Medieval Bhakti Movement in India

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QuestionPointing out the salient features of the medieval ‘Bhakti Movement’ in India, comment on its role in the development of regional languages in India.9 November 2021

Answer

The Bhakti movement in India was first started by the Alwar and Nayanar saints of the South in the medieval period. The Bhakti movement emphasizes the spiritual union of man and God. Bhakti through hymns and stories was traditionally preached by the Alvar and Nayanar saints of the Tamil Bhakti sect and in northern India by two devotional streams namely Nirguna Bhakti and Saguna Bhakti.

This movement was brought from South India to North India by Ramananda in the early twelfth century. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Namdev, Tukaram, Jayadeva supported this movement. The main aim of the Bhakti movement was to reform Hinduism and society and to establish harmony between Islam and Hinduism. The movement was also successful to a large extent in its objectives.

The following are the main features of the Bhakti movement:

  • Philosophy: The Bhakti movement believed in the concept of one God and fraternity among all human beings. Dharma was viewed by the Bhakti sages as a loving bond between God and the worshipers.
  • Medium of propagation: Bhakti saints adopted various mediums like poetry, song-dance and kirtan to connect with God. He emphasized the belief in one supreme being, along with one-sided, fervent devotion to God.
  • Role of Guru: Bhakti sages advocated the need for a guru to guide the devotee towards his union with God.
  • Women’s Participation: Some prominent women include Andal, Mirabai, Laldyad etc. Many devotional verses were composed by him.
  • Emphasis on Equality: There was no distinction on the basis of caste, creed or religion. Also, the Bhakti movements criticized the orthodox system of society. Social issues like Sati system, female feticide etc. were opposed. In addition, many Bhakti saints opposed institutionalized religions and religious customs.
  • Bridging the gap between Hindu and Islamic traditions: Bhakti saints such as Kabir and Guru Nanak drew their views from both Hindu and Islamic traditions and strongly supported Hindu-Muslim unity.

Bhakti Movement and Regional Languages:

  • The Bhakti movement in India promoted the development of local language as well as local literature in different parts of the country.
  • The saints of the Bhakti era preached in their respective local languages and connected with the masses. He also composed literature in his local languages, such as Kabir in Hindi, Guru Nanak Dev in Gurmukhi, Narsingh Mehta in Gujarati, etc.
  • The Alvar sages composed a collection of shlokas called ‘Divya Prabandha’ in Tamil language, which is considered to be the ‘fifth Veda’.
  • Many Sanskrit works were translated into regional languages by the sages of the Bhakti period. Apart from this, the texts previously available only in Sanskrit became accessible to the general public during this period. For example, Tulsidas composed the epic of Ramayana in Awadhi language to make it more accessible to the general public.
  • The Bhakti-period saints Chaitanya and Sankaradeva encouraged their followers to use Bengali and Assamese language, respectively, in place of Sanskrit. The efforts of Bhakti saints enriched the regional languages like Marathi, Maithili, Kannada, Awadhi etc.

Significance of Bhakti Movement-

  • The saints of the Bhakti movement set before the people the goal of a ritual-free life in which there was no place for exploitation of people by Brahmins.
  • Many saints of the Bhakti movement in India emphasized Hindu-Muslim unity, which led to the establishment of tolerance and harmony among these communities.
  • The saints of the Bhakti era contributed significantly to the development of regional languages. He composed in languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali etc.
  • Due to the influence of Bhakti movement, the complexity of caste-bandi was removed to some extent. As a result, a sense of self-respect also arose among the downtrodden and lower class people.
  • The Bhakti movement prepared the basis for the establishment of an egalitarian society without rituals.

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