Religious Sects

Religious sects: Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhwacharya – Sri Basaveshvara, Veerashaivism and Vachana movement 

The revival and expansion of Hinduism after the Gupta period took many forms. The chief gods were the Shiva and Vishnu and many magnificent temples were built to proclaim their supremacy. The rise of the worship of Shiva and Vishnu marked the growth of a process of cultural synthesis. Thus, in an era of disintegration, religion played a positive part. The revival and growth of Hinduism led to increase the power and arrogance of Brahmanas. This resulted in a series of popular movements against brahmanical monopoly of the religion. These movements emphasized on the human equality and freedom. These movements led by many popular saints across India and they emphasized on love. The saints went from place to place carrying their message of love and devotion. A many belonged to lower castes also and this marked the entry of the lower classes into the popular Bhakti movements. These saints disregarded the inequilities of caste, rejected fasts and other social evils prevailed during the period.

The revival and expansion of the Hinduism took two forms. First was a renewed emphasis on the Vedas and Vedic worship and second, it was accompanied by a powerful literary and intellectual movement.


At the intellectual level, the most serious challenge was posed by the great Sankaracharya who reformulated the Hindu philosophy. He was born in Kerala in the 9th  century. Sankara’s philosophy is called ‘advaitvada’ or the doctrine on non-dualism. According to him, the God and created world are same; the differences were apparent but not real, and arose due to ignorance and ‘maya’ being a part of it. He said that the way to salvation was devotion to God, strengthed by the knowledge that the God and created world are same. This philosophy is called ‘Vedanta’. He upheld that the Vedas are the fountainhead of the true knowledge. Shankara travelled across whole of India and other parts of South Asia to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He established 4 great Mathas or monasteries at Badrinath, Dwarka, Sringeri, Puri and Kanchi. The heads of the Mathas are named after him while the sanyasins who are his followers are called Dashnamis as they are known by the ten appellations namely, Teerth, Ashram, Vana, Aranya, Giri, Parvat, Sagai; Saraswati, Bharati and Puri.


The path of knowledge showed by Shankaracharya could be followed by only a few. He did not opposed path of Bhakti by which the devotee merged with the god but for this the heart had to be cleaned through “jnana” or knowledge. Thus, it could not influence the masses.


In the 11th century, Ramanuja preached Vaishnavism. According to him, devotion to God became the essential than knowledge in order to salvation. He laid great emphasis on total reliance or “prapatti” , or surrender to God. He was born in Tamil Nadu in south India. According to Ramanuja, Bhakti was the real way to get salvation.  God is the supreme being who created everything, of all existence, and of all destruction. It is not possible for men to know the attributes of the Supreme Being. It is also impossible to know about the mystery of creation. The real duty of man therefore was to offer himself to God.

Ramanuja apreached men about the necessity of a Guru. The Guru could initiate the devotee to the path of devotion to God. Ramanuja looked at all human beings equally. He showed the path of Bhakti to all including the lower masses. According to him, all men had the equal right to worship God and to work for salvation. He tried to open temples for the so-called untouchables and depressed. Ramanuja tried to assimilate Bhakti to the tradition of Vedas and to built a bridge between the popular movement based on bhakti and the upper caste movement based on Vedas. He travelled and preached all over India to eradicate social evils and offered the path of devotion to God.


Dvaita philosophy was put forward by Madhavacharya, a medieval India bhakti saint. He was a Vaishnavite whose soul aim was to disprove the theory of Maya or unreality of the world and establish the doctrine of Bhakti or love and faith on a secure basis.

In contrast to Shankara’s Non-dualism and Ramanuja’s qualified Non-dualism, Madhavacharya put forward five eternal distinctions or individualities viz.

(i) Distinction between god and an individual spirit

(ii) God and the inanimate world

(iii) The individual spirit and the inanimate world

(iv) One individual spirit and another

(v) One inanimate object and another.

The followers of Madhava sect follow the method of Vaisheshikas and divide all existing things into categories of substance, qualities etc.

God or the Supreme being possesses an infinite number of qualities and his functions are eight viz. (i) creation (ii) protection (iii) dissolution (iv) controlling all things (v) giving knowledge (vi) manifestation of himself (vii) tying beings down to the world (viii) redemption.

Lakshmi is independent of God as she is eternal and blessed like the supreme soul and is his consort. All knowledge emanates from Paramatma, whatever the means by which it is achieved.

Direct perception is plaussible for everyone and can be aquired by different means like Vairagya, equanimity, self-control, acquaintance with the lore, attendance on Gupj or perceptor and acquisition of knowledge from him, reflection on what has been taught, devotion and love of God.

Dvaita, doctrine is simply theistic and recognized the Supreme God with Narayan or he is generally classified as Vishnu. The great saint earned the title of Poorna Prajna. His philosophy is realistic in absolute sense.

He popularize ‘Yathar-Vada’. According to him there are seven senses which help us to know, Manas and Saksin are the remaining two instruments and through which things are known. The concept of Saksin as the seventh principle is a unique feature of Dvaita philosophy.

Sri Basaveshvara

In 12th century South India witnessed the rise of new religion which was named as Lingayat movement.

Lingayatism is the faith professed and followed by the Karnatak Veerashaivas.  Basaveshwara is considered as the founder of this faith. He composed  Vachan Shastras which are believed to be the scriptures that embody the principles of the Lingayatism. Basaveshwara lived at the court of Kalachuris and he established his faith after bitter disputes with jainas. It is believed that Basava was born to a brahmin, rebelled against the rigid practices of the caste-system that prevalent in the society during the time. He eventually began propounding his philosophy with a caste-less society at its core. Soon, his philosophy began attracting large numbers of people from various classes including lower class also. Saints like Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi and Channabasavanna also played pivotal roles in the spreading of the message and the true meaning of Lingayatism.

The Lingayats are worshippors of the God Shiva. They strongly opposed caste system and rejected fastes, feasts, pilgrimages, rituals and sacrifices. They opposed chil marriage and strongly support widow remarriage.

The philosophy of Basaveshwara may be classified into three propositions, viz., God is real, the world is a challenge and an inspiration, and the goal of life is to attune itself to living in communion with the Divine Being and making life harmonious with society. His philosophy successfully make balance between the outer and inner in a man, the Bahiranga and the Antharanga. He was great reformer and at the same time, the Bhakti bhandari, the very treasure of devotion.




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