The Bhakti movement which determined the course of Medival history and society had the leadership or advocates in the form of Alwars and Nayanmars. The movement seems to have a earned the support and patronage of the monarchy, the well-to-do and the rich in the society. The movement spread to different poets of the Tamil country. In Tamil country Bhakti became a practical experienced and canalized itself in a movement and became nerve center of the masses in the pallava period. However, the movement in effect led not only to passive acceptance of religion, but also deprived the society of dynamism and critical thinking. This is the hard reality.

Keywords: Jainism, Buddhisim, Alwars, Nayanmars, Saints, Hinduism, Saints, Temple, society and Religion.


During the kalabhra rule they patronized Jainism and jain literature. After the end of the kalabhra rule the Hinduism grew in strength with the Bhakti movement still, when the pandyas assumed power after the kalabhra interregnum, Jainism was the predominant religious in the land. The old religious and social order underwent a radical change and Jainism left its deep-roots in the pandyam soil. The jains established a Madurai a society called Dramila Sangam in 470 A.D under vajjarandhi2

The Tevaram and Periyapuranam give as a lot of information about the Introduction growth, spread and popularly of Jainism in the Tmil country. We get references from the songs of Appar, sambandar and sundarar regarding Jainism. Some of the pallava and pandya kings followed Jainism in their early days. Later they enhanced Hinduism. They were the pallava king Mahendravarman Ist and the pandya king Maravarman Arikesari.

Jainism became very popular in the Tamil country before the 5th century A.D. but from the   6thcentury onwards it received a serve below at the hands of Nayamars and Alwars and to began with and at the hands of Appar and sambandhar in particular. The main cause for the decline of Jainism was their adopting fanatical attitude and religious persecution towards other religions4. On the other hand, these practices, were infact, comman to all religious outfits during the medival period. Along the economic and political changes the rise of feudalism in the Tamil country also had contributed to the decline of Jainism and Buddhism in the country. Saivism and Vaishnavism emerged as a volcano to sweep their rivals in the Tamil country in or about the 6th century A.D. They were  essentially religious movements protesting against Buddhism and Jainism. It was the Saivites who launched a vituperative and scathing attack on Buddhists and Jains first.

Religion has been the life line of Indians. Diversity is the very essence of Indian culture. Saivism and Vaisnavism are the most important creeds of Hinduism. The pallava rule witnessed the growth of Hinduism in the south. Yet importance given to Sanskrit ritualism, sacrifice and the varnasramic social thesis altogether prevented Hinduism from becoming, once again a religion of the masses. It failed to outfit Jainism and Buddhism as the new religion.


Bhakti is a Sanskrit word which means devotion to God. It is to “participate” or “to share” in the Godly activities in total surrender and dedication to him. Bhakti mens an emotional love towards Lord Siva. Bhakti is “loving him with all the energy of ones will”. Bhakti requires the fulfillment of certain training and devotional methods and varies from secular status to status.

Bhati Movement

The challenge posed by the new religions, Buddhism and Jainism were very serve. To meet these challenges Saivaite Nayanmars and Vaishnavite Alwars, seeing God in the form of love that look yoga, Gnana, Comradeship and service as means in the language of the people sining of devotional songs, carried a state wide appeal. The Bhatkti Movement which determined the course of Medival history and society had the leadership or advocates in the form of Alwars and Nayanmars. The movement seems to have earned the support and patronage of the monarchy, the well-to-do and the rich in the society. Eventhough both saivism and their proponents were at loggerheads but in the spread of respective sects they surpassed the Jainism and Buddhists. Infact for both of them Buddhism andJainism was the arch eniemies.An organized effort to spread the respective sects attempted with missionary zeal could be seen among the Alwars and Nayanmars.

Aim and Objective of the Bhakti Movement

The main aim and objective of the Bhakti Movement was to eliminate both Jainism and Buddhism ideologically from the Tamil country and spread Hinduism in its place.The movement spread to different parts of the Tamil country. With the established of small and big temples with sufficient endowment of land grands and other gifts it seems the traders ,mercheants,artisans, landocracy and other well-to-do became the followers of the movement. The effective propaganda launched by the proponents of Bhakti Movement got the new class of people disillusioned with Buddhism and Jainism.The Nayanmars and Alwars proceeded from temple to temple singing and dancing. They engaged in debates too with Buddhists and Jains. It had an electic effect throughout the Tamil country. It created awakening among the people and helped restoration of Hindu faith. Thirumoolar, Karaikal Ammaiyar and Thilakavathy in the pallava country ,and Mangayarkarasi in the pandiya country, were considered as the activists of the Bhakti Movement.

The revival of Hinduism in the Tamil country was not only due to the efforts of Saiva Nayanmars but also to the Vaishnava Alwars. They rendered remarkable service to Vaishnavaism.The word Alwar has been explained as one in deep wisdom. They were  12 in number. The Alwar  hailed from different parts of the country. The pallava country produced the first 4 Alwars. They were Poykai, Bhudattar, Peyalwar and Thirumalisai. They belonged to the early period.Pandiya Nadu produced Periyalwar, Maduraikavi, Nammalwar, the greatest of them all and Ndal one of the supreme women mystics of the world. They belonged to the middle period. Cheradesa contributed Kulasekhara Alwar, Chola and gave Tondaradippodialwar, Tiruppanalwar and Tirumangaialwar to the Tamil country. They were the last among there Alwars. In Tamil country Bhakti became a practical experience and canalized itself in a movement and became nerve center of the masses in the pallava period.


The Bhakti saints protested against the caste hierarchy and social inequalities upheld by Brahminal Hinduism. They succeeded to produced a temporary sense of mobility but failed to abolished the social inequalities. Instead the adherence of the devotional sects engendered new social groups disowning idendification with any caste rules and adding  a few more casts and sub-sects. They presched equality and unity of mankind .Constantly,they rebelled against the caste system in Tamil society and adopted a liberal and healthy outlook no caste principles. Among the advocates of Bhakti Culture was no caste distinctions in their social interaction.

Thirumalisaialwar was born in Chengalpet district. By birth he was a Sudra. He was a contemporary of pallva ruler MahendravarmanI. Laer he married the daughter of Vaishnavite of higher caste. It paved the way for his changing religion later. Thirupanalwar was a member of the untouchable caste but his devotion to Lord Renganatha was so great that he asked the Brahmin priest of the temple to bring (Tiruppan) on his shoulders to his presence. There he broke in to song and Amalanadiappiran was the result.

Though the movement sressed upon the unity of mankind, it created new social groups, disowing identification with any caste or adherence of caste rules and generated a sense of mobility. However, when the saints rebelled against caste hietarchy, the movement succeeded in the creation of more castes and sub-castes like Saiva- Brahmins, Sri Vaishnava and Adi Saiva Vellalars. With thecreation of new caste groups ,the caste system also became very rigid.


The Sangam Tamils affected an equal place to their women in the home  and society. The women took an active participation in providing the amenities of life. Several poetesses also adorned the line of the auther of sangam literature. But with the growing influence of Jainism and Buddhism during the Kalabhra period, the women were looked down as almost venomous. The Jains and Buddhists considered that women was a source of distraction from piety and renunciation.Both Jainism and Buddhism were ascetic religions and their leaders shared the contempt of women which is almost universal among the advocates of the ascetic ideal. The Jains and Buddhists did not tolerate the freedom of women and consider that women is the quintessence of sorrow of quarrel and mine of miseries. Oppressed by heretical creeds,the Tamil women folk fully utilized the Bhakti Movement as a great favour to restore their equal status with the menfolk.Women like Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Thilakavati, Mankayarkkarasi and Andal made remarkable contribution to the propagation of the Bhakti culture. The women took an active part and worked in various capacities for the success of the Bhakti movement. The women saints became beacons in the Bhakti age .They were equally responsible for the development of temple institutions.

Devadasi system

The Devadasi system was a popular institution in the history of early India. The Devadasi  or Devaradiyar in Tamil literally meaning the servants of God  were serving the Gods in the temples throughout India.The devotees proclaimed themselves as atiyar a servant to the Lord ,His people and temple. When structural temples became popular ,origin of the devadasi system emerged in India. Then large number of girls began to attach themselves to the temples service reciting the Bhakti songs and dancing on the occasions of the different services and worship of the day. No doubt, the practice of employing women in temples emerged earlier, most probably in the period of the Great Pallavas. But the devadasi system became very conspicuous from about the 11th century A.D. Originally the devadasis were employed in the temples for cleaning the premises,washing the vessels, preparing the flower garlands and doing the other odd jobs.

But in due course they took to dancing and music.They were talented in the field of fine arts. According to the  Vaishnava tradition Kulasekhara Alwar dedicated his own daughter Nila as a devaradigal to Renganatha temple, Srirangam. During the pallava pandya age women who were dedicated to dancing were called Rudraganikas, Manikkattrs, Gopaisail, Patiyilars, Risabhsttsliyars, and Devaradiyal, Talicheri Pendugal. There were seven division among women dancers, namely datti. Vikrutai. bhakti, hrdai, alangari and rudra kanikari. They were accommodated in special previleges connected with  their positions. They had the right to have second floor to their houses, two entrances and the privileges of plastering them. Large number of endowment were made for the maintenance of Devaradiyars and also for the enactment of various performance by them.

Food Habits

Vegetarianism was based on a principle of ahimsa. It became a sensitive solution of oters sufferings, an active sympathy, a feeling of oneness, a realization of an inner kinship with other lives and therefore is an outward expression of an inward refinement as a sign and symbol of universal love. Tirumular stated that those who eat meat would face the forcement in the hell. The love of God ,one of the basic doctrines of the movement led the vegetarian way of life. The Saivites abstained from all animal food and from everything that has had even a germ of life, such as eggs. The vegetarian way of the food came to be called Saiva Unava, the Saiva way of food. The men who Abstained from non-vegetarian food became the most honoured people in thesociety. They also in sisted that those who are associated with temples service should eat only vegetarian food.

Tamil Language and Literature

The Tamils Bhakti saints made use of the vernacular s a potent and effective means to propagate the concept of devotion  among the masses with remarkable success. As a result of the Bhakti Movement, the Tamil language and literature made rapid progress. The Bhakti saints used the vernacular languages as a direct and successful medium to the masses. The simple Tamil came nearer to the heart of laymen and earned a wide popularity. Tevaarm and prabandham, the two collections are revered as Tamil Vedas and broadly stated to be relations equivalent to thevedas and are among India’s greatest contributions to the world religious literature. Considering the hymns as divine literature, proper arrangements were made for the recitation of the hymns. As a result Tamil was adopted as the medium of worship in temples. The Tamil should be sung  immediately after the daily worship in every temples. It is due to the efforts of the Bhakti saints the changing of the Tamil hymns of the Nayanmars and the Alwars to the accompaniment of the musical instrument formed an indispensable part of the recitation of them was considered as an act of religious merit like changing of the Brahmanical Vedas. The recitation of the Tamil Bhakti hymns was a remarkable achievement against the orthodox circles. The recitation of Tamil Bhakti hymns in the temples brought the Gods nearer to the laymen. The movement alo led to the rise of many poet turned Saints. Arunagiri Swamigal who appeared at a later period the Bhakti Saint of literary skill. The musicals performance were ruthlessly by the austerity of the jains.But the Bhakti Saints acknowledged music as the popular medium of devotional culture. Their hymns were the best musical compositions of their age. The saints, particularly sambandhar and NamnALwar emphasized music in their outpourings. The saints popularized Tamil music through devotional worship.

Other Temple Related Arts

The Bhakti culture developed the act of dancing. The hymns and the saints virtually provided numerous themes for dance in temples and places. The female dancers employed in the temples expressed the ideas of the hymns through their dancing gesture. A large number of grants for employing and fostering and musicians in the temples.

The Bhakti Movement enriched the temple acts and gave a popular orientation. The Bhakti sects provided ample opportunities for participation in temple rituals for the people of the high and middle groups. The saints advocated that the observation of certain rituals  and practices such as smearing  of the holy ash(tiruniru),wearing the rudraksha and the adoption of diksha are paramount importance. Sekkilar mentions ,a number of tondu (service) like gardening, plucking of flowers, making garlands, arranging for the sacred rituals to the Lord ,cleaning the secred ground, painting it with cowdung, lighting lamps in the temple, anointing or ornamenting and writing and reading Tirumurai.

Bhakti movement laid sress on icon worship .The Bhakti culture had its won impact upon the temples .The technology of temple architecture, icon making and worship-offering received popular.


The Bhakti culture assumed considerable importance as a mass movement. The champions of the movement,the saiva and the vaishnava Alwars  tried to establish a new pattern of society based on love and service.The saints raised their voice against the irreligiosity of the priests or purists meaninglees rituals and books and fostered religion based on the bed-rock of Bhakti in the hour of crisis. Throgh their teschings and mode of life they arrested the spread of Jainism and Buddhism and diverted the attention of the masses to Saivism and Vaishnavism. As a result of the movement ,the Dravidian Gods and Goddesses lost their unique position in the religious life of the Tamils.


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[1]   Asst/ prof of history, Govt Arts College for Women, Salem-8

[2]  Govt Guest Lecturer, Govt Arts College for Women, Salem-8