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.
Vedanta Desika pursued his life quietly and unostentatiously, and gave in many respects the final shape to the Vaishnavism of South India following closely the teachings of Ramanuja, explaining and supplementing it wherever it was necessary. He was the author of about 120 works, of which about one-fourth of the number was in Tamil, the rest of them in Sanskrit including a few which he composed in Prakrit. The Madhva Mutt at Udipi under the third Acharya in the succession seems to have received a certain amount of patronage under Vijayangar. Two Saiva centres flourished, one in the Malnad country of Mysore and another in Sri Sailam, not to mention various other localities of Vira Saivism. The Jains were a flourishing community in the Tulunad, the country between the Western Ghauts and the Sea, and one of the most trusted generals of Harihara II was Irugappa, the Jain, at whose instance the lexicographical work Nanartharatnamala was composed, and to whom is given the credit of having erected in Vijayanagar itself, the Jain temple which goes by the popular name Ganigiti Temple (the Oil-woman's temple). Without going into too much detail, it may safely be said that for good and for evil, the present-day Hindusim of South India retains the form that it received under Vijayanagar which ought to be given the credit of having preserved Hinduism such as it is. When at one time in the life of Sivaji he set up a claim to Hindu Empire in the south and wished to stand forth as the champion of Hinduism as against the Puritanic great Mughal Aurangazeb, it was not as a mere bombast or bathos that he did so. It was hardly a few years since that the widow of the last king of Vijayanagar appealed to Sivaji in behalf of her children for maintenance. Sivaji made a grant of two villages and got the grant 1 indited, with a sense of delicacy all his own, on silver plates which have recently been discovered. He could well feel, in the position to which he had elevated himself at the time, that he stood in the position of the sovereign, to whose widow and children he made this grant. That such a notion was entertained by him is indicated by the coinage of Sivaji. Mr. R. D. Banerji, the Superintendent of Archaeology, Western Circle, notices a coin of Sivaji carrying the effigy of a pagoda on it and containing the inscriptions characteristic of Vijayanagar. It will thus be seen that in South India Hinduism has had a history of peaceful development culminating in the efforts of Vijayanagar to give it the final form in which it has come down to us to modern times.
Cataclysmal irruptions of foreigners causing revolutionary changes in doctrines and practice there were none. Into South India, the immigrant Brahmans brought with them the pristine religion of the Veda which produced protestant movements like Jainism and Buddhism in the north. They found a congenial home in the south and went on developing peacefully without being subjected to aggressive influences, like that of Buddhism under Asoka. Other influences there were, and these evoked responses by way of modifications and readjustments, but beyond these there was nothing of a radical character by way of change. Buddhism and Jainism flourished, but flourished side by side with Brahmanism, and with it controversies there might have been, but these controversies apparently were under the control of the civil authorities for the time being. When the religion of bhakti came in, probably in two ways, one in a somewhat developed form from the north, and perhaps another by a process of natural evolution from the popular culture of the time, a series of influences came into rivalry with the Vedic religion of the Brahmans. One could see a serious effort at the reconciliation of the one with the other, and the result for South India is a compromise which exhibits a school of bhahti which on the one side countenances Vedic ritual and preserves it to a considerable extent; and on the other adopted some, even perhaps of the non-Vedic practices and gave them a place in the religious system of the Hindus of to-day.
7 The date of the grant has since been found to be irregular and this casts a suspicion upon its character for genuineness. It seems quite likely a grant was made in the circumstances, having regard to other known facts of history and to the coin referred to.
The works of the early saints give clear indication of this effort at synthesis, and the teaching of the earlier Acharyas give considerable evidence of the effort at a logical compromise. The effort at giving to this religious compromise a logical character naturally develops schools of thought which in the progress of society hardens into sects. The feature therefore of South Indian development from the second or third to the tenth century A.D. is the slow evolution of that compromise, and the further course beyond the tenth century is characterised by the evolution of the sects. The invasion of the Mahammadans gave the necessary corrective to the rancour and animosity which were creeping into the relation of these sects and the resulting foundation of Vijayanagar had its best to do in introducing civil order so that each sect by itself might live at peace with the others and achieve each its destiny unmolested by the others. This position is very clearly illustrated by what Bukka did, according to the so-called Ramanuja inscription. The Vaislmava holy place Tirunarayanapuram was known among the Jains as Vardhamanapura. The Vaishnavas apparently took to ill-treating the Jains, who carried a complaint to the headquarters. Bukka conducted an enquiry and, as it is said in the inscription, committed the charge of seeing that the Jains were not molested by the Vaish-navas to one of the Vaislnava Acharyas at court belonging to the family of the Tatacharyas of Conjeevaram. That spirit of compromise and insistance upon peaceful living by the various sects was adopted as the religious policy of the civil authorities by the sovereigns of Vijayanagar, who each had his own particular persuasion.
It is the reflex action of this bhakti school of thought that one could trace in Vaishnavism as it is prevalent in northern India. In some cases the somewhat sensuous feature that was imported into the literature of bhakti in the south is carried beyond the limits imposed under the recognised canons of Tamil literature. This excessive zeal leads to a corruption of the faith where the effort is made to translate a mental realisation into the physical. That is a result, and an evil result at that, of transplantation. On the whole this undesirable development has not shown itself in southern India, at any rate to any noticeable degree. The contribution therefore of South India in this particular sphere is to have a genuine school of bhakti, and it is small wonder that the later puranas accord to Southern India the monopoly of it, as the Bhagavata and the Padma Parana would make one believe. Outside the sphere of Aryavarta as it is, it could claim to be the land where Vedic Brahmanism could be found to-day in the form which is the product of actual evolution from the Brahmanism of the Vedic age.
The Brahman has been able, thanks to the goodwill of the communities amidst which he cast his own lot, to carry his Brahmanical life unimpaired and even encouraged by the communities on whom he exercised his influence in the direction of elevating them to a higher plane of life. So much so was this the case that an European writer making a study of Indian women gives it as the characteristic of southern Indian women folk as a whole, that their ideals in this life are other-worldly. The Brahman has on the whole discharged his responsibility as the teacher of the community by preserving the ancient learning of the Hindus; he has made an honest effort, according to his lights, at preparing the people to lead a good life here, and to go to a better life hereafter; and had through the ages maintained the ideal of uplifting, however short he may have fallen in actually achieving this ideal.