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Intro to Bhakti Movement in India


  • Like all cultural traditions, religion too does not exist in isolation.
  • It adapts to existing situations and meets both social and spiritual needs of the people.
  • As a country with a long history, religion in India developed by interacting with various traditions.
  • Vedic religion, which came with the advent of Aryan-speaking peoples to India, absorbed many elements from the Indus civilization.
  • Mother goddess worship had its origins in Harappa.
  • Similarly an image found in the Indus script has been identified as that of Siva.
  • The prime Vedic gods were Indra, Varuna, Agni, etc. and it was only later that the worship of Siva and Vishnu developed.
  • In the mid-first millennium before the Common Era (B.C.) two great religions emerged in the IndoGangetic valley: Buddhism and Jainism (apart from other heterodox religions such as Ajivika) which challenged the orthodox Vedic religious practices.
  • Similarly, in the mid-first millennium of the Common Era, in the southern country, a great religious tradition flourished in the form of a devotional or bhakti movement.
  • Bhakti as a religious concept means devotional surrender to a supreme god for attaining salvation.
  • Even though texts such as the Bhagavad Gita talk about the path of bhakti, or bhakti-marga, the movement gained force only in this period.
  • Historians argue that this emerged in opposition to the ethical, fatalistic and atheistic traditions of Jainism and Buddhism.
  • Vedic theism incorporated certain features from both.
  • While Adi Sankara provided Hinduism with a philosophic doctrine of Advaita to counter the heterodox religions it remained at the intellectual level.
  • It was the great Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Azhwars, with their moving verses, gave form to the Bhakti doctrine and won the support of the people.
  • Historians refer to this as the Bhakti movement.
  • This movement, supported by the ruling kings, made a deep and lasting impact on all aspects: social, political, religious, cultural and linguistic.
  • Thus south India became the home of religious renaissance from the 7th to the 10th century.
  • With theologians like Ramanuja it turned into a philosophical and ideological movement in the eleventh century.
  • Inspired by many poet-saints the bhakti cult became widespread from 14th century in the whole of India.
  • We analyze here the general features of the bhakti movement, its main proponents, the two different trends of the movement and its impact on social and cultural life of the people.

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