Bhakti Movement

The term ‘Bhakthi’ refers to ‘devotion’. As a movement, it emphasized on the mutual intense emotional attachment and love of a devotee toward a personal god and of the god for the devotee. This movement originated in South India in the 7th and 10th CE, mostly in the poems of Alvars and Nayanars. These poems were composed in Tamil; the poems were addressed to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva respectively

Bhakti soon spread to North India, appearing most notably in the 10th-century Sanskrit text the Bhagavata-Purana. It swept over east and north India from the 15th century onwards, reached its peak between the 15th and 17th century CE. The Bhakti Saints moved against the austerities propagated by the Buddhist and Jain schools and professed that ultimate devotion to god was the means to salvation.

Factoid: The route of Bhakthi for salvation of a human being was not new, rather in the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text, it is mentioned that the path of Bhakti, or Bhakti-marga, is superior to the two other religious approaches, the path of knowledge (Jnana) and the path of ritual and good works (karma).

Reasons behind the movement

The movement started as a response to the evil practices that had crept into Hinduism. Some of the other reasons which fuelled the spread of the movement across the country were:

  1. The spread of Islam
  2. Emergence of great reformers
  3. Influence of Sufi sects
  4. Influence of Vaishnavism and Shaivism ideologies

Some of the common teachings associated with this movement are:

  1. It preached equality. This was in stark contrast to the reality where the society was divided on the lines of religion, caste, gender etc. Ex: Disciples of Ramananda included a weaver, cobbler, barber
  2. It preached universal brotherhood built on values such as love, care, and affection etc for everyone in the society. Ex: Kabir preached universal brotherhood through his Dohas.
  3. It strove hard to rid the religion and society of evil practices that had crept into the society over the years. Ex: Guru Nanakcondemned caste difference and rituals like bathing in holy rivers. His idea of religion was highly practical and strictly moral.
  4. Perhaps the most important aspect of the movement was its emphasis on the route of ‘Bhakthi’ rather than superficial rituals as the mode to realize god and salvation.
Alvars and Nayanars
    • The Nayanars and Alvars were Tamil poet-saints who played an essential role in the propagation of a Bhakti Movement in the South part of India during the 5th – 10th centuries.
    • Alvars bestowed their belief and devotion to Lord Vishnu
      1. The poetry of the Alvars echoes Bhakti to God through love, and in the ecstasy of such devotions they sang hundreds of songs which embodied both depth of feeling and felicity of expressions
      2. The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabandha. The Bhakti literature that sprang from Alvars has contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation.
    • Nayanars bestowed their belief and devotion to Lord Shiva
      1. Among the Nayanars, the poets Nanachampantar, Appar, and Chuntaramurtti (often called “the three”) are worshipped as saints through their images in South Indian temples.
      2. In the 10th century Nambi Andar Nambi collected the hymns of the Nayanars in an anthology called the Tevaram

Leaders associated with the Bhakthi movement in India

The movement developed under two different schools of thought.

  1. Nirgunabhakthi
    • They believed in formless worship
    • It was introduced by Adi Shankara
    • Some of the other Bhakthi saints who preached this school of thought are- Kabir, Guru Nanak, Dadu Dayal etc
  2. Sagunabhakthi
    • It believed in the worship of form.
    • It believed that god is the biggest manifestation of everything perfect
    • It included philosophers such as- Ramanuja, Nimbaraka, Madhva, Vallabha, Meera Bhai, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Tulsidas, Surdas etc

Various details and important points related to Bhakthi saints are given below:

  1. He was born at Kaladi in Kerala and became a saint at the age of 5
  2. He was the disciple of Govindacharya
  3. He is credited with the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta
  4. In order to preach and protect the dharma, he founded Ashramas/mathas at Sringeri in Karnataka, Dwarak in Gujarat, Puri in Odisha and Badrinath in UP
  5. He wrote commentaries on Brahmasutras. His popular works include- Vivekachudamani, Saundaryalahari, Bhajagovindam, Shivananda Lahari
  6. The followers of Shankaracharya are called as Smratas
What does Advaita Vedanta mean?
    • This doctrine is based on the concept that the higher or true Self is identical to Brahman, the Absolute Reality.
    • In Advaita Vedanta, Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge to Moksha, or liberation from the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
    • This doctrine also believes that Moksha can be achieved in this life (Jivanmukthi) in contrast to other Indian philosophies that emphasize videhamukti, or Moksha after death
    • Advaita influenced and was influenced by various traditions and texts of Hindu philosophies such as Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, other sub-schools of Vedanta, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, the Puranas, the Agamas



  1. He was born at Sriperumbudur.
  2. He was the disciple of Yamuna Muni and Vedprakash
  3. He founded the philosophy called Vishishta Advaita and preached Vaishnavism
  4. Kulottanga Chola who was a Shaivite banished Ramanujacharya for preaching Vaishnavism
  5. He wrote Sri Bashya and was the head of Srirangam Vaishnava Math
  6. Ramanujacharya preached Shudras and outcastes could also attain salvation by completely surrendering to the will of the guru.
  7. He was also referred to as Ilaya Perumalwhich means the radiant one.
What is Vishishta Advaita?
    • This school grew out of worship of Lord Vishnu
    • It is a non-dualistic school of Vedanta philosophy. It is non-dualism of the qualified whole, in which Brahman alone exists, but is characterized by multiplicity.
    •  Unlike some Hindu philosophies, Visishtadvaita doesn’t see the world as simply illusion, which would make it separate from Brahman. The material world is a part of Brahman’s nature.
    • Moksha, or spiritual liberation, is seen as the joy of contemplating Brahman (rather than release from the life-death-rebirth cycle), and that joy is the result of devotion, praise, worship and contemplating the divine perfection.


  1. He was the disciple of Ramanujacharya
  2. He was the first to introduce Radhamadhav cult which was centered n the worship of Radha and Madhav
  3. He founded the philosophy called Dwita Advaita. It was centered on the balance between Advaita and Visishtadvaita.
  4. He wrote Dashasloki and Vedanta
  5. He was also a prominent astronomer
  6. Its philosophy held that men were trapped in physical bodies constricted by prakrti(matter) and that only by surrender to Radha-Krishna (not through their own efforts) could they attain the grace necessary for liberation from rebirth; then, at death, the physical body would drop away.


  1. Shri Madhvacharya was born to Narayana Bhatta and Vedavati in Pajaka, a small place near Udupi. He was born in 1238, on the auspicious day of Vijayadashami, and he was named Vasudeva.
  2. He was the third of the trinity of philosophers who influenced Indian thoughts after the ages of the Vedas and Puranas (the other two being Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya)
  3. He propounded the philosophy of Dwaita or Dualism.
  4. He was initiated into sanyasttva by Achyutapreksha
  5. At the time of initiation, he was given the name Purnaprajna. It was also Achyutapreksha who gave him the title ‘Madhva’ by which he was more famously known.
  6. Madhvacharya wrote commentaries on several important Hindu holy texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutra.
  7. He wrote various texts that detailed his philosophy which he called Tattvavada, or as it is more popularly known, Dvaita. Some of his works were the Gita Bhashya, Brahma Sutra Bhashya, Anu Bhashya, Karma Nirnaya, and Vishnu Tattva Nirnaya.
About Dvaita philosophy
    • The basic tenet of Dvaita philosophy is the refutation of the Mayavada of Sri Shankara. Dvaitha emphasizes that the world is real and not just an illusion.
    • The soul is bound to this world through ignorance
    • The way for the soul to release itself from this bondage is to seek the grace of Sri Hari
    • To reach Sri Hari, one has to practice Bhakthi, there is no other way
    • To practice Bhakthi, one needs to meditate
    • To meditate, one needs to clear the mind and attain detachment by studying the sacred texts
  • He was also known as ‘Achinitabhadra’
  • He was the first to promote Krishna Bhakthi on the basis of Maha Bhagvad Purana
  • He founded the philosophy of Shuddha Advaita which believed in absolute union.
  • He prescribed Pushtimarga as the means for salvation (extreme devotion to God)


  1. He was a 12th century administrator, philosopher, poet, Lingayat saint in the Shiva-focused Bhakti movement.
  2. He raised social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas.
  3. He introduced new public institutions such as the Anubhava Mantapa (or, the “hall of spiritual experience”), which welcomed men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds to discuss spiritual and mundane questions of life, in open.
  4. He was a propagator of Visishtadvaita
  5. Basavanna literary works include the Vachana Sahitya in Kannada Language. He is also known as Bhaktibhandari, Basavanna or Basaveswara.




  1. He was a 14th century Vaishnava devotional poet saint
  2. He developed his philosophy and devotional themes inspired by
  3. Evidence also suggests that Ramananda was influenced by Nathpanthi ascetics of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy.
  4. An early social reformer, Ramananda accepted disciples without discriminating anyone by gender, class, caste or religion. His disciples included- Kabir, Ravidas, Bhagat Pipa and others.
  5. His verse is mentioned in the Sikh scripture Adi Granth.
  6. Some of his works include- Gyan-lila and Yog-cintamani (Hindi), Vaishnava Mata Bhajabhaskara and Ramarcana paddhati (Sanskrit).


  1. He was a 15th century Indian mystic poet and saint, whose writings influenced Hinduism’s Bhakti movement and his verses are found in Sikhism’s scripture Guru Granth Sahib. 
  2. He was a disciple of Ramananda
  3. He mounted a spirited attack against the superficial religious practices followed by both Hindus and Muslims
  4. Kabir suggested that Truth is with the person who is on the path of righteousness, considered all creatures on earth as his own self, and who is passively detached from the affairs of the world.
  5. He was the first to reconcile Hinduism and Islam.
  6. He believed in formless God.
  7. Kabir’s legacy survives and continues through the Kabir panth (“Path of Kabir”), a religious community that recognizes him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat sects. Its members are known as Kabir panthis.
  8. He wrote- Sabad, Bijak, Doha, Holi, and Rekhtal. He propagated Ram Bhakti. 
  1. He was born in Talvandi near Lahore
  2. Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary is celebrated as Guru Nanak Gurpurab by Sikhs all over the world.
  3. In 1496, although married and having a family, Nanak set out on a set of spiritual journeys through India, Tibet and Arabia that lasted nearly 30 years.
  4. The last part of his life was spent at Kartarpur in the Punjab, where he was joined by many disciples attracted by his teachings.
  5. The most famous teachings attributed to Guru Nanak are that there is only one God, and that all human beings can have direct access to God with no need of ritualsor priests. His most radical social teachings denounced the caste system and taught that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.
  6. He introduced the concept of god- that is ‘Vahiguru’, an entity that is shapeless, timeless, omnipresent and invisible. Other names for God in the Sikh faith are Akaal Purkh and Nirankar.
  7. Guru Granth Sahib, the holiest book of the Sikhs, contains 974 poetic hymns composed by Guru Nanak 


  1. She was the most popular Bhakthi reformer
  2. She was born in Rajasthan
  3. She became the wife of Rana Bhojraj, one of the royal families in Rajasthan
  4. She was the first to introduce Giridhara Gopala cult of Brindavan and also the first to introduce Bhajan in Bhakthi movement
  5. Her bhajans were composed in the language of Vraj Bhasha 



  • He was the most popular Bhakthi reformer from Bengal
  • He was born at Nabadwip (Bengal)
  • He was the disciple of Keshav Bharti.
  • He was also known as Gouranga and Vishwambar
  • He preached Vaishnavism in Bengal and Odisha
  • Puri became the main centre of his activities
  • He was also the first to introduce Kirtans in Bhakthi movement
  • The form of Vaishnavism that he preached came to be called as ‘Gudik Vaishnavism’


  1. He was a contemporary of Akbar.
  2. He wrote ‘Ramcharit Manas’ in the language of Avadi
  3. He founded the Sankatmochan Templededicated to Lord Hanuman in Varanasi, believed to stand at the place where he had the sight of the deity
  4. Tulsidas started the Ramlilaplays, a folk-theatre adaption of the Ramayana
  5. Other works of Tulsidas include: Dohavali, Sahitya ratna or Ratna Ramayan, Gitavali , Krishna Gitavali or Krishnavali  and Vinaya Patrika 
  • He was born into the community of weavers at Ahmedabad
  • He preached Nirgunabhakthi
  • His teachings were compiled in the form of ‘Dadu Dayaram ki Bani’


  1. He was the first to preach Vaishnavism in Brahmaputra valley
  2. He was the founder of Eka Saranadharma and Veerapurushamarga
  3. He is widely credited with building on past cultural relics and devising new forms of music (Borgeet), theatrical performance (Ankia Naat, Bhaona), and dance (Sattriya), literary language (Brajavali).



  • He was a Haridasa philosopher from Karnataka
  • He is considered as the father of Carnatic music
  • One of his most notable works is Dasa Sahithya
  • He introduced the RagaMayamalavagowla as the first scale to be learnt by beginners in the field – a practice that is still followed today.
  • Most of his keertanas deal with social reform and pinpoint the defects in society


  1. He was one of the earliest Maratha reformers
  2. He wrote commentary on Bhagvad Gita called as Gnaneswari, popular known as Maratha Bhagvad Gita
  3. His followers are known as Varkaris.
  4. They believe in attaining the presence of God through religious songs or Bhajans and prayers.
  5. They worship Lord Vithoba whom they believe to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. 


  • He was one of the first reformers to emphasize the growth of Marathi language
  • He preached that one could devote oneself to God by leading a family life and discharging all functions of a householder.
  • His works include numerous religious songs called Abhangas, Owees, and Bharuds.
  • He was a tailor by profession
  • He emphasized on cultural unity of the Marathas by introducing a tradition called Mahapurusha Sampradaya
  • He believed in equality of all men and women
  • He advocated the practice of devotion to realize god
  • Some of his devotional songs are found in the Guru Granth Sahib
  • He was contemporary of Shivaji
  • He is considered as the greatest Maratha Bhakthi reformer
  • He made popular the Vithoba cult
  • He composed devotional songs on Vithalswamy called as Abhangs
  • He preached the message of equality and universal brotherhood
  • He was guru of Shivaji
  • He inspired Shivaji for founding Swaraj
  • The message were compiled in the form of the text called ‘Dasabodha’
  • He was a devotee of Lord Rama.  He established Ashramas all over India.


Significance of Bhakthi movement

  1. Initiated the reform process in major religions to get rid of its social practices
  2. It promoted the growth of regional languages
  3. It created a platform for unification of India under national consciousness
  4. It also contributed to the development of music, dance, literature etc in India
  5. It checked orthodox supremacy
  6. It created a positive environment for emancipation of the vulnerable sections in the society
  7. Improvement in the social relation between the Hindus and Muslims
  8. Promotion of social service

Though Bhakthi movement brought in the much needed emphasis to change the regressive form of religion in the society, it could not achieve its objective in truest terms. This can be attributed to many reasons such as- lack of organization on a greater level amongst the movements, stern opposition from orthodox classes in the society, persecution by royal classes etc.