About Bhakti Movement

  • By K.R.K. Murthy
  • June 22, 2022
  • An introduction to the Bhakti Movement.

No other country has so much diversity and wealth of religious thoughts as India. No other country has produced so many reformers and saints as India has. They include Lord Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak, Adi Sankaracharya, Ramanunujacharya, Madhavacharya, Kabirdas, Sai Baba, Sant Tukaram, Sant Jnaneswar, Sant Eknath, Sri Narayana Guru, the Alwars and the Saivaite saints.


These saints transferred Bhakti from a restrained respect to a passionate and ecstatic experience. Bhakti ceased to be a way to salvation, but it was salvation itself. Many of these saints were Jivan Muktas, liberated in this life itself.


Some of them seriously questioned the validity of Hinduism that sanctioned the practice of caste system, and overemphasised cumbersome rituals and rites. The new doctrines were preached by original thinkers who had a passion for reformation and a will to unite mankind instead of dividing them on the basis of multiple inequality. Such saints with spiritual vision came from different parts of India, from time to time, and gave their followers a new hope of God and purpose in life. This came in the form of Bhakti movement in various forms, but with the same purpose.


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


Bhakti is generally translated as ‘devotion’. But it has much deeper meanings like, faith, surrender to God, piety, devotional attachment to God, reverence, worship, and so on. This has been differently described in various faiths which speak about the soul’s ascent towards enlightenment i.e. is the knowledge of God. The path of devotion (Bhakti Marga) is complex and has been explained by different spiritual leaders at different points of time in various ways. Bhakti gives the devotee more knowledge of God than any intellectual process of meditation, reflection or contemplation. 


The Supreme can be comprehended only by supreme effort of consciousness. This knowledge cannot be expressed at the level of thoughts except through symbols. The symbols have a meaning which is objective.


In the Bhakti Marga all faith flows from a strong belief in attachment to, and love of the Supreme. A person full of Bhakti does not seek to understand the highest things (like people who follow the Jnana Marga). Having accepted a guru, the disciple has the willingness and determination to follow the instructions of the Guru, with absolute trust and in the belief that is for his good.


In the Jnana Marga, the mystic devotes his mind to the contemplation of the Impersonal absolute (Nirguna Brhaman). It is a difficult path. The path of devotion to a personal god (Iswara/Saguna Brahman) is easier to practice than the path of Jnana. The basis of Bhakti Yoga is knowledge of God as He is, and the discriminative knowledge of His manifestations.


The devotee may see God as a creator or a parent, or as a preserver and sustainer of all that is reflected in all His manifestations or he may see Him as a destroyer. But the Bhakta must not lose hold of Reality. His personal God is only a symbol of the great Lord of all beings (Paramatma or Parameshwar). But once the Bhakta has hold on Reality and has steadfast faith, God expects very little from him.


The Lord favours none, disfavours none, but blesses everyone who is devoted to Him. Lord Krishna says that the highest goal reached through Bhakti is not the monopoly of any caste, creed, race or gender, rank or station. Even those who are despised or hated for being of ‘low birth’ can attain salvation through Bhakti Marga. 


Lord Krishna says, “He who does My work, who makes Me his goal, who has cast off all attachments, and shed all ill will comes to Me.” (BG XI-53-55) The devotee of the Absolute has to see the Self everywhere, and to absorb himself in the welfare of mankind. The Lord pulls a Bhakta with an unwavering devotion to Him with all his weakness and imperfection. (BG XII 1-7) 


Bhakti is not a mere emotional rapture but the very perfection of humility, and service to all living beings, the extinction of all ‘otherness’, ill will, contentment in willing surrender, freedom from all depression and elation. Then the Bhakta feels at ease with the world and the world is at ease with him, and experiences the whole joy in doing His (Lord’s) will. 


Bhakti is intense love of God. It is rapturous ecstasy (Anubhuti) which cannot be described in words but can only be experienced by the ardent devotee. The true devotee constantly remembers Him, sings His glory, chants His name, unconditionally surrenders, obtains his grace and gets absorbed in Him finally (Meerabai and Andal). Prem Bhakti is the culmination of all love towards the Lord.

Sant Dnyaneshwar.

The Bhakti Marga is the easiest, within the reach of all and productive with the highest results. It is easier for the mind to attach to something tangible. It is in the form of love through the natural inclination to live with the Lord, with the mind freed from all worldly attachments.


The devotee sees the Lord within himself and in everything. His mind is entirely merged in Him. It is only by the grace of God he is capable of such an outlook. Then his devotion becomes intense and firm, without any distraction.


Lord Krishna says, “To those who worship Me alone, thinking of no other, who are ever devout, I provide them gain and security.” (BG IX-21) 


Sri Adi Sankara says, Dharma, Karma, and Samsara in relative existence can be transcended through Bhakti and surrender to Iswara (personal God). He, the devotee, realizes the inseparable nature from Him, as an integral part, through His grace. This is Sayujya Mukti achieved through Bhakti Marga.


Chapter 91 and 92 of Narayaneeyam by Bhattathiripad deals extensively with details of Bhakti Marga and its superiority over other paths.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 15 March 2008 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


Also read

1. Sant Dyaneshwar – pioneer of the Bhakti Movement

2. Life and teachings of Sant Ravidas

3. Bhakti in Indian Culture

4. The Bhakti Movement of Maharashtra and Karnataka

5. The Mystic Mind and Music of Kabir

6. Commentary on Ch 12 of the Bhagavad Gita – Yoga of Bhakti

7. Varkari Movement  

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