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Bhakti as a Social Critic

  • Date Submitted: 10/04/2011 03:48 AM
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Satchidanandan K – Bhakti as Social Critique

Bhakta Surdas. Courtesy - brian.hoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu

Lessons from the South: The Early Phase

The Bhakti Movement can be seen as a great revival and re-inforcement of the sramanic tradition of spiritual enquiry, subaltern religiosity and social protest. This does not imply that Bhakti was a monolithic movement; it was a polyphonic movement spread over fourteen centuries, from the 6th to the 19th, which accommodated conservatives as well as radicals. But even social conservatives like Tulasidas who recognized the varnasramadharma succeeded in creating a new poetic idiom with fresh dimensions of imagination and thus helped radicalize the practice of poetry. Some radical social groups like the warkaris of Maharashtra that included Namdev, Tukaram, Chokhamela and others, the veerashaivas of Karnataka represented by poets like Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu and the Radhasaomi Movement that had in it Swami Dayal Singh and Anand Swarup actualised alternative communities based on the perfect equality of caste, class and gender. The Bhakti Movement included Brahmins like the Telugu poets Nannaya, Tikkana and Vemana , the Marathi poets Ekanath and Jnandev, the Bengali ( Oriyas also claim him) poet Chaitanya and the Assomiya poet Sankardev of Assam who had all de-brahminised themselves as well as soodras andavarnas or atisoodras who recognised the Brahmin hegemony even while pleading for ultimate human equality like Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan of Kerala, besides marginalized sections like non-Brahmin craftsmen, women and Muslims who developed a subaltern egalitarian vision of a new society– one could name for example, Pambatti Chittar the snake-charmer, Dasimiah the weaver, Channiah the cobbler, Dadu the cotton-carder, Namdev the tailor, Chowdayya the ferryman, Chokhamela the mahar, Gora the potter, Ravi(Rai)das the tanner, Kabir the weaver, Tukaram the peddler, women saints like Karaykkal Ammayar, Andal,...

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