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BHAGTI or BHAKTI: The word bhakti is derived from Sanskrit Bhaj, meaning to serve, honour, 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.” In principle, Bhagti can be considered as meditation, with the nuance that, in meditation a person can meditate on anything, but the in bhagti a person meditate's on God's word. In Sikhism, absolute devotion and continuous remembrance of God and Guru, performed exclusively via the revealed words (shabads) of the sacred Guru Granth Sahib, is considered a fundamental component of a Sikh's life.


The concept of Bhakti as a means of devotion, by itself, 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 Upanisads where it appears with the co-doctrines of grace and self-surrender (prapatti) (e.g. Svetasvatar, I, V. 23). The Bhagavadgita attempts to expound bhakti in a systematic manner and puts bhakti marga in juxtaposition with karma marga and jnana marga as one of the three means of attaining liberation. The Nardiya Sutra, however, decrees that “bhakti is superior even to karma, jnana and yoga.

Bhakti took strong roots in South India where generations of Alvar (Vaisnavite) and Nayanar (Saivite) saints had sung their devotional lyrics and founded their respective schools of bhakti between AD 200-900. It came to north India much later. “The Dravid country is the birthplace of bhakti school; bhakti became young in Karnataka, it grew old in Maharashtra and Gujrat, but when it arrived in Vrindavana, it became young again.” Munshi Ram Sharma: Bhakti Ka Vikas. P. 353.

In the north, the cult was essentially Vaisnava-based, but instead of being focussed on Visnu, it chose to focus itself on Visnu’s human incarnations, Rama and Krishna, the respective avatars or deities central to the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. For bhakti now Visnu’s incarnations (Rama and Krishna) were the direct objects of devotion. Adoration of the devotees was focussed on them in association with their respective consorts: Sita with Rama; and Rukmini, his wedded wife, or Radha, his Gopika companion, with Krsna. 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 prapatti (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-badhus (public wives) outside. Apart from being overwhelmingly ritualistic, the worship tended to be intensely emotional, frenzied and even erotic.

An important influence in north Indian bhakti was Ramanand whose many disciples including, Kabir, Ravidas, Pipa, Sadhana and Sainu radicalized the Bhakti movement. Kabir, out of them, was the most eloquent and outspoken. Besides bhakti, other influences which shaped him were Sufism and Buddhism. He repudiated avatarvad, social ideology of caste, ritualistic formalism and idol-worship, all of which were integral parts of traditional Vaisnavite bhakti. Kabir even questioned the authority of the Vedas and Puranas.

Bhakti Movement and Sikhism

See Bhakti Movement and Sikhism.