars to religious pluralism as reflected in their works because the former epoch preceded the latter. 
The general notion about the Cańkam era was that there was religious tolerance.  The Cańkam Tamils were not aggressive in the matters of religion.  During this period, along with the other sects, Buddhism and Jainism flourished.  The Cańkam period is dated between third century B.C. and third century A.D.  It was the time of the reign of Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers.  Shu Hikosaka remarked that, “during this period, the Tamils were mostly interested in secular things rather than religious matters.”[4]  In the words of P.T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, “they did not indulge in dark cogitations about the evils of earthly existence and seek for means to abolish the present joys of life for securing a future state of unchanging bliss.”[5]  In short, they were committed to the open realities of this world.
It does not mean that the Cańkam Tamils were not affected by the presence of other religions.  It simply means that they were very keen on the day-to-day affairs of life including religion.  But bargaining for religious claims was not their chief concern.  It is said about the Cańkam era that “it reveals to us a secular minded people engaged in the battle of life in all its aspects refusing to yield to religious fanaticism.”[6] Like the latter period Cańkam epoch witnessed the growth of Jainism and Buddhism along with the other local religions and sects.  The Patthuppattu or ten idylls is one of the Cańkam literatures.  Its sixth idyll is called Madurai Kanchi.  It bears testimony to the existence of Buddhism and Jainism.  M. S. Purnalingam Pillai writes about it that, “in the graphic description of the city life, we come across Buddhistic monasteries and Jain shrines in their flourishing condition with hosts of worshippers attached to each…”[7]
The religious attitude of this epoch is marked by tolerance and harmony.  The ninth idyll of Patthuppatu is called Pattinap-Palai.  In it “…we come across Buddhist monasteries and Jain abbeys in the land of Chola.  Which show not only the prevalence of other religions but the religious toleration of the kings of old in South India.”[8]  It is important because the attitude of the kings will represent the attitude of the subjects.
The situation is plainly presented in another Cańkam literature.  It is said “a sense of toleration was the significant feature in the religious climate as noticed in Paripātal.”[9]  This is one of the eight anthologies. A more detailed description is that “Cilappatikāram, the earliest extant Tamil epic (300 A.D.), projects a panorama of various faiths and religious practices prevalent perhaps at the end of Sangam period, breathing the spirit of religious toleration.”[10]  In other words religious tolerance was taken for granted and practiced naturally.[11]
To mark the salient religious attitude of this epoch and to distinguish it from the succeeding era V. D. Mahajan says “among the Tamils in the Samgam age, religion played a milder and more harmonious role in society than it did in the succeeding ages after the seventh century A.D.”[12]  To summarize, the Cańkam people were secular in outlook.  They never yielded to religious fanaticism.  They witnessed the growth of alien religions.  Their attitude towards other religions was adorned with tolerance and harmony.  With this background, it is fitting to analyze the response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvars.

6.4 Ālvārs’ Response to Religious Pluralism
In contrast to the Cańkam era, the Alvars epoch was marked by the conscious attempt to establish the supremacy of Visnu and Vaisnavism.  This may be examined from two dimensions.  One is to find out the response of Alvars to religious pluralism and the other is to explore relevant insights for a contemporary theology of religions from the bhakti tradition of Alvars.  The first may be considered under the modern captions – exclusivist response, inclusive response, relativist response and ‘one-many’ response.  The second consists of the need for spiritual foundation, life concerns, exclusion of caste differences, emancipation of women, inevitability of ecological sensitivity, language of the people and inclusive language.

6.4.1 Exclusivist Response
 All the twelve Alvars exclusively maintained the pre-eminence of Visnu and Vaisnavism over the other religions, gods and people.  It is their basic religious right.  If one ceases to be completely devoted to his or her religion, he or she becomes irreligious.  Exclusive response is the result of one’s deep commitment to the religion of which he or she is a member.  There is nothing wrong in being committed to a particular religion, provided one is mindful that others also have similar obligation in relation to their religions. The particularistic response turns to be extreme when people do not respect the specific sentiments of others.
The Alvars were exclusivist, at the out set.  Their sole concern was the one ultimate Reality (paratattva), beyond time and space, whom they called Visnu.[13]  The exclusive claims of Tirumaliśai is described as, he searched for truth in Buddhism, Jainism, Cārvaka philosophy, examined six orthodox systems and also that of Kudrsti (which must refer to that of Advaita) and the Śaiva schools of religion.[14]  They did not satisfy him.  Thus finally settled down as a Vaisnava Yogi.[15]  At the end he established that Nārāyana is the supreme deity (paratatva).[16]  It is also said that the Ālvār preached that the one and only God was Visnu while the other two of the triad – Brahmā and Śiva – were created by him.[17]
 Regarding Periyālvār it is said he won a religious disputation in the court of the Pāndya king Śrimāra Śrivallabha (815–862).[18]  The disputation was to prove who really was the supreme deity.  Tradition holds that, Periyālvār proved with references from the Vedas that Visnu was the ultimate Reality. 
This can be further substantiated with a few internal references. Tirumangai Ālvār in his Tirukkuruntāndakam says those who do not count Visnu’s auspicious qualities only waste their precious lives.[19]  According to Pānālvār after seeing my lord of nectar-delight, my eyes will see none else.[20]  Periyālvār writes, we shall not admit into our fold those who are slaves of the palate.[21]  Tirumaliśai Ālvār asks, will I regard another deity?[22]  Tondaradippodi questions, can there be another God?[23]  Tirumangai Ālvār vows that, I have nothing to do with those who take to other gods.[24]  Again, those who do not worship his feet and keep him in their hearts are no men,[25] those who do not contemplate the dark-hued radiant lord and protector are indeed lowly,[26] those who do not hear of him have no ears at all,[27] those who do not worship him and speak about him do not speak at all,[28] songs which do not sing his praise with love are no songs at all,[29] those who do not fold their hands in worship have no hands,[30] those who do not contemplate and realize him are forever ignorant,[31] and those who do not become his devotees are no men.[32] These are few examples to prove that the Alvars were exclusivists in their response to other religions.  But this exclusive assertion was expressed in different degrees. Tolerant and Peaceful Response
The first three Alvars were no exception from their particularistic stand.  All scholars agree that, these three Alvars lived at a time when the sectarian creeds were not developed.  They would not have witnessed alien faiths in full vigor.  But the writings of the Alvars reveal that, they established the ascendancy of Visnu in a tolerant way.  K.A. Nilakanta Sastri maintained that they were altogether free from an intolerant sectarian outlook.[33]
Even their response towards the Śaivaites was liberal.  It is said “a spirit of tolerance is evident in the poems of these early Ālvārs; probably there were forms of image where one half was Siva and the other half Visnu.”[34]  There are no references to Jains and Buddhists in their work.  It may be because these religions did not come of maturity.  Another reason may be that the Aryan influence was not yet complete.  One more reason may be that these Alvars lived very close to Cańkam age, thus they reflected the religious attitude of the Cańkam Tamils.
Nammālvār maintains the absolute claim in a more elegant form.  The general opinion about Nammālvār was that he lived at a time the land was free from any alien religious influence.  The Śaivas and Vaisnavites lived in peace.  Nevertheless, to establish the claim that Visnu was the only ultimate Reality, he criticized all the then existed religious sects and deities.  But, at the same time his poems bear no marks of persecution or invectives against the Jains and Buddhists.[35]  It is true that Nammālvār occupies a special place among Ālvārs.  His works are credited with respect equal to the Vedas.
Modern scholars have testified that Nammālvār’s works are great examples for variety of religious experiences.  Hence reducing Nammālvār to a specific strand would devalue his contributions.  It, therefore, may not be wrong to hold that he does not support smug religious sectarianism.[36]
The tolerant and peaceful expression of exclusive claim is not harmful.  It is the right of any committed religionist.  Unless one subscribes to this deep conviction, he or she ceases to be faithful to his or her own religion.  The tolerant and peaceful expression of exclusive response paves the way for further creative and positive relationship between religions in a more constructive and respectful way.  The same exclusive approach is often expressed in a violent way. Aggressive Exclusivism
The aggressive form of exclusive claim is dangerous and it leads to religious fanaticism.  Tirumaliśai Ālvār was very belligerent in his attitude.  He used strong language against other religions and people.  This is obvious from his context.  It is said perhaps the aggressive preaching of the Jains, Buddhists and Śaivites marked his period. The adherents of these faiths chose to assert their individual worth by casting disparaging comments on one another.[37]
According to tradition, Tirumaliśai proclaimed that after learning the religion of the Sakhya (Buddhism), the religion of the Sramana (Jainism), the Agama of Sankaranar (Śaiva Agama) by fortunate good luck we have come to rest our faith in the Black One with red-eyes and got rid of all that is evil.[38]  This is an evidence for the narrow outlook about the religions of others. The degree of vehemence in his antagonistic attitude is reflected in his Anthathi. It is said he spits his venom against the Saivas, Jains and Buddhists.[39]   This attitude is not conducive to a country like India, which houses people of different faiths.  One can maintain ultimate claim but not at the cost of provoking and accusing the others.
Tirumaliśai’s dissatisfaction was not confined to other religious systems alone.  He condemned the people who adhere to other traditions.  In his Nānmukhan – Tiruvandādi he writes low persons alone equate Śiva with Visnu who has no equal.[40] In another hymn he says, Jains do not know the truth, Buddhists are confused and Śaivas are mean and those who do not worship Tirumal who is abode of all miraculous characters are base.[41]  His life and poems represent him as a resentful opponent of the people of other faiths.
Another Ālvār who used provocative language was Tondaradippodi.  In his Tirumālai he states, it is better to die rather than hearing the blasphemy of Jains and Buddhists against Visnu.  And if opportunity is given to react, behead such blasphemers.[42]  This is the only instance in the whole works of Alvars, where the retaliatory and uncharitable language is used.  His bigoted response is pointed out as “his faith in Visnu has taken so deep a root that he became intolerant of other sects.”[43]
This is a destructive practice.  Often this coarse attitude is found among many extreme communalists in India.  They even hold that all who do not follow the majority religion of India should leave the country and go to their own.  Otherwise, they be treated as secondary citizens.  This attitude is a threat to communal harmony, friendly co-existence of people of other faiths and co-operation between diverse religious communities for common human causes.
Periyālvār expresses similar response with lesser intensity.  In his Periyālvār Tirumoli it is stated that those who do not think of Tirumal are hard-hearted people.  They are burden to the earth.  Hence snatch away the rice they eat and thrust grass.[44]  This is another crude form of cantankerous approach.
From these descriptions it is clear that none of the Alvars planed a systematic tactic to oppose the onward growth of the religious sects other than Vaisnavism.  Their hostility was scarcely expressed in their hymns.  Nor they attempted to persuade the rulers to subdue other religious traditions.  Of course, there were occasions.  But the rulers always maintained neutrality with rare exemption.  The unreceptive attitude would have caused greater damage if the rulers had their hands in it.  But now things are different.  To grab power, people are ready to misuse religious sentiments of people.  The exclusive response may be further understood from the point of new converts to Vaisnavism. Response of the Converts
The orthodox response of the Alvars who were converts was forceful towards other religions. One such example is Tirumalisai Ālvār. The reason for such a state of mind is said to be his conversion from Saivism to Vaishnavism.[45]  Another example is the life of Tirumańgai Ālvār, who in order to carry off and marry the daughter of a Vaisnavite doctor of a higher caste changed his religion.[46]  His robberies were justified as they were done for the service of the devotees of Visnu.  His superciliousness was vivid when he stole a Buddha statue to construct the outer wall of a Visnu temple.  It was astonishing to learn the story that, the workers who asked for their wages were drowned in the Kaveri, and their relatives saw them going to heaven.
A few points can be noted from these accounts.  The response of new converts towards other religions was confrontational in character. It is a psychological phenomenon.  The converts wanted to pretend at any cost that they are in a better situation than the previous one.  For that, they dare to go any length.  The sad part of it is, that such activities are often spiritualized.  Another aspect is that the new converts accept new religion with so much of expectations.  Until they experience their expectations or realize the truth, they are restless.
The second incident was an example to prove how often self-interests are religionised at the cost of several people.  An outsider cannot question the religious significance of such incidents.  At the same time, the influence of such accounts might cause serious consequences.
In brief, it may be said, even the Alvars who were tolerant and peaceful towards other religions were exclusivists, in that they strove hard to establish the supremacy of Visnu.  The first kind of response is common to all committed religious people.  The other forms are dangerous.  They lead to fanatic stance.  The psychological and emotional outburst of the converts is vicious in nature.
The tolerant and peaceful exclusive attitude of the Alvars is a strong platform to rest oneself and to proceed further.  This ensuing further is the need of the hour.  If it is slow it should be accelerated.  If it is not visible, serious efforts are necessary to bring to light their attitude of tolerance for the good of the people at large.

6.4.2 Inclusive Response
There is also scope for an inclusive response in the works of Alvars. It needs to be remembered that the Alvars were not making any systematic effort to defend their own faith or to offend others.  Their hymns are the spontaneous outpouring of their religious experience.  Hence, more than one response can be traced in each Ālvār.  It is true that there was an exclusive response in the works of Alvars.  At the same time there is also a possibility for an inclusive reaction, which considers the religions of others as inferior to the one a particular person adheres to.  This does not mean that they are completely wrong but it only implies that they lack certain elements and need fulfillment.  Thus, this can also be called as fulfillment approach.
The traces for such an inclusive reaction are found in the works of first three Alvars.  About their relation to Śaivism S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar writes, “the earliest Alvars go the length even of describing Siva and Vishnu as one, although they do recognize the united form as Vishnu.”[47]  Here the Vaisnavites are happy to hold that Śiva and Visnu are one.  At the same time they would maintain that Visnu is that one united form.
About the transformation of Tirumaliśai as an Ālvār it is said, Śiva gave him the name Bhakti Sara but could not fulfill the needs and challenge of Tirumalisai.[48]  It suggests that Tirumaliśai found final fulfillment only in Visnu.  In his Tiruvandādi it is stated that those who worship Brahma, Śiva etc. feel their emptiness and find their fullness only in Narayana.[49]
 Inclusive response is reflected in the works of Nammālvār as well.  It is said occasionally that Satakōpan simply identifies Visnu with the other gods – particularly Śiva and Brahma…[50] Although, he was sympathetic to the Śaivas he does not generally give the same pedestal that the earlier Alvars do.[51]  S. Satyamurthi Ayyangar points out the fulfillment approach found in one of the hymns as, people seek favors from minor deities and obtain them. If those deities in turn bestow the boons sought by their votaries, to the extent deserved by them, it is only through the grace of the Supreme Lord, (Srīman Nārāyana) who stays inside these deities (as their internal controller) and maintains them.[52]  Tirumaliśai Ālvār  writes, the lord is the indweller of all forms and beings.[53] The inclusive response of the Alvars is quite praise worthy for it positively regards the other religions.  But it may not be forgotten that the present Indian context is in need of more open and challenging responses towards people of other faiths.

6.4.3 Relativist Response
Although the Alvars exclusively maintained the superiority of Visnu there were occasional references to inclusive way of considering other religions.  The predominant Indian way of considering other religions can be called as relativist.  Here all religions are attributed with same purpose.  There are rare references to such an attitude in the bhakti tradition of Alvars.  It was only Poygai Ālvār who synthesized the name of Visnu and Śiva.  For him Visnu and Śiva are the manifestations of the one and the same Almighty.[54]  It does not mean that the first three Alvars regarded the equality of all religions.  There were already traces of exclusive claims and inclusive out look.
Regarding the Tiruccanta–Viruttam of Tirumaliśai, it is remarked that it is more metaphysical in nature because it enumerates the categories in such a way as to point out that everything is ultimately derived from the One.[55]  There is a unique expression in the Periya Tirumoli of Tirumańgai that, Narayana is the indweller of Śhiva, Brahma and Visnu.[56]  In his Tirunedunatāndakam it is maintained that the supreme light is one.[57]
     No doubt, Nālāyiram represents different types of responses towards other religions and sects.  At the same time, a thorough reading of the works of Alvars reveals that they never departed from the Vedāntic principle that ultimately the reality is one. This can be explored further.  In short, the response of Alvars towards Śaivism is partly the combination of exclusive, inclusive and relativist patterns.  There is, still, a possibility for a more open and relevant perspective in the bhakti tradition of Alvars. This may be explicated further, after analyzing the response of Alvars towards Buddhism and Jainism.
In matters of relation with other religions and sects, it needs to be remarked that, Śaivism was more aggressive than Vaisnavism.  It is generally said on the basis of close scrutiny of the devotional literatures of the Śaivas and the Vaisnavas that the Śaivas were definitely more aggressive and outspokenly hostile towards their rival creeds.[58]  Even from the point of rulers it was true.  The Pandiyan king Nedumaran was a Jain.  His wife converted him to Śaivism. Stephen Neil writes, “once converted king Nedumaran is reported to have demanded of the Jains that they also should apostatize.  When they refused to do so, no less than eight thousand were put to death by impalement.”[59]  Even Ramanuja had to flee for Karnataka to escape persecution.  Even in Nālāyiram most hymns better represent the superiority struggle between the Śaivas and the Vaisnavas than between Vaisnavas and the non-Vedic religions.

6.5 Response Towards Jainism and Buddhism
V. P. Chavan states the main purpose of bhakti movement in the form of Alvars and Nāyanārs as “the common enemy, in the South, the Jainism had to be destroyed.”[60]  According to B.N. Luniya it was a counter reformation in favor of orthodox Hinduism, which had the effect of nearly exterminating Jainism.[61] About Buddhism it is said that the bhakti cult in Tamilnadu caused the extinction of Buddhism in Tamilnadu.[62]  Tirumańgai Ālvār crudely abused Buddhism.  In the words of Nilakanta Sastri, “he is said to have stolen a solid golden image of Buddha from a monastery in Nagapatam to pay for renovating the temple of Srirangam.”[63] All these references suggest that the Alvars’ response towards Buddhism and Jainism was negative.
Both Jainism and Buddhism were put together and said “it is thus possible that the theistic and pietistic religion of the Saiva and Vaisnava saints of this period could have been at least partly a reaction against the impersonal and atheistic tendencies of the two ascetic religions.”[64] It is said more emphatically that, Alvars of the Vaisnava sect are the important personalities in spreading the bhakti movement with the purpose of exterminating the heterodox systems and establishing the orthodox religion.[65]  In a more direct way they sang Buddhism and Jainism out of their province.[66] It is also true that Tirumaliśai, Tondaradippodi and Tiurmańgai have used very negative response towards these non-Vedic religions.
No doubt, the hymns of the Alvars have the underlying assumption of protecting and strengthening Vaisnavaism from the onslaught of other religions and sects.  They reveal that their main opponents were the Śaivas, Jains and Buddhists.  The general opinion is that the main purpose of the Ālvār movement was anti-Jain and anti-Buddhistic.  But it needs to be remembered that the Ālvārs viewed Śaivas with the same measure.  According to T. Gnanasundaram, though there existed other religions such as Jainism, it can be said that, the real fight took place between Saivism and Vaishnavism.[67]
Out of the four thousand verses of Nālayiram only seventeen have direct reference to Buddhism and Jainism.  These verses are scattered all through. Two are in the works of Tirumaliśai, three in the works of Nammālvār, two in the works of Tondaradippodi and ten in the works of Tiurmańgai Ālvār.  Of these, the direct references found in the verses of Nammālvār are not so hostile in tone.  The remaining hymns of the Nālāyiram are in praise of the superior qualities of Tirumāl in contrast to the qualities of other gods or simply eulogizing lord Tirumāl. 
Even a reference in the Periya Tirumoli suggests that in the temple of the Buddhas and Sramanas who worship the Nyagrodha and Asoka trees, our lord of beautiful eyes became their gods and became them.[68] Hence a positive and sympathetic perspective is required to analyze and admire the relevant response of Alvars to religious pluralism.

6.6 One-Many, a Relevant Paradigm
The expressions Śiva and Brahma are living in the body of Tirumāl,[69] Tirumāl has Brahma, Śiva and Indra as his body[70] and Śiva lives in the body of Tirumāl[71] may be interpreted as stressing the equality of gods.  At the same time, there is, in the work of Ālvārs a more positive and relevant response to people of other faiths.
According to Poygai Ālvār, Tirumāl himself has become Visnu, Brahma and Śiva.[72]  For Tirumaliśai God is one.  He rewards every one irrespective of the deity he/she worships, and he has become the many gods.[73]  Tirumańgai maintains that Śiva, Brahma and Visnu are the forms of Tirumāl.[74]  He pervades the whole world in the forms of Śiva, Brahma and Visnu.[75]
There are many references in Tiruvāymoli to suggest that, Tirumal has become, Brahma, Visnu and Śiva.[76]  Even Nammālvār’s response to Jainism and Buddhism is milder.  He writes Nārāyana dwells in the gods of Jains and Buddhists…[77]
  About the incarnation of Visnu, Shakti M. Gupta maintains that, “he takes the designation of Brahmā, Visnu, Śiva, accordingly as he creates, preserves and destroys.”[78] Considering the reality as one and the different faith-traditions as diverse response to that one reality is unique to Indian context.  It is always accepted that the ‘One Ultimate Reality’ is beyond the comprehension of all.  That is, it is a mystery.
It is said in the Rg Veda (Rgveda 1:164:46) that the truth is one but the sages call it with various names.  Bhagavad Gītā [BG. IV.II] says, howsoever man may approach me, even so do I accept them, for, on all sides, whatever path they may choose is mine.  This is the prayer of the Upanisad [Brhadāranyaka Upanisad 1:III: 28] that, lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light and from death to deathlessness.
Though the response of Alvars to religious pluralism may be categorized as exclusive, inclusive and relativist there is scope for a relevant paradigm to develop a contemporary theology of religions on the basis of ‘one-many’.   It goes very well with the mystical nature of Alvars and the mystical nature of the ultimate reality.  In the multi religious context of India the reality has to be understood as mystery involving the struggles of people in various forms.  In such understanding, the various faith-traditions are accounted for and the spiritual nature of life and its struggles are addressed to.

6.7 Relevance for a Contemporary Theology of Religions
Apart from the ‘one-many’ paradigm, there are certain elements in the response to religious pluralism as seen in the bhakti tradition of Alvars, for a relevant contemporary Christian theology of religions.   Locating the text in the texture of religious mobility and reflecting the purpose of the text as a committed response to religious pluralism, this consideration is pursued.  The insights for a contemporary Christian theology of religions are gleaned from the prudent method, which Alvars used in their poetry to convey the greatness of Visnu and Vaisnavism.
6.7.1 Need of Spiritual Foundation
The response of the Alvars to religious pluralism is mirrored in their poems.  Through their poems the Alvars have conveyed the fundamental message of Hinduism that, human beings are spiritual in essence.  This spiritual nature cannot be taken for granted.  One has to use it while living on the earth to realize the highest spiritual end. It looks the Alvars insisted only on spiritual aspects without adequately stressing the importance of social transformation. It may not be completely true, because for the Alvars the spiritual transformation of an individual is fundamental and sufficient prerequisite for other changes to take place.  Hence, they invited and insisted every one to attain such spiritual height through the grace of Visnu.
The Alvars appeal to people that, they should accept the Lord before it was too late.[79]  One of the reasons for such request is that, in the world, relatives, pleasure of women, sensual pleasures, sickness etc. are not permanent.[80]  Another reason for people to be close to God, rather than people [81] is only when there is wealth, there will be people around.[82]   And the wealth is not permanent.  Even the status of kings will not be permanent.[83]
Yet another reason is that, one cannot call God, when approaching death.[84]  Spirituality should be the crux of life. Thus the poems of Alvars admonish people to long for god before too old[85] and being ridiculed by women.[86]  The reason for such demand for spiritual foundation is that, the Lord is the embodiment of dharma.[87] All human endeavors should be rooted upon God’s dharma.
The deep-rooted spirituality demands that such people be free from desire over other things.[88]  Along with this, there is a demand to refrain from attachment to the world.[89]  The reason for such demand is that this world is full of suffering from birth, death, sickness, old age, hell, etc.[90] The general tone is that be devoted to god, and the rest will be clear.  Further the corrupt society can be enlightened only through the really enlightened people.
The Alvars envisaged a life in reflection of the intense relation with God. As humanity is essentially spiritual, this intimacy should always be constant.  The demand for concrete spiritual foundation as vivid in the life and works of Alvars should reach all levels of people beyond religious boundaries. It is basic to civility and harmonious life.  In Alvars’ response to religious pluralism the social dimension is implicit and not explicit. It may be because of the nature of the Alvars that they were only devotional poets and not teachers.
Any perspective adopted in theology of religions should have the spiritual foundation as its impetus.  Unless theology of religions give adequate importance to spiritual foundation, its impact will be short lived or invisible.  Thomas Kochuthara says, “worship, devoid of any interest in the concerns and aspirations of the people, can turn sterile and hypocritical.  But it is also equally true that if we carry on relating ourselves to the human problems without rooting ourselves in worship, our efforts will be futile.”[91]  Thus the ‘immersing in’ or ‘diving in’ spiritual experience of the Alvars prompt the theologian of religions to lay stronger spiritual foundation for their perspective and then to proceed forward.  And this is the essence of all religions.       

6.7.2 Life Concerns
Another impetus the theology of religions may derive from the response of Alvars to religious pluralism is their commitment for the concerns of life, especially the life of the ordinary people of society.  From the religious point of view “the Prabandham becomes the common-man’s literature embodying the spiritual experiences of persons from the most common run of society.”[92]  It is not a philosophical and theological treatise.  That is “the compositions of the Alvars are more expository of God-realization than being a critical inquiry into God’s existence.”[93] They are plain and deep religious expressions.  Thus they meet the spiritual need of the common mass. 
From social point of view, Vaisnavism insists on “respect to one and all irrespective of the person’s caste and creed and even of his good or bad merits.”[94]  It is also stated that, “in short the idea underlying Vaisnavism is human and emotional.”[95]  It is because the Alvars lived normal human life and taught that householders can experience God in their lives.[96] They have respected human dignity. Nammālvār writes, Visnu treats every one equally.[97]  The purpose is for the better life of the Vaisnavites.[98] According to Martin Buber, “he who serves his people in the boundlessness of destiny, and is willing to give himself to them, is really thinking of God.”[99] The shift of concentration from the otherworldly objects to this worldly humanity is crucial for any contemporary Christian theology of religions.
There is also a liberative motive in the bhakti tradition of Alvars.  This is evident from the many ‘incarnations’ of the Lord.[100]  For example he protected the ‘cattle’ from rain by using a mountain as umbrella.[101] He became a charioteer to help the Pandavas.[102] His descent as human being was to liberate the lowly in the society.  According to Periyālvār, the Lord was born in the midst of cowherds for their own liberation.[103]  Further his birth among them had added merit to the lives of cowherds.[104]
           The main criticism about the Alvars was that they were imbued with sympathetic outlook for humanity but were not men who were to mix up freely with the sufferers and live amidst them.[105] This may not be true in itself.  According to R. D. Kaylor and K. K. A. Venkatacharie, there is no absence of social or world transformation in the works of Nammālvār.  For him the highest ideal one could attain is the service to God.  He believes that devoted service to God is the means of world transformation.  Further, devoted service to God’s servants is a part of devoted service to God.[106]  Here too the equality of humanity is expressed through the divinity of humanity, which is the crux of Hinduism.
 The emphasis of Alvars on human life, equality of humanity, human dignity and the liberative aspect of religiosity are vital for any contemporary theology of religions.  This is also in line with the present paradigm shift in theology.  That is, the focus of attention is shifted from transcendental to mundane.  In other words the concentration is shifted from theos to anthropose, because of humanity’s ontological base in the one ultimate mystery.

6.7.3 Exclusion of Caste Differences
In the Indian scenario caste plays essential role at all levels.  It has been used and misused for various reasons.  It is also held that Hinduism has promoted caste.  In this context, from the point of theology of religions, it is appropriate to trace the relevance of the contributions of Alvars for a contemporary theology of religions.
The general tone about the issue is that the Alvars broke away from the caste system. This is obvious in the list of Alvars.  In their list, seven were Brahmins, one was a Ksattriya, two were Sūdras and one was of the low Panar Caste.[107] According to Radhakrishnan, “there are twelve Ālvārs recruited from all castes...”[108] He extended it to the devotees and said, “among the worshippers of Visnu there is no caste.”[109] These are indications for the fact that the Ālvārs maintained no caste rigidities.
Another incident was that a Brahmin carried Tiruppān Ālvār to the presence of God in accordance with the command of God. Tirumaliśai Ālvār mentions his gratitude to God for accepting him as a devotee, although he belonged to a lower order of society.  He writes:
Fy';fsha <hpuz;oy; xd;wpYk; gpwe;jpnyd:;
ey';fsha ew;fiyfs; ehypYk; etpd;wpnyd;;
g[yd;fs; Ie;Jk; btd;wpnyd;/ bghwpapnyd;/ g[dpj! epd;
,y';F ghjk; md;wp kw;W Xh; gw;W ,nyd; vk; <rnd![110] 
Tiruppallāndu mentions that the lord disliked clannish nature[111] of people. Tondaradippodi Ālvār sings:

Moikapw; Foik ,y;yh may; rJg;ngjpkhhpy;

        Foikapy; flik gl;l Ff;fhpy; gpwg;gnuYk;/
       Koapdpy; Jsgk; itj;jha;! bkha; fHw;F md;g[ bra;a[k;
       Moaiu cfj;jp nghYk;;; mu';f kh efUshnd![112]
Nammālvār brings out the idea that, ‘once a person has become the devotee of God, his/her caste discriminations disappears and deserves worship:

Fyk@ jh'@F rhjpfs@ ehypYk@ fPH@ ,Hpe@J vj@jid

eyk@ jhd@ ,yhj rz@lhs rz@lhsh@fs@ MfpYk@
tyk@ jh'@F rf@fuj@J mz@zy@ kzp tz@zw@F Ms@ vd@W cs@
fye@jhh@ moahh@ jk@ moahh@ vk@ mofns.[113]
From the point of religion, the Ālvārs advocated Prapatti or surrender to God.  While bhakti was restricted to the first three orders of caste, prapatti was open to all.  It is said that the Alvars lent a new dimension to bhakti by making it an intensely personal and popular appeal, which disregarded hierarchical and formal tradition.[114]  It was again after the time of Ācāryas that there was a distinction between bhakti and prapatti.  The former is considered to be superior and those who cannot practice this can practice the latter.  That is, prapatti is for the lower caste of the people.  But Alvars maintained that it is for all.  All can practice prapatti and it is the easiest and the better path of spiritual life. But when the Alvars were succeeded by the Ācāryas, again caste was introduced.  N. Subrahmanian remarked that, “the great Caiva Camaya Āccāriyäs and the Vaisnavite Ālvārs insistently preached the doctrine of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, but the society at large neither tried nor desired to get out of the caste frame to which it had been accustomed all along.”[115]
  In the Indian context caste should not escape the attention of people who are committed to the cause of religious pluralism.  This can be a common platform where people of diverse faith traditions can come together to struggle for the cause of the society and degraded people (in the name of caste).  It is an issue that warrants concrete attention.  Because there are people to perpetuate caste for self interests.  It is challenging, inspiring and at the same time dreadful.

6.7.4 Emancipation of Women
Another relevant insight for a contemporary theology of religions from the bhakti tradition of Alvars is its elevation of women.  It is a very sensitive and crucial issue along with caste, in India. D. S. Sarma maintained that, “one pleasing feature of the Alvar movement is that in it distinctions of caste, rank and sex were ignored.”[116]  This was evident from the band of Alvars.  “It recognized the role of woman in such a spiritual community.”[117]  Āndāl, the adopted daughter of Periyālvār was one of the twelve Alvars. Her works are included in the Nālāyiram.  Her hymns best express the spiritual relation between God and devotee using the relation between husband and wife. It was amazing that a woman was accepted as a saint at a time such incidents sparingly took place.
 It is also remarkable that the Alvars have portrayed the soul as woman.  This is in continuation with the influence of Tamil tradition, on the works of Alvars.  Āndāl writes that the Lord is protector of women.[118]  The Periya Tirumadal and Sriya Tirumadal are examples where the woman [soul] is protesting against the tradition that men alone could practice madal.  S. P. Rajagopalan portrayed Āndāl as a revolutionary woman for the causes of women.[119]  Nancy Ann Nayar says, “she is also especially remembered for her defiance of Hindu norms for women’s behavior in her refusal to marry a human husband, because she considered herself married to God.”[120]
Nammālvār explains God as ‘Vt; capUf;Fk; jhnahd;’ (mother to all creation).[121]  He also called God as ‘jha; je;ij’ (mother and father).[122]  The same idea is found in Kanninun-Śiruttāmbu of Madhurakavi Ālvār.  He also addressed God as ‘md;idaha; mj;jdha;’ (mother and father).[123]  Tirumańgai Ālvār, in Periya Tirumoli, called God as ‘mk;khDk;/ mk;kida[k; monaDf;F m{fp epd;w ey; khd xz; Rlnu!’ (you became my father and mother).[124] These references testify that there was no hesitation on the part of the saints to portray God as woman.  The higher status assigned to Srī in southern Vaisnavism can be another source of inspiration for those who are committed to the cause of women in India.
There are feminist notions in the works of Alvars.  Āndāl, in Nācciyār Tirumoli calls God as ‘bgz;zhsd;’ (protector of women).[125]  The Periya Tirumoli of Tirumańgai Ālvār, declare that ‘bgz;m{fp ,d; mKjk; t";rpj;jhid’ (He came disguised as a female and denied ambrosia to the Asuras).[126]  Thus, the Alvars have not just described God as women, but went further to consolidate that He had taken the form of a women.
It is also exciting to note that Sri Sadagopan Tirunarayanaswami temple situated in Jalladampet Village, Chennai, in Tamilnadu is ministered by a priestess, Srimati Sowbhagyalakshmi, after the death of her husband Srirama Bharati in the year two thousand.[127]
Even the inclusive language of the Alvars is encouraging to the women.[128]  They addressed God as father and mother. This is a great strength one can derive from the bhakti tradition of Alvars for a contemporary theology of religions.  When women’s concerns are expressed all over the world, those who pursue religious pluralism should also be prompted to use these insights for the emancipation of women. A contemporary theology of religions can use this issue for the bringing together of diverse people of other faiths.  This is a common and contemporary need.

6.7.5 Inevitability of Ecological Sensitivity
The globe is apprehensive about the way technology is directing the world.  People are deprived of proper water, air, food and basic living needs.    Ecological imbalance is an issue that threatens the existence of the whole cosmos.  No individual can escape this dreadful situation.  As theology of religions is committed to life and issues related to life, ecological concerns cannot be ignored. 

No single religious community alone can solve this problem.  It is a universal concern, which each and every individual as members of diverse religious communities will have to face and find solution.  As no single religion has all necessary solutions, it is crucial that people of different faiths come together and pools their religious resources for a better preservation of ecological balance.  At this crisis point, there are encouraging insights for a contemporary theology of religions, in the ‘response of Alvars to religious pluralism’ as reflected in their bhakti tradition.

The Alvars were poets par excellence.  They had utilized all the poetical skills known to the then Tamil world, in their hymns.  Remarkable among them is the way in which the Alvars described the beauty of nature.  The beauty of nature is described so creatively to express the intense love between god and the devotee.  All Alvars have used nature to convey their spiritual experience.
Very specifically the poems of Āndāl are filled with the description of early morning beauties.  Similarly Nammālvār’s ability to convey his spiritual experience through the elements of nature are so soul stirring.  The message conveyed through nature was so effective. Of course, the poet singers were poets in their own merit.  They have used the gift of nature in their poetical skills to praise the grace of god. 
It is said that the Lord appeared in a way that the plants could experience him.[129]  Not just that: He himself was the plants.[130]  The Hindu tradition upholds the view that, the earth and all that exists in it is divine, because God is the sky, fire, air, earth and water.[131]  Besides, he is in the moon, sun, and living creatures of the world:
jpl tpRk@g[ vhp/ ePh@/ jp'@fSk@/ RlUk@/
The bhakti tradition of Alvars enables the theology of religions to understand the greatness of nature and how even spiritual matters are closely knit together with nature.  The Alvars creatively used nature in their hymns to express their unwavering devotion to God.  Today, the theology of religions cannot stop with glorifying nature.  Rather it has to strive to bring all the committed people of different faiths to preserve nature and to respect its spiritual beauty.
So that nature is helped to preserve the beauty and in turn, humanity is helped to have a better life here on the earth.  Thus ecological creativity of the Alvars can be a great inspiration for the contemporary theology of religions to bring together people of different faiths in addressing one of their common concerns.

6.7.6 Language of the People
The most significant contribution of the bhakti tradition of Alvars to the contemporary theology of religion is its use of language other than Sanskrit.  Nāyanārs too used the language of the people. It is said in general that the devotional literature is the net result of Bhakti Movement.[133]   The shift from the traditional Sanskrit to Tamil itself is an indication of breaking the orthodoxy.  It is taking the monopoly from the elite and sharing with the ordinary.  Sanskrit could have been accessible only to a few but Tamil was the mother tongue of the region.  It can easily influence more number of people with direct effect.
It is a telling lesson to the contemporary theology of religions that it cannot ignore the language of people for the sake of one language or group.  Thus the contemporary theology of religions to be effective and faster, it should commit itself to understand the rich religious resources available in the various local traditions.
It is interesting to note that the Alvars used Tamil and Tamil skills to popularize the puranic stories, in their effort to meet the challenges of religious pluralism.  It is the earliest possible inculturation process in India.  As the Sanskrit religious stories were transmitted to people in the language of the people, the Alvars did not break away from the Sanskrit tradition.  They used Tamil to propagate the Sanskrit content.  Each verse of Nālāyiram contains more than one reference to puranic stories.  Of course, there is enormous amount of repetition of the stories.
The message and ideals of Alvars did not materialize as expected because the Ācāryas who succeeded the Alvars once again went back to the traditional religious orthodoxy.  Tamil was taken over by Sanskrit.  The broken caste system in the bhakti tradition of Alvars got new momentum once again.  Sanskrit or the mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit replaced Tamil.

6.7.7 Inclusive Language

Another salient feature, which can be inspiring to the theology of religions, is the use of inclusive language in the works of Alvars. When many religious texts are subject to the patriarchal influence, the Alvars used sensitive inclusive language to address God.  God is addressed as father and mother.  It is said the lord is my mother and father.[134]  Nammālvār assures the soul that God is both mother and father.[135]  Again it is said, God loves us as father and mother and descend into this world.[136]
Alvars’ use of inclusive language in their response to religious pluralism as embodied in Nālāyiram is a necessary change that the theology of religions should employ in its use of language. It is a great challenge.  The many existing liturgies should strive to apply inclusive language in the place of the traditional, orthodox and hierarchical ones.


There are legitimate reasons to trace relevant insights for a contemporary theology of religions from the bhakti tradition of Alvars.  The pluralist structure of the Nālāyiram is the first inspiration in this venture.  The Alvars were preceded by the Cańkam epoch, which was marked by religious tolerance.
At the theoretical level the Alvars were exclusively committed to their own religion. It is common to all committed religionists.  The exclusivist response of the Alvars is expressed at least in three different ways.  The first one is the way of peace and tolerance.  The second pattern is marked by aggressive, antagonistic and intolerant attitude.  And the third form is expressed through the psychology of converts.  The latter two methods are hostile in nature and lead to fanatic activities. The exclusive nature of Alvars is vivid in their relation with Buddhism and Jainism at one level and Śaivism at another level. 
Besides the exclusive claims of the Alvars there is scope for an inclusive perspective in the works of Alvars. There are also traces of relativist outlook.  It is very crucial to observe that, apart from these orthodox and narrow perspectives there is scope for a liberal and wider perspective to the problem of religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvars.  This may be understood in the form of ‘one-many’.
  Apart from the theoretical framework there are challenging and dynamic elements in the bhakti tradition of Alvars for a relevant and contemporary theology of religions.  The Alvars’ strength was their deep-rooted spiritual foundation.  Any theology of religions to be relevant, purposeful and long lasting should set its foot firmly on spiritual foundation.
Religions are meant for the betterment of ordinary people.  Hence, addressing life concerns is the paramount task of the theology of religions.  These concerns are common to all and that can provide an adequate platform for people of diverse faiths to work together, harmoniously.  The Alvars’ works have such visions.  But those visions were not actualized.  The actualizing process is a challenge for all committed Theologians of religions.
The Alvars shattered the traditional caste hierarchy by including people of all castes into their fold.  They emphasized prapatti in the place of traditional bhakti.  Prapatti was open for all.  This openness was under question, when Ācāryas took up the responsibility.  Besides caste, the admission of a woman into the fold of Alvars is a concrete inspiration for a theology of religions, to work with people of all faiths.
The use of nature as a source for describing their intense relation with god should prompt one and all to develop attachment to nature because it sustains the life of all creatures.  Ecological concern is a global problem that demands the cooperative contributions of all.  Another important motivation for the contemporary theology of religions is the use of vernacular by the Alvars.  Unless efforts are taken to bring into the fold of inter religious activities, people from the grass-roots level, it will not reach its destination.  This is the lesson that can be learned from the use of Tamil by the Alvars.
Another impulse that can be very relevant for a contemporary theology of religions is the use of inclusive language. The Ālvārs addressed God as father and mother.  Even their relation with the deity is described in terms of relation between woman and man.  Thus there are adequate elements in the response of Alvars to religious pluralism as echoed in their works, for a relevant and contemporary Christian theology of religions.

[1]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Revised and Enlarged., New Delhi / Madras, Asian Educational Services, 1994, p.154.
[2]K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, Second Edition, Madras, Oxford University Press, 1958, p.412.
[3]Francis X. Clooney, The Art  & The Theology of Sri Vaisnava Thinkers, Madras, T.  R. Publications for Satya Nilayam Publications, 1994, p.45.
[4]Shu Hikosaka, Buddhism in Tamil Nadu A New Perspective, Madras, Institute of Asian
Studies, 1989, p.16.
[5]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre–Aryan Tamil Culture, New Delhi, Asian Educational
Service, 1985, p.53.
[6]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Thirteenth Edition, New Delhi, S. Chand & Company
Ltd., 1999, p. 800.
[7]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.41.
[8]Ibid., p.44.
[9]S.V. Subramanian and R. ViJaya Lakshmy ed., Philosophical Heritage of the Tamils, Madras, International Institute of Tamil Studies, 1983, p.139.
[10]S. N. Kandaswamy, “Devotionalism in the Jain and Buddhist Tamil Poems.”  Journal of Tamil Studies, 47 & 48, June & December 1995, p.143.
[11]S. Sundararajan, Ancient Tamil Country, its Social and Economic Structure, New Delhi, published by Mrs. Nirmal Single for NAVRANG Book Sellers and Publishers, 1991, p.16.
[12]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.818.
[13]S. K. Ramachandra Rao, ‘Foreword’ in  S.M. Srinivasa Chari, “Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Ālvārs”, New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidoss Publishers, Private
Limited, 1997, p. IX.
[14]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., p.177.
[15]Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, Fourth Edition, Madras, Oxford University
 Press, 1975, p.426.
[16]S.  M. Srinivasa Chari, Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Ālvārs, Op. Cit., p.17.
[17]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., p.218.
[18] Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, Op. Cit., p.427.
[19]Tirumangai Ālvār, Tirukkuruntāndakam, Verse 2039, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
 Volume I,  p. 406.
[20]Tirupānālvār, Amalanādipirān, Verse 936, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p.
[21]Periyālvār, Tiruppallāndu, Verse 3, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 14.
[22]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Tiruccanda Viruttam, Verse 839, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 324.
[23]Tondaradippodi, Tirumālai, Verse 880, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 336.
[24]Tirumangai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1472, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p.206.
[25]Ibid., Verse 2008, p.396.
[26]Ibid., Verse 2009, p.396.
[27]Ibid., Verse 2013, p.398.
[28]Ibid., Verse 2014, p.398.
[29]Ibid., Verse 2015, p.398.
[30]Ibid., Verse 2016, p.398.
[31]Ibid., Verse 2019, p.400.
[32]Ibid., Verse 2020, p.400.
[33]K.  A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the fall of ViJayanagar, Op. Cit., p.415.
[34]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., p.216.
[35]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.188.
[36]Francis X. Clooney, Seeing Through Texts: Doing Theology Among the Srīvaisnavas of South India, First Indian Edition, New Delhi, Sri Satguru Publications, A Division of Indian Books Center, 1997, p.76.
[37]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., pp. 626 – 627.
[38]S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Early History of Vaishnavism in South India, Madras, The Oxford University Press, 1920, pp. 78 – 79.
[39]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.186.
[40]Tirumaliśai Ālvār,  Nanmukan Tiruvandādi,  Verse 2385, [Iyerpā], Nālāyiram,
Vol. II, p. 106.
[41]Ibid., Poem-2387, p.106.
[42]Tondaradippodi Ālvār, Tirumālai, Verse 879, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Vol. I,
p. 336.
[43]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., p.222.
[44]Periyālvār, Periyālvār Tirumoli, Verse 364, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Vol. I, p. 146.
[45]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.186.
[46]K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, Op. Cit., p.415.

[47]S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Early History of Vaishnavism in South India,
Op. Cit., pp. 77 – 78.
[48]S. Jagathurachagan, Guruparampparai Pravagam, Chennai, Ālvārgal
Aivu Myam, 1994, p.17.
[49]P. B. Annangarcharyar, Iyarpā  Ayyeram, [NanmugaThiruvanthathi], Karikudi, ‘Chitinadu’ Press, 1946, Poem 2390(9), p.11.
[50]Francis X. Clooney, Seeing Through Texts: Doing Theology Among the Srīvaisnavas of South India, Op. Cit., p.75.
[51]S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Early History of Vaishnavism in South India, Op. Cit., p.78.
[52]S. Satyamurthi Ayyangar, Tiruväymoli, English Glossary, Volume II, Bombay, Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1981, pp. 8 – 9.    
[53]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Tiruccanda Viruttam, Verse 756, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 300.
[54]A. Pandurangan, “Bhakti Literature and Human Values”, Journal of Tamil Studies, 43 & 44, June & December 1993, p.178.
[55]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., p.219.
[56]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verses 1157&1249, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
 Vol. I, pp. 88-124.
[57]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Tiruneduntāndakam, Verse 2053, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Vol. I, p. 410.
[58]R. Meena, “A Note on the Bhakti Movement in Tamilnadu”, N.N. Bhattacharya ed., Medieval Bhakti Movements in India, [Srī Caitanya Quincentenary Commemoration Volume], New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, Pvt. Ltd., 1999, p.189.
[59]Stephen Neil, Bhakti: Hindu and Christian, Madras, CLS, 1974, p.67.
[60]V. P. Chavan, Vaishnavism of the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins and a Few Konkani Folklore Tales, Madras, Asian Educational Services, 1991, p.12.
[61]B. N. Luniya, Evolution of Indian Culture, Agra, Lakshmi Narain Agarwal Educational Publishers, Tenth Edition, 1987, p.102.
[62]C. Retnadas, Incarnation and Contextual Communication, Sadhu Sundersingh Perspective, Tiruvalla, Christian Sahitya Samithy, 2000, p.56.
[63]Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, Op. Cit., p.426.
[64]Susmita Pande, Birth of Bhakti in Indian Religions and Art, New Delhi, Books & Books Publishers and Distributors, 1982, p.115.
[65]S. N. Kandaswamy, “Tamil Literature Through the Ages A Bird’s Eye View”, Journal of Tamil Studies, 49 & 50, June & December, 1996, p.91.
[66]D. S. Sarma, Hinduism Through the Ages, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, 1967, p.33.
[67]T. Gnanasundaram, Vainava Uraivalam. Madras, Thayammai
Pathipakkam, 1989, p.263.
[68] Tirumangai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1052, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p.46.
[69]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3022, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.
[70]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1456, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 202.
[71]Poygai Ālvār, Mudal Tiruvandādi, Verse 2114, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 12.
[72]Ibid., Verse 2096, p. 8.
[73]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Nanmukan Tiruvandādi, Verse 2383, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 106. &  Nammālvār, Tiruviruttam, Verse 758, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 302.  & Verse 768, p. 304.
[74]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1249, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 124. &  Verse 1128, p. 76.
[75]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Tiruvelukūrrirukkai, Verse 2672, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram,
Volume II, p. 222.
[76]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verses 3176, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 96.  &  Verse 3650, p. 264.  &  Verse 3212, p. 108. 
[77]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verses 3334, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 150.
[78]Shakti M. Gupta, Vishnu and his Incarnations, Bombay, Somaiya Publications
Pvt. Ltd., 1974, p. 1.

[79]Periyālvār, Periyālvār Tirumoli, Verses 371-380, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, pp. 150-154.
[80]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verses 1808-1817, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
 Volume I, pp. 324-326.
[81]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verses 3209-3219, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume II, pp. 106-110.
[82]Ibid., Verses 3781-3791, pp. 316-320.
[83]Ibid., Verses 3231-3241, pp. 114-118.
[84]Periyālvār, Periyālvār Tirumoli, Verses 422-432, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I,
pp. 170-174.
[85]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verses 968-976, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, pp. 12-16.
86Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verses 1478-1487, [Periya Tirumoli],
Nālāyiram, Volume I, pp. 208-210.
[87]Tondaradippodi, Tirumālai, Verse 877, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p.338.
[88]B. R. Purushothama Naidu, Tiruvāymoli, ĪTTIN Tamilākkam, Third Edition, Volume VI,
 (Hymns, 553 – 662), University of Madras, 1989, [Nalamm Tiruvāymoli],
poem 5, pp. 308 – 309.
[89]B. R. Purushothama Naidu, Tiruvāymoli, ĪTTIN Tamilākkam, Fourth Edition, Volume I, (Hymns-1-110), Madras, University of Madras, 1980, [Aram Tiruvāymoli], poem 9, p.274.
[90]Sadagoba Ramanujathasan, Tiruvāymoliyen Urai, Muthal Pagam, [Nalamm Pathi, Ninth-Tiruvāymoli], poem 5, p.554.
[91] Thomas Kochuthara, Dialogue and Liberation; Indian Theology Between the Local and the Global, New Delhi, Inter Cultural Publications, 1999, p. 15.
[92]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandham with Special Reference to Nammalvar, Op. Cit., p.198.
[93]Ibid., p.16.
[94]Rabindra Kumar Siddhantashastree, Vaisnavism Through the Ages, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1985, p.112.
[95]V. P. Chavan, Vaishnavism of the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins and a Few Konkani Folklore Tales, Op. Cit., p.11.
[96]A. Ethirajan, Älvärgal Varalaru, Karikudi (Tamilnadu), Sri Vainava Sidhanta Noor Patippu Kazaham, 1998, p.18.
[97]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verses 2956-2958, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume II, pp. 22-24.
[98]Kulaśekhara Ālvār, Perumāl Tirumoli,Verse 656, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p.264.

[99] Martin Buber, I and Thou, Translated by Ronald Gregor Smith, Second Edition, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958, p.106.
[100]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3003, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.
[101]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1601, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p.250.
[102]Ibid., Verse 1589, p.246.
[103]Periyālvār, Periyālvār Tirumoli, Verses 11-22, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, pp. 18-20.
[104]Āndāl, Tiruppāvai, Verse 501, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I,  p. 206.
[105]N. Subbu Reddiar, Religion and Philosophy of Nālāyira Divya Prabandam,
Op. Cit., p.79.
[106]R. D. Kaylor & K. K. A. Venkatacharie, God Far, God Near: An Interpretation f the Thought of Nammālvār, Bombay, Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1981, pp. 93-99.

[107]Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume III, First Indian Edition, New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Indological Publishers & Books
Sellers, 1975, p.64.
[108]Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Volume I, Reprinted in India, Bombay, Blackie & Son Publishers PVT. LTD., 1985, p. 496.
[109]Ibid., p.498.
[110]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Tiruccanda Viruttam, Verse 841, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Vol. I, p. 324.
            Alas, I am not fortunate to hail from well-bred families,
            O Lord, I am not well-read in the culture of the Vedas-four
            I have not won over my Five, the sense-pleasures, O Holy One!
            The only source of life I have is life of service to your feet!
[Translation from Srirama Bharati, The sacred Book of Four Thousand, Jaladampet, (Chennai), Sri Sadagopan Tirunarayanaswami Divya Prabandha Pathasala, 2000, p.169.]
[111] Periyālvār, Tiruppallāndu, Verse 5, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 16.
       [112]Tondaradippodi Ālvār, Tirumālai, Verse 910, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Vol. I, p. 344.
            O Tulasi-wreathed Lord with lotus feet! Rather than a life of high
            of high birth and Vedic proficiency bereft of the spirit of service, you
            are pleased with a life of devotion, --even if it be from one born
            of the lowest rungs of the society.  O Lord of Arangama-nagar!
[Translation from Srirama Bharati, Op. Cit., p.182.]
[113]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3195, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 102.
            What though a person be of lowly birth,--even a
Chandala of the lowly Chandalas,--if he is a devotee
 of my discus-bearing gem-lord, his servant’sservant
 shall be my master, just see!
[Translation from Srirama Bharati, Op. Cit., p.481.]

[114]Susmita Pande, Birth of Bhakti in Indian Religions and Art, Op. Cit., p.5.
[115]N. Subrahmanian, Tamil Social History, Volume I, India, Institute of Asian
Studies, 1997, p.16.
[116]D. S. Sarma, Hinduism Through the Ages, Op. Cit., p.37.
[117]Pandurangan, “Bhakti Literature and Human Values”. Journal of Tamil
Studies, 43 & 44, June & December 1993, p.179.           
[118]Āndāl, Nācciyār Tirumoli, Verse 615, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p.
[119] S. P. Rajagopalan,  Āndāl the Revolutionary, Chennai, Navamani
Pathippakam, 2000, p.16.
[120]Nancy Ann Nayar,  The “Other” Āntāl: Portrait of a 12th Century Śrīvaisnava Women”, Steven J. Rosen ed., Vaisnavī, Women and the Worship of Krishna, New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1996, p.212.
[121]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 2951,  [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.
[122]Ibid., Verse 3073, p. 62.
[123]Madhurakavi Ālvār, Kanninun-Śiruttāmbu, Verse 940, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 356.
[124]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse  1560, [Periya Tirumoli], Volume I, p.236.
[125]Āndāl, Nācciyār Tirumoli, Verse 615,  [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p.248
[126]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1095 [Periya Tirumoli], Volume I, p. 62.
[127]The Researcher visited the Temple and had Interview with the Priestess.
[128]Tondaradippodi, Tirumālai, Verse 908, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 344.  & Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3638, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.260.
[129]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Tiruccanda Viruttam, Verse 767, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Vol. I, p. 304.
[130]Ibid., Verse 769, p.304.
[131]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1025, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 36. & Poygai Ālvār, Mudal Tiruvandādi, Verse 2110, [Iyarpā],
Volume II, p.12.
[132]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1270, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 132.
            Sky, Fire, Water, Moon and the Sun too, Earth and the beings-living all,--
He who is all these and other things too, ….
[Translation from Srirama Bharati, Op. Cit., p.267.]
[133]S. N. Kandaswamy, “Tamil Literature Through the Ages A Bird’s Eye View”, Journal of Tamil Studies, Op. Cit., p.91.
[134]Tondaradippodi, Tirumālai, Verse 908, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 344.
[135]Nammālvār, Periya Tiruvandādi, Verse 2607, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 196.
[136]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3003, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 38.


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