Discuss the ways in which the Alvars, Nayanars and Virashaivas expressed critiques of the caste system.

The Alvars were Tamil poet saints of South India who led some of the earliest Bhakti movements during 6th Century CE. They were devotees of Vishnu and often used different songs and hymns to express their devotion. The Nayanars were 63 poet saints who lived between 6th and 8th century in Tamil Nadu. They were devotees of Shiva and had a big impact on the Bhakti movement in southern India. The Lingayats or Virashaivas were followers of Basavanna (1106-68) who was a minister in the court of a Kalachuri ruler. They are devotees of Shiva and have different set of rituals than those followed or practiced in Hinduism.

All three sects protested against the caste system and the dominance of the Brahmins, and so attempted to reform the same. The Alvars and Nayanars were formed by people from different social and economic backgrounds ranging from Brahmanas to artisans and cultivators. They included women and also the so called “Untouchables”.

The Virashaivas challenged the idea of caste and the concept of pollution among castes as attributed by the Brahmanas. They believed that a true devotee united with Shiva upon their death. This led them to question the concept of rebirth followed by the Hindus. This also caused them to practice ceremonial burial instead of cremation.