bhakti movement

Bhakti Movement


‘Bhakti was born in Dravida; Ramanand took it to North; Kabir spread it all over the world in its seven islands and nine lslands’


The contemporary society was in chaos with disorder everywhere. Whether, be it politics, socio-economic, cultural and religious life – there was chaos everywhere. The Bhakti movement tried to reinstate the chaotic society then by means of hovel ideology. This attempt made by the founders of the Bhakti movement contributed much towards the cultural revival in India.

In between the eighth century and thirteenth century A.D. the spiritual world of India experienced a revolutionary change. Inspired by the ideology of Advaitabaadi Sankaracharya, Vishistha Dvaitabaadi Ramanuj and Dvaitadwaitabadi Nimbakacharya the. people started believing the illusionary world as real; equal importance was given to both Jeevatma and Paramatma. In simple words to say, from the last part of the thirteenth century till the seventeenth century, the numerous changes taking place in the world of religion in India gave birth to the Bhakti movement. After the birth of Ramananda in 1399 A.D., North India experienced a whole new transformation as Ramananda initiated the Vaishnava Dharma there on the basis of the Bhakti movement and gradually turned it into a social revolution. It is worth mentioning that the saints who were bom during the fourteenth and fifteenth century, took upon themselves the noble task of transforming the Bhakti movement into a dynamic movement

Causes of Rise:

1. Due to their weak economic background the low caste people couldn’t perform rites and ritual filled (yagya) that required a lot of money. This led to the conversion of the low caste Hindus into the Buddhist religion. At this juncture of crucial time Sankaracharya appeared to deliver the Hindu religion as well as society from disaster. He adopted the rule of non-violence or Ahimsha from Buddhism and incorporated it into the Hindu religion. As a result of his farsighted effort a bridge of understanding and brotherhood sprouted between the followers of Hinduism and Buddhism.

2.Most of the religious rituals related to Hinduism were accomplished by the Brahmin priests in the Sanskrit language. That tradition is still prevalent. The Mantras (mystic words recited in prayer to God) were chanted in the Sanskrit language. The common people could not understand Sanskrit. The Vaishnava saints and preachers saw through this inability of the common people. They took a novel step. They composed some religious songs and hymns in the regional languages for the common people’s convenience.

3.In view of this economic backwardness, the so called low in society could never afford the lavish rituals and other rites and customs observed by the high during religious worship. When the Vaishnava Dharma came into being these poor people were easily attracted towards it for its simple way of worship.

When the Vaishnava Dharma came into being these poor people were easily attracted towards it for its simple way of worship.

Bhakti Doctrine:

Some of the well-known leaders who adopted this cult of Bhakti to fight the Muslim menace and the Brahaman tyranny of Ramanand, Kabir, Chaitanya and Guru Nanak. They all emphasized with the same sureness of accent the great panacea of the Name.” They differed here and there in details but all were unanimous in emphasizing the fundamentals of the ‘Bhakti’ doctrine’ which, in brief were the following:

(i) Emotional worship, i.e. chanting the hymns of the Lord in utmost devotion and, thereby, developing love for Him and His creation.

(ii) Guru-Bhakti, i.e. the adoration of the religious teacher or the guru who teaches man the great lessons of love and the secrets to win God’s love.

(iii) Self-surrender or Prapati, i.e. a man in love should have no will of his own. He should make a complete sacrifice of himself- his mind, body and possessions- in order to find communion with God, the object of his love.

All these Bhakti reformers, besides pointing out the positive aspects of their cult, exhorted their followers to renounce the following:

(i) The rigidity of the caste-system- To a man in love with God, all are equal and ,so, none should be regarded as high or low.

(ii) Emptiness or ritualism- God, the True Beloved, is not pleased with a mere lip homage or mere performance of sacrifices. He wants intense and sincere and not mere formalities, as he cannot be deceived.

(iii) Idol and image worship.- God is not pleased with any special language. He understands only one language- the language of the heart.

In its earlier stages, this Bhakti cult was known as “Ekrantika Dharma”. “According to Bhardarkar, it was so-called because its greatest emphasis was on single-minded love and devotion to one God,” It was not only new doctrine. Rather, it was based upon the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita.

Philosophies of the  Movement

A number of philosophies are said to have influenced and characterised the movement ranging from Vedantism to Sufism.

Some of these are:

  • Vedantism – The Upanishadic teaching particularly that of Shankaracharya, Madhavacharya, and Ramanuja had a salutary effect on reformation of the Hindu religion and reducing the influence of ritualism and orthodoxy. Thus, it paved the way for the growth of the movement. Dvaita and Advaita Philosophy — movement incorporated in its fold both the Advaita philosophy or monism and the Dvaita philosophy or dualism. Elements of both philosophies can be found in the teaching of saints. While that of Nanak’s and Kabir’s philosophy were based on monism, many other teachers preached the dualistic philosophy.
  • Nirguna and Saguna – movement also saw the emergence of two distinct streams of devotion, the Nirguna; or those who believed in formless and attributeless God and Saguna; where God was perceived to be having attributes and was even personalized. While some preachers like Kabir believed in a formless God (Nirguna Brahma), the likes of Mirabai, Tulsidas, and Surdas were devotees of the Saguna Brahma.
  • Sufism – This too had an important influence on Hindu society, particularly its emphasis on the unity of God and the equality of mankind. Sufism and its growth are also seen by scholars to be often parallel to the movement.

 Bhakti Saints

  • Nimbarka and Vallabhacharya were also other preachers of Vaishnavite Bhakti in the Telungana region.
  • Surdas was the disciple of Vallabhacharya and he popularized Krishna cult in north India.
  • Mirabai was a great devotee of Krishna and she became popular in Rajasthan for her bhajans.
  • Tulsidas was a worshipper of Rama and composed the famous Ramcharitmanas, the Hindi version of Ramayana.
  • In the 14th and 15th centuries, Ramananda, Kabir and Nanak remained great apostles of the Bhakti cult. They drew inspiration from old masters but showed a new path. They helped the common people to shed age-old superstitions and attain salvation through Bhakti or pure devotion. Unlike the early reformers, they were not linked with any particular religious creed and did not believe in rituals and ceremonies. They condemned polytheism and believed in one god. They also denounced all forms of idolatry. They strongly believed in Bhakti as the only means of salvation. They also emphasised the fundamental unity of all religions.


The importance of the Bhakti movement was very great.

Enriched Regional Languages

  • Various preachers spoke and wrote in the regional languages. So, the Bhakti movement provided an impetus for the development of regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, etc. Through these languages they made direct appeal to the masses.

Promoted Equality

  • As the caste system was condemned by the Bhakti saints, the lower classes were raised to a position of great importance.

Women Empowerment

  • The importance of women in society was also increased because the Bhakti movement gave equal importance to them.

Simple Religious Practices

  • Moreover, the Bhakti movement gave to the people a simple religion, without complicated rituals. They were required to show sincere devotion to God. The new idea of a life of charity and service to fellow people developed.


  • Sufism was a liberal reform movement within Islam.


  • It had its origin in Persia and spread into India in the 11th century. The first Sufi saint Shaikh Ismail of Lahore started preaching his ideas.

Chishti order

  • The most famous of the Sufi saints of India was Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, who settled in Ajmer which became the centre of his activities. He had a number of disciples who are called Sufis of the Chishti order.
  • Another famous Sufi saint was Nizamuddin Auliya who belonged to the Chishti order and who was a mighty spiritual force.

Suhrawardi Order

  • Yet, another well known Sufi saint was Bahauddin Zakariya who came under the influence of another famous mystic Shihabuddin Suhrawardi. His branch of Sufi saints was known as the Sufis of the Suhrawardi Order.


  • These Sufi saints are revered even today by not only Muslims but by a large number of Hindus. Their tombs have become popular places of pilgrimage for both communities.
  • Sufism stressed the elements of love and devotion as effective means of the realisation of God. Love of God meant love of humanity and so the Sufis believed service to humanity was tantamount to service to God.
  • In Sufism, self discipline was considered an essential condition to gain knowledge of God by sense of perception.
  • While orthodox Muslims emphasise external conduct, the Sufis lay stress on inner purity. While the orthodox believe in blind observance of rituals, the Sufis consider love and devotion as the only means of attaining salvation.
  • According to them one must have the guidance of a pir or guru, without which spiritual development is impossible.
  • Sufism also inculcated a spirit of tolerance among its followers.
  • Other ideas emphasised by Sufism are meditation, good actions, repentance for sins, performance of prayers and pilgrimages, fasting, charity and suppression of passions by ascetic practices.

Comparative Study of the Bhakti and Sufi Movement

Similarities Differences
1. Realisation of the supreme (God) through inner purity and devotion.

2. Denial of rituals and refusal to observe caste system.

3. Advocacy of love, tolerance and humanism.

4. Monotheistic in nature i.e they preached for one Supreme being.

5. Popular among the common mass.

6. Use of vernacular to communicate with the mass.

1. Both were related to different religions Bhakti was related to Hinduism while Sufism was related to Islam.

2. Sufism was divided into various orders. Bhakti movement only had two divisions- Saguna and Nirgun.

3. Sufism was limited to North and West India, while Bhakti movement owed its origin to South India. However, later it was concentrated in North India.

4. Sufism emphasised on mystical ways marked the rise of orthodox school based on the Quran and Hadis, while Bhakti was against orthodox and traditional beliefs.



General Studies Paper 1 Mains

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