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New kind of Bhakti in South India – Alvars and Nayanars

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  • Last Updated : 13 Jul, 2022
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Bhakti movement, the period of the medieval era, where a new kind of culture and Bhakti paths were introduced. At this period of time, the former religious practices were completely corrupted and complex. Society was tired of caste trending norms, and at that point in time, there was a need for a new path of devotion. Something that can help reform society and break it free from various rituals. The Bhakti movement played a vital role in reforming society and breaking the chains of caste systems. It showed the path of devotion without discriminating against the people on the basis of their caste. In this article, we will discuss the new kind of bhakti in the south region, especially the Alvars and the Nayanars. 

New Kind of Bhakti in South India – Nayanars and Alvars

During the period of the seventh to the ninth century, there was an emergence of a new type of religious movement in the south, which led the path of devotion without discriminating against the people on the basis of their castes. The movement was largely led by the Alvars and Nayanars, who were two different sects, worshiping the two different Gods, Shiva and Vishnu. The people of all different parts of society joined the movement regardless of the caste system. Even the castes, which were considered “untouchable” such as Pulaiyar and Panars, were also welcomed. However, they were harshly critical of Buddhists and Jainas, and they held an impassioned devotion to Shiva or Vishnu as the way to nirvana. They focused on the ideals of love and heroism contained in Sangam literature and combined them with Bhakti principles. They traveled from village to village, writing wonderful poems in honor of the deities ensconced in villages they visited and setting them to music.

The Nayanars

During the Medieval era, the Nayanars were a total of 63, a group of Tamil Hindu saints, who were devotees of the Hindu God shiva. The Nayanars played a vital role in the Bhakti movement in South India during the medieval era. 

Sundarar was the first, who originally produced the list of Nayanar names. When Nambiyandar Nambi compiled the poets’ works for the Tirumurai collection, he expanded the list to include Sundarar as well as his parents. The four most essential Nayanars are known as The Nalvar, often known as “The Four”: Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar, and Manikkavaasagar.

The Alvars

Same as the Nayanars, the Alvars were also the group of saints and Tamil poets in south Indian reign, who were the devotees of Hindu God Vishnu. Their songs and poems of longing, ecstasy, and service. were dedicated to God Vishnu, who according to them is a supreme power and the ultimate source for Nirvana. 

According to some Myths, it is believed that the Alvars were 10 in number. However, according to some other references, Andal and Madhurakavi Alvar are also included, making them 12 in the count. It is believed that the Andal was the only female Alvar among the 12. Both groups together were considered the most important saints in Tamil Nadu, who created a tremendous amount of bhakti literature, as well as led the path of devotion.  During the medieval era, through their devotional poems and songs, Alvars served as the catalyst for the bhakti movement. They gave honored the 108 Vaishnavite deities’ Divya Desams through their writings and songs. They wrote and sang thousands of songs reflecting their love and devotion to God Vishnu.  The collection of their writings is known as the “Naalayira Divya Prabandham”. The Alvars’ Bhakti literature contributes to the establishment of a culture that deviated from the Vedic religion and takes devotion as the only path to Salvation. 

Sample Questions

Question 1:Who started the Bhakti movement in India?

Answer:

The development of the Bhakti movement was started in south India during the time period of the seventh to the ninth century. During this time, people were already tired of the caste system and social norms. On top of that, the situation of the religious system was also very critical. At that time the new kind of Bhakti path evolved in south India. It was largely started through Alvars and Nayanars. they were the group of Tamil saints, who were devoted to the Hindu Gods, Shiva, and Vishnu.

Question 2: Write about the contribution of Alvars and Nayanars to bhakti literature.

Answer: 

The Nayanars were Brahmins, Harijans, and Nobles of various origins who were viewed as the most important saints of Hindus from Southern India, besides the Alvars, who developed Bhakti literature, which helped to establish and preserve a different culture separated from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion.
 

Question 3: How did the Alvars and Nayanars reform the caste system?

Answer: 

The Alvars and Nayanars initiated the protest against the caste system and societal norms. In the medieval era, there was the dominance of Brahmanas and the people were very influenced by the caste system. The Alvars and Nayanars were the devotees of God Shiva and Vishnu. They led the path of devotion to God without discriminating people against their castes or social background.

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