Nammalwar in whose Honor Vaikuntha Ekadashi is Celebrated

This article is on the life of Nammalwar, a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and how Vaikuntha Ekadashi festival is related to him.



Nammalwar stands fifth among the twelve alwars of the Srivaishnava Sampradaya. Nammalwar was born as the son of Kariyar on the full moon day of Vaikasi month in the very first year of Kali-yuga, which is called Pramathi-nama-samvatsara according to the Tamil calendar, when Vaishaka star was prevailing. According to the English calendar Nammalwar was born in 3102 B.C. His mother was Udiaya-Nangiyar.

Nammalwar appeared on this planet just 43 days after Lord Krishna disappeared from this planet. Kariyar’s happiness of becoming a father, very soon turned into despair as his newly born son neither moved his limbs nor responded to the sounds made to fondle him, nor cried or opened his eyes to see the outer world. Nammalwar’s parents took care of him for eleven days thinking he might start behaving like a normal child soon and, as it was customary to bathe the new born child on the twelfth day, they gave him a head bath and named him Maran. As Maran continued to stay still, the distressed Kariyar couple took the child to Lord Vishnu’s temple that was situated on the banks of Thamarabharani River at Kurugur and abandoned the child at the base of a tamarind tree. Having resigned the fate of their new born child to the Lord of Kurugur, the Kariyar couple returned home with a heavy heart.


Nammalwar slowly crept into the cavity of the tamarind tree, which is supposed to be a manifestation of Adi-sesha, and meditated on the Lord without any break. Though Nammalwar did not eat or drink or move around, he continued to grow like a normal child within the cavity of the tamarind tree. Sitting in the small cavity of the tree, Nammalwar was experiencing the mercy of the creator of the universe and seeing the Lord’s pastimes as the Lord was always present in his mind. Nearly sixteen years elapsed masking the greatness of this wonderful child, who grew into a youth while sitting in the cavity of the tamarind tree.

Nammalwar’s glory was revealed to the world by his disciple Madhurakavi-alwar. Madhurakavi-alwar was born in a Brahmin family that chanted Sama-Veda. Having undergone all the ceremonies that were prescribed for his sect and studying fourteen subjects – four Vedas and six supplementary subjects, purva and Uttara mimamsa, nyaya, 18 puranas & dharmashastras, that were supposed to make a man wise, the ever inquisitive Madhurakavi-alwar went on a pilgrimage to various places.

Having visited Ayodhya, Kasi, Mathura, Avantika, Kanchi, Dwaraka and other places, Madhurakavi-alwar finally reached Badarinath in the Himalayas. One night, while returning from Badarinath, he was attending nature’s call and saw a strange light that was glowing like a forest fire in the southern hemisphere. Though the light looked strange, Madhurakavi-alwar considered it to be a normal phenomenon and went back to sleep. Madhurakavi-alwar continued to see that light night after night and he decided to follow it. Madhurakavi-alwar started to walk towards that light, in doing so he traversed the Vindhyas and reached Kurugur.

Madhurakavi-alwar, inquisitive and devoted, started searching for that special light in and around Kurugur. When enquired, the villagers informed Madhurakavi-alwar about Nammalwar. Madhurakavi-alwar went to the tamarind tree and was very happy to see Nammalwar sitting with a serene and enchanting face in the Padmasana-pose with his hands folded in jnana-mudra. Madhurakavi-alwar also saw the light that he followed, in Nammalwar’s person. Madhurakavi-alwar tried to talk to Nammalwar but all his efforts proved futile as Nammalwar did not respond to his queries.

Madhurakavi-alwar becomes Nammalwar’s disciple

After all his efforts to interact with Nammalwar failed, Madhurakavi-alwar finally decided to pose the following philosophical question to see if Nammalwar would show any interest to speak on spiritual topics.

“If in the womb of the dead, a subtle being is born, what does it eat and where does it abide?”

Meaning – This body is made of lifeless material elements. What does the soul, which has life, eat and where does it stay in the body? As Madhurakavi-alwar was posing worldly questions till then, Nammalwar did not respond and when he posed a philosophical question, Nammalwar replied in the following words:

Attai thinru angai kidakkum, which means it eats that and abides there. The soul has to subsist on matter to sustain the material body and stay in this material world where spirit cannot be distinguished from body.

Listening to Nammalwar’s reply, Madhurakavi-alwar realized Nammalwar to be a very advanced devotee and embodiment of spiritual knowledge. He fell at the feet of Nammalwar and became his disciple. Though Madhurakavi-alwar was older than Nammalwar and belonged to a Brahmin community, he became a disciple of Nammalwar, who was born in a shudra caste called Vellala. By doing so, Madhurakavi-alwar has clearly established that Lord Vishnu is accessible to the people of all castes, and His devotees, Vaishnavas, are above the caste, class, age and other considerations that are attributed to material bodies.

From Nammalwar, Madhurakavi-alwar learnt Tiruviruttam (100 hymns), which is considered to be the essence of Rig-Veda, Tiruv-asiriyam (7 hymns), considered to be the essence of Yajur-Veda, Periya-tiruvandadi (87 hymns), considered to be the essence of Atharva-Veda, and Thiruvaymozhi (1102 hymns), considered to be the essence of Sama-Veda. Though Nammalwar’s works are not as voluminous as the Vedas, it reveals all the secrets that are necessary for one to overcome the bondage of this material world and enhance one’s devotion in the Lord.

Due to Madhurakavi-alwar’s missionary activities, the greatness of Nammalwar started to spread far and wide. Madhurakavi-alwar’s missionary activities went on undisturbed until the information of his efforts to promote Nammalwar as the greatest poet reached the local Pandya King’s court.

The glories of Nammalwar

The Pandya King who ruled over Thirunagari and its surrounding areas had passed a law making it mandatory for every poet to submit his works to the council headed by the court poet, Kambanatt-azhwan, for its scrutiny. As Nammalwar’s works did not have the approval of the council, the Pandya king, sent his men to summon Madhurakavi-alwar. The King’s soldiers asked Madhurakavi-alwar to bring Nammalwar to the court and present all his works before the council for its scrutiny. Being enraged at the arrogance of the soldiers, Madhurakavi-alwar told them that his master, Nammalwar, would not even budge from the place where he is sitting and gave them a palm leaf that contained one stanza from one of the hymns of Nammalwar and asked them to place it before the council for its scrutiny.


The passage engraved in the palm leaf read, “Kannan-kazhal inai nannu manam udayir ennum tiru-naman tinnam naraname,” which means “Those whose hearts are in love with the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, take this mantra for meditation, it is indeed the holy name of the Lord.”

After reading that particular passage the council consisting of 300 scholars and the court poet, Kambanatt-azhwan, became the disciples of Nammalwar.

According to popular belief, Nammalwar stayed on this planet till he turned 32 and the Lord Himself came to Vaikuntha’s door to take him in. To commemorate this, Vaikuntha Ekadashi is celebrated in all Vishnu temples. 1,296 hymns were compiled by Nammalwar during his lifetime. A crown with the lotus feet of the Lord on the top of it is kept in the Sri Vaishnava temple, signifying Nammalwar’s intense desire to dwell under the lotus feet of the Lord. The crown represents Nammalwar’s head.  This crown is named Shatari and is symbolically placed on the heads of the believers who visit the temple to show the Lordship of the Supreme Lord as well as to signify our eternal servitude to His lotus feet.

The Lord’s love for Nammalwar’s hymns

A devotee who was very addicted to chewing betel nut used to carry a very small Salagram, one of the self-manifested forms of the Lord, in his pocket and worship it regularly by chanting the hymns compiled by Nammalwar. The devotee used to often mistake the Salagram for a betel nut, as he used to carry both Salagram and betel nuts in similar boxes, and used to put it in his mouth. Immediately after realizing his mistake he used to take the Salagram out of his mouth and perform abhisheka to the Lord while singing Nammalwar’s hymns to atone for the sin that he had committed.

Unable to quit his habit and being disgusted with himself, the devotee handed over the Salagram to a pious Brahmin thinking that his Salagram would be properly taken care of. However, the Lord appeared in the Brahmin’s dream and told him to return His Salagrama form to the devotee who gave it to him. The Lord also told the Brahmin that though the said devotee used to often put the Salagram in his mouth mistaking it to be a betel nut, He liked the manner in which the devotee used to sing the hymns that Nammalwar had compiled with love.

May all glories be to the lotus feet of Nammalwar and his disciple, Madhurakavi-alwar and blessed be the devotees who read the glories of Nammalwar, who is included among the greatest devotees.

Related Links : Five things to do on Vaikuntha EkadashiWhy do we celebrate Vaikuntha Ekadashi | Why Vaikuntha series | Sri Vaikuntha Ekadashi

One thought on “Nammalwar in whose Honor Vaikuntha Ekadashi is Celebrated

  1. K.Y. Saravanan

    Kannan-kazhal inai nannu manam udayir ennum tiru-naman tinnam naraname,” which means “Those whose hearts are in love with the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, take this mantra for meditation, it is indeed the holy name of the Lord.”

    Meaning is wonderful but why you wrote TAKE THIS MANTRA FOR MEDITATION. NARAYANAA is that mantra.Indeed NARAAYANA is the holy name of the lord.(Nammalwar said like this)

    Translation should be as it is not omitting anything.

    Hare krishna.

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