Meaning of Bhakti Movement:
Usually it is accepted that the most characteristic feature of the religious development during the medieval period was the movement which emphasized single-minded intense devotion to God. It was a complete surrender of oneself to God.
The movement which emphasized primarily these ideas was the Bhakti movement—devotion to God. Bhakti to God was accepted as salvation.
Main Features of the Bhakti Movement:
1. Unity of God or one God though known by different names.
2. Bhakti, intense love and devotion, the only way to salvation.
3. Repetition of the True Name.
5. Condemnation of rituals, ceremonies and blind faith.
6. Rejection of idol worship by many saints
7. Open- mindedness about deciding religious matters.
8. No distinction of different castes, higher or low
9. Need of a guru for guidance advocated by some.
10. Preaching’s through local or regional languages and travelling from place to place for spreading the religious message.
Many doctrines of the Bhakti cult may be found in the Bhagavad-Gita. The idea of the unity of God is reflected in the words, “Even those devotees who worship other gods worship Me alone.” (IX 23). It is not the way of worship but the love of a selfless devotee of pure heart that matters for “Whoever offers to me with devotion, a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water … I accept” (IX, 26).
The doctrine of self-surrender is echoed in the words of Lord Krishna, “Give up all religious paths, and take refuge in Me alone. I shall deliver thee from all sins.” (XVIII 66). The idea of an open mind to decide for oneself in matters of religion may be discovered in the lines,” … you do as thou choosest” (XVIII 63).
However, the real development of Bhakti took place in South India between the 7th and the 12th centuries through the teachings of poet saints known as Alvars and Nayanar whose hymns were collected and compiled in the 10th century. The Sufi saints of the Muslims also emphasized devotion to Allah (God). The spiritual yearning made Kabir, Guru Nanak, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsi Das, Chaitanya and others, the great exponents of Bhakti movement.
Impact of the Bhakti Movement on the Medieval Indian Society:
With a view to understand the impact of the Bhakti movement, we have to consider the background under which the movement gained momentum. Under the impact of the Muslim rule, the Hindus had suffered a lot materially, morally and spiritually. The Muslim rulers in general wanted to enforce the Islamic laws on the Hindus. The Muslim rule had put dread in the hearts of the Hindu masses.
They wanted some solace to heal their despairing hearts. The Bhakti movement brought them hope and support and inner strength to save themselves. During the course of time, several evil practices had crept into the Hindu society. There was a lot of caste and class distinction. Several divisions had occurred.
There was a good deal of bitter men between the two communities i.e. the Hindus and Muslims. Some healing touch was needed. Fortunately with the foreign invaders, some Sufi Muslim saints had also come to India and settled here. They were very liberal minded. They emphasized the virtues of love and devotion, brotherhood and equality etc. This helped to bring the two communities nearer. It also helped to harmonise the conflicting interests.
The saints of the Bhakti movement rejected the difference of caste and Uati’. An important factor which led to the popularity of Bhakti movement was that most of the promoters of this movement attempted to reconcile the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims by stressing that Rama and Rahim were one and the same. They condemned the hatred of the fanatic Pandits and Mullas alike.
The Hindus realised that it was difficult to drive away the Muslim rulers and Muslims from India. On the other hand the Muslims also appreciated that the Hindus were in absolute majority and it was impossible to force all of them to embrace Islam. So under the impact of the new movement both sides started making efforts for coming closer to each other.
For the Hindus the effort was initiated by the Hindu saints of the Bhakti movement and for the Muslims by the Sufi Saints.
The Hindu and as well as the Muslim saints emphasized religious simplicity. They stressed human qualities and moral attitudes. They stressed that a true religious man is one who is pure in thought and action.
The Bhakti saints believed in equality of man and man. According to them there was no distinction and consideration of high and low on the basis of birth. Their doors were open to all classes.
The Bhakti saints tried to generate an environment of good will between the Hindus and the Muslims.
The Bhakti saints were social reformers also. They condemned several social evils.
The Sufi Saints like Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti, Bakhyiya Kaki, Nizamudin Aulia and Nasiruddin Chirag-i-Delhi etc. attempted to restrain the fanaticism of the Muslims and tried to bring them nearer to the Hindus. Several Hindus became followers of the Sufi saints but without relinquishing their own religion.
The most important social impact of the Bhakti movement was that the followers of the Bhakti movement rejected the caste distinction. They began to mix together on the basis of equality. They took their meals together from the common kitchen. The movement tried to loosen the bond of caste.
A spirit of harmony among different sections of society and religion received impetus.
The evil practice of ‘Sati’ received some set back.
The status of women received more importance.
The movement aroused awakening among the Hindus and Muslims regarding the futility of ritualism and superstitions. The feeling of appreciation of the difference between the thought and practices of the two religions emerged. The movement encouraged religious toleration. Guru Granth Saheb the holiest book of the Sikhs which was complied later on included the messages of saints belonging to different sects. This was on account of the spirit of toleration preached by the Bhakti saints.
Promotion of regional languages of the common people:
In place of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, the Bhakti saints preached through the medium of local languages which could be understood very easily. For instance the language of Kabir was a mixture of several languages of every day use. Surdas used ‘Brij’ dialect. Goswami Tulsi Das composed his works in ‘Awadhi’.
Some of the rulers adopted liberal religious policies under the impact of the Bhakti movement.
The movement attempted to infuse a spirit of piety in the daily life of the people. It emphasized earning of wealth through hard work and honest means. It encouraged the value of social service to the poor and the needy. It developed a humanitarian attitude. It pointed out the virtues of contentment and self control. It drew attention to the evils of anger, greed and vanity.
The Bhakti movement succeeded to a very small extent in realizing its two-fold objective i.e. bringing about reforms in Hinduism and developing harmonious relations between the Hindus and the Muslims. It gave birth to a new sect i.e. Sikhism. It is perhaps far-fetched to say that Akbar’s broad outlook was on account of the impact of the Bhakti movement. The movement further divided the Hindu society. For instance the followers of Kabir came to be known as Kabir Panthis.