31 January 2015

Devotional Paths to the Divine

NCERT / CBSE NOTES : Chapter Summary

Devotional Paths to the Divine

Medieval Indian Ideas of Devotion

Religion is an organized approach to belief in a divine power and creates a bond between unrelated people to form cooperative groups. This intermingling led to the development of many new ideas within the Indian subcontinent like social privileges by birth into a certain family or caste and inequality.

Some people were against such ideas and hence they started towards the teachings of the Buddha and Jainas. There were some people who accepted the idea of Bhakti or devoting oneself to God. The three main deities were Shiva, Vishnu and Durga while all the other gods and goddesses were their avatars.

People started worshiping as per rituals recommended in the Puranas. However, later even the Puranas mentioned that God blessed people on their devotion and irrespective of their caste. This was the beginning of the Bhakti movement which quickly gained popularity and also adopted by the Buddhist and Jain belief system.

In South India, this movement was propagated by the Nayanars and the Alvars where the former worshiped Lord Shiva, the latter worshipped Lord Vishnu. The rulers that time built temples for the saints to strengthen the link between the Bhakti tradition and temple worship.

The hagiographies and poems compiled by the saints are an invaluable source of information for us today. The Bhakti movement was greatly influenced by philosophers like Shankaracharya and Ramanuja.
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Shankaracharya, a firm believer of Lord Brahma said Advaita or the oneness of the individual soul
and the Supreme God leads to salvation. While Ramanuja, a loyal devotee of Lord Vishnu said that Vishishtadvaita or the separateness of the individual soul even when merged with the Supreme God leads to its salvation. Their teachings inspired a new way of Bhakti that became popular in North India.

In Karnataka, a new Bhakti tradition was started by Basavanna, called the Virashaiva movement. Its followers believed in equality of all humans, and were against all forms of ritual and idol worship.

Important Saints of Maharashtra and North India

During the medieval period, many saints emerged in the Indian Subcontinent teaching that the power to save people belongs to the "Divine Name". They usually taught using poems and songs written in their regional language. The important saint-poets of Maharashtra, were Jñāneshwar, Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram and taught in Marathi.

They worshipped Lord Vitthala, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, lived an ordinary life, and rejected the idea of renunciation. Sant Mirabai, a passionate devotee of Lord Krishna, greatly influenced the people of Rajasthan and Gujarat with her bhajans.

After the 13th century, new developments took place in the Bhakti movement in North India. In the north, people were greatly influenced by saints like Tulsidas, a devotee of Lord Rama, and Surdas, a devotee of Lord Krishna. To express his devotion, Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitmanas, while Surdas composed the Sursagara, Surasaravali and Sahitya Lahari.

Another important saint is Sant Kabir who was brought up by a Muslim family of weavers. He is one of the first Indian saints to harmonize the teachings of Hinduism and Islam. His teachings can be found in books like the Guru Granth Sahib, Panch Vani and Bijak.

In the 15th century, another great saint, Shankaradeva was born in Assam and was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. He started the practice of namghars or houses of recitation and prayer that is practiced till date.

The Nathpanthis, Siddhacharas and Yogis religious groups were formed around the same time and did not believe in rituals, but preached that one should sacrifice worldly pleasures. These groups were popular among people from the lower castes due to their different ideas on devotional religion.

A common feature among the saints is that their works were written in their regional languages and could be easily sung, one of the reasons for their popularity. The poor like artisans, peasants, laborers and traders were greatly influenced by the saints and helped to spread their teachings.

Guru Nanak and the Sikh Movement

The Guru Granth Sahib begins with the word “Ik Onkar,” which means “there is only one God”. It is composed by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and was born in 1469 at Talwandi. He finally settled in Kartarpur on the banks of the river Ravi.

His followers offered prayers by singing his hymns and ate together in langar, a common kitchen. His place of worship was dharmsal, now known as a Gurudwara. Guru Nanak appointed Lehna as his successor; known as Guru Angad.

Guru Angad compiled Guru Nanak’s and his own compositions in the Gurmukhi script, which is used for writing the Punjabi language. Later, all the teachings of Nanak’s successors and other religious people were compiled into the holy book of the Sikhs ─ the Guru Granth Sahib, affirmed by Guru Gobind Singh.
His followers were mainly traders and artisans, as Guru Nanak insisted that his followers follow a productive occupation. Guru Nanak’s teachings emphasized on three things: nam japna or right belief and worship, kirt karna or honest living, and vand chhakna or helping others.

In the 17th century, Harmandar Sahib at Ramdaspur developed into an independent state of the Sikh community, now known as the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Seeing the Sikh community grow, Mughal Emperor Jahangir started considering them a potential threat, and had Guru Arjan executed. This led to the development of the Sikh movement and the creation of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh that later became a political entity.