Bhakti Movement TB

It was a religious reform movement during medieval times which emphasized single-minded intense devotion to God. The Bhakti movement was based on the doctrine that the relationship between god and man is through love and worship rather than through performing any ritual or religious ceremonies.
The origin of Bhakti is traced to the Vedas, but its real development took place after the 7th century. It was initiated by Shaiva Nayanars & Vaishnavite Alwars in south India and later spread to all regions. The emotional side of Vaishnavism is represented by: Alvars through collective songs – “Prabhandas”.
The intellectual side of Vaishnavism is represented by: “Acharyas”.

Difference between Nayanars and Alvars

  • Bhakti arose in South India in the 7th to 10th centuries in poems that the Alvars (Vaishnavite) and the Nayanars (Shaivites) composed in Tamil to the gods Vishnu and Shiva, respectively.
  • In the 7th-8th century AD, the social fabric of India was torn by all-around degradation and cultural distortion and corruption permeated all sections of the society, right from the ruling class to the priestly class.
  • Various malpractices were committed in the name of religion, which vitiated the social structure including animal and human sacrifices, magical rites, spells, casteism, etc.
  • The poor and downtrodden people became victims of these ghastly practices.
  • It was at this juncture, that Bhakti Movement began in Tamil that had gradually spread to the rest of India.
Nayanars were devoted to Lord Shiva and his avatarsAlvars were devoted to Lord Vishnu and his avatars
Nayanars were active around the 6th-8th Century ADAlthough modern scholars consider the Alvars to be active between the 5th and 10th Century AD, they are believed to have lived between 4200 BCE – 2700 BCE
The high priest of Raja Raja Chola I, Nambiyandar Nambi, compiled the hymns into a series of volumes called the Tirumurai.The hymns of the Alvars were made into a consolidated volume known as Divya Prabandha.
The Nayanars were from various backgrounds, including Brahmins, Harijan, and nobles. Along with the twelve Vaishnava Alvars, they are regarded as important Hindu saints from South India.The Bhakti literature that sprang from Alvars had contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path to salvation
Tiru Neelakanta
Sri Andal
Thirumazhisai Alvar
Thiruppaan Alvar
Kulasekara Alwar

The Bhakti saints were divided into two schools depending on the way they imagined God:


  • Believe invisible formless god, without attributes.
  • Nirguna bhakta’s poetry was Jnana-shrayi or had roots in knowledge.
  • Nirgun Saints:
    • Guru Nanak
    • Ravidas
    • Kabir


  • Believe in God with form & attributes.
  • Saguna bhakta’s poetry was Prema-shrayi, or with roots in love.
  • Saguna Saints:
    • Tulsidas
    • Surdas
    • Meerabai

Features of the Bhakti Movement

  • Unity of God or one God though known by different names.
  • Condemnation of rituals, ceremonies, and blind faith.
  • Rejection of idol worship.
  • Surrender oneself to God.
  • Emphasized both Nirguna and Saguna bhakti.
  • Salvation through Bhakti.
  • Open-mindedness about religious matters.
  • Rejected castes distinctions & believed in the equality of all humans.
  • Rebelled against the upper caste’s domination and the Sanskrit language.
  • Use of local or regional languages for Preaching.
  • Creation of literature in the local language.

Causes for the emergence of the Bhakti Movement

  • Influence of Vaishnavism
  • Evil practices of the Hindus
  • Fear of the spread of Islam
  • Influence of Sufi sects
  • The emergence of great reformers.
Important Bhakti Movement Saints

Vedanta Saints and Contribution

Vedanta is a philosophical system that originated in ancient India and emphasizes the unity of all beings and the essential oneness of the individual self and the ultimate reality. Vedanta has been enriched over the years by contributions from various saints and sages who expounded on its principles and teachings.
Some of the notable Vedanta saints and their contributions are:

Shankaracharya (788 – 820 AD)

  • Birth- Kelara, Death- Uttarakhand (Kedarnath)
  • Guru – Govidhabhagavath pada
  • Integrated the essence of Buddhism into Hindu thought and interpreted the ancient Vedic religion
  • Consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedant (Non-Dualism)- God & created world is one and The individual soul is not different from Brahman.
  • Organizer of the Dashanami monastic order and unified the Shanmata tradition of worship.
  • Brhat-Sankara-Vijaya by Citsukha is the oldest biography of Adiushankara

Ramanujarcharya (1017-1137 A.D)

  • Birth – Tamilandu
  • Guru – yadavapreksha
  • Propagator of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta or qualified monism – There exists a plurality and distinction between Ātman (soul) & Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality).
  • Exponents of the Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism
  • Literary works: Vedartha Sangraham, Sri Bhashyam, Gita Bhashyam


  • He was a contemporary of Ramanuja.
  • He propounded the philosophy of ‘bheda-bheda’ -the God, the soul, and the world were identical yet distinct.

Madhvarchaya (1238-1319 AD)

  • Was a critic of Adi Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta and Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita Vedanta teachings.
  • He preached “Dvaita” or dualism, where the divinity was separate from the human conscience/soul.
  • Liberation- only through the grace of God
  • Book – Anuvyakhyana.

Nathpanthis, Siddhas, and Yogis

  • Criticized the ritual and other aspects of conventional religion and the social order, using simple, logical arguments.
  • They advocated renunciation of the world.
  • To them, the path to salvation lay in meditation on the formless god.
  • To achieve this they advocated intense training of the mind and body through practices like yoga asanas, breathing exercises, and meditation.
  • These groups became particularly popular among “low” castes.

Virashaivism Movement/Sharana Movement

  • The Virashaiva movement began in Karnataka in the mid-twelfth century.
  • It was initiated by Basavanna and other virshaivas like Allama Prabhu and Akkamahadevi.
  • They fought for the equality of all human beings and against the Brahmanical ideas of caste and poor treatment of women.
  • They were also against religious rituals and idol worship.
  • The challenged caste system questioned the theory of rebirth.
  • Encouraged post-puberty marriage & widow remarriage.
  • Basavanna spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas.
  • He established Anubhava Mantapa (1st democratic parliament of the world.) – an academy of mystics, saints, and philosophers of the ‘Lingayath’s’ faith.

Saints and Their Contribution

Ramanada (14-15th century)

  • He was a follower of Ramanuja.
  • Founder of Sant-parampara (literally, the tradition of bhakti saints) in north India.
  • Substitute the worship of Rama in place of Krishna.
  • He has 12 disciples – “Avadutas”.
  • Disciple(s): Kabir (a Muslim weaver), Ravidas (cobbler), Bhagat Pipa, Sukhanand, sena (barber) & sudhana.
  • Literary works: Gyan-lila and Yog-cintamani (Hindi), Vaisnava Mata Bhajabhaskara and Ramarcanapaddhati (Sanskrit).
  • His verse is mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib.

Kabir Das (1440-1510 AD)

  • Disciple of Ramananda
  • He was the first to reconcile Hinduism and Islam.
  • He was a Nirguna saint and openly criticized the orthodox ideas of major religions like Hinduism and Islam.
  • Denounced idol worship, fastings, pilgrimages, religious superstitious beliefs, bathing in holy rivers, and formal worship like the name.
  • His poems are called “Banis” (utterances) or ‘Dohe’. His works are compiled in the famous book “Bijak”.
  • Kabir says: “Ram Rahim are same”.

Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1538 AD)

  • Birth – Talvandi Viilage & Death – Kartarpur (Both are in Pakistan)
  • Founder of the Sikh religion & the first Guru of ten Sikh Gurus. Initially worked as Accountant.
  • Preached middle path & need of Guru for liberation.
  • He composed hymns and sang along with the help of an instrument called ”Rabab” played by his attendant “Mardana
  • Traveled across Asia including Mecca & Baghdad and spread the message of “Ik Onkar” – One God.
  • Opposed idol worship, pilgrimage, and caste system, and emphasized purity of character and conduct.
  • Called God “Waheguru” that is shapeless, timeless, omnipresent & invisible ( Nirgun Bhakti)
  • He started Guru-Ka-langer (Community Kitchen)
  • He promoted “Tauhid-e-wazidi”

Purandar Das (1483-1564)

  • One of the chief founding proponents of South Indian classical music (Carnatic Music).
  • He is often quoted as Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha.

Dadu Dayal (1544-1603 AD)

  • Disciple of Kabir
  • He was a supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity
  • His followers were called Dadu Panthis

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533 AD)

  • Founder of modern Vaishnavism in Bengal.
  • He was a Saguna and popularized “Kirtans” (religious songs) as a form of worshipping God.
  • Popularized the chanting of “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna”.
  • He made famous the practice of worshipping Radha and Krishna together.
  • He gave the “Achintaya Bheda-Abheda” philosophy.
  • Didn’t reject scriptures or idol worship called god as Hari.
  • He wrote “Siksastakam”, a text in Sanskrit, where he elaborated his philosophy.
  • He is the inspiration behind the world-renowned ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) which was founded in the 20th century.

Shankaradeva (1499-1569 AD)

  • Spread the Bhakti Movement in Assam
  • Translated Ramayana & Mahabharat into Assamese
  • He started the Ekasarana movement (Neo-Vaishnavite movement). He believed in the worship of ‘Ekasarana’ (One God) in the form of Krishna.
  • He also called Krishna by different names like Hari, Narayan, and Rama.
  • His most famous work is “Kirtana Ghosha”, written in a simple language understood by the masses.
  • He wrote in Assamese and Brajavali (a mixture of Maithili and Assamese).

Vallabhacharya (1479-1531 AD)

  • Exponent of Krishna cult
  • Founded the philosophy of “Suddhadvaita” (Pure Non-dualism) and his philosophy is known as ‘Pushti Marg’.
  • He worshipped Krishna under the title “Srinathji”

Guru Ghasidas (1756-1836 AD)

  • He was a famous saint from Chhattisgarh and he established the “Satnami Community” there.
  • He strongly believed in equality and criticized the oppressive caste system.
  • He was a monotheist and was against idol worship.

Surdas (1483-1563 AD)

  • Disciple of Vallabhacharya.
  • He wrote “Sursagar” and “Sursurvali”.
  • Showed intense devotion to Radha and Krishna.
  • Regarded as the outstanding devotional poet in Brajbhasha.

Mirabai (1498-1546 AD)

  • A staunch devotee of Lord Krishna
  • Composed a number of songs and poems in honor of Krishna.
  • She composed ‘bhajans’ (short religious songs) which are sung even today.

Haridas (1478-1573 AD)

  • A great musician and saint who sang the glories of Lord Vishnu.

Tulsidas (1532-1623 AD)

  • Depicted Rama as the incarnation
  • Wrote “Ramcharitmanas”
  • He was Varkari

Namdeva (1270-1350AD)

  • Disciple of Vishoba Khechar
  • He was a devotee of Vittoba (Vishnu)
  • Opposed Caste system
  • Only Nirguna saint in Maharashtra.
  • He belongs to the Varkari tradition.

Dnyanesvar (1275-1296 AD)

  • He was the founder of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra in the 13th century.
  • Wrote “Dnyaneswari“, a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita.
  • His other work is “Amrutanubhav“ on Yoga and philosophy.
  • He was a worshipper of Vithoba (Vitthala) who is considered a manifestation of Vishnu.
  • He was a follower of the Nath Yogi Tradition. He also drew inspiration from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

Eknath (1533-1599)

  • Wrote commentary on verses of the Bhagavad-Gita.
  • The devotee of Vithoba. He criticized the Caste distinctions.

Tukaram (1598-1650)

  • Contemporary of Maratha king Shivaji
  • Devotee of Vithal
  • He founded the Varkau sect.
  • The man behind Maratha Nationalism.
  • His teachings are contained in “Abhangas”.

Ram Das (1608-1681)

  • Author of “Dasabodh”.
  • His teachings inspired Shivaji to establish an independent kingdom in Maharashtra.

Varkari Tradition

Varkari is a religious movement (sampradaya) within the bhakti spiritual tradition of Hinduism. It is geographically associated with the Indian states of Maharashtra and northern Karnataka. In the Marathi language of Maharashtra, Vari means ‘pilgrimage’, and a pilgrim is called a Varkari.

Impact of the Bhakti Movement

  • The Bhakti saints were social reformers also. The evil practice of Sati and caste rigidities received some setbacks.
  • Women were encouraged to join kirtans. Mirabai, Laila (Kashmir), and Andal composed verses that are popular even today.
  • In place of Sanskrit, Bhakti saints preached through the medium of local languages which could be understood very easily. Surdas used ‘Brij’ dialect. Tulsi Das composed his works in ‘Awadhi’. Shankaradeva popularized Assamese, and Chaitanya spreading their message in Bengali, Mirabai in Hindi, and Rajasthani.
  • Kirtan at a Hindu Temple, Qawaali at a Dargah (by Muslims), and the singing of Gurbani at a Gurdwara are all derived from the Bhakti movement of medieval India (800-1700).
  • It popularized the idea of equality & brotherhood.
  • Preached inclusive path to spiritual salvation.
  • Rulers adopted liberal religious policies under the impact of the Bhakti movement.

Contribution of women in the Bhakti Movement

  • AkkaMahadevi: She was a poet of the Kannada Language. She is known to have considered the god Shiva as her husband. Her mystical poems have a notable contribution to Kannada literature.
  • MeeraBai: MeeraBai is a mystical poet and singer known for her songs of devotion to Lord Krishna. Mira is a symbol of a liberated woman who risked all to protect her independence, freedom, and love towards Krishna.
  • Andal: A well-known South Indian poet and the only female among 12 Alwars of Tamil Nadu.
  • LalDed: The Muslim poetess from Kashmir Lalded&HabbaKhatun, represented the saint tradition of Bhakti and wrote Vakhs (maxims), which are peerless gems of spiritual experience.
  • JanaBai: Janabai was influenced by the teachings of Saint Namdev. Her poetry encompasses the discrimination faced by women &sudras. This awakens the sudras and women for their rights.


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