Nammazhvar is referred to as prapanna jana kootasthar, which means chief of all prapannas, that is Sri Vaishnavas. There were other Azhvars who preceded Nammazhvar. Why was not one of them called so? A simple example would help one understand the logic behind this. We talk of gotras like Viswamitra for instance. These sages, obviously, would have had ancestors. Why then do we not name the gotra after them? A person’s name is used only when he has brought great honours to his family. So a kula, or a gotra is named after the most illustrious person of that clan. In the case of the Azhvars, all of them had composed verses in praise of Lord Narayana. But their works were lost to the world and were rediscovered only because of Nammazhvar, elaborated M.A. Venkatakrishnan, in a discourse.
Vaishnavite Acharya Nathamuni once heard pilgrims sing ten verses of Nammazhvar’s in praise of the deity Aravamudhan of Kumbakonam. In Nammazhvar’s Thiruvaimozhi, at the end of every decad, there is an 11th verse, which mentions Kurugur Sadagopan as the author. Nammazhvar was also known as Sadagopan and belonged to Kurugur. So Nathamuni knew that Kurugur Sadagopan was the author of the verses. The eleventh verse also says that these ten verses are part of Nammazhvar’s 1000 verses. So now Nathamuni knew that Kurugur Sadagopan had composed 1000 verses. So he went to Kurugur. There he met a descendant of Madurakavi Azhvar, who in turn had been Nammazhvar’s disciple. And when he recited Madurakavi’s verses in praise of Nammazhvar, the latter taught him not only his Thiruvaimozhi, but the works of the other Azhvars as well. Thus the Divya Prabandham was brought back to light. No wonder Nammazhvar is called chief of the Sri Vaishnavas.