The development of Bhakti movement took place in Tamil Nadu between the seventh and
twelfth centuries. It was reflected in the emotional poems of the Nayanars (devotees of
Shiva) and Alvars (devotees of Vishnu). These saints looked upon religion not as a cold
formal worship but as a loving bond based upon love between the worshipped and
worshipper. They wrote in local languages, Tamil and Telugu and were therefore able to
reach out to many people.
In course of time, the ideas of the South moved up to the North but it was a very slow
process. Sanskrit, which was still the vehicle of thought, was given a new form.
Thus we find that the Bhagavata Purana of ninth century was not written in the old Puranic
form. Centered around Krishna’s childhood and youth, this work uses Krishna’s exploits
to explain deep philosophy in simple terms. This work became a turning point in the history
of the Vaishnavite movement which was an important component of the Bhakti movement.
A more effective method for spreading of the Bhakti ideology was the use of local languages.
The Bhakti saints composed their verses in local languages. They also translated Sanskrit
works to make them understandable to a wider audience. Thus we find Jnanadeva writing
in Marathi, Kabir, Surdas and Tulsidas in Hindi, Shankaradeva popularising Assamese,
Chaitanya and Chandidas spreading their message in Bengali, Mirabai in Hindi and
Rajasthani. In addition, devotional poetry was composed in Kashmiri, Telugu, Kannad,
Oriya, Malayalam, Maithili and Gujarati.
The Bhakti saints believed that salvation can be achieved by all. They made no distinction
of caste, creed or religion before God. They themselves came from diverse backgrounds.
Ramananda, whose disciples included Hindus and Muslims, came from a conservative
brahman family. His disciple, Kabir, was a weaver. Guru Nanak was a village accountant’s
son. Namdev was a tailor. The saints stressed equality, disregarded the caste system and...