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.
The following pages contain the substance of the Readership Lectures that I originally intended to deliver at the Calcutta University early in 1920. The honour of a Readership at the University was bestowed upon me, in distinguished company, at the instance of the ever watchful President of the Council of Post-Graduate Teaching at the time, the Hon'ble Justice Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, whose exertions in the cause of Indian History and Culture are too well-known and too well-founded to require any commendation from me. Owing to official exigencies and ill-health it was impossible that I could carry out my engagement as originally intended, although I was able later to discharge the responsibilities involved in the honour by delivering a shorter course of lectures on the same subject. Among a certain number of subjects 'Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture' was selected as likely to be more attractive to the Calcutta University, and hence the effort in the following pages to lay before the public some of the main contributions to Indian culture which South India could be credited with having made in the course of her history.
Any estimate of the contributions made by South India to Indian culture involves, as a necessary preliminary, an elaborate study of the history of India as a whole, in all its cultural aspects. An attempt at such a study in a systematic way has but recently been inaugurated in the University of Calcutta by the institution of a Master's Degree in "Indian Culture" with provision for teaching the subject as a part of the scheme for post-graduate teaching at the University. It is a happy sign of the times that the need has been recognised in Calcutta, but Calcutta will need the co-operation of the other Indian Universities to study the subject in all its vast and varied ramifications. South Indian history and culture has a character of its own notwithstanding the fact that the interaction of cultural forces between the north and the south is very much more full and frequent than has hitherto been recognised. Despite this constant and almost continuous influence, it is possible to distinguish the special features in the course of cultural development which are ascribable to South Indian influence. An attempt is made here to describe a few of the main contributions, and for obvious reasons the treatment has to be historical in character.
The first question, therefore, that attracts attention, is the peculiar position the Brahman has occupied in the South, so much so that, to an outside observer, South India presents to-day Brahmanical orthodoxy almost in its Vaidic form though not unmodified in essential particulars. The position of the Brahman in South Indian society has been very much to the fore latterly, and a historical investigation of his position may not be uninteresting. His position in the Indian society of the age of the Brahmanas is clearly indicated in the Satapatha Brahmana passage, an extract from which is quoted, and that seems to be the identical position that he occupied in South India to which he emigrated from the north. That position involved the double responsibility of performing the elaborate ritualistic sacrifices for the benefit of society, and the conservation and cultivation of learning that is involved as a necessary corollary. This conservation and cultivation of learning implied its propagation as well. Prom a careful investigation of the subject, as far as the material accessible to us enables us to do so, the Brahman has striven to discharge these responsibilities to the best of his ability and opportunities, setting up such a high example in actual life as to invariably exert influence in the direction of uplift which has been felt throughout. The tendency has always been for those below him in the social organisation to imitate him and come up to his level. It was a characteristic feature of the Brahmanical organisation that the least developed communities in the vast and varied population of India had a recognised place in society moving upwards slowly, it may be too slowly for enthusiastic social reformers, hut none the less surely in the direction of rise. In the sphere of conservation of learning through ages when the material agencies for its preservation were so ill-developed and so easily capable of destruction, the success he achieved is nothing short of marvellous. It was not exactly that he enjoyed the monopoly, but it was undoubtedly his influence that gave it the form, and cast it in a mould, to enable its preservation notwithstanding the destructive hand of time itself, and other historical agencies which contributed towards that end. In the sphere of propagation of learning he may have fallen short of the modern compulsory universal education, but his achievements in the sphere both in Sanskrit, and the Sanskritic and other vernaculars of the country, were magnificent. One has only to examine the names of eminent contributors to the literature of Tamil to confirm this statement. The manuscript imperfections of to-day are largely capable of rectification by the traditional handing down of this learning; but this traditional handing down is primarily responsible for the preservation of much that must otherwise have been irrecoverably lost. It may be said with truth that the Brahmanical organisation of society was mainly responsible for this.
The transformation of the ritualistic Brahma-nism into the much more widely acceptable Hinduism of modern times is due to the increasing infusion of the theistic element into the religious system of the day. In this new development South India played an important part. It probably borrowed the elements of bhakti from the rising schools of Vaishnavism and Saivism in the north, and gave it a special realistic development by infusing into it features characteristic perhaps of the Tamil land and its literary development, making thereby religious experience fall in line with life itself. This development worked itself to its full in the age of the Pallavas so that about the end of the first millennium after Christ the religion of bhakti got to be so associated with South India that the reputation as a land of bhakti, stuck to it ever afterwards. Along with this notion of bhakti, or devotion to a personal God, runs another stream which is perhaps best described as Tan-trism, worship offered by means of mystic signs and formulae of various character. The same influences seem responsible for the transformation of Hinayanist Buddhism into the Mahayana.