(Last Updated on : 04/11/2014)
South India during British rule to a great extent was influenced by the Northern Indian culture. South India had been penetrated by northern culture for centuries with its stress on Brahmanical rituals, priestly authority, the purity of the Vedas, and the use of Sanskrit in ceremonies and rituals. This influence, however, did not stub out Dravidian culture, which reassured itself with the rise of the new devotion. Poets and saints emerged at great numbers who expressed themselves in Tamil and later in other languages of the South. They hailed from all social classes including the lowest and most underprivileged. For the exponents of bhakti, dedication and faith were all that actually made a difference. God, in his mercy released them from rebirth and the sufferings of life, if only the followers were loyal to their faith. Caste, rituals, and priests were thought to be insignificant. The devotees occasionally abandoned their normal social roles and responsibilities to focus on worship. In the process social control was totally lost and rebel made a reality.
In South India during British rule the early radicalism of Bhakti eventually declined. It was during that time the devotional hymns were collected, made consistent, and brought within the sphere of orthodoxy. The Hindu saint, Ramanuja argued successfully that bhakti could be considered one more path to release from rebirth. He accepted both the caste system and the influence of orthodoxy. As a Tamil Brahman, Ramanuja included bhakti into orthodox Hinduism and brought non-Brahmans into greater prominence within that orthodoxy. His compromise also stopped the earlier essential dispute of the Vaishnavite devotees. A similar process took place among the poet-saints of Lord Shiva. In time the Shaivite bhakti hymns were codified and given an urbane system of philosophy to create the Shaiva Siddhanta form of orthodox Hinduism. Two schools of contemplation emerged in Shaiva Siddhanta, one based on Sanskritic literature as interpreted by Brahmans and the other, using Tamil texts, expounded largely by upper-caste non-Brahmans. Thus the social and cultural radicalism of southern bhakti was drawn into a broadened orthodox Hinduism becoming one more acceptable path to release from the cycle of rebirth.
One socio-religious movement in south India during British rule was the movement of Virashaivism. This stands out for its fundamental ideas and its institutional accomplishment. Founded by Basava, this movement focused on the worship of Shiva. It was a destructive, proselytizing and inflexible sect that rejected Vedic authority, the role of priests, caste distinctions, and the rite of cremation, favoring burial instead. The Virashaivas also attempted to restructure the place of women in society. The south Indian society considered men and women equal, allowed widow remarriage, prohibited child marriage and arranged marriage. The strict moral code of the south Indians included vegetarianism and a restriction on the use of liquor and drugs. The Virashaivas entered into antagonism with the Jains, Buddhists, and conservative Hindus. In order to maintain their separate communal identity and to replace the Brahmans, they formed their own priests, and founded a number of monasteries as retreat to religious power. This system is still maintained today in South India, as is a sense of distance among the Virashaivas.
The wave of dedication moved northwards from South India as poet-saints became active throughout the Deccan, then in the Gangetic plain, Bengal, and the Northwest. Bhakti saints wrote in the colloquial languages and thus extended Hinduism to all strata of society. During the fourteenth century the Muslim ruling the elite class pushed south into the Deccan, thus acquiring control over roughly two-thirds of the subcontinent.
Islam arrived in South India during British rule in its various forms like the Sunni, Shi'ah, and Sufi. At the orthodox level, Islam and Hinduism clashed, since they expounded almost completely opposed doctrines. At the popular and mystical levels, however, it was possible for the two religions to interrelate. The popular Islamic admiration for saints, miracles, and religious healing, as well as the institution of traveling Sufi priests, was well matched with Hindu practices. Also, the more essential concepts of monotheism, social equality, and the elimination of idolatry, paralleled many of the teachings found among Hindu followers of bhakti. Dedication and the movements of protest that it often continued coexisted within the background of the native and the new-conquest civilization with its own custom of dispute.
A powerful disagreement of social criticism and devotion evolved in South India during British rule from the teachings of Ramananda (1360-1470). He was a Sri Vaishnava leader, fifth in the line of succession after Ramanuja. They taught egalitarian devotionalism focused on Rama, used simple Hindi as his language, and accepted disciples from all sections of society. Ramananda's teachings spread all over the northern plains and were carried forward by his followers, often in more fundamental forms than his own. Kabir (1440-1518) was a weaver, possibly a Muslim by birth and became a disciple of Ramananda. Kabir taught a strict monotheism, arguing that each follower should look for God directly and that he could do so without becoming a priest and abandoning his family. Kabir rejected both orthodoxies, Hindu and Islamic, as well as all forms of caste. His doctrines enjoyed broad appeal among peasants, artisans, and untouchables. This was a sustained attack on the established order; one that envisioned a new egalitarian society. All these saints preached a new kind of religion in the south India of British era.