Social and Bhakti Hierarchies in Interpreting the Life of Tiruppāṇ Āḻvār

How to Cite

Vasudha Narayanan. (2022). Social and Bhakti Hierarchies in Interpreting the Life of Tiruppāṇ Āḻvār: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 22(2), 225–250. Retrieved from


Tiruppāṇ Āḻvār is the name given to a Tamil-speaking poet who lived around the eighth century CE. There is only one poem by him that
survives today. This poem was included as part of a compendium of devotional hymns that came to be known as Nālāyira Divya Prabandham (The Sacred Collect of Four Thousand Verses). All poems in this collection were addressed to Viṣṇu-Narayana, especially his incarnations in a worshippable form (arcāvatāra) in the temples of South India. These poems were introduced into the liturgy and recited alongside the Sanskrit Vedas in many Śrīvaiṣṇava temples; we know this from inscriptions dating from the eleventh century CE.
Although Tiruppāṇ Āḻvār’s poem is breathtakingly beautiful, and Śrīvaiṣṇava teachers have commented on it, orally and in writing, for the past thousand years, he is not well known outside the community. What little attention has been given to him in recent years comes in part from the perception that he belongs to a caste /community (pāṇar) that has been held in many sectors (though not all) as one of the “outcaste” segments of South India. This article will focus on the life and lyrics of Tiruppāṇ Āḻvār and discuss the ways
in which the Śrīvaiṣṇava community tries to work with issues of caste and devotion. We will pay considerable attention to the various hagiographies; the tensions inherent in the literature which describe an “outcaste” poet entering Srirangam, the most sacred of Śrīvaiṣṇava temples; and the strategies used by the biographers to balance concerns of devotional equality with the normative
social/ caste hierarchies prevalent in most Hindu sampradāya-s of the times.

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