In this article we will discuss about the effects of bhakti movement on India during the medieval period.
It has been noted that the bhakti cult was a widespread movement, which embraced practically the whole of the country. It was a people’s movement which aroused intense interest among them.
As the Muslim thinkers and theologian were critical of Hinduism and its numerous ceremonies, the saints and reformers of the Bhakti movement tried to reform Hinduism so that it could withstand the onslaughts of Islam successfully.
At the same time some of the reforms were keen to bring about a compromise between Hinduism and Islam to foster friendly relations between the two communities. Prof A L. Srivastava says that the movement succeeded in realising to a great extent the first object of bringing about the simplification of worship and liberalizing the traditional castes rules.
The high and the low among the Hindu public forgot many of their prejudices and believed in the message of the reformers of the bhakti cult that all people were equal in the eyes of God and that birth was no bar to religious salvation.
The movement failed in attaining its second object, viz., Hindu, Muslim unity. Neither the Turko-Afghan rulers nor the Muslim public accepted the Rama-Sita or Radha-Krishna cult.
They refused to believe that Rama and Rahim, Ishwar and Allah were the names of the same God the movement, however, incidentally became responsible for another solid achievement, viz., the evolution and enrichment of our vernacular literatures.
Most of the reformers preached to the masses through their mother tongue, and therefore, they enriched our modern languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Maithili. Gujarati etc. The period of bhakti movement consequently proved to be a golden age in the history of the growth of our vernacular literature.
Prof. Yusuf Husain says that “like the Reformation of Europe, the Reformation of Hinduism in the Middle Ages owed a great debt to Islam. It delivered a new social message of the worth of every human being in the sight of God, and urged a reconstruction of the current Hindu thought with a view to making it an efficient vehicle of the new social and spiritual ideals by the pursuit of Bhakti. And yet it must be admitted that the influence of Islam leavened but did not fundamentally after the structure of the Hindu society, which retains the element of exclusiveness and untouchability even up to our times.”
Prof. Husain further says that “it is generally conceded by historians of civilization and religious developments reflect or accompany basic changes in social processes. The Bhakti movement of medieval India represents the first effective impingement on Hindu society of Islamic culture and outlook.
It is true that the Bhakti cult was essentially indigenous, but it received a great impetus from the presence of Muslims in this country. This movement not only prepared a meeting-ground for the devout men of both creeds, it also preached human equality and openly condemned ritual and caste.
It was radically new, basically different from old traditions and ideas of religious authority. It sought to refashion the collective life on a new basis, envisaging a society in which there shall be justice and equality for all and in which men of all creeds shall be able to develop to their full moral and spiritual stature.
Dr. R.P. Tripathi says that “The spiritual movements both of the Hindus and Muslims, from the 13th to the 16th century, were- attempting to direct the mind of the people from the formal aspect of religion to its underlying spiritualism, from the outer to the inner from professions to actual living with all their superstitions and obscurantism, jargons and antics, they laid emphasis on the physical,, psychological and ethical bases of religion, as distinguished from the purely formal, physical, ritualistic and social.”
Talking of the deep impact of the Bhakti movement on the Indian life Prof. Radhakumad Mukherjee says, “it is the religious dissenters of the middle ages, Bhaktas and Sufis, who through their eclectic teachings and devotional ecstasies have largely fashioned the religious faith and devotion of modern India. A reliable estimate is that two thirds of the Indian Muslims are under the influence of one or other of the Sufi orders, the outer shell of religion divides sects and communities. Sufism and Bhakti on the other hand, which constitute the mystical core or essence of Islam and Hinduism, have been firm and essential binders of the two cultures.”
The Bhakti saints taught universal toleration and brought about a revolution in the social structure of the society. All the saints loved humanity and were devoted to God. But their disciples failed to rise above personal bias and created sects and sub-sects. As a result the Indian society came to be divided into number of new cults based on orthodoxy.
Even though all the saints taught the same truth, India failed to attain cultural unity.