Thursday, September 3, 2015


The Bhakti movement While Shankara evolved his monist system which gave a new lease of life to orthodox Brahmanism, a popular movement emerged outside the confines of orthodoxy and sometimes even challenged this orthodoxy deliberately. This Bhakti movement emphasised the love of god and childlike devotion to him. In contrast with the Brahmin emphasis on right action (karma-marga) and the philosopher’s insistence on right knowledge (jnana-marga) the path of love and devotion (bhakti-marga) aimed at self-effacing submission to the will of god. Earlier evidence of this mystical devotion can be found in the Bhagavadgita when Krishna says to Arjuna: ‘He who loves me will not perish…think of me, love me, give sacrifices to me, honour me, and you will be one with me’ (IX, 31; 34). The Bhakti movement started in the sixth century in Tamil Nadu where it had decidedly heterodox origins. It then spread to other parts of southern India and finally also to northern India, giving an entirely new slant to Hinduism. The protagonists of this movement were sixty-three Shaivite and twelve Vaishnavite saints, the Nayanars and Alwars. Among the Shaivite saints Appar is praised as one of the most famous: he is said to have defeated many Buddhists and Jains in learned discussions in the early seventh century and to have converted the Pallava king, Mahendravarman, to Shaivism. Other great saints are Appar’s contemporary, Sambandar, then Sundaramurti and Manikkavasagar, eighth and ninth centuries AD respectively. The writings of these saints were collected in the ‘Holy Scriptures’ (Tirumurai) of the Tamils, which have also been called the ‘Tamil Veda’. These scriptures are the quintessence of the Shaivite religious literature of southern India. The eighth book of this collection is Manikkavasagar’s Tiruvasagam. The twelfth book, added much later, is the Periya Puranam. Composed by the poet Shekkilar at the behest of the Chola king, Kulottunga I, in the early twelfth century, it is devoted to the lives of the Tamil saints and is still very popular in Tamil Nadu. The nature of the Bhakti mysticism which inspired these saints can best be explained by referring to their writings. Manikkavasagar, whose life was spent in a continuous pilgrimage to the sacred places of southern India, describes his love for Shiva in these moving words:

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