The word Bhakti is derived from Bhakta meaning to serve, honor, revere, love, and adore. In the religious idiom, it is
attachment or fervent devotion to God and is defined as “that particular affection which is generated by the knowledge of the attributes of the Adorable One.” The concept is traceable to the Vedas where its intimations are audible in the hymns addressed to deities such as Varuna, Savitra, and Usha. However, the word Bhakti does not occur there. The word occurs for the first time in the Upanishads where it appears with the co-doctrines of grace and self-surrender. Popular Bhakti Saints of the Bhakti Movement are as follows
Popular Bhakti Saints
In the 11th century, Ramanuja tried to assimilate Bhakti to the tradition of Vedas. He argued that the grace of God was more important than knowledge about him in order to attain salvation. The tradition established by Ramanuja was followed by a number of thinkers such as Madhavacharya, Ramananda, Vallabhacharya, and others.
Jnandeva (1275-96 AD)
He was a progenitor of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra.
Namdeva (1270-1350 AD)
He was a Nirguna Upasaka. Some of his abhangas are included in Guru Granth Sahib
Ekanath (1548 AD)
He was opposed to caste distinction and evinced the greatest sympathy for men of low caste.
He was a farmer’s son and a great devotee of Vitthal.
He established ashramas all over India. It was from him that Shivaji received the inspiration to overthrow Muslim authority and found the kingdom.
Gurunanak (1469-1539 AD)
He was a mystique of Nirguna School. But his followers branched off from Hinduism and founded a separate religious
system. He became a wandering preacher of a casteless, universal, ethical, anti-ritualistic and monotheistic, and highly spiritual religion.
Surdasa (1483-1513 AD)
He belongs to Saguna School. He was a disciple of famous religious teacher Vallabhacharya. He sang the glory of Krishna’s childhood and youth in his Sursagar.
Tulsi Das (1532-1623 AD)
He belongs to the Saguna school of Hindu Mystics. He composed the famous Ramacharitamanas.
Bhakti movement spawned into several different movements all across North and South India. In North, though the emphasis was on Vaishnavism, instead of being focussed on Vishnu, it chose to focus itself on Vishnu’s human incarnations – Rama and Krishna, the respective avatars central to the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Adoration of the devotees was focused on them in association with their respective consorts – Sita with Rama and Rukmini or Radha with Krishna. Images of these deities and their consorts installed in temples were worshipped.
The path of Bhakti was not directly accessible to the lower castes; for them, the path of prapati (unquestioned self-surrender) was prescribed. Singing of Bhajans and dancing formed an important part of this worship. The dancers were deva-dasis (female slaves of the deity) inside the temple, but nagar-vadhus (public wives) outside. Worship tended to be intensely emotional.
Another popular movement, which arose around the 12th century, was Lingayat or Vir Shaiva movement. Its founder was Basava and his nephew Channabasava who lived at the courts of Kalchuri kings of Karnataka.
In the South, the Bhakti movement was led by a series of popular saints called Nayanars and Alvars. The chief object of their worship was Shiva and Vishnu respectively. They spoke and wrote in Tamil and Telugu.
Also, Read The Bhakti Movement