“Bhakti” is one of the many untranslatable, interconnected and dynamic cultural-spiritual coordinates of the Indic world-view that characterize Bharat/ India as a living civilization, our “punyabhoomi” (sacred place) as well as “matri-pitra-bhoomi”( father/mother-land). Its ubiquitous presence in the very vitals of Bharatiya samaj and sanskriti (Indian society and culture), in perhaps every aspect of our national life - material, intellectual and spiritual gives a distinct “rasa” or flavour to the meaning of Bharat/India. One of the important clues to the amazing unity (ekata or ekatmakata) of Indian civilization, amidst its equally amazing seeming diversity- religious, linguistic, ethnic, diversity,“Bhakti” lies at the centre of the meaning of Bharat/India. The people of Bharat relished “Bhakti” so much that they envisioned and popularised what is known, in Indian Spiritual Tradition as “Bhakti-Yoga” , and in the realm of Aesthetics, as “Bhakti-Rasa/Aesthetic Emotion of Devotion”! In Indian tradition, “Bhakti” has always been a multivalent term and experience that signifies, inter alia, the process of “ becoming integrated” with the whole, “ being a part of or a division, devotion, fondness, trust, homage, worship, piety, love as a means of salvation, together with karman (works) and jnana (knowledge) a row, a series, that which belongs to, or contained in anything else”. Contrary to the semitic faiths , it is only in Hindu and other Indian faiths- Buddhism. Jainism and Sikhism, the advaitik or non-dualistic identification between the bhakta and Bhagawan ( the devotee and the Lord) is considered a salient feature of process of attaining mukti or true freedom. Bhakti as a “Watershed” has been used in conjunction with “Social Reform” in the title of the Conference as a geographical metaphor that implies a crucially important or decisive factor, time or event that has always had a massive impact on the Indian people and their collective socio-cultural consciousness – empowering them to protest against injustice of all sorts- whether caused by internal socio-cultural evils or by waves of invasions. Needless to say, whenever the people of India were subjugated or subjected to explosion and injustice, it is through the watershed of Bhakti that some important socio-cultural-political movement emerged and infused the Indian people with much-needed courage and hope.
In a remarkable sense, the continuous journey and undeniable significance of “Bhakti” in Bharat/India,from the ancient times- from the days of Rigveda, the Upanishadas, The Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Buddhist Therigathas,the Bhagavata, the Sangam Age, the Nayanars and the Alvars, Adi Shankaracharya, Such Saint- Acharya-Bhaktas as Ramanuja, Ramananda, Nimbarka, Basava, Andal, Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded, ( as well as many women-bhaktas),Vallabhacharya, the Lingayatas, the Veershaivas, Tukaram, Eknath, Shankara Dev, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Kabir, Tulsi, Sur, the Sufis like Shah Hussain, Mirabai, Guru Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Gobind Singh, Ramkrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda, Tagore, Tilak, Gandhi, to this very day, clearly and emphatically suggests that the topography or spatiality of “Bhakti” has always been pan-Indian and its capacity to give rise to social reform watersheds (‘ watershed’ -a geographical metaphor and concept- implying a crucially important or
decisive factor, time or event, turning point or historic moment) has remained one of the most important factors of our national life or culture. It is in this sense that this Conference is an attempt to map the contours and flows of “ Bhakti” in India’s intellectual history. Hence the usage of the term- “topography”. this very day throughout the mazes of known or unknown, recorded or unrecorded history has been the journey of Bharat as a civilization. It is to suggest this sense of “movement” of Bhakti from one place to another in the context of Indian history from the Rigveda to this day that the compound Bhakti Movement was constructed. But the point about “Bhakti” , which has generally been ignored in the cultural historiography of India, is that “Bhakti” per se, in consonance with Indian epistemological tradition, is always in movement ! It is time to discuss “ Bhakti-in- movement” now, as Bhakti Movement is a natural extension of Bhakti-in-Movement! It is through “Bhakti” that the people of India have tried to correct themselves socially as well as politically and follow the path of righteousness or dharma and swaraj! That is why, “ Bhakti” and its different forms have given rise to so many “ social reform watersheds” or the crucially important factors- social, political, cultural or spiritual that not only saved but also enabled the Indians to offer a brave resistance against the repeated and continuous military and cultural invasions and genocides for almost a thousand years in history. The Sikh Gurus, to prove the point, were great “Bhaktas” and “Saints”- having tremendous “ Shaastrabal” (power of knowledge) but they also understood and emphasized the value of “Shastrabal ( the military power)”. It was their unalloyed, selfless “Bhakti or devotion” to the Timeless Absolute that enabled them to create an important “ social reform watershed” in Indian history.
What, however, pains a modern Indian is the almost uncritically accepted cultural historiography of India, and its validation through an ideologically-loaded pedagogy at school as well as university levels in the present-day India, that , more or less, has restricted or confined “Bhakti” to metaphysical / transcendental/ religious spaces in order to render it as a typical “orientalist” trait showing the irrational, the unscientific, the unintellectual and the backward-looking or un-progressive nature of Indian people or their collective cultural consciousness in order to validate, what Marx best defined as a territorial space sans history, culture and progress, and therefore, only fit to be colonized by the scientifically , rationally superior West/Europe!!
Relevance/Significance of “Bhakti” in Indian Civilizational Context:-
It is obvious from the above that the continuing relevance of “ Bhakti” in Indian historical and civilizational context cannot be undermined. The justly famous moksha-oriented triad- Jnana-Karma-Bhakti- conjointly forms a “mukti-path” or path of true freedom. But is one’s devotion or “bhakti” to “Jnana” or “ karma” ( selfless ethical action) or “ahaituk or desireless “ Bhakti” itself that serves as the most important clue to the attainment to mukti or liberation from ignorance as well as sorrow. Though the space of Bhakti has been marked by the seeming differences like “Saguna” as well as “Nirguna” or sectarian differences like Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Veershaivas, Lingayatas, Nathapanthis and others, its essence of “ integral oneness of all or ekatmak chetana” , through which “one” gets divided into “ others and all” -creating an advaitik position, can never be doubted. Even in contemporary contexts of internet and techno-cultural modernity, the discourses of “Bhakti” , constructed in people’s own languages, are disseminated and liked by most of the people of India. In India, the Hindus, the Sikhs, The Jainas, the Buddhists and even people belonging to other faiths follow the path of “Bhakti or devotion” to their worldviews that shows them the path of salvation or mukti or nirvana. On the other hand “ Bhakti” also leads the people of India , as it has always led them, to “ Desh-bhakti” ( patriotism) or “Rashtra-bhakti” ( nationalism) – a spiritual-cultural complex that characterizes Bharat as a “Rashtra”. Hence, the importance of “ Bhakti” in India’s intellectual history cannot be underestimated.
A. To discuss the epistemology and philosophy of “ Bhakti” and its innately dynamic nature.
B. To discuss how the spiritual or the sacred and the secular are inseparable in the domain of Bhakti.
C. To understand how “Bhakti” functions as a “social-cultural reform watershed” in the course of Indian Intellectual history.
D. To consider how “Bhakti” helped the Indian people disseminate and strengthen political consciousness in Indian history.
E. To discuss how “ Bhakti” is remains a crucial factor in the project of national integration.
F. Significance of Bhakti-Yoga in contemporary contexts.
G. To critically examine the confluence of bhakti, karma and jnana margas for a better world.
Suggested Themes (Tentative) to be Discussed:-
a. Philosophy of/in Bhakti : Continuity and Change
b. Location of Bhakti in Indian Intellectual Tradition: Then and Now
c. Bhakti: Diversity in Unity in Indic Contexts
d. Bhakti and National Integration
e. Bhakti as the cause of social reform watershed
f. Bhakti and the Social Consciousness: The Epics, and The Bhagavata Purana
g. Bhakti as a dynamic principle of dharma-centric life.
h. The Cross- Currents of Bhakti: The Sufi Poetry of Shah Hussain
i. Women- Bhaktas and their contribution to the meaning of India.
J. New Readings of Advaita, Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita, Dvaitadvaita, and Premabhakti
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