Prof. Sundaram Pillai on the History of the Religious Sects in Southern India.
[The following extract will afford an instructive comparison with the views of Mr. Savariroyan who has been airing them in our Journal. Prof. Sundaram Pillai's idea of the primitive Dravidian Religion deserves to be specially noted. – Ed.]
There was a period, lost altogether in hoary antiquity, when the native Dravidian religion, with its peculiar forms of sacrifices, prophecies and ecstatic dances, dimly visible still in Veriyattu, Velan Adal, and other ceremonies of mountain races, was alone in vogue. The first foreign influence brought to bear upon the primitive form of worship was that of the Vedic religion, which, with its usual spirit of toleration and compromise, adopted and modified the practices it then found current in the country. For a long time the influence was anything but strong, but it accumulated as time elapsed, and some traces of this foreign influences may be observed in such fragments of the Pre-Tolkapyam works, as now and then turn up in old commentaries. By the time this famous Grammar came to be written, the Dravidians would appear to have adopted a few of the social institutions, myths, and ceremonies of the Aryan settlers. But it was even then only an adaptation and no copy. The most ancient of the works of the Madura College were composed during this period. Next came the Buddhist movement; and after a long period of mutual toleration and respect, during which was produced the bulk of the extant Tamil Classics, the creed of Gautama supplanted the older compound of Dravidian and Vedic worship. After attaining to power, the mild doctrines of Buddha seem to have undergone rapid degeneration and to have otherwise offended the followers of the original cult. Then followed the revival of Hinduism. In the course of its long contact with Buddhism, the old Dravidio-Aryan religion was considerably modified in principles and practice; and the Hinduism that has now revived was altogether therefore a higher and more complex chemical compound. The first who raised their voices against Buddha were those who worshipped Siva, a name that the Tamils had learnt to use for the Deity, ever since they came under the Aryan influence, if not earlier, as contended by Dr. Oppert. The question was then, not between Siva and Vishnu, for no such antagonism was then conceivable, but between the Vedic ceremonies and the teachings of Buddha. The struggle must have continued for a long while, but the time was ripe when Sambandha appeared. Already had Appar – a learned and earnest Buddhist monk in the most famous of the Southern cloisters1 [1
I mean Tiruppa-tirupuliyur; named after Pataliputra] – renounced publicly his faith in Gautama; and in a generation or two appeared Sundara. They had to fight very hard, but they succeeded nevertheless in turning back the tide of Buddhism; and though the schismatic lingered long in the land, they never regained their lost position. Thus was inaugurated a period of piety and miracles, which, no doubt, impeded for a while the cause of sound learning and culture. It was during this period that the country came to be studded all over with those temples, which to this day form the characteristic feature of the Tamil provinces. As this process was going on there appeared the Alwars, to add to the general excitement and to accelerate the decline of Buddhism. Though they represented the community that loved to feature the Deity in the form of Vishnu, I do not think they ever set themselves in direct opposition to the Saivas as their later adherents do.2 [2
The fable of Tiru Mankai Alvar's quarrel with Sambandha, whose trident he is said to have snatched, reflects only the modern feelings of the sect. Even as a story it fails; Sambandha had only a pair of cymbals and never a trident.] The common enemy, the enemy of the Vedas, was still in the field. It was while these sects of Hindus were thus re-establishing themselves in practice, that the Acharyas or the theological doctors rose to supply the theory. Even to the earliest of them, Sankarachariar, was left only the work of formally and theoretically completing the religious revolution that was already fast becoming, in practice, an accomplished fact, at least in Southern India.3 [3
Even in Northern India, the practical work of confuting and over-throwing the Buddhists fell to the lot of Bhatta Kumara (sic) – the redoubtable champion of Vedic Karma – and Prabhakara, rather than to Sankara, who followed them after several generations.] He is usually said to have established by his Bhashyams or philosophic interpretations of Vedic texts, the six orthodox systems of worship, Saiva and Vaishnava forms inclusive. The assertion ought to be carefully interpreted, for there can be no greater mistake than to suppose that he invented or originated, these six systems. Forms of religion are founded, not by philosophers and theologians, with their interpretations and argumentations, but by heroic men of faith – faith in God and faith in themselves, to such an extent that they can induce not only others but themselves too, to believe in the miracles they perform. The former came later on to justify and sanction what already exists, with their elaborate exegetics written solely for the learned and thoughtful, not to say the skeptical. Sankarachariar himself is personally a Saiva, but he suppresses his suppresses his individual inclinations and takes his stand upon the common ground of the Vedas, and so supports all sects accepting the authority of these hoary compilations, in order to show a united front against the common foe. It is expressly to meet the heresy of Nirvana that he formulates the Advaita or non-dualistic theory. But the common enemy soon disappears or sinks into unimportance; and later Acharyas, not feeling that external pressure, find the Non-Dualism of Sankara, a little too high-pitched, if not dangerous also, to the current pietist forms of worship. Accordingly, Ramanuja slightly modified the original Non-Dualism and distinctly puts a Vaishnava interpretation on the Vedic texts. But he still retains the Non-Dualism of Sankara to some extent. His system is not dualism but Visishtadavaitam, meaning qualified Non-Dualism. When we come, however, to the days of Madhvacharya, the Buddhism theory is so far forgotten, that all forms of that original Non-Dualism, with which alone Sankarachariar was able to confront the heretical Nihilism, are completely rejected in favor of pronounced Dualism, which perhaps was always the theory implied in the Saiva and Vaishnava practices.3 [3
It is to be noted that elsewhere Prof. Sundaram Pillai calls Arulnandi Sivachariya a most uncompromising dualist and Sankara as the greatest of Modern Hindu philosophers. See pp. 4 and 47 of his "Milestones." – Ed.] And what is more, this last of the Acharyas adopts some of the very principles for the sake of which Buddha revolted against the Veda – as for instance, substituting animal images made of flour, for the veritable and living ones required for Vedic sacrifices. But except in the matter of such minor details, the dogmas of none of these Acharyas affected the forms of public worship. The temples and processions remained, exactly as they were, in the days of the fiery votaries of old – the Saiva Nayanmars and the Vaishnava Alwars; only as time rolled on, these latter crept, one by one, into the sanctuaries they themselves worshipped, and secured those divine honors that are now their undisputed rights.
(From Some milestones in the History of Tamil Literature).