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Adi Sankara and Sri Ramanujar

Adi Sankara (788-820)

  • Bhakti or devotional movement incorporated different sections of the society into mainstream politics through the motto of service, surrender and sacrifice.
  • Every layman could understand this motto because Bhakti literary canons were composed in Tamil in simple syntactic and semantic style.
  • But, with the arrival of Adi Sankara Bhakti discourse began in Sanskrit in a philosophical mode.

Advent of Adi Sankara

  • Against the background of the emerging pan-Indian need for an ideology to evolve statehood, a new doctrine was expounded by Sankara from Kaladi, Kerala.
  • With his new doctrine of Maya (illusion) he held debates with his counterparts from different sects of religions and won over them.
  • Fundamentally, Sankara’s Advaita or non-dualism had its roots in Vedanta or Upanishadic philosophy.
  • His attempts to root out Buddhism and to establish smarta (traditionalist) mathas resulted in the establishment of monasteries in different places viz., Sringeri, Dvaraka, Badrinath, and Puri, which were headed by Brahmin pontiffs.
  • Sankara looked upon Saiva and Vaishnava worship as two equally important aspects of the Vedic religion.
  • Monastic organization and preservation of Sanskrit scriptures were the two major thrusts of Sankara school.

Sri Ramanujar (1017-1138)

  • Sri Ramanujar, a native of Sriperumpudur, underwent philosophical training under Yatavaprakasar in Kanchipuram in Sankara school of thought.
  • The young Ramanujar did not agree with the teachings of his guru and was fascinated by the teachings of the Srirangam school of thought.
  • Yamunacharya who once found him in Kanchi invited him to Srirangam.
  • But as soon as he reached Sri Rangam, Yamunacharya passed away.
  • Ramanujar was then declared the head of monastery in Srirangam.
  • He took control of monastery, temple and united the sect with efforts at modifying the rituals in temples.
  • Ramanuja was a teacher-reformer and a great organiser.
  • He challenged the monist ideology (Advaita) of Adi Sankara and in his effort to widen the social base to include social groups other than Brahmans.
  • Described as qualified monism, his philosophy of Visishtadvaita influenced many thinkers and developed into a separate tradition.
  • A century after his death, there was a schism which developed into two separate schools under Vedanta Desikar and Manavala Mamuni.
  • Ramanuja took interest in propagating the doctrine of Bhakti to social groups outside the varnashrama system.
  • He influenced some temple authorities to permit the social groups outside the varnashrama system to enter into temple at least once a year.
  • It is believed that due to the perceived threat to their religious faith and existence, Ramanujar had to leave his place of residence.


  • The developments in south India that took place during this time facilitated the fusion of north Indian and south Indian traditions and paved the way for the evolution of a composite Indian culture.
  • The popularity of the bhakti cult in various parts of India was inaugurated by the Tamil devotional cult, indicating that ‘maximum of common characteristics was beginning to merge in the various regions of the sub-continent’.
  • Quoting M.G.S. Narayanan and Kesavan Veluthat, we can sum up the significance of bhakti ideology as ‘the cementing force bringing together kings, Brahmin priests and the common people in a harmonious manner to strengthen the rule of the newly established Hindu kingdoms based on the caste system.’

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