Shri Nammazhwar was born in the Vishakha nakshatra on Shukla Paksh Chaturdashi of Vaishakh month in Thirukurugoor (Shri Nagari) near Thirunelveli in Tamilnadu. His father’s name was Kari and mother’s name was Udhayanangai. Shri Nammazhwar’s father, Shri Kari, was designated at a higher post at the king of “ Pandava Desh”, a rich Zameendar and a great devotee.
Shri Nammalvar is believed to be the incarnation of Vishvaksen (Vishnu), chief of Vaishnavi (the personified energy of Vishnu) sena (a legion) whose name was “Maran” in childhood. People used to call him “Sadagopan” too. Later, he became famous with many other names.
Just as it happens with Saints, there are different opinions about his time of birth. According to traditional views, he was born in the first year of Kaliyug i.e. 3102 B.C. Few scholars believe his birth year to be in the 5th century where as few other believe it to be in 10th or 11th century. Gopinath Rao, the great scholar, after investigating the inscriptions came to a conclusion that Shri Nammazhwar was born in the first half of 9th century. But majority believed that Shri Nammazhwar was born in the second half of 7th century. The greatest evidence of this is that in the guru –parampara of South India, Nammazhwar is said to be before Thirumangai Mannan Azhwar and Thirumangai’s lifespan is considered to be in the first half of 8th century. Based on this, to believe Shri Nammazhwar’s birth in the second half of 7th century seems to be much valid.
Shri Nammazhwar was a divine child from birth. There are claims that he never cried nor was he ever hungry, he always remained quiet (similar to baby Thirumazhisai Azhwar). Not understanding the condition of their child, the parents took him to the temple of Lord Aadhinath. One day, while they were engrossed praying after keeping the child at Lord’s feet, the child walked on his own and went to the tamarind tree in the campus of the temple and sat inside the ravine and went in contemplation. Seeing this, his parents were astonished. They understood that this child is no normal child but he is a divine, who by the grace of God came on to this earth as their son. Thinking such, they left the child there only surrendering him to lord and returned.
When people heard about a child in contemplation, they came for his darshan. Since then, for sixteen years child Nammazhwar sat in contemplation in the ravine of tamarind tree for the realization of Shri Hari. It is said that Lord Narayan appeared in front of him and initiated him with the divine words, “Aum Namo Narayanay”.
During that time, Madhurkavi who was on pilgrimage to North India, when he was in Ayodhya, he saw a beautiful cluster of light in the sky. He was amazed to see this light in the form of a star so to find out as to where the light was coming from, he walked in south direction towards the light and in the end, he reached Thirukurugoor where he came to know that this light was that of Shri Nammazhwar which was seen in the sky in the form of a ray of light.
Shri Madhur Kavi kept starring as soon as he saw Shri Nammazhwar. After great efforts he succeeded in waking up Shri Nammazhwar from his contemplation. Azhwar not only woke up from his contemplation, but also answered all the questions asked by Shri Madhur Kavi. Hearing his answers, Madhur Kavi was delighted. He requested Shri Nammazhwar to accept him as his disciple. Nammazhwar not only accepted him as his disciple but also asked Madhur Kavi to live with him and write his poems with him.
After this Shri Nammazhwar wrote many poems filled with love for God. Many a times while creating these poems he used to go in a state of contemplation. Shri Nammazhwar lived on to this mortal world for 35 years and after this he left this physical body and left for Vaikunth (abode of Vishnu). During the period of these thirty-five years, he wrote religious books which were thoughtful, serious and instigating affection. The chief religious books written by him are, “Thiru-Viruttam”, “Thiru-Asiriayam”, “Periya Thiruvandhadhi” and “Thiruvaimozhi”.
Thiruviruttam is considered to be the extract of Rigveda, Thiru-Aisiriyam as the extract of Yajurved, Periya Thiruvandhadhi as that of Atharva Ved and Thiruvimozhi as that of Samved. In all these four books, there is a description of Shri Hari’s amorous act and all of them are filled with love for the Lord. Of these, “Thiruvaimozhi” is the biggest book which has more than thousand songs in praise of God. “Thiruvaimozhi” hold a special place in the Tamil religious literature. Reading this is considered as important as reading Vedas.
His creations have a feeling of surrendering to lord. Shri Nammazhwar was favorite of Shri Ramanuj. Of the twelve Azhwars, Shri Nammazhwar holds a very special place.