Bhakti (SANSKRIT bhaj, to adore, honor, worship) is a central spiritual path in Hinduism, involving devotion to and service of the chosen deity.Vedic tradition, the chief religious practice of Hinduism from around 1500 B.C.E. to roughly Devotional practice bhakti is a central feature of Hinduism. Here a Brahmin priest and devotees are at worship in Belur, Bengal. (Gustap Irani)the start of the Common Era, relied on a ritual process of chanting and making offerings to vari-ous divinities. Compared with the later practice of bhakti, these divinities were not addressed with intimacy and a sense of connection; furthermore, they were never iconographically represented and were not generally visualized in human form; the humanity of the divinity became a very important element in later bhakti.
   The devotional practices of bhakti are very old, probably originating with the non-ARYAN (thus non-Vedic) population. As the Aryans gradually spread beyond their original settlement in North-west India and established cultural dominance over the indigenous peoples of India, they rather freely incorporated values and traditions from the local substratum. This influence began to show an obvious impact in the development of the bhakti path within Hinduism.
   The Sanskrit text the BHAGAVAD GITA, written around 200 B.C.E., was the first true bhakti text in the Indian tradition, in that case focusing on the worship of KRISHNA. It depicts a very close, personal relationship with God, one with a human form and personality. However, bhakti is still seen as a restrained, austere practice that takes the form of a YOGA.
   As bhakti began to emerge with full force in the extreme south of India beginning in the third century, the devotion to the gods VISHNU and SHIVA and to the Goddess became a passionate, emotional experience. Devotees such as the poet-saints who periodically emerged until the 17th or 18th century threw themselves into bhakti with complete abandon. The quintessential devotee took pride in being considered a mad person and would be often completely lost in ecstatic song and trance. One important reason why the bhakti movement eventually swept all India and trans-formed the face of Hinduism was that the songs of the saints were all in the local dialects and lan-guages, not in the Sanskrit language of the priestly elite. These works were lovingly remembered and compiled by their followers.
   Bhakti often involved PILGRIMAGE to and wor-ship at sacred places where ICONS of the chosen deity could be found. The temple tradition of India developed on the basis of devotion to dei-ties who took iconic shape in stone in temples the length and breadth of the country. Devotees yearned to see the deity and to have audience with him or her. This audience is referred to as DARSHAN, or “viewing,” and is the most special and intimate aspect of the temple visit.
   Further reading: Stephen P. Huyler, Meeting God: Ele-ments of Hindu Devotion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Uni-versity Press, 1999); Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Donald S. Lopez, Religions of India in Practice (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); Donald N. Lorenzen, ed., Bhakti Religion in North India: Community, Identity and Political Action (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995); A. C. Bhaktive-danta Swami Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion: The Complete Science of Bhakti (Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1982); Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod, ed., Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987); Karel Werner, Love Divine: Studies in Bhakti and Devotional Mysticism (Rich-mond, England: Curzon Press, 1993).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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