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Bhakti movement

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The Vaishnavite Saint Nammalvar. He is one of the most prominent of the 12 Alvars of the Vaishnavism Bhakti movement.

The Bhakti movement was a significant religious movement in medieval Hinduism[1] that sought to bring religious reforms to all strata of society by adopting the method of devotion to achieve salvation.[2] Originating in Tamilakam during 6th century CE,[3][4][5][6] it gained prominence through the poems and teachings of the Vaishnava Alvars and Shaiva Nayanars before spreading northwards.[1] It swept over east and north India from the 15th century onwards, reaching its zenith between the 15th and 17th century CE.[7]

The Bhakti movement regionally developed around different gods and goddesses, and some sub-sects were Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva), Shaktism (Shakti goddesses), and Smartism.[8][9][10] Bhakti movement preached using the local languages so that the message reached the masses. The movement was inspired by many poet-saints, who championed a wide range of philosophical positions ranging from theistic dualism of Dvaita to absolute monism of Advaita Vedanta.[11][12]

The movement has traditionally been considered an influential social reformation in Hinduism in that it provided an individual-focused alternative path to spirituality regardless of one's birth or gender.[7] Contemporary scholars question whether the Bhakti movement ever was a reform or rebellion of any kind.[13] They suggest the Bhakti movement was a revival, reworking, and recontextualization of ancient Vedic traditions.[14]


The Sanskrit word bhakti is derived from the root bhaj, which means "divide, share, partake, participate, to belong to".[15][16] The word also means "attachment, devotion to, fondness for, homage, faith or love, worship, piety to something as a spiritual, religious principle or means of salvation".[17][18]

The meaning of the term Bhakti is analogous to but different from Kama. The Kama connotes emotional connection, sometimes with sensual devotion and erotic love. Bhakti, in contrast, is spiritual, a love and devotion to religious concepts or principles, that engages both emotion and intellection.[19] Karen Pechelis states that the word Bhakti should not be understood as uncritical emotion, but as committed engagement.[19] Bhakti movement in Hinduism refers to ideas and engagement that emerged in the medieval era on love and devotion to religious concepts built around one or more gods and goddesses. Bhakti movement preached against the caste system using the local languages so that the message reached the masses. One who practices bhakti is called a bhakta.[20]

Textual roots[edit]

Ancient Indian texts, dated to be from the 1st millennium BCE, such as the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, and the Bhagavad Gita mention Bhakti.[21]

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad[edit]

A copper alloy sculpture of a Shiva Bhakti practitioner from Tamil Nadu (11th Century or later).

The last of three epilogue verses of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, 6.23, uses the word Bhakti as follows,

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिः यथा देवे तथा गुरौ ।
तस्यैते कथिता ह्यर्थाः प्रकाशन्ते महात्मनः ॥ २३ ॥[22]

Who has highest Bhakti (love, devotion)[23] of Deva (God),
just like his Deva, so for his Guru (teacher),
To him who is high-minded,
these teachings will be illuminating. [24][25]

This verse is notable for the use of the word Bhakti, and has been widely cited as among the earliest mentions of "the love of God".[23][26] Scholars[27][28] have debated whether this phrase is authentic or later insertion into the Upanishad, and whether the terms "Bhakti" and "God" meant the same in this ancient text as they do in the medieval and modern era Bhakti traditions found in India. Max Muller states that the word Bhakti appears only in one last verse of the epilogue, could have been a later insertion and may not be theistic as the word was later used in much Sandilya Sutras.[29]

Grierson, as well as Carus, note that the first epilogue verse 6.21 is also notable for its use of the word Deva Prasada (देवप्रसाद, grace or gift of God), but add that Deva in the epilogue of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad refers to "pantheistic Brahman" and the closing credit to sage Śvetāśvatara in verse 6.21 can mean "gift or grace of his Soul".[23]

Doris Srinivasan[30] states that the Upanishad is a treatise on theism, but it creatively embeds a variety of divine images, an inclusive language that allows "three Vedic definitions for a personal deity". The Upanishad includes verses wherein God can be identified with the Supreme (Brahman-Atman, Self, Soul) in Vedanta monistic theosophy, verses that support the dualistic view of Samkhya doctrines, as well as the synthetic novelty of triple Brahman where a triune exists as the divine soul (Isvara, theistic God), individual soul (self) and nature (Prakrti, matter).[30][31]

Tsuchida writes that the Upanishad syncretically combines monistic ideas of the Upanishads and the self-development ideas of Yoga with personification of the deity Rudra.[32] Hiriyanna interprets the text to be introducing "personal theism" in the form of Shiva Bhakti, with a shift to monotheism but in the henotheistic context where the individual is encouraged to discover his own definition and sense of God.[33]

Bhagavad Gita[edit]

The Bhagavad Gita, a post-Vedic scripture composed in 5th to 2nd century BCE,[34] 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).[35][36]

In verses 6.31 through 6.47 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna (Incarnation of Vishnu), the source of everything, describes bhakti yoga and loving devotion, as one of the several paths to the highest spiritual attainments.[37][38]


Initial development in Tamil lands[edit]

Nammalvar (c. 798 CE), one of the Tamil Alvars and author of the Tiruvaymoli and the Tiruviruttam
Nayanars gallery at the Thiruthalinathar Shiva temple, Tiruppathur, a Shaiva Siddhanta temple. One important foundation of the Shaiva Siddhantha tradition is the Shaiva bhakti of the Nayanars.
Depiction of Andal, a major poet of the Bhakti movement of Vaishnavism

The Bhakti movement originated in Tamilakam during the seventh to eighth century CE, and remained influential in South India for some time. In the second millennium, a second wave of bhakti spread northwards through Karnataka (c. 12th century) and gained wide acceptance in fifteenth-century Assam,[39] Bengal and northern India.[1][40]

According to Brockington, the initial Tamil bhakti movement was characterized by "a personal relationship between the deity and the devotee", and "fervent emotional experience in response to divine grace".[40] The Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu was composed of two main parallel groups: Shaivas (who also worshipped local deities like Murugan/Kartikeya) and Vaishnavas (who also worshipped local deities like Tirumāl). The Vaishnava Alvars and Shaiva Nayanars and, who lived between 5th and 9th century CE.[41] They promoted love of a personal God first and foremost which is also expressed by love of one's fellow human beings. They also wrote and sang hymns of praise to their God, and came from numerous social classes, even shudras.[42] These poet saints became the backbone of the Sri Vaishnava and Shaiva Siddhanta traditions.[43]

The Alvars, which literally means "those immersed in God", were Vaishnava poet-saints who sang praises of Vishnu as they traveled from one place to another.[44] They established temple sites such as Srirangam, and spread ideas about Vaishnavism. Various poems were compiled as Alvar Arulicheyalgal or Divya Prabandham, developed into an influential scripture for the Vaishnavas. The Bhagavata Purana's references to the South Indian Alvar saints, along with its emphasis on bhakti, have led many scholars to give it South Indian origins, though some scholars question whether this evidence excludes the possibility that bhakti movement had parallel developments in other parts of India.[45][46]

Like the Alvars, the Shaiva Nayanars were bhakti poet saints. The Tirumurai, a compilation of hymns on Shiva by sixty-three Nayanar poet-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.[44] Early Tamil-Shiva bhakti poets influenced Hindu texts that came to be revered all over India.[47]

Spread throughout India in the second millennium[edit]

Statue of Basava (1131–1196), founder of Lingayatism
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu leading the Vaishnavas in 'Nagar kirtan', devotional chanting and dancing, in the streets of Nabadwip, Bengal.

The influence of the Tamil bhakti saints and those of later northern Bhakti leaders ultimately helped spread bhakti poetry and ideas throughout all the Indian subcontinent by the 18th century CE.[41][48] However, outside of the Tamil speaking regions, the bhakti movement arrived much later, mostly in the second millennium.

For example, in Kannada speaking regions (roughly modern Karnataka), the bhakti movement arrived in the 12th century, with the emergence of Basava and his Shaivite Lingayat movement, who were known for their total rejection of caste distinctions and the authority of the Vedas, their promotion of the religious equality of women, and their focus on worshipping a small lingam that they always carry around their necks (as opposed to images in temples run by elite priesthoods).[49] Another important Kannada figure in the bhakti movement was Madhvacharya (c. 12-13th centuries), a great and prolific scholar of Vedanta, who promoted the theology of dualism (Dvaita Vedanta).[50]

Similarly, the Bhakti movement in Odisha (known as Jñanamisrita bhakti or Dadhya Bhakti) also began in the 12th century. It included various scholars including Jayadeva (the 12th century author of the Gita Govinda) and it had soon become a mass movement by the 14th century.[51] Figures like Balarama Dasa, Achyutananda, Jasobanta Dasa, Ananta Dasa and Jagannatha Dasa preached Bhakti through public sankirtans across Odisha. Jagannath was and remains the center of the Odisha bhakti movement.

The Bhakti movements also spread to the north later, particularly during the flowering of northern bhakti yoga of the 15th and 16th centuries. Perhaps the earliest of the northern bhakti figures was Nimbārkāchārya (c. 12th century), a brahmin from Andhra Pradesh who moved to Vrindavan. He defended a similar theology to Ramanuja, which he called Bhedābheda (difference and non-difference).[52] Other important northern bhaktas include Nāmdev (c. 1270-1350), Rāmānanda, and Eknath (c. 1533-99).[53]

Another important development was the rise of the Sant Mat movement, which drew from Islam, Nath tradition, and Vaishnavism, from arose which the famous 15th century saintKabir arose. Kabir is known for Hindi poetry, which expresses a rejection of external religion in favor of inner experience. After his death, his followers founded the Kabir panth.[54] A similar movement sharing the same Sant Mat bhakti background that drew on both Hinduism and Islam, was founded by the Guru Nānak (1469-1539), the first Guru of Sikhism.[55]

In Bengal, the most famous composer of Vaishnava devotional songs was Candīdās (1339–1399).[56] He was celebrated in the popular Bengali Vaishnava-Sahajiya movement. One the most influential of the northern Hindu Bhakti traditions was the Krishnaite Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) in Bengal. Chaitanya eventually came to be seen by the Bengali Vaishnavas as an avatara of Krishna himself.[56] Another important leader of northern Vaishnava Bhakti was Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhu (1479–1531 CE) who founded the Pushtimarg tradition in Braj (Vraja).[57]

Some scholars state that the Bhakti movement's rapid spread in India in the 2nd millennium was in part a response to the arrival of Islam[58] and subsequent Islamic rule in India and Hindu-Muslim conflicts.[10][59][60] This view is contested by some scholars,[60] with Rekha Pande stating that singing ecstatic bhakti hymns in local language was a tradition in south India before Muhammad was born.[61] According to Pande, the psychological impact of Muslim conquest may have initially contributed to community-style bhakti by Hindus.[61] Yet other scholars state that Muslim invasions, their conquering of Hindu Bhakti temples in south India and seizure/melting of musical instruments such as cymbals from local people, was in part responsible for the later relocation or demise of singing Bhakti traditions in the 18th century.[62]

According to Wendy Doniger, the nature of Bhakti movement may have been affected by the "surrender to God" daily practices of Islam when it arrived in India.[10] In turn it influenced devotional practices in Islam such as Sufism,[63] and other religions in India from the 15th century onwards, such as Sikhism, Christianity,[64] and Jainism.[65]

Klaus Witz, in contrast, traces the history and nature of the Bhakti movement to the Upanishadic and the Vedanta foundations of Hinduism. He writes, that in virtually every Bhakti movement poet, "the Upanishadic teachings form an all-pervasive substratum, if not a basis. We have here a state of affairs that has no parallel in the West. Supreme Wisdom, which can be taken as basically non-theistic and as an independent wisdom tradition (not dependent on the Vedas), appears fused with the highest level of bhakti and with the highest level of God-realization."[66]

Key figures[edit]

Meerabai is considered one of the most significant sants in the Vaishnava bhakti movement. She was from a 16th-century aristocratic family in Rajasthan.[67]

The Bhakti movement witnessed a surge in Hindu literature in regional languages, particularly in the form of devotional poems and music.[68][69][70] This literature includes the writings of the Alvars and Nayanars, poems of Andal,[71] Basava,[72] Bhagat Pipa,[73] Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Kabir, Guru Nanak (founder of Sikhism),[72] Tulsidas, Nabha Dass,[74] Gusainji, Ghananand,[71] Ramananda (founder of Ramanandi Sampradaya), Ravidass, Sripadaraja, Vyasatirtha, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa, Vijaya Dasa, Six Goswamis of Vrindavan,[75] Raskhan,[76] Ravidas,[72] Jayadeva Goswami,[71] Namdev,[72] Eknath, Tukaram, Mirabai,[67] Ramprasad Sen,[77] Sankardev,[78] Vallabha Acharya,[72] Narsinh Mehta,[79] Gangasati[80] and the teachings of saints like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.[81]

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.[82] Brajavali is to an extent, a combination of medieval Maithili and Assamese.[83][84] The language was easily understood by the local populace, in line with the Bhakti movement's call for inclusion, but it also retained its literary style. A similar language, called Brajabuli was popularised by Vidyapati,[85][86] which was adopted by several writers in Odisha[87][88] in the medieval times, and in Bengal during its renaissance.[89][88]

The earliest writers from the 7th to 10th century CE known to have influenced the poet-saints driven movements include, Sambandar, Tirunavukkarasar, Sundarar, Nammalvar, Adi Shankara, Manikkavacakar and Nathamuni.[90] Several 11th and 12th century writers developed different philosophies within the Vedanta school of Hinduism, which were influential to the Bhakti tradition in medieval India. These include Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha and Nimbarka.[71][90] These writers championed a spectrum of philosophical positions ranging from theistic dualism, qualified nondualism and absolute monism.[11][12]

The Bhakti movement also witnessed several works getting translated into various Indian languages. Saundarya Lahari, written in Sanskrit by Adi Shankara, was translated into Tamil in the 12th century by Virai Kaviraja Pandithar, who titled the book Abhirami Paadal.[91] Similarly, the first translation of the Ramayana into an Indo-Aryan language was by Madhava Kandali, who translated it into Assamese as the Saptakanda Ramayana.[92]

Shandilya and Narada are credited with two Bhakti texts, the Shandilya Bhakti Sutra and Narada Bhakti Sutra, though these have been dated to the 12th century by modern scholars.[93][94][95][96]


The Bhakti movement of Hinduism saw two ways of imaging the nature of the divine (Brahman) – Nirguna and Saguna.[97] Nirguna Brahman was the concept of the Ultimate Reality as formless, without attributes or quality.[98] Saguna Brahman, in contrast, was envisioned and developed as with form, attributes and quality.[98]

These two views had parallels in the ancient pantheistic formless and theistic traditions, respectively, and are traceable to a dialogue in the Bhagavad Gita.[97][99] These two may be considered to be the same Brahman, as viewed from two perspectives: a formless mode focused on wisdom (jñana) and a form mode, focused on love.[99] Nirguna bhakti poetry is more focused on jñana while Saguna bhakti poetry focuses on love (prema).[97] In Bhakti, the emphasis is reciprocal love and devotion, where the devotee loves God, and God loves the devotee.[99]

Jeaneane Fowler states that the concepts of Nirguna and Saguna Brahman, which is at the root of Bhakti theology, underwent more profound developments with the ideas of the Vedanta schools, particularly those of Adi Shankara's (8th century) Advaita Vedanta (absolute non-dualism / monism), Ramanuja's (12th century) Vishishtadvaita Vedanta (a qualified non-dualism which posits unity and diversity), and Madhvacharya's (c. 12th-13th century) Dvaita Vedanta (which posits a true dualism between God and the atman).[98]

According to David Lorenzen, the idea of bhakti for a Nirguna Brahman has been a baffling one to scholars, since it offers, "heart-felt devotion to a God without attributes, without even any definable personality".[100] Yet given the "mountains of Nirguni bhakti literature", bhakti for Nirguna Brahman has been a part of the reality of the Hindu tradition along with the bhakti for Saguna Brahman.[100] Thus, these were two alternate ways of imagining God even in the bhakti movement.[97]

The Nirguna and Saguna forms of bhakti may be found in two 12th-century treatises on bhakti: the Sandilya Bhakti Sutra, and Narada Bhakti Sutra. The Sandilya leans towards Nirguna-bhakti, while Narada leans towards Saguna-bhakti.[96]


According to J. L. Brockington, in the fourteenth century the Sri Vaishnavas had split into two subsects:

the dispute was over the question of human effort versus divine grace in achieving salvation, a con troversy often and not unreasonably compared to the Arminian and Calvinist standpoints within Protestantism. The Northern school held that the worshipper had to make some effort to win the grace of the Lord and emphasised the performance of karma, a position commonly summed up as being ‘on the analogy of the monkey and its young’, for as the monkey carries her young which cling to her body so Visnu saves the worship per who himself makes an effort. The Southern school held that the Lord’s grace itself conferred salvation, a position ‘on the analogy of the cat and its kittens’, for just as the cat picks up her kittens in her mouth and carries them off willy-nilly, so Visnu saves whom he wills, without effort on their part.[101]

Social impact[edit]

Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar at Jorhat. Namghars are places of congregational worship and centres of local self-governance in Assam, introduced by Bhakti saints such as Sankaradeva, Madhavadeva and Damodaradeva

The Bhakti movement led to devotional transformation 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.[7] Salvation which was previously considered attainable only by men of Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes, became available to everyone.[7] Most scholars state that Bhakti movement provided women and members of the Shudra and untouchable communities an inclusive path to spiritual salvation.[102] Some scholars disagree that the Bhakti movement was premised on such social inequalities.[103][104]

Poet-saints grew in popularity, and literature on devotional songs in regional languages became profuse.[7] These poet-saints championed a wide range of philosophical positions within their society, ranging from the theistic dualism of Dvaita to the absolute monism of Advaita Vedanta.[11] Kabir, a poet-saint for example, wrote in Upanishadic style, the state of knowing truth:[105]

There's no creation or creator there,
no gross or fine, no wind or fire,
no sun, moon, earth, or water,
no radiant form, no time there,
no word, no flesh, no faith,
no cause and effect, nor any thought of the Veda,
no Hari or Brahma, no Shiva or Shakti,
no pilgrimage and no rituals,
no mother, father, or guru there...

— Kabir, Shabda 43, Translated by K Schomer and WH McLeod[105]

The early 15th-century Bhakti poet-Sant Pipa stated,[106]

Within the body is the god, the temple,
within the body all the Jangamas[107]
within the body the incense, the lamps, and the food-offerings,
within the body the puja-leaves.

After searching so many lands,
I found the nine treasures within my body,
Now there will be no further going and coming,
I swear by Rama.

— Pīpā, Gu dhanasari, Translated by Vaudeville[108]

The Bhakti movement also led to the prominence of the concept of female devotion, of poet-saints such as Andal coming to occupy the popular imagination of the common people along with her male counterparts. Andal went a step further by composing hymns in praise of God in vernacular Tamil rather than Sanskrit, in verses known as the Nachiyar Tirumoli, or the Woman's Sacred Verses:[109]

Clouds that spill lovely pearls

what message has the dark-hued lord of Venkatam sent through you? The fire of desire has invaded my body I suffer. I lie awake here in the thick of night,

a helpless target for the cool southern breeze.

— Andal, Nachiyar Tirumoli, Verse 8.2

The impact of the Bhakti movement in India was similar to that of the Protestant Reformation of Christianity in Europe.[11] It evoked shared religiosity, direct emotional and intellection of the divine, and the pursuit of spiritual ideas without the overhead of institutional superstructures. [110] 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.[41][111] Many of these regional practices have survived into the modern era.[7]

Seva, dāna, and community kitchens[edit]

The Bhakti movement introduced new forms of voluntary social giving such as Seva (service, for example to a temple or guru school or community construction), dāna (charity), and community kitchens with free shared food.[112] Of community kitchen concepts, the vegetarian Guru ka Langar introduced by Nanak became a well-established institution over time, starting with northwest India, and expanding to everywhere Sikh communities are found.[113] Other saints such as Dadu Dayal championed the similar social movement, a community that believed in Ahimsa (non-violence) towards all living beings, social equality, and vegetarian kitchen, as well as mutual social service concepts.[114] Bhakti temples and matha (Hindu monasteries) of India 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.[115]

In other Indian religions[edit]


Bhakti has been a prevalent practice in various Jaina sects, wherein learned Tirthankara (Jina) and human gurus are considered superior beings and venerated with offerings, songs and Āratī prayers.[116] John Cort suggests that the bhakti movement in later Hinduism and Jainism may share roots in vandal and puja concepts of the Jaina tradition.[116]


Medieval-era bhakti traditions among non-theistic Indian traditions such as Buddhism and Jainism have been reported by scholars, wherein the devotion and prayer ceremonies were dedicated to an enlightened guru, primarily Buddha and Jina Mahavira respectively, as well as others.[117] Karel Werner notes that Bhatti (Bhakti in Pali) has been a significant practice in Theravada Buddhism, and states, "there can be no doubt that deep devotion or bhakti / Bhatti does exist in Buddhism and that it had its beginnings in the earliest days".[118]


Some scholars call Sikhism a Bhakti sect of Indian traditions.[119][120] In Sikhism, "nirguni Bhakti" is emphasised – devotion to a divine without Gunas (qualities or form),[120][121][122] but it accepts both nirguni and saguni forms of the divine.[123]

The Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture of the Sikhs, contains the hymns of the Sikh gurus, thirteen Hindu bhagats, and two Muslim bhagats.[124] Some of the bhagats whose hymns were included in the Guru Granth Sahib, were bhakti poets who taught their ideas before the birth of Guru Nanak – the first of Sikh Guru. The thirteen Hindu bhagats whose hymns were entered into the text, were poet saints of the Bhakti movement, and included Namdev, Pipa, Ravidas, Beni, Bhikhan, Dhanna, Jayadeva, Parmanand, Sadhana, Sain, Surdas, Trilochan, while the two Muslim bhagats were Kabir and Sufi saint Farid.[125][126][127]

Most of the 5,894 hymns in the Sikh scripture came from the Sikh gurus, and rest from the Bhagats. The three highest contributions in the Sikh scripture of non-Sikh bhagats were from Bhagat Kabir (292 hymns), Bhagat Farid (134 hymns), and Bhagat Namdev (60 hymns).[128]

While Sikhism was influenced by Bhakti movement,[129][130][131] and incorporated hymns from the Bhakti poet-saints, it was not simply an extension of the Bhakti movement.[132] Sikhism, for instance, disagreed with some of the views of Bhakti saints Kabir and Ravidas.[note 1][132]

Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru and the founder of Sikhism, was a Bhakti saint.[133] He taught, states Jon Mayled, that the most important form of worship is Bhakti.[134] Nam-simran – the realisation of God – is an important Bhakti practice in Sikhism.[135][136][137] Guru Arjan, in his Sukhmani Sahib, recommended the true religion is one of loving devotion to God.[138][139] The Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib includes suggestions for a Sikh to perform constant Bhakti.[134][140][note 2] The Bhakti themes in Sikhism also incorporate Shakti (power) ideas.[142]

Some Sikh sects outside the Punjab-region of India, such as those found in Maharashtra and Bihar, practice Aarti with lamps in a Gurdwara.[143][144] Arti and devotional prayer ceremonies are also found in Ravidassia sect, previously part of Sikhism.[145][146]

Debates in contemporary scholarship[edit]

Contemporary scholars question whether the 19th- and early 20th-century theories about the Bhakti movement in India, its origin, nature, and history are accurate. Pechilis in her book on Bhakti movement, for example, states:[147]

Scholars writing on bhakti in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were agreed that bhakti in India was preeminently a monotheistic reform movement. For these scholars, the inextricable connection between monotheism and reform has both theological and social significance in terms of the development of Indian culture. The orientalist images of bhakti were formulated in a context of discovery: a time of organized cultural contact, in which many agencies, including administrative, scholarly, and missionary – sometimes embodied in a single person – sought knowledge of India. Through the Indo-European language connection, early orientalists believed that they were, in a sense, seeing their own ancestry in the antique texts and "antiquated" customs of Indian peoples. In this respect, certain scholars could identify with the monotheism of bhakti. Seen as a reform movement, bhakti presented a parallel to the orientalist agenda of intervention in the service of the empire.

— Karen Pechilis, The Embodiment of Bhakti[147]

Madeleine Biardeau states, as does Jeanine Miller, that Bhakti movement was neither reform nor a sudden innovation, but the continuation and expression of ideas to be found in Vedas, Bhakti Marga teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Katha Upanishad and the Shvetashvatara Upanishad.[21][148]

John Stratton Hawley describes recent scholarship which questions the old theory of Bhakti movement origin and "story of south-moves-north", then states that the movement had multiple origins, mentioning Brindavan in north India as another center.[149] Hawley describes the controversy and disagreements between Indian scholars, quotes Hegde's concern that "Bhakti movement was a reform" theory has been supported by "cherry-picking particular songs from a large corpus of Bhakti literature" and that if the entirety of the literature by any single author such as Basava is considered along with its historical context, there is neither reform nor a need for reform. [104]

Sheldon Pollock writes that the Bhakti movement was neither a rebellion against Brahmins and the upper castes nor a rebellion against the Sanskrit language, because many of the prominent thinkers and earliest champions of the Bhakti movement were Brahmins and from upper castes, and because much of the early and later Bhakti poetry and literature was in Sanskrit.[150] Further, states Pollock, evidence of Bhakti trends in ancient southeast Asian Hinduism in the 1st millennium CE, such as those in Cambodia and Indonesia where Vedic era is unknown, and where upper caste Tamil Hindu nobility and merchants introduced Bhakti ideas of Hinduism, suggest the roots and the nature of Bhakti movement be primarily spiritual and political quest instead of the rebellion of some form.[151][152]

John Guy states that the evidence of Hindu temples and Chinese inscriptions from the 8th century CE about Tamil merchants, presents Bhakti motifs in Chinese trading towns, particularly the Kaiyuan Temple (Quanzhou).[153] These show Saivite, Vaishnavite and Hindu Brahmin monasteries revered Bhakti themes in China.[153]

Scholars increasingly are dropping, states Karen Pechilis, the old premises and the language of "radical otherness, monotheism and reform of orthodoxy" for Bhakti movement. [14] Many scholars are now characterizing the emergence of Bhakti in medieval India as a revival, reworking, and recontextualization of the central themes of the Vedic traditions.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ These views include Sikhs believing in achieving blissful mukhti while alive, Sikhs emphasizing the path of the householder, Sikh's disbelief in Ahinsa, and the Sikhs afterlife aspect of merging with God rather than physical heaven.
  2. ^ The Sikh scripture includes many verses on devotional worship. For example,[141]
    They remain in ecstasy forever, day and night; O servant Nanak, they sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord, night and day. One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name. Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar. Following the Instructions of the Guru, he is to chant the Name of the Lord, Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased. (...)
    Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 305(16)–306(2)[141]



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Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]