Bhakti movement

Bhakti movement

The Bhakti movement was a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice was loving devotion to God, or "bhakti". The devotion was directed towards a particular form of God, such as Shiva, Vishnu, Murukan or Shakti. The bhakti movement started in southern India and slowly spread north during the later half of the Indian medieval period (800-1700 CE).

A "bhakta" is a devotee of a particular form of God, such as Vishnu, Krishna or Rama. In common use it means 'one who follows the path of bhakti', often referred to as bhakti yoga.

A "bhagat" is a holy person who leads humanity towards God. A Bhagat is an Eastern equivalent to a Christian Saint. A Bhagat may also be a guru, in which case he would have a huge following or sangat.


The notion of 'Bhakti' (loosely translated as devotional love to God) is of antiquity. A nascent conception of bhakti is to be found in the earliest Vedas, especially in relation to deities such as Varuna. A clearer expression of bhakti began to be formed during the Epic and the Puranic periods of Hindu history. Texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana clearly explore Bhakti Yoga, or the Path of Devotion, as a means to moksha.Fact|date=May 2008

The bhakti movement is a historical-spiritual phenomenon that crystallized in South India during Late Antiquity.Fact|date=May 2008 It was spearheaded by devotional mystics (later revered as Hindu saints) who extolled devotion and love to God as the chief means of spiritual perfection. The sixty-three "nayanars" (Shaivite devotees) and the twelve "alvars" (Vaishnavaite devotees) spearheaded the bhakti movement.Fact|date=October 2008

Among the earliest Shaivite mystics was Karaikkal Amaiyar, who probably lived around the late 5th century CE or perhaps the early 6th century. She was said to be a contemporary of the Vaishnavaite saints Bhuttalwar and Peialwar. Kannapa Nayanar was another early Shaiva Bhakti saint. But most famous among the Shaiva Bhakti saints were the "nalvar" (The Four Eminent Ones), Sundarar, Appar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar. Their devotional hymns are ecstatic, lyrical and moving.

The Vaishnavaite Bhakti movement was contemporaneous with the Shaiva Bhakti movement. The hymns of the twelve "alvars" are known as the "Nalayira Divya Prabandham" and recited (as are the Shaiva texts) in temple rituals. While all the saints are held in great reverence, Aandaal (or Goda-devi) in particular holds a special place among the Vaishnava saints. Not only is she the only female Vaishnava saint but also her hymns are among the best expressions of bridal mysticism in the Hindu religion.

The twelve "alvars" and the sixty-three "nayanars" nurtured the incipient bhakti movement in South India under the Pallavas and Pandyas in the fifth to seventh centuries AD. They constitute South India's 75 Apostles of Bhakti and were greatly influential in determining the expression of faith in South India. The path of devotion as expounded by these mystics would later be incorporated into the Ramanuja and Madhva philosophical systems.

During the 12th and 13th centuries CE the Virashaiva movement and, during the rule of the Vijayanagar Empire in South India, the Haridasa movement spread from present-day Karnataka. The Virashaiva movement spread the philosophy of Basavanna, a Hindu reformer. The seeds of Carnatic music were sown, and the philosophy of Madhvacharya was propagated by the Kannada Haridasas. The Haridasa movement, like the Virashaiva movement, presented another strong current of "bhakti", pervading the lives of millions. The Haridasas presented two groups – Vyasakuta and Dasakuta. The former were required to be proficient in the Vedas, Upanishads and other Darshanas, while the Dasakuta merely conveyed the message of Madhvacharya through the Kannada language to the people. The philosophy of Madhvacharya was preserved and perpetuated by his eminent disciples like Vyasatirtha or Vyasaraja Naraharitirtha, Vadirajatirtha, Sripadaraya, Jayathirtha and others. In the fifteenth century, the Haridasa movement took shape under Sripadaraya of Mulbagal; but his disciple Vyasatirtha provided it a strong organizational base. He was intimately associated with the Vijayanagar Empire, where he became a great moral and spiritual force. His eminent disciples were Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. Yakshagana, as a theater form emerged as an offshoot of this movement in Karnataka.

The late Bhakti movement led to the proliferation of regional poetic literature in the various vernacular languages of India. The Bhakti movement in what is now Karnataka resulted in a burst of poetic Kannada literature in praise of Vishnu. Some of its leaders include Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa, whose contributions were essential to Carnatic music. The later Carnatic Trinity is also no doubt a product of this long Bhakti Movement.

The Bhakti movement began to spread to the North during the late medieval ages when North India was under Muslim domination. There was no grouping of the mystics into Shaiva and Vaishnava devotees as in the South. The movement was spontaneous and the various mystics had their own version of devotional expression. Unlike in the South, where devotion was centered on both Shiva and Vishnu (in all his forms), the Northern devotional movement was more or less centered on Rama and Krishna, both of whom were incarnations of Vishnu. Though this did not mean that the sect of Shiva or of the Devi went into decline. In fact for all of its history the Bhakti movement co-existed peacefully with the other movements in Hinduism. It was initially considered unorthodox, as it rebelled against caste distinctions and made disregarded Brahmanic rituals, which according to Bhakti saints were not necessary for salvation. In the course of time however, owing to its immense popularity among the masses (and even royal patronage) it became 'orthodox' and continues to be one of the most important modes of religious expression in modern India.

In the period between the 14-17th centuries, a great "bhakti" movement swept through Central and Northern India, initiated by a loosely associated group of teachers or "sants". Caitanya, Vallabha, Meera Bai, Kabir, Tulsi Das,Dnyaneshwar, Namdeo, Tukaram and other mystics spearheaded the Bhakti movement in the North. Their teachings were that people could cast aside the heavy burdens of ritual and caste and the subtle complexities of philosophy and simply express their overwhelming love for God. This period was also characterized by a spate of devotional literature in vernacular prose and poetry in the ethnic languages of the various Indian states or provinces.

While many of the bhakti mystics focused their attention on Krishna or Rama, it did not necessarily mean that the sect of Shiva was marginalized. In the thirteenth century Basava founded the Vira-Shaiva school or Virashaivism. He rejected the caste system, denied the supremacy of the Brahmins, condemned ritual sacrifice and insisted on bhakti and the worship of the one God, Shiva. His followers were called Vira-Shaivas, meaning "stalwart Shiva-worshipers".

The Saiva-Siddhanta school is a form of Shaivism found in the south and is of hoary antiquity. It incorporates the teachings of the Shaiva "nayanars" and espouses the belief that Shiva is Brahman and his infinite love is revealed in the divine acts of the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe, and in the liberation of the soul. Seminal Bhakti works in Bengali include the many songs of Ramprasad Sen. His pieces, known as Shyama Sangeet, or Songs of the Dark Mother, are still actively sung today in West Bengal. Coming from the 17th century, they cover an astonishing range of emotional responses to Ma Kali, detailing complex philosophical statements based on Vedanta teachings and more visceral pronouncements of his love of Devi. Using inventive allegory, Ramprasad had 'dialogues' with the Mother Goddess through his poetry, at times chiding her, adoring her, celebrating her as the Divine Mother, reckless consort of Shiva and capricious Shakti, the universal female creative energy, of the cosmos.

Rama bhakti

Ramananda was the leader of the bhakti movement focusing on Rama as God. Very little is known about him, but he is believed to have lived in the first half of the 15th century. He taught that Lord Rama is the supreme Lord, and that salvation could be attained only through love for and devotion to him, and through the repetition of his sacred name.

Ramananda's ashram in Varanasi became a powerful center of religious influence, from which his ideas spread far and wide among all classes of Indians. One of the reasons for his great popularity was that he renounced Sanskrit and used the language of the people for the composition of his hymns. This paved the way for the modern tendency in northern India to write literary texts in local languages.

Devotees of Krishna worship him in different mellows , known as "rasas". Two major systems of Krishna worship developed, each with its own philosophical system. These two systems are "aishwaryamaya bhakti" and "madhuryamaya bhakti". "Aishwaryamaya bhakti" is revealed in the abode of queens and kingdom of Krishna in Dwaraka. "Madhuryamaya Bhakti" is revealed in the abode of "braja". Thus Krishna is variously worshiped according to the development of devotee's taste in worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead (Krishna) as father, friend, master, beloved and many different varieties.

Shri Madhvacharya (1238-1317) identified God with Vishnu. His view of reality is purely dualistic, in that he understood a fundamental differentiation between the ultimate Godhead and the individual soul, and the system is therefore called Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta. Madhva is considered one of the influential theologians in Hindu history. His influence was profound, and he is one of the fathers of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement. Great leaders of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement in Karnataka like Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Raghavendra Swami and many others were influenced by Dvaita traditions.

Vallabhacharya (1479 — 1531) called his system of thought "Shuddhadvaita", or pure monism. According to him, it is by God's grace alone that one can obtain release from bondage and attain Krishna's heaven. This heaven is far above the "heavens" of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, for Krishna is the eternal Brahman.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 - 1534) defined his system of philosophy as "Achintya Bheda Abheda" (inconceivable and simultaneous oneness and difference). It synthesizes elements of monism and dualism into a single system. Chaitanya's philosophy is taught by the contemporary International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or "Hare Krishna" movement.

Srimanta Sankardeva (1449 - 1568) named his religion "ek sarana naam dharma" and propagated it in Assam. An example of "dasa" "bhakti", in this form there was no place for Radha. The most important symbol of this religion is the "naamghor" or prayer hall, which dot Assam's landscape. This form of worship is very strong in Assam today, and much of the traditions are maintained by the monasteries ("Satra"s).

Vaishnava bhakti

:"See also Vaishnavism, Krishnaism, Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Hare Krishna Prominent historical personalities include:
* Ramanujacharya
* Madhvacharya
* Nimbarka
* Vallabha
* Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
* A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada


Beyond the confines of such formal schools and movements, however, the development of "bhakti" as a major form of Hindu practice has left an indelible stamp on the faith. Philosophical speculation was concern for the minority, and even the great Advaitist scholar Adi Shankaracharya, when questioned as to the way to God, said that chanting the name of the lord was essential. The philosophical schools changed the way people thought, but Bhakti was immediately accessible to all, calling to the instinct emotion of love and redirecting it to the highest pursuit of God and self-realization. In general a liberal movement, its denouncement of caste offered recourse for Hindus from the orthodox Brahaminical systems. Of course Bhakti's message of tolerance and love was not often heeded by those ensconced in the societal construct of caste. Altogether, Bhakti resulted in a mass of devotional literature, music and art that has enriched the world and gave India renewed spiritual impetus, one eschewing unnecessary ritual and artificial social boundaries.

ee also

* Devotional movements
* Svayam Bhagavan


# Schouten, pages 11-26
# Karavelane "Kareikkalammeiyar, oeuvres editees et traduites", institut francais d'indologie, Pondicherry (1956)
# Jagadeesan, N "The Life and Mission of Karaikkal Ammaiyar" Bhattacharya, N.N. [ed] "Medieval Bhakti Movements in India" Munishiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, (1989), pages 149-161

External links

* [ Path of Devotion]
* [ International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)]
* [ Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math]
* [] All about Krishna. Info, books, MP3s, images, radio...
* [ The full text of the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad-Bhagavatam)]
* [ Waves of Devotion - Dhanurdhara Swami's Companion to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's Nectar of Devotion (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu)]
* [ Pure]


* Schouten, Jan Peter (Dutch) "Goddelijke vergezichten - mystiek uit India voor westerse lezers", Ten Have b.v., Baarn, the Netherlands, (1996), , ISBN 90-259-4644-5

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