Bhakti movement: Wikis


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The Bhakti movement is a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice is loving devotion among the Vaishnava saints. Nammalvar alias Sadagopan is considered the greatest of all Alwars (saints) for his rendering of the Dravida vedas called Thiruvaimozhi (literally Sacred Chants of the mouth). 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, Vadirajatirvement.

The Bhakti movement began to spread to the North during the late medieval ages when North India was under Muslim rule. 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 centered on Rama and Krishna, both of whom are considered incarnations of Vishnu. Despite this, the sect of Shiva or of the Devi did not go 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 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.

During the 14-17th centuries, a great bhakti movement swept through Central and Northern India, initiated by a loosely associated group of teachers or sants. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vallabha, Surdas, Meera Bai, Kabir, Tulsidas, Ravidas, Namdeo, Tukaram and other mystics spearheaded the Bhakti movement in the North. They taught 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 are known as Shyama Sangeet. Coming from the 17th century, they cover an astonishing range of emotional responses to Ma Kali, detailing 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 devotees' taste in worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead (Krishna) as father, friend, master or beloved.

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 most 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 school 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 school of thought ek sarana naam dharma and propagated it in Assam. An example of dasa bhakti, in this tradition there was no place for Radha. The most important symbol of this tradition 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 (Satras).

Vaishnava bhakti

See also Vaishnavism, Krishnaism, Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Hare Krishna

Prominent historical personalities include:


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 of concern to the elite, 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 instinctive 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 given India renewed spiritual impetus, one eschewing unnecessary ritual and artificial social boundaries.

See also


  1. Schouten, pages 11–26
  2. Karavelane Kareikkalammeiyar, oeuvres editees et traduites, institut francais d'indologie, Pondicherry (1956)
  3. 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


  • 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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