- Bhakti movement
The cultural contribution of the south was in the form of Bhakti cult. The doctrine of Bhakti means complete devotion and surrender to personal god. The individual faith and devotion to personal god is interpreted as a means of attaining salvation.
The Bhakti movement which has its genesis in the worship of gods: Siva and Vishnu. It had its beginning in the south before the Aryan culture penetrated deeply in the south. So, it is pre – Aryan Saiva and Vaisnava saints of the south developed the Bhakti cult considerably. The Bhakti of Nayanmars was very noble and ideal. Their devotional songs were remarkable for their piety, simplicity and intense attachment to god. By virtue of songs, hymns, mantras and devotion, these saints had caused profound change in religion.
Similarly, the Vaisnava saints (Alwars) encouraged the Bhakti cult. In praise of their personal god Vishnu they composed poems and songs and gradually developed their own literature called Sangam Classics. The effluence of Bhakti cult is witnessed in the Sangam literature of Pallavas. The Bhakti cult literature of Thevaram and Thiruvasakam of the Nayanmars and Prabandham belong to the Pallava age.
- Saivism and Vaishnavism
This Bhakti cult in the form of Saivism and Vaishnavism spread to northern India. Vaishnavism centered around Pandharpur (Maharashtra) and found a convenient centre in the region of Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. But it was from the 12th and 15th century in the phase of Islam that the Bhakti cult took definitely in the form of Vaishnava sects in northern India with particular devotion to the two avataras of Vishnu – Rama and Krishna. Rama retained his hold mainly through the famous Hindi Ramayana of Tulasidas and Krishna exercised greater fascination in Gujarat under Vallabhacharya and Bengal under Chaitanya.
The earliest historical record to mention the worship of Siva is that of Megasthenes, who described two Indian deities that are Dionysus and Herakles, identified with Siva and Krishna respectively. According to Haribhadra, who wrote Shaddasana Samucchaya Gautama and Kanada Kashyapa, the founders of Indian philosophical system Nyaya and Vaisheshika were followers of the Saiva cult.
Jaluka, one of the most successors of Asoka was a Saiva. Some of the Indo – Greek and Kusana kings became worshippers of Siva and caused the images of Siva and his emblems of trident and bull to be inscribed on their coins. The Ramayana and Mahabharata were compiled in the form of Saivism was famous. The prevalence of Siva worship in Gandhara, Punjab and other several areas of northern India is proved by archaeological and literary evidences.
Saivism as a popular cult was prevalent in south India. In the Sangam literature, the Saiva is referred to as the greatest god. The Puram mentions 166 characteristics of Siva and regarded him Mudumudalavan.
The twin epics Silappadikaram and Manimeghalai contained the references of Siva worship in the Tamil country. In remote antiquity, Siva was worshipped in the from of Linga. Usually, a short cylindrical piece of stone with a rounded top by the Indus Valley people.
When Mahavira and Buddha were propagating their teachings, the Ajivikas acquired a dynamic energy under the third pontiff Gosala Maskariputra, the first two being Nanda Vaichha, Kisa Samichcha. Ajivikas had been in existence before 6th century B.C.E. After the Mahavira, the followers strengthened the Ajivika sect . The practice of besmearing bodies with ashes and dust was also one of the peculiar custom of the Ajivikas. They also indulged in many other difficult ascetic practices.