Chapter 18: BHAKTI MOVEMENT IN INDIA
The Bhakti movement in medieval India spread due to
the influence of Islam.
The Islamic ideas were of monotheism, no idol
worship, no casteism, equality and brotherhood of man. The
influence of Sufi saints shaped the thinking of saints like Ramananda,
Nanak and Kabir.
The Sufism originated in Persia and came to India
in the eleventh century. The Sufi saints that were famous were Khwaja
Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.
The Sufis were revered by both Hindus and Muslims.
Sufis stressed on love and devotion as effective means of
realisation of god.
They said service to man is tantamount to service
to god. Sufis believed in inner purity not external conduct.
They believed in devotion to god instead of blindly following
rituals. They inculcated a spirit of tolerance amongst their
Sufis protested against the materialism of
caliphate as a religious and political institution and turned
towards ascetism, mysticism. They believed Prophet as the
perfect human being.
Sufis were led by sheikh or Pir. They had 12
communities or Silsila means a chain – linking master and
The Sufis believed a guru is necessary to reach
spiritual development. They also preached meditation,
pilgrimage, suppression of passion, fasting, prayer, charity.
The influence of Sufism was seen on Bhakti movement. Their
message of equality attracted the lower castes of Hinduism as
they were oppressed.
The Mughal emperor Akbar too appreciated Sufi
doctrines and they shaped his religious outlook.
Bhakti and Sufi movement succeeded in bringing
Hindus and Muslims together due to their message of love,
The Bhakti saints talked about God being Supreme
Being and concept of one god. The message was self surrender to
god and removal of caste and birth distinctions.
They emphasized on complete devotion as the path to
god and urged people to shed age old superstitions. However the
Bhakti saints in early period belonged to Hinduism and
recognized Hindu gods although they too preached message of love
and unity. The teachers of this movement: Shankaracharya,
Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas.
The later Bhakti saints like Kabir, Nanak
remained apostles of Bhakti movement. They learned from old
masters but showed a novel path. They didn’t adhere to any
They preached against idolatry, superstitions,
casteism, polytheism, rituals and ceremonies. They believed in
devotion as only way of salvation. They asked for unity amongst
Contributions of saints:
1. Ramananda: simplification of
worship and disregarding of caste system were his contributions.
2. Kabir: Disciple of Ramananda.
Studied Hindu and Muslim religions both. He wanted to establish
harmony between them.
Guru Nanak: Founder of Sikhism.
Attacked all ill effects of religion and gave a moral code for
Importance of Bhakti movement:
1. The Bhakti saints spoke and wrote in regional
languages. The movement provided an impetus to development of
regional languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada.
The saints could establish close contact and appeal
directly to the masses.
They disregarded caste system and advocated equal
status to women. Hence they were popular amongst the lower
The movement gave people a simple religion to show
devotion to god and not rituals and sacrifices.