They are so called because they were immersed in their devotion and love to Lord Vishnu.
There are 12 Azwars. They have written Nalayira Divya Prabandham (4000 tamil pasurams) in praise of Sriman Narayana which is also known as Dravida Vedham or Tamil Vedham. In those pasurams they have mentioned about many Vishnu temples and they are called as Divya desams /108 tirupathis.
First three Azwars are collectively called as “Mudhal Alwars” (Poigai Azwar, Bhoodath Azwar, Pei Azwar) were found in the same period of time.
Poigai Azwar: an incarnation of MahAvishNu’s paanchjanyam ( sanghu). He appeared on the lotus bud in a pond in tiruve:ka near kancheepuram. His work in Nalayira divya Prabandham is called as Muthal(first) Thiruvandhadhi. He stated in his first pasuram that with the earth as a vessel, the ocean as the ghee and the sun rays as the light, he lighted a lamp to see the Lord.
Bhoodhathth Azwar: an incarnation of Gowmodhaki (divine mace) of Lord Vishnu. He appeared in a flower called “kurukkaththi” in a garden at kadalmallai in mahAbalipuram. His work in Nalayira Divya Prabandham is called as Irandaam (second) Thiruvanthathi. In his first pasuram, he stated that he lighted a lamp with pure love as a vessel, his intention as the ghee and his mind as the light, to see the Lord.
PEyazhw Azwar: as an incarnation of the sword of mahAvishNu (called nandaki), appeared in sevvalli flower in a well of AdhikEsava perumAL koil at mylapore. (called pEyar later by people due to being crazy, mad, piththan, pEyar after the Lord and even used to roll down with ecstasy and bhakti- He even says” others look crazy to him for their being crazy after material pursuits; and sensual pleasures). His work in Nalayira Divya Prabandham is called as Moondram(third) Thiruvandhadhi. Being the lamps were lighted by the first two Azhwars, Peyazhwar said in his first pasuram, that he had the divine darshan of Lord Vishnu.
Thirumazhisai Azwar: an incarnation of the chakrAyudha (the Discuss of maha vishnu). Thirumazhisaiazhwar was born as a son of Bargava Maharishi. He thought the Perumal as his friend and has sung Mangalasasanam on Perumal. He followed many religious ways. At first, he was a devotee of Lord Siva. Later, he was turned into a Vishnu devotee by Peyazhwar. The Lord in the temple of Thiruvekha gave up His reclining posture and followed this Azhwar, out of the city as per his words. Later according to this Azhwar’s request, He returned alongwith the Azhwar and reclined in His Adisesha in the temple. As He followed the azhwar’s words, the Lord here is called as Sonna vannam seidha Perumal. His works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham are Nanmugan Thiruvandhadhi and Thiruchandha virutham.
Madhurakavi Azwar: an incarnation of Garudan (divine bird) of Lord Vishnu and born in Thirukoloor. When he was visiting Vishnu temples in North India, he saw a divine light coming from South India and follwed it. It brought him to the place where Nammazhwar was residing. He became the disciple of Nammazhwar and served him. He composed ten poems on his Acharya, Nammazhwar which is called as Kanninun siruthambu in Nalayira Divya Prabandham.
Nammazwar: an incarnation of Vishvaksena, the Chief administrator of Mahavishnu. From birth, he never opened his eyes nor took any food. He lived in a hole under a seven trunked Tamarind tree, whose leaves never close in the night and is named as Urangapuli. Madhurakavi Azhwar came here attracted by the divine light coming from Nammazhwar’s place. At first, Nammazhwar opened his mouth to answer the question of Madhurakavi azhwar, who then became his disciple and served him. There are some other names for Nammazhwar are Parangusar, Karimaran, Vedham tamizh seidha maran. His works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham are known as Thiruvirutham, Thiruvasiriyam, Periya Thriuvandhadhi, Thiruvaimozhi which are all equal to the four Vedas.
Kulasekara Azwar: an incarnation of Kausthubam (divine jewel) of Lord Vishnu. He was such a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu that when he was hearing Sri Rama’s story, he ordered and prepared his army to help Rama in his battle. He expressed his wish to became a crane, fish, flower, step or anything in Tirumala. Even today, in all Vishnu temples, the step at the door of the sanctum sanctorum is called as Kulasekaran padi, in praise of this Azhwar. His daughter was married to Lord Ranganathar in Srirangam and she is worshipped as Kulasekaravalli Thayar. Due to his devotion, he is called as Kulasekara Perumal. His works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham is called as Perumal Thirumozhi.
Periyazwar: an incarnation of Garuda (Divine bird). He born at Srivilliputtur in Tamilnadu. He maintained a garden and offered floral garland daily to the Lord Vadabadrasayee in Srivilliputtur temple. He is considered as the Mother, Father for Sri Andal and Father-in-Law to Perumal has sung Mangalasasanam on Perumal. As per the order of Lord Vishnu, he participated in the competition for declaring the Ultimate God, conducted by the Pandiyan king, Sri Vallaban. Periyazhwar won by declaring Lord Vishnu as the Ultimate God. At that time, Lord Vishnu gave darshan to him and Periyazhwar greeted Him by composing Thirupallandu. He composed many poems on Lord Vishnu, mainly on His Krishna form, by considering him as His mother. His daughter named Sri Andal was the only one female among the twelve Azhwars and was married to Lord Ranganathar in Srirangam temple. Other names of Periazhwar are Pattarbiran and Vishnu Chittar. His works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham are Thirupallandu and Periyazhwar Thirumozhi.
Sri Andal: an incarnation of Bhoomi devi (consort of Lord Vishnu). He appeared as a child near a Tulasi plant in Periyazhwar’s garden and was brought up by him as his daughter. From childhood, she had deep devotion to Lord Vishnu. She used to wear at first the garland prepared by her father for the Lord. She is also called as “Soodikkodutha Sudar Kodi” When her father found it, he was much worried. But the Lord told him that he was happy to wear only the garland first put on by Sri Andal. She conducted Paavai Nonbu to achieve her aim of marrying Lord Vishnu. As per her wish, Lord Ranganathar married her. Sri Andal’s other names are Kothai, Soodi kodutha Natchiyar. Her works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham are Thirupavai and Natchiyar Thirumozhi.
Thondaradippodi Azwar: an incarnation of Vaijayanthi (divine garland) of Lord Vishnu, at Thirumandangudi. He maintained a garden at Srirangam and offered floral garlands and poems to Lord Ranganathar with great devotion. He was punished by the Chola king, as he was wrongly accused for the theft of a golden vessel of the temple. Lord Mahavishnu made the king to realise the truth that the Azhwar was an innocent. Other name of Thondaradipodi azhwar is Vipra Narayanar. His works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham are Thirumalai and Thirupalliezhuchi.
Thiruppaan Azwar: an incarnation of Srivathsam (divine mole on the chest of Lord Vishnu) at Uraiyoor in Tiruchi. As he belonged to the caste of Panar (musician), which was considered as a low cast at that time, the temple priests of Srirangam temple had thrown stones at him so as to move away him from the place of bathing in the river Cauvery. When they entered the temple, they were shocked to see the bleeding on the idol of Sri Ranganathar. As per Lord’s order, they seek pardon from Thriupanazhwar and brought him over their shoulders to the temple. Thirupanazhwar sang ten pasurams about the divine beauty of the Lord Ranganathar and merged with Him. His work in Nalayira Divya Prabandahm is called as Amalanathipiran.
Thirumangai Azwar: as incarnation of Sarangam (divine bow) of Lord Vishnu. Being the son of the commander-in-chief of the chola king, he was very brave. Pleased by his bravery, the king made him as a ruler for a small kingdom called Thirumangai. As per his wife’s wish, the Azhwar took the services of feeding 1000 Vishnu devotees everyday and building walls around the Srirangam temple. As he was out of his wealth soon, he indulged in robbery to continue his services. Lord Vishnu and Goddess Mahalakshmi came as a newly wedded couple to bless the Azhwar. When he tried to rob them, he realized that He was the Lord Vishnu and prayed him. Lord provided him with the wealth to fulfill his services. Other names of Thirumangaiazhwar are Parakalan, Kaliyan, Mangaivendhan, Aalinadan, His works in Nalayira Divya Prabandham are Periya Thirumozhi, Thirukurunthandakam, Thirunedunthandakam, Thiruvezhukkootrirukai, Siriya Thirumadal, Periya Thirumadal.
|4||ThirumazhisAzhwar||Thirumazhisai||Thai||Magam||NM Thiruvandhadhi, Thiruchandha vritham||216|
|5||NammAzhwar||Thirunagari||Vaikasi||Visakam||Periya Thiruvandhadhi, Thiruvirutham, Thiruvasiriyam, Thiruvaimozi||1296|
|7||KulasekharAzhwar||Thiru Vanchikalam||Maasi||Punarvasu||Perumal Thirumozhi||105|
|9||AndaL||Srivilliputhur||Aadi||Pooram||Thiruppavai, Nachiyar Thirumozhi||173|
|12||ThirumangaiAzhwar||Thiruvali Thirunagari||Kaarthigai||Kaarthigai||Periya thirumozhi, Thirukurunthandagam, Thirunedunthandagam, Periyathirumadal, siriyathirumadal, Thiruvazhukootrirukkai||1253|