About the generic term bhakti, Krishna Sharma in the Preface to his book Bhakti and Bhakti Movement says, “The common man in India understands the word as religious devotion in a general sense, regardless of the differences in the forms of its manifestation, caused by variations of beliefs and practices. But the academics understand it differently. In all scholastic works, bhakti is treated a specific religious mode. It is defined in terms of a belief and an attachment to a personal God.” The medieval schools of bhakti believed that there is one supreme divine person whom the human soul, as a finite spiritual being, eternally seeks. They also believed that as long as the human soul does not realise its true spiritual nature, it wanders unhappy from birth to birth. According to them, the grace of god awakens the soul to its spiritual nature, which creates a longing for the infinite spirit, which they said was same as bhakti.
“The history of bhakti is the history of a growing spiritualization of religion, i.e. to say of a movement increasingly away from external ritualism in practice and a growing sense of nearness of the deity in experience.”1 This moving away from ritualism and laying emphasis on the experience began in the southern part of India by the Vaishnavite Alvars and Shaivite Nayanars and came to be known as the Bhakti Movement.
The movement spread throughout India in the due course of time. It not only had an impact on religious beliefs and rituals but also on arts and cultures. It led to the growth of regional languages, devotional songs and poetry. Poetry played an important part in Bhakti Movement. Though the aim of the movement in the south was same as in the north, the style of Bhakti poetry of the south 1 Susmita Pande(1982), pg‐112.
differed with that of the north. When studying Bhakti poetry, we come across terms like Dohas, Ramainis and Pads:
• Dohas (two liners) or Sakhis (witnessings), also called sloks by Sikhs. These couplets can either be recited or sung.
• Ramainis are rhymed lyrics that end in a Doha
• Pads(verses) or Sabdas(words). These are sung compositions whose length varies from four verses to twelve or more. Each begins with a title verse that also serves as refrain.
The Bhakti proponents of northern India were generally called sants or bhakts depending on the School the belonged to. The Schools we are talking about were the Nirguna and Saguna Schools. The Nirguna School did not believe in image worship as they believed that god was without attributes. They used the word Ram in their poems to address god. They believed, god was nameless, imageless. Their proponents were called sants. Famous amongst them were Kabir and Ravidas. On the other side was the Sagun School, which believed in god with attributes and they poems surrouned around the images and stories of Krishna and Rama. Their proponents were called bhakts. Among the famous bhakts were Surdas, Tulsidas and Mirabai. Irrespective of the schools, proponents of both sides propagated a doctrine that transcended the caste system and encouraged individuals to seek personal union with the supreme divine. Their messages of personal religion were conveyed to the people through the their pads. These pads and the Bhakti saints’ teachings had a great impact on the lives of the people of their times. I will now take one sant and one bhakt and look into their works and theories. Then I will look into the question of women in Bhakti poetry through Mirabai’s poems.
KABIR THE SANT:
Kabir, who lived around the 15th century, believed in the fundamental equality of man. His belief was based on the essential unity of God. In this regard, he says:
Only the One I recognize
Those who call him two will go to hell
For they know not the reality.
All human beings are sustained by the same air and water,
And are illuminated by the same light.
And all have been formed out of the same dust,
And their creator is the same.2
Kabir, a critic of his...
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