History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2013: Q.7 (c)
Q.7 (c) Discuss and evaluate critically various trends in the historiography of Bhakti.
R.G. Bhandarkar and R.C. Zaehner were among the first historians to work on the Bhakti movement.
Bhandarkar showed the movement as indigenous in character. He gave literary and epigraphic evidences like the antiquities of Krishna Worship.
Zaehner’s view was that the movement was inspired by Islam. He justified this view by the egalitarian message of Bhakti like Islam and equating idea of personal worship with monotheism of Islam.
According to Tarachand, the idea of equity and universal brotherhood taught by Bhakti saints was equivalent to Sufi thought.
Yusuf Hussain says that Bhakti movement upto 13th century was individual sentiment and after that it came under the influence of Islam and transformed into doctrine and cult. He considers this movement as reformation of Hinduism which brought simplicity of faith.
Many histotians consider the movement as dissent, protest and reform. It voiced resentment against the social order which discriminated against lower caste.
J.R. Kamble says that the main aim of the movement was to establish an egalitarian society but mainly in religious sphere. The message of equality was not applied to the secular aspects of life. Still the movement enabled a composite Indian culture, embracing different linguistic and religious communities, to emerge as a kind of national renaissance.
K. Ishwaran looks upon Lingayatism, which rests on universal values of freedom, equality and rationality, as a model to show that the Bhakti movement contributed to the modernisation.
Many historians like Irfan Habib say that Turks in medieval India had created an economic organisation superior to earlier one leading to growth of urbanisation, commerce and craft production. This led to expansion of an artisan class and adoption of new professions by the indigenous population mainly lower class which gave them dignity in the caste hierarchy. This led to breaking caste rules and anti-caste religious movements of Bhakti saints like Kabir and Nanak. He says that this happened in the new social environment created by the egalitarian ideology of Islam.
It is said that some groups of traders like the Khatris in Punjab, who benefitted directly from the growth of towns and production of urban crafts were drawn into the movement as they did not like their low social status in Brahmanical society. In Punjab, the movement did not confine to the urban areas and it spread to Jat peasants. The support extended by Jats in Punjab to Guru Nanak’s movement led to the development of Sikhism.
Many historians criticised the movement as status quoist in nature arguing that it did not achieve much beyond voicing discontent.
Max Weber says that the lower caste Hindus adhered to their caste duties with even greater intensity in the hope of a better position in life after death. He says that Bhakti movement made the position of Brahmanas even more stronger.
David Kinsley says that while Bhakti opened the doors to women, who voiced discontent with patriarchy, the male bhaktas left out women in spite of their clamouring for change and protesting against injustices in society.
One modern viewpoint attributes the rise of the medieval Bhakti movement to the alleged prosecution of the Hindus under Muslim rule by protecting Hinduism through removal of caste system and idoltary and at the same time saving the basic tenents of Hinduism.