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The Bhakti Movement, a crucial part of India’s cultural history during the middle ages, was a quiet social revolution brought on by a vast array of socio-religious reformers. It is a reference to the theistic devotional movement that began in India in the Middle Ages and later changed society. The Bhakti movement gave those at the bottom of Indian society more influence and encouraged the development of local literature. You will learn about the Bhakti Movement’s characteristics in this article, which will help you prepare for the UPSC Civil Service Exam by learning about Indian art and culture.
Bhakti Movement Origin
Between the seventh and the twelfth centuries, the Bhakti movement first appeared in the southern regions of India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. By the end of the fifteenth century, it had gradually moved to the northern region. Nayanars (Shiva Devotees) and Alvars (Vishnu Devotees), two significant Bhakti saint groups in South India, rejected Buddhist and Jain austerities in favour of preaching devotion to God as a means of salvation. The majority of their poetry focused on the bond of devotion between the worshipper and God.
So that common people could read and repeat them, they conversed and wrote in vernaculars like Tamil and Telugu. A priest’s attendance was not required in the Bhakti tradition. The movement became much more well-liked as a result. The Sanskrit word “bhaj,” which meaning to share, take part in, or be a part of, is the source of the word “bhakti,” which implies devotee. Bhakti, which is spiritual and denotes complete devotion as opposed to physical love.
Bhaktism developed for a variety of reasons. The caste system had become established, and Hinduism had become incredibly ceremonial. Jainism and Buddhism both promoted strict asceticism and struggled to find followers. On the other side, the Sufi movement was becoming more well-liked because of its egalitarian ideas and simplicity of prayer. The search for a means of gratifying one’s emotional and spiritual needs was on. These factors played a role in the development and spread of the Bhakti tradition within Hinduism. Bhakti saints rejected traditional religion and pushed for a number of reforms. You can check major Socio-religious reform movements in detail for your UPSC exam preparation here.
Bhakti Movement and Reasons for Rise
- Evils of Hindu Culture: Caste rigidity, pointless rituals and religious practises, blind faiths, and social dogmas were only a few of the social oddities that characterised Hindu civilization.
- Common men required a liberal type of religion where they could identify with fundamental religious rites because they had grown to dislike these societal issues in general.
- The difficulty of religion: The profound philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishads was incredibly challenging for the average person to comprehend.
- They preferred a straightforward method of worship, as well as straightforward religious rituals, social customs, and practises. Bhakti marga was an alternative—a straightforward method of devotion to achieve deliverance from material existence.
Bhakti Movement Schools
The two schools of Bhakti saints were divided according to how they viewed God. According to one school of thinking, God had no shape and lacked any characteristics. This school of thought is known as the Nirguna School of Philosophy. The Saguna School, on the other hand, held that God manifests himself through incarnations like Rama and Krishna and has a specific shape, personality, and beneficial qualities.
|Nirguna School||Saguna School|
|Nirguna symbolised the poet-saints who exalted God apart from all qualities or forms. They’re also referred to as Monotheistic Bhakti saints.||Saguna represented poet-saints who wrote poetry glorifying a god based on qualities or form.|
|Nirguna’s main proponents were Nanak and Kabir.||The prominent proponents of Saguna were Tulsidas, Chaitanya, Surdas, and Meera.|
|The Nirguna poet-saints condemned Brahmin supremacy and all caste-based traditions, as well as the practice of idolatry.||The Saguna poets favoured Brahmin domination and defended the caste system.|
|They valued personal encounters with god, and although calling their deity by various names and titles, their god was formless, everlasting, non-incarnate, and ineffable.||They preached a religion of submission and simple confidence in a personal god, while also encouraging the worship of idols.|
|Their views appeared to be a fusion of three traditions: the Vaishnava concept of Bhakti, the Nanpanthi movement, and Sufism.
Thus, despite adopting the concept of Bhakti from Vaishnavism, they gave it a Nirguna emphasis.
|They recognise the spiritual validity of the Vedas as well as the need for a human Guru to act as a bridge between God and his devotees.|
Bhakti Movement & Bhakti Saints
Numerous well-known Bhakti saints were influential in the bhakti movement. Here are brief summaries of the contributions made by these Bhakti Saints, ranging from Shankaracharya to Yogis.-
In 788 CE, one of the notable Bhakti Saints, Shankaracharya, was born. He was in charge of introducing Hinduism to a new orientation. He discussed the monism theory (Advaita philosophy) and held the Nirgunabrahman belief that God has no qualities. He believed that knowledge, or gyan, was the only path that could lead to redemption. He was known for saying things like “Ekameva Adviteeyam Brahma” and “Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya Jivo Brahmatra Naparaha.”
Ramanuja advocated for qualified monism, or Vishista Advaitavade. He thought that God had qualities. According to him, Shankaracharya was in charge of all creative processes. He discovered Brahmin to be a personal, all-powerful god. He authored Sribhashya, Vedantasara, Gita Bhasya, and Vedanta Dipa.
The Kannada bhakti leader Madhavacharya held the dualistic views of Jivatma and Paramatma. He was the Brahma Sampradaya’s founder and held the universe and Brahmins to be on an equal footing. He believed that matter, the soul, and God are all distinct. Vishnu was the dualistic God in charge of everything in the world. He thinks that everyone should worship and pray to God.
The younger Ramanuja’s contemporary was Nimbarka. He pronounced the Dvaita Advaita and Bheda Abheda schools of thought. He considers Brahmins to be a part of the globe. He was the Sanak Sampradaya’s founder and a Vaishnavite Bhakti preacher.
Pushtimarg and the Rudra Sampradaya were founded by Vallabhacharya. He claims that the foundation of pushtimarg spiritual practise is Shudh Advaita. He thought that there are two distinct portions to the cosmos and the Buddhists.
Also Read: Difference Between Bhakti and Sufi Movements
Bhakti Movement and Women Bhakti Saints
Not only did renowned male leaders of the Bhakti movement play a key role in the movement, but so did women leaders. Women were believed to be homemakers at the time and were not permitted to leave their homes, but they refused to conform to the social mores and left their homes to follow God’s path by becoming travelling saints. These women pushed for their acceptance and altered the public’s narrow-minded thinking, despite the fact that it was not an easy feat for them to take control of the movement.
Here are some of the essential female leaders of the Bhakti Movement-
Akkamahadevi was a devout follower of Shiva. She was a female bhakt who lived in southern Karnataka during the 12th century. Her title, Akka, which translates to “elder sister,” was bestowed to her by the great philosophers of the 12th century (Prabhu Deva, Basavanna, Chenna Basavanna, and Madivalayya).
A devotee from the Shudra Caste named Janabai was born in the 13th century. She was a member of Namdeva’s household staff, one of the most well-known Bhakti Saints. More than 300 of her poetry have been written. Her poems were based on her everyday experiences, such as the challenges she faced as a lady from a lower caste and housework. But despite having no formal education, she was nonetheless able to produce poems.
Mira, a member of the affluent ruling Rajput family, was one of the most praised worshippers of Krishna. She was the spouse of Rana Sanga of Mewar’s son. She left her husband and children, though, because of her love for God. She visited a variety of shrines. Although her poetry portrays a special relationship between God and herself in which she is Krishna’s devotee wife and Krishna is characterised in her activities, her poems demonstrate her love for Krishna.
Another devotee, Andal, believed herself to be Vishnu’s favourite. She was the only woman in Alwar whose poetic composition described her holy love for Vishnu.
A Maharashtrian follower named Bahina Bai. This poet-saint from the 17th century produced a number of abhyanga. She was inspired by the experiences of working-class women to compose songs about women.
There were 63 Nayanar, but only 3 of them were female. She is one of the three women who worshipped Shiva. She pursues asceticism as a means of achieving her objectives.
Bhakti Movement in Medieval India
The Bhakti Movement was started in the Middle Ages for the following reasons:
- Religion’s Complexity: Despite the fact those other faiths’ reforms made the Vedas more significant, the Upanishads and Vedas’ intricate philosophical systems were difficult for the average person to comprehend.
- Simple Way of Devotion: All around the nation, there were numerous ceremonies and intricate religious practises being practised. However, there was a desire to follow societal norms, other spiritual practises, and the simpler manner of worship. The Bhakti Marga was presented in a clearer manner.
- Societal Problems: The mediaeval era saw a number of bad practises that were prevalent towards the common folk. It was necessary to introduce a liberal type of religion that included fundamental religious rites.
- Evils in Hindu Culture: Hindu civilization had many issues, including pointless rituals, blind faith, caste rigidity, social dogmas, and other religious practises.
- Role of Religious Reformers: Numerous influential individuals, including Ramanuja, Shri Chaitanya, Namdev, Ramananda, Mirabai, Shankara, Kabir, Nanak, Surdas, Nimbarka, Tukaram, Tulsidas, Chandidas, Vallabhacharya, and many others, left a lasting impression on civilization.
The following are some more causes for the Bhakti Movement’s rise: –
- Spread of Islam
- Influence of Sufi sects
- Influence of Shaivism and Vaishnavism Ideologies
- The emergence of great reformers
Bhakti Movement in South India
Between the seventh and the twelfth centuries CE, Tamil Nadu saw the growth of the Bhakti movement. The Nayanars (devotes of Shiva) and Alvars (devotes of Vishnu) expressed it in their moving poetry. These saints saw religion as a warm link built on love between worshippers and worshipped rather than as formal, chilly worship. The Reforms Movements in South India have the following salient characteristics.-
They emphasised dedication, humanism, and purity of heart while discarding rituals and sacrifices.
- Being of a monotheistic nature.
- God can manifest as Saguna or Nirguna.
- Casteism was condemned by this movement for equality. These saints disapproved of the austerities promoted by Buddhism and Jainism and preached in the local tongues. The Bhakti movement contributed to a slowdown in the growth of these religions.
- Social reforms: They challenged institutionalised religion, Brahminical dominance, idolatry, ways of complex ceremonies, etc. while ignoring the caste structure. In addition to this, the Bhakti Saints opposed female infanticide and Sati. Kirtans were invited for the women to attend. Bridging the gap between Hindus and Muslims was the main goal of the Bhakti movement in South India.
The Alvars, whose name translates to “those steeped in God,” were poet-saints of the Vaishnava faith who journeyed abroad praising Vishnu or his avatar Krishna. They identified as Vaishnavists and revered Vishnu or Krishna as the Almighty. There were a total of 12 Alwars. In the Divya Prabandha, hymns that they composed in homage to Vishnu and his avatars were compiled. They also praised the ‘Divya Deshams,’ which are the homes of the 108 Vaishnavite deities. The sole female saint of Alwar, Andal, is referred to as the “Meera of the South.’
They started off as a group of 63 Tamil saints who were devoted to Lord Shiva. The text ‘Tevaram,’ also referred to as the Dravida Veda, contains details on the saints’ lives. Raja Raja I, the Chola king, asked his priest to begin gathering the Nayyanar songs into a collection of volumes known as “Tirumurai.” The backgrounds of the Nayyannars are diverse. They included Brahmins, members of the nobility, as well as oil traders and Vellalas. Along with Jainism and Buddhism, Brahmanical hegemony was opposed by the Alwars and Nayyanars. They worked together to lay the foundation for India’s Bhakti movement.
Bhakti Movement in North India
The saints were able to reach a wide audience since they wrote in their native Tamil and Telugu. Additionally, they translated Sanskrit texts into regional tongues. There aren’t many saints:
- Jnanadeva – Marathi 2.
- Kabirdas, Surdas, Tulsi das – Hindi
- Sankaradeva – Assamese
- Chaitanya and Chandidas – Bengali
- Sanskrit, prevalent in the North, was given a new form as the movement moved to the North. Bhagavata Purana was a significant work in the 9th century and an essential component of the Bhakti movement.
- Kabir, Namdev, and Guru Nanak had preached devotion to a Nirankar form of God. The followers of Guru Nanak identify themselves as Sikhs.
Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra
The features of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra are as follows-
- In Maharashtra, the Bhakti movement was founded on the monotheistic belief system.
- They opposed the worship of idols.
- The bhakti reformers disseminated the notion of interconnectedness.
- They objected to the fasts, journeys, and ceremonies.
- They reject the idea that life and death are interconnected.
- They wrote poetry in local tongues to make it easier for common people to sing those hymns because they saw praise as a way to communicate with God.
- They propagated the idea that self-surrender is bliss and emphasised its significance to the general public.
Bhakti Movement Significance
The monotheistic principles that formed the basis of the Bhakti movement strongly opposed idolatry. The Bhakti movement was started with the idea that the best way to reach God is not via rituals or religious rites but through love and worship. The Bhakti reformers argued that redemption could only be attained through fervent devotion and firm faith in God and that the cycle of life and death should be broken. They underlined the value of Gurus who functioned as mentors and preceptors, the relevance of self-surrender in obtaining God’s happiness and grace, as well as the importance of gurus.
They imparted the idea of universal brotherhood. They disapproved of rituals, journeys, and fasting. They fiercely resisted the caste system, which divided people according to where they were born. They also underlined the importance of singing hymns with deep dedication, emphasising the creation of lyrics in everyday languages without respect for any language as sacred.
Bhakti Movement and Krishna Janmashtmi
In the context of Indian religious and cultural traditions, Krishna Janmashtami and the Bhakti Movement are intimately intertwined. Hindus remember the birth of Lord Krishna, a key figure in the Bhakti Movement, on January 15th, or Krishna Janmashtami. This is how they are related:
Krishna’s Role in the Bhakti Movement: Lord Krishna, often known as “Sri Krishna” or “Shri Krishna,” is one of Hinduism’s most popular deities and a key figure in the Bhakti Movement. Many Bhakti saints and poets, including Surdas, Tulsidas, and Meera Bai, used their poetry and songs to convey their fervent devotion to Lord Krishna.
Bhakti Saints and Their Krishna Bhakti: The principal focus of devotion for Bhakti saints who promoted devotional love and submission to a personal deity was frequently Lord Krishna. They wrote poems and bhajans (devotional songs) in praise of Krishna, praising his heavenly qualities, telling love tales (like the Radha-Krishna love narrative), and expressing the teachings of scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita.
Krishna Bhakti Literature: Krishna Bhakti (devotion to Krishna) abounds in the writings of Bhakti saints like Surdas and Tulsidas. The “Ramcharitmanas” by Tulsidas contains stories of Lord Krishna’s life and teachings, and Surdas’ poetry honours the jovial and kind-hearted character of Lord Krishna.
Krishna Janmashtami Celebrations: Krishna devotees passionately and fervently commemorate Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami. The “Dahi Handi” tradition in Maharashtra is one example of this practise, which often includes singing bhajans, reading or narrating stories from Krishna’s life, and reenacting Krishna’s antics as a child. To commemorate Lord Krishna’s birth, devotees fast, visit temples, and partake in a variety of cultural and religious activities.
Spiritual Significance: For Bhakti practitioners, Krishna Janmashtami holds special spiritual significance. It’s a time to deepen their devotion to Lord Krishna, reflect on his teachings, and engage in acts of worship and devotion.
Bhakti Movement Contribution
The Bhakti movement played a significant role in bringing about urgently required reforms in religion, society, and culture. They spoke out against caste and gender discrimination in support of a more equitable social structure. They promoted interfaith harmony and global brotherhood. Some saints sought to reconcile the divergent goals of Hindus and Muslims by bringing them closer together.
They instilled in their pupils the value of moral purity in thought and deed. Vernacular languages were employed in the teachings of religion to make it accessible to the general populace. Vernacular literature and languages expanded and developed as a result. For instance, several works have been produced in Gujarati, Marathi, and Hindi. The priests’ insistence on prescribing elaborate ceremonies was fiercely resisted by the Bhakti saints. The most widely used form of devotion has evolved away from rituals and towards a more intimate relationship with God through bhajans and kirtans.
|Some Important Movements for UPSC|
|Temple Entry Movement||Socio-religious reform movements|
|Reforms Movements in South India||Paramahansa Mandali|
|Ramakrishna Mission||Deoband Movement|