Nammalvar and Ramanuja

Nammalvar Ramanuja

This is Nammalvar (larger figure) and Ramanujacharya. The relationship between them is expounder-follower.

Nammalvar is one of the twelve Vaishnavite saints or alvars (saints who immersed themselves in the divine).  Nammalvar is considered to be one of the most important alvars. He is seated in padmasana with his left hand on his lap in meditation position and right hand in the teaching attitude Vyakhyana (Thumb and forefinger forming a circle with his palm facing outward). His hair is arranged in a side knot. He is a historical figure and said to have lived in the 9th/10th century.

Ramanujacharya is regarded as the first in the line Nammalvar Ramanuja Backof Acharyas (teachers who founded or propagated systems of thought). The hands are folded in Anjali mudra (prayer) with a flag in the crook of the right arm resting on the shoulder. He is also seated in padmasana.


Ramanujacharya is one of the great reformers and it is believed that introduction of Vaishnava alvars in separate shrines in Vaishnavite temples was an innovation of Ramanuja’s time.

Originally this had a prabhavali and is meant for home worship. It is about 7.5 cm in height.

It is unusual for expounder-follower to be portrayed this way as normally it is the carrier/vahana shown in the pedestal. So far all examples I have seen depict Vaishnavite saints. (Thanks to HJH for referring to examples other than Nammalvar-Ramanuja).

Other than the system of philosophy that links them, there is a long lineage of saints that connects them. Nammalvar’s is associated with Nathamuni who in turn is the grandfather of Alavandar Acharya.  Alavandar’s student is Peria Nambi Acharya. Ramanujacharya is Peria Nambi’s student.  Thanks to SM for the lineage information.

This bronze is probably from the Deccan region and may not be earlier than the 18th century.

Some of the references above, specifically the definition of alvars and acharyas, is from Slaves of the Lord, The path of Tamil Saints by Vidya Dehejia.




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