Bhakti movement

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Eleanor Zelliot:...with spreading the concepts of the Great Tradition of Brahmanical Hinduism to the common man, with reconciling Hinduism and Islam, with reviving Hinduism in the face of the Muslim threat, with providing the ethos for the last great Hindu Kingdom in India, the Marathas...The bhakti movement has been seen as the Indian counterpart of the Protestant Reformation, with one or another of its poet saints, usually Kabir, sometimes Chaitanya, filling the role of Luther. - Eleanor Zelliot

The Bhakti movement refers to the theistic devotional trend that emerged in medieval Hinduism and later revolutionised in Sikhism.


  • Bhakti movement is of indigenous origin, since, besides a number of devotional hymns in the Rigveda, there is a sizable volume of material in the Gita, in the santiparva of Mahabharata, as well as as in some earlier Puranas to establish its Indian origin beyond doubt.
    • Indologists, quoted in "Hindu spirituality: Postclassical and modern", by K. R. Sundararajan in p. 63.
  • But Islam was never accepted as a dharma by mainstream Hinduism. It was only in the fourteenth century of the Christian era that we meet the so-called Nirguna school of bhakti or santamata, founded by Kabir, which started treating Islam as a way of worship and even equating it with Hindu Dharma - Rama with Rahim, Veda with Kateb (Kitâb, the Book or Quran) Kashi with Ka'ba, Pandit with Mullah, Temple Bells with Azan, and so on. Quite a bit of this equating was done for ridiculing the rituals of both Islam and Hinduism, and proclaiming that the spiritual secret was known only to the sadguru, the True Teacher like Kabir. For the rest, the bulk of the santamata literature is Vaishnavite derived from the Puranas, particularly the Bhâgavata-purâNa. The only variation is the mention of a few sufis like Mansur Al-Hallaj, Abu Yazid (Bayazid) and Adham Sultan, who were hardly sufis like those we meet in the latter day silsilas (orders). It is significant that none of the sufis from the silsilas finds place in this literature.... The main-stream Bhakti Movement which was wide-spread among Hindus including those belonging to most of the lower castes, always looked down upon the santamata, even when the latter became increasingly more and more Hindu except for its incongruent streaks of monotheism, prophetism (guruvâda) and anti-Brahminism. It is significant that no adherent of any school of Santamata is known to have converted to Islam. What we know is that some converts to Islam joined its ranks, notably Dadu and Sadhna. So the doctrine of sarva-dharma-samabhâva cannot be attributed to the santamata. What we find in santamata is not equal respect for all religions but equal contempt for all rituals and institutions, whether Hindu or Islamic.
    • S.R.Goel, Preface, in Goel, Sita Ram (ed.) (1998). Freedom of expression: Secular theocracy versus liberal democracy.
  • The most effective Hindu protest against atrocities was registered by the Bhakti Movement in medieval India. Bhakti means devotion to God. A Bhakt may worship Him at home, in the temple, all by himself through meditation, or in congregations through Bhajan and Kirtan (chorus singing). He need not go out into the streets to organize a movement. But this is exactly what happened at the behest of the socio-religious reformers in the fifteenth-sixteenth century. And the movement triumphed insofar as it succeeded in saving India from total Islamization. The Bhakta saints who spearheaded this movement belonged to all classes, but essentially the protest was a middle class movement and it was a strange combination of Renaissance, Reformation and dissent.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • On the other hand, Hindu saints used to assuage the outraged feelings of Hindus and encourage them reconvert to Hinduism. For instance Harihar and Bukka, sons of the Raja of Kampil ,converted to Islam by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, fled his court. At the instance of sage Vidyaranya they reverted to Hinduism and founded the Vijayanagar kingdom to resist the expansion of Muslim power in the South. Like Vidyaranya, there were scores of Bhakta saints who were helping people to resist injustice and retain their original religion. In Maharashtra, Namdeva in the fourteenth century declared that people were blind in insisting upon worshipping in temples and mosques, while His worship needed neither temple nor mosque.69 Such courageous denunciations were infectious and these spread in Gujarat, Bengal, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Ramananda, Kabir, Nanak, Chaitanya, Raidas, Dhanna, Sain, Garibdas and Dadu Dayal and a host of others spoke out in the same idiom openly and repeatedly. They came from all classes of society - Raidas was a chamar, Sain was a barber while Pipa was a Raja, Raja of Gauranggarh - but they were all respected and listened to. Of these the three most important saints who turned Bhakti into a movement were Kabir, Nanak and Chaitanya.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • In a way, none of these values were new but in the crucible of the Bhakti Movement they combined to crystallise in a new form and give rise to a new ethos. And under the influence of many great bhaktas and santas, they acquired a new urgency, a new poer. It made religion living for millions of people. Bhakti is now one of the greatest elements in Hindu religion. ....Hinduism has never been exclusively 'brahmanical'. It is particularly true of present-day Hinduism. It is the product of influences emanating from the humblest sources, and from most diverse circumstances. Kabir was a weaver; Raidas was a cobbler; .... (p 121 ff)
    • Ram Swarup, Meditations. Yogas, Gods, Religions (2000)

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