The below mentioned article provides notes on the bhakti movement.
With the emergence of Islam in India, Hinduism received a rude shock. The Muslim rulers not only destroyed a number of religious movements and temples of the Hindus, but also tried to convert more and more people to Islam by extending them certain concessions. This not only resulted in the decline of Hinduism but also contributed to the decline of the Brahman supremacy.
The principles of universal brotherhood and human equality, preached by Islam greatly attracted the lower strata’s of Hindu society. The Hindu rulers of Rajasthan and Vijayanagar saw a serious threat to the existence of Hinduism and turned champions of Dharma. Rajput and Hindu Rajas like Rana Hamir, Kumbha, Sangram, Krishna deva Raya and Rama Raya attached great importance to religion in their policy.
Islam posed a serious threat to Hindu religion by throwing out the message of universal brotherhood and equality and by rejecting caste system and untouchability. With a view to save Hinduism and modify it according to the changed circumstances, the Hindu saints and philosophers took upon themselves the task of reforming the Hinduism.
These saints and reformers tried to purge Hinduism of all evil practices, particularly those relating to rigours of caste and image worship, and thereby started a movement which is popularly known as Bhakti Movement.
It is wrong to assume that the Bhakti Movement was the direct outcome of the emergence of Islam in India. In fact the history of this movement can be traced back to the times of the great reformer Shankracharya, who provided a solid philosophical background to Hinduism.
He established a logical monistic system and laid emphasis on attaining salvation through knowledge. But as Shankracharya’s system was too philosophical the common people could not follow it. The saints of the medieval times made Hinduism a living force by attracting the popular mind towards it.
This movement received great encouragement because the people, who were completely cut off from the political and cultural activities, found a solace in pursuing things pertaining to the other world.
According to Yusuf Hussain, “The movement of Bhakti may easily be divided into two distinct periods. The first was from the time of the Bhagavad-Gita to the thirteenth century, the time when Islam penetrated into the interior of the country. The second period extends from thirteenth to the sixteenth century, an epoch of profound intellectual fermentation, the natural result of the contact of Islam and Hinduism.”
During the first period of Bhakti movement which ended with the coming of the Islam the religion of the Hindus remained a blending of the two different tendencies, the pantheism of the intellectuals and the deistic polytheism of the masses in As a result of contact with Islam the deistic tendencies of Hinduism ended in monotheism because of Islam’s belief in the unity of God.
A number of causes contributed to the development of the Bhakti movement during tie medieval times.
The prominent ones can be enumerated as follows:
(1) People were fed-up with the highly philosophical exposition of Hinduism as given by Shankracharya and they were looking for a system which could be easily comprehended by all.
(2) The Medieval-India society was highly caste-ridden and the members of the higher-castes committed all sorts of atrocities on the members of the lower castes. Bhakti movement, which did not believe in caste and other distinctions, was a logical development.
(3) To escape the wrath of rigid caste system a large number of low-caste Hindus were adopting Islam. The saints and reformers through Bhakti movement reduced the rigours of caste-system and through paved the way for their retention in the fold of Hinduism.
(4) A large number of temples and idols of the Hindus had been destroyed by the Muslims and the people had to resort to Bhakti movement.
(5) According to Prof. K.M. Panikar, another factor which greatly contributed to the rise of the Bhakti movement was that the Hindus were greatly fed up with the atrocities of the Muslims and sought a solace in Bhakti.
(6) According to certain well known scholars like Dr. Tara Chand, Ahmed Nizami and Dr. Quareshi, the Bhakti movement was largely an outcome of the Muslim impact on Indian society. This opinion is not fully correct and at the most contains a partial truth.
No doubt some of the principles advocated by the saints leading the Bhakti movement such as faith in universal brotherhood and human equality; opposition to idol worship, disbelief in caste distinctions; unity of God etc. were the cardinal principles of Islam, but it would be too much to say that these saints borrowed them from Islam. In fact, the Hindus have known these principles from the earliest times.
The Ekantika Dkarma, the religion addressing itself to a single God, finds a reference in Bhagavad-Gita. For a long time idol-worship was also not practiced in ancient India. During the Vedic period the Indian religion was very simple and people did not believe in caste distinctions.
Therefore, R.G. Bhandarkar has concluded that the Bhakti movement drew its inspirations from the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita. However, it cannot be denied that Islam also exercised tremendous influence on the promotion of Bhakti movement.