This chapter has been named as ‘The Golden Period’, because it was in this period that a serious attempt was made by number of saints, sages, poets, and other reformists to do away with the harmful caste system, without sacrificing the essential good teachings of Hinduism. They basically propagated the Hindu teachings but kept the caste division out of the religion. They emphasized humility and surrender as the most important divine virtues. They also prompted the cultivation of moral virtues like truthfulness, compassion, patience, tolerance, contentment, self-control, service, sincerity etc. They usually sang in their popular vernacular languages, instead of in Sanskrit, which was out of reach for most commoners. In the Hindu culture, devotion to God became a way of life.
The Bhakti, or Devotional era started first in South India, with the Alvar and Nayanar saints, in the sixth century CE. The Alvar saints sang about Lord Vishnu, while the Nayanars were devotees of Lord Shiva. The Alvar saints developed an emotional and personal relationship with God. They would describe Vishnu as the incarnate Lord Krishna in the form of a beloved and charming cow herder, and themselves were the maids, the gopis, who would be love-torn in separation. Female saint Antal (725–755) became most famous with her passionate devotional songs. It is believed that the impact on Hindu society of these saint/poets was so enormous that the personal God became more accepted than the abstract, formless Divine. The poetry of these Dravidian saints later influenced the devotional traditions in various regions of India.
The second wave of the Bhakti movement, which started in the northern and western parts of India, began in the thirteenth century. The saints of this era belonged mainly to the Vishnu sect of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. They would often compose songs of personal experiences with the Lord, in form of a saguna god (god with form), or they would describe the Lord as formless—a nirguna god. The devotees of the saguna worship would treat the idols of God, the murtis, in a most intimate manner. The physical body, the emotions, and the embodied forms of the Lord, which could be seen and worshipped, subtly replaced the soul’s abstract world of the Vedic Rishis.65 The bhakti, or surrender, relationship is described in six different forms:
The Golden Era of the Bhakti Yoga was also a key resistance movement against the stern caste system prevalent at the time. However, these saints adopted the most humble, non-violent approach in their task. They resorted to positive methods, eulogizing the spiritual qualities of the religion, and especially highlighted and emphasized the grand virtues and merits of God. They composed hundreds of songs and bhajans in praise of the Divine, and sang them in enchanting tunes in temples, homes, and streets with utmost passion and intimacy. They preached to the common people to live simply with moral values and charity. They sang in popular vernacular languages instead of Sanskrit, which was beyond the comprehension of most. They taught people to become devotional, and to develop complete and full faith in God.
NOTE: This chapter is adapted from Asha Dayal, Bharat jaa Bhagat (Sindhi Language), Veena Devidas Mirpuri, Madras, India, 1981.