Valerie Gillet is a member of the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient. Her research focuses on material mostly found in the religious monuments excavated or built on the territories of the two main early medieval South Indian dynasties, the Pallavas and the Pandyas. She also attempts to map the emergence and the development of the cult of the deity called Subrahmanya/Murukan in the medieval Tamil- speaking South. Since 2007, she has been posted at the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO, of which she became Head in 2011. She has published a study of the narrative iconography of the 8th century structural Pallava temples entitled La creation d'une iconographie sivaite narrative: Incarnations du dieu dam les temples pallava construits, as well as several articles on material from the Pallava period and sacred places related to Subrahrnanya/Murukan.
Starting around the sixth century of the common era, a new form of fervent religiosity seems to be discernible in the Tamil-speaking South that is often termed the "Bhakti movement". The eleven essays gathered in this volume all deal with South Indian primary sources related to the various phenomena that can be grouped together under the head of "Bhakti", which may be broadly defined as personal devotion between a devotee and his god. What characterised the early phase of this "movement", which in subsequent centuries swept across the whole sub-continent and transformed popular religion in every place that it reached, was the emphasis placed upon the emotional aspect of the relation between the devotee and his chosen deity: the Tamil hymns regularly underline the message that salvation can be attained just through such devotion.
The chronology of the appearance, growth and development of this transformative movement is riddled with uncertainties, whether we consider literary or archaeological evidence. Each of the contributions to this volume addresses some aspect of the history of this movement in the South, and so, drawing on a wide range of disciplines -linguistics, philology, epigraphy, archaeology - they together contribute, each in its own way, to the mapping of the chronology of Bhakti. This volume is dedicated to our esteemed colleague Pandit R. Varadadesikan, a specialist of the Tamil sources of Vaisnavism, who recently retired after dedicating forty-four years of his life to a career in the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO working to further understanding of Tamil and Manipravalam literature.
In 2009, the whole month of August was devoted to Tamil Bhakti in the Pondichery Centre of the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO). During the first two weeks, Eva Wilden organised the 7th Classical Tamil Summer Seminar,' which was divided into two parts: Pandit T.S. Gangadharan, who sadly passed away at the end of the same year, 2 led reading sessions of the magnificent poems of the poetess Karaikkalammaiyar; it was followed, in the second week, by reading sessions conducted by Pandit R. Varadadesikan of poems of the other poetess of Tamil Bhakti, Antal, the passionate devotee of Visnu, But the emergence and development of this Bhakti movement in the medieval Tamil-speaking South is still a debated question which needs to be explored. This is why Eva Wilden organised, in the second half of the month, an international workshop entitled "On the internal and external chronology of Tamil Bhakti"; the expertise of Pandit R. Varadadesikan in the domain of Tamil Vaisnava Bhakti naturally prompted her to dedicate this event to him.
Well-versed in Sanskrit as well as in Tamil, a repository of the Vaisnava tradition, Pandit R. Varadadesikan became one of the rare specialists of Manipravala, a language considered as a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil, used by the Vaisnava community in southern medieval India. Often sought after for his ability to read and explain texts written in that language, Pandit R. Varadadesikan was also repeatedly consulted, during his forty-four year career at the Pondichery Centre of the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient, for his exegesis of the Vaisnava Tamil Bhakti literature, written by the Early Medieval Saints called Alvars. Pandit R. Varadadesikan, with his unparalleled kindness and humbleness, incarnates the voice of the Vaisnava tradition and, as his legacy, transmitted it to future generations through long reading sessions.
S.A.S. Sarma spent a Significant amount of time collecting biographical and bibliographical data and interviewing our Pandit, the result of which is published in continuation of the introductory note. We hope that this contribution will appear as a true homage to the work-and to the person-of R. Varadadesikan. As a part of our tribute to him, I have asked Marcus Schmucker, a scholar from the Academy of Science in Vienna who has been one of the most assiduous students of Pandit R. Varadadesikan for the past ten years, to write a note illustrating one of the aspects of his teaching.
The workshop followed an unusual format that has become a model for subsequent workshops in the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient: long sessions of half- a-day-or, in some cases, a whole day-were conducted by scholars who presented their material in detail, during the first ten days; the last two days of the event were utilised for shorter presentations, in the form of communications of half- an-hour as in any international conference. This event was the ground for various specific and intricate discussions between scholars specialists of South India from different fields and with different horizons-linguistics, philology, epigraphy, history, etc.-which contributed to the ongoing debate around the haunting question of the chronology of Tamil Bhakti.
A final word: I would like here to express my gratitude to all those who, with their encouragements, support, patience and plentiful advise, helped me in the task of editing the proceedings of this workshop.
In 1983, Friedhelm Hardy published a thorough study of the early Vaisnava Tamil Bhakti corpus which will rapidly become the authority in this domain: Viraha-Bhakti, The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India.' In a nutshell, he argues that the normative ideology of the Vedanta system tends to reject the emotional aspect since it considers it as an obstacle to liberation. With the appearance of early Krsnaism in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita, the notion materialises of a deity being born as a human being, subject to time and history. The Bhakti movement developed around the figure of Krsna, but a Bhakti which is intellectualised, whose practice is linked with Yoga, devoid of emotions, and which probably absorbs some of the folk material related to this deity. During the early medieval period in South India, a movement that Hardy calls "emotional Bhakti" developed, and distanced itself from the well established "Vedanta tradition, early Krsnaism and its intellectual bhakti-yoga". Hardy proposes that it originated in the Tamil poems of the Vaisnava Saints, the Alvars,2 and was passed on to the Bhagavatapurana, the first Sanskrit work to display such an emotional devotion.
Hardy regrets, and so do we, that he was not able to explore with the same method the enormous corpus of Saiva Tamil Bhakti which developed at approximately the same time. While Vaisnava Tamil Bhakti inherits its models partly from earlier literature starting with the Cankam literature (see the contributions of L.C. Orr, G. Vijayavenugopal, E. Wilden and K. Young), the Saiva corpus to some extent detached itself from such a strong and binding legacy. The poetry of the Vaisnavas is full of allusions to Vedic lore and repeatedly extolls the Brahmin community (see the contribution of K. Young; for the tradition which equates the four works of Nammalvar with the four Veda, see the contribution of G. Vijayavenugopal). It differs from the Saiva tradition which, although it sometimes mentions the Veda and refers to the Brahmin community,3 does not seem to assert its brahmanical orthodoxy with the same insistence, since the early medieval Saiva world involves cremation grounds, dance, madness, aimless wanderings, brahmanicide, etc. (for a description of all the myths related to Siva involving such elements, see M.A. Dorai Rangaswamy, 1958, The Religion and Philosophy of the Tevaram: with special reference to Nampi Arurar (Sundarar), University of Madras, Madras, reprint 1990).4
Many studies exist on the Saiva literary corpus, but they address only some of its aspects. For example, giving a broad overview of Tamil Bhakti, N. Cutler (see supra note 4) explores various facets of the Saiva (and the Vaisnava) corpus, such as the relation between the narrator, the god and the audience, or the poetics of Bhakti. Focussing on the Tevaram, Indira Peterson (see supra note 3) offers a general description of this very long opus, its context, its history, its meanings, and M.A. Dorai Rangaswamy (see supra, at the end of the previous paragraph) gives a thorough presentation of the myths referred to in the poems, and attempts to relate them to iconography. The work of K. Pechilis Prentiss (The embodiment of Bhakti, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999) revolves around the Tamilisation of the deity, its embodiment, and the dialectic between a local and a transcendental Siva. Uthaya Veluppillai (unpublished doctorate), narrowing the textual range, concentrates on the relation between one of the most celebrated sites of the Tevaram, Cikali, the poems extolling this place and the myth related to it. She unveils the late fabrication of a mythical web around a famous site.5
The accents of powerful devotion between a servant and his Lord Siva are found first in the vibrant poems of Karaikkalamaiyar, the famous Saiva poetess probably contemporaneous with the first Alvars, who sings of an almighty and terrible god dancing and wandering in cremation grounds. Filled with ecstatic love for her god, she lengthily describes him, his attributes and various appearances, addressing him directly, expecting a vision of his frightful aspect.
According to the generally accepted chronology, the Tevaram comes after the poems of Karaikkalamaiyar, Although its dates are still debated, there is a consensus of opinion for a composition between the 7th and the 9th centuries.6 It constitutes the first seven books of the twelve Tirumurai which, according to the legend, remained locked for centuries in a cella of the temple in Citamparam. Less poignant than its predecessor, the poems of Karaikkalamaiyar, this corpus roots each of its decades in temples located mainly in Tamil Nadu.7
The 7th century in the Tamil-speaking country saw the emergence of stone temples, parallel to the composition of this Tamil Bhakti textual corpus. They were mostly excavated at first and then built in stone, dedicated to the two major deities Siva and Visnu, materialising the devotion of their patrons in stone, an imperishable-and eternal-e-material.8 These temples, whenever they have an hymn attached to them, are never described in the poems, whether Saiva or Vaisnava. In fact, it seems a general feature of these Bhakti poems that the natural landscapes, the walls of the city where the temple is, and the surroundings in general are mentioned, often in a stereotyped manner, but not the monument itself (see the contributions of L.C. Orr and K. Young). Likewise, the numerous allusions to the Brahmin community in the Vaisnava corpus avoids the Brahmins attached to a temple-perhaps because of their lower status according to K. Young (see her contribution).
Children’s Books (51)
Brahma Sutras (85)
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