The age between 6th and 9th century A.D. in Tamilnadu is known for religious renaissance and the Bhakti Movement. There was a Hindu revival and Bhakti movement emerged since 6th century A.D.
Pey, Poykai and Putham were the earlier Alwars and Karaikkal ammaiyar and Tirumular were the earlier Nayanmars. They were the morning stars of the Bhakti Movement.
The fundamental principles of religion began to develop. The idea of God and the way to attain the feet of God began to emerge. The Saints of Saivism and Vaishnavism spread their philosophy. The religious philosophy reached the masses and the devotional songs of the saints sung in the temples created devotion to God. Siva, Vishnu and Durga were worshipped. The devotional hymns made the Bhakti movement more effective.
The Jainism and Buddhism which spread and grew during the Khalabhra period began to decline during the time of the Pallavas. The reason for the decline of the Jainism and Buddhism were:
Political change in the Tamil country,
Detachment of worldly life and hailing the other world.
Non-beliefs in God.
The patronage to the Hinduism given by Mahendravarman I, Maravarman Arikesari, Nandi II and Pandyan Parantaka Neduncheliyan.
The doctrine of Bhakti means complete devotion and surrender to god. Bhakti is the true record of mystical experience. At the time of ecstasies, the devotees perceive the vision of God personally. Saiva and Vaishnava Saints of the South developed Bhakti cult.
Their devotional songs were marked by piety and intense attachment to God. Their work had caused profound change in religion throughout the Tamil country.
The Bhakti cult made temple worship the prominent feature of religion.
Vaishnavism and Saivism are two cults which belong to the Hinduism. While Saivites worshipped Lord Siva as God, the Vaishnavites worshipped Lord Vishnu.
Saivism and Nayanmars
Saiva Nayanmars are sixty three in number. The early Nayanmars like Thirunavukkarasar, Thirugnana Sambandar, Sundraramurthy and Manikavasagar belonged to the age of the Pallavas composed many devotional hymns and sung them in temples.
Lord Siva was worshipped both in the human and Linga forms. People began to worship Siva in varied forms – Lingotbava Moorthy, Somaskantha Moorthy and Gangadhara Moorthy. The Periapuranam helped the people to know about the lives of Nayanmars, the Saiva saints.
Saivism began to grow during the Chola period. The Chola rulers following Vijayalaya were the devotees of Lord Siva. They built temples for Lord Siva. It is believed that it was for the first time that Tevaram and Thiruvasham were sung in the temples. Nambi Andar Nambi saved the hymns during his time and compiled them. These hymns were the base on which Saivism had built its superstructure in Tamilnadu. Sekilar wrote Thiruthondar Puranam which consists of biographies of 63 Nayanmars (Saiva saints).
Tirunavukkarasar was born at Tiruvamur. He belonged to Vellala community. He was learned in Tamil and Sanskrit.
He was also called Appar. He embraced Jainism first and then turned to Saivite.
He had sung 3066 stanzas in praise of Lord Siva in the Thevaram work.
His approach to God is known as chariya marga or dasa marga, where the relationship between God and devotee is that of a master to a slave.
He was born at Sirkazhi and he belonged to Brahmin community. He lived only 16 years.
He was a contemporary of Appar. He sang 4158 verses in the Thevaram. His devotional songs are embellished with rare similes, beauty and sweetness.
Arikesari Parangusa Maravarman alias Kun Pandian was converted to Saivism by the efforts of Thirugnanasambandar.
Sambandar followed the kriya marga or sat-putra marga where the relationship between the God and devotee is that of a father to son.
He was born at Navalur. He belonged to Adisaiva community. The marriage of Sundarar at Tiruvennainallur was prevented by Lord Siva and later he married two ladies (Paravai and Sankili).
He became the friend of God and was known as Tambiran Tholan.
His approach to God is known as yoga marga or Sakha Marga, where the relationship between God and devotee is that a friend to friend. He was the author of the seventh Tirumarai.
Mahendravarman I changed his religion from Jainism to Saivism. He persecuted the Jains. Rawilson says, “he is said to have turned a great Jaina temple into a shrine dedicated to Siva.
The Saiva and Vaishnava saints who flourished in the Pallava period led the powerful forces of Hindu regeneration and established the twin glittering edifices of Saivism and Vaisnavism in the South on firm Foundations. The great Saiva saints were the contemporaries of Narasimhavarman I.
Manikavasagar, the great saiva saint, was a minister to a Pandyan King.
According to the tradition saint Manikavasagar,got his initiation at the foot of Kurundha tree from a master who was none other than Lord Siva.
He approach to God is a famous one in the Tiruvilaiadal Puranam. His approach to God is called Gnanamarga .
His works are Tiruvasagam and Tiruchirrabalkovai.
The traditional belief is that these two works of the Saint were copied by Lord Natarajar at Chidambaram in the shape of a Brahmin youth.
Philosophy of Saivism
The Saivism believed in Pathi, Pasu and Pasam which means God, Soul and bondage. It believes in (Mupporul Vunmai ) God, soul and matter (world). Man is under the influence of passion and when he liberates from this state he would attain Mukti or liberation.
Meykandar says: “The Veda is the cow, its milk is true Agama; the Tamil sung by the Four is the ghee extracted from it; and the virtue of Tamil work of Meykandar of the celebrated vennai is the fine taste of ghee.”
Tiruvundiyar and Tirukkalirruppadiyar are meant to present main aspects of Saiva doctrine and practice. Siva-Nana-Bodam, written in the first half of the 13th century A.D. is the first attempt at a systematic statement of the tenets of Tamil Saivism.
The devotional hymns of Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar were compiled by Nambi during the time of Rajaraja I into seven Tirumarai (Divine literature).
The first three thirumarai were that of Sambnandar the next three were that of Appar and the seventh was that of Sundarar. They were i.e all these seven tirumarais called Tevaram.
Thiruvasakam written by Manickkavasagar was eighth Tirumarai.
The ninth tirumarai consists of the hymns of nine saints.
Tirumular’s Tirumantiram was as tenth Tirumarai.
The Eleventh Tirumarai consists of the hymns of many poets.
Periapuranam written by Sekkilar was the Twelfth Tirumarai. This work deals with the biographies of 63 Nayanmars(Saiva Saints). This epic was written in the 12th century A.D. and Sekkilar was a Chola minister. The Periapuranam has influenced the lives and thoughts of the Tamil Saiva population.
Nilakanda sastri says that in every way it is a composition that worthily commemorates the great age of the Imperial Cholas and their sustained devotion to Saivism. The Kalladum was composed by Kalladanar. He refers to the miracles wrought by Siva on account of Manikkavasagar, Idaikadar and others. It is believed that it belonged to 10th century A.D.
Vaishnavism and Alwars
The saints of Vaishnavism are twelve in number. They are Poikai Alwar, Poothathalwar, Peyalwar, Thirumalisai Alwar, Thondaradi Podi Alwar, Nammalwar, Periyalwar and Madhurakavi Alwar.
Of them Poikai Alwar, Poothathalwar and Peyalwar were earlier Alwars.
Poygai, Bhudam and Pey Alwars met in a Vishnu temple at Tirukkovilur on a rainy day. While sleeping they felt the divine presence of Lord Vishnu on their mortal bodies and commanded them to sing His praise. Their works are free from sectarian bias.
Nalayira Divyaprabhandham is the compilation of poems composed by twelve Alwars. The hymns of these Alwars were compiled by Nathamuni. Nathamuni promoted Vaishnavism in the country.
The first thousand poems of Nalayira Divyaprabhandam contain the poems of Periyalwar, Andal, Kulasekara Alwar, Tirumalisai Alwar, Thondaradi Podi Alwar, Tirupanalwar and Madhura Kavi Alwar.
The next thousand poems of the same contains Tirumangai Alwar’s poems,
the third thousand poems are of poems comosed by Tirumalisai Alwar, Nammalwar and Tirumangai Alwar.
The fourth thousand poems are of the poems of Namalwar.
The Vadakalai a section of Vaishnavism was founded by Vedanta Deshikar in the 13th century A.D. He insisted that one should attach to God very closely to attain the feet of God (Vishnu). Another sect of Vaishnavism the Thenkalai, was founded by Logacharya. While the former put U symbol and the latter used V symbol on their foreheads.
The Vaishnavism spread in Tamil country. The rulers like vishugopal, Simhavishnu, Narasimhavarman, Nandivarman II and Tirumangai patronized the Vaishnavism.
The hymns of twelve Alwars were compiled by Nathamuni into Nalayira Tivya Prabandham. Early three Alwars namely Pei, Poykai and Pudam belonged to the pre-Pallava period. They hymns of Andal Tiruppavai spread in South East Asia.
Ramanuja the great Vaishnavite scholar and expounder of Visistatvaidam wrote commentaries on the Vedas.
Kambar wrote the Ramayana which is a masterpiece in Tamil literature. It was composed in the twelfth century A.D.