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Essentials of Hinduism: Great movements of reform


Side by side with these philosophical systems, a large body of devotional literature in the spoken languages of India has been developed. This was due to the advent of great reformers-Ramananda, Kabir, Nanak, Mirabai, Vallabhacharya, Chaitanya, Tulasidasa, and Tukaram. Ramananda and his Muslim disciple Kabir emphasized the belief in a supreme deity and recognized no caste distinctions, although they accepted the doctrines of Karma and Samsara. Nanak founded the religion of the Sikhs. He was under the influence of Islam as well as of Hinduism and, like Kabir, he believed in Karma and Samsara, Maya and Moksha. He laid great stress on a personal God and a society of disciples not bound by caste or race restrictions. The militant character of Sikhism was a later development mostly due to Aurangzeb's intolerance and persecution.

The great saints of Maharashtra and Bengal created a wonderful literature of Bhakti based on the worship of Rama or of Krishna. Vallabhacharya, in particular, attacked Sankara’s Advaita doctrine. He preached that by God's grace alone can man obtain release. Chaitanya, a contemporary of Vallabha, and his followers called Goswamis, were itinerant preachers whose sincerity of religious experience brought about a reformation in Bengal. The common features are:

1. Belief in one supreme God of Love and Grace.

2. Belief in the individuality of every soul, which is nevertheless part of the Divine Soul.

3. Belief in salvation through Bhakti.

4. The exaltation of Bhakti above Jnana and Karma and above the performance of rites and ceremonies.

5. Extreme reverence to be paid to the Guru.

6. The doctrine of the Holy Name.

7. Initiation through a mantra and a sacramental meal.

8. The institution of sectarian orders of Sanyasins.

9. The relaxing of the rules of caste, sometimes even ignoring all caste distinctions.

10. Religious teaching through the vernaculars.

It was out of these Bhakti cults that the Sikh group transformed itself into a military brotherhood. Bhakti cults gave rise to such works as the Ramayana by Tulasidasa, the Abhangas of Tukaram and the poems of devotees like Ramprasad of Bengal and Tayumanavar of South India and passionate outpouring of Mira Bai. All these helped to popularize the spirit of devotion and resulted in a great religious revival in many parts of India.