Introduction to Bhakti

Definition of Bhakti

The word Bhakti is derived from the root “Bhaj” meaning to participate, or to receive a share. The root word (dhaatu) Bhaj is used in the sense of ‘seva’ (service). Bhakti, derived by adding a suffix (pratyaya) ‘kta’, means actions performed with sevA attitude towards God1. Bhakti is an intense attachment to God or deep interest in God or with matters concerned with God.

Bhakti is participation in activities involving Bhajan, worship, and praise of God with a feeling of anurag, prem, priti or love. Bhakti is supreme love for God for God’s sake. There is no other objective or selfish motive or

no fear in the divine love.

Lord Krishna in Srimad Bhagavatam defines Bhakti “as pure love of a devotee or Bhakta to Him”. According to Narada Muni, “Bhakti is of the nature of the Supreme Love directed towards God”. Bhakti is the total dedication of all actions at the altar of the Lord. A true Bhakta feels excruciating pangs at all moments of forgetfulness of the Lord and such an attitude involving Supreme Love of Divine may be termed as Bhakti. The love of Gopis of Vraja towards Lord Krishna is the best example to define Pure Love. Gopis would think of Lord Krishna at all times. Even a moment’s forgetfulness would cause excruciating pain, thus was their love for the Lord. Another example is that of Namadeva of Pandarapura and Visobakesa who could think of Lord Panduranga and none other.

Bhakti is intense devotion and attachment to God. It is pure, unselfish and divine love for the Lord. Bhakti is a sacred higher emotion that unites the devotee with the God. Bhakti towards god starts with Faith in Him. This faith will lead to attraction and adoration. Adoration in turn leads to the release of mundane desires. The result is single minded devotion to the Lord from which grows attachment and Supreme love.

It is to be noted that the word devotion is not an exact translation for Bhakti. The word devotion combined with involvement may be taken as representing Bhakti in the context of this text.

Bhakti according to some authentic sources

(According to GarudapurAna, “The verbal root bhaj is used specifically in the sense of seva or service (sEvAnAm), actions performed with sevA attitude is bhakti” – pUrvakAnda 231.3)

a) Bhagavad Gita: Bhagavad Gita of Mahabharata is considered as the 5th Veda. The Bhagavada Gita consisting of 18 chapters, 700 slokas is categorised into 3 divisions of six chapters each. The second division, chapters 7th – 12th is classified as Bhakti Yoga. Lord Krishna explains Bhakti in these chapters as loving devotion to God as the easiest and highest path to Salvation. The karma Yoga, explained in the first division of the first six chapters, and Jnana yoga of the third division in the last six chapters of gIta are closely linked to the Bhakti yoga.

b) Narada Bhakti Sutra: is a sUtra text by Narada Muni, son of Lord Brahma elucidating on Bhakti. Narada Bhakti Sutra explains the stages of pure devotion, process to achieve this stage, quotations from Vedic personalities, things to be avoided while developing Bhakti, nature of selfless love and finally forms of bhakti to achieve the Supreme Lord.

c) Srimad Bhagavatam: also known by other names such as Maha Purana, The Bhagavata Purana or Bhagavatam is one of Hindu texts. Sage Veda Vyasa has authored Srimad Bhagavatam with focus on Bhakti to Lord Vishnu or Narayana and primarily focusing on Lord Krishna. The text includes the stories of life of Lord Krishna (as Vishnu in human form) showing him in all the stages and conditions of human life. The Purana also includes instruction in the practice of bhakti, an analysis of bhakti, description of the different types of bhakti, the forms of bhakti, bhavas and rasas in Bhakti etc.

d) Shvetashvatara Upanishad: This is the 14th Upanishad among the Mukitika 108 Upanishads. Mukitika refers to the list of 108 Upanishads. This Upanishad has 113 verses in six chapters. The composition of this Upanishad is around 3-4th Century BCE. One of the prominent features of this Upanishad is the conception of Bhakti with the sixth chapter emphasising on Para Bhakti.

e) Ramayana: In Valmiki Ramayana, Lord Rama details the nine forms of Bhakti also known as Nava Vidha Bhakti.

f) Many other texts including darshanAs, itihAsas, and purAnAs provide authentic material for understanding bhakti.

Lives of some great bhaktas

Another important authentic source of Bhakti is lives of great proponents of bhakti lived at all times through the ages. Some of the prominent bhaktas are Lord Hanuma, Kuchela, Sankara, madhwAchArya, chaitanya mahAprabhu, tulsI dAsa, sUr dAsa, mIrA bAi, Akka Maha Devi, Basavanna, Jaya Deva, Nimbarka, Vallabhacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Kabir etc.