The world ‘Bhakti’ means devotion to God. The Bhakti movement was not new; its doctrines had their origin in the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads. The Bhaktas of God did not believe in any sort of caste distinctions. They advocated love and devotion to God and discarded all sorts of rituals and ceremonies. They preached oneness of God and “that all religions were but roads leading to the same goal”.
Chief Principles of Bhakti Movement:
The chief principles of the Bhakti movement were as follows:
1. It is Bhakti or devotion to God alone that can help man attain salvation.
2. It is important to follow a true guru for realizing God.
3. All men are equal and no one is superior or inferior.
4. Caste distinctions, rituals, fasts, etc., are useless and lead to nowhere.
5. All men should be tolerant.
Some Important Bhakti Reformers:
Born in A.D. 1166 in a small town near Chenni (Madras), Ramanuja was a worshipper of Vishnu and preached Vaishnavism. He had a great following in the South.
The greatest preacher of this cult in north India was Ramananda. He discarded all caste distinctions and his disciplesbelonged to all castes.
He was perhaps the most popular reformer of his times. He was a disciple of Ramananda. Kabir was against idol worship or any sort of rituals.
He was a Maratha saint, born into a low family. He too believed in the oneness of God. He travelled far and wide and had discussions with the Sufis. A large number of Muslims also became his followers.
He was a religious teacher from Bengal and an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. HE travelled widely and popularized hymns sung in praise of Krishna.
Mirabai was a Rajput princess and a passionate devotee of Krishna. She preached in Brijbhasha, the common language of the people. Her song and verses are very popular even today.
Effects of the Bhakti Movement:
The Bhakti movement had far-reaching effects on the people. Firstly, it helped a lot in removing the existing bitterness between the Hindus and the Muslims. Both became more tolerant towards each other.
Secondly, the Bhaktas exposed the hollowness of empty rituals and ceremonies and taught the people to give up evils like belief in superstitions etc. This movement delta a blow to the superiority of the Brahmins, for it propagated the equality of all men. This also helped in checking conversions.
Thirdly, the Bhakti reformers preached in the common language of the people, which gave rise to the vernacular languages such as Bengali in the east, Gujarati and Marathi in the west and Punjabi in the north.
With the Establishment of Muslim ruler in India and the emergence of Islam Hinduism was seriously affected. The Muslim rulers plundered and destroyed the Hindu temples and religious monuments.
Hindus were also forcibly converted to Islam. At die same time Islam preched the message of universal brotherhood equality of man and belief in one God.
There was no caste system in the Islamic faith. At the same time Muslim religious thinkers were also influenced by Hindu religious beliefs and ideas like the law of Karma.
The close contact between the Hindus and Muslims finally resulted in the growth of two religious movements namely Sufism among the Muslims and the Bhakti movement among the Hindus. Hindu saints and reformers tried to reform Hinduism.
They took up the task of removing all evil practices from Hinduism particularly the caste system and the image worship. This finally resulted in the growth of Bhakti movement.
The word Bhakti implies devotion to God. The leaders of the Bhakti movement preached equality of all religions. They preached simple devotion to God. The leading exponents of Bhakti movement were Kabir, Nanak and Srichaitanya.
Kabir was a cosmopolitan reformer of medieval India. He had sincerely tried to develop the sense of unity among the Hindus and Muslims. But no definite facts are available regarding his early life.
It is believed that he was born in 1440 A.D. He was the son of a Brahmin widow who left him by the side of a tank in Benaras. But Niru the Muslim weaver picked up the child and took him home.
Thus Kabir was brought up under the care of Niru. Kabir spent his childhood as a Muslim. When lie grew young he became a disciple of Ramananda, the famous saint of Benaras.
The Hindu religious thought considerably influenced his mind. Kabir also made himself familiar with the essential principles of Islam. He led his life as an ordinary weaver and gradually he gave religious instruction to his fellow men. Both Hindus and Muslims alike were attracted towards his religious ideas and sayings.
The teachings of Kabir were based on love and unity. He propagated a religion of love which aimed at promoting unity among all casted and creeds. He also tried to reconcile Hinduism and Islam. Kabir taught the people that salvation can be achieved by true devotion to God or Bhakti.
He did not believe in any caste distinction and in idol worship. According to him no temples or mosques are necessary to worship God. One can come nearer to God only through true devotion or Bhakti. Kabir consider the Hindus and Muslims as "pots of the same clay".
He strongly criticised the Hindu Pandits and Muslurn Maulavis and advised them to give up their conflicting religious views. According to him Allah, Rama, Karim and Keshava were one but different names of the same Supreme Being. His devotional songs or Dohas greatly influenced the common people. His disciples included both the Hindus and Muslim.
Nanak was another great preacher of Bhakti cult. He was the founder of Sikhism. He was born in 1469 at Talwandi or Modern Nankana in Pakistan. From childhood Nanak took great interest in listening to the religious discussions of holymen.
His father who was trader wanted to engage him in his business. But Nanak was not very much interested for material prosperity. For some year he led the life of an ordinary house holder. He renounced the worldly life and visited the different holy places of India. It is believed that he also visited Mecca and Medina, Nanak died in 1538 A.D.
Nanak taught the oneness of God and the fraternity of men. He considered Islam and Hinduism as two different paths for meeting the God.
He laid emphasis on oneness of God and on brotherhood of man. Nanak taught the people about righteous living, social virtues, dignity of labour and charity. He laid considerable emphasis on purity of deeds. Like Kabir he also condemned caste system, idol worship, rituals and festivals.
Nanak taught that one would come nearer to God and achieve salvation only through his virtuous deeds, purity of mind and through true the devotion. People belonging to both Islam and Hinduism became his followers. After Iris death he nominated his disciple Angad as his successor. Angad organised his followers into separate community. Their faith came to be known as Sikhism.
Sri Chaitanya was popular Vaishnava saint and reformer of medieval period. He was born in a Brahmin family of Nadia, in Bengal in I486-A.D. His father was Jagannath Mishra and mother Sachi Devi. Chaitanya from his early career acquired knowledge on the holy books.
At the age of twenty four he renounced the worldly life and became an ascetic or sannyasi. He spent the rest part of his life in preaching the message of live and devotion. His followers considered him as the incarnation of Vishnu. Sri Chaitanya came to Puri in course of his missionary career.
The Gajapati king of Orissa Prataprudra Dev cordially received him. This famous Vaishanava saint spent long eighteen years at Puri the place of Lord Jagannath. He also visited various others religious places in the Southern and Western part of India. He made pilgrimages to Vrindaban, Mathura and other place in the North. He died at Puri in 1533.
Chaitanya said that personal presence of God could be realised through love and devotion Bhakti of true devotion is the only way to come nearer to God.
He rejected the caste system and ritual. Chaitanya preached his faith in Vishnu or Hari or Krishna, the only Supreme Being. The message of love and peace of Chaitanya appealed most to the people of lower classed of die Hindu society. Chaitanya was opposed to the supremacy of the priest and outward forms and ceremonies of religion.
According to him, "If a creature adores Krishna with true love and devotion he is released from the meshes of illusion and attains to Krishna." He laid great emphasis in the name of Hari and Krishna and composed devotional songs. Thus Chaitanya Dev made Vaishnavism very popular in Bengal. Orissa and in many other parts of Eastern India.
The Bhakti movement was a widespread movement. It aroused great interest among the common people. The Hindu saints and reformers made their efforts to purify Hinduism and to save it from the onslaughts of Islam. Attempts were also made by them to remove the caste distinction from the social sphere.
The movement also brought the followers of Islam and of Hinduism closer to each other. Above all Bhakti movement contributed to the enrichment vernacular literature, like Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati.