Bhakti Movement

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Bhakti denote means to attain moksha along with jnana and karma. It is the revival, reworking and recontextualisation of ancient Vedic traditions. It has a poetic approach to religion, ascetic approach to poetry


  • Unity of God or one God though known by different names.
  • Bhakti, intense love and devotion, the only way to salvation.
  • Repetition of the True Name
  • Self-Surrender
  • Condemnation of rituals, ceremonies and blind faith.
  • Rejection of idol worship by many saints
  • Open- mindedness about deciding religious matters.
  • No distinction of different castes, higher or low
  • Need of a guru for guidance advocated by some.
  • Preaching’s through local or regional languages and travelling from place to place for spreading the religious message.

Historical Development

Bhakti during Ancient India

  • advocated in Bhagavad Gita (Ekant Dharmika), Bhagvata Purana, Padma Purana
    • grew in popularity in early centuries of Common Era
  • Saivaite Nayanmars, Vashnaivaite Alwars preached Bhakti cult under Pallavas, Pandaya, and Cholas
    • came from all castes including untouchables like Pulaiyar, Panars
    • sharply critical of Buddhists, Jains
    • drew upon ideals of love and heroism as found in Sangam literature
    • initiated movement of protest against caste, dominance of Brahmines
  • idea of bhakti became so popular that even Buddhists and Jainas adopted these beliefs
Bhakti Saints

Nalayira Divyaprabandham (“Four Thousand Sacred Compositions”) – one of the major anthologies of compositions of the 12 Alvars compiled by the 10th Century

  • described as the Tamil Veda, thus claiming that the text was as significant as the four Vedas in Sanskrit that were cherished by the Brahmanas.

From a composition of an Alvar named Tondaradippodi, a Brahmana mentions Chaturvedins – Are strangers and without faithfulness to your service.

Tevaram – a collection of compiled and classified in the 10th century on the basis of the music of the songs of Appar, Sambandar, and Sundarar.

Bhakti in Medieval India

  • emerged due to dread put by Islam (Muslim rule) in heart of Hindu masses
    • wanted solace- bhakti brought them hope, support and inner strength
  • Islamic ideals of universal brotherhood, equality greatly attracted lower strata of society which threatened Hindu rulers
    • Brahminism based on caste-system was prominent during the Medieval period
    • reform movement to clean Hinduism of social evils started by saints, philosophers
  • people were uneasy with philosophical ideas and turned to the teachings of Buddha or Jains
    • possible to overcome social differences and break the cycle of rebirth through personal effort
Sankara 8th century Kerela
  • started Hindu revivalist movement
  • advocate of Advaita- doctrine of oneness of individual soul & Supreme God which is the Ultimate Reality
  • Brahman, only Ultimate Reality, was formless (Nirgunbrahman) and without any attributes.
  • considered world to be an illusion or maya, and preached renunciation of the world
    • adoption of path of knowledge to understand true nature of Brahman salvation.
Ramanuja Chennai
  • God is Sagunabrahman
  • advocate of Vishishtadvaita- qualified oneness in that the soul, even when united with supreme God, remained distinct
  • all objects, creative process in world are real not illusory- God, soul, matter are real
    • God is inner substance and rest are his attributes
  • advocated Prabattimarga- path of self-surrender to God
    • his doctrine inspired new strand of Bhakti which developed in North India
  • invited downtrodden to Vaishnavism

Statue of Ramanujacharya at Hyderabad- 2nd tallest seated statue after Great Buddha of Thailand

  • made of Panchloha- Au, Ag, Cu, Brass, Tin/Lead
Madhava Kannada
  • propagated Dvaita- dualism of Jivatma and Paramatma, also Tatvavada
  • world is not an illusion but reality- God, soul, matter are unique in nature
  • proclaimed himself as 3rd incarnation of Vayu, son of Vishnu (other- Hanuman, Bhima)
  • greatest obstacle in path of salvation was belief in identity of Brahma and Jiva
  • God is only independent being w/ qualities of omnipotence, omniscient, omnipresence
    • matters & souls are dependent, controlled by God (but doesn't create/destroy)
    • but individual souls have responsibilities of their own
Nimbarka Telangana
  • Vaishnavite Bhakti- propounded the Radha Krishna cult
  • individual soul is part of Brahma, both in state of ignorance and knowledge
  • attached great attention to attainment of knowledge and devotion
    • 3 realities- Brahma (Krishna), soul (Chit), matter (Achit)
Vallabhacharya Telegu
  • advocated system of pure non-dualism devoid concept of mata
  • advocated universal religion which didn't believe in distinctions
  • glorified intense love of Radha-Krishna
  • accepted Vedas as highest authority- logic can't trump over faith
  • doctrine of grace, the ideal of self-dedication, and the sublimation of human life
  • Surdas- disciple, popularized Krishna cult in North India
Mirabai (1498-1546) Rajasthan
  • none by reason of birth, poverty, age or sex will be debarred from his divine presence
    • Sooner or later every one is to meet his Lord
  • great devotee of Krishna, absolute faith and devotion
  • worshipper of Rama
  • composed Ramcharitmanas
  • worshipper of Rama
  • 1st to employ vernacular medium to propagate ideas
  • emphasized on simplification of worship, emancipation of people from traditional caste rules
  • disciples from all caste group-
    • Kabir- Muslim weaver
    • Raidasa- cobbler
    • Sena- barber
    • Sadhana- butcher
    • Dhanna- Jat farmer
    • Naraharai- goldsmith
    • Pipa- Rajput prince
Kabir- Unity of religions
  • complete rejection of major religious traditions
  • ridiculed all forms of external worship of both Brahmanical Hinduism and Islam, the pre-eminence of the priestly classes and the caste system
  • language- spoken Hindi widely understood by ordinary people
  • sometimes used cryptic language,difficult to follow.
  • believed in a formless Supreme God
  • life is relation b/w Jivatma & Parmatma- moksha is uniting the two
  • only path to salvation was thru bhakti or devotion.
  • followers from among both Hindus and Muslims
  • famous works- Bijak, Anurag Sagar, Sakhi Granth
Guru Nanak- Hindu Muslim Unity Punjab
  • emphasized imp. of worship of one God
  • caste, creed or gender was irrelevant for attaining liberation.
  • idea of liberation was not that of a state of inert bliss but rather pursuit of active life with strong sense of social commitment
  • used terms nam, dan and isnan for essence of his teaching, which actually meant right worship, welfare of others and purity of conduct.
  • His teachings are now remembered as nam-japna, kirt-karna and vand-chhakna, which also underline the importance of right belief and worship, honest living, and helping others.
  • insisted that followers be householders, adopt productive occupations while contributing to welfare fund
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Bengal
  • popularized Krishna cult
  • proclaimed universal brotherhood of man
  • condemned all distinctions- religion, caste
  • emphasized love & peace, sympathy to sufferings
  • thru love & devotion- god can be felt
  • disciples from all classes

Achintya Bheda-Abheda philosophy

  • combines monism, dualism- inconceivable
  • soul is both distinct, non-distinct from God
  • sub-school of Vedanta philosphy
Gnanadeva Maharashtra
  • founder of Bhakti in MH- Maharashtra Dharma
  • wrote commentary on Bhagavat Gita called Gnaneswari
  • preached gospel of love
  • opposed idol worship, priestly domination
  • opposed caste distinctions, sympathetic towards lower castes
  • composed many bhajans
  • contemporary of Shivaji
  • responsibile for creating background for Maratha nationalism
Shankaradeva Assam
  • teachings known as Bhagavati Dharma, based on Gita, Puranas
  • absolute surrender to supreme deity- Vishnu
Basvashwera/Basvana   Karnataka
  • raised his voice against untouchability, which was in practice since ages.
  • initially Jain, minister in court of Kalachuri dynasty king Bijjala I
    • introduced public instis like Anubhav Mantapa to facilitate men & women from all backgrounds to discuss issues of life
  • firm and final goal of Basavanna was to establish a democratic set up of society. Hence he fought against all types of inequalities which were existing in the rigid society at  that tim


  • seeds of modern concepts of ‘sarvodaya’ and ‘total revolution’ were sowed by him
  • His practical approach and act of  establishment of ‘Kalyana Rajya’  (Welfare state) brought  a  new  status  and  position  for all  the citizens of the society, irrespective of  class, caste creed and sex.
  • Thus the main aim of Vachana (poetry) movement, led by Basaveshwara was welfare of all
  • He was a universal human being with the vision of vishvodaya

Vachana Poetry

  • He scripted his practical experiences in a novel form of literature called –Vachana (poetry).
  • This innovative literary form is the main contribution of “Sharanas”  through which they expressed their revolutionary and reformist ideology in a very simple Kannada language.
Guru Ravidas North India
  • mystic poet of untouchable caste
  • literary works- Adi Granth (Sikhs), Panchvani
  • spoke against caste divisions for promoting unity
  • founded new religion based on his teachings- Ravisadassia Dharam
  • taught omnipresence of God- human soul is particle of God rejecting idea that people of lower caste can;t meet God
    • the only wat to meet God was to free mind from this duality


  • Hindu-Muslim Unity: attempts to reconcile differences between Hindus and Muslims by stressing that Rama, Rahim were the same
  • Religious Simplicity: stress on human qualities, moral attitudes, purity of thought and action
    • futility of ritualism and superstition, religious toleration
  • Equality: no caste distinctions on accident of birth
  • influences rulers to adopt liberal religious policies
  • infused spirit of piety in daily life of people- emphasized earning of wealth thru hard work and honest means
  • Humanitarian attitude- encourage value of social service to poor & needy
    • drew attention towards virtues of contentment and self-control
  • evils- anger, greed and vanity
  • birth to new sect of Sikhism
Impact of Bhakti Movement on Literature in North India
Language Development
HINDI Developed as Rekhta Sufi saint like wrote books like Malik Mahmud Zayasi wrote Padmavat in awadhi language, Mulla Daud wrote Chandayan , Qutuban wrote Mrigavati., Tulsidas Ramcharitra Manas.
BENGALI Chatainya Mahabrabhu wrote various bhajan in Bengali, Maldhar basu Gunraj Khan wrote Srikrishna Vijaya.
GUJRATI Narsi Mehta, Permanand and Bhalana write religious and Msytical literature who are follower of Vaishiva Bhakti movement.
MARATHI Bhakti saints like Eknath, Tukaram wrote on religious line, Tukaram wrote Abhanga or short poems.
PUNJABI Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Sufi saint Farauddin, Miya Mir wrote in Punjabi , Hir Ranjha by waris Shah.
Impact of Bhakti Movement on Literature in South India
Language Development
KANNADA It effected Vijaynagar empire and various translation like Narahara and Tippana translated Mahabharata in Kannada
  • Ramayana and Bhagwat were also translated in Kannada.
TELUGU Many work translated in Telugu like Mahabharata, Ramayana etc .
  • Krishna devraya Amukyamalyad is among five great Kavvyas.
  • Allasi Peddana (Grandfather of Telugu poetry) wrote Manucharit Sambhava.

Common links between Bhakti- Sufi - Vachna Sahitya

  • Love as worship: All emphasized on the love with god and rituals were given least importance. Mysticism was common feature in all.
  • Anti-caste: they all were against the caste system and denounced the superiority on birth. Kabir was weaver, Namdeva was a tailor, Ravidas cobbler, and Sadhana a butcher.
  • Monotheism: Even in Bhati movement to either Rama or Krishna or Shiva was worshipped. This way they all preached monotheism in the Indian society.
  • Local language: all preached in the Local languages. Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya spoke in local dialects. other movement to produced rich works in local languages.
  • Simple worship: the place of rituals and complex worship ways ware taken by simple ways to express faith.
  • Tolerance: They all respected different religions and their customs. Even gave blessings to the ruler from other religions.
  • Humanity: human values such as compassion, benevolence, etc were the pillars of all of them. Humanity was considered superior than any other aspect of society or state.
  • Teacher-Student tradition: Both Sufism and Bhaktism had teacher and student tradition. In sufism teacher was called pir and disciple as murid. Ramananda was follower of Ramanuja.