The Bhakti Movement, North and South - Part 3

BY: SUN STAFF - 15.10 2019

Rajaraja Chola and his guru Karuvurar
Brihadeeswarar Temple

A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

The Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu was characterized and emanated in an urban milieu and its propagators also mostly came from the upper castes. However, as we shall see in the case of the Punjab, the movement gradually acquired popular character with the inclusion of members of the underprivileged castes, like weavers, bards, cobblers, fishermen, washermen and even untouchables.

The next phase of the socio-cultural transformation falls in the period of the Cholas ,i.e. tenth to thirteenth centuries when Shaivism, centering round the temple, favored an institutional base and a part of Tamil social and cultural organization which is best illustrated by the Thanjavur and Gangakondacholapuram temples. The royal authority of the Cholas is clearly visible in these spheres including temples in stone, which, represented Shiva Bhakti centres.

During the same period, singing of Bhakti hymns became an integral part of the temple ritual. The sectarian rivalry between Shaivites and Vaishnavites and the initial lukewarm attitude of the Cholas toward Vaishnavism continued till the twelfth century.

Sri Ramanujacarya


A new phase begins with Ramanuja who tried to bring about a conciliatory approach or synthesis between Vedic, Sanskritic and Tamil traditions of the Alvars, between Vedanta and Bhakti tradition, between the varna basis of Vedic social division and the sectarian orientation of Bhakti in the South. Ramanuja, however, was far more liberal than Shankaracharya in the choice of his congregations.

Ramanuja endeavored to bring men of the lowest castes, shudras, etc. within the influence of his preaching mission, though he kept up the social barrier between them and firmly upheld the principle of the Bhagvad Gita which emphasizes that by the performance of religious and social duties of the caste, and not by knowledge alone, can salvation be won. He established schools and monasteries, recognized the worship of the temples and thus placed his mission in a position of such strength in South India that its only serious rival was the Shiva tradition.

This phase not only witnessed a new category of shudra functionaries called sattada mudlias (or holy men without wearing a sacred thread), but also liberalization in the temple worship even in well known sanctuaries such as Tirupati and Kanchipuram through the worship of twelve Alvars. The Bhakti movement in the South was thus made possible through the nucleus of great temples starting with the Pallava period, maturing during the Chola-Pandya periods, and achieving great embellishment during the Vijayanagara period.

The Twelve Alvars



The Bhakti Movement in Tamil Nadu and Punjab by M.S. Ahluwalia (1995)
Excerpts edited slightly for readability