In Hinduism, Bhakti (also spelled Bhakthi; Sanskrit: भक्ति, literally meaning "portion, share", from the root bhaj- "to partake in, to receive one's share") refers to religious devotion of a devotee in the worship of the divine. Within monotheistic Hinduism, it is the love felt by the worshipper towards the personal God, a concept expressed in Hindu theology as Iṣṭa-devatā.
Bhakti can be used of either tradition of Hindu monotheism, Shaivaism or Vaishnavism. While bhakti as designating a religious path is already a central concept in the Bhagavad Gita, it rises to importance in the medieval history of Hinduism, where the Bhakti movement saw a rapid growth of bhakti beginning in Southern India with the Vaisnava Alvars (6th-9th century CE) and Saiva Nayanars (5th-10th century CE), who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th-18th century CE.
The Bhakti movement reached North India in the Delhi Sultanate and throughout the Mughal era contributed significantly to the characteristics of Hinduism as the religion of the general population under the rule of a Muslim elite. After their encounter with the expanding Islam religion, Bhakti proponents—who were traditionally called "saints"—"elaborated egalitarian doctrine that transcended the caste system and encouraged individuals to seek personal union with the divine." Its influence also spread to other religions during this period, and became an integral aspect of Hindu culture and society in the modern era.
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The Sanskrit and old Hindi noun bhakti is derived from the verb root bhaj, whose meanings include "to belong to", and "to worship". It also occurs in compounds where it means "being a part of" and "that which belongs to or is contained in anything else." Bhajan, or devotional singing to God, is also derived from the same root. "Devotion" as an English translation for bhakti doesn't fully convey two important aspects of bhakti—the sense of participation that is central to the relationship between the devotee and God, and the intense feeling that is more typically associated with the word "love". An advaitic interpretation of bhakti goes beyond "devotion" to the realization of union with the essential nature of reality as ananda, or divine bliss. Bhakti is sometimes used in the broader sense of reverence toward a deity or teacher. Bhaktimarga is usually used to describe a bhakti path with complete dedication to one form of God.
A more literal translation of bhakti would be "participation"; The sage Narada defines Bhakti as "intense love" for God. Similarly Sage Shandilya defines Bhakti as "intense attraction" for God. One who practices bhakti is called a bhakta, while bhakti as a spiritual path is referred to as bhakti marga, or the bhakti way. Bhakti is an important component of many branches of Hinduism, defined differently by various sects and schools.
Bhakti emphasises religious devotion and sentiment above ritual and orthopraxy. In this sense it parallels the early 20th century movement of Pentecostalism in Christian history, where direct personal experience of God was also emphasized over liturgy or ritual.
The Classical Sanskrit term bhakti has a general meaning of "attachment, devotion, fondness for, devotion to" etc. also in terms of human relationships, most often as beloved-lover, friend-friend, parent-child, and master-servant. It may refer to devotion to a spiritual teacher (Guru) as guru-bhakti, to a personal form of God, or to divinity without form (nirguna).
"Bhakthi" is also used as a unisex name.
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Scholarly consensus sees bhakti as a post-Vedic movement that developed primarily during the era of Indian epic poetry. The Bhagavad Gita is the first text to explicitly use the word "bhakti" to designate a religious path, using it as a term for one of three possible religious approaches. The Bhagavata Purana develops the idea more elaborately, while the Shvetashvatara Upanishad evidences a fully developed Shiva-bhakti (devotion to Shiva) and signs of guru-bhakti. An early sutra by Pāṇini (c. 5th century BCE) is considered by some scholars as the first appearance of the concept of bhakti, where the word "vun" may refer to bhakti toward "Vasudevarjunabhya" (with implied reference to Krishna Vasudeva). Other scholars question this interpretation.
The Bhakti Movement was a rapid growth of bhakti beginning in Tamil Nadu in Southern India with the Saiva Nayanars (4th-10th century CE) and the Vaisnava Alvars (3rd-9th century CE) who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th-18th century CE. The Alvars ("those immersed in God") were Vaishnava poet-saints who wandered from temple to temple singing the praises of Vishnu. They established temple sites (Srirangam is one) and converted many people to Vaishnavism. Their poems were collected in the 10th century as the Four Thousand Divine Compositions also referred to as Dravida Veda or Alwar Arulicheyalgal or Divya Prabhandham, which became an influential scripture for the Vaishnavas. The Alwars and Nayanmars were instrumental in propagating the Bhakti tradition. For the first time, Bagwan or God reached the masses and the masses were able to associate themselves with the religion. Another significant thing was that the Alwars and Naynmars came from various background and castes including that of the Sudras (working class). The Bhagavata Purana's references to the South Indian Alvar saints, along with its emphasis on a more emotional bhakti, have led many scholars to give it South Indian origins, though there is no definitive evidence of this.
Like the Alvars the Saiva Nayanar poets softened the distinctions of caste and gender. The Tirumurai, a compilation of hymns by sixty-three Nayanar poets, is still of great importance in South India. Hymns by three of the most prominent poets, Appar (7th century CE), Campantar (7th century) and Cuntarar (9th century), were compiled into the Tevaram, the first volumes of the Tirumurai. The poets' itinerant lifestyle helped create temple and pilgrimage sites and spread devotion to Shiva. Early Tamil-Siva bhakti poets quoted the Black Yajurveda specifically.
By the 12th to 18th centuries, the bhakti movement had spread to all regions and languages of India. Bhakti poetry and attitudes began to color many aspects of Hindu culture, religious and secular, and became an integral part of Indian society. Prominent bhakti poets such as Ravidas, eknath and Kabir wrote against the hierarchy of caste. It extended its influence to Sufism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Jainism. Bhakti offered the possibility of religious experience by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Types and classifications
- To the Supreme Self (Atma-Bhakti)
- To God or the Cosmic Lord as a formless being (Ishvara-Bhakti)
- To God in the form of various Gods or Goddesses (Ishta Devata-Bhakti)
- To God in the form of the Guru (Guru-Bhakti)
The Bhagavad Gita introduces bhakti yoga in combination with karma yoga and jnana yoga, while the Bhagavata Purana expands on bhakti yoga, offering nine specific activities for the bhakti yogi. Bhakti in the Bhagavad Gita offered an alternative to two dominant practices of religion at the time: the isolation of the sannyasin and the practice of religious ritual. Bhakti Yoga is described by Swami Vivekananda as "the path of systematized devotion for the attainment of union with the Absolute". In the twelfth chapter of the Gita, Krishna describes bhakti yoga as a path to the highest spiritual attainments. In the ninth chapter, he says,
Fill thy mind with Me, be My devotee, sacrifice unto Me, bow down to Me; thus having made thy heart steadfast in Me, taking Me as the Supreme Goal, thou shalt come to Me. (B-Gita 9.34)
Shandilya and Narada produced two important Bhakti texts, the Shandilya Bhakti Sutra and Narada Bhakti Sutra. They define devotion, emphasize its importance and superiority, and classify its forms.
In Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas, Rama describes the path as ninefold (nava-vidha bhakti):
Such pure devotion is expressed in nine ways, . First is satsang or association with love-intoxicated devotees. The second is to develop a taste for hearing my nectar-like stories. The third is service to the guru (...) Fourth is to sing my kirtan (communal chorus) (...) Japa or repetition of my Holy name and chanting my bhajans are the fifth expression (...) To follow scriptural injunctions always, to practice control of the senses, nobility of character and selfless service, these are expressions of the sixth mode of bhakti. Seeing me manifested everywhere in this world and worshipping my saints more than myself is the seventh mode of bhakti. To find no fault with anyone and to be contented with one's lot is the eighth mode of bhakti. Unreserved surrender with total faith in my strength is the ninth and highest stage. Shabari, anyone who practices one of these nine modes of my bhakti pleases me most and reaches me without fail.
(1) śravaṇa ("listening" to the scriptural stories of Kṛṣṇa and his companions), (2) kīrtana ("praising", usually refers to ecstatic group singing), (3) smaraṇa ("remembering" or fixing the mind on Viṣṇu), (4) pāda-sevana (rendering service), (5) arcana (worshiping an image), (6) vandana (paying homage), (7) dāsya (servitude), (8) sākhya (friendship), and (9) ātma-nivedana (self-surrender). (from Bhagata Purana, 7.5.23-24)
Traditional Hinduism speaks of five different bhāvas or "affective essences". In this sense, bhāvas are different attitudes that a devotee takes according to his individual temperament to express his devotion towards God in some form. The different bhāvas are:
- śānta, placid love for God;
- dāsya, the attitude of a servant;
- sakhya, the attitude of a friend;
- vātsalya, the attitude of a mother towards her child;
- madhura, the attitude of a woman towards her lover.
Several saints are known to have practiced these bhavas. The nineteenth century mystic, Ramakrishna is said to have practiced these five bhavas. The attitude of Hanuman towards lord Rama is considered to be of dasya bhava. The attitude of Arjuna and the shepherd boys of Vrindavan towards Krishna is regarded as sakhya bhava. The attitude of Radha towards Krishna is regarded as madhura bhava. The attitude of Yashoda, who looked after Krishna during his childhood is regarded as vatsalya bhava. Caitanya-caritamrta mentions that Mahaprabhu came to distribute the four spiritual sentiments of Vraja loka: dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and sringara. Sringara is the relationship of the intimate love.
- Sur Das
- Nayanars 3rd to 8th century CE
- Alvars approx. 6th to 9th century CE
- Adi Shankara 788 CE to 820 CE
- Ramanuja 1017 CE 1137 CE
- Madhvacharya 1238 CE to 1317 CE
- Dnyaneshwar 1275 CE to 1296 CE
- Jayadeva 12th century CE
- Nimbarka 13th century CE
- Kabīr 1398 CE to 1518 CE
- Annamacharya 1408 CE to 1503 CE
- Srimanta Sankardeva 1449 CE to 1568 CE
- Vallabha Acharya 1479 CE to 1531 CE
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu 1486 CE to 1533 CE
- Eknath 1533 CE to 1599 CE
- Tulsidas 1497 CE to 1623 CE
- Poonthanam 16th century CE
- Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri 1559 CE to 1632 CE
- Kancherla Gopanna 1620 CE - 1680 CE
- Swami Ramanand 1738 CE - 1802 CE
- Swaminarayan 1781 CE - 1830 CE
- Tyāgarāja died 1847 CE
- Ramakrishna Paramahamsa 1836 CE to 1886 CE
- Shirdi Sai Baba 19th Century CE
- Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada 1896 CE to 1977 CE
- Pandurang Shastri Athavale 1920 CE to 2003 CE
- Pramukh Swami Maharaj 1921 CE
- Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj 1922 CE
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