Having set a concrete background from the point of Bhakti, Vaishnavismand Saivism, Buddhism and Jainism and Historical background for the study about the response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvars, it is paramount to trace the influence of Tamils and Tamil in the bhakti tradition of Alvars. It is because the literary style, religious notions and even the response of Alvars to religious pluralism have their strong background in Tamil culture and literature.  To do so, it is essential to trace the antiquity of the Tamil race, originality of their language, the dynamics of Cańkam age with reference to selected literatures, which have considerable bearing on religious matters, the unique contribution of akam principle for the soul stirring hymns of the Alvars, the division of habitable land into five regions and their respective deities, the northern influence on language, religion, caste, and a general analyses of religious situation as reflected in the ancient Tamil literatures.

2.1 Antiquity of Tamils
About the antiquity of the Tamil race P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar writes that the “Tamils inhabited South India from time immemorial.”[1]  And “the Tamil race has been a homogeneous one since the Stone Age.”[2]  There is a milder yet orthodox view, which holds that “the Tamils, or Tamilar, were certainly the natives of the ancient Tamilaham ‘or Lemuria’, a continent in the Indian Ocean above the equator submerged a hundred centuries ago.”[3]  But it may not be possible and profitable to debate upon these dates.  It will be sufficient to hold that the Tamils were an ancient indigenous race.
As to the culture of the Tamils, P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar says, the Tamils were the most highly cultured of the people of India before the age of the Rishis (Aryans).[4]  Three different evidences support this statement.  “The first source of information regarding ancient South Indian life is the Catalogue of Prehistoric antiquities of South India, of artifacts, discovered by geologists and others, belonging to the Neolithic and early Iron Ages and deposited in the various museums of India.”[5]  “The Second line of evidence is furnished by a study of the words which the Tamil language possessed before it came in any kind of contact with Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Āryas.”[6]  And “our third line of evidence is the early literature of the Tamil people.”[7]  The estimation may be too ambitious to be accepted, but the fact remains that, once the Tamils were free from any external, particularly Sanskrit influence. Their religion, language, culture etc. have reflected an independent nature. The phase of Alvars in the religious and literary arena of the Tamils witnessed the fusion of southern and northern or Tamil and Sanskrit traditions.

2.2 Originality of Tamil
It is held that the Tamil language was unadulterated, before the coming of the Aryans.  Only after their arrival there were occasions of borrowing. P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar held that “their ‘pure’ Tamil words are called tanittamil moligal, words untouched by foreign influence; they were used by the Tamils to serve the needs of the culture which they had evolved for themselves before they were influenced by any other people in the world.”[8]
Even the great tradition of Tamil poetry, which is reflected in the religious poems of Alvars, had its uniqueness from the hoary past.  It is said “…the kings of the three early Tamil royal houses, the Śēra, the Śola and the Pānya, as well as several petty chiefs of South India, patronized minstrels called Pānar, who, with the Yāl on their shoulders, wandered from court to court and sang beautiful odes on the adventures of kings and nobles in love and war, or as they called it, on Agam and Puram.”[9]  This is a significant point to note, because it alludes to the panars and the habit of using the sentiments of love in poetry. The only difference is that the Alvars praised God in their poems and expressed displeasure to praise ordinary human beings. One of the Alvars belonged to the panar community. The majority of the songs of the Alvars reflect the akam genre or love sentiment of the Tamil poetics. Though most of these odes are now lost, the available ones were collected in later times into anthologies called Aganānūru, Puranānūru, Narrinai, Kurundogai, etc.[10] The earlier autonomous character of Tamil from alien influences would be discussed from the fact that “in ancient times the influence of Aryam on Tamil vocabulary was not perceptible, and Tamil literature maintained its independence.”[11]  P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar contended that loan-words began to enter Tamil not before 1000 B.C.[12] because then the Tamils did not come in contact with other nationalities. This date is difficult to consider, because even the so-called Cańkam epoch was decided to be around first few centuries of Christian era. Hence, this date might suggest a very early Aryan influence on Tamil. 
            Regarding the nature of Tamil literature it is held that  “ it is ancient, vast and essentially moral and religious.”[13]  It is also often argued that the ancient Tamils were not keen followers of religions. They were interested on secular matters more than the spiritual. It does not mean that they were irreligious but less anxious about such affairs.  One thing is very clear that the neutral religious attitude prevalent then in the Tamil tradition, underwent a dramatic shift during the time of Alvars.  It may be, again, the result of Aryan influence upon the Tamil tradition.
The ancient “Tamil literature falls into three great divisions: Iyal (poetry), Isai (music) and Natakam (drama).”[14]     The poems of Alvars fall under the category of Iyal (poetry).  They used the akam genre of the Tamil poetry to express their peculiar religious experience.

2.3 Cańkam
Two definitions of the term may shed adequate light on the scope of this particular epoch. One is that the word ‘Cańkam’ is the Tamil form of the Samskrit word sangha, which means a group of persons or an association.[15]  And the other one is “it was not a teaching institution nor was it a debating association but an exclusive literary club admitting to its membership top academicians of those times i.e., whoever was willing to be so admitted.”[16]  According to Sailendra Nath Sen, “these Sangams were societies of learned men.”[17]  As to the activity of Cańkam, it was doing the work of literacy censors.[18]  Irrespective of the debates on the function of Cańkam, it needs to be emphasized that there was conscious attempt to preserve the ancient and unique excellence of Tamil.
In the words of V. D. Mahajan “the Tamil sangam was an academy of poets and bards who flourished in three different periods and in different places under the patronage of the Pandyan Kings.”[19]  This view has been accepted without much skepticism. As to the number of Cańkam diverse opinions prevail. M. S. Purnalingam Pillai mentions a list of six Cańkams.[20]  Of course, debating on the numbers of Cańkam may not be of much help.  The point to be stressed is that there existed the Tamil Cańkam.
N. Subrahmanian points out the distinctive nature of this forum as “there was a unique literary institution in the Tamil country twenty six centuries ago and the like of which is not known to have existed in any other society of those ancient times.”[21]  This exceptional feature informs that the Tamil language was independent and its originality was maintained at all cost.  Cańkam is an example to be proud of the discipline and excellence expected from learned people.
Another critical note brought out by recent scholars is about the existence of the Cańkams.  V. D. Mahajan states, “modern writers have dismissed the first two Sangams as pure myths.”[22]  M.S. Purnalingam Pillai also indicated this doubt about the first three Cańkams.  He writes, “their existence is challenged by critical scholars…”[23] As stated earlier the number of Cańkams matters very little. What matters is the acceptance of the existence of such a great academic body to maintain and preserve the quality of literature and to encourage great literary contributions.
As to the date of the Cańkam, P. T. Srinivas Iyengar writes:  “the earliest specimens of Tamil poetry we now possess cannot be assigned to any date much earlier than the beginning of the Christian era.”[24]  S. Sundararajan expresses similar view: “the major part of Śangam literature belongs to the first three centuries of the Christian era and some poems no doubt belong to the era before Christ.”[25]  According to   Shu Hikosaka “the first three centuries of the Christian era of the Tamil country is some times called the Cańkam age, because it is believed that the Cańkam poems were composed during this period.”[26]  It can be said that Cańkam could have been in existence several years before the beginning of the Christian era.  And only the literatures representing this period was collected and preserved at this particular point of time.  The existence of Cańkam, its function, nature and date reveal the crucial phase prior to the sweeping influence of   Ālvār movement in Tamilnadu.

2.4 Decadence of Cańkam
Third century A.D. is generally called the decadence of Cańkam.  It was at this time that “the Kalabhras began to rule the Tamil country from about A. D. 300 and their rule came to an end by about A. D. 576.”[27]  K. A. Nilakanta Sastri indicates the disturbed situation thus: “after the close of the Śangam epoch, from about A.D.300 to A.D.600, there is an almost total lack of information regarding occurrences in the Tamil land.”[28]  The same issue is emphatically stated: “as a result of foreign invasions, the literary sangams collapsed, and darkness reigned supreme for three or four centuries.”[29]
The impact of this period was that there were infiltration of Aryan language, religion and culture. It is said “the Aryan religion began to assert itself with all formalism and many people who hated ritualism seceded from it.”[30]  Another impact is that the Kalabhras were the supporters of both Buddhism and Jainism.  The spread of these non-Vedic religions helped the people, who seceded from the ritualism of the Aryans.  Thus the infiltration of the Aryans and the spread of non-Vedic religions caused the speedy development of Ālvār movement in south India.  The Aryans provided myths and the non-Vedic religions became a target.

2.5 Cańkam Literatures
The Cańkam literatures have provided the Alvars the required poetical skills and religious orientation.  Neelakanta Sastri is of the opinion that the Cańkam literature was the result of the meeting and fusion of two originally separate cultures, the Tamil and the Aryan.[31]  At the same time there are others who hold that “it alone can be called the unadulterated literature of the Tamils.”[32]  The second view is the most accepted one and it has its own justifications.
As to the content of Cańkam literature, each scholar gives a different list.  But the most comprehensive and acceptable list is: “1. Akanānūru, 2. Puranānūru, 3. Narrinai, 4. Kuruntokai, 5. Aińkurunuru, 6. Patirruppattu, 7. Paripātal, 8. Kalittokai and 9. Pattupāttu. Tolkāppiyam, the grammatical treatise is also considered to have belonged to this period.”[33]  According to another version “this literature is grouped into eight anthologies, viz, [1] Narrinai, [2] Kurundogai, [3] Aingurunuru, [4] Padirrupattu, [5] Paripadal, [6] Kalittogai, [7] Ahananuru, [8] Purananuru; a ninth group Pattupattu completes the table.  The entire collection includes 2, 279 poems written by 473 poets including some women.  The Tolkappiyam, a comprehensive work on Tamil grammar, belongs to the same age.”[34]
It is argued that the Cańkam literature represents a specific class of people called Cānrōr, which is translated as secular or this worldly. But the right rendering may be great and noble persons or the learned and noble persons.  Friedhelm Hardy states this view thus:  “instead of approaching the ‘poetic tradition’ of the Cańkam literature as if it represented exclusively the classical world view, or as if it reflected the whole of that society, it seems more appropriate to see in it the cultural superstructure belonging to a particular social class.”[35]  One more similar view is that it reveals to us a secular-minded people who are engaged in the battle of life in all its aspects and refusing to yield to religious fanaticism.[36]   One thing is very clear that during this period there was no hatred among religions. This situation changed during the time of Alvars.  A discussion on a few Cańkam collections, which have religious significance, can reveal the religious condition of this particular epoch.  It is to be noted that the relaxed religious attitude of the Cańkam age met with a radical change during the time of Alvars.

2.5.1 Patthuppattu
Patthuppattu or Ten Idylls is one of the Cańkam literatures.  The date of this work is discerned from the statement that  “as the authors of some of these idylls were the contemporaries of Karikala Chola, and Nedum-Chelian, the date of their compositions must range between 60 and 95 A.D.”[37]
The first idyll, Thiru Muruga-Attupadai i.e. leading/directing towards lord Muruga, which has three hundred and seventeen verses, is attributed to Nakkirar.  This idyll describes Muruga with his six faces and twelve hands (with his functions) as a deity higher in rank than the trinity and Indra together.  Later, this deity was Aryanised and included in their mythology. M.S. Purnalingam Pillai remarks, “what strikes a reader of this poem is the readiness with which the Aryans metamorphosed Muruga and his mother Kattavai into Subramania and Uma and included them in their pantheon.”[38]
The sixth Idyll is called Madurai Kanchi, which is attributed to Mamkudi Maruthanar.  It talks about the prosperity of the Jains and Buddhists. In this, we come to know that the Buddhist monasteries and Jain shrines were in their flourishing condition with hosts of worshippers attached to each.[39]
Another significant idyll is the ninth one called, Pattinap-Palai, which is attributed to Rudran Kannanar.  In this poem there are references to the existence of Buddhist monasteries and Jain abbeys in the land of Chola. It shows not only the prevalence of other religions but also the religious toleration of the kings of old in South India.[40]
The ten Idylls are good examples to illustrate the Aryan overtaking of the Tamil traditions and the relation between religions during the Cańkam age in south India.  It also makes known that, besides the prevalent Tamil deities and their worship, Buddhism and Jainism enjoyed equal status from the rulers and the subjects. The Alvars were no exemption to this Aryan influence.  All the more, they had to strive to establish the superiority of their own deity while accounting for the existence of belief in other deities and systems.

2.5.2 Kalit–Thokai
This is one of the Ettut-Thokai (the eight collections) poems, which falls under Cańkam literature.  This is an anthology of short poems.  It has one hundred and fifty love songs in Kali (one of the four forms of Tamil verses) meter.  The importance of the poem is that “there are altogether about sixteen references to Māyōn in the Kali; thirteen of which mention him by name and the remaining three by paraphrases or structural slot.[41]  This is sufficient evidence to suggest that Māyōn was a Tamil deity who was later enclosed and crowned with Aryan names and forms.  It is noteworthy that the word Māyōn profusely appears in the works of Alvars.

2.5.3 Paripatal
 It is another Cańkam literature that comes under the list of Ettut-thokai (anthologies) works.  About the texts in this anthology it is said, “originally the text contained 70 poems, but now we have only 22.”[42]  Paripātal is more religious in outlook.  About its subject it is remarked that, “the theme of Paripātal is to eulogize the glory of Tirumāl and Cevvēl and to delineate the love–affairs of all grades of human kind….”[43] Paripātal conveys in clear tone that Tirumāl and Murugan were the prominent Tamil deities during the Cańkam age.  These deities underwent radical Aryan influence.
It describes the divine qualities of the god Tirumal (Vishnu).[44]  The Tirumāl hymns (poems) are six in number (i.e. 1,2,3,4,13 & 15) and different authors composed them.[45]  This shows that there were Vaisnavas in the south, before the time of Ālvārs.  It is said, “the 521 lines of the hymns dedicated to Tirumāl constitute a veritable storehouse of information about Vaisnavism in the South.”[46]  Probably, the poets of this period would have considered Tirumāl as transcendental, unapproachable absolute.[47]
Another name of god used in Paripadal is Māyōn.  Other parallel names are Māyan, Māyavan and Māl. It is debated that these are different Tamil renderings of the Sanskrit name Krishna the Black One.[48]  Friedhelm Hardy argued that, “we may conclude that the milieu which the Paripātal represents was aware of those myths that deal with Krishna’s amours, but preferred to ignore them.”[49]  It is further contended that “a whole set of metaphors mention the dark complexion of Krishna; these will form the standard repertoire of the Ālvārs.”[50]  The ticklish issue is whether south influenced north or vice- versa.  Because the convergence of these two traditions took place very early and this has shaped the myths of Hinduism to a very considerable size.
It is also noticed that even many of the avatars of Vishnu are found in Paripātal. [51] A link between Paripātal and Bhāgavadgīta, with reference to the twin systems of Sāmkhya and Yoga to be the means of salvation[52] is also identified.  But the culmination of north-south convergence is attributed to a latter time.  For example, it is said, “only under the influence of Yāmuna and Rāmānuja will the Northern schemata of Vishnu and his avatāras and of Para– Vāsudeva and his Vyūhas and Vibhūtis replace the more archaic and simple conception in the South.”[53]  Because, until the time of the Ālvārs, the names used for Vishnu were quite different from, the ones that are used in the latter phase.  Thus it may be held that, Rämänuja systematized the north-south confluence, even though the process began early.
There are poems devoted to Cevvēl or Muruga in Paripātal.  “Muruga is intimately associated with the life and breath of the Tamils from time immemorial.”[54]  It may be suggested that, because of the over influence of Aryans on the Dravidian religious realm the Dravidian gods were receded to the background.  “The fifth Paripātal contains a myth of the birth of Kumāra – Muruga due to the influence of the Sanskrit legends.”[55]  Thus the influence of north over the religious life of the south began to creep in at various levels.  The repeated use of the names of Tirumāl, Muruga, Śiva etc., are revealing the fact that, there was a sense of toleration in the religious climate as noticed in Paripātal.[56]  It is significant to note that the names of gods found in the works of Alvars are similar to those found in the Tamil classics. 

2.5.4 Tolkāppiyam
It is a comprehensive work on Tamil grammar. It belonged to Cańkam age.  The author is considered to be Tholkappiar “called after his village Tholkappiakudi situated to the south of Madura….”[57]  It has 1612 sutras.[58]  They are arranged in three parts: “The three parts of it are Eluthu (Orthography), Sol (Etymology), and Porul (Matter), each with nine sections”.[59]  Among these the Porul is divided into akam (inner) and puram (outer).  It will be seen that the principles of akam were used by the Ālvārs in their out pouring.
In Tolkäppiyam “true love is considered under five aspects, viz union (punarthal), separation (pirithal), patience in separation (irutthal), wailing (irangal), and sulking (udal), and these are made to fit in with the five – fold physiographical division, viz, mountain (Kurinchi), desert (Palai), jungle (Mullai), beach (neithal) and fields (Marutham).”[60]
It also informs us that the god of Mullai, the forest and the adjoining regions was Mayon (Tirumal).[61]  Here the word Mal is used to mean ‘great’.  Tirumal, the Tamil name for the latter Vishnu, was a prominent deity of the Tamils, even before the penetration of northern influences in the south.  It was this deity of Mullai region that found profound expression in the poems of Alvars.

2.5.5 Cilappatikāram and Manimēkalai
These are the two ancient Tamil epics.  They were written by Ilañkō Adikal and Cāttanār respectively.  According to Shu Hikosaka “Cilappatikāram should have been written in about 750 A.D. and Manimekalai between 890 and 950 A. D…”[62] As to the religion of these two authors, there is no direct reference.  But it is generally held that, Ilañkö Adikal and Cāttanār belonged to Jainism and Buddhism respectively.
As to the scope of Manimēkalai M. S. Purnalingam Pillai says, “the real object of the ‘Jewel Belt’ appears to be to represent Buddhism as superior to every form of Hinduism, and especially to the Jain system.”[63]  Similar idea is expressed, as “propagation of Buddhism in the Tamil Country is one of the underlying purposes of Manimēkalai.”[64]
Cilappatikāram, the earliest extant Tamil epic (300 A.D.) projects a panorama of various faiths and religious practices prevalent perhaps at the end of Cańkam period.  It breathes the spirit of religious toleration.[65]  The tension between religious tolerance and superiority claims is echoed in the poems of Alvars.
The fact that needs to be admitted is that there was always religious tolerance and at the same time each religion worked for its inherent superiority.  This tension is inevitable.  This tension should lead people to positive and constructive responses and not negative and destructive, as is found in present situations.  Plurality is a given fact. It has to be used creatively and dynamically. Cańkam literatures reveal three facts.  One is that there were different forms of worship, including the Jain and Buddhists.  Secondly, these religions coexisted side by side without hatred.  And thirdly, there was religious tolerance.  In short, Cańkam literatures represent a tolerant attitude among different religions.  The problem of one and many finds adequate expression in the succeeding works of Alvars.

2.6 Akam and Puram
The practice of dividing the subject matter into akam and puram is a peculiar Tamil feature.  V. D. Mahajan emphatically says that, “the division of Aham and Puram is essentially Tamilian and Sui generis to their literature.”[66]  The meaning and scope of these two are explained as “love and war were respectively called agam and puram the inner life which one cannot share with other men and the outer life of action which other men can appreciate and admire.”[67]  To go further deep “Aham literature deals with matters strictly limited to one aspect of subjective experience viz., love.”[68]  And “Puram literature deals with matters capable of externalization or objectification.”[69]
The interesting aspect is that the Tamil devotional works have used the principle of akam to express the love of a devotee towards his or her deity.  M. S. Purnalingam Pillai suggests, “the intense devotion which the Nāyanmārs and Ālvārs felt towards God would normally come under akam.”[70]  Its intensity is found in the works of the Alvars.  The Alvars have the credit of applying akam principles in their poems. Their philosophy was that in front of the great Lord, all the souls would become feminine.[71]  This tendency is obvious in most of the works of the Alvars.  Hence, knowledge of akam is essential for the understanding of the works of Alvars.

2.7 Four Ideals
Besides the division of akam and puram, the Tamils had the practice of dividing the subject matter into four classes.  From the point of literature “the Tamils were not strangers to another form of classifying literary themes viz., Aram, Porul, Inbam and Vidu.”[72]  From the point of religion too, “Tamil Lore, recognizes the Four quests and calls them Aram, Porul, Inbam and Veedu”.[73]  These four classes are again brought under two divisions.  One is the Aram, Porul and Vidu, which come under puram.  The other is Inbam, which comes under akam.
The word aram means moral and religious duty, virtue or merit; porul means things, wealth or objectives of human life; veedu is used in the sense of heaven, freedom, liberation etc.; and inbam is used to denote sexual joy or love.  The bhakti saints have used the love aspects to express their intimacy with their deity.  Thus God is used in the masculine and soul is described in feminine form.  This is the predominant metaphor, which decorates the hymns of the Alvars. 

2.8 Five Regions or Tinai
One of the salient features of the ancient Tamils was to divide the land into five regions for the sake of convenience.  They noted that the habitable parts of the earth’s surface were divisible into five natural regions and named each region a tinai.[74]  The word tinai means a region or a stretch of land.

The five regions are “…Pālai, or sandy desert land, Kurinji
mountainous country, Mullai, forest tracts, Marudam, the lower river valley, fit for agricultural operations, and Neydal, the littoral region.”[75]  According to this division, they classified the races as five and each of whom followed professions suited to the region inhabited by them.[76]  The five races are Maravar, Kuravar, Āyar, Ulavar and Paradavar, respectively.
In the Pālai lived the Kallar and the Maravar.  As their land was unproductive they lived by preying upon the wealth accumulated by the dwellers of other regions.  They sacrificed animals and at times even men too, to the dreaded local god or goddess.  These deities have been idealized and turned into aspects or subordinates of the world-mother, Kāli or of her husband, ‘Śivan’, in comparatively recent times. Korravai, the goddess of victory is described in canto XII of Silappadigāram. Now the religion and practices of Pālai are found in the other four regions as well.  It may be because there were migrations of people and cults from region to region; the various tribes coalesced with each other by marriage and other causes.[77]
Kuriñji is the mountain-region.  There lived the Kuravar.  Later literature describes them as the heroes of romantic love at first sight.  They led the semi-nomad life of the hunter; hunted with the bow and the arrow and fought wild animals with the Vel.  Their women in the earliest days were clad in nothing but atmosphere around or in hides or in maravuri, tree-flay or in leaf-garments, called in Tamil, talai-udai.[78]  The god of the hilly region was the Red (Sēyōn), also called Murugan, who was the patron of pre-nuptial love.[79]  Thus Sēyōn also means boy lover, the ever youthful implying the home of romantic love at first sight, in the hill country.[80]  He was a hunter and carried the Vēl or spear and hence called Vēlan, spearman.[81]  Throughout the ages, Murugan remained essentially a god enshrined on hilltops, notwithstanding later affiliations with post-Vedic mythology.  As Lord of the hills, the abode of serpents, he reveals himself even today to his devotees in the form of a serpent.[82]  When in later ages asceticism came to be a much respected way of life, and ascetics resorted to hills for peaceful meditation, he also became the ascetic god.[83]  His manifestation as naked god represents the ancient nature of people and culture.  “His priest was also called Vēlan”.[84]  The priest performed Veriyādal or Vēlanādal the ancient form of worshipping Murugan through dance.  Like the God, the priest also possesses a Vēl during dance.  Hence he is called Vēlan.  The same Murugan could not escape the northern influences, in the forms of myths, to the extent that he was called the son of Śiva.
Mullai is the region of forest and people called Idaiyar lived there. Other words used for them were Ayar and Kōnār, i.e., cowboys.  They tended cattle and played on flute, Kulal, made of bamboo, or of the stem of the water lily, or of the cassia fruit or of the creeper jasmine.  Their leisure was spent in lovemaking in the forests, which afforded ample cover for their amatory proceedings.  The god of this region was māyōn, the dark-hued wonder working Kannan.  His worship included a dance called Kudam or Māyōnādal.  This is reflected many times in the devotional poems of the Ālvārs.  Krishna is the Sanskrit name for Kanan.  Krshna in Rig-Veda is called a demon opposed to Indra.  But in the later times Kannan became KrishnaParamātma.  P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar emphatically expressed this view as “I therefore hold that the ancient god of the pastoral tribes evolved into Krishnaand not that Krishnaof the Bhagavad Gita deteriorated into a pastoral god in recent times.”[85]
Marudam region includes river valley.  The people of this region are Vellālar.  Their main occupation was agriculture and Indra was their deity.  The modern pongal feast is a relic of the harvest festival associated with Indran, as the name bōgi pondigai, Indran-feast shows.  Bōgi is a name of
Indiran.  The Aryans could have borrowed and ennobled the concept of Indra.  And it was the success of Vaisnavism and Śaivism from about the sixth century A.D., which caused the disappearance of Indra from south.[86]
Neydal is the littoral region.  The people of this region were called Valaiñar, the men who plied the net.  Their God was Varunan.  The worship of this deity is very different from the fire-worship of the same deity.[87]  In other words this Varunan is different from the Vedic Varuna who was considered to be the law (Rīta) giver.
These five regional deities were worshipped for the convenience of the people.  In course of time there were inter-mixture of these deities.  But there was no religious antagonism.  It was the Aryans who monopolized a few deities and subordinated the rest.  The superiority claims between religions caused tension between them.  This tension is vivid in the works of Alvars.
  Apart from these five regional divisions, people were divided into different classes. According to M. S. Purnalingam Pillai “the Tamilar were of Eight Classes: Arivar, Ulavar, Ayar, Vedduvar, Kannalar, Padiadchier, Valayar, and Pulayar.”[88] [i.e., the wise, farmer, cowherds, hunter, smiths of all kinds, military class, fishermen and tanners, respectively].          
P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar is of the opinion that, “…there was a vertical classification of the people of any one region into Mannar, kings, Vallal, petty chiefs, noblemen, Vellālar, owners of fields, Vanigar, merchants, all of whom were called Uyarndôr or Mēlōr, the higher classes and Vinaivalar, and Adiyōr, the working classes and personal servants.”[89]  There was no trace of the Aryan four-fold caste system during the Cańkam age in the ancient Tamil society.  The Varna system is the result of the influences of Aryans upon the Tamils.  However, the Alvars broke away from the Aryan system of caste.
2.9 North South Influence
The Aryan force, which concentrated in the northern part of India slowly but steadily moved towards south.  This movement may be analyzed from at least three angles, viz., language, religion and caste.

2.9.1 Language
Most of the scholars are unanimous to suggest that Agasthiar was the first one to introduce Sanskrit elements into Tamil.  According to M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, “it was certainly he that first brought Sanskrit grammar and models to bear on virgin Tamil.”[90]  In spite of his works being ravaged by time, little is preserved in Tholkappiam.  Again, P. T. Srinivas Iyengar held that, “Sanskrit culture first began to affect Tamil literature when Agattiyanār composed his Tamil grammar.”[91]
Stephen Neill suggested that, the earliest Tamil literature was free from Aryan influence.  It was only from the sixth century at least the Tamil vocabulary has been fused with the Sanskrit, and the dual vocabulary is a recognized feature of all Tamil literature subsequent to this date.[92]
The penetration of Aryan influence into the Tamil language is said as “into the poems that were composed in the IV and V centuries A.D., slowly, very slowly entered chiefly by way of allusions Northern (Aryan) ideas, concepts, beliefs and superstitions.”[93]
The opening for such influence was created by the literary renaissance that took place from the sixth century onwards. Krishna Chaitanya says, “the re-emergence of the Pandyan realm in the sixth century as a strong polity led to a literary renaissance.”[94]
More than the Buddhists, the Jains have contributed to this influence.  “The Buddhists arrested for a time the aggressive nature of Aryam, but their check was overborne by the Jains who, great scholars as they were, copied from that language its models, and introduced foreign words freely in their Tamil works.”[95]  “Buddhism and Jainism gave the cue to the Saivite and Vaisnavite devotees to adopt the language of the mass, viz.  Tamil as a vehicle for propagating the truths of their religion.”[96]  This in fact, facilitated success to the bhakti tradition of Alvars.
After Jains and Buddhists, both Śaivaite and Vaisnavite devotional poets played the role.  Special mention is needed to note the effect of the Alvars in this direction.  “And here we shall see that, instead of the total acceptance of Northern model, the Sanskrit hymn with its dissolved content of metaphysical doctrines, elements indigenous to the South re-emerge to the surface and blend with the Krishna lore.”[97]  According to K. K. A. Venkatachari “we find the first consciousness of Tamil and Samskrt as parallel religious language in the writings of the Ālvārs.”[98]  “Although the Ālvārs sing their praises of the Lord in Tamil, their mother tongue, they consider themselves part of the Vedic tradition.”[99]  Again “we might even go so far as to say that the Ālvārs are not in revolt against the Samskrtic traditions associated with Lord Vishnu but rather are simply singing His praise and joyously expressing their sentiments in the language most intimate and immediate to them – Tamil.”[100]  Although the Alvars used Sanskrit elements as background, their strict adherence to Tamil was commendable.

2.9.2 Religion
The geographical dividing line between north India and south India was the Vindhyas.  But this could not prevent the Aryans from their onward march toward south.  Probably, the Aryan Brahmanical Hinduism could have reached south India earlier than Jainism and Buddhism. V. D. Mahajan stated  “the Aryas penetrated even the remotest parts of South India by 400 B.C.”[101]
Two evidences are suggested in support of the influence of Aryans on the south Indian people.  The first one is the references to the costly sacrifices performed by the southern monarchs of the age.[102] And the second evidence is that the followers of Vedas had often disputations with rival sections.  “The rival sects are not named, but they were doubtless Jainism and Buddhism which became more prominent in the succeeding age.”[103]
A conspicuous example of this influence is the addition of tīvalañjeydal into the marriage rite of Tamils.  “In the ancient marriage-rite there was no circumambulation of fire, tivalam śeydal, which Brāhmana Purohitas of later ages invented in imitation of the wedding-rite of the higher varnas and introduced into the marriage-ritual of the Tamils.”[104]  The re-emergence of Pandyan rule in the sixth century A.D. provided the background for the Aryan religions to influence the south.  Along with the northern religious elements a movement of devotional religion too emerged and developed in the next two or three centuries.[105]  One among them was the bhakti movement of Alvars.
In spite of the northern influences on the southern religions, south India maintained its peculiarity in matters of devotion too.  “Its saints and seers evolved a new type of bhakti, a fervid emotional surrender to God which found its supreme literary expression in the Bhāgavatapuāna a bhakti, very different from the calm, dignified devotion of the Bhāgavatas of the early, centuries before and after Christ in Northern India.”[106]  This can be debated because, there are scholars who maintain that Bhāgavatapurāna does not advocate prapatti or self-surrender to god.
Even the cult of Vishnu is a northern influence.  The cult of Vishnu, which saw its birth in north India, slowly spread into many parts of south India.[107] The myths responsible for the strengthening of the emotional Krishnabhakti developed in north India.  This became the center of attraction to the Alvars.  In the words of Friedhelm Hardy, “some what modified in the Tamil South, they were then made by the Alvars the mythological basis of their emotional bhakti.”[108]
Scholars consider Vināyaka worship as a northern influence.  “This Vināyaka worship was introduced into the Tamil country after the seventh century A.D., during the Pallaver region”.[109]  Thus from the point of religion northern influence is very obvious in the southern religious atmosphere.  Each and every line of the eulogies of the Alvars abounds with these Aryan myths.

2.9.3 Caste
There is no second opinion among the scholars with regard to the Aryan influence in caste system.  It is said “the iron-bound caste system, Brahmin, Khasatrya, Vaisia and Sudra, was purely Aryan and the Aryans ruthlessly foisted it on the Tamilar.”[110]  Of course, there were divisions of Tamil people on the basis of profession etc., but not on the basis of caste, as focused in Hinduism.
Amidst the several northern influences on the Tamils, there was a southern influence on the northern religions.  This was in the form of Vaisnavism and Śaivism.  Even though, the earliest north Indian myths provided the background for the progress of bhakti, “the Bhakti cult in the form of Saivism and Vaishnavism spread from South India to North India.”[111]
Apart from the south north polarity there were points of convergence of these two poles.  This convergence has strengthened Hinduism, from religious and cultural point of view.  To explain further, the meeting of north and south created a combination of northern and southern religious elements.  The present Hinduism is the result of the blend of the two.  D. S. Sarma wrote, “we should never forget that Hinduism is a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian faiths.”[112]  At the cultural level “it is rightly pointed out that Hindu religion and culture which has provided a firm base to Indian culture, is the product of a synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures.”[113]

2.10 Religion in Cańkam Age
An understanding of the religions and their relations in Cańkam age are great help to understand the later developments of bhakti in the form of Alvars and their hymns.  During Cańkam age there was the practice of Vaishnavism and Śaivism of the agamic kind.[114]  The agamic records are considered to be non-Vedic in nature. “Vaishnavism apart from the worship of Tirumal is not to be found in the Cańkam literature.”[115]  This fact can be further confirmed.  “When studying Tolkappiyam, Ettuthogai and Pathupattu and the Silappadikaram and Manimekalai, it is discovered that the early Tamils worshipped a god named Tirumal.”[116]
Vishnu was referred to in the Tamil literature with different names.  They are Mayon, Mayan, Mayavan, Nediyon, Alion, Tigirion, Nemiyon, Niniravannan, Nedumudiannal, Manivannan, and the like.[117] At the same time, Śiva and his son Murugan also find considerable place in the Tamil literature.  It can be said that Śiva and Murugan found adequate expression in the Tamil literature, like Tirumal.
Nilakanta Sastri points out the mention of Murugan in the early Tamil literature as, “the worship of Subramanya (Murugan) and the legendary achievements of that deity are often alluded to.”[118]  But it is not as found in the later days.  “He had not acquired the name of Subrahmanyam then, though occasionally he was called Kumara.”[119]  The name Subrahmanyam may be the outcome of the Aryanising process of the Tamil deities.
As to the worship of Ganesa N. Subrahamanian says, “Ganesa, a universally worshipped god of the Hindus was totally unknown to the Tamils of the Cańkam Age in his post- Cańkam form.”[120]  This is another evidence for the overtaking of the Tamil deities by the newly introduced Aryan ones.
There were two other religions, which came from north and influenced the Tamil religion. It is said, “in addition to Brahmanical Hinduism there were two alien religions and they were Jainism and Buddhism.”[121]  These two religions were non-Vedic in nature.  Hence, their influence on Hinduism as a whole was nipped at the bud.
Summing up the whole religious atmosphere Mahajan writes, “there were three strands of religion during the sangam period viz., the indigenous gods, the exotic Hindu gods and the exotic non-Hindu religious faiths, functions etc.”[122] It may not be right to divide the religions found in the Cańkam literature as polytheistic, monotheistic or animistic.  The fact that should set a concrete background is that, there were many forms of worship or religion.
The general religious tendency of the people was that they were optimistic.  It was the Aryan religion that created a pessimistic outlook in the religious realms of Tamils.  They did not indulge in dark cogitation about the evils of earthly existence. They never tried for any means to abolish the present joys of life for securing a future state of unchanging bliss.[123]
In the Cańkam age, religion was never misused for other concerns, for the Tamils of that age were not religious fanatics; not that they were consciously tolerant but were too busy with their secular concerns to be very much bothered by the demands of fundamentalist religion.[124]
Sundararajan writes, in Cańkam age religious tolerance was taken for granted and practiced naturally.[125]  The aggressive attitude among religions was not there. The religions of the Cańkam age played a milder and more harmonious role in society than it did in the succeeding ages after the seventh century A. D.[126]
The sense of religious antagonism was completely absent.  Harmony and tolerance characterized the relations between religions till about the fifth century A.D.  But there came a fear in the Tamil country that the whole land was going over to Jainism and Buddhism. It is said that the chief characteristics of the new epoch are the growth, on the one hand, of an intense emotional bhakti to Siva or Vishnu and on the other, of an outspoken hatred of Buddhists and Jains.[127]  The re-emerging of Pandya rule may be another factor. 
The general religious attitude that is found in the Cańkam epoch was peaceful.  There were many sects.  They existed side by side without harming the other.  Only when the established religious forms of Aryans began to take over the simple and plain sects by introducing new myths and gods, the necessity to secure the dignity of a particular deity came in.  Thus, there crept in the struggle for supremacy of a deity or religion, causing intolerance between them.  Although the Alvars reflected the greatness of Cańkam ideals, the tension between religions continued.

The Tamil race is considered to be one of the ancient races of the world, possessing unique culture, language, religion etc. Their language, Tamil, maintained its originality until it was influenced by Sanskrit in various forms. The so called, Cańkam served as guardian of the Tamil language to preserve its traditional glory.  The new invaders mired the existence of Cańkam.
Among the Cańkam works, Patthuppattu, Kali-thokai, Paripātal, Tolkāppiyam, and the two ancient Tamil epics, Cilappatikāram and Manimēkalai are important for their insights on religious matters.  They testify that, Tirumāl and Murugan the son of latter Śhiva were the deities frequently worshipped. The Alvars had utilized the ancient Tamil principle called akam in their devotional outpourings.  Therefore, an adequate knowledge of akam principles is essential for the understanding of the works of Alvars.  The four purusarthas found in the Hindu religious system have their equal concepts in the ancient Tamil literature.  The division of land into five regions is a good example to learn the diverse religious affiliations prevailed in those days.  Their co-existence is a symbol par excellence for the practice of religious tolerance then and now.
The crucial point of interest is the convergence of southern and northern elements in matters of language, religion and caste.  The general religious outlook of the period was harmony among religions.  The attitude of hatred could have germinated from the time when Aryans tried to monopolize their religion, by incorporating the names of deities and religious elements of the popular sects.  Their tendency to oppose the non-Vedic religions further aggravated the situation.  Added to these is the change of power in the south, as discussed in the previous section. 

[1]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, New Delhi, Asian Educational Service, 1985, p.13.
[2]Ibid., p.12.
[3]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Revised and Enlarged, New Delhi / Madras, Asian Educational Services, 1994, p.4.

[4]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.3.
[8]Ibid., p.12.
[9]Ibid., p.17.
[10]Ibid., pp. 17-18.
[11]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.1.
[12]Ibid., P. 15.
[13]Ibid., p.1.
[14]Ibid., p. 2.
[15]V.  D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Thirteenth Edition, New Delhi, S. Chand & Company Ltd., 1999, p.795.
[16]N. Subrahmanian, Tamil Social History, Vol. 1, India, Institute of Asian
Studies, 1997,p.346.
[17]Sailendra Nath Sen, Ancient India – History and Civilization, Second Edition, New Delhi, New Age International [p] Limited Publishers, 1999, p.204.
[18]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.14.
[19]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.795.
[20]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., pp. 14 – 17.
[21]N. Subrahmanian, Tamil Social History, Op. Cit., p.346.

[22]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.796.
[23]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.14.
[24]P. T. Srinivas Iyangar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Madras, C. Coomarasamy Naidu & Sons, 1929, p.152.
[25]S. Sundararajan, Ancient Tamil Country, its Social and Economic Structure, New Delhi, Published by Mrs. Nirmal Singal for Navrang Book Sellers and
Publishers, 1991, p.20.
[26]Shu Hikosaka, Buddhism in Tamil Nadu A New Perspective, Madras, Institute of Asian Studies, 1989, p.12.
[27]C. Retnadas, Incarnation and Contextual Communication, Sadhu Sundersingh Perspective, Tiruvalla, Christian Sahitya Samithy, 2000, p.57.
[28]K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of ViJayanagar, Second Edition, Madras, Oxford University Press, 1958, p.3.
[29]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.154.
[30]Ibid., p.154.
[31]Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, Fourth Edition, Madras, Oxford University Press, 1975, p.365.
[32]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.800.
[33]Shu Hikosaka, Buddhism in Tamilnadu A New Perspective, Op. Cit., p.12.
[34]Sailendra Nath Sen, Ancient India – History and Civilization, Op. Cit., p.204.
[35]Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha – Bhakti, The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1983, p.149.
[36]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.800.
[37]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. cit., p.53.
[38]Ibid., p.37.
[39]Ibid., p.41.
[40]Ibid., p.44.
[41]Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha – Bhakti, The early History of Krsna Devotion in South India, Op. Cit., pp. 183 – 184.
[42]S. V. Subramanian and R. Vijaya Lakshmy ed., Philosophical Heritage of the Tamils, Madras, International Institute of Tamil Studies, 1983, pp. 118 – 119.
[43]Ibid., p119.
[44]C. Retnadas, Incarnation and Contextual Communication, Op. Cit., p.75.
45S. V. Subramanian and  R. Vijaya Lakshmi ed., Philosophical Heritage of the Tamils, Op. Cit., p.119.
[46]Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha – Bhakti, The early History of Krsna Devotion in South India, Op. Cit., pp. 203 – 204.
[47]Ibid., p.206.
[48]Ibid., p.218.
[49]Ibid., p.205.
[50]Ibid., pp. 203 – 204.
[51]S. V. Subramanian and R. Vijaya Lakshmy ed., Philosophical Heritage of the Tamils, Op. Cit., p. 135.
[52]Ibid., p.129.
[53]Ibid., p.221.
[54]Ibid., p.138.
[55]Ibid., p138.
[56]Ibid., p.139.
[57]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.21.
[58]Ibid., p.23.
[59]Ibid., p.23.
[60]Ibid., p.25.
[61]C. Retnadas, Incarnation and Contextual Communication, Op. Cit., p.74.
[62]Shu Hikosaka, Buddhism in Tamilnadu A New Perspective, Op. Cit., p. 52.
[63]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.117.
[64]Shu Hikosaka, Buddhism in Tamilnadu A New Perspective, Op. Cit., p. 52.
[65]S. N. Kandaswamy “Devotinalism in the Jain and Buddhist Tamil poems”, Journal of Tamil Studies, 47 &48, June & December 1995,  p. 143. 
             [66]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit. p.800.
[67]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.34.
[68]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.800.
[69]Ibid., p.800.
[70]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tiruvāymōli, English Glossary, Volume II, Bombay, Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1981, p. VII.
[71]N. Subbu Reddiar, Vainavamum Tamilum, Saivasiddhandha Noorpathippu Kazaham, Ltd., Chennai, 1998, p.59.
[72]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.800.
[73]V. N. Ramaswami Aiyangar, Where do North and South meet – An Exploration of Vaishnavism and Indian Culture, New Delhi, Bahri Publications (p) LTD., 1982, p. 68.
[74]P. T. Srinivas Iyengar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Op. Cit., p.3.
[75]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.19.
[77]Ibid., pp. 21 – 22.
[78]Ibid., p.23.
[79]P. T. Srinivas Iyengar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Op. Cit., p.76.
[80]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., pp. 23 – 24.
[81]P. T. Srinivas Iyengar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Op. Cit., p.76.
[82]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.24.
[84]P. T. Srinivas Iyengar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Op. Cit., p.76.
[85]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.25.
[86]Ibid., p.30.
[88]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.5.
[89]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.19.
[90]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.20.
[91]P. T. Srinivas Iyengar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Op. Cit., p.207.
[92]Stephen Neill, Bhakti : Hindu and Christian, Madras, CLS, 1974, p.66.
[93]P. T. Srinivas Iyengar, History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Op. Cit., p.463.
[94]Krishna Chaitanya, The Betrayal of Krishna, Vicissitudes of a Great Myth, New Delhi, Clarion Books, 1991, p.314.
[95]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.1.
[96]P. Thirugnanasambandham, The Concept of Bhakti, Second Edition, Madras, University of Madras, 1973, p.4.
[97]Krishna Chaitanya, The Betrayal of Krishna, Op. Cit., p.311.
[98]K. K. A. Venkatachari, The Manipravāla Literature of the Śrīvaisnava Ācāryas, 12th to 15th Century A.D., Bombay, Ananthacharya Research Institute, 1978, p.5.
[100]Ibid., p.7.
[101]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.821.
[102]Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, Fourth Edition, Madras, Oxford University press, 1975, p.143.
[104]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.36.
[105]Krishna Chaitanya, The Betrayal of Krishna, Op. Cit., p.314.
[106]K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, Second Edition, Madras, Oxford University Press 1958, p.411.
[107]N. N. Bhattacharyya ed., Medieval Bhakti Movements in India, [Sri Caitanya Quincentenary Commemoration Volume], New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999, p.73.
[108]Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha-Bhakti, The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India, Op. Cit., p.51.
[109]Shu Hikosaka, Buddhism in Tamil Nadu A New Perspective, Op. Cit., p. 94.
[110]M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Tamil Literature, Op. Cit., p.5.
[111]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.829.
[112]D. S. Sarma, Hinduism Through the Ages, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, 1967, p.29.
[113]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.822.
[114]S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Early History of Vaishnavism in South India, Madras, The Oxford University Press, 1920, pp. 92 -93.
[115]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.819.
[116]C. Retnadas, Incarnation and Contextual Communication, Op. Cit., p.74.
[117]Ibid., pp. 74 –75.
[118]Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, Op. Cit., p.143.
[119]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.818.
[120]N. Subrahamanian, Tamil Social History, Volume 1, Op. Cit., p.368.
[121]Ibid., p.370.
[122]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.818.
[123]P. T. Srinivasa Aiyangar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture, Op. Cit., p.53.
[124]N. Subrahamanian, Tamil Social History, Volume 1, Op. Cit., p.61.
[125]S. Sundararajan, Ancient Tamil Country, its Social and Economic Structure,
Op. Cit., p.16.
[126]V. D. Mahajan, Ancient India, Op. Cit., p.818.  
[127]K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, Op. Cit., p.412.


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