Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Alvars of South India: A Psychiatric Scanner

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Alvars of South India: A Psychiatric Scanner

Article excerpt

Byline: Ottilingam. Somasundaram, Tejus. Murthy

Vaishnavism, the other important Hindu tradition besides Saivism, gained importance by the Bhakti movement sprouting from the Tamil land in the 7th-9th centuries Common Era and spreading all over the subcontinent, and as preached by the Alvars, which is discussed along with the evolution of the Godhead of Lord Vishnu is briefly mentioned. The maternal care of the divine child Sri Krishna by Yashodha as described by the Alvar, Perialvar, is summarized. The mysticism of Nammalvar and the religious experiences of other two Alvars, Kulasekarar and Andal, are sketched in this study.


The devotees of Lord Vishnu or Narayana are known as Vaishnavas and are spread over time and place in our subcontinent over the centuries, before and after the Common Era (CE). It is proposed to refer to some of the aspects of Vaishnava sampradaayam or Srivaishnavas of South India as practiced and preached by the twelve Alvars , saint-poets, who started and spread the Bhakti movement in the c.7th-10th centuries CE.

There are only few references to Lord Vishnu in the Rig Veda (c.1500 Before Common Era [BCE] and 900 BCE). The first reference in Tamil literature is to be found in the Paripaadal , one of the ten long poems of the Tamil Sangam literature (c.second century BCE to second century CE). Lord Vishnu is referred to as Mayavan ('dark colored') along with two other Tamil Gods, Murugan (later to be known as Skanda ) and Kotravai (later to be known as Durga ). In the later Upanishadic periods (c.900 BCE), Lord Krishna is elevated to a Godhead in the Bhagavad Gita . In the fourth chapter, He Himself declares- 'Whenever righteousness ( dharma ) fails and unrighteousness raises its head, I come to birth on earth.'[1],[2]

Yadhaa yadhaa hi dharmasya

Glaanirbhavathi bhaaratha I


Thadhaathmaanam srujaamyaham II

ParithraaNaaya saadhoonaam

Vinaashaaya cha dhushkruthaam I


Sambhavaami yugE yugE II

Chap. IV, Verses 7-8

In the following centuries, when the so-called Puranic Hinduism comes to dominate the religious scene, almost all the present mythologies are incorporated into the pre- Aryan Tamil ( Dravidian ) religious beliefs. All the oral traditions of this material, especially the Bhaagavatha Puranam , Vishnu Puranam, and Bhaagavatham, were compiled in the following centuries.[3],[4] It is remarkable how the legends associated with Lord Krishna are included in the Jain-Tamil classic, Silappadhikaaram , of the second century CE.

Friends! Mayavan swung a calf like a slung stone,

And knocked down all the orchard's fruit.

If he came down to see our herd

Then we could hear the lovely sound

Of his most wondrous flute.

Friends! Mayavan churned the ocean,

Using a snake for rope.

If he came down to tend our herd,

Then we could enjoy the sound

Of his long bamboo flute.

Friends! Mayavan tore up the wild citrus tree

That stood in our vast pasture land.

Should he appear amidst our herd,

Then we should have a chance to hear

His sweet shepherd's flute.

The contemporary Buddhist-Tamil classic, Manimekalai , mentions the legends associated with Lord Krishna's son Pradhyumnan and grandson Aniruddhan .[5]

The Bhakti movement, for the first time in the history of the subcontinent, sprang from the Tamil country during the 7th-9th centuries CE. The saint-poets of Saivism spread their message.[6] The Vaishnava saint-poets are known as Alvars and they spread their own message about Lord Vishnu. These two religious factions of Vedic-Puranism (incidentally, it should be mentioned that the present-day Hinduism got its name from the Islam and Persian neighbors in the tenth century CE. …

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