The Alvars or Alwars or Azhwar (Tamil: ஆழ்வார், romanized: Āḻvār, lit. ’those immersed [in God]’) were Tamil poet-saints of South India who espoused bhakti (devotion) to the Hindu god Vishnu in their songs of longing, ecstasy and service. They are venerated especially in Vaishnavism, which regards Vishnu as the Supreme entity.
Many modern academics place the Alvar date between 5th century to 10th century CE. Traditionally, the Alvars are considered to have lived between 4200 BCE and 2700 BCE. Orthodoxy posits the number of Alvars as ten, though there are other references that include Andal and Madhurakavi Alvar, making the number 12. Andal is the only female Alvar among the 12. Together with the contemporary 63 Shaivite Nayanars, they are among the most important saints from Tamil Nadu.
The devotional outpourings of the Alvars, composed during the early medieval period of Tamil history, helped revive the Bhakti movement, through their hymns of worship to Vishnu and his avatars. They praised the Divya Desams, the 108 “abodes” (temples) of these Vaishnava deities.
The poetry of the Alvars echoes bhakti to God through love, and in the ecstasy of such devotions they sang hundreds of songs which embodied both depth of feeling and felicity of expressions.
The collection of their hymns is known as the Divya Prabandha. The bhakti literature that sprang from Alvars has contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation.
In addition, they helped to make the Tamil religious life independent of a knowledge of Sanskrit. As part of the legacy of the alvars, five Vaishnavite philosophical traditions (sampradayas) developed at later stages.