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(bŭk`tē) [Skt.,=devotion], theistic devotion in Hinduism. Bhakti cults seem to have existed from the earliest times, but they gained strength in the first millennium A.D. The first full statement of liberation and spiritual fulfillment through devotion to a personal god is found in the Bhagavad-GitaBhagavad-Gita
[Skt.,=song of the Lord], Sanskrit poem incorporated into the Mahabharata, one of the greatest religious classics of Hinduism. The Gita (as it is often called) consists of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on the eve of the great battle of
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. The Puranas (from the 1st cent. A.D.) further elaborated theistic ideas. Devotion to ShivaShiva
or Siva
, one of the greatest gods of Hinduism, also called Mahadeva. The "horned god" and phallic worship of the Indus valley civilization may have been a prototype of Shiva worship or Shaivism.
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 and VishnuVishnu
, one of the greatest gods of Hinduism, also called Narayana. First mentioned in the Veda as a minor deity, his theistic cults, known as Vaishnavism, or Vishnuism, grew steadily from the first millennium B.C., absorbing numerous different traditions and minor deities.
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 and to the latter's avatara (incarnations), Rama and KrishnaKrishna
[Sanskrit,=black], one of the most popular deities in Hinduism, the eighth avatar, or incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna appears in the Mahabharata epic as a prince of the Yadava tribe and the friend and counselor of the Pandava princes.
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, continues to be practiced throughout India. Intense love for God and surrender to Him, reliance on His grace rather than on rituals, learning, or austerities, and the continuous repetition of His name are the means to the goal of His constant presence. The devotee may worship the chosen deity as child, parent, friend, master, or beloved. The bhakti tradition has tended to stress authentic inner feelings as opposed to institutional forms of religion and to disregard caste distinctions. Great devotees and saints such as the Alvars of S India (a Vaishnavite group of wandering singers), Mirabai, Tukaram, Tulsidasa, KabirKabir
, 1440–1518, Indian mystic and poet. A Muslim by birth, he was a weaver in Benares (Varanasi) and early in life may have become the disciple of the famous Hindu saint Ramananda.
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, and ChaitanyaChaitanya
, 1485–1533, Indian mystic, also called Gauranga ("the Golden"). He was born of Brahman parents in Nabadwip, Bengal, a center of Sanskrit learning. As a young man he attained prominence as a scholar, but at 22 he underwent a profound religious conversion and
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 have continuously inspired the cults, founded their own sects, and produced a great literature of songs and poems in their vernaculars.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

To follow a Hindu spiritual path is to follow Bhakti, or dedication to a personal deity of love, mercy, and grace who calls for devotion and surrender. This concept is similar in practice, if not in theology, to the Christian concept of salvation. Hindus prefer the word devotion, a personal response to the feeling that one is separated from the ground of one's being. Although the Hindu concept of "God" is far different from the traditional Western understanding, in Bhakti a chosen deity manifests itself to the individual and calls for personal devotion. The deity is only one expression of the divine, which is unknowable and impossible to define.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a popular religious sectarian movement in India, widespread between the 12th and 17th centuries. One of the religious doctrines of Hinduism underlies the teachings of the ideologists of bhakti; this doctrine is encountered in the ancient classics of Indian religious philosophical literature under the name “bhakti.” The doctrine of bhakti received a particularly full formulation in the Bhaktiratnavali, a work of the late 14th century. The followers of bhakti believed that boundless love of god was itself sufficient for the “salvation” of a person, that it was not necessary to either honor priests or perform rites. The bhakti movement proclaimed the equality of all people before god and rejected caste divisions. Sikhism was one of the latest ideological forms of bhakti.


D’iakov, A. M. Natsional’nyi vopros i angliiskii imperializm v Indii. [Moscow] 1948.
Piatigorskii, A. M. Materialy po istorii indiiskoi filosofii. Moscow, 1962.
Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaia filosofiia, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1956-57 (Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.