Hinduism And Buddhism, Volume II. (of 3) - An Historical Sketch
by Charles Eliot
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Again, though in part the tone of these poems is Christian, yet they contain little that suggests Christian doctrine. There is nothing about redemption or a suffering god,[539] and many ideas common to Christianity and Hinduism—such as the incarnation,[540] the Trinity, and the divine child and his mother—are absent. It is possible that in some of the later works of the Sittars Christian influence[541] may have supervened but most of this Tamil poetry is explicable as the development of the ideas expressed in the Bhagavad-gita and the Svetasvatara Upanishad. Chronologically Christian influence is not impossible and there is a tradition that Manikka-Vacagar reconverted to Hinduism some natives of Malabar who had become Christians[542] but the uncertainty of his date makes it hard to fix his place in the history of doctrine. Recent Hindu scholars are disposed to assign him to the second or third century.[543] In support of this, it is plausibly urged that he was an active adversary of the Buddhists, that tradition is unanimous in regarding him as earlier than the writers of the Devaram[544] who make references (not however indisputable) to his poem, and that Perisiriyar, who commented on it, lived about 700 A.D. I confess that the tone and sentiments of the poem seem to me what one would expect in the eleventh rather than in the third century: it has something of the same emotional quality as the Gita-govinda and the Bhagavata-purana, though it differs from them in doctrine and in its more masculine devotion. But the Dravidians are not of the same race as the northern Hindus and since this ecstatic monotheism is clearly characteristic of their literature, it may have made its appearance in the south earlier than elsewhere.

The Tiruvacagam is not unorthodox but it deals direct with God and is somewhat heedless of priests. This feature becomes more noticeable in other authors such as Pattanattu Pillai, Kapilar and the Telugu poet Vemana. The first named appears to have lived in the tenth century. The other two are legendary figures to whom anthologies of popular gnomic verses are ascribed and some of those attributed to Kapilar are probably ancient. In all this poetry there rings out a note of almost defiant monotheism, iconoclasm and antisacerdotalism. It may be partly explained by the fact that in the south Brahmanism was preceded, or at least from early times accompanied, by Buddhism and Jainism. These creeds did not make a conquest, for the Dravidian temperament obviously needed a god who could receive and reward passionate devotion, but they cleared the air and spread such ideas as the superiority of good deeds to rites and the uselessness of priests. Even now verses expressing these thoughts are popular in the Madras Presidency, but the sect which produced them, known as the Sittars,[545] is entirely extinct. Caldwell attributes its literature to the seventeenth century, but the evidence available is small and it is clear that this theistic anti-brahmanic school had a long life. As in other cases, the Brahmans did not suppress so much as adapt it. The collection which goes by the name of Siva-vakyam contains poems of different ages and styles. Some are orthodox, others have no trace of Brahmanism except the use of Siva as the name of the deity. Yet it would seem that the anthology as a whole has not fallen under sacerdotal censure.[546]

The important sect of the Lingayats should perhaps be regarded as an offshoot of this anti-brahmanic school, but before describing it, it may be well briefly to review the history of orthodox Sivaism in the south.

By this phrase is not meant the sect or school which had the support of Sankara but that which developed out of the poems mentioned above without parting company with Brahmanism. Sankara disapproved of their doctrine that the Lord is the efficient cause of the world, nor would the substitution of vernacular for Sanskrit literature and temple ceremonies for Vedic sacrifices have found favour with him. But these were evidently strong tendencies in popular religion. An important portion of the Devaram and the Kanda Purana of Kachiyappar, a Tamil adaptation of the Skanda Purana, were probably written between 600 and 750 A.D.[547] About 1000 A.D. the Tirumurai (including the Devaram) was arranged as a collection in eleven parts, and about a century later Sekkilar composed the Periya Purana, a poetical hagiology, giving the legends of Sivaite saints and shrines. Many important temples were dedicated to Siva during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

There followed a period of scholasticism in which the body of doctrine called the Saiva Siddhanta was elaborated by four Acaryas, namely Mey-Kanda-Devar[548] (1223), Arunandi, Marainana-Sambandhar and Umapati (1313). It will thus be seen that the foundation of Sivaite philosophy in Tamil is later than Ramanuja and the first Vishnuite movements, and perhaps it was influenced by them but the methodical exposition of the Saiva-Siddhantam[549] does not differ materially from the more poetic utterances of the Tiruvacagam. It recognizes the three entities, the Lord, the soul and matter as separate, but it shows a tendency (doubtless due to the influence of the Vedanta) both to explain away the existence of matter and to identify the soul with the Lord more closely than its original formulae allow. Matter is described as Maya and is potentially contained in the Lord who manifests it in the creative process which begins each kalpa. The Lord is also said to be one with our souls and yet other. The soul is by nature ignorant, in bondage to the illusion of Maya and of Karma, but by the grace of the Lord it attains to union (not identity) with him, in which it sees that its actions are his actions.

In modern times Saiva theology is represented among Dravidians by the works of Sivananar (1785) and his disciple Kachiyappar: also by the poems of Rama-linga. Sivaism in Madras and other parts of southern India is still a vigorous and progressive Church which does not neglect European methods. Its principal organ is an interesting magazine called Siddhanta-Dipika or the Light of Truth. In northern India the Sivaites are less distinct as a body and have less organization, but temples to Siva are numerous and perhaps the majority of Brahmans and ascetics regard him as their special deity and read Sivaite rather than Vishnuite texts. But it is probably also true that they are not sectarian in the same sense as the worshippers of Krishna.

It is not easy to estimate the relative numbers of Sivaites and Vishnuites in south India, and good authorities hold opposite views. The Sivaites are more united than the Vishnuites (whose many divisions and conspicuous sectarian marks attract attention) and are found chiefly among the upper classes and among ascetics, but perhaps there is much truth in an opinion which I once heard expressed by a Tamil Brahman, that the real division is not between the worshippers of Siva and of Vishnu, but between Smartas, those who follow more or less strictly the ancient ritual observances and those who seek for salvation by devotion and in practice neglect the Sanskrit scriptures. There is little hostility. The worship of both gods is sometimes performed in the same building as at Chidambaram or in neighbouring shrines, as at Srirangam. In south Kanara and Travancore it is generally held that the two deities are of equal greatness and in many places are found images representing them united in one figure. But the great temples at Madura, Tinnevelly and Tanjore are all dedicated to Siva or members of his family. If in the philosophical literature of the Siddhanta the purity of the theism taught is noticeable, in these buildings it is rather the rich symbolism surrounding the god which attracts attention. In his company are worshipped Parvati, Ganesa, Subrahmanya, the bull Nandi and minor attendants: he is shown leaping in the ecstacy of the dance and on temple walls are often depicted his sixty-four sports or miracles (lila). For the imagination of the Dravidians he is a great rhythmic force, throbbing and exulting in all the works of nature and exhibiting in kindly playfulness a thousand antics and a thousand shapes.


Another school of Sivaite philosophy flourished in Kashmir[550] from the ninth century onwards and is not yet extinct among Pandits. It bases itself on the Agamas and includes among them the still extant Siva-sutras said to have been discovered as revelation by Vasugupta. He lived about 800 A.D. and abandoned Buddhism for Sivaism. The school produced a distinguished line of literary men who flourished from the ninth to the eleventh centuries.[551]

The most recent authorities state that the Kashmir school is one and that there is no real opposition between the Spanda and Pratyabhijna sections.[552] The word Spanda, equivalent to the godhead and ultimate reality, is interesting for it means vibration accompanied by consciousness or, so to speak, self-conscious ether. The term Pratyabhijna or recognition is more frequent in the later writings. Its meaning is as follows. Siva is the only reality and the soul is Siva, but Maya[553] forces on the soul a continuous stream of sensations. By the practice of meditation it is possible to interrupt the stream and in those moments light illuminates the darkness of the soul and it recognizes that it is Siva, which it had forgotten. Also the world is wholly unreal apart from Siva. It exists by his will and in his mind. What seems to the soul to be cognition is really recognition, for the soul (which is identical with the divine mind but blinded and obstructed) recognizes that which exists only in the divine mind.

It has been held that Kashmirian Sivaism is the parent of the Dravidian Saiva Siddhanta and spread from Kashmir southwards by way of Kalyan in the eleventh century, and this hypothesis certainly receives support from the mention of Kashmiri Brahmans in south Indian inscriptions of the fourteenth century.[554] Yet I doubt if it is necessary to assume that south Indian Sivaism was derived from Kashmir, for the worship of Siva must have been general long before the eleventh century[555] and Kashmiri Brahmans, far from introducing Sivaism to the south, are more likely to have gone thither because they were sure of a good reception, whereas they were exposed to Moslim persecution in their own country. Also the forms which Sivaism assumed in these two outlying provinces present differences: in Kashmir it was chiefly philosophic, in the Dravidian countries chiefly religious. In the south it calls on God to help the sinner out of the mire, whereas the school of Kashmir, especially in its later developments, resembles the doctrine of Sankara, though its terminology is its own.

Before the advent of Islam, Kashmir was a secluded but cultured land. Its pleasant climate and beautiful scenery, said to have been praised by Gotama himself,[556] attracted and stimulated thinkers and it had some importance in the history of Buddhism and of the Pancaratra as well as for Sivaism. It is connected with the Buddhist sect called Sarvastivadins and in this case the circumstances seem clear. The sect did not originate in Kashmir but its adherents settled there after attending the Council of Kanishka and made it into a holy land. Subsequently, first Vishnuism and then Sivaism[557] entered the mountain valleys and flourished there. Kashmirian thinkers may have left an individual impress on either system but they dealt with questions which had already been treated of by others and their contributions, though interesting, do not seem to have touched the foundations of belief or to have inspired popular movements. The essential similarity of all Sivaite schools is so great that coincidences even in details do not prove descent or borrowing and the special terms of Kashmirian philosophy, such as spanda and pratyabhijna, seem not to be used in the south.

The Siva-sutras consist of three sections, describing three methods of attaining svacchanda or independence. One (the gist of which has been given above) displays some though not great originality: the second is Saktist, the third follows the ordinary prescriptions of the Yoga. All Sivaite philosophy is really based on this last and teaches the existence of matter, souls and a deity, manifested in a series of phases. The relations of these three ultimates are variously defined, and they may be identified with one another, for the Sankhya-Yoga doctrine may be combined (though not very consistently) with the teaching of the Vedanta. In Kashmirian Sivaism Vedantist influences seem strong and it even calls itself Advaita. It is noteworthy that Vasugupta, who discovered the Siva-sutras, also wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita.

The gist of the matter is that, since a taste for speculation is far more prevalent in India than in Europe, there exist many systems of popular philosophy which, being a mixture of religion and metaphysics, involve two mental attitudes. The ordinary worshipper implores the Lord to deliver him from the bondage of sin and matter: the philosopher and saint wish to show that thought is one and such ideas as sin and matter partial and illusory. The originality of the Saiva Siddhanta lies less in its dogmas than in its devotional character: in the feeling that the soul is immersed in darkness and struggles upwards by the grace of the Lord, so that the whole process of Karma and Maya is really beneficent.


As already mentioned Sivaism has an important though unorthodox offshoot in the Lingayats[558] or Lingavants. It appears that they originated at Kalyan (now in the Nizam's dominions) at the time when a usurper named Bijjala (1156-1167) had seized the throne of the Chalukyas. Their founder was Basava (the vernacular form of Vrishabha) assisted by his nephew Channabasava,[559] whose exploits and miracles are recorded in two Puranas composed in Kanarese and bearing their respective names. According to one story Bijjala, who was a Jain, persecuted the Lingayats and was assassinated by them. But there are other versions and the early legends of the sect merit little credence. The Lingayats are Puritans. They reject caste, the supremacy of the Brahmans, sacrifices and other rites, and all the later Brahmanic literature. In theory they reverence the Vedas but practically the two Puranas mentioned are their sacred books.[560] They are strict vegetarians and teetotallers: they do not insist on child marriages nor object to the remarriage of widows. Their only object of worship is Siva in the form of a lingam and they always carry one suspended round the neck or arm. It is remarkable that an exceptionally severe and puritanical sect should choose this emblem as its object of worship, but, as already observed, the lingam is merely a symbol of the creative force and its worship is not accomplished by indecent rites.[561] They hold that true Lingayats are not liable to be defiled by births or deaths, that they cannot be injured by sorcery and that when they die their souls do not transmigrate but go straight to Siva. No prayers for the dead are needed.

Though trustworthy details about the rise of the Lingayats are scarce, we can trace their spiritual ancestry. They present in an organized form the creed which inspired Pattanattu Pillai in the tenth century. About a hundred years later came Ramanuja who founded a great Vishnuite Church and it is not surprising if the Sivaites followed this example, nor if the least orthodox party became the most definitely sectarian.

The sectarian impulse which is conspicuous after the eleventh century was perhaps stimulated by the example of Mohammedanism. There was little direct doctrinal influence, but a religious people like the Hindus can hardly have failed to notice the strength possessed by an association worshipping one god of its own and united by one discipline. Syrian Christianity also might have helped to familiarize the Lingayats with the idea of a god not to be represented by images or propitiated by sacrifices, but there is no proof that it was prevalent in the part of the Deccan where they first appeared.

The Lingayats spread rapidly after Basava's death.[562] They still number about two millions and are to be found in most Kanarese-speaking districts. They are easily recognizable for all carry the lingam, which is commonly enclosed in a red scarf worn round the neck or among the richer classes in a silver-box. It is made of grey soapstone and a Lingayat must on no account part with it for a moment. They are divided into the laity and the Jangams or priests. Some of these marry but others are itinerant ascetics who wander over India frequenting especially the five Simhasanas or Lingayat sees.[563] They are treated with extreme respect by the laity and sometimes wear fantastic costumes such as plates resembling armour or little bells which announce their approach as they walk.

In doctrine the Lingayats remain faithful to their original tenets and do not worship any god or goddess except Siva in the form of the Lingam, though they show respect to Ganesa, and other deities as also to the founder of their sect. But in social matters it is agreed by all observers that they show a tendency to reintroduce caste and to minimize the differences separating them from more orthodox sects. According to Basava's teaching all members of the community both men and women are equal. But though converts from all castes are still accepted, it was found at the last census that well-to-do Lingayats were anxious to be entered under the name of Virasaiva Brahmans, Kshatriyas, etc., and did not admit that caste distinctions are obliterated among them. Similarly though the remarriage of widows is not forbidden there is a growing tendency to look at it askance.


[Footnote 511: In various allusions to be found in the Kadambari and Harshacarita.]

[Footnote 512: The best known of these is the Tantravarttika, a commentary on the Purva-mimamsa.]

[Footnote 513: This is the generally accepted date and does not appear to conflict with anything else that is at present known of Sankara. An alternative suggestion is some date between 590 and 650 (see Telang, I.A. XIII. 1884, p. 95 and Fleet, I.A. XVI. 1887, p. 41). But in this case, it is very strange that I-Ching does not mention so conspicuous an enemy of the Buddhists. It does not seem to me that the use of Purnavarman's name by Sankara in an illustration (Comm. on Vedanta Sut. II. i. 17) necessarily implies they were contemporaries, but it does prove that he cannot have lived before Purnavarman.]

[Footnote 514: Another tradition says he was born at Chidambaram, but the temple at Badrinath in the Himalayas said to have been founded by him has always been served by Nambuthiri Brahmans from Malabar. In 1910 a great temple erected in his honour was consecrated at Kaladi.]

[Footnote 515: His conflicts with them are described in works called Sankara-vijaya of which at least four are extant.]

[Footnote 516: They are called Dasanamis which merely means that each ascetic bears one or other of ten surnames (Sarswati, Bharati, Tirtha, etc.). See for a further account of them Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, pp. 374-379.

The order in all its branches seems to have strong pantheistic inclinations. They mutter the formula Sivo'ham, I am Siva.]

[Footnote 517: I have been told by south Indian Pandits that they think Sankara was bom in a Bhagavata family and that there is some evidence his kinsmen were trustees of a temple of Krishna. The Saktas also claim him, but the tradition that he opposed the Saktas is strong and probable. Many hymns addressed to Vishnu, Siva and various forms of Durga are attributed to him. I have not been able to discover what is the external evidence for their authenticity but hymns must have been popular in south India before the time of Sankara and it is eminently probable that he did not neglect this important branch of composition.]

[Footnote 518: See Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, p. 16.]

[Footnote 519: This math has an endowment of about L5000 a year, instituted by the kings of Vijayanagar. The Guru is treated with great respect. His palankin is carried crossways to prevent anyone from passing him and he wears a jewelled head-dress, not unlike a papal tiara, and wooden shoes covered with silver. See an interesting account of Sringeri in J. Mythic Society (Bangalore), vol. VIII. pp. 18-33.

Schrader in his catalogue of the Sanskrit MSS. in the Adyar Library, 1908, notices an Upanishad called Mahamayopanishad, ascribed to Sankara himself, which deals with the special qualities of the four maths. Each is described as possessing one Veda, one Mahavakyam, etc. The second part deals with the three ideal maths, Sumeru, Paramatman and Sastrathajnana.]

[Footnote 520: There is some reason to suppose that the Math of Sringeri was founded on the site of a Buddhist monastery. See Journal of Mythic Society, Bangalore, 1916, p. 151.]

[Footnote 521: Pracchanna-bauddha. See for further details Book IV. chap. XXI. ad fin.]

[Footnote 522: The old folk-lore of Bengal gives a picture of Siva, the peasant's god, which is neither Vedic nor Dravidian. See Dinesh Chandra Sen, Bengali Lang. and Lit. pp. 68 ff. and 239 ff.]

[Footnote 523: J.R.A.S. 1899, p. 242.]

[Footnote 524: See some curious examples in Whitehead's Village Gods of South India.]

[Footnote 525: Rice, Mysore and Coorg from the Inscriptions, pp. 27 and 204.]

[Footnote 526: The early Brahmi inscriptions of southern India are said to be written in a Dravidian language with an admixture not of Sanskrit but of Pali words. See Arch. Survey India, 1911-12, Part I. p. 23.]

[Footnote 527: See Rice, Mysore and Coorg, pp. 3-5 and Fleet's criticisms, I.A.. XXI. 1892, p. 287.]

[Footnote 528: The various notices in European classical authors as well as in the Sinhalese chronicles prove this.]

[Footnote 529: Except in the first chapter.]

[Footnote 530: A complete list of them is given in Foulkes, Catechism of the Shaiva religion, 1863, p. 21.]

[Footnote 531: Tamilian Antiquary, 3, 1909, pp. 1-65.]

[Footnote 532: Edited and translated by Pope, 1900.]

[Footnote 533: Established opinion or doctrine. Used by the Jains as a name for their canon.]

[Footnote 534: Thus the catechism of the Saiva religion by Sabhapati Mudaliyar (transl. Foulkes, 1863) after stating emphatically that the world is created also says that the soul and the world are both eternal. Also just as in the Bhagavad-gita the ideas of the Vedanta and Sankhya are incongruously combined, so in the Tiruvacagam (e.g. Pope's edition, pp. 49 and 138) Siva is occasionally pantheized. He is the body and the soul, existence and non-existence, the false and the true, the bond and the release.]

[Footnote 535: E.g. Hymn vi.]

[Footnote 536: Pope's Tiruvacagam, p. 257.]

[Footnote 537: Yet I have read that American revivalists describe how you play base ball (an American game) with Jesus.]

[Footnote 538: Pope's Tiruvacagam, p. 101.]

[Footnote 539: It does not seem to me that the legend of Siva's drinking the hala-hala poison is really parallel to the sufferings of the Christian redeemer. At the most it is a benevolent exploit like many performed by Vishnu.]

[Footnote 540: Although Siva is said to have been many times incarnate (see for instance Catechism of the Shaiva religion, p. 20) he seems to have merely appeared in human form on special occasions and not to have been like Christ or Krishna a god living as a man from birth to death.]

[Footnote 541: The lines which seem most clearly to reflect Christian influence are those quoted by Caldwell from the Nana nuru in the introduction to his Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian languages, p. 127, but neither the date of the work nor the original of the quotation is given. This part of the introduction is omitted in the third edition.]

[Footnote 542: Tamilian Antiquary, 4, 1909, pp. 57-82.]

[Footnote 543: Ib. pp. 1-57; Sesha Aiyer gives 275 A.D. as the probable date, and 375 as the latest date.]

[Footnote 544: The Saiva catechism translated by Foulkes says (p. 27) that Siva revealed the Tiruvacagam twice, first to Manikka-Vacagar and later to Tiru-Kovaiyar.]

[Footnote 545: Sanskrit, Siddha.]

[Footnote 546: Space forbids me to quote the Siva-vakyam and Pattanattu Pillai, interesting as they are. The reader is referred to Gover, Folk-Songs of southern India, 1871, a work which is well worth reading.]

[Footnote 547: The date of the Skanda Purana creates no difficulty for Bendall considered a MS. of it found in Nepal to be anterior to 659 A.D.]

[Footnote 548: One of his maxims was adu, adu adal, that is the mind becomes that (spiritual or material) with which it identifies itself most completely.]

[Footnote 549: It is contained in fourteen sastras, most of which are attributed to the four teachers mentioned above.]

[Footnote 550: For the Kashmir school see Barnett in Museon, 1909, pp. 271-277. J.R.A.S. 1910, pp. 707-747. Kashmir Sanskrit series, particularly vol. II. entitled Kashmir Saivism. The Siva sutras and the commentary Vimar'sini translated in Indian Thought, 1911-12. Also Srinivasa Iyengar, Outlines of Indian Philosophy, pp. 168-175 and Sarva-darsana-sangraha, chap. VIII.]

[Footnote 551: Among them may be mentioned Kallata, author of the Spanda Karikas and Somananda of the Sivadrishti, who both flourished about 850-900. Utpala, who composed the Pratyabhijna-karikas, lived some fifty years later, and in the eleventh century Abhinava Gupta and Kshemaraja composed numerous commentaries.]

[Footnote 552: Kashmirian Saivism is often called Trika, that is tripartite, because, like other varieties, it treats of three ultimates Siva, Sakti, Anu or Pati, Pasu, Pasa. But it has a decided tendency towards monism.]

[Footnote 553: Also called the Sakti or Matrika.]

[Footnote 554: See Epig. Carn. VII. Sk. 114. 19, 20 and Jour. Mythic Society, 1917, pp. 176, 180.]

[Footnote 555: To say nothing of Sivaite temples like the Kailas at Ellora, the chief doctrines and even the terminology of Sivaite philosophy are mentioned by Sankara on Ved. Sutras, II. 2. 37.]

[Footnote 556: In the Samyuktavastu, chap. XL. (transl. in J.A. 1914, II. pp. 534, etc.) the Buddha is represented as saying that Kashmir is the best land for meditation and leading a religious life.]

[Footnote 557: Chatterji, Kashmir Saivism, p. 11, thinks that Abhinava Gupta's Paramarthasara, published by Barnett, was an adaptation of older verses current in India and called the Adhara Karikas.]

[Footnote 558: See Thurston, Castes and Tribes of southern India, s.v. vol. IV. pp. 236-291 and Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XXIII. article Bijapur, pp. 219-1884.]

[Footnote 559: An inscription found at Ablur in Dharwar also mentions Ramayya as a champion of Sivaite monotheism. He is perhaps the same as Channabasava. The Lingayats maintain that Basava merely revived the old true religion of Siva and founded nothing new.]

[Footnote 560: They have also a book called Prabhuling-lila, which is said to teach that the deity ought to live in the believer's soul as he lives in the lingam, and collections of early Kanarese sermons which are said to date from the thirteenth century.]

[Footnote 561: The use of the Linga by this sect supports the view that even in its origin the symbol is not exclusively phallic.]

[Footnote 562: Their creed is said to have been the state religion of the Wodeyars of Mysore (1399-1600) and of the Nayaks of Keladi, Ikken or Bednur (1550-1763).]

[Footnote 563: At Kadur, Ujjeni, Benares, Srisailam and Kedarnath in the Himalayas. In every Lingayat village there is a monastery affiliated to one of these five establishments. The great importance attached to monastic institutions is perhaps due to Jain influence.]




Though Sivaism can boast of an imposing array of temples, teachers and scriptures in the north as well as in the south, yet Vishnuism was equally strong and after 1000 A.D. perhaps stronger. Thus Alberuni writing about north-western India in 1030 A.D. mentions Siva and Durga several times incidentally but devotes separate chapters to Narayana and Vasudeva; he quotes copiously from Vishnuite works[564] but not from sectarian Sivaite books. He mentions that the worshippers of Vishnu are called Bhagavatas and he frequently refers to Rama. It is clear that in giving an account of Vishnuism he considered that he had for all practical purposes described the religion of the parts of India which he knew.

In their main outlines the histories of Vishnuism and Sivaism are the same. Both faiths first assumed a definite form in northern India, but both flourished exceedingly when transplanted to the south and produced first a school of emotional hymn writers and then in a maturer stage a goodly array of theologians and philosophers as well as offshoots in the form of eccentric sects which broke loose from Brahmanism altogether. But Vishnuism having first spread from the north to the south returned from the south to the north in great force, whereas the history of Sivaism shows no such reflux.[565] Sivaism remained comparatively homogeneous, but Vishnuism gave birth from the eleventh century onwards to a series of sects or Churches still extant and forming exclusive though not mutually hostile associations. The chief Churches or Sampradayas bear the names of Sanakadi, Sri, Brahma and Rudra. The first three were founded by Nimbaditya, Ramanuja and Madhva respectively. The Rudra-sampradaya was rendered celebrated by Vallabha, though he was not its founder.

The belief and practice of all Vishnuite sects alike is a modified monotheism, the worship of the Supreme Being under some such name as Rama or Vasudeva. But the monotheism is not perfect. On the one hand it passes into pantheism: on the other it is not completely disengaged from mythology and in all sects the consort and attendants of the deity receive great respect, even if this respect is theoretically distinguished from adoration. Nearly all sects reject sacrifice in toto and make the basis of salvation emotional—namely devotion to the deity, and as a counterpart to this the chief characteristic of the deity is loving condescension or grace. The theological philosophy of each sect is nearly always, whatever name it may bear, a variety of the system known as Visishtadvaita, or qualified monism, which is not unlike the Sankhya-Yoga.[566] For Vishnuites as for Sivaites there exist God, the soul and matter, but most sects shrink from regarding them as entirely separate and bridge over the differences with various theories of emanations and successive manifestations of the deity. But for practical religion the soul is entangled in matter and, with the help of God, struggles towards union with him. The precise nature and intimacy of this union has given rise to as many subtle theories and phrases as the sacraments in Europe. Vishnuite sects in all parts of India show a tendency to recognize vernacular works as their scriptures, but they also attach great importance to the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-gita, the Narayaniya and the Vedanta Sutras. Each has a special interpretation of these last which becomes to some extent its motto.

But these books belong to the relatively older literature. Many Vishnuite, or rather Krishnaite, works composed from the eighth century onwards differ from them in tone and give prominence to the god's amorous adventures with the Gopis and (still later) to the personality of Radha. This ecstatic and sentimental theology, though found in all parts of India, is more prevalent in the north than in the south. Its great text-book is the Bhagavata Purana. The same spirit is found in Jayadeva's Gita-govinda, apparently composed in Bengal about 1170 A.D. and reproducing in a polished form the religious dramas or Yatras in which the life of Krishna is still represented.


The sect[567] founded by Nimbarka or Nimbaditya has some connection with this poem. Its chief doctrine is known as dvaitadvaitamata, or dualistic non-duality, which is explained as meaning that, though the soul and matter are distinct from God, they are yet as intimately connected with him as waves with water or the coils of a rope with the rope itself. This doctrine is referred to in the religious drama called Prabodhacandrodaya, probably composed at the end of the eleventh century. The Nimavats, as the adherents of the sect are called, are found near Muttra and in Bengal. It is noticeable that this sect, which had its origin in northern India, is said to have been persecuted by the Jains[568] and to have been subsequently revived by a teacher called Nivasa. This may explain why in the twelfth century Vishnuism flourished in the south rather than in the north.[569] Less is known of the Nimbarkas than of the other sects. They worship Krishna and Radha and faith in Krishna is said to be the only way to salvation. Krishna was the deity of the earliest bhakti-sects. Then in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was a reaction in favour of Rama as a more spiritual deity, but subsequently Vallabha and Caitanya again made the worship of Krishna popular. Nimbarka expressed his views in a short commentary on the Vedanta Sutras and also in ten verses containing a compendium of doctrine.[570]


As among the Sivaites, so among the Vishnuites of the south, history begins with poet-saints. They are called the twelve Arvars.[571] For the three earliest no historical basis has been found, but the later ones seem to be real personalities. The most revered of them is Namm'arvar also called Sathagopa, whose images and pictures may be seen everywhere in south India and receive the same reverence as figures of the gods.[572] He may have lived in the seventh or eighth century A.D.[573]

The chronology of the Arvars is exceedingly vague but if the praises of Siva were sung by poet-saints in the seventh century, it is probable that the Vishnu worshippers were not behindhand. Two circumstances argue a fairly early date. First Nathamuni is said to have arranged the hymns of the Arvars and he probably lived about 1000 A.D. Therefore the Arvars must have become classics by this date. Secondly the Bhagavata Purana[574] says that in the Kali age the worshippers of Narayana will be numerous in the Dravidian country, though in other parts found only here and there, and that those who drink the water of the Kaveri and other southern rivers will mostly be devotees of Vasudeva. This passage must have been written after a Vishnuite movement had begun in the Dravidian country.[575]

The hymns attributed to the Arvars are commonly known by the name of Prabandham or Nalayiram and are accepted by the Tengalai Vishnuites as their canonical scriptures. The whole collection contains 4000 verses arranged in four parts[576] and an extract consisting of 602 verses selected for use in daily worship is in part accessible.[577] This poetry shows the same ecstatic devotion and love of nature as the Tiruvacagam. It contemplates the worship of images and a temple ritual consisting in awakening the god at morning and attending on him during the day. It quotes the Upanishads and Bhagavad-gita, assumes as a metaphysical basis a vedantized form of the Sankhya philosophy, and also accepts the legends of the pastoral Krishna but without giving much detail. Jains, Buddhists and Saivas are blamed and the repetition of the name Govinda is enjoined. Though the hymns are not anti-brahmanic they decidedly do not contemplate a life spent in orthodox observances and their reputed authors include several Sudras, a king and a woman.

After the poet-saints came the doctors and theologians. Accounts of them, which seem historical in the main though full of miraculous details, are found in the Tamil biographies[578] illustrating the apostolic succession of teachers. It appears fairly certain that Ramanuja, the fourth in succession, was alive in 1118: the first, known as Nathamuni, may therefore have lived 100-150 years earlier. None of his works are extant but he is said to have arranged the poems of the Arvars for recitation in temple services. He went on a pilgrimage to northern India and according to tradition was an adept in Yoga, being one of the last to practise it in the south. Third in succession was his grandson Yamunarcarya (known as Alavandar or victor), who spent the first part of his life as a wealthy layman but was converted and resided at Srirangam. Here he composed several important works in Sanskrit including one written to establish the orthodoxy of the Pancaratra and its ritual.[579]


He was succeeded by Ramanuja, a great name in Indian theology both as the organizer of a most important sect and, if not the founder,[580] at least the accepted exponent of the Visishtadvaita philosophy. Ramanuja was born at Sriperum-budur[581] near Madras, where he is still commemorated by a celebrated shrine. As a youth he studied Sivaite philosophy at Conjeevaram but abandoned it for Vishnuism. He appears to have been a good administrator. He made the definitive collection of the hymns of the Arvars and is said to have founded 700 maths and 89 hereditary abbotships, for he allowed the members of his order to marry. He visited northern India, including Kashmir if tradition may be believed, but his chief residence was Srirangam. Towards the end of the eleventh century however, the hostility of the Chola King Kulottunga, who was an intolerant Sivaite, forced him to retire to Mysore. Here he was protected by King Vittala Deva whom he converted from Jainism and on the death of Kulottunga in 1118 he returned to Srirangam where he ended his days. In the temple there his tomb and a shrine where his image receives divine honours may still be seen. His best known work[582] is the Sri Bhashya or commentary on the Vedanta sutras.

The sect which he founded is known as the Sri Sampradaya and its members as the Sri Vaishnavas. As among the Sivaites revelation is often supposed to be made by Siva through Sakti, so here the Lord is said to have revealed the truth to his consort Sri or Lakshmi, she to a demigod called Visvaksena, and he to Namm'arvar, from whom Ramanuja was eighth in spiritual descent. Though the members of the sect are sometimes called Ramaites the personality of Rama plays a small part in their faith, especially as expounded by Ramanuja. As names for the deity he uses Narayana and Vasudeva and he quotes freely from the Bhagavad-gita and the Vishnu Purana. Compared with the emotional deism of Caitanya this faith seems somewhat philosophic and reticent.

Ramanuja clearly indicates its principal points in the first words of his Sri Bhashya. "May my mind be filled with devotion towards the highest Brahman, the abode of Lakshmi; who is luminously revealed in the Upanishads: who in sport produces, sustains and reabsorbs the entire universe: whose only aim is to foster the manifold classes of beings that humbly worship him."[583] He goes on to say that his teaching is that of the Upanishads, "which was obscured by the mutual conflict of manifold opinions," and that he follows the commentary of Bodhayana and other teachers who have abridged it.

That is to say, the form of Vishnuism which Ramanuja made one of the principal religions of India claims to be the teaching of the Upanishads, although he also affiliates himself to the Bhagavatas. He interprets the part of the Vedanta Sutras which treats of this sect[584] as meaning that the author states and ultimately disallows the objections raised to their teaching and he definitely approves it. "As it is thus settled that the highest Brahman or Narayana himself is the promulgator of the entire Pancaratra and that this system teaches the nature of Narayana and the proper way of worshipping him, none can disestablish the view that in the Pancaratra all the other doctrines are comprised."[585]

The true tradition of the Upanishads he contends has been distorted by "manifold opinions," among which the doctrine of Sankara was no doubt the chief. That doctrine was naturally distasteful to devotional poets, and from the time of Nathamuni onwards a philosophic reaction against it grew up in Srirangam. Ramanuja preaches the worship of a loving God, though when we read that God produces and reabsorbs the universe in sport, we find that we are farther from Christianity than we at first supposed. There is a touch of mythology in the mention of Lakshmi[586] but it is clear that Ramanuja himself had little liking for mythology. He barely mentions Rama and Krishna in the Sri Bhashya nor does he pay much attention to the consort of the deity. On the other hand he shows no sign of rejecting the ritual and regulations of the Brahmans. He apparently wished to prove that the doctrine of salvation by devotion to a personal god is compatible with a system as strictly orthodox as Sankara's own.

I shall treat elsewhere of his philosophy, known as the Visishtadvaita or non-duality, which yet recognizes a distinction between God and individual souls. The line of thought is old and at all periods is clearly a compromise, unwilling to deny that God is everything and yet dissatisfied with the idea that a personal deity and our individual transmigrating souls are all merely illusion. Devotional theism was growing in Ramanuja's time. He could not break with the Upanishads and Vedantic tradition but he adapted them to the needs of his day. He taught firstly that the material world and human souls are not illusion but so to speak the body of God who comprises and pervades them: secondly this God is omniscient, omnipresent, almighty and all-merciful, and salvation (that is mukti or deliverance from transmigration) is obtained by those souls who, assisted by his grace, meditate on him and know him; thirdly this salvation consists not in absorption into God but in blissful existence near him and in participation of his glorious qualities. He further held[587] that God exists in five modes, namely: (a) Para, the entire supreme spirit, (b) the fourfold manifestation as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, (c) incarnations such as Rama and Krishna, (d) the internal controller or Antaryamin according to the text[588] "who abiding in the soul rules the soul within," (e) duly consecrated images.

The followers of Ramanuja are at present divided into two schools known as Tengalais and Vadagalais, or southern and northern.[589] The double residence of the founder is one reason for the division, since both Mysore and Trichinopoly could claim to have personal knowledge of his teaching. The really important difference seems to be that the Tengalai or southern school is inclined to break away from Sanskrit tradition, to ignore the Vedas in practice and to regard the Tamil Nalayiram as an all-sufficient scripture, whereas the Vadagalais, though not rejecting the Nalayiram, insist on the authority of the Vedas. But both divisions are scrupulous about caste observances and the ceremonial purity of their food. They are separated by nice questions of doctrine, especially as to the nature of prapatti, resignation or self-surrender to the deity, a sentiment slightly different from bhakti which is active faith or devotion. The northerners hold that the soul lays hold of the Lord, as the young monkey hangs on to its mother, whereas the southerners say that the Lord picks up the helpless and passive soul as a cat picks up a kitten.[590] According to the northerners, the consort of Vishnu is, like him, uncreated and equally to be worshipped as a bestower of grace: according to the southerners she is created and, though divine, merely a mediator or channel of the Lord's grace. Even more important in popular esteem is the fact that the Vadagalai sectarian mark ends between the eyebrows whereas the Tengalais prolong it to the tip of the nose. Odium theologicum is often bitterest between the sects which are most nearly related and accordingly we find that the Tengalais and Vadagalais frequently quarrel. They use the same temples but in many places both claim the exclusive right to recite the hymns of the Arvars. The chief difference in their recitation lies in the opening verse in which each party celebrates the names of its special teachers, and disputes as to the legality of a particular verse in a particular shrine sometimes give rise to free fights and subsequent lawsuits.

The two schools reckon the apostolic succession differently and appear to have separated in the thirteenth century, in which they were represented by Pillai Lokacarya and Vedanta Desika[591] respectively. The Tengalai, of which the first-named teacher was the practical founder, must be regarded as innovators, for in their use of Tamil as the language of religion they do not follow the example of Ramanuja. Lokacarya teaches that the grace of God is irresistible and should be met not merely by active faith, but by self-surrender,[592] and entire submission to the guidance of the spiritual teacher. He was the author of eighteen works called Rahasyas or secrets[593] but though he appears to have been the first to formulate the Tengalai doctrines, Manavala Mahamuni (1370-1443 A.D.) is regarded by the sect as its chief saint. His images and pictures are frequent in south India and he wrote numerous commentaries and poems. Vedanta Desika, the founder of the Vadagalai, was a native of Conjeevaram but spent much of his life at Srirangam. He was a voluminous author and composed inter alia an allegorical play in ten acts, portraying the liberation of the soul under the auspices of King Viveka (discrimination) and Queen Sumati (Wisdom).

At the present day the two sects recognize as their respective heads two Acaryas who are married, whereas all Smarta Acaryas are celibates.[594] The Tengalai Acarya resides near Tinnevelly, the Vadagalai in the district of Kurnool. They both make periodical visitations in their districts and have considerable ecclesiastical power. In the south Srirangam near Trichinopoly is their principal shrine: in the north Melucote in the Seringapatam district is esteemed very sacred.


It was only natural that Ramanuja's advocacy of qualified non-duality should lead some more uncompromising spirit to affirm the doctrine of Dvaita or duality. This step was taken by Madhva Acarya, a Kanarese Brahman who was probably born in 1199 A.D.[595] In the previous year the great temple of Jagannatha at Puri had been completed and the Vishnuite movement was at its height. Madhva though educated as a Saiva became a Vaishnava. He denied absolutely the identity of the Supreme Being with the individual soul and held that the world is not a modification of the Lord but that he is like a father who begets a son. Yet in practice, rigid monotheism is not more prevalent among Madhva's followers than in other sects. They are said to tolerate the worship of Sivaite deities and of the lingam in their temples[596] and their ascetics dress like Saivas.

Madhva travelled in both northern and southern India and had a somewhat troubled life, for his doctrine, being the flat contradiction of the Advaita, involved him in continual conflicts with the followers of Sankara who are said to have even stolen his library. At any rate they anathematized his teaching with a violence unusual in Indian theology.[597] In spite of such lively controversy he found time to write thirty-seven works, including commentaries on the Upanishads, Bhagavad-gita and Vedanta Sutras. The obvious meaning of these texts is not that required by his system, but they are recognized by all Vaishnavas as the three Prasthanas or starting-points of philosophy and he had to show that they supported his views. Hence his interpretation often seems forced and perverse. The most extraordinary instance of this is his explanation of the celebrated phrase in the Chandogya Upanishad Sa atma tat tvam asi. He reads Sa atma atat tvam asi and considers that it means "You are not that God. Why be so conceited as to suppose that you are?"[598] Monotheistic texts have often received a mystical and pantheistic interpretation. The Old Testament and the Koran have been so treated by Kabbalists and Sufis. But in Madhva's commentaries we see the opposite and probably rarer method. Pantheistic texts are twisted until they are made to express uncompromising monotheism.

The sect is often called Brahma-sampradaya, because it claims that its doctrine was revealed by Brahma from whom Madhva was the sixth teacher in spiritual descent. Its members are known as Madhvas but prefer to call themselves Sad-Vaishnavas. Its teaching seems more rigid and less emotional than that of other Vishnuites and is based on the Pancabheda or five eternal distinctions between (a) God and the soul, (b) God and matter, (c) the soul and matter, (d) individual souls, (e) individual atoms of matter. God is generally called Vishnu or Narayana rather than Vasudeva. Krishna is adored but not in his pastoral aspect. Vishnu and his spouse Lakshmi are real though superhuman personalities and their sons are Brahma the creator and Vayu.[599] Peculiar to this sect is the doctrine that except through Vayu, the son of Vishnu, salvation is impossible. Vayu has been three times incarnate as Hanumat, the helper of Rama, as Bhima and as Madhva himself.[600] Souls are separate, innumerable and related to God as subjects to a king. They are of three classes: those who are destined to eternal bliss in the presence of God: those who revolve eternally in the maze of transmigration: and those who tending ever downwards are doomed to eternal suffering.

This last doctrine, as well as the doctrine of salvation through Vayu, the wind or spirit, has led many to suspect that Madhva was influenced by Christian ideas, but it is more probable that he owed something to Islam. Such influence would no doubt be distant and indirect, for a Brahman would not come into contact with Moslim doctors, though it is said that Madhva could speak Persian.[601] But some Moslim ideas such as the absolute separation of God from the world and the predestination of souls to eternal happiness and misery may have entered Brahman minds. Still, nearly all Madhva's views (with the possible exception of eternal punishment) have Indian analogies. The Yoga teaches that there are innumerable souls distinct from one another and from God and though salvation through the spirit sounds Christian, yet the Upanishads constantly celebrate Vayu (wind) and Prana (breath) as the pervading principle of the world and the home of the self. "By the wind (Vayu) as thread, O Gautama, this world and the other world and all creatures are bound together."[602] Thus the idea that the wind is the universal mediator is old and it does not seem that Madhva regarded Vayu as a redeemer or expiation for sin like Christ.

The Madhvas are still an energetic and important sect. Their headquarters are at Udipi in South Kanara and they also hold an annual conference at Tirupati at which examinations in theology are held and prizes given. At Udipi are eight maths and a very sacred temple, dedicated by Madhva himself to Krishna. The head of each math is charged in turn with the supervision of this temple during two years and the change of office is celebrated by a great biennial festival in January. The worship is more puritanical than in the temples of other sects, dancing girls for instance not being allowed, but great importance is attached to the practice of branding the body with the emblems of Vishnu. The sect, like the Sri Vaishnavas, is divided into two parties, the Vyasakutas who are conservative and use Sanskrit scriptures,[603] and the Dasakutas who have more popular tendencies and use sacred books written in Kanarese. Neither the Sri Vaishnavas nor the Madhvas are numerous in northern India.


[Footnote 564: Such as the Vishnu Purana, Vishnu Dharma, said to be a section of the Garuda Purana and the Bhagavad-gita.]

[Footnote 565: The Hindus are well aware that the doctrine of Bhakti spread from the south to the north. See the allegory quoted in J.R.A.S. 1911, p. 800.]

[Footnote 566: Thus Ramanuja says (Sri Bhashya, II. 2. 43) that the Vedanta Sutras do not refute the Sankhya and Yoga but merely certain erroneous views as to Brahman not being the self.]

[Footnote 567: It has been described as the earliest of the Vishnuite Churches and it would be so if we could be sure that the existence of the doctrine called Dvaitadvaita was equivalent to the existence of the sect. But Bhandarkar has shown some reason for thinking that Nimbaditya lived after Ramanuja. It must be admitted that the worship of Radha and the doctrine of self-surrender or prapatti, both found in the Dasasloki, are probably late.]

[Footnote 568: See Grierson in E.R.E. vol. II. p. 457.]

[Footnote 569: The Church of the Nimavats is also called Sanakadi-sampradaya because it professes to derive its doctrine from Sanaka and his brethren who taught Narada, who taught Nimbarka. At least one sub-sect founded by Harivamsa (born 1559) adopts a doctrine analogous to Saktism and worships Radha as the manifestation of Krishna's energy.]

[Footnote 570: Called the Dasasloki. It is translated in Bhandarkar's Vaishn and Saivism, pp. 63-5.]

[Footnote 571: Also spelt Alvar and Azhvar. The Tamil pronunciation of this difficult letter varies in different districts. The word apparently means one who is drowned or immersed in the divine love. Cf. Azhi, the deep sea; Azhal, being deep or being immersed.]

[Footnote 572: An educated Vaishnava told me at Srirangam that devas and saints receive the same homage.]

[Footnote 573: It is possible that the poems attributed to Namm'arvar and other saints are really later compositions. See Epig. Ind. vol. VIII. p. 294.]

[Footnote 574: XI. 5. 38-40.]

[Footnote 575: Bhandarkar (Vaishn. and Saivism, p. 50) thinks it probable that Kulasekhara, one of the middle Arvars, lived about 1130. But the argument is not conclusive and it seems to me improbable that he lived after Nathamuni.]

[Footnote 576: The first called Mudal-Ayiram consists of nine hymns ascribed to various saints such as Periyarvar and Andal. The second and third each consist of a single work the Periya-tiru-mori and the Tiru-vay-mori ascribed to Tiru-mangai and Namm'arvar respectively. The fourth part or Iyar-pa is like the first a miscellany containing further compositions by these two as well as by others.]

[Footnote 577: Nityanusandhanam series: edited with Telugu paraphrase and English translation by M.B. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Madras, 1898.]

[Footnote 578: The best known is the Guru-parampara-prabhavam of Brahmatantra-svatantra-swami. For an English account of these doctors see T. Rajagopala Chariar, The Vaishnavite Reformers of India, Madras, 1909.]

[Footnote 579: Agamapramanya. He also wrote a well-known hymn called Alavandar-Stotram and a philosophical treatise called Siddhi-traya.]

[Footnote 580: He states himself that he followed Boddhayana, a commentator on the Sutras of unknown date but anterior to Sankara. He quotes several other commentators particularly Dramida, so that his school must have had a long line of teachers.]

[Footnote 581: See Gazetteer of India, vol. XXIII. s.v. There is a Kanarese account of his life called Dibya-caritra. For his life and teaching see also Bhandarkar in Berichte VIIth Int. Orient. Congress, 1886, pp. 101 ff. Lives in English have been published at Madras by Alkondaville Govindacarya (1906) and Krishnaswami Aiyangar (? 1909).]

[Footnote 582: He also wrote the Vedartha Sangraha, Vedartha Pradipa, Vedanta Sara and a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita.]

[Footnote 583: S.B.E. XLVIII. p. 3.]

[Footnote 584: II. 2. 36-39.]

[Footnote 585: II. 2. 43 ad fin.]

[Footnote 586: Ramanuja's introduction to the Bhagavad-gita is more ornate but does not go much further in doctrine than the passage here quoted.]

[Footnote 587: This fivefold manifestation of the deity is a characteristic Pancaratra doctrine. See Schrader, Int. pp. 25, 51 and Sri Bhashya, II. 242.]

[Footnote 588: See Br. Ar. Up III. 7. The Sri Vaishnavas attach great importance to this chapter.]

[Footnote 589: Only relatively northern and southern. Neither flourish in what we call northern India.]

[Footnote 590: Hence the two doctrines are called markata-nyaya and marjara-nyaya, monkey theory and cat theory. The latter gave rise to the dangerous doctrine of Doshabhogya, that God enjoys sin, since it gives a larger scope for the display of His grace. Cf. Oscar Wilde in De Profundis, "Christ, through some divine instinct in him, seems to have always loved the sinner as being the nearest possible approach to perfection in man.... In a manner not yet understood of the world, he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of perfection.... Christ, had he been asked, would have said—I feel quite certain about it—that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept, he made his having wasted his substance with harlots, his swine herding and hungering for the husks they ate beautiful and holy moments in his life."]

[Footnote 591: Also called Venkatanatha. For some rather elaborate studies in the history of the Sri-Vaishnavas see V. Rangacharis' articles in J. Bombay R.A.S. 1915 and 1916 and J. Mythic Society, 1917, Nos. 2 ff.]

[Footnote 592: Prapatti and acaryabhimana.—The word prapatti seems not to occur in the Sri Bhashya and it is clear that Ramanuja's temperament was inclined to active and intelligent devotion. But prapatti is said to have been taught by Nathamuni and Sathagopa (Rajagopala Chariar, Vaishnavite Reformers, p. 6). The word means literally approaching.]

[Footnote 593: The Artha-pancaka and Tattva-traya are the best known. See text and translation of the first in J.R.A.S. 1910, pp. 565-607.]

[Footnote 594: Ramanuja set less store than Sankara on asceticism and renunciation of the world. He held the doctrine called samucchaya (or combination) namely that good works as well as knowledge are efficacious for salvation.]

[Footnote 595: Also called Anandatirtha and Purnaprajna. According to others he was born in 1238 A.D. See for his doctrines Grierson's article Madhvas in E.R.E. and his own commentaries on the Chandogya and Brihad Ar. Upanishads published in Sacred Books of the Hindus, vols. III. and XIV. For his date Bhandarkar, Vaishn. and Saivism, pp. 58-59 and I.A.. 1914, pp. 233 ff. and 262 ff. Accounts of his life and teaching have been written by Padmanabha Char. and Krishna Svami Aiyer (Madras, 1909). His followers maintain that he is not dead but still alive at Badari in the Himalayas.]

[Footnote 596: See Padmanabha Char. l.c. page 12. Madhva condemned the worship of inanimate objects (e.g. com. Chand. Up. VII. 14. 2) but not the worship of Brahman in inanimate objects.]

[Footnote 597: In a work called the Pashanda capetika or A Slap for Heretics, all the adherents of Madhva are consigned to hell and the Saurapurana, chaps. XXXVIII.-XL. contains a violent polemic against them. See Jahn's Analysis, pp. 90-106 and Barth in Melanges Harlez, pp. 12-25. It is curious that the Madhvas should have been selected for attack, for in many ways they are less opposed to Sivaites than are other Vishnuite sects but the author was clearly badly informed about the doctrines which he attacks and he was probably an old-fashioned Sivaite of the north who regarded Madhvism as a new-fangled version of objectionable doctrines.

The Madhvas are equally violent in denouncing Sankara and his followers. They miswrite the name Samkara, giving it the sense of mongrel or dirt and hold that he was an incarnation of a demon called Manimat sent by evil spirits to corrupt the world.]

[Footnote 598: See his comment on Chand. Up. VI. 8. 7. Compare Bhag.-g. XV. 7. The text appears to say that the soul (Jiva) is a part (amsa) of the Lord. Madhva says it is so-called because it bears some reduced similitude to the Lord, though quite distinct from him. Madhva's exegesis is supported by a system of tantric or cabalistic interpretation in which every letter has a special meaning. Thus in the passage of the Chand. Up. mentioned above the simple words sa ya eshah are explained as equivalent to Sara essence, yama the controller, and ishta the desired one. The reading atat tvam asi is said not to have originated with Madhva but to be found in a Bhagavata work called the Samasamhita.]

[Footnote 599: In his commentary on the opening of the Chand. Up. Madhva seems to imply a Trinity consisting of Vishnu, Rama (=Lakshmi) and Vayu.]

[Footnote 600: This is expressly stated at the end of the commentary on the Brih. Ar. Upan.]

[Footnote 601: Life and teachings of Sri-Madhvacharyar by Padmanabha Char. 1909, p. 159. Some have suspected a connection between Madhva's teaching and Manicheism, because he attached much importance to an obscure demon called Manimat (see Mahabh. III. 11, 661) whom he considered incarnate in Sankara. It is conceivable that in his Persian studies he may have heard of Mani as an arch-heretic and have identified him with this demon but this does not imply any connection between his own system (or Sankara's either) and Manicheism.]

[Footnote 602: Brih. Ar. Upan. III. 7. 2.]

[Footnote 603: Among them are the Manimanjari, the Madhvavijaya and the Vayustuti, all attributed to a disciple of Madhva and his son.]




With the fifteenth century Hinduism enters on a new phase. Sects arise which show the influence of Mohammedanism, sometimes to such an extent that it is hard to say whether they should be classed as Hindu or Moslim, and many teachers repudiate caste. Also, whereas in the previous centuries the centre of religious feeling lay in the south, it now shifts to the north. Hinduism had been buffeted but not seriously menaced there: the teachers of the south had not failed to recognize by their pilgrimages the sanctity and authority of the northern seats of learning: such works as the Gita-govinda testify to the existence there of fervent Vishnuism. But the country had been harassed by Moslim invasions and unsettled by the vicissitudes of transitory dynasties. The Jains were powerful in Gujarat and Rajputana. In Bengal Saktism and moribund Buddhism were not likely to engender new enthusiasms. But in a few centuries the movements inaugurated in the south increased in extension and strength. Hindus and Mohammedans began to know more of each other, and in the sixteenth century under the tolerant rule of Akbar and his successors the new sects which had been growing were able to consolidate themselves.

After Ramanuja and Madhva, the next great name in the history of Vishnuism, and indeed of Hinduism, is Ramanand. His date is uncertain.[604] He was posterior to Ramanuja, from whose sect he detached himself, and Kabir was his disciple, apparently his immediate disciple. Some traditions give Prayaga as his birthplace, others Melucote, but the north was the scene of his activity. He went on a lengthy pilgrimage, and on his return was accused of having infringed the rules of his sect as to eating, etc., and was excommunicated, but received permission from his Guru to found a new sect. He then settled in Benares and taught there. He wrote no treatise but various hymns ascribed to him are still popular.[605] Though he is not associated with any special dogma, yet his teaching is of great importance as marking the origin of a popular religious movement characterized by the use of the vernacular languages instead of Sanskrit, and by a laxity in caste rules culminating in a readiness to admit as equals all worshippers of the true God.[606] This God is Rama rather than Krishna. I have already pointed out that the worship of Rama as the Supreme Being (to be distinguished from respect for him as a hero) is not early: in fact it appears to begin in the period which we are considering. Of the human forms of the deity Krishna was clearly the most popular but the school of Ramanuja, while admitting both Rama and Krishna as incarnations, preferred to adore God under less mythological and more philosophic names such as Narayana. Ramanand, who addressed himself to all classes and not merely to the Brahman aristocracy, selected as the divine name Rama. It was more human than Narayana, less sensuous than Krishna. Every Hindu was familiar with the poetry which sings of Rama as a chivalrous and godlike hero. But he was not, like Krishna, the lover of the soul, and when Ramaism was divested of mythology by successive reformers it became a monotheism in which Hindu and Moslim elements could blend. Ramanand had twelve disciples, among whom were Kabir, a Raja called Pipa, Rai Das, a leather-seller (and therefore an outcast according to Hindu ideas) as well as Brahmans. The Ramats, as his followers were called, are a numerous and respectable body in north India, using the same sectarian mark as the Vadagalais from whom they do not differ materially, although a Hindu might consider that their small regard for caste is a vital distinction. They often call themselves Avadhutas, that is, those who have shaken off worldly restrictions, and the more devout among them belong to an order divided into four classes of which only the highest is reserved to Brahmans and the others are open to all castes. They own numerous and wealthy maths, but it is said that in some of these celibacy is not required and that monks and nuns live openly as man and wife.[607]

An important aspect of the Ramat movement is its effect on the popular literature of Hindustan which in the fifteenth and even more in the sixteenth century blossoms into flowers of religious poetry. Many of these writings possess real merit and are still a moral and spiritual force. European scholars are only beginning to pay sufficient attention to this mighty flood of hymns which gushed forth in nearly all the vernaculars of India[608] and appealed directly to the people. The phenomenon was not really new. The psalms of the Buddhists and even the hymns of the Rig Veda were vernacular literature in their day, and in the south the songs of the Devaram and Nalayiram are of some antiquity. But in the north, though some Prakrit literature has been preserved, Sanskrit was long considered the only proper language for religion. We can hardly doubt that vernacular hymns existed, but they did not receive the imprimatur of any teacher, and have not survived. But about 1400 all this changes. Though Ramanand was not much of a writer he gave his authority to the use of the vernacular: he did not, like Ramanuja, either employ or enjoin Sanskrit and the meagre details which we have of his circle lead us to imagine him surrounded by men of homely speech.

One current in this sea of poetry was Krishnaite and as such not directly connected with Ramanand. Vidyapati[609] sang of the loves of Krishna and Radha in the Maithili dialect and also in a form of Bengali. In the early fifteenth century (c. 1420) we have the poetess Mira Bai, wife of the Raja of Chitore who gained celebrity and domestic unhappiness by her passionate devotion to the form of Krishna known as Ranchor. According to one legend the image came to life in answer to her fervent prayers, and throwing his arms round her allowed her to meet a rapturous death in his embrace. This is precisely the sentiment which we find later in the teaching of Vallabhacarya and Caitanya. The hymns of the Bengali poets have been collected in the Padakalpataru, one of the chief sacred books of the Bengali Vaishnavas. From Vallabhacarya spring the group of poets who adorned Braj or the Muttra district. Pre-eminent among them is the blind Sur Das who flourished about 1550 and wrote such sweet lyrics that Krishna himself came down and acted as his amanuensis. A somewhat later member of the same group is Nabha Das, the author of the Bhakta Mala or Legends of the Saints, which is still one of the most popular religious works of northern India.[610] Almost contemporary with Sur Das was the great Tulsi Das and Grierson[611] enumerated thirteen subsequent writers who composed Ramayanas in some dialect of Hindi. A little later came the Mahratta poet Tukaram (born about 1600) who gave utterance to Krishnaism in another language.

Tulsi Das is too important to be merely mentioned as one in a list of poets. He is a great figure in Indian religion, and the saying that his Ramayana is more popular and more honoured in the North-western Provinces than the Bible in England is no exaggeration.[612] He came into the world in 1532 but was exposed by his parents as born under an unlucky star and was adopted by a wandering Sadhu. He married but his son died and after this loss he himself became a Sadhu. He began to write his Ramayana in Oudh at the age of forty-three, but moved to Benares where he completed it and died in 1623. On the Tulsi Ghat, near the river Asi, may still be seen the rooms which he occupied. They are at the top of a lofty building and command a beautiful view over the river[4].

His Ramayana which is an original composition and not a translation of Valmiki's work is one of the great religious poems of the world and not unworthy to be set beside Paradise Lost. The sustained majesty of diction and exuberance of ornament are accompanied by a spontaneity and vigour rare in any literature, especially in Asia. The poet is not embellishing a laboured theme: he goes on and on because his emotion bursts forth again and again, diversifying the same topic with an inexhaustible variety of style and metaphor. As in some forest a stream flows among flowers and trees, but pours forth a flood of pure water uncoloured by the plants on its bank, so in the heart of Tulsi Das the love of God welled up in a mighty fountain ornamented by the mythology and legends with which he bedecked it, yet unaffected by them. He founded no sect, which is one reason of his popularity, for nearly all sects can read him with edification, and he is primarily a poet not a theologian. But though he allows himself a poet's licence to state great truths in various ways, he still enunciates a definite belief. This is theism, connected with the name Rama. Since in the north he is the author most esteemed by the Vishnuites, it would be a paradox to refuse him that designation, but his teaching is not so much that Vishnu is the Supreme Being who becomes incarnate in Rama, as that Rama, and more rarely Hari and Vasudeva, are names of the All-God who manifests himself in human form. Vishnu is mentioned as a celestial being in the company of Brahma,[613] and so far as any god other than Rama receives attention it is Siva, not indeed as Rama's equal, but as a being at once very powerful and very devout, who acts as a mediator or guide. "Without prayer to Siva no one can attain to the faith which I require."[614] "Rama is God, the totality of good, imperishable, invisible, uncreated, incomparable, void of all change, indivisible, whom the Veda declares that it cannot define."[615] And yet, "He whom scripture and philosophy have sung and whom the saints love to contemplate, even the Lord God, he is the son of Dasarath, King of Kosala."[616] By the power of Rama exist Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, as also Maya, the illusion which brings about the world. His "delusive power is a vast fig-tree, its clustering fruit the countless multitude of worlds, while all things animate and inanimate are like the insects that dwell inside and think their own particular fig the only one in existence."[617] God has made all things: pain and pleasure, sin and merit, saints and sinners, Brahmans and butchers, passion and asceticism. It is the Veda that distinguishes good and evil among them.[618] The love of God and faith are the only road to happiness. "The worship of Hari is real and all the world is a dream."[619] Tulsi Das often uses the language of the Advaita philosophy and even calls God the annihilator of duality, but though he admits the possibility of absorption and identification with the deity, he holds that the double relation of a loving God and a loving soul constitutes greater bliss. "The saint was not absorbed into the divinity for this reason that he had already received the gift of faith."[620] And in a similar spirit he says, "Let those preach in their wisdom who contemplate Thee as the supreme spirit, the uncreate, inseparable from the universe, recognizable only by inference and beyond the understanding; but we, O Lord, will ever hymn the glories of thy incarnation." Like most Hindus he is little disposed to enquire what is the purpose of creation, but he comes very near to saying that God has evolved the world by the power of Maya because the bliss which God and his beloved feel is greater than the bliss of impersonal undifferentiated divinity. It will be seen that Tulsi Das is thoroughly Hindu: neither his fundamental ideas nor his mythological embellishments owe anything to Islam or Christianity. He accepts unreservedly such principles as Maya, transmigration, Karma and release. But his sentiments, more than those of any other Indian writer, bear a striking resemblance to the New Testament. Though he holds that the whole world is of God, he none the less bids men shun evil and choose the good, and the singular purity of his thoughts and style contrasts strongly with other Vishnuite works. He does not conceive of the love which may exist between the soul and God as a form of sexual passion.


The beginning of the sixteenth century was a time of religious upheaval in India for it witnessed the careers not only of Vallabhacarya and Caitanya, but also of Nanak, the founder of the Sikhs. In the west it was the epoch of Luther and as in Europe so in India no great religious movement has taken place since that time. The sects then founded have swollen into extravagance and been reformed: other sects have arisen from a mixture of Hinduism with Moslem and Christian elements, but no new and original current of thought or devotion has been started.

Though the two great sects associated with the names of Caitanya and Vallabhacarya have different geographical spheres and also present some differences in doctrinal details, both are emotional and even erotic and both adore Krishna as a child or young man. Their almost simultaneous appearance in eastern and western India and their rapid growth show that they represent an unusually potent current of ideas and sentiments. But the worship of Krishna was, as we have seen, nothing new in northern India. Even that relatively late phase in which the sports of the divine herdsman are made to typify the love of God for human souls is at least as early as the Gita-govinda written about 1170. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the history of Krishna worship is not clear,[621] but it persisted and about 1400 found speech in Bengal and in Rajputana.

According to Vaishnava theologians the followers of Vallabhacarya[622] are a section of the Rudra-sampradaya founded in the early part of the fifteenth century by Vishnusvami, an emigrant from southern India, who preached chiefly in Gujarat. The doctrines of the sect are supposed to have been delivered by the Almighty to Siva from whom Vishnusvami was fifteenth in spiritual descent, and are known by the name of Suddhadvaita or pure non-duality. They teach that God has three attributes—sac-cid-ananda—existence, consciousness and bliss. In the human or animal soul bliss is suppressed and in matter consciousness is suppressed too. But when the soul attains release it recovers bliss and becomes identical in nature with God. For practical purposes the Vallabhacaris may be regarded as a sect founded by Vallabha, said to have been born in 1470. He was the son of a Telinga Brahman, who had migrated with Vishnusvami to the north.

Such was the pious precocity of Vallabha that at the age of twelve he had already discovered a new religion and started on a pilgrimage to preach it. He was well received at the Court of Vijayanagar, and was so successful in disputation that he was recognized as chief doctor of the Vaishnava school. He subsequently spent nine years in travelling twice round India and at Brindaban received a visit from Krishna in person, who bade him promulgate his worship in the form of the divine child known as Bala Gopala. Vallabha settled in Benares and is said to have composed a number of works which are still extant.[623] He gained further victories as a successful disputant and also married and became the father of two sons. At the age of fifty-two he took to the life of a Sannyasi, but died forty-two days afterwards.

Though Vallabha died as an ascetic, his doctrines are currently known as the Pushti Marga, the road of well-being or comfort. His philosophy was more decidedly monistic than is usual among Vishnuites, and Indian monism has generally taught that, as the soul and God are one in essence, the soul should realize this identity and renounce the pleasures of the senses. But with Vallabhacarya it may be said that the vision which is generally directed godwards and forgets the flesh, turned earthwards and forgot God, for his teaching is that since the individual and the deity are one, the body should be reverenced and indulged. Pushti[624] or well-being is the special grace of God and the elect are called Pushti-jiva. They depend entirely on God's grace and are contrasted with Maryada-jivas, or those who submit to moral discipline. The highest felicity is not mukti or liberation but the eternal service of Krishna and eternal participation in his sports.

These doctrines have led to deplorable results, but so strong is the Indian instinct towards self-denial and asceticism that it is the priests rather than the worshippers who profit by this permission to indulge the body, and the chief feature of the sect is the extravagant respect paid to the descendants of Vallabhacarya. They are known as Maharajas or Great Kings and their followers, especially women, dedicate to them tan, dhan, man: body, purse and spirit, for it is a condition of the road of well-being that before the devotee enjoys anything himself he must dedicate it to the deity and the Maharaj represents the deity. The daily prayer of the sect is "Om. Krishna is my refuge. I who suffer the infinite pain and torment of enduring for a thousand years separation from Krishna, consecrate to Krishna my body, senses, life, heart and faculties, my wife, house, family, property and my own self. I am thy slave, O Krishna."[625] This formula is recited to the Maharaj with peculiar solemnity by each male as he comes of age and is admitted as a full member of the sect. The words in which this dedication of self and family is made are not in themselves open to criticism and a parallel may be found in Christian hymns. But the literature of the Vallabhis unequivocally states that the Guru is the same as the deity[626] and there can be little doubt that even now the Maharajas are adored by their followers, especially by the women, as representatives of Krishna in his character of the lover of the Gopis and that the worship is often licentious.[627] Many Hindus denounce the sect and in 1862 one of the Maharajas brought an action for libel in the supreme court of Bombay on account of the serious charges of immorality brought against him in the native press. The trial became a cause celebre. Judgment was delivered against the Maharaj, the Judge declaring the charges to be fully substantiated. Yet in spite of these proceedings the sect still flourishes, apparently unchanged in doctrine and practice, and has a large following among the mercantile castes of western India. The Radha-Vallabhis, an analogous sect founded by Harivamsa in the sixteenth century, give the pre-eminence to Radha, the wife of Krishna, and in their secret ceremonies are said to dress as women. The worship of Radha is a late phase of Vishnuism and is not known even to the Bhagavata Purana.[628]

Vallabhism owes much of its success to the family of the founder. They had evidently a strong dynastic sentiment as well as a love of missionary conquest—a powerful combination. Vallabhacarya left behind him eighty-four principal disciples whose lives are recorded in the work called the Stories of the Eighty-four Vaishnavas, and his authority descended to his son Vithalnath. Like his father, Vithalnath was active as a proselytizer and pilgrim and propagated his doctrines extensively in many parts of western India such as Cutch, Malwa, and Bijapur. His converts came chiefly from the mercantile classes but also included some Brahmans and Mussulmans. He is said to have abolished caste distinctions but the sect has not preserved this feature. In his later years he resided at Muttra or the neighbouring town of Gokul, whence he is known as Gokul Gosainji. This title of Gosain, which is still borne by his male descendants, is derived from Krishna's name Gosvamin, the lord of cattle.[629] He had seven sons, in each of whom Krishna is said to have been incarnate for five years. They exercised spiritual authority in separate districts—as we might say in different dioceses—but the fourth son, Gokulnathji and his descendants claimed and still claim a special pre-eminence. The family is at present represented by about a hundred males who are accepted as incarnations and receive the title of Maharaja. About twenty reside at Gokul[630] or near Muttra: there are a few in Bombay and in all the great cities of western India, but the Maharaj of Nath Dwara in Rajputana is esteemed the chief. This place is not an ancient seat of Krishna worship, but during the persecution of Aurungzeb a peculiarly holy image was brought thither from Muttra and placed in the shrine where it still remains.

A protest against the immorality of the Vallabhi sect was made by Swaminarayana, a Brahman who was born in the district of Lucknow about 1780.[631] He settled in Ahmedabad and gained so large a following that the authorities became alarmed and imprisoned him. But his popularity only increased: he became the centre of a great religious movement: hymns descriptive of his virtues and sufferings were sung by his followers and when he was released he found himself at the head of a band which was almost an army. He erected a temple in the village of Wartal in Baroda, which he made the centre of his sect, and recruited followers by means of periodical tours throughout Gujarat. His doctrines are embodied in an anthology called the Sikshapatri consisting of 212 precepts, some borrowed from accepted Hindu scriptures and some original and in a catechism called Vacanamritam. His teaching was summed up in the phrase "Devotion to Krishna with observance of duty and purity of life" and in practice took the form of a laudable polemic against the licentiousness of the Vallabhis. As in most of the purer sects of Vishnuism, Krishna is regarded merely as a name of the Supreme Deity. Thus the Sikshapatri says "Narayana and Siva should be equally recognized as parts of one and the same supreme spirit, since both have been declared in the Vedas to be forms of Brahma. On no account let it be thought that difference in form or name makes any difference in the identity of the deity." The followers of Swaminarayana still number about 200,000 in western India and are divided into the laity and a body of celibate clergy. I have visited their religious establishments in Ahmedabad. It consists of a temple with a large and well-kept monastery in which are housed about 300 monks who wear costumes of reddish grey. Except in Assam I have not seen in India any parallel to this monastery either in size or discipline. It is provided with a library and hospital. In the temple are images of Nara and Narayana (explained as Krishna and Arjuna), Krishna and Radha, Ganesa and Hanuman.[632]

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