Traders, Kings and Pilgrims
Cave Monasteries: During this period; Buddhism also spread to western and southern India. Many caves were made in the hills of western India; especially along the Western Ghats. These caves were made for the monks. Many kings and queens made arrangements for making monasteries in these caves. Some monasteries were also made from contributions by rich merchants and farmers.
Since these caves were en route between mainland and ports, hence they were also used by traders for halt.
Buddhism also spread to the south-east of India during this period. Thus Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia including Indonesia. Theravada Buddhism was more popular in these areas. It was another form of Buddhism.
THE QUEST OF THE PILGRIMS
A person who undertakes a journey for religious purpose is called pilgrim. Many pilgrims also travelled along with the traders. Traders normally accepted a pilgrim in their caravan.
Three Chinese pilgrims became quite famous and their names are; Fa Xian (pronounced as Fa Hian), Xuan Zang (pronounced as Huen Sang) and I – Quing. All of them were Buddhist pilgrims.
Fa Xian came to India about 1600 years ago, Xuan Zang came about 1400 years ago and I-Qing came 50 years after Xuan Zang. Their main purpose was to visit he places associated with Buddha and Buddhism.
The accounts of these pilgrims give valuable information about this period. We come to know about the tortuous routes, dangers involved in travel, social life in India and many more; from their accounts.
Nalanda University was famous and was in modern day Bihar. Xuan Zang had also written about this university. Xuan Zang has mentioned that the university was full of learned people. The admission process for this university was very tough. The success rate of students was less than 20% during the entrance tests for this university.
The Bhakti movement is associated with visualizing the Hindu deities from a new perspective. Most of the images of the Hindu deities being used in modern times are the results of the Bhakti movement.
This was the period when the priests had a stranglehold on the religion. Meaningless rituals were prevalent in the society. The Bhakti Movement was the result of struggle to free the religion from those ills.
The idea of Bhakti says that a person should be free to choose his/her deity. A person is free to select a method or an object to worship the god. Thus, a person can use an idol, an animal, a tree, a song or a poem; or anything to worship the god.
The idea of Bhakti says that pure devotion is the most important and means to devotion is secondary. If a person worships a deity with pure devotion, he can get the blessings of the god.
Many artists made pictures and statues of different gods and goddesses. Poets wrote beautiful songs to express devotion. The form in which we recognize most of the gods even today are the result of Bhakti movement.
This movement saw the emergence of many great poets; like Meera, Kabir, Surdas, etc. People no longer had to rely only on temples as places of worship. Many people began making small temples inside their homes as well. Even today, we may see small temples in many Hindu homes.