An important landmark in the cultural history of medieval India was the silent revolution in society brought about by a galaxy of socio-religious reformers, a revolution known as the Bhakti Movement. In the context of the above statement, critically examine the impact of Bhakti Movement on medieval Indian society, culture and religion? (250 W)

Mentor’s Comment:

The medieval period has witnessed a new phage of cultural development in the form of Bhakti Movement which gave birth to different culture, practices, philosophical and religious traditions and ideas. The introduction should explain about the Bhakti Movement and its prospects in Medieval India propounded by various saints like Kabir, Gure Nanak, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas etc.

Further, in the main body explain about the main features of the Bhakti Movement. Like unity of god, intense love and devotion the only way to salvation, self surrender, condemnation of rituals, rejection of idol worship, open mindedness,  etc.

Next, talk about the positive impact of the Bhakti Movement on the Medieval Indian Society. We can bring separately like social and political impact, religious impact, promotion of regional languages of the common people, moral influence etc.

Next, talk about the negative impact of the Bhakti Movement. Like rejection by Turko-Afghan rulers, divided the Hindu Society, gave rise to a new form of superstition in Indian society in the form of Tantra etc.

Conclude by bringing universal positive impact of Bhakti Movement.

 

Model Answers:

The Medieval period is considered as an age of great cultural synthesis in India and during this period a new phase of cultural development was initiated. The synthesis between different cultures gave birth to new philosophical and religious traditions, ideas. The real development of Bhakti movement took place in South India between the 7th and the 12th centuries through the teachings of poet saints known as Alvars and Nayanar. The Sufi saints of the Muslims also emphasized devotion to Allah (God). The spiritual yearning made Kabir, Guru Nanak, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas, Chaitanya and others, the great exponents of Bhakti movement.

Main Features of the Bhakti Movement:

  • Unity of God or one God though known by different names.
  • Bhakti, intense love and devotion, the only way to salvation.
  • Repetition of the True Name.
  • Self-Surrender.
  • Condemnation of rituals, ceremonies and blind faith.
  • Rejection of idol worship by many saints
  • Open- mindedness about deciding religious matters.
  • Did not linked themselves with any particular religious creed
  • Emphasized on fundamental unity of all religions.
  • No distinction of different castes, higher or low
  • Need of a guru for guidance advocated by some.
  • Preaching through local or regional languages and travelling from place to place for spreading the religious message.

Positive Impact of the Bhakti Movement on the Medieval Indian Society:

Social and Political impact:

  • During the course of time, several evil practices had crept into the Hindu society. There was a lot of caste and class distinction. Several divisions had occurred. They wanted some solace to heal their despairing hearts.
  • The most important social impact of the Bhakti movement was that the followers of the Bhakti movement rejected the caste distinction.
  • They began to mix together on the basis of equality. They took their meals together from the common kitchen. The movement tried to loosen the bond of caste.
  • A spirit of harmony among different sections of society and religion received impetus.
  • The evil practice of ‘Sati’ received some set back and the status of women received more importance.
  • Some of the rulers adopted liberal religious policies under the impact of the Bhakti movement.

Religious impact:

  • The movement aroused awakening among the Hindus and Muslims regarding the futility of ritualism and superstitions.
  • The feeling of appreciation of the difference between the thought and practices of the two religions emerged.
  • The movement encouraged religious toleration.
  • Guru Granth Sahib the holiest book of the Sikhs which was complied later on included the messages of saints belonging to different sects. This was on account of the spirit of toleration preached by the Bhakti saints.

Promotion of regional languages of the common people:

  • In place of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, the Bhakti saints preached through the medium of local languages which could be understood very easily.
  • For instance the language of Kabir was a mixture of several languages of everyday use. Surdas used ‘Brij’ dialect. Goswami Tulsidas composed his works in ‘Awadhi’.
  • This movement saw the emergence of various languages like Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali
  • These were earlier used only by common masses but with the preachings by saints through these languages, they gained prominence and their stature got raised and gradually got acceptance by people from higher classes and castes.

Moral influence:

  • The movement attempted to infuse a spirit of piety in the daily life of the people.
  • It emphasized earning of wealth through hard work and honest means.
  • It encouraged the value of social service to the poor and the needy.
  • It developed a humanitarian attitude. It pointed out the virtues of contentment and self control. It drew attention to the evils of anger, greed and vanity.

Negative Impact of the Bhakti Movement on the Medieval Indian Society:

  • The Bhakti movement succeeded to a very small extent in realizing its two-fold objective e. bringing about reforms in Hinduism and developing harmonious relations between the Hindus and the Muslims.
  • Neither the Turko-Afghan rulers nor the Muslim public accepted the Rama-Sita or Radha-Krishna cult.
  • It is also perhaps far-fetched to say that Akbar’s broad outlook was on account of the impact of the Bhakti movement.
  • The movement further divided the Hindu society.
  • For instance the followers of Kabir came to be known as Kabir Panthis.
  • It also gave rise to a new form superstitions in Indian society: Tantra.
  • Development of tantra school was an offshoot of Bhakti.
  • By uttering magical words (mantra) and making various kinds of mystic gestures, it was believed that one could attain the desires as well as gain supernatural powers.

The Bhakti saints taught universal toleration and brought about a revolution in the social structure of the society. All the saints loved humanity and were devoted to God. But their disciples failed to rise above personal bias and created sects and subsects. While the Bhakti Movement of this era reflected popular aspirations, however, it would be wrong to describe these movements as exclusively mass movements. Even though all the saints taught the same truth, medieval India failed to attain cultural unity. As a result, the Indian society came to be divided into number of new cults based on orthodoxy.