Bhakti movement started in India between 7th and 12th centuries A.D. in the southern India, as a reaction against the ritualism, untouchability, and caste divisiom. The movement was all about the union of the Supreme Being and the human soul through true devotion. The movement was nurtured by Vaishnava Alwar and Saiva Nayanar sects. The followers of bhakti had no religion and they strongly opposed the idol worship and caste division. Bhakti movement became prevalent in the 14th and 15th centuries A.D.
The Bhakti followers believed that there is only one God, the invisible almighty and he could be called by any name. They strongly believed that God can only be attained by Bhakti. They worked to bring harmony among all human being and to establish equality between men and women. The ideals of Bhakti movement could be adopted by people of all religion.
In the sixth century B.C., with Jainism and Buddhism, Krishnaism or Bhagavatism also started flourising. Krishnaism or Bhagavatism is a religious belief in Hinduism. The followers of Krishnaism religious belief are devoted towards Lord Krishna. While the followers of Bhagavatism, a branch of Vaishnavism, devotees followers are devoted towards various avatars of Lord Vishnu.
The role played by Bhakti Movement in transforming the character of Vedic Hinduism
Bhagavatism introduced the Bhakti cult as the only means of salvation, hence reduced the significance of the rituals of Vedic sacrifice. The Bhakti cult reduced the popularity of these rituals, but they still survived.
The worship of image was introduced by Bhagavata worshippers in the fold of Brahmanical Hinduism. The worship of image of Lord Vishnu gave the way for the worship of images of other deities.
The evolution of Hinduism was influenced by the doctrine of Ahimsa of Bhagavatism. While the intercourse between Jainism and Bhagavatism influenced both the religious beliefs. The followers of Bhuddism shared the doctorine of non-violence with the followers of Bhagavatism. Also, the worship of foot-prints of Buddha was taken from the Vishnupada’s Bhagavatic concept. Wheveras, the Bhagavatic concept of Vishnu avataras is possibly borrowed from the Bhudda’s Buddhist concept.
Some popular bhakti saints:
1. Ramananda, a disciple of Ramanuja, who founded Vaishnavism. Although he worshipped Ram and Sita, but always preached Bhakti for everyone, irrespective of religion and caste. He opposed untouchability and caste system. He preached in Hindi language and greeted people of all caste and religion as his disciples, including a Muslim weaver named Kabir, a cobbler named Ravidas, a butcher named Sadhan, and a barber named Sona.
2. Kabir, most popular disciple of Ramananda. He considered all religions as one and worked to bringing harmony among all communities. He revered both Ram and Allah. He has both Muslim and Hindu disciples, know as Kabir-panthis.
3. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was one of the best preachers in medieval India. He founded his faith on worship of truth and God, or on a ritual-free “Sat Shri Akal.” He perched that God is only one and unique,. His ideals were accepted by both Muslims and Hindus. The preaching of Guru Nanak has been compiled in Granthasahib, the sacred text of the Sikhs.
4. Vallavacharya, he Vaishnava leader, widely spread Shri Chaitanya Bhakti and Vaishnavism in south India. He considered all as children of God. He preached that salvation could be accomplished by serving Lord Krishna and all creatures in this world.
5. Mirabai, was a popular Bhakti movement harbinger in medieval India. She was a great worshipper of Lord Krishna. She strongly believed that man could attain Lord Krishna by love and sincere adoration. Mirabai was an amazing singer and her bhajanas are still a valuable treasure of Indian music and literature.
Significance of Bhakti Movement:
The Bhakti Movement greatly influenced the society, religion, and political and cultural life in the contemporary India.
1. It opposed the class and caste distinction, and male and female distinction.
2. It taught the Hindu-Muslim communities to live in harmony, by removing the conflicts between them.
3. The bhakti reformers preached in local languages, thus led to the development of local languages. The Hindi language was enriched by dohas of Kabir. Bengali language got a new direction through Vaishnava poet, and Nanak enriched the Gurumukhi script and the Punjabi language by his religious advices.