Bhakti Movement in Karnataka


          Bhakti movement is a pan Indian phenomenon that swept the country during the interval between the eighth century and eighteenth century even though the concept of Bhakti has its genesis in Bhagavadgeetha itself. (Bhakti Yoga) It is perceived as a rebellion against the iron clad traditions and mores of the caste system and the religious hegemony that was prevalent all over the country. It had certain basic tenets which were common to all the regions of the country irrespective of linguistic identity. Denial of a mediation by the priestly class, a theistic and secular belief systems, negation of pomp and splendour, preference given to regional languages as against classical languages like Sanskrit et al are some of these features. There are many movements which have striven hard to realize these goals. Bhakti movement had its origin in Tamilnadu. It was set in motion by the sixty three Nayanars, the Shaivite saints and twelve Alvars their Vaishnavite counterparts. Krishnabhakti cult of Gaurang Chaitanya and Saint Meera, the movement lead by Kabiir and Tulasidas in North India and Maharashtrian cults of Sant Tukaram and Sant Jnaneshvar constitute the Indo Aryan core of the movement. On the other hand Nayanars the devotees of Shiva and Alvars the devotees of Vishnu from Tamilnadu have contributed to the Dravidian component of the Bhakti movement. Sikh religion founded by Guru Nanak too played a crucial role. Sufi movement which otiginate from the Islam, had its own share in furthering this movement, also in the context of Karnataka. Of course there are many others who have made unique contributions in the context of their religion. Shivasharanas and Haridasas of Karnataka have carved a niche for themselves in the Pan Indian situation also.

            It is a noteworthy feature of the movement in Karnataka that it began as much a socio-political movement as it was a religious phenomenon. Basavanna, Allamaprabhu, Akkamahadevi and Siddarama the leaders of this movement had a retinue of followers who belonged to many castes that were then considered lowly. Shivasharanas, the Veerashiava saints of the twelfth century were not insider critics of Hinduism. They spurned the Vedic hegemony in its entirety and preached Veerashivism which took little notice of the caste system. It did not hesitate to take the untouchables in to its fold. The movement had a literary component of lasting value in Vachana Sahitya. The movement was self critical what with its major proponents like Allamaprabhu and Basavanna being stark opponents of false Bhakti. Vachanas played a prominent role in the spread of this movement because they were composed in powerful Kannada. 

            Ramanujacharya the founder of Sri Vaishnava Philosophy stayed in Karnataka for a brief stint and he is well known for trying to throw open the doors of his religion and Vedic knowledge to Dalits.

            Another important group that propagated Bhakti in Karnataka constitutes Haridasas who were votaries of the Dwaitha religion ushered in by Madhvacharya. The Dasakuta component of this school lead by Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa have preached the tenets of Bhakti within the parameters of their philosophical beliefs. Their Keerthanas were eminently successful in merging of literature and music in the service of Bhakti. Here again Sanskrit was pushed to the background. Some of the devotional lyrics by these savants and their successors have lasting merits.

            Mathas (The Centres of institutionalized religion and castes) have played a dual role in the context of these movements. On the one hand they have received strong rebuttals by the leading lights of the movement for being too rigid. On the other hand, the Mathas have appropriated the movement and its literature and treating them as their own.

            Another aspect of Bhakti movement in Karnataka as else where is the large scale participation the devotees belonging to the backward and oppressed classes. Some of our oral folk epics such as ‘Male Madeshvara Kavya’ and ‘Manteswamy Kavya’ have furthered the cause of Bhakti in their own unique way. They are essentially the body of devotional writings created with Dalits and villagers at the centre stage. Veerashava saints such as Nijagunashivayogi, Muppina Shadakshari, Sarpabhushan Shivayogi etc have furthered this movement by their songs and lifestyle. This tradition was later encouraged by saints such as Shishunala Sharif, Kadakola Madivalappa, Nagalinga Yogi and Kaivara Naranappa. Their compositions are called ‘Tattvada Padagalu’(Philosophical songs. They and their ilk continue to yield a considerable influence even to this day.  

            Bhakti, as a pathway to God finds many a supporter even in these days of uncertainty and rationality.

  Further Reading and Links:

1.    Tradition and modernity in Bhakti movements‎ - Page 75

(An important Book by Jayant Lele)

2.    The Bhakti movement and the status of women: a case study of Virasaivism‎ - Page ix

3.    Pathway To God In Kannada Literature by R.D. Ranade, 1960



Home / Religion