To a layman, the word does not connote anything. To the spiritually inclined and literary class it means some sacred hymns sung in praise of Lord Vishnu/Narayana by some Vaishnava saints whose names may or may not be known.
Divya Prabhandam literally means sacred or divine verses. These verses represent the steadfast and unerring devotion for & to the Lord by 12 Vaishnava saints called Azhwars. Azhwar in Tamil means one who has delved deep into something – here it is the love for & of God (Bhagavata Anubhavam).
As said earlier, they are twelve in number and come from various walks of life – to name a few – the king Kulasekharar, the Brahmin priest Vishnuchitthan (later known as Periazhwar), his foster daughter Goda (the dream girl Andal), the petty chieftain Thirumangai (Karikalan) who turned a wayside robber for the sake of the Lord, the mathematician Thirumazhisai and so on and so forth. They all had one thing in common – their unprecendented and never-ending love of/for the Lord. They are therefore called Antara Purushas.
In all, Divya Prabandham consists of 4000 verses of which 108 verses are in praise of the great Vaishnava saint and founder of Vaishnavism Sri Ramanujachariar, 11 verses in praise of his Guru Nammalvar by Madhurakani. The balance 3881 verses are in praise of Lord Vishnu by the eleven Azhwars with quantitative differences. At the end of the verses sung by Tirumangai & Nammalvar, the benefits that accrue to a reader/devotee are enumerated. These Azhwars are believed to have lived between the 6th and the 9th centuries A.D.
It would suffice to say that the Divya Prabandham is a compendium of devotional songs/verses depicting the vivid experiences of the Azhwars held together by a thread in a necklace. They are in chaste Tamil – the texture and grandeur of these hymns cannot be explained, it has to be experienced. These devotional outpourings are about the deities found in 108 Vaishava Divya Desams; they are set to music called ‘Pann’ in yesteryears.
For a break up of these verses with details such as name of verse and the connected Azhwar, please see Tables 1 & 2.
- Vijayalakshmi Seshadri