Religious (Bhakti) Movements in medieval India

bhaktiBhakti Movements in India

  • Among the Hindus, the Bhakti movement preached religion which was non – ritualistic and open to all without any distinction of caste or creed.
  • Real development of Bhakti took place in south India between 7th and 12th century.
  • Bhakti saints came usually from lower castes.
  • They disregarded castes, encouraged women to join in the gatherings and taught in the local vernacular language.

Shankaracharya (9th century)

  • Born in Kaladi, Kerala
  • Preached doctrine of advaita / monoism (Non duality & oneness of God)
  • Faced reaction against his concept of Nirgunbrahamana (or God without attributes) due to emergence of idea of Sagunabrahamana (or God with attributes)

Ramanujacharya (12th century)

  • Born in Sriperumbur, Chennai
  • Preached philosophy of vishishtavaida
  • According to him, creative process & all objects in creation are real, not illusionary as depicted by Shankaracharya


  • Contemporary of Ramanuja.
  • He was a worshipper of Krishna and Radha.

Madhavacharya (13th century)

  • He ranks with Ramanuja in the Vedanta system.
  • He preched Dvaita doctrine.
  • He said that release from transmigration can be secured only by means of knowledge and devotion.

Ramanand (15th century)

  • First great Bhakti saint of north India & Worshiper of Lord Ram.
  • He put emphasis on Bhakti and avoided both Gyan marg and Karma marg.
  • His followers were Ravidas, Kabir, Dhanna, Sena & Sadhana.

1. Namadeva – Tailor.

2. Ravidas – Cobbler (His 30 hymns are in Guru Granth Sahib).

3. Kabir – Weaver.

4. Sena – Barber.

5. Sadhana – Butcher.

Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539)

  • born in the village of Talwandi (now called Nankana in present day Pakistan).
  • Undertook wide tours all over India and then to Sri Lanka, Mecca and Medina.
  • His concept of God was Nirguna (attributeless) and Nirankar (formless).
  • He used the name of Hari, Ram, Allah and Khuda for God.
  • Didn’t believe in the Vedas and the Quran.

Kabir (1440 – 1518)

  • He was not only concerned with religious reform but also wished to change the society.
  • Emphasized the unity of God and expressed his ideas in dohas or couplets.
  • Didn’t make any distinction betwee Hinduism and Islam.

Chaitanya (1485 – 1534)

  • Born in Bengal & traveled throughout India
  • He popularized Krishna cult.
  • ‘Kirtan system’ was given by Chaitanya only.

Meerabai (1498 – 1546)

  • Born in Rajasthan & she was the follower of Lord Krishna.
  • She was married to Rana Sanga’s eldest son and heir-apparent Bhojraj.
  • After the death of her husband, she devoted herself completely to religious pursuits.
  • She wrote some poetic stanzas on Lord Krishna.

Surdas (1479 – 1584)

  • Born in western UP & wrote lyrical poems on Radha and Krishna.
  • He also Wrote Sur Sarawali, the Sahitya Lahari & the Sur Sagar.

Vallabhacharya (1479 – 1531)

  • Born in a Telangana
  • Advocated the worship of Krishna and dedication of everything to him alone.
Tulsidas (1532 – 1623)
  • He was born in a Brahmin family in Varanasi.
  • On account of a taunt of his wife, he is said to have to the life of a religious hermit.
  • He wrote Ram Charit Manas, Gitawali, Kauitawali, Vinay Patrika, etc.
  • He also used Arabic and Persian words in his writings.

Gnanadeva (13th century)

  • He was the founder of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra.

  • It was called Maharashtra dharma.

  • He wrote a commentary of Bhagavat Gita called Gnaneswari.

Importance of the Bhakti Movement
  • Bhakti movement provided an impetus for the development of regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, etc.

  • As the caste system was condemned by the Bhakti saints, the lower classes were raised to a position of great importance.

  • Importance of women in society was also increased because the Bhakti movement gave equal importance to them.

Sufi movement

  • A liberal reform movement within Islam & had its origin in Persia and spread into India in the 11th century.

  • First Sufi saint Shaikh Ismail of Lahore started preaching his ideas.

  • Famous of the Sufi saints of India was Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, who settled in Ajmer which became the centre of his activities.

  • Sufism stressed the elements of love and devotion as effective means of the realisation of God.

  • In the later period, Akbar, the Mughal emperor, appreciated Sufi doctrines which shaped his religious outlook and religious policies.

  • There were 3 chief orders of Sufis in India : Chishti, Suharawadi and Silsilah of Firdausi.
  • The link between the teacher or pir and his disciple or Murid was a vital part of Sufi system.
  • Every pir nominated a successor or Wali to carry out work. Khanqah was the place where Sufi mystics lived.

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