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Bhakti Movement

22 Mar 2022

Category : Arts,Heritage and Culture

Topic: Bhakti Movement

The term "Bhakti" refers to devotion or a strong love for the divine. The Bhakti movement emphasizes the mystical union of the individual with God. Although the seeds of Bhakti can be seen in the Vedas, it was not emphasized throughout the early period. The process of adoration of a personal God evolved throughout the 6th century BCE, with the birth of the heterodox sects of Buddhism and Jainism. For example, in Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha began to be worshiped in his benevolent (avalokita) form. Vishnu worship began about the same time and was greatly popularized by the Gupta kings.
The Alwars & Nayanars saints of South India gave new emphasis and expression to Vaishnava and Shaiva devotionalism in the early medieval period. There were 12 Alwars and 63 Nayanars, according to tradition. Using a devotion to obtain salvation was a crucial component of the Bhakti movement, which began in medieval India as a religious reformation. The Bhakti movement flourished from the eighth through the eighteenth centuries, when a series of saints (Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh) emerged as the messiah of Bhakti (devotion), teaching people how to make the journey to salvation, from normalcy to enlightenment

South India's Bhakti movement

Between the seventh and twelfth centuries CE, the popular Bhakti movement grew throughout south India. It was founded on religious equality as well as broad social engagement. The Shivaite Nayannars and Vaishnavaite Alvars, who propagated the Bhakti cult under the Pallavas, Pandyas, and Cholas, ignored the Jains' and Buddhists' austerities. They proclaimed that personal commitment to God was the only way to salvation. They ignored the rigidities of the caste system and used local languages to spread the message of love and personal devotion to God throughout South India.

North India's Bhakti movement

During the 12th-17th centuries CE, the Bhakti movement gained prominence in the northern portions of the country. The Bhakti movement in north India is sometimes thought to be a continuation of the movement that began in the south. Despite the parallels in the two regions' traditions, the concept of Bhakti differed according to the teachings of each of the saints. The expansion of Islam in India affected the northern medieval Bhakti movement. The main aspects of Islam, such as belief in one God (monotheism), equality and fraternity, and rejection of rituals and class divisions, all had a significant influence on the Bhakti movement of this age. The campaign also brought about some social reforms.

The Bhakti Movement's Beginnings

Some researchers argue that the Bhakti movement arose as a reaction to feudal oppression and Rajput-Brahmin dominance.
Another set of academics believes that this movement arose as a result of socioeconomic shifts in the early medieval period. During the 13th & 14th centuries, the demand for commodities expanded, causing artists to migrate to cities. These classes of society supported the Bhakti movement because they were dissatisfied with the low status accorded to them by the Brahmanical system, and so they turned to Bhakti since it emphasized equality.
Though there is no universal agreement on the origins of the Bhakti movement, there is agreement on the fact that the Bhakti movement was founded on equality and devotional submission to a personally conceived supreme God.

Characteristics of the Bhakti Movement

  1. The Bhakti movement was founded on monotheistic ideas and generally condemned idol worship.
  2. The Bhakti reformers advocated escape from the cycle of life and death, and that salvation could only be obtained through intense devotion and confidence in God.
  3. They emphasized the significance of self-surrender in receiving God's happiness and grace, as well as the value of Gurus who served as mentors and preceptors.
  4. They promoted the international brotherhood principle.
  5. They were opposed to rites, pilgrimages, and fasting. They were vehemently opposed to the caste system, which segregated people based on their birth.
  6. They also emphasized the singing of hymns with profound devotion, and without regard for any language as sacred, they created lyrics in common people's languages.

Tamil Nadu Alvars and Nayanars

Some of the early Bhakti movements were led by the Alvars and Nayanars ( sixth century).
  • Alvars devotees of Vishnu who are "immersed" in their devotion.
  • Nayanars - Shiva enthusiasts who traveled from place-to-place singing songs in Tamil glorifying their gods.
  • The Alvars and Nayanars started or attempted to start a protest movement against the caste system and the domination of Brahmanas. This is confirmed by the fact that bhaktas, or disciples, came from a variety of social backgrounds, ranging from Brahmanas to artisans & cultivators, and even from "untouchable" castes.
  • The Nalayira Divya Prabandham ("4000 Sacred Compositions") is a notable anthology of compositions by the 12 Alvars gathered and assembled by Nathamuni in the 10th century.
  • Tevaram - a collection of the first 7 volumes of Tirumurai (Saiva devotional poetry) by Tamil poets Appar, Sambandar, and Sundarar.

Prominent Bhakti Movement Leaders

Shankaracharya (about 788820 CE) was a Hindu guru.
  • One of the mystic Bhakti poet-saint leaders gave Hinduism a new direction.
  • Shankaracharya was born in the Kerala town of Kaladi. He advanced the Advaita (Monism) philosophy as well as the concept of Nirgunabrahman (god without attributes).
  • In Advaita, the world's actuality is denied, and Brahman is seen as the only reality. Only Brahman, at its core, gives its reality.
  • Among his renowned lines are 'Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya Jivo Brahmatra Naparaha', which means "The Absolute Spirit is the reality, the world of appearance is Maya", and 'Ekam Evadvitiyam Brahma', which means "The absolute is one alone, not two".
  • He emphasized knowledge (gyan) as the only way to redemption.
  • Some of Shankaracharya's works are Upadesasahasri, Vivekachudamani, and Bhaja Govindum Stotra. He also contributed commentary to the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutra, and the Upanishads.
  • He established mathas in Dwarka, Puri, Sringeri, and Badrinath.

Ramanuja (c. 1017 1137 CE) was a Hindu saint.

  • In the 12th century, Ramanuja, who was born near contemporary Chennai in Sriperumbudur, preached Vishishta Advaitavada (qualified monism). According to him, God is Saguna Brahman (with qualities), and the creative process, encompassing all objects in creation, is real rather than illusory, as Shankaracharya believed. As a result, God, soul, and matter are all real, according to Ramanuja. God, on the other hand, is the inner substance, and the rest are his qualities.
  • As in dualism, the universe and Brahman are considered two equally real entities in Vishishta Advaita Vada, but the universe is not separate from Brahman but is generated out of Brahman. The Brahman is seen as a personal god with omniscience who created the world from his own self. Thus, the world bears the relation of the portion to the total, or the relation of a 'qualified result' to the base to Brahman (hence qualified monism).
  • The famous analogy is the sea and waves - Brahman is the sea, and the things of the world, both living & nonliving, are the waves on this sea.
  • Brahman, according to Ramanuja, is a completely personal god who is thought to be Vishnu or one of his avatars. He thought that Vishnu created the universe out of his love for humans and that he also controls the planet at all times. He also believed that Vishnu possessed all of the characteristics of a personal god, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and so on.
  • The distinction between Dualism and Vishishta Advaita is that "mankind enjoys a better position than in pure dualistic worship and is closer to God in Vishishta Advaita". Both the world & Brahman are considered equally real in Vishishta Advaita; they have not considered two independent things as in Dualism.
  • Ramanuja pushed for prabattimarga, or self-surrender to God. He welcomed oppressed people to Vaishnavism and pushed for salvation via Bhakti. Sribhashya, Vedanta Dipa, Gita Bhasya, and Vedantasara are among his works.
  • Madhava from Kannada preached Dvaita, or the dualism of Jivatma and Paramatma (c. 1238 1317 CE). According to his worldview, the universe is not an illusion, but rather a reality filled with genuine distinction. God, soul, and matter are all distinct in nature and are inseparable. He established the Brahma Sampradaya.
  • He regarded Brahman and the universe as two equally genuine realities that are in no way related. The God of dualism is Vishnu, who created the cosmos, and the universe is independent of and inferior to God, with no connection between the two. All worldly affairs are under the sovereignty of Vishnu, and it is everyone's duty to worship and pray to God.


  • He was Ramanuja's younger contemporary who advanced the Dvaita Advaita philosophy and the Bheda Abheda (difference/non-difference) philosophy. Like Vishista Advaita, the Bheda Abheda philosophy holds that the world and Brahman are both equally real and that the universe is a component of Brahman. The only variation is in the emphasis.
  • He was a Vaishnavite Bhakti preacher in the Telangana region.
  • He also established the Sanak Sampradaya.

Vallabhacharya (c. 1479 1531 CE) was a Hindu philosopher.

  • He was born to a Telugu Brahmin family in Benaras. He spread his Bhakti (devotion) theology through the god Krishna, whom he affectionately referred to as Shrinath Ji.
  • He established pushtimarg (the way of grace), a path that teaches devotees how to offer selfless love and devotion to Shrinath Ji without asking anything in return other than love.
  • He advanced the idea of Shudh Advaita (pure monism), which serves as the foundation for pushtimarg devotional practice. Shudh Advaita, like Vishista Advaita, asserts that the entire universe is a manifestation of Brahman. It's like two sides of the same coin, with Brahman on one side and the universe on the other. There is no difference the cosmos is a side of the coin that is Brahman. As a result, this is known as "Shudh Advaita", because it is believed that there is just one and that there is no change.
  • He also formed Rudra Sampradaya.
  • He and his pupil Surdas were key figures in popularizing the Krishna faith in north India.

Maharashtra's Bhakti Movement

  • In Maharashtra, the Bhakti movement was centered on the shrine of Vithoba or Vitthal, the dwelling deity of Pandharpur who was regarded as Krishna's manifestation. This movement, also known as the Pandharpur movement, influenced Maharashtra's social and cultural advancements. For example, it aided in the growth of Marathi literature, raised the status of women, and aided in the abolition of caste distinctions. The Bhakti movement in Maharashtra was inspired by the Bhagavata Purana and the Shiva Nathpanthis. There are two sects within the Bhakti movement:
  • Varkari Pandharpur's mild worshippers of God Vitthala, who are more emotive, theoretical, and abstract in their outlook.
  • Dharakaris - Heroic adherents of Ramadasa's cult, devotees of God Rama, who are more pragmatic, tangible, and practical in their thinking.
  • However, both share the goal of realizing God as the ultimate goal of human life. Jnaneswar/Jnanadeva, Tukaram, and Namdeva were the main saints of the Vithoba religion.

Sant Eknath (c. 1533 1599 CE)

  • He was a scholar of Varkari sampradaya and Vaishnavism, the Hindu sect distinguished by devotion to God Vishnu and his incarnations (avatars).
  • He is credited with enriching Marathi literature by translating numerous Sanskrit works into Marathi.
  • He also attempted to move the emphasis of Marathi literature from spiritual to narrative composition, and he invented Bharood, a new style of Marathi devotional song.
  • He was a family man who emphasized that staying in monasteries or retiring from society are not required for leading a religious life.
  • He was anti-caste and promoted the concept that there was no distinction in God's eyes between Brahmin and outcaste or Hindu and Muslim.

Tukaram (c. 1608 1650 CE)

  • A 17th-century poet-saint who lived with Maratha emperor Shivaji Maharaj and saints such as Eknath and Ramdas. His poetry was dedicated to Vithoba or Vitthala, an avatar of Vishnu, the Hindu God.
  • He is well-known for his Abangas (dohas) in Marathi, which constitute a rich tradition of Gatha devotional poetry, and he was also responsible for laying the groundwork for Maratha nationalism (Parmartha).
  • He emphasized community-based worship through spiritual melodies known as Kirtans. He promoted the virtues of piety, forgiveness, and inner tranquility.
  • Ramananda (about 1400 1476 CE) was a 15th-century poet-saint who was born in Prayag (Allahabad) and preached his beliefs in Benaras and Agra. Ramanandis are his followers.
  • He was previously a Ramanuja devotee. He, like other monotheist bhakti saints, fought the caste system and chose his students from all walks of life, regardless of caste.

His followers were as follows:

  • Kabir, a Muslim weaver.
  • Sena is a barber
  • Sadhana is a butcher.
  • Raidasa is a cobbler.
  • Dhanna is a jat farmer.
  • Narahari is a goldsmith.
  • Pipa is a Rajput prince.
He is recognised as the originator of the Ram cult in north India since his object of Bhakti was Ram, as he adored Ram and Sita. He questioned the Sanskrit language's monopoly over religious literary teachings. To popularize his beliefs, he preached in local languages.


  • One of Ramananda's most notable followers from the 15th century. His famous verses can be found in the Sikh sacred book, Adi Granth. According to legend, he was born at Benaras to a Brahmin widow who abandoned him after his birth and raised him in the home of a Muslim weaver. He had an inquisitive mind and learned a lot about Hinduism while in Benaras.
  • He became acquainted with Islamic teachings, and Ramananda guided him into a deeper understanding of Hindu and Muslim religious and intellectual concepts.
  • He severely condemned idol worship, pilgrimages, ceremonies, the caste system, particularly the practise of untouchability, and emphasized man's equality before God. Kabir's purpose was to promote a religion of love that would unify people of all classes and creeds. He was well-versed in yogic practices and saw devotion to God as an efficient way of salvation. He admonished his pupils that in order to be saved, they must have a clean heart, free of harshness, deceit, dishonesty, and insincerity. He did not believe that asceticism or book knowledge were necessary for actual wisdom. He also did not believe it was necessary to give up a householder's life for the sake of a saintly life.
  • Kabir's goal was to bring Hindus and Muslims together and create harmony between the two faiths. He emphasized the fundamental unity of all religions by comparing Hindus and Muslims to "pots of the same clay". Rama and Allah, temple and mosque were all the same to him.
  • Kabir is revered as the greatest mystic saint, and his disciples are known as Kabirpanthis. Some of his most significant students included Raidas (a tanner), Guru Nanak (a Khatri trader), and Dhanna (a Jat peasant). The majority of Kabir's compositions are written in Bijak.

Guru Nanak (c. 1469 1539 CE)

  • The first Sikh Guru and creator of Sikhism, as well as a Nirguna Bhakti saint and social reformer.
  • He was born in 1469 CE to a Khatri family in the village of Talwandi (now called Nankana) on the banks of the river Tawi. He was a contemplative mystic who liked the company of saints and sadhus.
  • He lectured about God's unity and fiercely condemned idolatry, pilgrimages, and other ceremonial observances of many faiths. He called for a medium road in which a spiritual life could coexist with domestic responsibilities.
  • "Abide pure amidst the impurities of the world", was one of his well-known quotes.
  • He attempted to bridge differences between Hindus and Muslims in order to foster a climate of peace, kindness, and reciprocal give and take.

The Bhakti Movement's Female Leaders

Women poet-saints were equally prominent in the Bhakti movement, and many of these women saints had to work harder to win acceptance in an otherwise male-dominated movement. In many cases, women saints abandoned traditional women's responsibilities and societal standards and left their homes to become traveling bhaktas, whereas in others, they became involved in the Bhakti movement while still fulfilling family duties.

Among the notable female bhaktas are:

  1. Akkamahadevi A 12th-century bhakti saint from Karnataka's southern area. She was given the moniker "Akka", which means "older sister", by prominent philosophers of her time, including Basavanna, Prabhu Deva, Madivalayya, and Chenna Basavanna. She was a devoted follower of Shiva.
  2. Janabai - In the 13th century, she was born into the Shudra caste. She worked in the family of one of the most revered Bhakti saints, Saint Namdeva. Despite having little formal education, she wrote over 300 poems, most of which were about her life domestic chores or the limitations she faced as a low caste lady.
  3. Mira bai or Mira Mira belonged to a high-ranking Rajput family and was married to the son of Rana Sanga of Mewar at a young age, but she abandoned her husband and family to embark on a journey to various locations. Her poem depicts a unique relationship with Lord Krishna in that she is not only portrayed as Krishna's devotee bride but Krishna is also described as being in pursuit of Mira.
  4. Bahinabai or Bahina A 17th-century Maharashtra poet-saint who wrote various abhang, women's folk songs that depict the laboring lives of women, particularly in the fields.
  5. Andal:
    • Andal saw herself as Vishnu's beloved; her verses show her devout love for him.
    • Andal saw herself as Vishnu's beloved; her verses show her devout love for him.
  6. Karaikkal Ammaiyar
    • One of three female Nayanars among the 63 Nayanars.
    • This Shiva devotee chose the path of penance to achieve her aim.

The Bhakti Movement's Importance

The Bhakti movement accelerated the development of regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, and others.
  • The lower classes ascended to positions of considerable power.
  • The Bhakti movement valued both men and women equally.