This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
This brings us to the year A. B. 808 to 835 equal to A. D. 325-352 according to the Geiger scheme or 60 years less on the basis of 543 for A. B. 1. So up to the commencement of the fourth century the actual connection between Ceylon and South India may be described as one of hostility often political, but always to a certain degree religious in the sense that Buddhism which commanded the most influential clientele in Ceylon did not command the support, or gain even the sympathy, of the Tamils who came into occupation of Ceylon from across the sea. We have already noticed that the religious condition of South India was one of complete freedom. From such evidence as is available to us, there were Buddhists and Jains pursuing peacefully each sect its own particular persuasion though* it undoubtedly seems that Hinduism was the dominant religion. In the headquarters of the Chola Kingdom as well as of the Pandya, of both of which we get elaborate descriptions in works written by Buddhist, Jain and Hindu, we find all of these co-existing, so much so that it would seem ordinarily to be difficult to infer what exactly was the particular leaning of the monarch for the time being. The Vaidic learning which was held in high esteem and of which we gain glimpses even in the writings of authors professing religions hostile to the claims of the Veda seems, on the evidence of the poem from Purananuru quoted above, specially organised here for controverting what was regarded by this school as the false learning of those who ceased to hold the Veda in high esteem. That is not all. Puram 166 quoted above translates (11. 1-10). "Hail! descendant of a family of first among wise men who enjoy the reputation of having perfected without defect the twenty-one kinds of sacrifice; who were learned in the ancient Veda which is habitually much cultivated and which is unceasingly in the tongue of the venerable Siva of long-matted locks; which has for its sole object Dharma which is four-footed and learnt, with the aid of the six auxiliary sciences, with a view chiefly to controvert with success the truth-like convictions of those whose persuasions lie outside the Veda, and to put a stop to their increase by imposing upon people; understanding the actual truth of these seemingly true convictions, these ancestors of yours succeeded in exposing their hollowness and thus prevented their increase. Of such distinguished ancestry have you come into the world."
Whether the stimulus actually came from the north or no, there is nothing in the evidence for an inference either way; but Brahmanism in the Tamil country took the same development that it did take according to Sir E. G. Bhan-darkar, in the orthodox middle country of Hindustan. We see already the coming into prominence of the cult of particular gods such as Siva, Vishnu or Krishna, etc. The four gods, Siva, Baladeva, Krishna and Subrahmanya referred to already as having been regarded as the guiding divinities of the world on the authority of a poem by Narkirar are the divinities whose temples the Silappadhikaram describes as having existed in Madura and even Kaveripattanam. It may be that the existence of the temples of a prominent character to these four in Madura was the reason for Narkirar's conviction in the poem quoted above. We have already pointed out the importance that was attached, in the prevalent Hinduism of this part of the country, to sacrifices such as the Buddhists and even the Jains condemned. In the society of Tamil India of those days the Brahman found the celebration of these sacrifices normally allotted to him. The function and the celebrant alike came to be treated with great honour by the community as a whole as benefactors of society. While therefore it would be safe to assert that the heterodox sects of the Buddhists and Jains were allowed to prosper peacefully and there was no persecution in the country, it would still, on the evidence available, bear assertion that the orthodox Hinduism was the religion of the south. This Hinduism had already undergone a certain degree of modification towards subordinating the purely ritualistic part of the Brahmanic religion by a very strong infusion of the devotional element in it. While the Brahman was expected rigorously to conform to his duties as the sacrificer for the community, the rest of the community could look forward, in the security that the Brahman was discharging his duties to the community as a whole, to the attainment of earthly prosperity here in this world and salvation in the next by the comparatively easier method of devotion, each to the god of his heart. The notion of god and that of a ministering priest to stand between God and individual man already come into relief. This peculiar feature of devotion to god under the right guidance of a preceptor is a feature peculiar to Bhakti on the one side and to the development of Buddhism of the Mahayana form in its more abstruse aspect on the other. This feature seems to have been the peculiar feature of the heterodox Vetulya followers (of the Abhayagiri Vihara) of Buddhism itself, and be it noted it is a development of Buddhism which as noticed by the Ceylon 14 Buddhists is peculiar to the continental part set over against their own coast; in other words, the Tamil country and the region adjoining. It would seem therefore as though the school of Bhakti and the Vetulya heresy of Buddhism alike were the developments of Brahmanism and Buddhism respectively as a result of the same or similar influences. If Nagarjuna's association with Sri-Sailam should turn out to be historical, and if he were the contemporary of Arya Deva it is quite likely that Nagarjuna's responsibility for this feature of Mahayana Buddhism is easily understandable. Arya Deva the rival of Nagarjuna seems the same as Deva who preached the Ceylon Voharika-Tissa into orthodoxy. The term Arya may after all mean in that particular connection no more than Acharya.1
At the end of this first stage of our enquiry into the history of Brahmanism in South India we have come to this state of things before the rise of the Pallavas in the south. Brahmanism of the Vedic character came from the north and established ready superiority over such indigenous systems of religion as existed, if these could be called systems at all. The Brahmans that came in small colonies must have been comparatively few in point of number, but impressed the whole society by a certain degree of austere simplicity and of loyal discharge of their duty to the community which involved a sacrifice of all their time and energy in the doing. The system of ritual they brought with them was very complicated and required more or less complete detachment for performance. They did perform this duty, and there was a widespread notion that the performance of his sacrifice and the maintenance of the holy fire were essential to the prosperity of the community. Hence it was enjoined upon him as a duty that he owed to the community to do this laborious and troublesome task faithfully. Remissness in detail, or failure in the performance, either of them involved some kind of calamitous visitation for society, and his service therefore was regarded as of peculiar value to the community. Thus we see how he arrived at the first two of his duties, the performance of sacrifice, and getting others to perform such.