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Bhakti Movement Part 1-HISTORY(22 March)

By March 22, 2022May 22nd, 2023Current Affairs, GS1, Medieval History


Bhakti Movement Part – 1

    Aim – Sought to bring religious reforms to all strata of society by adopting the method of devotion to achieve salvation.

    Time Period – From beginning of 7th century in South India, and spread towards North India with reaching its epitome in around 12-13th cen CE.

    Mode – Developed around different Gods and Goddesses and some sub sects such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism.

    The movement was inspired by many poet-saints, who championed a wide range of philosophicalpositions ranging from theistic dualism of Dvaita toabsolute monism of Advaita Vedanta.

    First or the Earliest Reference of this Bhakti Movement is found in – Shvetashavtara Upnishad



    Meaning – He who has highest Bhakti (love, devotion) of Deva (God), just like his Deva, so for his Guru (teacher), To him who is high-minded, these teachings will be illuminating.

    The Bhagavad Gita, a post-Vedic scripture composed in 5th to 2nd century BCE, introduces bhakti marga (the path of faith/devotion) as one of three ways to spiritual freedom and release,

    The other two being karma marga (the path of works) and jnana marga (the path of knowledge)



    Started in South India, travelled upto North India and gained wide acceptance in fifteenth century Assam, Bengal and Northern India.

    Started by Saiva Nayanars and Vaishnava Alvars (5th and 9th cen CE).

    Bhakti Movement in Odissa is known as Jan Misrita Bhakti or Dadhya Bhakti which started in the 12th century, Jagannath is the centre of the Odisha Bhakti movement.

    Some scholars state that the Bhakti movement’s rapid spread in India was in part a response to the arrival of Islam and subsequent Islamic rule in India and Hindu-Muslim conflicts.

Reasons behind the Movement

    Spread of Islam.

    Emergence of Great reformers.

    Influence of Sufi sects.

    Reaction against the feudal oppression and the Rajput – Brahmin domination.

Common Teachings

    Preached Equality – Disciples of Ramananda included a weaver, cobbler, barber.

    Preached Universal Brotherhood- Kabir preached universal brotherhood through his Dohas.

    Rid of the religion and society of evil practices that had sunk in over time. Example – Guru Nanak condemned caste difference and rituals like bathing in holy rivers. His idea of religion was highly practical and strictly moral.

    Emphasis on the route of ‘Bhakti’ rather than superficial rituals as the mode to realise god and salvation.

Method of Promotion

    Used common local Languages to promote their message and thus led to the development of local vernacular languages.

    The writings of Sankaradeva in Assam however, not only included an emphasis on the regional language, but also led to the development of an artificial literary language called Brajavali. (Combination of medieval Maithili and Assamese).

    Individual focused alternative path to spirituality regardless of one’s birth or gender.

Nirguna & Saguna Bhakti

    History Origin – The two had parallels in the ancient pantheistic unmanifest and theistic manifest traditions, respectively, and traceable to Arjuna-Krishna dialogue in the Bhagavad Gita.

    Nirguna – concept of the Ultimate Reality as formless, without attributes or quality.

    Introduced by Adi Shankara.

    Roots/ focus is on knowledge.

    Proponents – Kabir, Guru Nanak, Dadu Dayal etc.


    Saguna – envisioned and developed as with form, attributes and quality.

    Roots/focus is on love/devotion.

    Proponents – Ramanuja, Nimbaraka, Madhva, Meera Bai, Tulsidas etc.

Social Impact

    The impact of the Bhakti movement in India was similar to that of the Protestant Reformation of Christianity in Europe.

    It evoked shared religiosity, direct emotional and intellection of the divine, and the pursuit of spiritual ideas without the overhead of institutional superstructures.

    Practices emerged bringing new forms of spiritual leadership and social cohesion among the medieval Hindus, such as community singing, chanting together of deity names, festivals, pilgrimages, rituals relating to Saivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. Many of these regional practices have survived into the modern era.

    Transformation of form of Bhakti –

    led to devotional transformational of medieval Hindu society, wherein Vedic rituals or alternatively ascetic monk-like lifestyle for moksha gave way to individualistic loving relationship with a personally defined god.

    Inclusivity –

    Salvation which was previously considered attainable only by men of Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes, became available to everyone.

    Promoted Unity – Brought together various diverging sections of Brahma theory – ranging from the theistic dualism of Dvaita to the absolute monism of Advaita Vedanta.

    The Bhakti movement introduced new forms of voluntary social services giving such as Seva (service, for example to a temple or guru school or community construction), dāna (charity), and Langara (community kitchens with free shared food). Example – Guru ka Langar by Guru Nanak.

    Mathas adopted social functions such as relief to victims after a natural disaster, helping the poor and marginal farmers, providing community labor, feeding houses for the poor, free hostels for poor children and promoting folk culture.

Social Impact – Summary

    Platform for unification of India under national consciousness.

    Development of music, dance and literature in India.

    Checked orthodox supremacy.

    Emancipation of vulnerable sections in the society.

    Promotion of social service in society.


Bhakti Movement – Limitations

    Though Bhakthi movement brought in the much needed emphasis to change the regressive form of religion in the society, it could not achieve its objective in truest terms. This can be attributed to many reasons such as

    lack of organization on a greater level amongst the movements.

    stern opposition from orthodox classes in the society

    Persecution by royal classes etc.

Alvars and Nayanars

    Tamil poet-saints who played an essential role in the propagation of a Bhakti Movement in the South part of India during the 5th – 10th centuries.

    The Alvars and Nayanars initiated a movement of protest against the caste system and the dominance of Brahmanas or at least attempted to reform the system. (supported by the fact that disciples hailed from diverse social backgrounds ranging from Brahmanas to artisans and cultivators and even from castes considered “untouchable”)


    Alvars bestowed their belief and devotion to Lord Vishnu. (12 in number)

    The poetry of the Alvars echoes Bhakti to God through love, and in the ecstasy of such devotions they sang hundreds of songs which embodied both depth of feeling and felicity of expressions

    The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabandha. The Bhakti literature that sprang from Alvars has contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation.

    Compiled by Nathamuni


    Nayanars bestowed their belief and devotion to Lord Shiva. (63 in Number)

    Among the Nayanars, the poets Nanachampantar, Appar, and Chuntaramurtti (often called “the three”) are worshipped as saints through their images in South Indian temples.

    In the 10th century Nambi Andar Nambi collected the hymns of the Nayanars in an anthology called the Tevaram