South India's Bhakti Saints
How a handful of God-adoring devotees changed the history of a nation
Lakshmi Chandrashekar Subramanian
Singing their heart and soul to the divine, dedicating every verse as an offering, visiting the most auspicious of temples, recounting their personal encounters with the Lord, and living a life of faith, surrender and utmost devotion characterizes all the bhakti saints of India. Belonging to diverse communities, regions, historical periods and composing in different languages, styles and contexts, these poet-saints are bound together through time by their steadfast love of God. The widespread devotional tradition of India is referred to as the Bhakti Movement. From around the 6th century onwards, as far as historians can tell, regional bhakti poetry has been flourishing in the Indian subcontinent in various local languages. The early Vaishnava and Saiva bhakti saints composed hymns at a time when Jainism and Buddhism were gaining major popularity. In the early seventh and eighth centuries, the Hindu Pallava and Chola kingdoms of southern India were at the height of their power. This, coupled with the burgeoning popularity of the divine songsters, kept Hinduism strong as it faced threats from other faiths. The bhakti environment created by these poet-saints influenced people from all walks of life, royalty and laymen, who were inspired by the pristine devotion of the saints and subsequently redefined their own lives as service to God.