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               12.1  SEVENTY-FIVE APOSTLES


These are the sixty-three Shaiva Nayanmars (GO TO 12.11) and the twelve Vaishnava Alvars  (GO TO 12.12) and for all these, religion was a poignant human experience of togetherness with either Lord Shiva (in the first case) or Lord Vishnu (in the second case). They revered the Vedic texts, knew the principal PurANas, avocated the recitation of God’s varied names, strongly recommended meditation on His different forms and the Mantras associated with Him and literally lived by worshipping Him in the temples all over the land of the Tamils. Some of them were superlatively gifted singers as well. They have left behind an imperishable legacy of devotional poetry rarely paralleled in quantity or quality before or after. The songs are so surcharged with emotion and feeling as to permeate the very hearts of the listeners and ennoble them to become one with the saints in their devotion to God.

These songs give expression to the purest love of God and are most reverently recited in all Hindu temples that have a Tamil origin and by all Tamil Hindu families who believe in worship as an important daily routine. In addition the literary value of all this poetry is great as is shown by the fact that this massive collection of 20000 verses (4000 Vaishnava hymns and 16000 Shaiva hymns) outweighs all other literature produced during this period so much that historians of Tamil literature have taken the liberty of designating this period (6th to 10th century C.E.) the age of Devotional Literature. The Bhakti literature that emanated this way has in no small measure contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in Devotion as the only path for Salvation. While north India produced Saints who wrote exquisite poetry and sang devotional music like Mirabai, Kabir and Surdas, they were not immortalised in art or worshipped in temples. Saints of the western world are frequently portrayed in art, but their presence in churches and cathedrals does not seem to be universal. By contrast icons of these 12 Vaishnava and 63 Shaiva south Indian saints were invariably commissioned by the Vishnu and Shiva temples respectively. They were placed in prominent positions and were accorded ritual worship. To this day these saints remain a living tradition. Their images are carried in processions during festivals along with the main deities of the temples. Sometimes there are festivals exclusively for them. Their hymns are chanted in homes and at a variety of ceremonial gatherings including secular performances of dance and music.

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