Article from: Encyclopedia of India Article date: January 1, 2006 More results for: bhakti

"Bhakti." Encyclopedia of India. Thomson Gale. 2006. HighBeam Research. 20 Oct. 2010 <>.


BHAKTI Bhakti ("sharing" or "devotion") denotes an intensely personal devotion to one's deity. Religious devotion in a general sense can be found in the earliest Indian literature, the poems of the Rig Veda. But the devotion known as bhakti—and the word itself—first appears in the last two or three centuries b.c. The Shvetāshvatara Upanishad preaches devotion to Shiva, the Bhagavad Gītā to Vishnu/Krishna. Other, later texts are dedicated to the worship of the Great Mother Goddess or to a more abstract deity, as in the scripture of the Sikhs. Much of the bhakti movement was distinguished by its links to the rich Purāṇic mythology, questions of righteousness and spiritual liberation, and to India's Hindu social structure, either defending or criticizing the system of castes ( jati) and classes (varna). A common feature of bhakti worship is the acceptance that spiritual liberation is open to members of all social orders, including women, even by those who maintain the traditional divisions of castes and classes. The devotion manifests itself in various ways: through ritual offerings, by listening to stories of Krishna's deeds, by consorting with pious people, and by chanting the deity's name or merely thinking about it. Even hatred or fear of Vishnu/Krishna may lead to liberation, because one's mind is fixed on him. Bhaktiis the preferred path to liberation (moksha) in this degenerate age, rather than meditation, Vedic sacrifice, or temple worship, which dominated in ages past; bhakti is a special blessing and opportunity for our otherwise miserable age. In the sixth through the tenth centuries the level of emotional involvement was raised dramatically in the poetry of the Ālvārs, who were devoted to Vishnu, and that of the Nāyanārs, who were devoted to Shiva, all written in Tamil. There were also hymns centered on yoga composed by the Siddhas (perfect masters). An idea that developed among the later Vishnu devotees was that bhakti is difficult and really plays only a secondary role, since salvation depends ultimately on Vishnu's grace. During the following centuries, what appears to have been a wave of popular bhakti movements spread north, expressed often in regional languages and carried by ordinary people. Late highpoints included the songs of Kabīr, many of which entered the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs, with their focus on an abstract nondenominational deity; and the popular Rāmāyaṇa epic of Tulsīdās and the Gītagovinda, both works of intense devotion to forms of Vishnu, (Rāma and Krishna). The modern International Society of Krishna Consciousness traces its roots to Chaitanya, a fifteenth-century devotee of Krishna in Bengal. Hartmut E. Scharfe See alsoBhāgavata Purāṇa ; Bhagavad Gītā ; Vishnu and Avatāras

Lorenzen, David N. "Bhakti." In The Hindu World, edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby. New York: Routledge, 2004