In this chapter, Doniger introduces Bhakti in many different forms and with a focus in South India. The chapter starts off by mentioning how until the development of the intertextual tradition centered in North India could be traced one by one but now it starts to evaporate with the growing trade between north and south and it is now hard to trace the original roots. In order to know the general idea of Bhakti Doniger mentions that we need to go back to when there was a combination of North and South cultural forms. During the 1000 BCE when the trade was thriving with China, Persia, Rome where the Chola (one of the three great South Indian Kingdom) was in power. This is when the Bhakti was also spreading and becoming the “riptide that cut across the still-powerful current of Vedic sacrifice”. It began among Tamil-literate people and then reached non-literate people.
She talks about how Tamil literary language develops from traditions different from those of Sanskrit. She also mentions about how Brahmins who settled in the South gradually introduced Sanskrit and also learned Tamil words and Tamil rituals and deities. This introduces the two-way process of Tamil forms of religious moved into Sanskrit and went north. Then, she mentions the two themes of Tamil poems emotion of love “inner” (akam) and the world of politics and war “outer”(puram) worlds where Bhakti poets took these themes involving Sanskrit poetry called “love in separation”(viraha). There are a few meaning of Bhakti that Doniger mentions “the supreme devotion to a god”, “a folk and oral phenomenon”. The connection between Tamil and Sanskrit words for Bhakti is mentioned how the Tamil uses the term “patti” which is a Sanskrit term. The comparison of Sanskrit author and Bhakti poet is also mentioned about how Bhakti poets reveal their own lives and how the voices of the saint are heard in the poem, unlike Sanskrit authors.
The rest of the chapters she talks about the temples and the violence of South Indian Bhakti. The debate between Shaivas and Vaishnavas and the violence that was created because of the heated tension. She also talks about other religions such as Buddhism, Jaina, Christianity, Islam and how they came to India and connecting it with Bhakti.
I found how Doniger mentions about the two way meaning several times in the chapter. The first with the Tamil and Sanskrit forms of religion moving into each other, the second Bhakti images filtered back into other traditions, including Sanskrit traditions, the third the analysis of the Great Frieze at Mamallapuram, the argument of whether he is Arjuna or the sage of Bhagiratha and also reference to both Shiva and Vishnu. She calls this shlesha (embrace). which means two different stories at once like the rabbit/man in the moon. The other thing that was really interesting is the point when she mentions about the Compantar and the impaled Jainas she contradicts herself by saying “there is no evidence that any of this actually happened, other than the story, and that story is told”. Isn’t it the same for almost everything? Like how these are truths that have been told for so long and nobody knows if it is true or not but this is the Hindus believe.
Temple is a sacred place but in this chapter, it was seen more of a rivalry and violent act. Kings would make temples for the sake of competitions and invade other temples and monasteries for the wealth and to protect their territories. What makes me think about it, is that Kings are seen as gods and they are the one destroying temples. Does temple has a sacred meaning behind it then when there was dispute created by it?
Similarly, Bhakti also had two themes going on the non-violence where one is devoted to a god and it also improved the conditions of women and the lower caste. It made a threat to Brahmin as the guru was not necessarily a Brahmin and it showed how one did not have to be a Brahmin to be superior. However, there was another side to the physical violence that resulted from the god to the worshippers. This strong devotion can sometimes be seen as violent when God would test how devoted one is to an extent they would kill their own children. The chapter talks about both side of the stories and the trend of two-sided- process, two-sided analogy is seen throughout. There is both a good and bad side to one story.
- After reading the chapter what do you think is the meaning of Bhakti? Does the chapter help you explain it well?
- Why do you think Doniger mentions the two meaning of a particular thing “Shlesha” a lot in this particular text?
- How would you describe the relationship with Shaivas/Vaishnavas and Hindus especially the heated tension between Brahmins?