Early Life of Nammalvar
Nammalvar was born in a small town named Thiruvenparisaaram, in Nagercoil, towards the south of the Tamil country. Kari, his father, was a minor prince who acknowledged the Pandyan King of the great city of Madurai. According to legend, his father once left him at the feet of the deity of Lord Sri Adhinathar in Alwarthirunagari. But Nammalvar climbed into a hole in a tamarind, sat in the lotus position, and began to meditate near the deity. The child stayed in the lotus position for 16 long years. It was then that Madhurakavi Alvar, a scholar and Tamil poet from North India, saw a shining bright light in the southern direction and followed the beacon and finally reached the tree where Nammalvar was meditating.
Madhurakavi Alvar was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu; he asked Nammalvar the correct question that led him towards speaking. Madhurakavi decided to make Nammalvar his Guru (Acharya) and Nammalvar also approved of being his teacher. He instructed Madhurakavi Alvar in the doctrines of Vaishnavism and subsequently glorified Vishnu. Nammalvar composed a thousand hymns in the praise of Lord Vishnu on the spot and each verse initiated with the final word of the preceding poem.
Devotional Works of Nammalvar
The contributions of Nammalvar are very significant in devotional Tamil literature. He created 4 works, containing 1296 hymns, in the four thousand of the Divya Prabhandham which includes the entire 4th thousand and part of the 3rd thousand. The works include Tiruvaymozhi or Tiruvaimoli (1102 verses), Tiruviruttam (100 verses), Tiruvasiriam (7 verses) and Periya Tiruvanthadi (87 verses). Tiruvaymozhi is considered to be the greatest amongst his works and it explains Ranganatha as a metaphor in order to discuss the philosophical details of the nature of the divine soul (Paramatma); the nature of the living soul (Jeevatma); the means for the living soul (Jeevatma) to attain the goal of divine soul (Paramatma); the blocks and hurdles on the way and the goal of divinity (Moksha). According to Srivaishnava canon, these four symbolize the four Sanskrit Vedas, namely the Sama Veda, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda, in Tamil language.
The theme of the four devotional works was definitely the 5 principles, the Lord, the soul, the means, the ending, and the obstructions to spirituality. Even though Nammalvar did not travel to any of the 108 Divyadesam temples mentioned in the Vaishnava religion, but it can be deduced from his compositions that he had the vision of all the archa forms in the temples which he had praised in his devotional verses.
According to Nammalvar, the highest objective of a person's life was to be at the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu and to serve him ceaselessly in heavenly love. Thus he urged all the devotees to seek the Lord through out one's entire life, eulogize him, submit to him, speak about the glories of Lord, revel in his majesty and carry on the recitation of the names of the Lord. Nammalvar was the most celebrated poet saint in southern India whose work overwhelmed the entire world of Vaishnavism.