You are here
Home > Books > Chapter 04. Economic and social life, Education and religious beliefs (800-1200) (Old NCERT History Medieval India)

Chapter 04. Economic and social life, Education and religious beliefs (800-1200) (Old NCERT History Medieval India)

CHAPTER 4 : Economic and social life, Education and religious beliefs (800-1200)

Although we have not yet studied political developments in north India from 1000 to 1200the entire period from 800 to 1200 may be regarded as one for the purpose of studying economic and social life and religious beliefs. Economic and social life, ideas and beliefs, change much more slowly than political life. That is why many of the earlier features which existed before the ninth century continued during this period also. At the same time, there were a number of new factors which made the period different from the earlier one. Generally speaking, new elements as well as elements of continuity are found in every historical period but the extent and direction of change varies.

Trade and Commerce

In Northern India, this period is often considered a period of stagnation and even of decline. This is seen in the steady decline of towns and the absence of gold and silver coins between the 7th and 10th centuries.
The decline of foreign trade and absence of gold and silver coins is sometimes traced to the collapse in the west of the Roman empire with which India had a flourishing and profitable trade. However, recent studies show that the impact of the collapse of the Roman empire on India’s foreign trade was not as much as was believed at one time. Two powerful empires, Byzantine empire based on Constantinople comprising parts of Eastern Europe and West Asia and second the Sassanid empire based on Iran, had risen following the collapse of the Roman Empire. India had extensive trade relations with both of these. Even more important was the growth during this period in India’s trade and commerce with countries of Southeast Asia — called Suwarna bhumi or land of gold and with China. Bengal, South India, as well as Malwa and Gujarat were the main beneficiaries of this. Thus, silver currency continued in Bengal and gold was plentiful in South India. The growth of the towns of Anhilwara and Champaner in Gujarat may be traced back to this period.
The undoubted decline of long distance trade within the country during this period has to be sought more in internal conditions. There was the rise of many states and the growth of what has been called ‘localism’. In these states there was a marked growth of local self-sufficiency which grew in conjunction with small towns. Within these states in many areas there was a growth of agriculture. Brahmans seem to have played an important role in this. Thus, in many states in order to strengthen and legitimise their own positions, the rulers invited brahmans and gave them grants of revenue-free lands to settle down. In some areas, such as Bengal, Sindh and the Tamil lands, these brahman families extended and improved cultivation and, at their instance and encouragement, many nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes also settled down to agriculture.
Decline in trade and commerce is also reflected In the thinking of the period. In some of the Dharmashastras which were written during this period, a ban is put on travel beyond the areas where the munja grass does not grow or where the black gazelle does not roam, that is, outside India. Travel across the salt seas was also considered polluting. of course, not everybody took these bans seriously. We have accounts of Indian merchants, philosophers, medical men and craftsmen visiting Baghdad and other Muslim towns in West Asia during this Beliefs period. Perhaps, the ban was meant for brahmanas only or was meant to discourage too many Indians going to the areas dominated by Islam, in the West and Buddhism in the East for fear of their bringing back heretical religious ideas which may be embarrassing and unacceptable to the brahmanas and to the ruling groups.
The ban on sea-travel did not interfere with the growth of India’s overseas trade with the countries of South-East Asia and China. A brisk trade between south India and the countries of South-East Asia had started from the sixth century onwards. The growing geographical knowledge about the countries of the area is reflected in the literature of that time. The peculiar features of the languages of the area, their dresses, etc are mentioned in the books of the period such as Harisena’s Brihatkatha- kosh. There are many stories about the adventures of the Indian merchants in the magical waters of the area, stories which became the basis of the well- known story of Sindbad the Sailor. The Indian merchants were organised in guilds, the most famous of them being the Manigraman and the Nanadesi which had been active since early times. Many of the Indian traders settled down in these countries and some of them even took wives from the local population. The priests followed the traders and, in this way, both Buddhist and Hindu religious ideas were introduced in the area. The Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Java and the brahmanical temple of Angkorvat in Cambodia testify to the spread of both these religions there. Some of the ruling families of the area were semi-Hinduised and they welcomed trade and cultural relations with India. In this way, Indian culture mingled with the local culture to establish new literary and cultural forms. Some observers think that the material prosperity of the South-East Asian countries, the growth of civilisation and of large states was based on the introduction of the Indian technique of irrigated rice-cultivation.
The chief Indian port for sailing to Java, Sumatra, etc was Tamralipti (Tamluk) now in Bengal. In most of the stories of the period, merchants start for Suvarnadvipa (modern Indonesia) of Kataha. (Kedah in Malaya) from Tamralipti, A fourteenth-century’writer in Java speaks of people from Jambudvipa (India) Karnataka (south India) and Gaud (Bengal) coming unceasingly in large numbers in large ships. Gujarat traders also took part in this trade.
China had long been a main focus of trade in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese consumed enormous quantities of spices which were imported from South-East Asia and India. They also imported ivory the best of which came from Africa and glassware which came from West Asia. To these were added medicinal herbs, lac, incense and all types of rare things. Generally products from Africa and West Asia did not go beyond the Malabar in South India. Nor did Chinese ships go beyond the Moluccas in South-East Asia. Thus, both India and South-East Asia were important staging centres for trade between China and the countries of West Asia and Africa. Indian traders — especially the Tamil and Kalinga (from modern Orissa and Bengal) — played an active role in this trade, along with Persians and later the Arabs. Much of the trade to China was carried in Indian ships, the teak-wood of Malabar, Bengal and Burma providing the base of a strong tradition of ship building. The weather conditions were also such that it was not possible for a ship to sail straight from the Middle-East to China. The ships would have to wait for a long period in ports in between for favourable winds which blow from the west, to the east before the monsoon and from east to west after the monsoon Indian and South-East- Asian ports were preferred by the merchants for the purpose. The main sea-port for foreign trade in China during this period was Canton, or Kanfu as the Arab travellers called it. Buddhist scholars went from India to China by the sea-route. The Chinese chroniclers tell us that the number of Indian monks in the Chinese court towards the close of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh century was the highest in Chinese history. A Chinese account of slightly earlier period tells us that the Canton river was full of ships from India, Persia and Arabia. It says that in Canton itself there were three brahmana temples in which Indian brahmanas resided. The presence of Indians in the Chinese Sea is testified to by Japanese records which give the credit of introducing cotton into Japan to two Indians who were carried over to the country by the black currents.
Indian rulers, particularly the Pala and Sena rulers of Bengal and, the Pallava and Chola rulers of south India, tried to encourage this trade by sending a series of embassies to the Chinese emperors. The Qhdla ruler, Rajendra I, sent a naval expedition against Malaya and neighbouring countries to overcome their interference in the trade with China. The embassy sent to China by Rajendra I travelled in an Indian ship. There is evidence to show that there were many shipyards in south India, Orissa and Bengal engaged in the construction of ships. Such shipyards were also located on the west coast including Gujarat. Thus, growth of India’s foreign trade in the area was based on a strong naval tradition, including ship building and a strong navy and the skill and enterprise of its traders. The Chinese trade was very favourable to the countries engaged in it, so much so that in the thirteenth century, the Chinese government tried to restrict the export of gold and silver from China. Indian ships gradually gave way to the Arabs and the Chinese whose ships were bigger and faster. We are told that the Chinese ships were several storeys high and carried 600 passengers apart from 400 soldiers. An important factor in the growth of the Chinese ships was the use of a Mariner’s compass — an invention which later travelled from China to the West.
While India’s trade with the western areas declined, trade with South-East Asia and China grew steadily. The lead in this trade was taken by south India, Bengal and Gujarat. This was an important factor in the wealth and prosperity of those areas.

Society

A number of important changes took place in Indian society during this period. One of these was the growing power of a class of people who are variously called samanta, ranak, rautta (rajput) etc by the contemporary writers. Their origins were very different. Some were government officers who were increasingly paid not in cash but by assigning to- them revenue-bearing villages. Others were defeated rajas and their supporters, who continued to enjoy, the revenue of limited areas. Still others were local hereditary chiefs or military adventurers who had carved out a sphere of authority with the help of armed supporters. Still others were tribal or clan leaders. The actual position of these sections varied. Some of them were only village chiefs, some of them dominated a tract-comprising a number of villages, while a few dominated an entire region. They constantly contended against each other and tried to enhance their sphere of authority and privileges.
The revenue assignments (called bhoga or fief) granted by a ruler to his officers and supporters were temporary in theory and were liable to be resumed whenever the ruler wanted. However, in practice, this was rarely done, except in the case of outright rebellion or disloyalty. According to current notions, it was a sin to deprive even a defeated ruler of his lands.
As a result, the kingdoms of this period included large areas dominated by defeated and subordinate rulers who were constantly on the lookout for reasserting their independence. Within the territories of these rulers, again various officers looked upon their assignments as hereditary fiefs. In course of time, even various government offices began to be considered hereditary. We have in an earlier chapter seen a case in Bengal where members of a family held the office of mahamantri for four generations. Similarly, most offices began to be considered the monopoly of a few families. The hereditary chiefs gradually began to assume many of the functions of the government. They hot only assessed and collected land revenue, but also acquired more and more administrative powers, such as the right, of awarding punishments and exacting fines on their own, which earlier were generally considered royal privileges. They assumed the right to sublet their lands to their followers without the prior permission of the ruler, thus increasing the number of people who drew sustenance from land without working on it themselves. This type of society may be called a feudal society. The common feature of a feudal society is that the dominant position in society is held by those who draw their sustenance from land without working on it.
The growth of such a society in India had far-reaching effects. It weakened the position of the ruler and made him more dependent on the feudal chiefs, many of whom maintained their own military forces which could be used to defy the ruler. The internal weaknesses of the Indian states became crucial in their contest with the Turks later on. The small states discouraged trade and encouraged an economy in which villages or groups of villages tended to become largely self-sufficient. The domination of the chiefs also weakened village self-government. But the feudal order did not have disadvantages only. In an age of disorder and violence, the stronger chiefs provided safety of life and property to the peasants and others without which daily life could not have functioned. Some of the chiefs also took interest in the extension and improvement of cultivation.

Condition of the People

There was no decline in the high standard of Indian handicrafts such as textiles, work on gold and silver, metallurgy, etc during the period. Indian agriculture also continued to be in a flourishing condition. Many of the Arab travellers testify to the fertility of the soil and the skill of the Indian peasant.
All the literary works of the period tell us that the ministers, officials and landed chiefs lived in great ostentation.
and splendour. They aped the ways of the king in having fine houses which sometimes were three to five storeys high. They used costly foreign apparel such as imported woollen clothes and Chinese silk and costly jewels and ornaments made of gold and silver to adorn their bodies. They maintained a large number of women in their households and had a train of domestic servants to look after them. Whenever they moved out, a large number of attendants accompanied them. They assumed high-sounding titles, such as mahasamantadhipati and had their own distinctive symbols, such as banners, decorated umbrellas and the yak-tail to whisk away flies. A contemporary work describes the dress and bearing of the young son of a royal official which may be taken to represent the class of petty landed chiefs and state officers. He wears finger-rings and earrings of a distinctive style and has a thin golden thread around his neck. His body is yellowish with the saffron rubbed on his body. His shoes have ornamental designs. His clothes are yellow with saffron and have a gold border. Whenever he comes out in public, he is accompanied by a number of attendants, including a person with a casket of betel-nuts and five or six armed men.
Big merchants also aped the ways of the king and sometimes their living was quite royal of a millionaire (kotisvara) in the Chalukyan empire, we are told that huge banners with ringing-bells were hoisted over his house and that he owned a large number of horses and elephants. The main building was approached by a staircase of crystal and had a temple of crystal floor and walls which were adorned by religious paintings containing an image in crystal. Vastupala and Tejahpala who were ministers in Gujarat are reputed to have been the richest merchants of their times.
From the above we cannot, however, assume that there was prosperity all round. While foodstuffs were cheap, there were many poor people in the cities who could not get enough to eat. The author of the Rajatarangini (written in Kashmir in the twelfth century) has them in mind when he says that whereas the courtiers ate fried meat and drank cooled wine perfumed With flowers, the ordinary people had to be content with rice and utpala-saka (a wild vegetable of bitter taste). There are many stories of the hard lot of poor men and women, some of whom took to a life of robbery and plunder. As for the villages where the large bulk of the population lived, we have to get information about the life of the peasants from literary works, grants of land, inscriptions, etc. The commentators on Dharmashastras tell us that the rate of the revenue demand from the peasant was one-sixth of the produce as before. However, from some of the grants we learn of a large number of additional cesses, such as grazing tax, tax on ponds, etc. The peasants had to pay these taxes over and above the land revenue. In addition, some of the grants gave the grantees the right to levy fixed or unfixed, proper or improper, taxes on the peasants. The peasants also had to render forced labour (visti). In some cases, as in central India and Orissa, we find some villages being given to the donees along with artisans, herdsmen and cultivators who were tied to the soil like serfs in medieval Europe. In literary works we hear of chiefs realising money on every opportunity that offered itself. We are told of a Rajput chief that he made money even from sparrows, dead birds, pig dung and the shrouds of dead bodies. Another writer tells us of a village which was depopulated due to the actions of a chief (samant).
To this may be added the frequent recurrence of famines and wars. In the wars, destruction of water reservoirs, burning of villages, seizure by force of ail the cattle or the grains stored in granaries in the markets and destruction of cities were normal features, so much so that they are considered legitimate by the writers of the-period.
Thus, the growth of the society increased the burdens on the common man.

The Caste System

The caste system which had been established much earlier formed the basis of the society. The smriti writers of the period exalt the privileges of the brahmanas and even surpass the previous writers in emphasising the social and religious disabilities of the sudras. According to a writer, Parasara, eating a sudra’s food, association with a sudra, sitting on the same seat with a sudra and taking lessons from a sudra are acts which drag down even the noblest person. We even find a discussion whether the shadow of an untouchable was polluting or not. It is difficult to say how far the ideas of the smriti writers were practised in daily life. But there is no doubt that the disabilities from which the lower castes suffered increased during the period. Marriages between different castes were frowned upon. In the case of the union of a high caste man with a woman of a lower caste, the caste of the offspring was to be determined by the caste of the mother, but by the caste of the father if he belonged to a caste lower than the mother’s. Contemporary writers mention a large number of castes such as potters, weavers, gold-smiths, musicians, barbers, rope-makers, leather-Workers, fishermen, hunters of birds, etc. Some of these were guilds of workers which now began to be classified as castes (jati). It is significant that the smriti writers of the period regard handicrafts as low occupations. Thus, most of the workers as well as tribals such as the bhilas were classified as untouchables.

Rise of the Rajputs

We also meet during this period a new caste called Rajputs. There is a great deal of controversy among scholars about the origin of the Rajputs. Many of the Rajput clans trace their genealogy to the solar and lunar families of kshatriyas which are mentioned in the Mahabharata. Some others trace their ancestry back to a sacrificial fire said to have been held at Mt. Abu by the sage Vasistha. We cannot depend upon these traditions because some of them, such as the legend of the sacrificial fire at Mt. Abu From Which some of the Rajput clans such as the Pratihara, Parmara, Chauhana and Solanki, is mentioned for the first time in the later bardic traditions. We can deduce from traditions only that different Rajput clans have different origins. Some scholars, both foreign and Indian think that a number of these clans descended from Scythians and Hunas who settled in India after Harsha, while a number of others belong to indigenous tribes. At various times, brahmana and vaishya families ruled in the country in addition to the kshatriyas. It seems that, in course of time, all ruling families belonging to various castes began to be termed rajaputra or rajput, i. e. royal and given the status of kshatriyas.
It will be seen that caste (jati) is not as rigid as has sometimes been believed: individuals and groups can rise in the varna scale and they can also fall. Sometimes, it was found difficult to classify new castes in the varna scale. An instance of this is the kayastha caste, which begins to be mentioned more prominently from this period. It seems that originally people from different castes, including brahmanas and sudras, who worked in the royal establishments, were called kayastha. In course of time, they emerged as a distinct caste. Hinduism was expanding rapidly during the period. It not only absorbed large numbers of Buddhists and Jains within its fold, but many indigenous tribes and foreigners were also Hinduised. These new sections formed new castes and sub-castes and often continued their own customs, rituals of marriage ceremonies and even their own tribal gods and goddesses. Thus, society and religion became more and more complex.

Condition of Women

As in the earlier period, women were generally considered to be mentally inferior. Their duty was to obey their husbands blindly. A writer illustrates the wife’s duty of personal service towards her husband by saying that she shall shampoo his feet-and render him such other services as befits a servant. But he adds the condition that the husband should follow the righteous path and should be free from hatred as well as jealousy towards the wife. The Matsya Purana authorises the husband to beat his erring wife (though not on the head or the breasts) with rope or a split bamboo. Women continued to be denied the right to study the Vedas. Furthermore, the marriageable age for girls was lowered, thereby destroying their opportunities for higher education. The omission of all reference to women teachers in the dictionaries written during the period shows the poor state of higher education among women. However, from some of the dramatic works of the period, we find that the court ladies and even the queen’s maids-in-waiting were capable of composing excellent Sanskrit and Prakrit verses. Various stories point to the skill of princesses in the fine arts, especially in painting and music. Daughters of high officials, courtesans and concubines were also supposed to be highly skilled in various arts, including poetry.
As for marriage, the smriti writers say that girls were to be given away by their parents, between the ages of six and eight or between their eight year and attaining puberty. Remarriage was allowed under certain conditions when the husband had deserted (i. e. was not heard of) or died, or adopted the life of a recluse, or was impotent or had become an outcaste.
In general, women were distrusted. They were to be kept in seclusion and their life was regulated by the male relations — father, brother, husband and son. However, within the home they were honoured. If a husband abandoned even a guilty wife, she was to be given maintenance. With the growth of property rights in land, the property rights of women also increased. In order to preserve the property of a family, women were given the right to inherit the property of their male relations. With some reservations, a widow was entitled to the entire estate of her husband if he died sonless. Daughters also had the right to succeed to the properties of a widow. Thus, the growth of feudal society strengthened the concept of private property.
The practice of sati was made obligatory by some writers, but condemned by others. According to an Arab writer, Sulaiman, wives of kings sometimes burnt themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands, but it was for them to exercise their option in the matter. It appears that with the growth of the practice of large number of women being maintained by the chiefs and with the resultant disputes about property, there was a tendency for the rite of sati to spread.

Pattern of Living: Dress, Food, Amusement
There were no significant changes in the style of dress of men and women during the period, the dhoti and the sari remaining the normal dress for men and women. In addition, in north India, men used the jacket and women the bodice (choli. From sculptures it appears that long coats, trousers and shoes were worn by upper class men in north India. According to Rajatarangini, Harsha introduced into Kashmir a general dress befitting a king. This included the long coat because we are told that a former chief minister having worn a short coat incurred the king’s displeasure. Woollen blankets were used in winter. While cotton was the material most commonly used, the upper classes also used silk cloth and fine muslin. The Arab travellers testify to the fondness of men and women for wearing ornaments. Both men and women wore gold bracelets and earrings, sometimes of costly stones. A Chinese writer, Chau Ju Kua, says that in Gujarat both men and women have double earrings and wear close fitting clothes, with hoods on their heads, as well as red-coloured shoes on their feet. Another famous traveller, Marco Polo, tells us that in Malabar men and women wore only a loin-cloth, the king being no exception and that the profession of the tailor was unknown. Loincloth was also the dress of men and women in Quilon. But though their clothes were scanty, the kings of southern India were fond of jewellery. According to Chau Ju Kua, the king of Malabar was dressed in cotton loin-cloth and was bare-footed like his subjects, but when going out on an elephant in procession he wore a golden hat ornamented with pearls and gems, as well as golden armlets and anklets. Marco Polo says, “What this king wears between gold and gems and pearls is worth more than a city’s ransom”.
As far food is concerned, while vegetarianism appeared to have been rule in many areas and sections of the population, the leading smriti writer of the times describes at great length the occasions on which the eating of meat was lawful. From this it appears that the peacock, the horse, the wild ass, the wild cock and the wild pig were regarded lawful food.
Arab writers compliment the Indians about the absence of the use of intoxicants among them. However, this appears to be an idealised picture. Ill literary works of the period we have many references to wine-drinking. Wine was drunk on ceremonial occasions, including marriages and feasts and outings which were very popular among some classes of citizens. Even women in the king’s train indulged freely in wine. While some smriti writers forbid wine-drinking to the three upper castes, some others forbid it only to the brahmanas, the kshatriyas and the vaishyas being permitted to indulge in it with some exceptions.
The literature of the time shows that the people of the towns were fun- loving. Apart from fairs and festivals, excursions to gardens, swimming parties, etc. were widely popular. Fights among various types of animals, such as arms, cocks, etc as well as wrestling bouts were popular among the masses. The upper classes continued to be fond of dicing, hunting and a kind of Indian polo which was regarded as a royal pastime.

Education, Science and Learning

The system of education which had been gradually developed in the earlier period continued during this period without much change. There was no idea of mass education at that time. People learnt what they felt was needed for their livelihood. Reading and writing was confined to a small section, mostly brahmanas and some sections of the upper classes, including kayasthas.
Sometimes, temples made arrangements for education at a higher level as well. Generally, a student had to go to the house of a teacher or to live with him for getting initiation into higher education. In such a case, he had to pay fees to his teacher, or give him a gift at the end of his education. Students, particularly those who were too poor to pay fees, were expected to do personal service to the teacher. The main subjects studied were the various branches of the Vedas and grammar, logic and philosophy which included science. The responsibility for giving education for a craft or profession was generally left to the guilds, or to individual families. For instance, we have a detailed description of the careful manner in which a merchant trained his son for his profession.
Education of a more formal kind, with greater emphasis on secular subjects, continued to be provided at some of the Buddhist viharas (monastries) Nalanda in Bihar was the most famous of these. Other such centres of learning included Vikrarnasila and Uddandapura which also were in Bihar. All these drew students from distant places, including Tibet. Education for most of the residents was free. For meeting their expenses, lavish grants of money and land were given to them by the rulers. Nalanda had a grant of 200 villages.
Kashmir was another important centre of education. Many Saiva sects and centres of learning flourished in Kashmir during the period, A number of important maths were set up in south India, such as at Madurai and Sringeri. The various centres of education provided a great impetus to discussions, religion and philosophy being the main topics. The numerous maths and other centres of education in various parts of India enabled ideas to flow freely and quickly from one part of the country to another. Philosophical education was not considered complete till the philosopher had visited the various centres of learning in different parts of the country and held discussions with the scholars there. The manner in which ideas could be transmitted throughout the country was important in upholding and strengthening the cultural unity of India.
The growth of science in the country slowed down during the period so that in course of time, it was no longer regarded as a leading country in the field of science. Thus, surgery declined because the dissection of dead bodies was regarded as fit only for people of low castes. In fact surgery became the profession of barbers Astronomy was gradually pushed into the background by astrology. However some advance was made in the field of mathematics. The Lilawati of Bhaskar II which was written during this period remained a standard text for a long time. Some advance was made in the field of medicine by the use of minerals, especially mercury. Many books were written dn plant sciences and for the treatment of animals leg. horses, elephants, etc) But no way was found for breeding fine quality horses so that India remained dependent on the import of such horses from Central Asia, including Arabia and Iran. With the conquest of these areas by Muslim rulers, the Indian rulers had to face many difficulties in securing the supply of good horses.
There were many reasons for the stagnation of Indian science during the period. Experience suggests that the growth of science is closely connected with the growth of society as a whole. During the period, society was becoming increasingly rigid and narrow in character. There had been a setback in urban life and communications, with growing religious orthodoxy.
Another reason was the tendency for the Indians to isolate themselves from the main currents of scientific thought outside India. This is reflected in the writings of al-Biruni, a noted scientist ahd scholar from Central Asia who lived in India for about ten years during the early part of the eleventh century. Although a great admirer of Indian science and learning, al-Biruni noted the insular attitude of the learned people of the country, viz the brahmanas. He says: “They are haughty, foolish, vain, self-conceited, stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know and they take the greatest possible Care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course from any foreigners. According to their belief, no other created beings besides them have any knowledge of science whatsoever”.

Religious Movements and Beliefs

The period is marked by a revival and expansion of Hinduism and a continued decline of Buddhism and Jainism. Not only were the tenets of Buddhism and Jainism challenged at the intellectual level, but on occasions, Buddhist and Jain monks were persecuted and their temples were taken over. Thus, the temple of Puri Beliefs was once a Buddhist- temple. The temple at the Qutb complex was once a Jain temple which was converted into a Vishnu temple. However, these were not part of any systematic policy, as in the case of some of the later Turkish sultans, such as Mahmud Ghazni.
During this period, Buddhism was gradually confined to eastern India. The Pala rulers were patrons of Buddhism. The decline of the Pala power after the tenth century was a blow to Buddhism in the area. But even more serious were the internal developments in Buddhism. Buddha had preached a practical philosophy, with a minimum of priesthood and speculation about god. With the rise of the Mahayana, school of Buddhism in the early centuries of the Christian era Buddha had begun to be worshipped as a god. This worship now became more elaborate. The belief grew that a worshipper could attain what he desired by uttering magical words (mantra) and making various kinds of mystic gestures. They also believed that by these practices and by various kinds of austerities and secret rites, they could attain supernatural powers, such as the power to fly in the air, to become invisible, to see things at a distance, etc. Man has always yearned for control over nature in this manner. It is only with the growth of modern science that many of these yearnings have been fulfilled. Many Hindu yogis also adopted these practices. The most famous among them was Gorakhnath. t’he followers of Goraklgnath were called Nath-Panthis and at one time they were popular all over north India. Many of these yogis belonged to the lower castes. They denounced the caste system and the privileges claimed by the brahmanas. The path they preached was called tantra which was open to all, irrespective of caste distinctions.
Thus, Buddhism did not so much decline, as it assumed forms which made it indistinguishable from Hinduism.
Jainism continued to be popular, particularly among the trading communities. The Chalukyan rulers of Gujarat patronised Jainism. It was during this time that some of the most magnificent Jain temples, such as the Dilwara temple at Mt. Abu, were built. The Paramara rulers of Malwa also built many huge images of Jain saints and of Mahavira who began to be worshipped as a god. The magnificent Jainalayas which were built in various parts also acted as resting places for travellers. In south India, Jainism attained its high water-mark during the ninth and tenth centuries. The Ganga rulers of Karnataka were great patrons of Jainism. During this period, many Jain hasadis (temples) and mahastambhas (pillars) were set up in different parts. The colossal image at Sravana Belgola was set up during this time. The statue is about 18 metres high and was cut out of a granite rock. It shows the saint standing up, practising rigid austerities unmindful of the snakes coiled around his feet and the anthills which had grown up. The Jain doctrine of the four gifts (learning, food, medicine and shelter) helped to make Jainism popular among the people. In course of time, the growing rigidity of Jainism and the loss of royal patronage led to the decline of Jainism.
The revival and expansion of Hinduism took many forms. Siva and Vishnu became the chief gods and magnificent temples were built to proclaim their supremacy. In the process, many local gods and goddesses including the gods and goddesses of tribals who became Hinduized became subordinate to their consorts. In eastern India, the consorts — Tara, the consort of Buddha, Durga, the consort of Siva, Kali, etc became themselves the chief objects of worship. Nevertheless, the rise of the worship of Siva and Vishnu signified the growth of a process of cultural synthesis. Thus, in an era of disintegration, religion played a positive part. But the religious revival also increased the power and arrogance of the Brahmanas. This resulted in a series of popular movements which emphasised the element of human equality and freedom.
We have already referred to the growth of tantrism in North India in which anyone irrespective of caste could be enrolled. But far more important and broad based was the, growth of Bhakti Movement in South India. The Bhakti Movement was led by a series of popular saints, called. Nayanars. These saints rejected austerities. They looked upon religion not as a mi tier of cold, formal worship but as a living bond based on love between the god and the worshipper. The chief objects of their worship were Siva and Vishnu. They spoke and wrote in Tamil and Telugu, the languages which everyone could understand. These saints went from place to place carrying their message of love and devotion. Some of them belonged to the lower classes and at least one of them was a brahmana. There was also a woman saint, Andal. Almost all of them disregarded the inequalities of caste, though they did not try to oppose the caste system as such. The lower castes had been excluded from Vedic scholarship and vedic worship. The path of Bhakti advocated by these saints was open to all, irrespective of caste.
The Bhakti Movement not only won to the fold of Hinduism many adherents of Buddhism and Jainism; they also won over many tribals.
Another popular movement which arose during the twelfth century was the Lingayat or Vir Saiva movement. Its founder was Basava and his nephew, Channabasava, who lived at the court of the Kalachuri kings of Karnataka. They established their faith after bitter disputes with the Jains. The Lingayats are worshippers of Siva. They strongly opposed the caste system and rejected fasts, feasts, pilgrimages and sacrifices. In the social sphere, they opposed child marriage and allowed remarriage of widows.
Thus, both in south and north India, the revival and expansion of Hinduism took two forms — a renewed emphasis on the Vedas and vedic worship, on the one hand, accompanied by a powerful literary and intellectual movement and, on the other, a popular movement based, in north India, on tantra and in south India, on bhakti. Both tantra and bhakti disregarded- caste inequalities and were open to all.
At the intellectual level, the most serious challenge to Buddhism and Jainism was posed by Sankara who reformulated the Hindu philosophy. Sankara was born in Kerala, probably in the ninth century. Many legends have grown around his life. Persecuted by the Jains, it is said, thereafter, he undertook a triumphant visit to north India where he worsted his opponents in debate. The victory was completed by a warm welcome by the king on his return to Madurai and the banishment of the Jains from the court.
Sankara’s philosophy is called advaitavcida or the doctrine of non- dualism. According to Sankara, God and the created world was one: the differences were apparent but not real and arose due to ignorance. The way forward to salvation was devotion to God, strengthened by the knowledge that God and the created beings were one and the same. This philosophy is called Vedanta. Thus, Sankara upheld the Vedas as the fountainhead of true knowledge.
The path of knowledge put forward by Sankara could be understood by only a few. Sankara did not reject the path of bhakti, but a bhakt had first to clean his heart through jnan or knowledge for which a study of the scriptures was necessary. Thus, Sankara’s concept of bhakti could not influence the masses. Following Sankara, many acharyas, who were orthodox brahmanas, prescribed the same course. In the 11th century, another famous scholar, Ramanuja, tried to assimilate Bhakti to the tradition of the Vedas. He argued that the grace of God was more important than knowledge about him in order to attain salvation. He further argued that the path of Bhakti was open to all, irrespective of caste. Thus, Ramanuja tried to build a bridge between the popular movement based on Bhakti and the upper caste movement based on the Vedas.
The tradition established by Ramanuja was followed by a number of thinkers such as Madhavacharya (10th century) and in north India by Ramananda, Vallabhacharya and others.
In this way, Bhakti became acceptable to all sections of Hindu, society by the early sixteenth century.
 

Top
error: Content is protected !!