Bhakti literature represents the legacy of a socio-religious reform movement that prevailed from 8th century to 17th century CE. It was characterised by use of local languages and socially inclusive outlook.
Nature of Bhakti literature is as follows:
- Devotional: Kirtana Ghosha of Shankardeva (Vaishnava devotional songs); Thirumurais (Tamil songs in praise of Shiva) etc.
- Non-sectarian: In Bhakti poems, Radha-Shyam is supposed to be the equivalent of Seeta-Ram.
- Inter-regional appeal: Ramacharitsmanas and Hanuman Chalisa written in Awadh gained popularity across the length and breadth of the country
- Inter-Religious harmony: Sufi poetry of Baba Farid was incorporated into Sikhs’ religious canons.
- Unorthodox approach: Guru Nanak in his poems talked about futility of unnecessary rituals and pilgrimages.
- Against elitism: Bhakti literature is marked by use of non-elite elements like regional dialects, inclusion of castes and out-castes, anti-ritual, emphasis on love for God over respect for Him.
Contribution of Bhakti literature to Indian culture:
- Linguistic Development: Development of Marathi, Punjabi and its script Gurumukhi, Assamese etc. occurred due efforts of saints like Tukaram, Sikh Gurus, Shankaradeva etc.
- Indianisation of Islam occurred due to the endeavours of the Sufi saints. For example, contributions of Nizamuddin Auliya, Rahim etc.
- Music and Dance: Use of Bhakti literature for devotional singing in kirtana, Qawwalli, devotional dance such as Sattariya etc.
- Philosophical Growth: Post-Vedanta ideas were explored by Madhvacharya through his Dvaitadvaita, Ramanujacharya in his Vishishta Advaita etc.
- Assimilation of various saints, diverse religious ideas promoted growth in religion.
- Emergence of Sects like Sikhism, Kabirpanth etc.
However, Bhakti literature is also criticized on following grounds:
- The religious and philosophical ideas did not represent a break from orthodoxy.
- It failed to create any political awakening in people.
- It promoted servility through ideas of devotion, and sustained hegemony of hierarchical social structure. -
Bhakti literature provided a breath of relief for masses under conditions of social and political repression. The cultural impact was diverse from music to philosophy and language.