Bhakti: Hindu Devotionalism



1.    The rise of devotional movements

a.    Nayanars (Saiva) and Alvars (Vaisnava) – new forms of piety

b.    Rise of temples as religious centers

c.    Ritual use of images Divine descent: avatara.

                                     i.     Embodiment of deity: God dwells in image for sake of devotees, entrusts himself to human caretaking, dependent

                                             ii.     Entire range of intimate and ordinary acts in expressions of devotion

d.    Populist: Vernacular Poor, dispossessed and oppresses linked in their religious attitudes with orthodox, upper class devotees.  Early dev in 4th cent Tamil, flourished from 12-18th cen in all regions and langs

e.    Other traditions: pilgrimage, festivals

f.     Narrative traditions

2.    Rise of great theistic traditions associated particularly with Visnu but also with Siva and Devi the Goddess. 

a.    Vaisnava, Shaiva, Shakti

b.    Two deities become focus: Siva (first appears in Rg as Rudra) and Visnu.  Devotees to Siva = Saivas.  Dev to Visnu = Vaisnavas.



3.    The growth of Hindu theism and devotionalism reflected in narrative traditions of:

a.    Itihasa: Mainly the Epics.  Sanskrit

1.    No historiography in South Asia: as in Greek, Arabic and European traditions.  Reinforces tendency to construct India as ahistorical mythical, irrational in contrast to the West: historical, scientific, rational = the West’s irrational other.  This hides the ‘rationalist’ elements of Hindu culture: science of ritual, grammar, architecture, mathematics, logic and philosophy

2.    Even so, no clear distinction between history, hagiography, and mythology.  Itihasa embraces the categories of myth and history.  Most important seems to be the truth, values, identity they convey.

3.    Epics are primarily Vaisnava: Mahabharata and Ramayana

b.    Puranas: Mythological and ritual treatises. Sanskrit.  Puranas “stories of the ancient past.”

a.    Vast body of complex narratives containing genealogies of deities and kings, cosmologies, law coded, descriptions of ritual and pilgrimage.

b.    Oral traditions written down – absorbed influences from epics, Upanishads, dharmasastras, samhitas.

c.    18 major Puranas – bulk of the material established  c. 320-500 CE.  Some are more sectarian than others (focused on a particular deity)

d.    Devotional poetry.  Vernacular languages (particularly Tamil).