The emergence of regional polities in south India necessitated the establishment of states based on a certain ideology. In the context of the times religion alone could be the rallying point. The Pallavas of Kanchipuram in north and the Pandyas of Madurai in south of Tamil country patronised the religious movement of Bhakti, spearheaded by the elite and the wealthy merchant class. The local temple became the nucleus of this movement. Bhakti became the instrument to touch the hearts of people emotionally, and mobilize them.
Bhakti cult as a religious movement opened a new chapter in the history of Tamilnadu in the early medieval period. A strong wave of Tamil devotionalism swept the country from the sixth through the ninth centuries. The form was in hymns of the Nayanmars and the Azhwars. The saints of Saivism and Vaishnavism simplified the use of Tamil language with the application of music. They brought the local and regional ethos into the mainstream. Azhwars (totally and Nayanmars (totally 63), came from different strata of Tamil society, such as artisans and cultivators. There were women saints as well like Andal, an Azhwar saint. The poet Karaikkal Ammaiyar (Tilakawathi), and the Pandya queen Mangayarkkarasiyar were prominent female Nayanmar saints.
The refashioning of Saivism and Vaishnavism by the Bhakti saints effectively challenged Buddhism and Jainism. The influence of the Bhakti movement is still discernable in Tamilnadu.
Hymns of Thevaram corpus; Nalayira- divyaprapandam; Periyapuranam; Tiru-thondarthogai; Manickavasakar’s Tiruvasagam; Hymns engraved on the walls of temples. Miniature sculptures in the circumambulation of temples; paintings in the temples.
The term Bhaktihas different connotations. It includes service, piety, faith and worship. But it also has an extended meaning. It is an enactment of emotion, aesthetics and sensitivity. Bhakti hymns have three major themes: First and foremost is the idea of devotion to a personal god. The second is a protest against orthodox Vedic Brahmanism and the exclusiveness of the Brahmans in their access to divine grace and salvation. The third is the outright condemnation of Jains and Buddhists as heretics.
Originating with folk dancing, the choreography of temple dancing became highly sophisticated and complex renderings of religious themes as apparent in the final form. From the Pallava period onwards trained groups of dancers were maintained by the more prosperous temples. Classic scenes from puranas, and itihasas were sculpted on the walls of the temples, in bronze and stone. Subsequently, artists were attached to the temples with state patronage in order to promote the fine arts like music, dance and others. Religious hymns set to music were popularized by the Tamil saints, and the singing of these hymns became a regular feature of the temple ritual. The veena was probably the most frequently used instrument. Sometime around the fifth century CE, it was replaced in India by a lute with a pear-shaped body. Some two centuries later it took the form in which it is found today-a small gourd body with a long finger-board.