The world ‘Bhakti’ means devotion to God. The Bhakti movement was not new; its doctrines had their origin in the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads. The Bhaktas of God did not believe in any sort of caste distinctions. They advocated love and devotion to God and discarded all sorts of rituals and ceremonies. They preached oneness of God and “that all religions were but roads leading to the same goal”.
Chief Principles of Bhakti Movement:
The chief principles of the Bhakti movement were as follows:
1. It is Bhakti or devotion to God alone that can help man attain salvation.
2. It is important to follow a true guru for realizing God.
3. All men are equal and no one is superior or inferior.
4. Caste distinctions, rituals, fasts, etc., are useless and lead to nowhere.
5. All men should be tolerant.
Some Important Bhakti Reformers:
Born in A.D. 1166 in a small town near Chenni (Madras), Ramanuja was a worshipper of Vishnu and preached Vaishnavism. He had a great following in the South.
The greatest preacher of this cult in north India was Ramananda. He discarded all caste distinctions and his disciplesbelonged to all castes.
He was perhaps the most popular reformer of his times. He was a disciple of Ramananda. Kabir was against idol worship or any sort of rituals.
He was a Maratha saint, born into a low family. He too believed in the oneness of God. He travelled far and wide and had discussions with the Sufis. A large number of Muslims also became his followers.
He was a religious teacher from Bengal and an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. HE travelled widely and popularized hymns sung in praise of Krishna.
Mirabai was a Rajput princess and a passionate devotee of Krishna. She preached in Brijbhasha, the common language of the people. Her song and verses are very popular even today.
Effects of the Bhakti Movement:
The Bhakti movement had far-reaching effects on the people. Firstly, it helped a lot in removing the existing bitterness between the Hindus and the Muslims. Both became more tolerant towards each other.
Secondly, the Bhaktas exposed the hollowness of empty rituals and ceremonies and taught the people to give up evils like belief in superstitions etc. This movement delta a blow to the superiority of the Brahmins, for it propagated the equality of all men. This also helped in checking conversions.
Thirdly, the Bhakti reformers preached in the common language of the people, which gave rise to the vernacular languages such as Bengali in the east, Gujarati and Marathi in the west and Punjabi in the north.