NCERT Notes: Bhakti Movement - Origin, Saints, Timeline [Medieval Indian History Notes For UPSC]

Vaishnava and Shaiva devotionalism were given new emphasis and expression by the Alwars and Nayanars saints of South India in the early medieval period. As per the tradition, there were 12 Alwars and 63 Nayanars. Using devotion to achieve salvation was a key component of the Bhakti movement which was started as a religious reformation in medieval India. The period of the 8th to 18th century is dedicated to the Bhakti movement where a number of saints (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh) evolved as the messiah of Bhakti (devotion), teaching people the transition of life from normalcy to enlightenment through salvation.

Learning about Bhakti movement is important for IAS Exam from both History (Medieval India) and Art & Culture (UPSC GS-I) perspectives.

BYJU’s brings to you, the Medival Indian History notes from the NCERT books for the UPSC Civil Services Exam preparation. Medieval Indian History is important for the IAS Prelims preparation, as many questions have been asked in the past from Bhakti and Sufi Movements.

To know more about UPSC 2020 calendar, refer to the linked article.

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Bhakti Movement (8th – 18th Century)

Bhakti Movement - Medieval Indian History NCERT Notes for UPSC 2019

Spread of Islam in India has also resulted in the Medieval Bhakti Movement. The Bhakti Movement in Medieval India is of diverse way.

The thinking of Bhakti Reformers’ like that of Kabir, Nana and Ramananda were shaped by the preaching of Sufi teachers.


Sufism was a liberal reform movement within Islam. It is also termed as Islamic Mysticism. It spread into India in the 10th & 11th century but had origin in Persia.

  • Shaikh Ismail
    • Shaikh Ismail of Lahore was one of the pioneers of Sufism, who started preaching his ideas.
  • Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti
    • He was one of the most famous Sufi Saints who settled in Ajmer which became the centre of his activities.
    • He had a number of disciples who are called Sufis of the Chishti Order.
  • Bahauddin Zakariya
    • He is another renowned Sufi Saint who was influenced by Shihabuddin Suhrawardi another famous mystic.
  • Nizamuddin Auliya
    • He belonged to the Chishti Order who is regarded to be a mighty spiritual force.

Facts about Sufism

  • Sufism highlighted the essentials of love and devotion as the effective means of the realization of God.
  • Sufis believed service to humanity was equal to service to God. According to the Sufis, Love of God meant Love of Humanity.
  • In Sufism, self-discipline is essential to gain knowledge of God with a sense of insight.

Read more about Sufism in the linked article.

Major differences between the Sufis and Orthodox Muslims:

Sufis Orthodox Muslims
Sufis highlight on inner purity. They focussed on external conduct in the society along with other laws
They consider love and devotion as the only means of attaining salvation. They believed in observance of rituals which they believed help individuals transform

Sufism also taught a spirit of tolerance among its followers. 

Ideas of Sufism

  • Sufism emphasized on good actions, meditation, the performance of prayers and pilgrimages, repentance for sins, fasting, charity and suppression of passions by austere practices.
  • The liberal and unorthodox features of Sufism had a profound influence on Medieval Bhakti Saints.

Bhakti Movement in South

The Bhakti Movement originated in the seventh-century in Tamil, South India (now parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala), and spread northwards. It swept over east and north India from the 15th century onwards, reached its peak between the 15th and 17th century CE.

The Alvars and Nayanars of Tamil Nadu

  • The Alvars and Nayanars led some of the earliest bhakti movements (c. sixth century).
  • Alvars – those who are “immersed” in devotion to Vishnu.
  • Nayanars -those who are devotees of Shiva.
  • They travelled from place to place singing hymns in Tamil praising their gods.
  • The Alvars and Nayanars initiated a movement of protest against the caste system and the dominance of Brahmanas or at least attempted to reform the system. This is supported by the fact that bhaktas or disciples hailed from diverse social backgrounds ranging from Brahmanas to artisans and cultivators and even from castes considered “untouchable”.
  • The Nalayira Divya Prabandham (“Four Thousand Sacred Compositions”) – one of the major anthologies of compositions of the 12 Alvars collected and compiled in the 10th Century by Nathamuni.
  • Tevaram – a collection of first seven volumes of Tirumurai (Saiva Devotional poetry) contains the work of Tamil poets –  Appar, Sambandar, and Sundarar.

Women Devotees of Bhakti Movement


  • Only female Alwar
  • Andal saw herself as the beloved of Vishnu; her verses express her devotional love for the deity.

Karaikkal Ammaiyar

  • One of the 3 women Nayanars amongst the 63 nayanars
  • Devotee of Shiva, adopted the path of asceticism in order to attain her goal. 

Important Bhakti Movement Saints

Adi Shankaracharya
  • A Hindu revivalist movement giving a new placement to Hinduism was started by Sankara.
  • Kaladi in Kerala is his birthplace.
  • His doctrine was of Monoism or Advaita Vedanta.
  • The Advaita Concept of Nirgunabrahman (God without attributes) received contradictory reaction with the emergence of the idea of Sagunabrahman (God with attributes).
  • He was born at Sriperumbudur near modern Chennai.
  • He preached Visishtadvaita in the12th century.
  • According to him, God is Sagunabrahman.
  • He encouraged Prabattimarga or path of self-surrender to God.
  • He invited the downtrodden to Vaishnavism.
  • Madhava is from Kannada region whose preaching prevailed in the 13th Century.
  • He preached doctrine of dvaita (dualism) and was the chief proponent of dvaita school of vedanta.
  • His philosophy was that the world is not an illusion but a reality. God, soul, matter is unique in nature. 
Nimbarka and Vallabhacharya 
  • Nimbarka and Vallabhacharya were also other preachers of Vaishnavite Bhakti.
  • He was the disciple of Vallabhacharya
  • He popularized Krishna cult in the Northern part of India
  • She was a great devotee of Krishna.
  • She became popular in Rajasthan for her bhajans.
  • He was a worshipper of Rama.
  • He composed the famous Ramcharitmanas, the Hindi version of Ramayana.
  • He was born at Allahabad.
  • He was inspired by Ramanujacharya.
  • Later he founded his own sect and preached his principles in Hindi at Banaras and Agra.
  • Ramananda was the first to employ the vernacular medium to spread his ideas.
  • He opposed the caste system and chose his disciples from all sections of society irrespective of caste.

Ramananda’s disciples were:

  • Anantananda
  • Sursurananda
  • Sukhanand
  • Naraharidāsa
  • Bhavanand
  • Bhagat Pipa
  • Kabir
  • Sen
  • Dhanna
  • Ravidas
  • Kabir
  • Kabir was the most famous disciple of Ramananda.
  • He was brought up by a Muslim couple who were weavers by profession.
  • He had a curious mind in learning new things and he learned much about Hinduism in Benares.
  • Kabir’s aim was to reunite Hindus and Muslims and form harmony between them.
  • He is regarded as the greatest of the mystic saints.
  • His followers are called Kabirpanthis. 
  • In the 14th and 15th centuries, Ramananda, Kabir and Nanak remained the great apostles of the Bhakti cult.
  • They aided the common people to shed age-old superstitions and attain salvation through Bhakti or pure devotion.
  • Criticized all forms of worship of idols. 
Guru Nanak
  • Guru Nanak was born in Talwandi near Lahore.
  • He was the founder of the Sikh Religion.
  • He condemned caste differences and rituals like bathing in holy rivers.
  • He established a centre at Kartarpur named Dera Baba Nanak on the river Ravi. His idea of religion was highly practical and strictly moral.
  • His one of the famous sayings was “Abide pure amidst the impurities of the world”.
Guru Angad
  • Guru Angad also is known as Lehna was appointed by Guru Nanak before his death.
  • Guru Angad compiled the compositions of Guru Nanak in a new script known as Gurmukhi and added his own compositions as well.
Guru Arjan
  • He was the 5th Guru.
  • He compiled the writings of the three successors of Guru Angad who wrote under the name of “Nana”.
  • He was executed by Jehangir in 1604.
Guru Gobind Singh
  • He was the 10th Guru.
  • In 1706, he authenticated the compilation which was added with the writings of other figures like Shaikh Farid, Sant Kabir, Bhagat Namdev and Guru Tegh Bahadur, which is now known as Guru Granth Sahib.

The town of Ramdaspur (Amritsar) had developed around the central Gurdwara called Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple) by the beginning of the 17th century. It was almost self-governing and also referred as ‘a state within the state’ community.

  • Chaitanya was another renowned saint and reformer of Bengal who popularised the Krishna cult.
  • He believed that a devotee can feel the presence of God through song and dance and love and devotion. 
  • He was the founder of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra in the 13th century.
  • Also known as Sant Dnyaneshwar.
  • He wrote Gnaneswari a commentary of Bhagavad Gita. 
  • In the 16th Century, Namadeva preached the gospel of love.
  • He opposed idol worship and the dominance of priests.
  • He criticized the Caste System. 
  • He was a prominent Marathi Sant, a scholar and religious poet of the Varkari Sampradaya.
  • He opposed caste differences and was kind towards the lower castes.
  • He is known as a bridge between his predecessors Dnyaneshwarand Namdev and the later Tukaram and Ramdas. 
  • Tukaram was another Bhakti saint of Maharashtra and said to be a contemporary of Shivaji.
  • Tukaram also referred to as Sant Tukaram, Bhakta Tukaram, Tukaram Maharaj, Tukobaand Tukobaraya.
  • He was a 17th-century poet-saint of the Bhakti movement.
  • Tukaram is best known for his Abhanga (Devotional poetry) and kirtans (Community-oriented worship with spiritual songs.)
  • His poetry was devoted to Vitthala or Vithoba, an avatar of Hindu god Vishnu.
  • Responsible for creating a background for Maratha nationalism 
Nathpanthis, Siddhas, and Yogis
  • They condemned the ritual and other aspects of orthodox religion and the social order, using simple, logical arguments.
  • They encouraged the renunciation of the world.
  • To them, the path to salvation lay in meditation and to achieve this they advocated intense training of the mind and body through practices like yogasanas, breathing exercises and meditation.

Importance of the Bhakti Movement

  • Bhakti movement provided a spur for the development of regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, etc.
  • The lower classes rose to a position of great importance.
  • The Bhakti movement gave equal importance to men and women which gave way to the importance of women in society.

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