Evaluate the nature of the Bhakti Literature and its contribution to Indian culture. | UPSC GS Paper 1 2021, 10 Marks

Q1. Evaluate the nature of the Bhakti Literature and its contribution to Indian culture. (150 words) 10 Marks

Q1. भक्ति साहित्य की प्रकृति का मूल्यांकन करते हुए भारतीय संस्कृति में इसके योगदान का निर्धारण कीजिए । (150 शब्दों में उत्तर दीजिए)


The Bhakti Literature can be traced back to both the Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions, as well as to the the ancient literature like Vedas, Upanishads and Gita. It is present in India long before the growth and arrival of Sufism in India. However, it was for the first time in South India between the 6th and the 10th century that Bhakti emerged from a religious doctrine into a popular movement based on equality.

Nature of the Bhakti Literature

  • Egalitarian approach: It disregarded caste and gender, and carried their message of love and personal devotion to God to various parts of India.
  • The bhakti literature is devotional and religious. eg. Kirtanas, Dohe, Padas, Ghosha, Thirumurais  etc.
  • Emphasis on local and regional languages: Bhakti saints wrote and preached in vernacular languages. eg. Alvars and Nayanars used local Tamil language instead of Sanskrit. Surdasa preferred Brijbhasha. Due to this factor, they got acceptance by people easily.
  • Reduced evils in society: The Bhakti literature began to be composed in the sixth century AD in south India by the Tamil poet-saints. Many social abnormalities existed in the society, e.g. caste rigidity, irrelevant rituals and religious practices, blind faiths, and social dogmas. The bhakti literature preached against all such evils.
  • Simple approach to religion: The sophisticated philosophy of Vedas and Upnishadas literature was very difficult for ordinary people to understand. People were looking for a simple form of worship, religious activities, and social norms. Bhakti literature was an alternative—a basic form of devotion that provided salvation from the material life.
  • Secular, non-sectarian and tolerant: Although, the bhakti literature was of bhakti literature propagated by Hindu saints, it was tolerant to other religions. Secularism is visible in it.
  • It saw religion as a loving tie based on love between the worshipped and the worshipper, rather than a cold formal worship.

nature of the Bhakti Literature and its contribution to Indian culture

Contribution of the Bhakti Literature to Indian culture

  • The Bhakti literature spread easily among masses and influenced local culture. It led to disgorgement of immoral acts such as infanticide and sati, as well as the prohibition of wine, tobacco etc.
  • Another notable influence was the creation of solidarity between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The secular character of bhakti literature, along with the sufi literature reduced the religious conflicts.
  • The movement attempted to bridge the gap between the two by reducing the growing bitterness between them. The Sufi saints and Bhakti saints transmit a message of friendliness, amity, tolerance, peace, and equality to all.
  • The bhakti literature promoted diversity of religious ideas in religion.
  • It played a crucial role in the emergence of modern poetry in India.
  • It contributed in growth of dance and music. Bhakti literature was used for devotional singing and devotional dances, like Kirtanas and Sattariya.

Contribution of the Bhakti Literature to South Indian Culture

  • Contribution of Alvars:
    • They promoted Vaishnavism in South India through devotional poetry. eg. Divya Prabandha.
    • Tiruvaymoli by Nammalvar is a high regard book.
    • Andal was the sole female among the Alvars. Her Tiruppavai poems are recognised for the emotional ardour and simplicity. She has a cult following till today.
  • Contribution of Nayanars: They promoted Shaivism  in South India. Thirumurai is a collection of their religious poetry, which is also known as the Tamil Veda. Its first seven books Thevaram, are widely accepted as a sacred literature today.
  • In the south, the Bhakti movement aided the establishment of regional languages such as Telugu and Kannada.
    • Nannaya translated Mahabharata into Telugu in the 11th century AD. This is considered as the start of Telugu literary culture.
    • The popularity of Telugu grew due to the kirtans of the Vaishanava poet-saint Annamacharya.
    • Vallabhacharya’s writings have enhanced Telugu literature. eg. Bhagvata Tika and Subodhami.
    • The Kannada trinity of Pampa, Ponna, and Ranna had contributed to the language’s progress.
    • The Virashaiva sect gained popularity Under Basavesvara in the 12th century AD. He promoted the use of Kannada as a medium of instruction. His contemporaries, Allama Prabhu and Akkamahadevi, produced a new kind of literary creation – the Vachanas.

Contribution of the Bhakti Literature to North Indian Culture

  • Ramananda popularised Bhakti in the 12th century AD. As a result, literary works in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Punjabi etc. become popular.
  • Tulsidas wrote in Avadhi, which marked a departure from the Sanskrit tradition.
    • He made spiritual literature easily accessible to the common man. eg. Ramcharitmanas and Hanuman Chalisa.
  • Kabir did not follow the stringent rules of grammar. His Dohe are used to spread his philosophy. Many of his verses are found in the Guru Granth Sahib also. He promoted secularism. He is respected by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in northern India, wrote in local dialects.
  • Mirabai was a prominent female saint. Her songs represent passion, sexuality, and utter submission to her master Lord Krishna.
  • Surdas wrote in Braj Basha. This Hindi dialect was later elevated to the rank of a literary language.
  • The Gita Govinda by Jayadeva paved the way for the development of Bengali literature. It is regarded as the Bhakti period’s most Sanskrit poetic composition.
  • Bengali poets Chaitanya and Chandidasa created Vaishnava literature. These poetries combines sexuality with spiritual zeal.
  • Shankaradeva and Madhavadeva promoted Vaishnavism in Assam.
    • Kirtana-ghosa is the collection of their devotional songs.
  • Bhattadeva enriched the Assamese prose by translating the Bhagavadgita into Assamese.
  • Narasimha Mehta, Bhalana, and Akho contributed for the growth of Gujarati literature and Vaishnava Bhakti. Narasi Mehta is known as the Father of Gujarati Poetry.
  • Bhakti literature contributed in the growth of Marathi. eg. by Namdev and Tukaram’s writings.
  • The Dnyaneshwari or Bhavartha Deepika and Amrutanubhava by Saint Dnyaneshwar are venerated as sacred scriptures in Marathi. Dnyaneshwari is a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.
  • The Sufi movement’s mysticism and the bhakti movement’s spirituality influenced the development of Punjabi literature.
    • Guru Nanak Dev’s work belongs to the Nirguna school of philosophy in high respect.
    • Guru Arjan Dev composed the Sikhs’ holy scripture Adi Granth. His Sukhamani is widely regarded as one of the greatest mystic books of mediaeval times.

Evaluation and Conclusion

Although the bhakti literature did not depart from the orthodoxy, and it failed to create the political awakening, it made a wider appeal to the common people. The popularisation of the Bhakti cult was aided by Bhakti literature.

It made a critical departure from the previous devotional writings, which were largely written in Sanskrit and concentrated on ceremonies and rituals. It also contributed to the growth of regional languages.

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