Spread of Bhakti Movement to the North
When the popularity of the bhakti movement in south
India reached its peak, the doctrine of bhakti was expounded at the
philosophical level by a series of Vaishnava scholars and saints. Ramanujar
expounded the philosophy known as Vishistadvaita, or qualified monism. His
teaching qualified Adi Sankara’s emphasis on absolute monism or the oneness of
the ‘supreme’ and the ‘souls’.
If the Bhakti movement flourished in the Tamil
country from the seventh century, it was only from the fifteenth century that
there was an extraordinary outburst of devotional poetry in north India. The
society had degenerated into a caste-ridden community with practice of
segregation, polytheism and idolatry. The religious minded saints raised their
voice of protest against rites and ceremonies, superstitions, and unwanted
formalisms. A popular monotheistic movement along with Vaishnava Bhakti
movement came to be launched. The monotheists followed a path which was
independent of dominant religions of the time, Hinduism and Islam. They denied
their allegiance to either of them and criticized superstitious and orthodox
elements of both the religions.
The advent of Islam with the Turkish conquest posed
a challenge to Vedic scholars and priests. By the end of the fourteenth century
Islam had spread to large parts of India. A considerable section of the Indian
population had taken to Islam. Combined with state power, the universal message
of Islam with emphasis on equality attracted the lower sections of society.
The new political and social situation created
conditions for the growth of non-conformist movements with anti-caste, anti-
vedic and anti-puranic traditions. The resultant changes in the cultural sphere
were: development of regional languages, the evolution of Hindustani (Hindi),
and of Indo-Muslim music and architecture.
The Hindu response to Muslim political power was complex. While there was considerable hostility to the new religion there was also a tendency to internal reform to strengthen Hinduism so as to face the challenge. An important outcome of the encounter was the rise of syncretic sects and major poets and Saints such as Kabir, Guru Nanak, and Ravidas.