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`Bhakthi cult makes divergent impact in Kerala'

By Our Staff Reporter

THRISSUR, MARCH. 5. The noted historian and former Chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), M.G.S. Narayanan, has said that just as the Bhakthi Movement of the medieval periods, the present day Bhakthi Cult was also making negative and positive impacts on the Kerala society.

Delivering a talk on `Bhakthi as a conservative force in South India' at the Government College, Kuttanellur, near here on Thursday, Prof. Narayanan said on the one side the Bhakthi cult is part of globalisation, on the other it also helps in resisting the challenges of globalisation.

He said that Kerala had emerged as a separate region when the Bhakthi Movement of the past spread to this area between 14th and 16th centuries. It played an important role in developing modern Kerala culture, in promoting modern Malayalam language, sanskritised vocabulary and also in spreading literacy among the warrior classes such as the Nairs. The foundations of classical Hindu society extended further. These were the positive aspects of Bhakthi movement.

On the negative side, the movement also contributed to the introduction of the patriarchal moral values, suppression of women and people of lower castes, and the reinforcement of the caste system in a rigid manner, Prof Narayanan said.

The various Bhakthi cults organised by Gurus in the present days have many features that were the continuation of the old Bhakthi tradition and several new features. In a way the Bhakthi cult is a revivalist phenomenon while at the same time it confers an awareness of Malayali character and identity of Kerala especially among Malayalis who work abroad. The cult confers a sense of identity on the Malayalis and a new bond is created among them. This distinct Malayali culture is indebted to the revival of the old tradition, he said.

The Bhakthi culture had similar positive and negative influences in other parts of the South India such as Tamil Nadu as well. The temples, classical Tamil literature and music came along with this. Bhakthi certainly meant a liberating influence as it brought new sections of people into the fold of Aryan Brahminical culture. Bhakthi, therefore, had reformist dimension, and at the same time it resulted in strengthening of the Brahmin orthodoxy, which had taken possession of temples as trustees. After that it meant more consolidation for the Brahminical priestly class, and resulted in the organisation of caste society.

Tamil society was casteless before the Bhakthi movement, but after its advent by the end of 9th century AD, a caste society with Brahmin domination had formed. Bhakthi movement consolidated Brahmin power and temple power; at the same time it inducted different communities into literacy and classical education, Prof. Narayanan said.

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