BHAKTI AND SIKHISM. The word bhakti is derived from Skt. bhaj, meaning to serve, honour, revere, love and adore. In the religious idiom, it is attachment or fervent devotion to God and is defined as “that particular affection which is generated by the knowledge of the attributes of the Adorable One.” The concept is traceable to the Vedas where its intimations are audible in the hymns addressed to deities such as Varuna, Savitra and Usha.

However, the word bhakti does not occur there. The word occurs for the first time in the Upanisads where it appears with the co-doctrines of grace and self surrender (prapatti) (e.g.Svetasvatar, I,V. 23).The Bhagavadgita attempts to expound bhakti in a systematic manner and puts bhakti marga in juxtaposition with karma marga andjnana marga as one of the three means of attaining liberation. The Nardiya Sutra , however, decrees that “bhakti is superior even to karma, jnana and yoga.” Bhakti took strong roots in South India where generations ofAlvar (Vaisnavite) and Nayanar (Saivite) saints had sung their devotional lyrics and founded their respective schools of bhakti between AD 200900. It came to north India much later.

`The Dravid country is the birthplace of bhakti school; bhakti became young in Karnataka, it grew old in Maharashtra and Gujrat, but when it arrived in Vrindavana, it became young again.” Munshi Ram Sharma : Bhakti ka Vikas. p. 353. In the north, the cult was essentially Vaisnava based, but instead of being focussed on Visnu, it chose to focus itself on Visnu`s human incarnations, Rama and Krsna, the respective avatars or deities central to the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

For bhakti now Visnu`s incarnations (Rama and Krsna) were the direct objects of devotion. Adoration of the devotees was focussed on them in association with their respective consorts : Sita with Rama; and Rukmini, his wedded wife, or Radha, his Gopika companion, with Krsna. Images of these deities and their consorts installed in temples were worshipped. The path of bhakti was not directly accessible to the lower castes; for them the path of prapatti (unquestioned self surrender) was prescribed. Singing of bhajans and dancing formed an important part of this worship.

The dancers were devadasis (female slaves of the deity) inside the temple, but nagarbadhus (public wives) outside.Apart from being overwhelmingly ritualistic, the worship tended to be intensely emotional, frenzied and even erotic. An important influence in north Indian bhakti was Ramanand whose many disciples including Kabir, Ravidas, Pipa, Sadhana and Sainu radicalized the Bhakti movement. Kabir, out of them, was the most eloquent and outspoken. Besides bhakti, other influences which shaped him were Sufism and Buddhism.

He repudiated avatarvad, social ideology of caste, ritualistic formalism and idolworship, all of which were integral parts of traditional Vaisnavite bhakti. Kabir even questioned the authority of the Vedas and Puranas. Sikhism undoubtedly accepted some of the aspects of radicalized bhakti, and admitted some of its practices into its own ordained set.It did lay down spiritual love as the way to the deity, but the deity to be worshipped was neither Siva nor Visnu nor even any of their incarnations, nor any of the gods or goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.

It was the One and the Only God, the Lord of Universes who was at once transcendent (nirguna) and immanent (saguna). Although immanent in ^lis Creation He was yet apart from it, being its Creator. Since He inhered in the world that He had created, the world could not be considered unreal or illusory (mithya or maya). It was real and sacred (“the abode of the True One”), It is therefore blasphemous to renounce it in quest of God. “He that is immanent in the Universe resides also within yourself.

Seek, and ye shall find” (GG, 695). Renunciation of the world as a spiritual pursuit thus stood totally rejected. Celebacy was no longer countenanced, either. Full participation in life in a spirit of`detachment` was prescribed instead. “Of all the religious rules and observances grihasthya (the homestead) is supreme. It is from here that all else is blessed” (GG, 587). Guru is paramount in bhakti as well as in Sikhism. The ideal that Bhakti laid down for man was to achieve personal release (moksha or mukti).

In Sikhism the ideal was stated in these terms : “I long not for a kingdom or for mukti but only for the lotus feet of the Lord” (GG, 534). In the Sikh faith the highest ideal is to be able cheerfully to accept the will of God (raza, bhana) and live one`s life in its dynamic mould, to be ready to give oneself to carrying out what ought to happen.This concept of Divine Will (hukam) as well as the injunction to accept it cheerfully is peculiar to Sikhism. Also, whereas the ultimate aim of bhakti is for the individual to attain personal liberation, the Sikh ideal is well being of all (sarbatt ka bhala).

The modes of worship in Bhakti cults included not only bhajan (adoration) and kfrtan (singing the praises of the deity), but also Yogic upasana (literally, to sit beside, to meditate), Vedic sacrifices, Brahmanical ritualism and Tantric practices. Of these, Sikhism retains only bhajan and kirtan and disclaims the rest. It categorically rejects sacrificial rites. The only sacrifice it approves of is self sacrifice for the sake of righteousness. Sikhism strongly censures idol worship.

Instead, sabda (the Divine Word) is determined to be the focus of all adoration. However, as in bhakti, nam (Logos) is both the object and means of adoration of God. Thus, bhakti has been radically transformed and redefined in Sikhism. Sikhism is in fact much wider than bhakti both in its conceptual gamut as well as in practice. For the Bhakti cults, bhakti is the beall and end all of everything; for Sikhism two other crucially important ends are ethical living and spiritual liberation. The cultivation of moral qualities, in Sikhism, is the requisite precondition for bhakti.

“Without morality bhakti is not practicable” (GG, 4). Moral discipline is considered a vehicle for attaining nearness to God. “It is by our deeds that we become closer to God or become distant from Him” (GG, 6). While the bhagats` sole stress was on bhakti or loving devotion, the Gurus also wanted to inculcate along with love and faith the spirit of fearlessness and valour among the Sikhs. A Sikh was to “overcome all fear by cherishing the Fearless Lord” (GG, 293). “He must not terrorize anyone, nor must he submit to anyone`s fear” (GG, 1427). He was “to be subservient to none but the True Lord” (GG, 473).

He was not to be a quietist ascetic but a valiant saint ready to “battle in open field” (GG, 931) to destroy the tyrants.In their scheme of ethical dynamism the Gurus gave priority to zeal for freedom. Sikhs were not only given nam (Logos) as the symbol of the Formless One (which they shared with the bhaktas) but were also given kirpan (sword) as the symbol of the Fearless One. Sikhism, thus addressed itself, to dual ideals, the otherworldly (pirl) as I well as this worldly (miri). Since Fatherhood of God was the basic Sikh tenet, brotherhood of man ipso facto became its social corrolary.

No one was to be reckoned low or high “Reckon the entire mankind as One” (Akal Ustati, 15.85) was the Guru`s precept. Most of the bhakti cults also decried inequality, and especially condemned caste distinctions, giving the right of worship to the low caste.However, service continued to be a menial pursuit, and manual labour was looked upon as the job of the lowly. The Gurus wen (further than just proclaiming the equality of man. They established dignity of labour, by making social service (seva) as an important vehicle of spiritual advancement. “The hands and feet sans seva are condemnable; actions other than seva are fruitless” (Bhai Gurdas, Varan, XXVII. 10).

Begging is taboo for the Sikhs. While bhaktas could live on alms and public charity, not so a Sikh. He is ordained to earn his living by the honest labour of his hands (kirt) and share his earnings with others. It rehearsed in the fifteenth century the ideology of fraternity, equality and liberty.Devotion was defined as a positive phenomenon. Full faced participation in life was recommended. In the time and space setting, bhakti and Sikhism lie close to each other which has led some to describe Sikhism as an offshoot of bhakti.

Like the bhaktas and the Sufis, Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, proclaimed the love of God and, through it, communion with Him as the primary aim of man.More like the former, he repudiated caste and the importance of ritualism, and, in common with the latter, emphasized submission to God`s will as the ultimate means to realization. Agreeably to the atmosphere created by Bhakti and Sufism, he rejoiced in singing praises of the Almighty and indicated the way to reconciliation between the Hindus and the Muslims.He brought to these general tendencies the force and urgency of a deeply inspired and forward looking faith.

He added elements which were characteristically his own and which empowered current trends with wholly new possibilities of fulfilment. Life in all of its different aspects was the subject of Guru Nanak`s attention. Integral to his intuition was an awareness of the ills and errors of society and his concern to remedy these. This^was in contrast to the attitude of escape implicit in Bhakti and Sufism. Guru Nanak did not admit, like many of their protagonists, the possibility of man ever attaining, in his mystical progress, equality with Divinity.

He also did not share the Bhaktas` belief in incarnation or the Sufis` insistence on bodily mortification and frenzied singing and dancing to bring about spiritual illumination. The faith begins with the revelation brought to light by Guru Nanak. To understand Sikhism fully the study of the totality of its tenet and of what impact it made on history will be very vital. In this perspective, the precept he preached is definitively the starting point of Sikhism and not bhakti or any other cult. 7. Chaturvedi, Parshu Ram, Uttari Bharat Kl Sant Prampara. Allahabad, 1964

References :

1. Taran Singh, ed.. Guru Nanak and Indian Religious Thought. Patiala, 1970
2. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
3. Schomer, Karine, and W.H. Mcleod, eds.. The Sants ; Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. Delhi, 1987
4. Ishar Singh, The Philosophy of Guru Nanak. Delhi, 1969
5. Jodh Singh, The Retigious Philosophy of Guru Nanak. Varanasi, 1983
6. Hira, Bhagat Singh, Gurmatt Vichardhara. Delhi, 1969