Study Material | Test Series
Drishti IAS
call1800-121-6260 / 011-47532596
Drishti The Vision Foundation
(A unit of VDK Eduventures Pvt. Ltd.)
Bhakti Movement: Some Common Characterstics
Nov 29, 2015

What is today known as the Bhakti Movement had its genesis in the South of India in the 6th century C.E. It is characterized by the writings of its poet-saints, many of whom were female, that extolled passionate devotional love for the Divine. The Bhakti Movement gained momentum from the 12th centuries in the central western regions of India, then moved northward coming to an end roughly in the 17th century.

This movement accommodated various streams:

  • Conservatives as well as radicals. 

  • Even social conservatives like Tulsidas who recognised the varnasrama dharma

  • Some radical social groups like theWarkaris of Maharashtra, who included Namdev, Tukaram, Chokhamela and others

  • TheVeerashaivas of Karnataka represented by poets like Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, and Allama Prabhu;

  • The Radhasoami Movement, which had in it Swami Dayal Singh and Anand Swarup, actualised alternative communities based on the perfect equality of caste, class and gender.

  • Brahmins like Ekanath and Jnandev of Maharashtra, Chaitanya claimed by Bengal as well as Odisha, and Sankardev of Assam, who had all de-brahminised themselves

  • It also included Shudras and avarnas or atishoodras, who recognised the Brahmin hegemony even while pleading for ultimate human equality like Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan of Kerala

  • Besides marginalised sections like non-Brahmin craftsmen, women and Muslims, who developed a subaltern egalitarian vision of a new society—one could name, for example, Pambatti Chithar the snake-charmer, Dasimaiah the weaver, Channiah the cobbler; Dadu the cotton-carder; Namdev the tailor; Chowdaiah the ferryman; Chokhamela the mahar; Gora the potter; Ravi (Rai) das the tanner; Kabir the weaver; Tukaram the pedlar

  • Also include women saints like Karaikkal Ammayar, Andal, Janabai, Bahinabai, Gangasati, Lal Ded, Akka Mahadevi, Muktayakka, Meerabai and others; and, if we can extend the definition to the Sufis, Muslims like Pir Muhammad, Mastan Sahib, Sheikh Farid, Shah Abdul Latif, Bulleh Shah and Sultan Bahu.

  • There were Vaishnavites, Siaivites and Shakteyas among the Bhaktas, besides those who followed the nirguna cult and practitioners of tantra

Some common characteristics which define this movement

  • They have a predilection for pre-Aryan patterns of life and thought as implied in the rejection of Brahmin privilege, egalitarian content and the tribal character of collective worship

  • Emphasised the similarities among different religions and cults, finding them to be different paths to realise the same goal and at times even attempted integration like that exemplified by Sikhism and Sufism

  • Most of them rejected the varna-jati system and the Brahmin claim to superiority by birth;

  • They problematised the intermediary institution of priesthood by directly addressing the Supreme

  • They privileged the oral tradition against the written

  • They gave up Sanskrit, the language of the elite, and chose to compose in regional languages and local dialects

  • Many of them travelled widely and were multilingual—like Kabir, Meerabai, Guru Nanak, Namdev or Vidyapati

  • poetry and philosophy coexisted, supporting each other, and the barriers between the physical and the metaphysical grew thin in their aesthetic-spiritual practice

  • They developed a popular symbolism of their own, mixing traditional symbols such as the tree, birds, the sky, river, fire, and so on with symbols chosen from the workplace, such as the loom, the wheel and bellows, or from the kitchen, such as the knife, the ladle, the fireplace, the veil, the sindoor, and so on

  • They replaced the supposedly Vedic gods like Indra, Varuna, Mitra and Yama mostly with supposedly pre-Aryan deities such as Shiva, Vishnu/Krishna and Sakti/Kali

  • They created or introduced several new forms of poetry, music and dance like doha, pada, prabandha, bijak, vakh, vachana,abhang, bharud, barahmasa, qasida, rasa (poetry), kirtan, bhajan, dhun,nagarasankirtana, Krishnalila, Ramlila, tungi, angkiyanat, harikatha, burrakatha(group performances) that gave rise to classical/semi-classical forms like Kathakali, Thullal, Yakshagana, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Odissi.


Helpline Number : 87501 87501
To Subscribe Newsletter and Get Updates.