The Bhakti movement originated in ancient Tamil Nadu. The Nayanmars and the Alvars played a major role in the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement began to spread to the north during the late medieval ages when north India was underIslamic rule. Unlike in the south, where devotion was centered on both Shiva and Vishnu (in all his forms), the northern devotional movement was centered on Rama and Krishna, both of whom are believed to be incarnations of Vishnu. Despite this, the sects of Shiva or of Vishnu did not go into decline. In fact, for all of its history, the Bhakti movement co-existed peacefully with the other movements in Hinduism. It was initially considered unorthodox, as it rebelled against caste distinctions and disregarded Brahmanic rituals, which according to Bhakti saints were not necessary for salvation. In the course of time, however, owing to its immense popularity among the masses (and even gaining royal patronage) it became 'orthodox' and continues to be one of the most important modes of religious expression in modern India.
During the 14th–17th centuries, a great Bhakti movement swept through central and northern India, initiated by a loosely associated group of teachers or sants. Ramananda, Ravidas, Srimanta Sankardeva, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vallabhacharya,Surdas, Meera Bai, Kabir, Tulsidas, Namdev, Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram and other mystics spearheaded the Bhakti movement in the North while Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Tyagaraja among others propagated Bhakti in the South. They taught that people could cast aside the heavy burdens of ritual and caste, and the subtle complexities of philosophy, and simply express their overwhelming love for God. This