The Azhwars were born to propagate the essence of the Upanishads in their hymns sung in Tamil. These hymns, numbering four thousand, are collectively known as the Divya Prabandha and constitute the Tamil Scripture.
The Azhwars epitomise devotional experience, and by sharing their personal interactions with God, they bring us closer to Him, said Sri L. Sampathkumar in a discourse.
The first Azhwars — Poigai, Bhuta and Pei — do not belong to any family and their status, background or caste are not known. But it is apparent that they were steeped in devotion to the Lord. It is held that on a rainy night, the three of them, hailing from Kanchipuram, Mahabalipuram and Mylapore respectively, were divined by His grace to take shelter in the porch of a village house in Tirukkovalur.
Soon they intuitively felt cramped by the invisible presence of a stranger in the darkness and wondered who this could be. They concluded that only light can dispel the darkness and identify the cause. Poigaiazhwar chose to light a lamp through a hymn expounding the universe as the lamp, the waters of the seven seas as the ghee and the bright sun, the jyothi. But even with this light, they were none the wiser. Bhutattazhwar then sang a hymn to remove the inner darkness or ignorance that surrounds the soul so that enlightenment becomes possible. This hymn propounds love as the lamp, longing for Truth as the ghee and yearning for permanent bliss, the wick.
At this point with the external and inner darkness dispelled, the three of them were able to behold the divine presence of the Lord as the cause of the squeezing pressure they experienced. Peiazhwar burst forth into a joyous hymn eulogising the Lord as He appeared before them. “I have seen Lakshmi (Tiru). I have seen the Lord with the auspicious conch and discus, the effulgence of the rising sun blending the golden-hued body with the ocean hue.”
The Divya Prabandha was thus born by the direct prompting of the Divine Couple, and the first hymns were sung in their immediate presence.