Chapter 18
Hostilities of Alvars Towards Buddhism

Alvars copied Buddhist tenets

On doctrinal basis the Alvars copied the Buddhists, as Veera Raghavacharya observes:

"... It (new faith of Alvars) copied the Buddhists in this respect and also in respect of placing women on a footing of equality with men in spiritual field..." [Raghavacharya: I,64]

"... Nammalvar's creed is that even a chandala by birth is person fit to receive our obeisance if he is only a Narayana Bhakta. Caste is no barrier. ..." [Raghavacharya: II,974]

But the Alvars were bitter enemies of Buddhists, and we have to understand that in the controversy about the nature of murthi of Lord of Tirumalai, as far as Buddhists are concerned, the evidence of Alvars is of no use, for a simple reason that these were the most hostile people towards Buddhism.

Alvars and Nayanaras were hostile towards the Buddhists

Shri Sarma speaks of this hostility as follows:

"While Kumarila and Sankara fought Buddhism on the ground of karma and jnana respectively, the Vaishnavite and Saivite saints of Southern India fought it on the ground of Bhakti and vanquished it. It is said that they sang Buddhism and Jainism out of their provinces. There is a legend that the Saivite saint Jnanasambandar, the opponent of Jainism, had a friendly meeting with the Vaishnavite saint, Tirumangai Alvar, the opponent of Buddhism, at Shiyali in Tanjore District. We are told that the Vaishnavite saint at first refused to set foot in the town which had no temple of Vishnu and that the Saivite saint met his objection by informing him that an old image of Vishnu taken out of a temple which had fallen into disuse was being regularly worshipped in the house of a priest in Shiyali." [Sarma, D.S., Hinduism through the ages, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, pp.33 ff.

On this legend Prof. Nilakantha Sastri comments:

"Impossible as history, this beautiful legend enshrines the belief in the common mission of Saivism and Vaishnavism entertained by the Tamil Vaishnavas of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In stemming the strong current of antivedic heresy, the Alvars and Nayanaras had labourd together in the past and what was more natural for their successors than to bring together the great Saiva antagonist of Jainism and the equally great Vaishnava opponent of Buddhism." [K.A.N. Sastri: 426]

Tirumanagai Alvar

"...He was the petty chieftain of Alinadu in Tanjore district who, legend says, became a highway man in order to carry off and marry the daughter of a Vaishnavite doctor of higher caste, for whom he also changed his religion. He is said to have stolen a solid golden image of Buddha from a monastery in Nagapatam to pay for renovating the temple of Srirangam ... His hymns, and they are equally full of good poetry and attacks on Jainism and Buddhism..." [Ibid.:426]

Tirumalsai Alvar

"He says, in the course of one of his works, that the 'Sramanas are ignorant men, while the Buddhas are under a delusion; while those that have fallen into to Siva are of comparatively inferior intellect. Those who will not worship the fragrant feet of Vishnu are indeed inferior people.' This put in another form in the traditional account in a fugitive verse, where the Alvar himself is made to say 'We learnt the teaching of Sakya (Buddha); we learnt the teaching of Jina; we learnt the Agamas taught by Sankar; but as good luck would have it, we have resolved to devote ourselves to Vishnu of dark colour and the red eye, and thus put ourselves beyond harm's reach. There is nothing therefore that is impossible for us." [Aiyangar: I,53]


Even Nammalvar, who was denied status of Kulapati only because of his low caste, inaugurated his campaign of evangelical work and addressed himself to Saivites, Lingaits, Jains and Buddhists. [Raghavacharya: II,1149] How Lingaits are mentioned before the period of Basavesvara is rather surprising. Even a person like Nammalvar who was a victim of caste system, rejoiced the fall of Buddhist seats in the following terms:

"...He says that 'Kali yugam has ended and Krita yugam has set in; Yama has no more work and the angels of the Lord are come and are dancing in ecstasy because the heretical seats have been destroyed. May this gain in strength and glory.' He found that Vishnu bhaktas had grown in numbers and in strength." [Raghavacharya: II,1149]

A nice example indeed of a slave enjoying his slavery, and a prisoner guarding the prison gates himself.

From all the above evidences, it would be quite clear that the Alvars were quite hostile to Buddhists, they did what ever was in their power to uproot Buddhism from this land, even going to the extent of committing a theft of a golden image of Buddha. (what a great saintly attitude!) Should one expect them to say that Lord of Tirumalai is a Buddhist image?

Tirumalai was a compromise site

Alvars had to join hands with Saivite saints to fight Buddhism. The selection of Vengadam was a compromise site. The important point that is missed by the scholars is why Tirumalai was a compromise site? Raghavacharya observes:

"...when faced with the spread of Buddhism and Jainism they (Alvars) were put to necessity of postulating a God and a religion which was neither rank Saivism nor rank Vaishnavism, Tiruvengadamudaiyan was thus represented as the only true God who combines in Himself all the Murthis..." [Ibid.:I,39]

Why Vengadam was thought to be neither rank Saivism nor rank Vaishnavism? Is it not a natural conclusion that it belonged neither to Vaishnavites nor to Saivities, it was recently usurped by these people and not founded by them. That is why it was treated as if it was no man's property, that is why the worship was not settled, that is why Alvars postulated a mixed claim, that is why some of the verses of Alvars can be interpreted as combination of Siva and Vishnu, that is why a new silver replica with sankha and chakra had to be installed, and that is why Sitapati and his friends keep on saying 'vyakta Vishnu, vyakta- avyakta Siva'. The so called main evidence of this theory, the evidence of Alvars, is discussed above and no valuable inference can be derived from Alvars' verses and the theory of vyakta Vishnu, vyakta-avyakta Siva is a false and misleading myth which has no historical background, and it needs to be abandoned forthwith.

Chapter 17          Chapter 19