Philosophy and Bhakti

Learning Goals:

Advaita is the doctrine of oneness of the individual soul and the Supreme God which is the Ultimate Reality.

Shankara: He was born in Kerala in the eighth century. He was one of the most influential philosophers of India and an advocate of Advaita.


Shankara taught that the only or Ultimate Reality was the Brahman who was formless and without any attributes. He considered the world around us to be an illusion or, in other words, maya. He preached renunciation of the world and adoption of the path of knowledge to understand the true nature of Brahman and attain salvation.

Ramanuja

He was born in Tamil Nadu in the eleventh century. He was deeply influenced by the Alvars. He firmly believed that intense devotion to Vishnu was the best means to attain salvation. He propounded the doctrine of Vishishtadvaita.

Vishishtadvaita is formed by the two words: ‘vishisht’ meaning qualified and ‘advaita’ meaning oneness of the individual soul and the Supreme God. In other words it means qualified oneness wherein the soul, even when united with the Supreme God, remained distinct.

The new strand of bhakti that developed in north India subsequently was greatly inspired by Ramanujam’s doctrine.


Basavanna’s Virashaivism

The connection between the Tamil bhakti movement and temple worship led to a reaction that is best represented in the Virashaiva movement.

Virashaiva Movement: This movement which began in Karnataka in the mid-twelfth century was initiated by Basavanna and his companions like Allama Prabhu and Akkamahadevi. The Virashaivas strongly argued for equality of all human beings and against Brahmanical ideas about caste and the treatment of women. They also opposed all forms of rituals and idol worship.

Forms of devotion in Maharashtra

During the period between the 13th and 17th century; Maharashtra saw a great number of saint-poets. Their songs in simply Marathi still continue to inspire people. Jnaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram were the most important saint-poets. Women like Sakhubai and the family of Chokhamela who belonged to the untouchable Mahar caste were also very prominent figures in this field during the period. This regional tradition of bhakti focused on Vitthala (Vitthala is a form of Vishnu) temple in Pandharpur and also on the notion of a personal god residing in the hearts of all people.


These saint poets rejected:

They insisted that bhakti lay in sharing others’ pain. This was a new idea that emerged during the period. This principle is rightly stated by the Gujarati saint Narsi Mehta as –“They are Vaishnavas who understand the pain of others”.



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