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Social and cultural life

The society was divided into Brahmans and non-Brahmans. Among the non-Brahmans there is as compared to north India, little mention of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas but the Shudras are prominent.

The temple was the cultural and social centre. The village and towns all had temples where people used to gather not only for worship but also to discuss various things of common interest. The courtyard of the temple was often used as a school.

During this period several regional languages branched off from Sanskrit throughout the peninsula. Marathi evolved from the local Prakrit, while Tamil, Telugu and Kannada stemmed from a Dravidian root but had a vocabulary which owed much to Sanskrit. The first writing in these languages was largely adaptations from Sanskrit works. Saints also composed hymns in popular languages.

Tamil literature of this period shows great liveliness and vigor as in Kamban’s version of the Ramayan or the works of the court poets Kuttan,Pugalendi,Jayangondour and Kallaadanar.

A number of popular religious movements flourished in the Tamil area. Some of them were continuing the teaching of the Alvars and Nayanars.Others like the Lingayats in the 12 century preached devotion to a theistic God and actively attacked religious hypocrisy. They questioned the authority of the Vedas and the theory of re-birth. Shiva was worshipped in the form of a lingam or phallic emblem.

In the 11th century, Ramanuja disagreed with Shankara’s theory that knowledge was the primary means of salvation. He insisted on pure devotion, giving oneself up entirely to God. He also pleaded for the throwing open of temples to Shudras but without much success.