Bhakti Movement –Part II:
Originated inSouth India, during the seventh to eighth century C.E., spread northwards from Tamil Nadu throughKarnatakaand gained wide acceptance in fifteenthcenturyBengalandnorthern India. Started with the SaivaNayanarsand the VaisnavaAlvars, who lived between 5th and 9th century C.E. Their efforts ultimately helped spreadbhaktipoetry and ideas throughout India by the 12th–18th century CE. The Alvars, which literally means “those immersed in God”, were Vaishnava poet-saints who sang praises of Vishnu as they travelled from one place to another.
- They established temple sites such asSrirangam, and spread ideas aboutVaishnavism.
Their poems, compiled as Alwar ArulicheyalgalorDivyaPrabhandham, developed into an influential scripture for the Vaishnavas.
TheTirumurai, a compilation of hymns on Shiva by sixty-three Nayanarpoet-saints, developed into an influential scripture in Shaivism.
- The poets’ itinerant lifestyle helped create temple and pilgrimage sites and spread spiritual ideas built around Shiva.
Features of the Bhakti Movement:
Rise of Bhakti
The impact of the Muslim rule
The Hindus had suffered a lot materially, morally and spiritually. The Muslim rulers in general wanted to enforce the Islamic laws on the Hindus. The Muslim rule had put dread in the hearts of the Hindu masses.
The Bhakti movement brought them hope and support and inner strength to save themselves.
Evil practices in Hinduism
During the course of time, several evil practices had crept into the Hindu society like rigidity of caste system, irrelevant rituals and religious practices, blind faiths and social dogmas. The society also suffered from polytheism, segregation, severe economic disparity due to casteism, untouchability etc.
The Bhakti saints were social reformers also. They condemned several social evils.
Popular Disaffection with Religion
The religion itself was monopolized by the Brahmins who themselves led a degenerated and corrupt moral life. Common men in general had developed an adverse attitude towards these social evils and were in need of a liberal form of religion where they could identify themselves with simple religious practices.
The contribution of Sufis:
With the foreign invaders, some Sufi Muslim saints had also come to India and settled here. They emphasized the virtues of love and devotion, brotherhood and equality etc. This helped to bring the two communities nearer. It also helped to harmonize the conflicting interests.
The Sufi Saints like KhwajaMuinuddin Chisti, BakhyiyaKaki, NizamudinAuliaand Nasiruddin Chirag-i-Delhi etc. attempted to restrain the fanaticism of the Muslims and tried to bring them nearer to the Hindus. Several Hindus became followers of the Sufi saints but without relinquishing their own religion.
Rise of Bhakti :
Bridge between Hindus and Muslims
An important factor which led to the popularity of Bhakti movement was that most of the promoters of this movement attempted to reconcile the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims by stressing that Rama and Rahim were one and the same. They condemned the hatred of the fanatic Pandits and Mullahs alike.
The Bhakti saints tried to generate an environment of good will between the Hindus and the Muslims.
The Hindus realisedthat it was difficult to drive away the Muslim rulers and Muslims from India. On the other hand the Muslims also appreciated that the Hindus were in absolute majority and it was impossible to force all of them to embrace Islam. So under the impact of the new movement both sides started making efforts for coming closer to each other.
Bhakti as a Way of Life Tukaram (1608-50), who have left behind many verses that embody the essence of Bhakti. Tukaram was a rebel in more ways than one.
The Hindu and as well as the Muslim saints emphasized religious simplicity. They stressed human qualities and moral attitudes. They stressed that a true religious man is one who is pure in thought and action.
Equality between different sections
The Bhakti saints believed in equality of man and man. According to them there was no distinction and consideration of high and low on the basis of birth. Their doors were open to all classes.
Spread of Bhakti :
In the Kannada region, the movement begun by Basavanna (1105-68) in the 12th century for a time threatened the caste hierarchy and stretched the fabric of local society. While the orthodoxy managed to resist, the Bhakti movement in this region produced a rich vein of literature that came to be known as Vachana Sahitya composed by Basava himself as well as his disciples (Akkamahadevi, Allama Prabhu, Devara Dasimayyaand others). Consisting of pithy aphorisms, these Vachanas conveyed in unambiguous terms certain astute observations on spiritual and social matters. Basavanna, the founder of the movement in Karnataka, was a minister of King Bijjala. He used his considerable powers to initiate programs of social reform and saw his verses as extending his message to the masses. He was ultimately defeated by the orthodoxy, but he had initiated a new thinking in society that survives to the modern day, and in Karnataka, he remains an inspirational figure to this day.
In neighbouring Maharashtra, the Bhakti movement began in the late 13th century. Its proponents were known as the Varkaris. The Varkaris worship Vithobaand have a dutybased approach towards life emphasisingmoral behavior and strict avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, the adoption of a strict lacto-vegetarian diet and fasting on Ekadashi day (twice a month), self-restraint (brahmacharya) during student life, equality and humanity for all rejecting discrimination based on the caste system or wealth, the reading of Hindu texts, the recitation of the Haripathevery day and the regular practice of bhajan and kirtan. Among its most popular figures were Jnanadev(1275- 96), Namdev(1270-50) and Tukaram (1608-50), who have left behind many verses that embody the essence of Bhakti. Tukaram was a rebel in more ways than one.
A Shudra by caste, he became a merchant.
Later, defying the injunctions of the Brahmins, Tukaram chose to write on religious matters, and that too in Marathi, the language of the people.
That a Shudra chose to write was itself unacceptable to the Brahmins. Writing on religious matters in Marathi and not in Sanskrit was yet another issue.
Forced by the orthodoxy to throw his manuscripts into the river, legend has it that Tukaram undertook a fast unto death and after the 13th day, his sunken notebooks appeared
from the river, undamaged.
Spread of Bhakti
In northern India, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, a large number of poets flourished who were all Bhakti figures of considerable importance.
At times, speaking of a formless god, sometimes centringtheir devotion on a preferred god (ishtdevata), these poets have left behind a considerable body of literature in
Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Maithili and a number of other languages.
Almost always instinctively rebellious, these poets played an important role in laying the foundation for a reconfiguration of society on more equitable lines. Kabir, the
renowned saint of northern India, falls squarely in this tradition of singersongwritercritic
Living in the 13th and 14th centuries (the exact dates are disputed, but fall between 1398 and 1518), Kabir upturned the religious notions and social conventions of his time.
Kabir preached a monotheism that appealed directly to the poor and assured them of their access to god without an intermediary.
He rejected both Hinduism and Islam, as well as empty religious rituals, and denounced hypocrisy. This outraged the orthodox gentry.
Spread of Bhakti
Another singer-songwriter was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), an iconoclast and a critic of the dominant societal values of his time.
Nanak was of a syncretic mindset and attempted to fuse the tenets of Hinduism and Islam to serve as a guide for all humanity. He rebelled against a society that preferred
ritual to devotion and sincerity.
Among the institutions that he challenged was caste. Nanak did not subscribe to caste taboos and was contemptuous of its ideas of ―high” and ―low”.
Given the injunctions against intermingling, Nanak frequently travelled with Mardana, a lower-caste Mirasi(a community of dancers and singers).
Mardanawas a skilled rubabplayer who is said to have accopanied Nanak whenever he sang his verses.
Eventually, Nanak founded a separate religion, Sikhism, which attempted to put his precepts into practice.
A near-contemporary of Nanak was Ravi Dass(1450-1520), who was born into a family of leather workers (chamars) in Varanasi.
Like Nanak, Ravi Dasstoo spoke of the need for a casteless society, though, unlike Nanak, he had suffered its slings and arrows as he belonged to an untouchable caste.
In one of his popular poems, Ravi Dassspeaks of ―Begumpura”—―a place with no pain, no taxes or cares… no wrongdoing, worry, terror or torture”
In this verse and in many others, Ravi Dassgave voice to lower-caste pain at Brahminical society‘s treatment of them. The Ravidassiacommunity that continues to flourish to this
day is evidence of the everlasting nature of his appeal.