Nanjiyar (c. 1182-1287[1]) was a Sri Vaishnava philosopher from present-day Tamil Nadu, India. He wrote a commentary on the Tamil-language text Tiruvaymoli.[2]


Other namesNañcīyar, Nañjīyar, Nanjiar, Nanjeeyar
Known forLeader of the Sri Vaishnava sect
Notable workCommentary on Tiruvaymoli

Legendary biographyEdit

The Tenkalai tradition (Guru-parampara) narrates the biography of Nanjiyar as follows:[3]

Nanjiyar, originally known as Madhava, was born at Tirunarayanapuram in the Kaliyuga year 4214. (This corresponds to 1112 CE, and is chronologically absurd, as the legend describes him as a contemporary of Parashara Bhattarya, who had died 22 years earlier). Madhava was a prominent Advaita Vedanta scholar, and had two wives. A wealthy and charitable man, he was so proud that he sat on a throne.[3]

Meanwhile, in Srirangam, Ramanuja's cousin Embar succeeded him as the leader of Sri Vaishnavas, followed by Parashara Bhattarya. One day, Parashara learned about Madhava and his extravagant claims through a Brahmin pilgrim, and resolved to convert him to Vaishnavism. Parashara went to Gangorai (near Shringeri), where Madhava lived. Parashara disguised himself as a Brahmin among a crowd whom Madhava fed everyday, and asked him for alms in form of a philosophical debate. The ensuing debate continued for ten days, and on the eleventh day, Parashara defeated Madhava with the help of Tirumangai Alvar's Tirunetuntantakam and Yamunacharya's Mayavadakhandanam. Madhava accepted his defeated, converted to Vaishnavism, and adopted Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita philosophy.[3]

Madhava accepted Parashara as his acharya (teacher), and expressed his desire to follow Parashara to Srirangam. However, Parashara told him to continue feeding Brahmins at his own place. Parashara obeyed him, and started providing hospitality to Sri Vaishnavas. One day, his wives treated two Sri Vaishnava travelers disrespectfully. When he learned about this incident, he was disappointed, and decided to renounce the world. He divided his wealth into three parts, one each for his wives, and the remaining for Parashara. He then became a sanyasin and went to Srirangam, the centre of Sri Vaishnava school. Parashara gave him the title Nanjiyar, that is "our saint"(nam-jiyar).[2][4]

Nanjiyar wrote a commentary to the Tamil-language text Tiruvaymoli. According to a legend, he asked Nambur Varadaraja to make a copy of this text.[3] On the way to his village, Varadaraja lost the original manuscript while crossing the Kaveri River.[5] Varadaraja then wrote the entire commentary from his memory. Nanjiyar found that Varadaraja's copy contained additional interpretations and was much better than the original manuscript. Nanjiyar called Varadaraja his own son (nam pillai), and appointed him as his successor.[3] Nampillai was also known as Nambilla, Namburi Varadarya, and Lokacharya.[6]

Nanjiyar was also known as Periya-jiyar,[7] Vedanti Mādhava-dāsa,[6] Mādhva-sūri, Vedānti-muni, Ranganatha-muni, and Nārāyaṇa-muni.[4]


Nanjiyar wrote a commentary on Tiruvaymoli, called Onpatinayirappadi ("9000 padis"), so-called after its 9000 padis or granthas (a unit comprising 32 letters).[5]

In his commentary, Nanjiyar discusses objections to the sacred status of Tiruvaymoli, such as that it was composed by a low-caste man in a language not suitable for sacred purposes; its songs were recited by low-caste men and even women; these songs were not known outside the Tamil-speaking region where even those outside the Vedic faith honored them; the songs downgraded traditional ideals of Sanskrit-language tradition, such as kaivalya; and discussed topics such as sexual desire that were traditionally disapproved of.[8]

Nanjiyar refuted these objections by stating that these alleged flaws were actually virtues: the Shudra author of Tiruvaymoli had accumulated so much merit in his past lives that Vishnu provided him divine inspiration and grace; the author's rendition of the meaning of the Vedas in Tamil allowed even those who were not entitled to read the Vedas (such as Shudras and women) to find salvation; the hymns are so excellent that even those following non-Vedic lifestyle accept them; even non-Tamils wished they knew Tamil just to be able to understand these songs; and the songs did not exclude traditional values but organized them in a proper hierarchy.[8][9]

Nanjiyar and other Sri Vaishnava teachers promoted the view that revelation is fully expressed equally in Tamil and Sanskrit languages: the Sanskrit texts teach what the god has in mind, while the Tamil text Tiruvaymoli expresses the nature of god most clearly and perfectly to inspire and increase devotion.[8]


  1. ^ Francis Clooney (2013). His Hiding Place Is Darkness: A Hindu-Catholic Theopoetics of Divine Absence. Stanford University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780804788809.
  2. ^ a b Nancy Ann Nayar (1996). "The "other Āṇṭāḷ : portrait of a 12th century Srīvaiṣṇava woman". In Steven Rosen (ed.). Vaiṣṇavī: women and the worship of Krishna. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 231–232. ISBN 9788120814370.
  3. ^ a b c d e V. Rangachari (1917). "The Successors of Ramanuja and the Growth of Sectarianism among the Sri-Vaiahnavas". The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. XXIV: 112–117.
  4. ^ a b C. Panduranga Bhatta, ed. (1997). Contribution of Karaṇāṭaka to Sanskrit. Institute of Asian Studies. p. 329.
  5. ^ a b Amaresh Datta, ed. (1987). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature. Vol. 5: Sasay to Zorgot. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 8126012218.
  6. ^ a b Surendranath Dasgupta (2000) [1975]. A History of Indian Philosophy. Vol. III (First Indian ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 9788120804142.
  7. ^ S. M. Srinivasa Chari (2018). Vaisnavism: Its Philosophy, Theology and Religious Discipline. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 160. ISBN 9788120841352.
  8. ^ a b c Francis X. Clooney; Tony K. Stewart (2004). Sushil Mittal; Gene Thursby (eds.). The Hindu World. Routledge. pp. 170–171. ISBN 978-1-134-60875-1.
  9. ^ Katherine K. Young (2002). "Om, the Vedas, and the Status of Women with Special Reference to Śrīvaiṣṇavism". In Laurie Patton (ed.). Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India. Oxford University Press. pp. 106–107. ISBN 9780195350647.