Bhakti movement
The Bhakti movement is a Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 religious movement in which the main spiritual practice is loving devotion among the Shaivite and Vaishnava saints. The Bhakti movement originated in ancient Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

 and began to spread to the north during the late medieval ages when north India was under Islamic rule. The Islamic rulers were pressing public to convert religion from Hindu to Islam. The Bhakti movement had its own importance to save Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

. There was no grouping of the mystics into Shaiva and Vaishnava devotees as in the south. The movement was spontaneous and the mystics
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 had their own versions 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
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

 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 14th–17th centuries, a great bhakti movement swept through central and northern India, initiated by a loosely associated group of teachers or sants
Sant Mat
Sant Mat was a loosely associated group of teachers that became prominent in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent from about the 13th century...

. Ravidas, Srimanta Sankardeva
Srimanta Sankardeva
Mahapurusha Srimanta Shankardeva , was the greatest Assamese saint-scholar, playwright, social-religious reformer and a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India...

, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a Vaishnava saint and social reformer in eastern India in the 16th century, believed by followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be the full incarnation of Lord Krishna...

, Vallabhacharya, Surdas
Surdas, the 15th century sightless saint, poet and musician, is known for his devotional songs dedicated to Lord Krishna. Surdas is said to have written and composed a hundred thousand songs in his magnum opus the 'Sur Sagar' , out of which only about 8,000 are extant...

, Meera Bai, Kabir
Kabīr was a mystic poet and saint of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement...

, Tulsidas
Tulsidas , was a Hindu poet-saint, reformer and philosopher renowned for his devotion for the god Rama...

, Namdev
Sant Namdeo or Bhagat Namdeo was born on October 29, 1270 in the state of Maharashtra village of Narasi-Bamani, in Hingoli district . His father, a calico printer/tailor, was named Damshet and his mother's name was Gonabai...

, Dnyaneshwar
Dnyāneshwar , also known as Jñanadeva , was born into a Deshastha Brahmin Kulkarni family.He was a 13th century Maharashtrian Hindu saint , poet, philosopher and yogi of the Nath tradition whose works Bhavartha deepika teeka ,...

, Tukaram
Sant Tukaram was a prominent Varkari Sant and spiritual poet during a Bhakti movement in India.Sant Tukaram was born and lived most of his life in Dehu, a town close to Pune in Mahārāshtra, India. He was born to a couple with the family name "More", the descendent of the Mourya Clan with first...

 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
Basava was a philosopher and a social reformer. He is also called Vishwa Guru and Bhakti-Bhandari. His teachings and preachings which are universal, go beyond all boundaries of belief systems...

 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
Shiva is a major Hindu deity, and is the destroyer god or transformer among the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. God Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power lives a life of a...

. 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
In Hinduism, Brahman is the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe. Brahman is sometimes referred to as the Absolute or Godhead which is the Divine Ground of all being...

 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
Bengali language
Bengali or Bangla is an eastern Indo-Aryan language. It is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises present day Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal, and parts of the Indian states of Tripura and Assam. It is written with the Bengali script...

 include the many songs of Ramprasad Sen
Ramprasad Sen
' was a Shakta poet of eighteenth century Bengal. His bhakti poems, known as Ramprasadi, are still popular in Bengal—they are usually addressed to the Hindu goddess Kali and written in Bengali...

. His pieces are known as Shyama Sangeet
Shyama Sangeet
Shyama Sangeet is a genre of Bengali devotional songs dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shyama or Kali. It is also known as Shaktagiti.Shyama Sangeet appeals to the common man because it is a musical representation of the relationship of eternal and sublime love and care between the mother and her child...

. Coming from the 17th century, they cover an astonishing range of emotional responses to Ma Kali
' , also known as ' , is the Hindu goddess associated with power, shakti. The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali means "the black one". Since Shiva is called Kāla - the eternal time, Kālī, his consort, also means "Time" or "Death" . Hence, Kāli is...

, detailing philosophical statements based on Vedanta
Vedānta was originally a word used in Hindu philosophy as a synonym for that part of the Veda texts known also as the Upanishads. The name is a morphophonological form of Veda-anta = "Veda-end" = "the appendix to the Vedic hymns." It is also speculated that "Vedānta" means "the purpose or goal...

 teachings and more visceral pronouncements of his love of Devi
Devī is the Sanskrit word for Goddess, used mostly in Hinduism, its related masculine term is deva. Devi is synonymous with Shakti, the female aspect of the divine, as conceptualized by the Shakta tradition of Hinduism. She is the female counterpart without whom the male aspect, which represents...

. 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
Shakti from Sanskrit shak - "to be able," meaning sacred force or empowerment, is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes...

, the universal female creative energy, of the cosmos.

Rama bhakti

Ramananda , also referred to as Sant Ramanand or Swami Ramanand, was a Vaishnava sant. He is considered to be the reviver of the Ramanandi sect. Ramananda for the most part of his life lived in the holy city of Varanasi, and was a pioneer of the Bhakti movement, as well as a social reformer in...

 was the leader of the bhakti movement focusing on Rama
Rama or full name Ramachandra is considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism, and a king of Ayodhya in ancient Indian...

 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
Traditionally, an ashram is a spiritual hermitage. Additionally, today the term ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, music study or religious instruction, the moral equivalent of a studio or dojo....

 in Varanasi
-Etymology:The name Varanasi has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi, for the old city lies in the north shores of the Ganga bounded by its two tributaries, the Varuna and the Asi, with the Ganges being to its south...

 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
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 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 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) born at Pajaka near Udupi advocated Dwait philosophy. He defeated many scholars in religious debates identified God with Vishnu
Vishnu is the Supreme god in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God....

. His view of reality is purely dualistic
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

, in that he understood a fundamental differentiation between the ultimate Godhead and the individual soul
Ātman (Hinduism)
Ātman is a Sanskrit word that means 'self'. In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism it refers to one's true self beyond identification with phenomena...

, and the system is therefore called Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta
Dvaita is a school of Vedanta founded by Shri Madhvacharya....

. 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
Purandara Dasa
Purandara Dāsa is one of the most prominent composers of Carnatic music and is widely regarded as the "father of Carnatic Music". Purandara Dasa addressed social issues in addition to worship in his compositions, a practice emulated by his younger contemporary, Kanaka Dasa...

, Kanaka Dasa
Kanaka Dasa
Kanaka Dasa was a great poet, philosopher, musician and composer from Karnataka. He is known for his Kirtanes and Ugabhoga compositions in the Kannada language for Carnatic music...

, Raghavendra Swami
Raghavendra Swami
Raghavendra Theertha was a Hindu saint and philosopher who served as the head of the Sri Mutt in Kumbakonam from 1624 to 1636. He wrote a commentary Sudha Parimala on the Nyaya Sudha, an exposition of Dvaita philosophy...

 and many others were influenced by Dvaita traditions.

Srimanta Sankardeva
Srimanta Sankardeva
Mahapurusha Srimanta Shankardeva , was the greatest Assamese saint-scholar, playwright, social-religious reformer and a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India...

's (1449–1568) propagated his school of thought, called Ekasarana Dharma, in the greater Assam
Assam , also, rarely, Assam Valley and formerly the Assam Province , is a northeastern state of India and is one of the most culturally and geographically distinct regions of the country...

 region. An example of dasya bhakti, there is no place for Radha in this tradition. 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 (Sattra
Satras are socio-religious institutions in the Assam region of India that belong to the Mahapuruxiya Dharma. Monks, called bhakats, live in satras under a satradhikar. In some orders of the religion, the bhakats are celibate . The satras are not merely religious institutions but play cultural...


Vallabhacharya (1479–1531) called his school of thought Shuddhadvaita
Shuddadvaita is the "purely non-dual" philosophy propounded by Vallabhacharya , the founding philosopher and guru of the or , a Hindu Vaishnava tradition focused on the worship of Krishna. Vallabhacharya's pure form philosophy is different from Advaita...

, or pure monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

. 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
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a Vaishnava saint and social reformer in eastern India in the 16th century, believed by followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be the full incarnation of Lord Krishna...

 (1486–1534) defined his system of philosophy as Achintya Bheda Abheda
Achintya Bheda Abheda
Achintya-Bheda-Abheda is a school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of inconceivable one-ness and difference, in relation to the power creation and creator, , svayam bhagavan. and also between God and his energies within the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition...

 (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
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness , known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organization. It was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada...

, or Hare Krishna movement.

Vaishnava bhakti

See also Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

, Krishnaism
Krishnaism is a group of Hindu denominations within Vaishnavism, centered on devotion to Radha Krishna or other forms of Krishna, identified with Vishnu.The central text of Krishnaism is the Bhagavad Gita....

, Gaudiya Vaishnavism
Gaudiya Vaishnavism
Gaudiya Vaishnavism is a Vaishnava religious movement founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in India in the 16th century. "Gaudiya" refers to the Gauḍa region with Vaishnavism meaning "the worship of Vishnu"...

 and Hare Krishna
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness , known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organization. It was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada...

Prominent historical personalities include:
  • Ramanujacharya
  • Madhvacharya
    Madhvācārya was the chief proponent of Tattvavāda "Philosophy of Reality", popularly known as the Dvaita school of Hindu philosophy. It is one of the three most influential Vedānta philosophies. Madhvācārya was one of the important philosophers during the Bhakti movement. He was a pioneer in...

  • Nimbarka
    Nimbarka , is known for propagating the Vaishnava Theology of Dvaitadvaita, duality in unity. According to scholars headed by Prof. Roma Bose, he lived in the 13th Century, on the assumption that Śrī Nimbārkācārya was the author of the work Madhvamukhamardana...

  • Vallabha
  • Srimanta Sankardeva
    Srimanta Sankardeva
    Mahapurusha Srimanta Shankardeva , was the greatest Assamese saint-scholar, playwright, social-religious reformer and a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India...

  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
    Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
    Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a Vaishnava saint and social reformer in eastern India in the 16th century, believed by followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be the full incarnation of Lord Krishna...


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.

External links

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