Bhakti Movement in the South


Bhakti Movement in the South The transformation of a tribal society into a wellstructured social order and the emergence of a powerful monarchical system of governance necessitated patronizing one religion or the other to legitimize authority. Buddhism and Jainism were predominantly patronized by the merchant class and they were also supported by the States. The Bhakti movement originated among the landholding castes, and it was critical of Buddhists and Jains. This also led to a fight for royal patronage.

Conflict with Buddhism & Jainism Sources:

The bhakti literature, mostly puranas and hagiographical texts, provide information about the religious conflicts in Tamilnadu. Thevaram consists of the hymns by the three Nayanmars: Appar (Thirunavukkarasar), Sambandar (Thirugnanasambandar) and Sundarar. Together these constitute the seven of the twelve Saiva Thirumurais. The Eighth Thirumurai consists of the hymns of Manickavasakar. Many of these hymns articulate their criticism of Jainism and Buddhism. Periyapuranam by Sekkizhar which narrates the stories of the sixtythree Nayanmars is an important source for the study of the Bhakti movement. The hymns of the Vaishnava saints, Azhwars, are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham. The importance of the bhakti poems lie in the fact that they are still read, sung and revered by people, and they also form an important part of Tamil literary tradition. Epigraphical sources and iconography also provide much information.

Early Conflicts

The earliest instances of conflict between Saivism and Vaishnavism on the one hand and the Sramanic sects of Buddhism and Jainism on the other hand occurred during the Pallava period. Mahendravarma Pallava I, a Jain by faith, persecuted those belonging to other religions. Appar, a Jaina in his early life, called Darmasena, later turned to Saivism under the influence of his sister. Mahendravarma at the instance of his Jaina advisers tried to reconvert Appar first by persuasion and then by persecution. But eventually it ended in the king himself conversion to Saivism. According to tradition, Sambandar defeated the Jains in a theological debate and consequently his opponents were impaled. Maravarman Arikesari (640670), also known as Koon Pandyan, who converted from Saivism to Jainism, was later re-converted under the influence of Sambandar. According to a Saivite legend, after his re-conversion, he ordered a massacre of Jains in Samantham, a village in Madurai district.

The philosophical treatises such as the Saiva Siddhanta texts contain elaborate disputations of Buddhist and Jain philosophies. Some of the Saiva Siddhanta texts, such as Sivagnana Sithiyar, contain a separate section called ‘parapakkam’ which essentially refute Buddhist and Jain theological arguments. Bhakti literature and hagiography narrate instances of conflict and the defeat of heterodoxy. Inscriptions indicate that such conflict was accompanied by violence with the impaling of many monks.

Despite the sophisticated philosophical disputation, it was the nature of the Bhakti movement and the royal patronage that it received that ultimately led to the downfall of Buddhism and Jainism. By the eleventh century, both these religions were effectively defeated. While Buddhism was wiped out in the Tamil country as in much of India Tamilspeaking Jain communities have survived in pockets in Tamilnadu to this day. Temples and shrines were destroyed or fell into disuse while many artefacts were lost due to neglect and vandalism. To this day one can see decapitated statues of Buddha and the Jain thirthankaras in many parts of Tamilnadu. Despite this, the orthodox and heterodox interacted with each other and they have left a mark. The idea of renunciation, which is central to Buddhism and Jainism, was adopted by Saivites and Vaishnavites. In response to the simplicity and life negation of the heterodox sects bhakti movement celebrated life with festivals and rituals. Similarly, the high value accorded to vegetarian food habits and the prohibition on killing of animals may be traced to this influence. The supremacy accorded to the Tamil language was a response to the fact that the heterodox religions used north India Prakrits. Most importantly, bhakti exponents posited that, unlike the fatalistic religions of Buddhism and Jainism, devotion to Vishnu and Siva could overcome fate. Thus Vedic Hinduism was transformed by the conflict with Buddhism and Jainism.

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