Bhakti as a religious concept means devotional surrender to a supreme God for attaining salvation. This doctrine has been traced to various scriptures such as the Gita and both the Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions of ancient India. But between the seventh and tenth century in South India, Bhakti grew from a mere religious doctrine into a popular movement based on religious equality and broad-based social participation. The movement was led by popular saint-poets. The brightest stars among them were Kabir, Tulsidas, Meera bai, Guru Nanak, Chaitanya, Namdev, etc. They were egalitarian society, a society in which there are respect and concern towards each other, human dignity and feeling of fraternity.
It reached its climax in the tenth century after which it began to decline. But it was revived as a philosophical and ideological movement by a series of scholars or acharyas beginning with Ramanuja in the eleventh century. The bhakti saints used images of daily life and always tried to identify themselves in one way or another with the sufferings of the common people. The establishment of the Delhi sultanate in early thirteenth century showed great explosion of many diverse socio religious movements in various parts of the country which brought into play of the bhakti movement.
BHAKTI MOVEMENT IN SOUTH INDIA
The Sai Nayanar saints and Vaishnava Alvar saints of South India spread the doctrine of Bhakti among different sections of the society irrespective of caste and sex during the period between seventeenth and the tenth century. Some of these saints came from the lower castes and some were women. They preached bhakti in an intense emotional manner and promoted religious egalitarianism. They spread the doctrine with rituals and passed through the region, several times singing, dancing and advocating bhakti. The Alvar and Nayanar saints used the Tamil language for preaching and composing devotional songs. All these features gave the movement popular character.
These poet-saints resisted the authority of the Orthodox Brahmans by making bhakti accessible to all irrespective of any caste and sex. But it had its limitation as well. It never opposed the Varna and caste systems at the social level. There was no limitation of Brahmanical rituals such as worship of idols, recitation of the Vedic mantras and pilgrimages to sacred places in spite of took priority over bhakti as the superior mode of worship.
Ultimately, after the movement reached its climax in the tenth century, it was gradually assimilated into the conventional Brahmanical religion. But despite these limitations, the South Indian bhakti movement succeeded in championing the cause of religious equality and the Brahmans had to accept the right of the low caste to preach, to have access to the Vedas and to have access to Bhakti as a mode of worship.
Rahmanuja (11th century), the first Brahmans acharya, gave philosophical justification for Bhakti. He tried to establish a careful balance between orthodox Brahmanism and popular Bhakti which was open to all. Though he did not support the idea of the lower castes having access to the Vedas, he advocated Bhakti as a mode of worship accessible to all including the sudras and even the outcastes. While propagating Bhakti, he did not observe caste distinctions and ever tried to eradicate untouchability.
BHAKTI MOVEMENT IN NORTH INDIA
In north India, during the Sultanate period (13th-15th century), arose many popular socio-religious movements in North and East India and Maharashtra. Almost all the bhakti movements of the Sultanate period have been related to South Indian vaishnava acharyas. For these reasons, many scholars believe that the bhakti movements of the sultanate period were continuation of the elder bhakti movement. They argued that there existed philosophical and ideological links between the two.
There are similarities between the older bhakti tradition of south India and various bhakti movements in the Sultanate and Mughal periods. The popular monotheistic movement of Kabir, Nanak and other low caste saints showed that both the two have possessed many common features. For example, like the south Indian bhakti movement, the Vaishnava bhakti movements of North, Eastern India, and Maharashtra never condemned the caste system, the authority of Brahmanical scriptures and privileges as such.
Consequently, like the South Indian bhakti movements, most of the vaishnava movements of the later period were assimilated into the Brahmanical religion and thus underwent many changes and gradually differed from south Indian bhakti movements. The bhakti movements of the medieval india differed in many significant respects not only from the older South Indian Bhakti but also among themselves. Each of them had its own regional identity and socio-historical cultural contexts.
During the later period,..........................