In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tamil Nadu

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Early History of Hinduism in Tamil-speaking South India
  • Tamil Religion, General
  • Tamil Bhakti, Saivism
  • Tamil Bhakti, Saivas and Jains
  • Tamil Bhakti, Saiva Hagiography
  • Tamil Bhakti, Saiva Philosophy and Ritual
  • Tamil Bhakti, Vaishnavism
  • Tamil Bhakti, Vaishnava Hagiography
  • Tamil Bhakti, Vaishnava Ritual and Philosophy
  • Goddess Traditions
  • Women
  • Village Hinduism
  • Āgamic Temples and Visual Culture
  • Caste
  • Tamil Siddhas
  • Performance Traditions and Hinduism
  • Hinduism and Modernity
  • Audio-Visual Resources

Hinduism Tamil Nadu
Archana Venkatesan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0049


Tamil Nadu occupies the southeastern region of the Indian subcontinent, and its traditional boundariesare defined in early Tamil texts as spanning the region from the northern Venkatam hills to the tip of peninsular India known as teṉ kumari. On account of its Dravidian roots, the Tamil-speaking region (tamiḻ akam) developed a distinctive literary and religious culture, independent of Sanskritic tradition, one attested to in its earliest literary corpus. Nonetheless, even these early texts of the Caṅkam period (1st–3rd centuries CE) indicate that Tamil and Sanskrit culture had mingled fruitfully to produce a unique religious culture that would impact the trajectory of Hinduism’s development throughout the Indian subcontinent. The amalgamation of Tamil and Sanskrit is nowhere more in evidence that in the efflorescence of ecstatic devotional religion in Tamil country beginning in the 6th century. The emergence of bhakti religiosity spurred the mapping of new sacred sites for Shiva (Skt. Śiva) and Vishnu (Skt. Viṣṇu), marking this land distinctively Saiva or Vaishnava. This same mapping also witnessed a concerted “othering” of Tamil Jains and Buddhists to the extent that they were pushed to the very margins of Tamil society. Bhakti also brought with it new political alliances between different groups: kings, poets, agriculturists. While many bhakti poets sought to challenge the hegemony of Brahmanical religion, the post-bhakti period also successfully asserted the inviolability of caste and gender hierarchies. Even as the Sanskrit deities Shiva and Vishnu come to dominate the Tamil religious landscape in the post-bhakti period, village deities, guardians, local goddesses, and heroes retain not only their distinctive identities, but also their specialized myths and rituals. The emergence of the temple as an economic and culture hub strengthened alliances between various elite caste groups in the region, even as it enabled the development of distinctive artistic, philosophical, and theological legacies. These legacies continued to shape Tamil Hinduism well into the contemporary period. In the colonial and postcolonial periods, concerns of caste and class coalesced around issues such as temple entry for Dalits, or the charged issues of the distinctiveness of Tamil/Dravidian identity. There is a wide range of secondary sources that speak to the long, varied, and complex history of Tamil Hinduism. This article provides a survey of the major collections or anthologies of Tamil primary sources. However, the focus of this entry is on the vast secondary literature, with an emphasis on the development of bhakti religion and religiosity in Tamil country. An effort has been made to offer an interdisciplinary approach, including sources from art history and performance studies to speak to the multidimensional nature of Tamil Hinduism.

Primary Sources

The primary sources roughly span the major works composed in Tamil pertinent to the development of Hinduism. The period of late Caṅkam Tamil devotional religion is represented in the esoteric Paripāṭal (2nd–4th centuries CE; see Vē Cōmasuntarar 1964) poems to the deities Murukaṉ, Māl (Vishnu) and the river Vaikai, and the Tirumurukāṟṟuppaṭai (4th century CE; see Dandapani 1956), a pilgrimage poem to Murukaṉ attributed to the poet Nakkīrar. The seven-book Tēvāram (Gopal Iyer and Gros 1985) that makes up the core of the voluminous Saiva canon, and the shorter but no less significant Vaishnava Nālāyira Divya Prabandham (Annankarachariyar 1972), each compile the ecstatic outpourings of their respective traditions’ poet-saints. The Tamil Periya Purāṇam (Cēkkiḻār 1990) and the Manipravala Guruparamparaprabhāvam 6000 speak to the rich, complex phase of canonization and contestation in the period after bhakti (9–12th century), while also asserting the range of languages that were used in the Tamil region. The idiosyncratic anthology Periyajñāṉakkōvai (Caravaṇamuttu Piḷḷai 2000) collects the enigmatic songs of the Tamil Siddha poets, whose works span approximately at least five centuries, while the 15th-century poet Aruṇakirinātar’s Tiruppukaḻ (Ceṅkāḻvārāya Piḷḷai 1952–1957) is arguably the most important devotional work to Murukaṉ, after the Tirumurukāṟṟuppaṭai.

  • Annankarachariyar, ed. Nālāyira Divya Prabandham. Tamil text. Kanchipuram, India: Annankarachariyar Institute, 1972.

    The Tamil canon of the Śrīvaiṣṇavas, compiling the works of the twelve Āḻvār poets into four books of approximately one thousand verses each.

  • Caravaṇamuttu Piḷḷai, ed. Periyajñāṉakkōvai. Chennai: Irattiṉa Nāyaka, 2000.

    An anthology of the poems of the Tamil Siddhas, including those of Bhōgar, Civavākkiyar, and Paṭṭinattār.

  • Cēkkiḻār. Periya Purāṇam. Edited by A. Maṇikkaṇar. Chennai: Varttamāṉaṉ Patippakam, 1990.

    The Tamil hagiography of the sixty-three Nāyaṉmār (or Nāyaṉār) saints of Tamil Saivism, authored by Cēkkiḻār in the 12th century.

  • Ceṅkāḻvārāya Piḷḷai, V. S., ed. Tiruppukaḻ. Madras: South Indian Śaiva Siddhānta, 1952–1957.

    The monumental work of the poet Aruṇakirinātar is in praise of Murukaṉ. Its marked feature is the innovative use of rhythm, meter and rhyme.

  • Dandapani, T. P., ed. Tirumurukāṟṟuppaṭai Mūlamum Viḷakkuraiyum. Kumbokanam: Sri Mahābhārataa, 1956.

    Considered the earliest bhakti poem in Tamil, this late Caṅkam-period poem is attributed to Nakkīrar, and is in praise of Murukaṉ. It consists of six books, each praising a particular place sacred to Murukaṉ.

  • Gopal Iyer, T. V., and François Gros, eds. Tēvāram. Pondicherry, India: EFEO, 1985.

    The critical edition of the first seven books of the Tirumuṟai consists of the compositions of Appar, Campantar, and Cuntarar, the three pioneering poet-saints of Tamil Saivism.

  • Srinivasa Appankar Swami, et al., eds. Guruparamparaprabhāvam 6000. Maṇipravāḷa Text. Chennai: Ganesh.

    This is possibly the earliest hagiography of the Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition, composed in Manipravala, and associated with the Teṅkalai or Southern branch of Śrīvaiṣṇavism.

  • Vē Cōmasuntarar, Pō., ed. Paripāṭal Mūlamum Uraiyum. Tirunelveli, India: Tirunelveli Teṉṉintiya Śaiva Siddhānta Nuṟppatippuk Kaḻakam, 1964.

    A collection of religious poems from the late Caṅkam period, this anthology, much of which is fragmentary and obscure, features some of the earliest Tamil poems in praise of Vishnu (Tirumāl). It also contains poems in praise of Murukaṉ and the river Vaikai.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.