Tamil Bhakti Tradition
Bhakti as a movement arose in South India in the 7th -10th centuries in poems that the Alvars (12 Vaishnav saints) and the Nayanars (63 Shaiva saints) composed in Tamil to the gods. The Tamil word that is used by Alvars and Nayanmars to express their devotion to their god was anbu, which means love.
Bhakti changed its complexion when it reached south India:
- Sangam intense love poetry + Northern Puranic Bhakti à Northern bhakti element transformed into intense emotional movement.
- By this time, the Sanskritic/Puranic Tradition – had reached Tamil region. It drew on earlier Tamil secular traditions of love poetry of Sangam era and was deeply rooted in Tamil tradition and ethos.
- It became a social movement with a popular base.
- Vishnu and Shiva became the primary focus of Alwar and Nayanar bhakti.
- The interaction between the Sangam and Puranic elements introduced various themes from the Puranic myths.
- Skanda became Murugan.
- Mayon and Krishna themes were identified with each other.
Important features of Tamil bhakti :
- It contained the element of social radicalism, against Brahmanical social order.
- They rejected caste-based discrimination and subordinate position of women.
- The saints themselves came from varied backgrounds.
- While the lower castes had been excluded from Vedic scholarship and Vedic worship, the path of bhakti advocated by these saints was open to all, irrespective of caste.
- They were hostile to Buddhism and Jainism for their corrupt practices and elitism. At that time, Jainism and Buddhism enjoyed a privileged status with court patronage in South India and had become rigid and formal.
- Bhakti movement not only won to the fold of Hinduism many adherents of Buddhism and Jainism, but they also won over many tribals.
- Efforts to make people more ethical, sensitive, egalitarian, compassionate and spiritual.
- They composed in Tamil language to reach the popular base. Tamil language for devotion emerged as alternative to Sanskrit.
- The idea of bhakti was soon introduced in the temple.
- By the Chola era, the nexus between court-priest was created through the network of land-grants and temple institution. It helped in political centralization and social integration. With it, Tamil bhakti lost its radical anti-brahmanism and temple-cult emerged as the most important manifestation.
- The temple situation also marked out a sacred geography for the first time. This also provided a network for future religious
|Meaning||Those who dive deep, absorbed in the divine, immersed in God||Nayanmar is an honorific. Never used by themselves.|
|Saints||12 Vaishnav saints||63 Shaiva saints|
|Nature of Bhakti||Initially: Prominence of Krishna avatara (Mayon/Mal).|
Later: Emergence of Vaishnav Sampradayas
Developed the notion of prapatti (complete surrender) later developed in the Srivaishnavism
|Initially, Shaivism was not very popular in cities (Pashupat, Kapalik, Kalamukhas, Aghora). But Nayanars provided popular acceptance.|
|Visualization of God in Poetry||Lover–beloved|
Mother–child (less prominent)
Devotional songs of love, longing, ecstasy, and service. “Madness” of religious exaltation: “run, jump, cry, laugh, and sing, and let everyone witness it.”
|Master and slave.|
Nayanars described themselves as atiyar (servant) or tontar (slave).
Poems frequently refer to the experience of ‘melting’ before the lord, descriptions of ecstatic worship, where the devotee stammers, tears pour out, when he dances.
|Extra Facts||108 Divya Desams||Term: Siddhar|
Some important saints :
|Three Muvar |
|Andal (the one who rules)||Three female saints |