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Origin of Bhakti Movement
10 Apr 2022

  • Origin of the word is Sanskrit word: ‘Bhaj’, meaning - to divide or share.
  • Bhakti is generally understood as a person’s devotion to his or her chosen deity.
  • Anybody, whether rich or poor, belonging to the so-called ‘high’ or ‘low’ castes, man or woman, could follow the path of ‘Bhakti’.
  • The idea of Bhakti is present in the Shrimad Bhagwat Gita, a sacred book of the Hindus, which is included in the Mahabharata.
  • According to this system of belief, if a devotee worships the chosen deity with a pure heart, the deity would appear in the form in which he or she may desire. So, the deity could be thought of as a human being, lion, tree or any other form.
  • Once this idea gained acceptance, artists made beautiful images of their deities like Siva, Vishnu and goddesses such as Durga.
  • It was popularized in 7th-8th century in Tamil Nadu (Nayanars and Alvars) but in North India it became popular during 13th-16th century.

Philosophy of Bhakti Movement

  • The philosophy of Bhakti Movement included:
  • Devotion to a personal God for salvation or to unite with God.
  • Repeating the name of God or sing bhajan.
  • It rejected Vedic Gods and focussed on pre-Vedic Gods i.e. Shiva and Vishnu.
  • The Bhajans were usually written in local language.
  • It condemned rituals and sacrifices and promoted equality and brotherhood.
  • It followed Guru-Shishya parampara.

The South Indian Bhakti Movements


  • There were 12 Alvars. They had Vaishnav teachers.
  • The word Alwar literally means, “those who are immersed in God”.
  • Alvars represented the emotional side and the Acharyas represented the intellectual side.
  • There was participation of the women as well.
  • Andal was called the Meera of the South.
  • Kulashekhara was a Chera King and Alvar saint and promoted Kuttiyatam.
  • They composed hyms in the praise of Vishnu and his avatars. The collection of hymns of Alvars is called Divya prabandham by Nath Muni.

  • It originated in antiquity.
  • There were 63 Nayanars: Isaignaniyaar was the women and Appar was the most famous Nayanar.
  • There was two set of compilation of songs:
  • Tevaram Stotras: called the Dravida Veda compiled by Manikkavasagar.
  • It constitutes eight volume of Tirumurai (sacred anthology of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta compiled by Nambi and others.)
  • Tiruvacakam: contains sacred utterances.

Virshaiva Movement (12th Century)
  • It was popularised in Karnataka during reign of Kalachuri dynasty.
  • The Virshaivas are a Shaivite sect in Hinduism.
  • It was a militant movement started by Basavanna/Basavesvara and companions Allamaprabhu and Akkamaha Devi.
  • It wanted to replace conservative Shaivism by more egalitarian and greater individual freedom.


  • The word Lingayat means wearer of Shivalinga.
  • They challenged the idea of caste and pollution.
  • They produced the literary work called Vachanas.

North Indian Bhakti Movements and Saints

There were two streams of Bhakti

  • Nirguna Bhakti
    • It believed in formless God even while calling him with various names such as Rama, Govind, Hari.
  • Saguna Bhakti
    • In this stream of bhakti, God with attributes or in Human form is worshipped.
    • It is Vaishnavite in character e.g. Tulsidas, Surdas.
    • The compilations of Surdas are
      • Sursagar
      • Surasaravati and
      • Sahitya Lahari.

Some of the saints were:

Ramananda (15th Century)

  • He was against caste system.
  • He emphasised on breaking the hegemony of Brahamans.


  • He was a disciple of Vallabhacharya.
  • He wrote Sursagar (exploits of Krishna).


  • Nirguna Bhakti Saint
  • He was a son of a Brahmana widow.
  • The God is one with many names.
  • The belief and ideas were represented through Dohas.
  • He refused to accept religion without reasoning.

Guru Nanak

  • Sikhism was propagated with the life, times ad teachings of Guru Nanak (1469-1539).
  • He condemned the existing social order.
  • According to him, salvation cannot be achieved by worshiping idols or by renunciation of one’s worldly possessions. Rather, salvation can be achieved by right belief, right worship and right conduct.

Saints of Maharashtra

  • They were mostly from untouchables ‘Mahar’ caste.
  • They focussed on Vitthala (form of Vishu) temple.
  • They rejected ritualism, social differences, rejected renunciation and preferred to live with families.
  • The devotional hymns were called Abhangs.


  • He was the first Marathi saint during the 13th Century.
  • The commentary on Gita was written by the Janeshwari.


  • He was the disciple of Ramananda during the 15th Century.


  • He developed the Marathi literature.


  • He was a varkari Saint and Spritual poet.
  • He was a devotee of Vithala.


  • He was the guru of Shivaji and a Darkari saint
  • He wrote Dasbodha.

Other Saints of Bhakti Movement

Cahitanya Mahaprabhu (16th Century)

  • A follower of Vaishanav sect.
  • He was a social reformer in East India Bengal.
  • He was the inspiration behind ISKON movement.
  • He introduced Kirtan style of songs.
  • The music instrument used for the Kirtan was Khol.

Ghasi Das

  • He started socio-religious movement in Chattisgarh called Satnamis.
  • He was against the hierarchical system.


  • He started bhakti movement in Assam.
  • He began the practice of Namghars(house of prayer).


  • He was a Shavite follower.
  • He wrote Kathasaritsagar.

Nathapanthis Siddhas Yogis

  • He criticized ritual, social order and used simple logical arguments.
  • He advocated renunciation of world and salvation by meditation on formless ultimate reality.
  • He came from lower caste.

The Contribution of Bhakti Movement

  • There was religious as well as social contributions of bhakti movement.
  • It broke boundaries of caste and promoted equitable society (for example langar for all)
  • It promoted universal brotherhood and communal harmony.
  • The Marathi saints took political interest and mobilised Marathas against Mughal forces.
  • The opponents of Bhakti Movement opposed sati and female infanticide.
  • Their works were composed in regional languages.