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Individual Bhakti Saints in India

Individual Bhakti Saints in India

Shankaracharya (788 – 822 AD):

  • Born at Kaladi, Kerala. He emphasised the importance of Vedanta and propounded the concept of maya (illusion). He stressed on advaita philosophy according to which Brahma, the absolute soul, is the only reality.
  • He argued that acquisition of knowledge (gnana-marga) is the way to overcome maya and realise salvation. He was known as ‘prachanna Buddha’ or pseudo-Buddha. Since his concept of maya is similar to that of ‘shunya’ concept of Buddhism.
  • He wrote commentaries on the Upanishads, Bhagvad Gita and the Brahmasutras of Badrayana. He established four mathas at Badrinath, Puri, Sringeri and Dwarka. He has been called the saviour of modern Hinduism.

Ramanuja Acharya (1017 -1137):

  • He was a tamil Vaishnavite Saint. He taught in the great temple at Srirangam. He differed with Shankaracharya’s advaita and propounded ‘Visistadvaita’ (qualified monism) according to which the soul of the individual, though a part of the universal soul, is yet, distinct from it.
  • He called for bhaktiyoga i.e greater stress on devotional worship to a personal God as a means to salvation.
  • Another means of salvation was ‘prapattimarga’ i.e. the abandonment of self, putting one’s soul completely in the hands of God, trusting his will.
  • Ramanuja was liberal in his social outlook and he broke caste barriers. He wrote a book called Vedanta Sangraha and also wrote commentaries on the Brahmasutras of Badrayana and the Bhagvadgita.

Madhavacharya (13th Century):

  • He was a kannada Vaishnavite saint. He is the founder of ‘Dvaita’ system of philosophy as distinct from the monism of Shankara.
  • According to him, the universe could be divided into two parts, ‘Swatantra’ the independent being and ‘paratantra’ the dependent being.
  • Swatantra was the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God and paratantra comprised the matter and souls.

Nimbarka (13th – 14th Centures):

  • He was a telugu Vaishnavite Saint. He propounded the concept of ‘Dvaitadvaita’ (dualistic monism).
  • According to it, the Brahmin, or the supreme being, transforms himself into the souls of the world, which are therefore real, distinct and different from the Brahmin.
  • Though the soul and the world are real and different from the Brahman, they cannot exist independently without his support.

Vallabhacharya (15th —16′n Centuries):

  • He was a telugu Vaishnavite saint. He propounded the philosophy of ‘Shuddhadvaita’ (pure monism).
  • According to it, God is one, omnipotent and omniscient and the cause of all that there is in the Universe. He manifests himself in the form of individual souls and matter (world).
  • Thus, the three (God, Souls, World) are identical in essence though different in manifestation. At the the same time, it should be kept in mind that God is pure (Shuddh) in himself and does not undergo any change or transformation, though he is the cause of everything in the Universe.
  • Vallabha’s teachings are also known as ‘Pushtimarga’ or the path of grace. He was a contemporary of Vijayanagara king Srikrishna Deva Raya.


  • He belonged to Navadwipa (Nadia) in Bengal. He is considered to be the most influential writer on the Dharamashastras during the medieval period.
  • Raghunandan asserted the privileges of the brahmins and said only they had the right to read the scriptures.


  • Born at Parayag. He was among the first bhakti saints to preach in Hindi. He was the first Bhakti Saint to admit women as his disciples.
  • He initiated Bhakti movement in north India by way of worship of Ram and Sita. He taught in Benaras and Allahabad.
  • He was not clearly opposed to caste system and untouchability, but he opposed the claim of Brahmins (his own kinsmen) to be the sole custodians of Hinduism.
  • He had 12 main disciples, including among them Kabir (weaver), Raidas (cobbler), Dhana (peasant), Sena (barber), Pipa (a prince), Sadhana (a butcher), Narahari (a goldsmith), Padmavati and Surasari.
  • After Ramananda, the bhakti movement in North India was divided into Saguna and Nirguna schools. The origin of Nirguna bhakti is generally traced to Ramananda’s teachings.


  • Disciple of Ramananda. He was born near Benaras. He was brought up by a muslim weaver named Niru. He was married to Loi. He was a weaver in Benaras. He came under the influence of a muslim preacher Mir Taqi.
  • He believed in pantheism-God is everywhere. He spoke up against Sati and child marriage. He pleaded for Hindu-muslim unity.
  • He was a Nirguna saint who believed in a formless God. He was persecuted by Sikandar Lodhi. He was a contemporary of Guru Nanak.
  • His dohas (couplets) and Sakhi (poems) are collected in his book Bijak. Followers of Kabir are called Kabirpanthis.


  • Was a Nirguna Saint, a follower of Ramananda and a peasant.


  • Was a Nirguna saint, a follower of Ramananda and was a cobbler in Benaras. Queen of chittor,
  • Rani Jhali was influenced by him. Followers of Raidas are called Raidas panthis.

Dadu Dayal (15554-1603):

  • Born in Ahmedabad to muslim parents, he was brought up by a Hindu. He preached in Rajasthan, first at sambhar and later at Naraina where he finally died.
  • His teachings are collected in a book called “Bani” in hindi. His followers are called Dadupanthis. Dadu’s prominent disciples are Sundaradasa, Rajjab, Bakham and Wazid.

Meerabai (1498-1569):

  • She hailed from the Sisodia dynasty of Chittor and was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and popularized Krishna cult in Rajasthan through her songs.

Surdas (1483-1563):

  • Disciple of Vallabhacharya of south India, he popularized the Krishna cult in Uttar Pradesh by singing songs glorifying Krishna’s childhood.
  • He was the author of Sursagar, Sur Sarawali, Sahityabhari. He is said to have decorated the court of Akbar.

Tulsidas (1532-1623):

  • He was a worshipper of Rama and composed the famous ‘Ramcharitamanas’ in Hindi. However he was said to be against women and untouchables.
  • Other works composed by Tulsidas are Dohavali, Geetavali, Kavitavali, Vinayapatrika.


  • He was a Vaishnavite saint and a musician in Vrindavan.
  • He had two famous disciples, Tansen and Baijnath. He was a contemporary of Akbar.

Chaitanya (1436-1533):

  • He was born at Nadia, Bengal. He was a pioneer of Vaishanv revivalist movement in Eastern India and belonged to the Saguna school.  Individual Bhakti Saints in India
  • He worshipped Lord Krishna as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and believed in ‘Bheda-abheda’ (dualistic-nondualistic). He advocated ‘Ragamarga’ as a means to salvation and composed many Kirtans.

Shankaradeva (1463 – 1568):

  • He was a contemporary of Chaitanya, he spread Viaishnava bhakti in Assam.
  • He was to a large extent responsible for the Hinduisation of the Ahoms.


  • A contempoarary of Tulsidas. He wrote Bhaktamala, a book which advocates intense devotion to God.

Maratha Saints:

Varkari – They emphasized on moral and spiritual aspects of life. Ex: Gyaneshwar, Tukaram, Eknath, Namdev.

Dharkari – They emphasized on moral, spiritual, material and political aspects. Ex: Ramdas.

Gyaneshwar: He was a Varkari marathi saint who attacked the domination of Brahmins. He wrote a commentary on Bhagvat Gita called the Bhavartha Dipika.  Individual Bhakti Saints in India

Tukarah: He wrote many abhangas which became popular and was a Varkari marathi saint.

Namdev: He was a Varkari marathi saint and a tailor, born in a dyer’s family. Visoba Khechar was his teacher. He was also influenced by Islam. He opposed idol worship and other formalities of religion.

Eknath: He was the grandson of Bhanudas. He renounced the world at the age of 12 years and was a Varkari marathi saint.

Ramdas: He was a Dharkari marathi saint who influenced Shivaji and urged him to go for military glory. He was a devotee of Vithoba of Pandharpur and settled down finally at Chafal in Satara district. He wrote a book called ‘Dasabodha’.

Narasinha Mehta: He was a Vaishnavite saint in Gujarat whose lyrical fervour and love transcended all boundaries including those of caste and creed.

Thirumurais: A number of popular saints called Nayanars and Alvars who were devotees of Shiva flourished in the tamil area between the 6th and the 9th centuries. They composed their works in Tamil and other languages of the area.

The writings of these saints, which were collected into 12 volumes under the name Thirumurais in the early part of the 12th Century, are considered sacred and are looked upon as the fifth veda.  Individual Bhakti Saints in India



Medieval History

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