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Bhakti

Hinduism's devotion to a personal God

Bhakti is a Sanskrit word that literally means "devotion" but it can be more specifically though of as one of the three Hindu paths to salvation. Karma (action) and jnana (knowledge) comprise the others. (Knipe 757) Bhakti is the most popular path to salvation (838) and centers on the devotion of a deity or love of God. Bhakti is inherently monotheistic in that devotion is paid to one deity, yet that deity could be Shiva or Vishnu or Shikti. (Wikipedia contributors)

Between 1400 and 1650, bhakti rose in popularity throughout Northern India, due in part to the teachings and writings of one Ramanuja. Ramanuja was a South Indian Brahman who deviated from the dogma found in the Upanishads. (Knipe 764-65) The Upanishads taught that moska reveals that "[t]here is no individual self." (765) Ramanuja taught that the individual self remains as such and is eternal after liberation. (765) Bhakti found a following because ordinary people could relate to expressing love for a personal God, rather than to an impersonal, formless deity.


Followers of the bhakti path (called bhaktas) will insist upon "God's otherness" (Smith 33) and stress that we are separate entities from God and will not merge with God in the afterlife. This view is contrasted with the jnana path (the way to God through knowledge) and the karma path, which teach that followers will not just to be in the presence of God, but will become one with God. (29-32, 33, 38)

Bhakti represents a sort of anti-Hinduism in that followers can "cast aside the heavy burdens of ritual and caste and the subtle complexities of philosophy and simply express their overwhelming love for God." (Wikipedia contributors) Bhakti instigated a "remarkable new surge of devotional theism" (Knipe 762) in medieval India and continues to be popular today. It became entrenched in many Indian languages, due to its inclusion in the Bhagavad Gita and Tamil poems. (762)

Bhakti was not only important in the development of Hinduism, but provided an accessible avenue by which to obtain salvation. Love and devotion are natural human emotions — Bhakti seeks to channel these emotions to God through the worship of a particular incarnate form of God.

Related articles

Works Cited

Wikipedia contributors. "Bhakti movement." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 Jun. 2005. Web. Jun. 2005.

Knipe, David M. "Hinduism: Experiments in the Sacred" Religious Traditions of the WorldReligious Traditions of the World: A Journey Through Africa, Mesoamerica, North America, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, China, and Japan. Ed. H. Byron Earhart. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Smith, Huston. The World's ReligionsThe World's Religions. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.