Ancient texts including the Vedas, Upanishads, and Gita, as well as the Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions, may be traced back to the Bhakti Literature. It is present in India long before the growth and arrival of Sufism in India. However, Bhakti was initially popularised in South India between the 6th and 10th centuries as a popular movement centred on equality between men and women.
The nature of the Bhakti literature
It was caste and gender agnostic, spreading their message of love and personal commitment to God throughout India.
The literature of bhakti is devotional and religious in nature. For example, Kirtanas, Dohe, Padas, Ghosha, and Thirumurais.
Local and regional languages are emphasised:
In vernacular languages, Bhakti saints wrote and preached. Alvars and Nayanars, for example, spoke the native Tamil language rather than Sanskrit. Surdasa has a preference for Brijbhasha. As a result of this, they gained widespread acceptance.
Reduced social evils:
The Tamil poet-saints began composing the Bhakti literature in the sixth century AD in south India. Numerous social irregularities existed in the society, for example, caste rigidity, superstitious rituals and religious practises, blind faiths, and social dogmas. All of these vices were condemned in bhakti literature.
A straightforward approach to religion:
The complex philosophy of the Vedas and Upnishadas literature was incomprehensible to the common man. The populace desired a straightforward mode of worship, religious activities, and social values. Bhakti literature offered an alternative—a fundamental form of devotion that offered deliverance from the material world.
Harmony between religions:
Baba Farid’s Sufi poetry was absorbed into the Sikh sacred curriculum.
Unorthodox approach: Guru Nanak discussed the absurdity of superfluous ceremonies and pilgrimages in his poetry.
In opposition to elitism:
Bhakti literature is characterised by the presence of non-elite features such as regional languages, castes and outcastes, anti-ritualism, and a stress on love for God above respect for Him.
Secular, apolitical, and tolerant:
While bhakti literature was fostered by Hindu saints, it was accepting of other faiths. It demonstrates secularism.
It viewed religion as a bond of affection between the worshipped and the worshipper, rather than as a cold, formal worship.
Bhakti literature’s contribution to Indian culture:
The development of Marathi, Punjabi and its script Gurumukhi, Assamese, and other languages came as a result of the efforts of saints such as Tukaram, Sikh Gurus, and Shankaradeva.
Islam became Indianized as a result of the Sufi saints’ efforts. For instance, the contributions of Nizamuddin Auliya and Rahim.
Dance and Music:
Bhakti literature is used for devotional singing in kirtana, Qawwalli, and devotional dances like as Sattariya, among others.
Madhvacharya investigated post-Vedanta concepts in his Dvaitadvaita, Ramanujacharya in his Vishishta Advaita, and others.
Assimilation of many saints and religious concepts aided in the growth of religion.
The emergence of sects such as Sikhism and Kabirpanth
Through religious poetry, they promoted Vaishnavism in South India. For instance, Divya Prabandha. Nammalvar’s Tiruvaymoli is a highly regarded book.
Andal was the Alvars’ solitary female. Her Tiruppavai poems are renowned for their emotional intensity and succinctness. She maintains a cult following to this day.
They spread Shaivism throughout South India. Thirumurai is a compilation of their sacred poetry, also referred to as the Tamil Veda. Today, Thevaram’s first seven volumes are universally considered as sacred literature.
The Bhakti movement contributed in the development of regional languages such as Telugu and Kannada in the south.
In the 11th century AD, Nannaya translated Mahabharata into Telugu. This is often regarded as the beginning of Telugu literary culture.
Telugu gained prominence as a result of the kirtans of Vaishanava poet-saint Annamacharya.
Vallabhacharya’s writings contributed to the development of Telugu literature. For instance, Bhagvata Tika and Subodhami.
The Kannada trinity of Pampa, Ponna, and Ranna had aided in the advancement of the language.
In the 12th century AD, the Virashaiva sect gained popularity under Basavesvara. He advocated for Kannada’s usage as a medium of instruction. His contemporaries, Allama Prabhu and Akkamahadevi, pioneered a new literary form known as the Vachanas.
The Bhakti Literature’s Contribution to North Indian Culture
In the 12th century AD, Ramananda popularised Bhakti. As a result, literary works in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, and Punjabi, among other languages, have gained popularity.
Tulsidas wrote in Avadhi, a language distinct from Sanskrit.
He made spiritual literature more approachable to the average person. Ramcharitmanas and Hanuman Chalisa are two examples.
Kabir did not adhere to strict grammatical standards. His Dohe are a vehicle for disseminating his ideology. Numerous his verses are also included in the Guru Granth Sahib. He advocated for secularism. In northern India, he is revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs for his writings in regional dialects.
Mirabai was a female saint who was well-known. Her songs exemplify passion, sexuality, and complete dedication to Lord Krishna.
Surdas penned a letter in Braj Basha. Later on, this Hindi dialect was elevated to the level of literary language.
Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda laid the groundwork for the formation of Bengali literature. It is often recognised as the most Sanskrit poetic composition of the Bhakti period.
Chaitanya and Chandidasa, two Bengali poets, founded Vaishnava literature. Sexuality and spiritual zeal are entwined in these poetries.
Shankaradeva and Madhavadeva were instrumental in establishing Vaishnavism in Assam.
Their religious songs are collected in Kirtana-ghosa.
By translating the Bhagavadgita into Assamese, Bhattadeva improved Assamese literature.
Narasimha Mehta, Bhalana, and Akho all made significant contributions to Gujarati literature and Vaishnava Bhakti development. Narasi Mehta is widely considered to be the “Father of Gujarati Poetry.”
Bhakti literature, for example, Namdev and Tukaram’s writings, aided in the flourishing of Marathi.
In Marathi, Saint Dnyaneshwar’s Dnyaneshwari or Bhavartha Deepika and Amrutanubhava are revered as sacred scriptures. Dnyaneshwari is a Bhagavad Gita commentary.
The mysticism of the Sufi movement and the spirituality of the bhakti movement affected the development of Punjabi literature.
Guru Nanak Dev’s work is highly regarded as belonging to the Nirguna school of thought.
Adi Granth, the Sikhs’ holy scripture, was authored by Guru Arjan Dev. Sukhamani is largely recognised as one of the greatest spiritual texts of the Middle Ages.
Although bhakti literature did not deviate from orthodoxy and did not result in political awakening, it appealed to a broader audience. Bhakti literature contributed in the popularisation of the Bhakti cult.
It represented a significant change from prior religious texts, which were predominantly written in Sanskrit and focused on ceremonies and rituals. Additionally, it aided in the development of regional languages.
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