Bharat Ek Khoj

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Bhakti
(Episode 21)

The celebrated statue of Nataraja (dancing shiva) is panned lovingly: his feet, arms, benign face and the evil figure firmly under his foot. Nehru gives the significance of the cosmic dance in Epstein's words: Shiva dances creating the world and destroying it, his large rhythms conjure up vast aeons of time and his movements have a relentless magical power of incantation...The accompanying Bhajan seeking direct communion with god is by Shankara, the great saint of the south, whom Nehru described as a man of amazing energy and vast activities- a combination of a philosopher and a scholar; an agnostic and a mystic; a poet and a saint; in addiction, a practical reformer and an able organizer building up four great Maths(monasteries) at four far corners of India.

By the 7TH century the devotional movement of Bhakti militating against the straitjacket of priesthood swayed through the south. We hear popular songs from Pathu-paatu (Ten poems) addressed to Murugan (Kartikeya). We also witness the rise of the Bhakti poetry by Alvar, who compose, on Vishnu, Large number of Prabandham (verses) that bridge the literary language of court and spoken language of common man.

We see the powerful Pallava king Mahendravikram Varman being customarily eulogized in court. The king is a playwright too and his farcical play Mattavilasam is enacted after a prologue, in his presence. Pouring scorn over the internecine quarrels among the orthodox Brahmins, Buddhists, Jains, Shaivites, Kapaliks (shakti- workshippers) and Pashupats (sec of Shiva worshippers), the scene shows a burgeoning altercation between a drunkard Kapalik along with female 'Shakti' Devasoma nad a capricious Buddhist monk, over the farmer's lost begging-bowl and the appeal to a Brahmin to solve the dispute. They meet a madcap Pashupat on the way and the scene ends in a confused melee. The amused king consoles some of the indignant viewers that god is above all these sectarian division!

By the 8th century, the major Nayanar Bhakti-poet Appar is seen singing devotional songs on Shiva, telling followers to always look within for one's own God. The priests, who feels threatened, prevail upon the king Mahendra Varman to puts Appar on a raft in the high sea. But the people rescue him and, when brought to the king, the saint-poet's words and songs Induce the king to follow his path. By the 12th century, the Shaivite reformist movement is seen spearheaded by the Karnataka poet Basavanna and there emerges Lingayat Sampradaya (community) carrying forward a great lyrical-philosophical tradition.

By the 13th century, the momentum spreads to Maharastra and saint Jananeshvar translates Bhagavata Gita into Marathi and people are seen singing in their own language: adopt the religion of humanity and sing God's name as you like. Then comes the great saint-poet Tukaram and his devotional Abhangs which are still sung echoing from village to village.