History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2002: Q.5 (a)

Q.5 (a) Write a short essay on: “Origin of the Bhakti Movement”


Though the bhakti movement became the dominant feature of Hinduism in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, its origin can be traced to ancient Indian religious traditions. We find mention of Bhakti in the Vedas, Upanishads, the epics and the Puranas.

The Vedanta philosophy enumerates the concept of the Creator and the creation: God (Brahman or Paramatman) and soul (atma).

The other two basic principles are the doctrine of rebirth or transmigration of the soul and the theory of karma (deeds).

The ultimate object of the soul is to seek the reunion with God. When the soul escapes rebirth due to karma and merges with the universal soul (God) salvation is said to have been achieved. Salvation is variously termed as mukti, moksha or nirvana. The Vedanta lays down three means for the attainment of salvation:

  1. The gyan marga, which stresses on the acquisition of true knowledge or enlightenment;
  2. The karma marga, which stresses on selfless or disinterested action;
  3. The bhakti marga, which stresses on the devotional worship of God.

Bhakti Movements in South India

Nayanars and Alvars

The bhakti cult originated in the form of a movement in the Tamil country sometime in the sixth century. It began as a reaction against the growing influence of Buddhism and Jainism. This movement spread in south India for about three centuries and was popularized by Saiva saints called nayanars and Vaishnava saints called Alvars. These saints preached personal devotion to God as a means of salvation. They disregarded the rigidities of the caste system and carried their message of love and personal devotion to God throughout south India by using the local languages.


He has been considered as the founding father of the bhakti movement and proponent of Advaita (non-dualism). Though he laid stress on gyan marga, the true knowledge as a means of attaining salvation, it was not practicable for an average man. Thus, the succeeding preachers of the Vedanta philosophy substituted it by the bhakti marga.


One of the earliest exponents of the bhakti movement was Ramanuja (1017-1137) who hailed from modern Andhra Pradesh. He was great Vaishnava teacher. He proposed Vishisht Advaita (Advaita with qualifications) and emphasized that salvation can be achieved through the bhakti marga alone. He redefined the Vedanta philosophy by laying greater stress on devotional worship to a personal God who constituted the supreme reality.

Although there were many points of contact between South and North India, the spread of the ideas of bhakti from south to north took quite a long time.

Bhakti Movements in other parts of India

North India: Nimbaraka and Ramananda

Nimbaraka, a contemporary of Ramanuja from the south established his ashram near Mathura and preached to the common people in the Gangetic valley about the dedication to God, personified by Krishna and Radha. He was proponent of Dvaitadvaita.

Ramananda was educated at Prayag and Benaras and visited the various religious places in northern India. He was a follower of Ramanuja who spread the bhakti movement in the north in 15th century. He advocated the worship of Rama and Sita in place of Vishnu. He preached through Hindi, the language of the common people in the Gangetic valley.

Other notable saints were Kabir, Raidas, Guru Nanak, Tulsidas, Surdas and Mirabai.

Western India: Narsinh Mehta and Dadu

Narsinh Mehta was a poet-saint of Gujarat and an exponent of Vaishnavism. He is revered in Gujarati literature as Adi Kavi.

Dadu was great exponent of the Nirguna School, a native of Gujarat and of uncertain parentage and social status. He opposed all distinctions of caste and creed, and preached the message of universal religion based on love and devotion to God.

Eastern India: Chaitanya

The greatest saint of the bhakti movement in Eastern India was Chaitanya, who was born in Nadia, Bengal in 1485. He adopted the Krishna cult. Like other bhakti saints, Chaitanya also denounced all rituals and caste distinctions. He was greatly responsible for popularizing vasihnavism in Bengal. Some of his devotees considered him to be the incarnation of Vishnu himself.

Maharashtra: Jnaneshvar, Namadeva, Ekanath and Tukaram

The bhakti movement in Maharashtra ran parallel to that north. The center of the bhakti movement in Maharashtra was Pandharpur with its famous temple of Vithoba. The leaders of the movement were Jnaneshvar, Namadeva, Ekanath and Tukaram of the varkari group. Sant Ramdas was another important bhakti saint of Maharashtra.

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