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Bhakti yoga is a spiritual path or spiritual practice within Hinduism focused on the cultivation of love and devotion toward God. It has been defined as a practice of devotion toward God, solely motivated by the sincere, loving desire to please God, rather than the hope of divine reward or the fear of divine punishment. It is a means toward a state of spiritual liberation or enlightenment through the "realisation", or the attainment of "oneness" with God. Bhakti yoga is often considered by Hindus to be the easiest way for ordinary people to attain such a spiritually liberated state, because although it is a form of yoga, its practice is not as rigorous as most other yogic schools, and it is possible to practice bhakti yoga without needing to become a full-time yogi.
The origins of Bhakti can be seen in the upanishads, specifically the Shvetashvatara Upanishad. The Bhagavad Gita, and the Puranas are important scriptures that expound the philosophy of bhakti yoga. Hindu movements in which bhakti yoga is the main practice are called bhakti movements – the major schools of which are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism.
Bhakti (Devanāgarī: भक्ति) is a Sanskrit term that signifies an attitude of devotion to a personal God which is similar to a number of interpersonal relationships between humans, such as between lovers or friends. The difference is that in bhakti, the relationship is between a soul (that of the devotee) and a "supersoul" (God). Bhakti is a yogic path, in that the devotee's aim is of loving union with God. While the exact form (deity) through which God is worshiped and the exact nature of the union varies between different schools, the essence of the practice displays remarkable homogeneity.
(1) śravaṇa ("listening" to the scriptural stories of Krishna and his companions), (2) kīrtana ("praising"; this usually refers to ecstatic group singing), (3) visnoh smaraṇa ("remembering" or fixing the mind on Vishnu), (4) pāda-sevana (rendering service), (5) arcana (worshiping an image), (6) vandana (paying homage), (7) dāsya (servitude), (8) sākhya (friendship), and (9) ātma-nivedana (complete surrender of the self). (From Bhagavata Purana, 7.5.23-24.)
These nine principles of devotional service are described as helping the devotee remain constantly in touch with God. The processes of japa and internal meditation on the aspirant devotee's iṣṭa-devatā, or chosen deity, are especially popular in most bhakti yoga schools.
The Indians spiritual teacher Meher Baba stated "Out of a number of practices which lead to the ultimate goal of humanity – God-Realisation – Bhakti Yoga is one of the most important. Almost the whole of humanity is concerned with Bhakti Yoga, which, in simple words, means the art of worship. But it must be understood in all its true aspects, and not merely in a narrow and shallow sense, in which the term is commonly used and interpreted. The profound worship based on the high ideals of philosophy and spirituality, prompted by divine love, doubtless constitutes true Bhakti Yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita is a cornerstone of Hindu bhakti theism, especially among Vaishnavists. The Bhagavad Gita stresses that love and innocent pure intentions are the most powerful motive forces in a devotee's spiritual life.
Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me. (B-Gita 9.34)
One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God. (B-Gita 18.55) 
There are three main groups of bhakti yoga practitioners in Hinduism: the Shaivists who worship Shiva and his family, including Ganesh and Murugan; the Vaishnavists, who worship Vishnu and his avatars such as Krishna and Rama; and the Shaktists, who primarily worship Devis, such as Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and Parvati.
All these groups have great respect for the others' primary deities, while considering their own paramount in their worship. Although each deity is perceived from a human perspective as having a slightly different form and somewhat different primary and secondary qualities, the most advanced practitioners in each group, as well as the scriptures of each group, believe that each deity is substantively intertwined with all the others in such a way that, essentially, they are all the same being: a single transcendent God.
Notable proponents of Bhakti
- Narada Muni
- The Alvars c. 2nd century to 8th century
- The Nayanars 5th century to 1010 century
- Adi Shankara 788 to 820
- Natamuni c 10th century
- Alavandar (Yamuna) 916 to 1036
- Ramanujacharya 1017 to 1137
- Madhvacharya 1238 to 1317
- Vedanta Desika 1268 to 1370
- Jayadeva 12th century
- Nimbarka 13th century
- Annamacharya 1408 to 1503
- Vallabha Acharya 1479 to 1531
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu 1486 to 1533
- Poonthanam 1547 to 1640
- Bhadrachala Ramadasu (Kancherla Gopanna) c. 1620 to 1680
- Guru Ravidass
- Narsinh Mehta
- Swami Ramanand 1738 to 1802
- Swaminarayan 1781 to 1830
- Tyāgarāja died 1847
- Bhaktivinoda Thakur 1838 to 1914
- Sai Baba of Shirdi 1838 to 1918
- Ramana Maharshi 1878 to 1950
- Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada 1896 to 1977
- Pramukh Swami Maharaj 1921
- Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj 1922
- Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami Maharaja 1921-2010
- Miracle of Konark. Asia Press, 1967.
- Paliwal, B.B. 2005. Message of the Purans. Diamond Pocket Books.
- Max Muller, Shvetashvatara Upanishad, The Upanishads, Part II, Oxford University Press, page 267
- Cutler, Norman (1987). Songs of Experience. Indiana University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-253-35334-4.
- Rinehart, Robin. Contemporary Hinduism: ritual, culture, and practice. ABC-CLIO. pp. 45, 51. ISBN 978-1-57607-905-8.
- Haberman, David L. (2001). Acting as a Way of Salvation. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 133–134. ISBN 978-81-208-1794-4.
- Baba, Meher: The Path of Love, Sheriar Press, 2000, pp. 57-58.
- B-Gita 9.34
- B-Gita 18.55