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Medieval History / Delhi Sultanate

Bhakti Movement in India

Bhakti movement in India is a religious reform movement of Hindu religion during medieval history times. It started in South India during the reign of Delhi Sultanate and moved to North India. All the Bhakti saints of India gave importance to Bhakti and were against rituals.

Features of Bhakti Movement

The mains features of Bhakti movement are

  • Mysticism - It is unification in God through self surrender. It has personal loving relationship with the God.

  • Monotheism - It is worshipping of one God. If one God is worshipped, his other incarnations will not be worshipped.

  • Some saints accepted idolatry. Such saints are called Saguna Bhakti saints and the movement is called Saguna Bhakti Movement.

    Those who worship the God in abstract form are called Nirguna Bhakti saints, who were radical in nature and the movement is called Nirguna Bhakti Movement. They go against superstitious beliefs. They are not found among the Bhakti saints of South India.

  • Bhakti saints promoted socio economic equality or egalitarian society. They declared Moksha for every person.

  • The Bhakti movement saints preached their ideas in regional languages, that is language of masses (vernacular languages). Bhakti saints were against Sanskrit.

List of Bhakti Saints and their Movement

Bhakti Movement in South India

The following is the list of Bhakti saints of India, who propagated Bhakti movement in South India.

  • Adi Shankaracharya (788 - 820 AD) - He is not a Bhakti saint. He provided the foundation for Bhakti tradition. Birth place of Shankaracharya was Kaladi in Kerala. He died at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand. He was the Advaita philosophy founder.

    Advaita philosophy is nothing but Non-dualism which means Atma and Paramatma are same. He founded a new doctrine called Maya (Illusion). He said that Moksha can be achieved through Jnana (Knowledge). He started a new sect called Smarta (who worship Harihara) Hindu tradition.

    Shankaracharya Mutts

    He built 4 Shankaracharya Maths (or Mutts) at 4 corners of India.

    • In North - Jyotirmath at Badrinath, Uttarakhand
    • In East - Govardhana Matha at Puri, Odisha
    • In West - Dwaraka Pitha or Saradha Matha at Dwaraka, Gujarat
    • In South - Sringeri Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, Karnataka

  • Ramanujacharya (11th C) - He is the first Bhakti saint. He was a priest of a Vishnu temple at Srirangam (Trichy). He was the founder of Vishishtadvaita philosophy.

    He founded a new Vaishnava sect called Sri Vaishnavism in which Vishnu and Krishna are worshipped. He preferred salvation through "Prapatti Marga" (Self surrender).

  • Madhvacharya (13th C) - He is a native of Sringeri. He is a worshipper of Lord Vishnu. He was the Dvaita philosophy founder. Dvaita philosophy rejects Shankaracharya's Advaita. He rejected Maya Siddhanta.

  • Nimbarka (13 - 14th C) - He is a saint from Andhra Pradesh. He merged both the philosophies of Shankara and Madhvacharya and named it as Dvaita Advaita philosophy, also called Bhedabheda philosophy.

  • Vallabhacharya (15 - 16th C) - He was born in Kashi to a Telugu family in 16th Century. He came with new Advaita called Shuddhadvaita philosophy.

Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra

Pandharpur or Pandaripuram is the headquarters of Bhakti Movement of Maharashtra. The following is the list of Bhakti saints, who propagated Bhakti movement in Maharashtra.

  • Jnana Deva (13th C) - He wrote Marathi Bhagavad Gita, which is known as Jnaneswari or Bhavartha Dipika.

  • Namadev (14th C) - He promoted Nirguna Bhakti in Maharashtra. Most of his disciples were from untouchable community. He is a robber turned monk.

  • Eknath (16th C) - He wrote a book called Bhavartha Ramayana. He wrote quite a number of Abhangas (Marathi poems or hymns in praise of God).

  • Tukaram (17th C) - He founded Varkari sect (path of pilgrimages). Varkari sect promoted pilgrimages. It recommended 2 pilgrimages per year to lead a humble life.

    To get salvation, you have to make pilgrimages many times to Pandaripuram. Vithoba or Vithala or Panduranga is the God at Pandharpur.

  • Samarth Ramdas (17th C) - He belongs to Dharkari sect (in which God is omnipresent). Dharkari does not promote pilgrimages and gave importance to harmonious relationship between the worldly life and spiritual life. Samarth Ramdas is the religious guru of Shivaji. He was the writer of Dasbodh book.

Bhakti Movement in North India

The following is the list of Bhakti saints of India, who propagated Bhakti movement in North India.

  • Ramananda (15th C) - He is the first Bhakti saint of North India. He was a worshipper of Lord Rama. There were 12 disciples of Ramananda known as Avadhutas.

    Some of them are Pipa (A Rajput prince), Kabir (He is from weaver's community), Raidasa (He is from Chamar community), etc.

  • Kabir (15 - 16th C) - Kabir was born in Varanasi and was a Nirguna saint. He was radical in his philosophy but he was an illiterate, who opposed Sanskrit.

    It was Kabir who wrote Dohas in Hindi. He condemned idolatry, pilgrimages and fasting. He strived for the Hindu-Muslim unity.

  • Surdas (15 - 16th C) - He was a great scholar in Hindi. He was one of the disciples of Vallabhacharya. He wrote Sursagar (Biography of Krishna), Sur Suravali, Sahitya Ratna. He was worshipper of only Krishna.

  • Tulasidas (16 - 17th C) - Tulasidas wrote Ramcharitmanas (Hindi version of Ramayan), Kavitavali, Vinaya Patrika. He was worshipper of only Rama.

  • Meerabai - She was a Rajput princess and was a widow. She was worshipper of Lord Krishna.

  • Guru Nanak (15 - 16th C) - He was born in Talwandi and died in Kartarpur (Both in Pakistan). He was a Nirguna saint and was a great scholar.

    He promoted a concept called Tauhid-i-wajudi which means unity of God and unity of human being. That is one God for entire humanity.

    He was influenced by Islam after he visited Mecca. He did not promote Idolatry. Guru Nanak composed the hymns called Shabad.

Bhakti Movement in East India

The following is the list of Bhakti saints, who propagated Bhakti movement in East India.

  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (15 - 16th C) - He was a saint of Bengal. He promoted Vaishnava Bhakti in Bengal and Odisha.

    Because of him, reconversions from Islam to Hindu religion happened. His followers believed him as an incarnation of Vishnu.

  • Shankaradasa (15 - 16th C) - He promoted Vaishnava Bhakti in Assam. He translated Ramayana into Assamese and almost all the books are translated by him into Assamese. King Suhungmung of Ahom dynasty became Swarga Narayana.

Bhakti Movement in West India

The following is the list of Bhakti saints of India, who propagated Bhakti movement in West India.

  • Dadu Dayal (17th C) - He came from untouchable community. He was influenced by Kabir. He promoted Nirguna Bhakti in Rajasthan. His concept is low-born are by birth have no ego.

  • Narsinh Mehta (15th C) - Narsinh Mehta was from Gujarat. He wrote a number of Bhajans which influenced Gandhiji.

    The term, Harijan (Children of God) was coined by Narsinh Mehta. It was the term used to give to the children of Devadasi.