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Ālvārs (Tamil, ‘saintly masters’). A group of (allegedly) twelve Hindu poets of the 6th to 9th cent. CE from South India. They wrote in the vernacular Tamil on Viṣṇu/Kṛṣṇa religion, and their works were collected in the Nāl-āyira-divya-prabandham. Like their Śaivite contemporaries (the Nāyaṇmār), they promulgated a new, bhakti-oriented form of religion in the South which soon gained enormous popularity. No external historical document about them is known. The traditional number is twelve, but because not all poems are ‘signed’ (in the concluding stanza), this cannot be verified from the Divya-Prabandham itself. Many of the traditional names by which they are referred to are honorific titles and differ from the names actually mentioned. The most important Āḻvārs are: Nammāḻvār (‘Our Saintly Master’, real name: Caṭakōpaṉ); Tirumaṅkai-Āḻvār (‘the Saintly Master from the region of Tirumaṅkai [near modern Sirkazhi]’, real names: Parakālaṉ, Kalikaṉṟi); Periyâḻvār (‘the Great Saintly Master’, real name: Viṭṭucittaṉ); Āṇṭāḷ (‘the Lady’, real name: Kōtai); and Kulacēkaraṉ (‘Peak of his Lineage’, his real name). Thus there is one woman among them (Āṇṭāḷ, allegedly the adopted daughter of Periyâḻvār).
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