Bhakti (भक्तिः)

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Bhakti (Samskrit: भक्तिः) or Devotion, in simple words, is an emotion of the form of love or affection primarily, towards the Supreme Being. It is a special quality of the atman that is devoid of the selfishness that goads one to use the object of affection to further some personal interests.[1]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Bhakti is intense devotion and exceptional attachment to the Supreme Being. It is the thread of supreme love that binds the heart of a devotee with the lotus feet of the Supreme Being. It is pure, unselfish, divine love. There is not the slightest of bargaining or expectation of anything here. It is a pure emotion with sublime sentiments that unites the devotees with the Supreme Being.

Also, Bhakti softens the heart, removes emotions like jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride and arrogance and instead infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace and knowledge. In fact all worries, anxieties, fears, mental torments and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the Samsarika wheel of births and deaths. And attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss and knowledge. Thus, Love for the Supreme Being is as sweet as nectar by tasting which one becomes immortal.[2]

Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita has declared that devotion to Him is the means of attaining mukti characterized as the attainment of the Bliss of Brahman, consequent on the disappearance of the Antah-karana, the inner sense, composed of the three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas).[3]

मां च योऽव्यभिचारेण भक्तियोगेन सेवते । स गुणान्समतीत्यैतान्ब्रह्मभूयाय कल्पते ॥१४.२६॥[4]

māṁ ca yo'vyabhicāreṇa bhaktiyogena sevate । sa guṇānsamatītyaitānbrahmabhūyāya kalpate ॥14.26॥

Meaning: He who serves me with unswerving devotion, thoroughly passing beyond the Gunas (viz. Satva, rajas and tamas), is fit for becoming Brahman.[3]

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

The term Bhakti comes from the root ‘भज्’ and refers to “the attachment to the Supreme.”[2] Enumerating on the genesis of the term 'Bhakti', Vachaspatyam[5] says, भज् - सेवायाम् आराधनायाम् । bhaj - sevāyām ārādhanāyām ।

Shabdakalpadruma[6] quotes the definition of Bhakti as given in the Shandilya Bhakti Sutras. It says,

अथातो भक्तिजिज्ञासा । सा परानुरक्तिरीश्वरे । athāto bhaktijijñāsā । sā parānuraktirīśvare ।

Meaning: Now, therefore, an enquiry into the Doctrine of Devotion. It is the highest love for Ishvara. Elaborating on the necessity of an enquiry into the nature of devotion, the commentator Svapneshvara says,

... परमेश्वरानुरक्तिरूपायाः भक्तेः ... नेयं नेयं भक्तिः निश्श्रेयसार्था, नेयमुत्तमविषयेत्यादिकुतर्कबलनेन निवृत्तिरपिभवति ।

... parameśvarānuraktirūpāyāḥ bhakteḥ ... neyaṁ neyaṁ bhaktiḥ niśśreyasārthā, neyamuttamaviṣayetyādikutarkabalanena nivr̥ttirapibhavati ।

Meaning: This devotion which is of the nature of love of the Supreme being... is still liable to be destroyed by the weight of false objections such as 'This is not devotion', 'This does not lead to the Highest Good', 'Its aim is not the Highest', etc. He further quotes the Vishnu Purana verse,

नाथ योनिसहस्रेषु येषु येषु व्रजाम्यहम् । तेषु तेष्वच्युता भक्तिरच्युतास्तु सदा त्वयि ।।१.२०.१८।।[7]

nātha yonisahasreṣu yeṣu yeṣu vrajāmyaham । teṣu teṣvacyutā bhaktiracyutāstu sadā tvayi ।। 1.20.18 ।।

Meaning: O Master, even though I may have to pass through thousands of wombs, let there be in me forever, O Achyuta, unshakable devotion to you, in each of those births !

The commentator Svapneshvara says, this prayer of Prahlada that his devotion may remain unshaken shows the necessity of counteracting the attempts to topple it. And therefore, this inquiry into devotion, though ancillary to devotion itself which bears the fruit (in the form of the Highest Good), is also fruitful.[1]

भक्तिलक्षणम् ॥ What is Bhakti ?

Having grasped the necessity of enquiring into the nature of Bhakti, the natural corollary question that arises is 'What is Bhakti?' This is elaborated in the Shandilya sutra सा परानुरक्तिरीश्वरे | sā parānuraktirīśvare ।

Commenting on this sutra the commetator says,

अत्र सा परेति लक्ष्यनिर्देशः । शेषं लक्षणम् । ... आराध्यविषयकरागत्वमेव सा (भक्तिः) । इह तु परमेश्वरविषयकान्तःकरणवृत्तिविशेष एव भक्तिस्तद्वैशेष्यं च लौकिकानुरागादौ सुग्रहम् ।

atra sā pareti lakṣyanirdeśaḥ । śeṣaṁ lakṣaṇam । ... ārādhyaviṣayakarāgatvameva sā (bhaktiḥ) । iha tu parameśvaraviṣayakāntaḥkaraṇavr̥ttiviśeṣa eva bhaktistadvaiśeṣyaṁ ca laukikānurāgādau sugraham ।

Meaning: Here, by the words, 'It is the highest', the subject is indicated. The rest gives the characteristics... Devotion is nothing but the love to be cultivated towards the being who is to be propitiated. Here, devotion denotes the special attitude or function of the antahkarana (internal mind) towards the Supreme Ishvara. Its special characteristic can be easily grasped by comparison with worldly affections, etc. And in this context, the commentator quotes a verse from the Vishnu Purana. It says,

या प्रीतिरविवेकानां विषयेष्वानपायिनी । त्वामनुस्मरतः सा मे हृदयान्माऽपसर्पतु ॥[7] १.२०.१९

yā prītiravivekānāṁ viṣayeṣvānapāyinī । tvāmanusmarataḥ sā me hr̥dayānmā'pasarpatu ॥ 1.20.19

Meaning: The firm affection that the deluded feel towards the objects of the senses, such a firm affection (may I have towards you) may it never depart from my heart while I am constantly meditating upon you.[1][3] While the Narada Bhakti Sutras explain Bhakti as follows:

सा त्वस्मिन् परमप्रेमरूपा ॥२॥ अमृतस्वरूपा च ॥३॥ यल्लब्ध्वा पुमान् सिद्धो भवत्यमृतो भवति तृप्तो भवति ॥४॥

यत् प्राप्य न किञ्चिद् वाञ्छति न शोचति न द्वेष्टि न रमते नोत्साही भवति ॥५॥ यज्ज्ञात्वा मत्तो भवति स्तब्धो भवति आत्मारामो भवति ॥‍६॥

sā tvasmin paramapremarūpā ॥2॥ amr̥tasvarūpā ca ॥3॥ yallabdhvā pumān siddho bhavatyamr̥to bhavati tr̥pto bhavati ॥4॥

yat prāpya na kiñcid vāñchati na śocati na dveṣṭi na ramate notsāhī bhavati ॥5॥ yajjñātvā matto bhavati stabdho bhavati ātmārāmo bhavati ॥‍6॥

Meaning: It (Bhakti) is of the form of intense love towards him (the Supreme being). It is of the nature of nectar. By attaining that (Bhakti) a person becomes successful, immortal and satisfied. Having obtained that (Bhakti) one does not desire anything else, doesn't lament or loathe anything, doesn't revel in things, nor becomes fervent.[8]By knowing that (Bhakti) one becomes ecstatic (with joy), quiet and happy in one's own Self.[2] Thus, Bhakti is marked by certain essential characteristics that is unanimously agreed upon by all devotees. Though some give prominence to certain indications while others to certain other marks, there is no fundamental difference in the essence. The Narada Bhakti Sutras enlist the signs of devotion as described by various rshis in their exposition of Bhakti as follows:

पूजादिष्वनुराग इति पाराशर्यः ॥१६॥ pūjādiṣvanurāga iti pārāśaryaḥ ॥16॥

Puja refers to worship of the Supreme Being and Anuraga is intense attachment. Therefore, according to the disciples of Parashara, intense attachment to the worship of the Supreme is characteristic of devotion. Just as is seen in the prayer of Prahlada in the Vishnu Purana (1.20.19)[7] mentioned above.

कथादिष्विति गर्गः ॥१७॥ kathādiṣviti gargaḥ ॥17॥

According to Garga, the mark of devotion is attachment to hearing the praises and greatness of the Supreme. In fact, it is the hearing of praises and greatness of the Supreme that inspires one to take to the spiritual path. And then, one realises the Supreme just like Parikshita who realised the Supreme by hearing of His glories from Shukadeva.

आत्मरत्यविरोधेनेति शाण्डिल्यः ॥१८॥ ātmaratyavirodheneti śāṇḍilyaḥ ॥18॥

The Supreme Being is an embodiment of Bliss. The devotee who always dwells in the Supreme must enjoy the bliss of the Supreme. Therefore, according to the opinion of Shandilya, the sign of devotion is a constant feeling of Bliss in the Self. That is why, there is always a divine aura and bloom in the face of a devotee. Their eyes sparkle and glitter with Divine effulgence. Even those who surround the devotee experience this bliss, because the devotee radiates joy all around. Consequently, if a devotee is always morose, unhappy, cheerless and irritable, there is surely some error in his sadhana. Because, Ananda is a very important sign of devotion. In fact, it is a fundamental sign of a Jivanmukta too.

नारदस्तु तदर्पिताखिलाचारता तद्विस्मरणे परमव्याकुलतेति ॥१९॥ nāradastu tadarpitākhilācāratā tadvismaraṇe paramavyākulateti ॥19॥

And according to Narada, the sign of devotion is surrendering all actions to the Supreme and feeling severe grief in forgetting Him. This feeling is called Viraha-agni (pain from separation of the Supreme). It breaks the heart of the devotee and can hardly be described in words. Rather, it has to be felt. Just as it was exhibited by Mira and the Gopis of Brindavana.

The Gopis surrendered all their actions at the lotus feet of Shri Krishna. They experienced acute agony even if they missed His presence for a second. With their minds absorbed in Krishna, they rushed forth when they heard His sweet, melodious flute, leaving their houses and house chores half-way, without taking notice of each other. And when Krishna disappeared, they went around asking the trees, creepers, the earth and the deer if they had seen Him. Such is the heights of Vyakulata exhibited by the devotees at the slightest chance of separation from the (thoughts of) supreme. However, this mark of devotion does not in any way contradict the sign of a constant feeling of Bliss in the Self. For, an advanced bhakta, who always rests in the Supreme, has no Viraha and is thus, always in divine bliss.[2]

Thus, the terms bhakti, worship, anuraga, prema, priti, etc. are seen as synonymous to each other.[2]

What is not Bhakti ?

While elaborating on the role of 'attachment' in Bhakti, Svapneshvara in his commentary on the Shandilya Bhakti Sutras enumerates in brief about what is 'not bhakti'. He says,

  • To be engaged in remembering (Ishvara) and/or singing (His glories) occasionally - this cannot (be described as devotion), because these are not constant.

न तु क्वचित्स्मरणस्य, क्वचिच्च कीर्तनादेः अननुगमात् । na tu kvacitsmaraṇasya, kvacicca kīrtanādeḥ ananugamāt ।

  • Nor is devotion mere knowledge about Ishvara since this knowledge might exist even in those who hate Him and a person cannot possibly entertain love and attachment towards his antagonist though he knows him.

न च तज्ज्ञानस्य तत्त्वं द्वेषादिमत्स्वपि तत्प्रसङ्गात् । na ca tajjñānasya tattvaṁ dveṣādimatsvapi tatprasaṅgāt ।

  • Neither is devotion knowledge of the Ishvara as the object of worship, for acts of worship such as salutation are not always accompanied with knowledge.

नाप्याराध्यत्वेन ज्ञानं स पूजानमस्काराद्याराधनास्वननुगमात् । nāpyārādhyatvena jñānaṁ sa pūjānamaskārādyārādhanāsvananugamāt ।

  • It cannot be said that devotion is the knowledge of Him as the object of worship, accompanied with attachment, etc.; for then it would be reduced to attachment itself.

अनुरागादिसहिताराध्यत्वज्ञानमिति चेत् अनुराग एवास्तु | anurāgādisahitārādhyatvajñānamiti cet anurāga evāstu |

Hence, the Bhagavad Gita refers to the worship by those whose whole life and mind, etc. are consecrated to Him and not of those who merely know Him as an object of worship.

मच्चित्ता मद्गतप्राणा बोधयन्तः परस्परम् । कथयन्तश्च मां नित्यं तुष्यन्ति च रमन्ति च ॥१०.९॥

तेषां सततयुक्तानां भजतां प्रीतिपूर्वकम् । ददामि बुद्धियोगं तं येन मामुपयान्ति ते ॥१०.१०॥[9]

maccittā madgataprāṇā bodhayantaḥ parasparam । kathayantaśca māṁ nityaṁ tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca ॥10.9॥

teṣāṁ satatayuktānāṁ bhajatāṁ prītipūrvakam । dadāmi buddhiyogaṁ taṁ yena māmupayānti te ॥10.10॥

Meaning: With their minds centered on Me, with their senses absorbed in Me, enlightening each other, ever conversing on Me, they are satiated and live happily. On them, ever steadfast and serving Me with affection, I bestow yoga and the sense of discrimination (wisdom) by which they come to Me. The commentator further exemplifies this with the bhakti of the gopis. He says,

अत एव च कृष्णस्य कमनीयाकृतिदर्शनेनानुरक्तानां गोपतरुणीनामपि भक्तिफलं मुक्तिः स्मर्यते ।

ata eva ca kr̥ṣṇasya kamanīyākr̥tidarśanenānuraktānāṁ gopataruṇīnāmapi bhaktiphalaṁ muktiḥ smaryate ।

Meaning: That is why the fruit of the bhakti of the milk-maids was mukti, though they became attached to Sri Krishna by the sight of his graceful form.

Thus, the commentator suggests that the preposition 'anu' (in the word 'anurakti) is not a mere affix whose meaning is merged in the definition but indicates subsequence; because it is produced after (anu = after) obtaining the knowledge of the greatness etc. of Ishvara, therefore is it called anurakti.[1][3]

भक्तः || Bhakta

The one who is engaged in the act of Bhakti is called a Bhakta or devotee. He has equal vision for all. He has no enmity for anybody. At the same time, he has no attachment towards any person, place or thing. He neither fosters the feeling of “mine” nor has anger or lust. He has a balanced state of mind in pain and pleasure, heat and cold, praise and censure. He is endowed with Antarmukha Vrtti (orientation to inner Self), has exemplary character and is full of Shanti and Joy. And needless to say, he always has the name of the Supreme on his lips.[2]

In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna enumerates four kinds of righteous Bhaktas viz. the distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth and the wise.

चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन । आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ ॥७.१६॥[10]

caturvidhā bhajante māṁ janāḥ sukr̥tino'rjuna । ārto jijñāsurarthārthī jñānī ca bharatarṣabha ॥7.16॥

Among them, the devotion of the distressed, the seeker of knowledge and the seeker of wealth is all considered secondary as they have ulterior, selfish motives. However, the devotion of the wise is pure and absolutely unselfish. He has undivided love and whole-hearted devotion towards the Supreme Being. Hence, Shri Krishna says,

उदाराः सर्व एवैते ज्ञानी त्वात्मैव मे मतम् । आस्थितः स हि युक्तात्मा मामेवानुत्तमां गतिम् ॥७.१८॥[10]

udārāḥ sarva evaite jñānī tvātmaiva me matam । āsthitaḥ sa hi yuktātmā māmevānuttamāṁ gatim ॥7.18॥

Meaning: Noble are all these (bhaktas) but I hold the wise as verily Myself. For, steadfast in mind, he is fixed on Me alone as the Supreme goal. Therefore, the wise who is eternally united with Him, the Supreme Bring is the dearest to him and he are dearest to the Supreme.[2][11]

तेषां ज्ञानी नित्ययुक्त एकभक्तिर्विशिष्यते । प्रियो हि ज्ञानिनोऽत्यर्थमहं स च मम प्रियः ॥७.१७॥[10]

teṣāṁ jñānī nityayukta ekabhaktirviśiṣyate । priyo hi jñānino'tyarthamahaṁ sa ca mama priyaḥ ॥7.17॥

Enumerating on who are regarded as the best of devotees, Shri Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana (11th Skandha 11th Adhyaya) says,

ज्ञात्वाज्ञात्वाथ ये वै मां यावान्यश्चास्मि यादृशः | भजन्त्यनन्यभावेन ते मे भक्ततमा मताः ||११.११.३३॥[12]

jñātvājñātvātha ye vai māṁ yāvānyaścāsmi yādr̥śaḥ | bhajantyananyabhāvena te me bhaktatamā matāḥ ||11.11.33॥

Meaning: Knowing who I am, what is my extent and what is my nature or even without knowing these, those who worship me exclusively, they are definitely regarded by me as the best of devotees.[13] In fact, speaking to Uddhava, he further enumerates the marks of a great devotee as follows:

मल्लिङ्गमद्भक्तजन दर्शनस्पर्शनार्चनम् | परिचर्या स्तुतिः प्रह्व गुणकर्मानुकीर्तनम् ॥ ३४ ॥

मत्कथाश्रवणे श्रद्धा मदनुध्यानमुद्धव । सर्वलाभोपहरणं दास्येनात्मनिवेदनम् ॥ ३५ ॥

मज्जन्मकर्मकथनं मम पर्वानुमोदनम् । गीतताण्डववादित्र गोष्ठीभिर्मद्गृहोत्सवः ॥ ३६ ॥

यात्रा बलिविधानं च सर्ववार्षिकपर्वसु । वैदिकी तान्त्रिकी दीक्षा मदीयव्रतधारणम् ॥ ३७ ॥

ममार्चास्थापने श्रद्धा स्वतः संहत्य चोद्यमः । उद्यानोपवनाक्रीड पुरमन्दिरकर्मणि ॥ ३८ ॥

सम्मार्जनोपलेपाभ्यां सेकमण्डलवर्तनैः । गृहशुश्रूषणं मह्यं दासवद्यदमायया ॥ ३९ ॥

अमानित्वमदम्भित्वं कृतस्यापरिकीर्तनम् । अपि दीपावलोकं मे नोपयुञ्ज्यान्निवेदितम् ॥ ४० ॥[12]

malliṅgamadbhaktajana darśanasparśanārcanam | paricaryā stutiḥ prahva guṇakarmānukīrtanam ॥ 34 ॥

matkathāśravaṇe śraddhā madanudhyānamuddhava । sarvalābhopaharaṇaṁ dāsyenātmanivedanam ॥ 35 ॥

majjanmakarmakathanaṁ mama parvānumodanam । gītatāṇḍavavāditra goṣṭhībhirmadgr̥hotsavaḥ ॥ 36 ॥

yātrā balividhānaṁ ca sarvavārṣikaparvasu । vaidikī tāntrikī dīkṣā madīyavratadhāraṇam ॥ 37 ॥

mamārcāsthāpane śraddhā svataḥ saṁhatya codyamaḥ । udyānopavanākrīḍa puramandirakarmaṇi ॥ 38 ॥

sammārjanopalepābhyāṁ sekamaṇḍalavartanaiḥ । gr̥haśuśrūṣaṇaṁ mahyaṁ dāsavadyadamāyayā ॥ 39 ॥

amānitvamadambhitvaṁ kr̥tasyāparikīrtanam । api dīpāvalokaṁ me nopayuñjyānniveditam ॥ 40 ॥

That is,

  • To behold, feel and worship my representations (like Saligrama, etc.) and my devotees; render service, eulogize, extol and sing the glory of my excellences and deeds with utmost humbleness.
  • Listening to my stories with deep belief, constantly meditating upon me, offering to me all that one acquires, surrendering oneself to me entirely with an intent to serve me.
  • Retelling (stories of) my birth (avatara) and deeds, participating joyously in my festivities (like Janmashtami), celebrating my festivals in my temples by singing, playing musical instrumentals and dancing.
  • Undertaking a pilgrimage (to places sacred to me) on all annual festivals along with appropriate offerings, to get initiated into the Vedic and Tantric tradition of worshipping me and observing vratas sacred to me (like fasting on Ekadashi day).
  • Devout enthusiasm in instilling my image (in temples), endeavoring individually or collectively in laying out gardens, orchards, playgrounds and construction of temples.
  • Rendering service in places of my residence (temple) like a sincere servant by sweeping and washing, plastering the floor with cow-dung and decorating it with ornamental drawings/figures without expecting anything in return for this service.
  • Being free from arrogance and not priding, especially in the display of service rendered by oneself.
  • Not bringing to personal use anything that is offered to me like the lamp.[13]

While Svapneshvara, in his commentary on the Shandilya Bhakti Sutras, quotes the Mahabharata where Maharshi Vyasa explains what are the qualities that are never to be found in a devotee of Purushottama. He says,

न क्रोधो न च मात्सर्यं न लोभो नाशुभा मतिः । भवन्ति कृतपुण्यानां भक्तानां पुरुषोत्तमे ||

na krodho na ca mātsaryaṁ na lobho nāśubhā matiḥ । bhavanti kr̥tapuṇyānāṁ bhaktānāṁ puruṣottame ||

Meaning: Neither anger nor envy, neither greed nor any other impure thought has any influence over the righteous ones, who are devoted to Purushottama. Similar enumeration is given by Shri Krishna in the 12th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. He says,

तुल्यनिन्दास्तुतिर्मौनी सन्तुष्टो येन केनचित् । अनिकेतः स्थिरमतिर्भक्तिमान्मे प्रियो नरः ॥१२.१९॥[14]

tulyanindāstutirmaunī santuṣṭo yena kenacit । aniketaḥ sthiramatirbhaktimānme priyo naraḥ ॥12.19॥

Meaning: He to whom criticism and praise are equal, who is silent, content with anything, without (attachment to) a home, of a steady mind, and full of devotion—that person is dear to Me.[11] Svapneshvara's commentary further mentions that expressions such as 'He is devoted to him', 'He is attached to him', are not applicable to one who worships through fear or force though there be the knowledge that one is adorable, etc.

अपि च बलाद्भयाद् वा नमस्कार्यत्वादिज्ञानवत्यपि भक्तोऽयमनुरक्तोऽयमिति व्यवहारापत्तेः ।[1][3]

api ca balādbhayād vā namaskāryatvādijñānavatyapi bhakto'yamanurakto'yamiti vyavahārāpatteḥ ।

भक्तिः ज्ञानं च ॥ Bhakti and Jnana

One cannot entirely separate Bhakti and Jnana. When Bhakti matures, it becomes transmuted into Jnana and Jnana in turn intensifies Bhakti. People think that study of Vedanta fades away Bhakti. It is not so. The study of Vedanta is rather, an auxiliary to increase and develop one’s devotion. The Narada Bhakti Sutra quotes various opinions regarding the relationship between Bhakti and Jnana. It says,

तस्या ज्ञानमेव साधनमित्येके ॥२८॥ अन्योन्याश्रयत्वमित्यन्ये ॥२९॥

tasyā jñānameva sādhanamityeke ॥28॥ anyonyāśrayatvamityanye ॥29॥

Some say that knowledge is a means to the attainment of devotion. While some others say that there is a mutual dependence between devotion and knowledge. In fact, the Shiva Purana says that there is no difference between devotion and perfect knowledge. A person who is engrossed in devotion enjoys perpetual happiness. And perfect knowledge never descends in a vicious person averse to devotion.[15]

भक्तौ ज्ञाने न भेदो हि तत्कर्तुस्सर्वदा सुखम् ।। विज्ञानं न भवत्येव सति भक्तिविरोधिनः ।। २.२.२३.१६ ।।[16]

bhaktau jñāne na bhedo hi tatkartussarvadā sukham ।। vijñānaṁ na bhavatyeva sati bhaktivirodhinaḥ ।। ।।

Adi Shankaracharya defines Bhakti as devotion to Atman. For, the same Nirguna Brahman of Advaita Vedanta manifests with a little Maya in a corner as Saguna Brahman for the pious worship of His devotees. Ishwara is His taṭastha lakṣaṇa only. Thus, to think that a Jnani is a dry man and has no devotion is a sad mistake. Rather, the one who has knowledge of Vedanta is steady, firm and well established in his devotion. Therefore, Bhakti and Jnana are like the two wings of a bird that help one to fly towards Brahman, the summit of Mukti.

To elaborate further, it is well-known that Maharshi Veda Vyasa wrote the Mahabharata and yet was not satisfied in his heart of hearts. He was quite uneasy and restless. Then Narada came to his rescue and said, “You will have to write a book that deals with Krishna-Prema and the Lilas of Bhagavan Krishna. Only then will you have peace of mind.” Maharshi Vyasa then wrote the Bhagavata Purana that over brims with Bhakti Rasa and Kirtana of Hari. Rishis studied the Bhagavata and held Kathas in a lonely forest in the vicinity of Shukadeva's hermitage. Shukadeva was very much attracted towards the Katha and directly proceeded to his father, Veda Vyasa, to study the Bhagavata under him. Shukadeva was a perfect Jnani absorbed in his Brahmanishtha. However, he came down from his heights, taught Bhagavata to Raja Parikshit and preached devotion. From this incident, it is quite clear that devotion and Jnana are inseparable. And as mentioned previously, it is these very Jnanis who are referred to as the greatest bhaktas in the Bhagavad Gita by Shri Krishna.[2]

भक्तिपरिशुद्धिलिङ्गानि ॥ Signs of Pure Devotion

The Shandilya Bhakti Sutra states that the development, maturity and purity of devotion is to be inferred from certain outward signs and enlists the same as follows:

तत्परिशुद्धिश्च गम्या लोकवल्लिङ्गेभ्यः ॥२.१.४३॥

सम्मानबहुमानप्रीतिविरहेतरविचिकित्सामहिमख्यातितदर्थप्राणस्थानतदीयतासर्वतद्भावाप्रातिकूल्यादीनि च स्मरणेभ्यो बाहुल्यात् ॥२.१.४४॥

tatpariśuddhiśca gamyā lokavalliṅgebhyaḥ ॥2.1.43॥

sammānabahumānaprītivirahetaravicikitsāmahimakhyātitadarthaprāṇasthānatadīyatāsarvatadbhāvāprātikūlyādīni ca smaraṇebhyo bāhulyāt ॥2.1.44॥

The commentator Svapneshvara further explains these external signs of devotion with appropriate examples of well known devotees as follows:

  • सम्मानः यथा अर्जुनस्य । sammānaḥ yathā arjunasya

Respect, as was shown by Arjuna towards Krishna. It is said in the Mahabharata that in whatever state he may be, Arjuna never failed to rise up from his seat to greet Krishna out of devotion and love for him.

प्रत्युत्थान तु कृष्णस्य सर्वावस्थो धनञ्जयः । न लङ्घयति धर्मात्मा भक्त्या प्रेमणा च सर्वदा ||

pratyutthāna tu kr̥ṣṇasya sarvāvastho dhanañjayaḥ । na laṅghayati dharmātmā bhaktyā premaṇā ca sarvadā ||

  • बहुमानः यथा इक्ष्वाकोः । bahumānaḥ yathā ikṣvākoḥ

High esteem, as was shown by Ikshvaku. It is said in the Nrsimha Purana that due to the fondness for Krishna and everything that resembled Him, Raja Ikshvaku showed high esteem even towards the cloud which was of the same colour as Krishna.

पक्षपातेन तन्नाम्नि मृगे पद्मे च तादृशि । बभार मेघे तद्वर्णे बहुमानमतिं नृपः ||

pakṣapātena tannāmni mr̥ge padme ca tādr̥śi । babhāra meghe tadvarṇe bahumānamatiṁ nr̥paḥ ||

  • प्रीतिः यथा विदुरस्य । prītiḥ yathā vidurasya

Delight as expressed by Vidura in the Mahabharata at the arrival of Krishna whom he describes as the very indwelling atman of all embodied being.

  • विरहः यथा गोपीनाम् । virahaḥ yathā gopīnām

Grief of separation as exhibited by the Gopis of Vrndavana.[3]

  • इतरविचिकित्सा यथा श्वेतद्वीपनिवासिनाम् उपमन्योः वा | itaravicikitsā yathā śvetadvīpanivāsinām upamanyoḥ vā

Aversion to everything else like the feeling of hindrance that arose, at the arrival of Narada, in the minds of the inhabitants of Shvetadvipa who were great devotees of Vishnu and never tolerated any hindrance to their meditation or like that in the mind of Upamanyu, as described in the Mahabharata, who was ready to become a worm or a grasshopper at the command of Shankara but had no desire for anything bestowed by anyone else.[3]

अपि कीटः पतङ्गो वा भवेयं शङ्कराज्ञया । न तु शक्र त्वया दत्तं त्रैलोक्यमपि कामये ॥

api kīṭaḥ pataṅgo vā bhaveyaṁ śaṅkarājñayā । na tu śakra tvayā dattaṁ trailokyamapi kāmaye ॥

  • महिमख्यातिः यथा यमस्य | mahimakhyātiḥ yathā yamasya - Praising His greatness as was done by Yama that is reflected in the Vishnu Purana.

स्वपुरुषमभिवीक्ष्य पाशहस्तम् । वदति यमः किल तस्य कर्णमूले । परिहर मधुसूदनप्रपन्नान् प्रभुरहमन्यनृणां न वैष्णवानाम् ॥३.७.१४॥[17]

svapuruṣamabhivīkṣya pāśahastam । vadati yamaḥ kila tasya karṇamūle । parihara madhusūdanaprapannān prabhurahamanyanr̥ṇāṁ na vaiṣṇavānām ॥3.7.14॥

  • तदर्थप्राणस्थितिः यथा हनूमतः अथवा कृतकृत्यानामपि नारदादीनां तदेकाराधनार्थं प्राणधारणम् | tadarthaprāṇasthitiḥ yathā hanūmataḥ athavā kr̥takr̥tyānāmapi nāradādīnāṁ tadekārādhanārthaṁ prāṇadhāraṇam

Holding on to life for His sake as seen in the case of Hanuman who declares in the Valmiki Ramayana, Uttarakanda that 'as long as the Lord's story remains extant in the world, so long he will reside there, obeying the Lord's command.'

यावत्तव कथा लोके विचरिष्यति पावनी । तावत् स्थास्यामि मेदिन्यां तवाज्ञामनुपालयन् ॥७.१०८.३६॥[18]

yāvattava kathā loke vicariṣyati pāvanī । tāvat sthāsyāmi medinyāṁ tavājñāmanupālayan ॥7.108.36॥

Or there is also the instance of Narada and others who, even after obtaining perfection, continued to live solely for worshipping Him.

  • तदीयताभावः वसोरुपरिचरस्य | tadīyatābhāvaḥ vasoruparicarasya

Considering everything as His as Vasu Uparichara did in the Mahabharata.

  • सर्वभूतेषु तद्भावः यथा प्रह्लादस्य | sarvabhūteṣu tadbhāvaḥ yathā prahlādasya

Regarding Him as existing in all beings as Prahlada expresses in the Vishnu Purana that 'the sages, having known that Hari exists in all beings, must thus cherish unwavering love towards all beings.

एवं सर्वेषु भूतेषु भक्तिरव्यभिचारिणी । कर्तव्या पण्डितैर्ज्ञात्वा सर्वभूतमयं हरिम् ||१.१९.९॥[19]

evaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu bhaktiravyabhicāriṇī । kartavyā paṇḍitairjñātvā sarvabhūtamayaṁ harim ||1.19.9॥

  • तस्मिन्नप्रातिकूल्यं यथा भीष्मस्य | tasminnaprātikūlyaṁ yathā bhīṣmasya

Not resisting His will like Bhishma in the Mahabharata. Even when the Lord was advancing towards him, to kill him, he said, 'Come ! O Lord of the deities ! Come, O refuge of this world ! Obeisance to you. Armed with Your bow, mace and sword, put an end to my life, by forcibly drawing me down from the chariot, in this vast and fierce war.[3]

एह्येहि देवेश जगन्निवास नमोऽस्तु ते शार्ङ्गगदासिपाणे । प्रसह्य मां पातय लोकनाथ। रथादुदग्राद्भुतशौर्यसङ्ख्ये ||५९.९६.९६॥[20]

ehyehi deveśa jagannivāsa namo'stu te śārṅgagadāsipāṇe । prasahya māṁ pātaya lokanātha। rathādudagrādbhutaśauryasaṅkhye ||59.96.96॥

In fact, the commentator Svapneshvara further states that by the word 'ādi' (etc.), the actions of Uddhava, Akrura etc. must also be taken into account.[1]

भक्तिप्रकाराः ॥ Classification of Bhakti

There are different types of Bhakti that are classified in various ways. The Shiva Purana mentions one such classification as follows:[15]

सा भक्तिर्द्विविधा देवि सगुणा निर्गुणा मता ।। वैधी स्वाभाविकी या या वरा सा त्ववरा स्मृता ।। २.२.२३.१८ ।।

नैष्ठिक्यनैष्ठिकी भेदाद्द्विविधे द्विविधे हि ते ।। षड्विधा नैष्ठिकी ज्ञेया द्वितीयैकविधा स्मृता ।। २.२.२३.१९ ।।

विहिताविहिताभेदात्तामनेकां विदुर्बुधाः ।। तयोर्बहुविधत्वाच्च तत्त्वं त्वन्यत्र वर्णितम् ।। २.२.२३.२० ।।[16]

sā bhaktirdvividhā devi saguṇā nirguṇā matā ।। vaidhī svābhāvikī yā yā varā sā tvavarā smr̥tā ।। ।।

naiṣṭhikyā naiṣṭhikī bhedāddvividhe dvividhe hi te ।। ṣaḍvidhā naiṣṭhikī jñeyā dvitīyaikavidhā smr̥tā ।। ।।

vihitāvihitābhedāttāmanekāṁ vidurbudhāḥ ।। tayorbahuvidhatvācca tattvaṁ tvanyatra varṇitam ।। ।।

That is,

  1. सगुणा निर्गुणा च - Attributive and attributeless
  2. वैधी स्वाभाविकी च - Conventional and natural
  3. वरा अवरा च - Greater and lesser
  4. नैष्ठिकी अनैष्ठिकी च - Perpetual and Non-perpetual. There are 6 further subdivisions of Perpetual devotion.
  5. विहिता अविहिता च - Enjoined and non-enjoined.

Thus, devotion takes manifold forms.[15] Some of the major forms and classification of Bhakti ae as follows:

  • अपराभक्तिः पराभक्तिः च । Apara (lower) and Para (higher) Bhakti.

In Apara Bhakti the devotee is a novice. He observes rituals and ceremonies. He rings bells, applies sandal-paste to the Murthi and offers flowers, Arghya, Naivedya etc.

Para Bhakti is Nirguna Bhakti which is free from the three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas). It is the spontaneous, unbroken flow of pure love towards the Supreme Being. It is Ahaituki (free from any sort of motive) and Avyavahita (uninterrupted devotion towards the Supreme). Thus, it is said that the Prema of this type of devotee flows like oil in one continuous current. This type of devotee does not care for divine Vibhutis even if they are offered. He does not want even Kaivalya Mukti or absolute independence. All he wants is pure divine love and an opportunity to serve the lotus feet of the Supreme and a constant vision of Him.

Also, a devotee at the stage of Para Bhakti is all-embracing and all-inclusive. He has cosmic love or Visvaprema. The whole world is Brindavana for him. He does not visit temples for worship. He sees his Ishta devata everywhere. He has equal vision. He has no hatred for any object. He welcomes snakes, pain, disease and suffering as messengers of the Supreme. His mind is ever fixed at the lotus feet of the Supreme. In fact, Para Bhakti is the highest culminating point in devotion. Namdev, Tukaram, Tulsidas, etc. had Para Bhakti.

  • रागात्मिकाभक्तिः विधिभक्तिः च । Ragatmika and Vidhi Bhakti.

While in Vidhi Bhakti the devotee observes rules and ceremonies and has certain restrictions, in Ragatmika Bhakti there are no fetters, shackles or barriers of customs or rules of society. There is no binding of any sort. There is an absolutely free flow of divine Prema. The devotee cares not for public opinion. He is above public criticisms. He is as simple as a child. He pours forth exuberantly his love towards the Supreme. In fact, the devotee is intoxicated with divine Prema.

The simple-hearted cow-maids of Brindavana and Mira had Ragatmika Bhakti. Though Mira was a Rani, she never cared for the opinion of the public. When she was under intoxication of Krishna Prema, she danced. Ordinary people and even bhaktas were unable to gauge the depth of her unbounded love for Shri Krishna. When in her devotional song she says, “I have none else for me besides my Giridhara Gopala”, it bespeaks clearly of the exalted state of her heart that was deeply saturated with the nectar of devotion towards Shri Krishna.

  • सकाम्यभक्तिः निष्काम्यभक्तिः च । Sakamya and Nishkamya Bhakti.

Showing devotion to the Supreme for getting riches, son or for removal of sufferings from diseases, etc. is Sakamya Bhakti. However, Sakamya Bhakti eventually terminates in Nishkamya Bhakti. For example, the boy Dhruva had Sakamya Bhakti. It was for getting dominance that he retired into the forests on the advice of his mother in the beginning. It was only later on that he developed Nishkamya Bhakti when, after he had Darshan of Hari, all his desires melted away.

However, Prahlada is an example of a bhakta who had Nishkamya Bhakti from the very beginning. In fact, Prahlada later on meditated on his own Self as Shri Hari. This is an advanced stage of devotion called Abheda Bhakti.

  • व्यभिचारिणीभक्तिः अव्यभिचारिणीभक्तिः च । Vyabhicharini and Avyabhicharini Bhakti.

To oscillate between loving the Supreme Being and loving one's family and property is known as Vyabhicharini Bhakti. While, loving the Supreme Being alone for ever and ever is called Avyabhicharini Bhakti.

  • मुख्यभक्तिः गौणभक्तिः च । Mukhya (primary) and Gauna (secondary) Bhakti.

Both Maharshi Shandilya as well as Maharshi Narada mention the classification of Bhakti as Primary and Secondary Bhakti. Shandilya mentions that primary devotion is one-pointed, whole-hearted devotion to the Supreme (Ekanta Bhava). It is the principal devotion because others are subservient to it. While Narada elaborates that secondary devotion is of three kinds either according to the Gunas in the devotee (ie. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) Or according to whether the devotees are the distressed (Arta), seekers of knowledge (Jijnasu) or the selfish (Arthartha). And in both cases, the first is better than the second and the second is better than the third.

गौणी त्रिधा गुणभेदादार्तादिभेदाद्वा ॥५६॥ उत्तरस्मादुत्तरस्मात्पूर्वपूर्वा श्रेयाय भवति ॥५७॥

gauṇī tridhā guṇabhedādārtādibhedādvā ॥56॥ uttarasmāduttarasmātpūrvapūrvā śreyāya bhavati ॥57॥

Para Bhakti and Ragatmika Bhakti are also otherwise, known as Mukhya or primary Bhakti. While, Sakamya Bhakti is called Gauna or secondary Bhakti.

  • सात्त्विकभक्तिः राजसिकभक्तिः तामसिकभक्तिः च । Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika Bhakti.

As seen in Narada's exposition mentioned above, all these three types of Bhakti are secondary devotion only. In Sattvika Bhakti, the quality of Sattva predominates in the Bhakta. In Rajasika Bhakti, the quality of Rajas predominates and in Tamasika Bhakti, the quality of Tamas predominates in the Bhakta. A Sattvika Bhakta worships the Supreme to please Him, destroy Vasanas etc. and a Rajasika Bhakta worships the Supreme to get estates, wealth, name and fame. However, a Tamasika Bhakta is actuated by wrath, arrogance, jealousy and malice in showing devotion to the Supreme. That is, to worship the Supreme for destroying one’s enemy and for getting success in an enterprise through unlawful means is Tamasika Bhakti. For example, When the thief prays, “O Ganesha ! Let me get something tonight. I will offer you 100 coconuts in return”, it is Tamasika Bhakti.

  • समरसभक्तिः ॥ Samarasa Bhakti

When a devotee has devotion for Shri Hari, Shiva, Devi, Shri Rama, Shri Krishna and thinks that Shri Hari is Shiva, Rama, Devi or Krishna, it is Samarasa Bhakti. This is an advanced stage of devotion where the Bhakta has equal vision. He makes no difference between Rama and Krishna, Shiva and Hari, Krishna and Devi. He knows and feels that Radha, Sita and Durga are all inseparable Shaktis of Shri Krishna, Rama and Shiva respectively. A Samarasa Bhakta is a Jnani.

  • अनन्यभक्तिः ॥ Ananya Bhakti

Just as one sees wood alone in chairs, tables, doors, windows, bed-steads, etc. and clay alone in earthen jars, pots and jugs, seeing the Supreme Being alone in all these names and forms is Ananya Bhakti. Para Bhakti, Nishkamya Bhakti and Avyabhicharini Bhakti are the same as Ananya Bhakti.[2]

भक्तिक्रमः ॥ Stages in Bhakti

Sanatana Dharma leads the aspirants gradually from material images to mental images, from the diverse mental-images to one Ishta Devata, and from the Ishta Devata to the Impersonal Absolute or the Transcendental Nirguna Brahman.[21] Accordingly, there are various steps and paths in Bhakti described by the rshis and acharyas.

पराभक्तिः अपराभक्तिश्च ॥ Para Bhakti and Apara Bhakti

Bhakti is broadly, of two kinds viz., Para-Bhakti (higher Bhakti) and Apara Bhakti (lower or ritualistic Bhakti).

  • Apara Bhakti consists of Ritualistic worship that is formal in nature and is referred to as Vaidhi or Gauni Bhakti. Thus, Vaidhi Bhakti is a type of devotion depending on external aids. The one who does ritualistic worship adores a pratīka (symbol) or a pratimā (image), does Puja with flowers and sandal paste, offers incense, waves the lamp before the Supreme, offers Naivedya or food for Him, etc. Through this ritualistic worship, the mind becomes purer and purer and the aspirant gradually develops love for the Supreme.[21][22]

In fact, highlighting that it is the devotion beneath the offerings that pleases Him, Shri Krishna in the 9th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita says,

पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं यो मे भक्त्या प्रयच्छति । तदहं भक्त्युपहृतमश्नामि प्रयतात्मनः ॥९.२६॥[23]

patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati । tadahaṁ bhaktyupahr̥tamaśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ ॥9.26॥

Meaning: Whoever offers Me with devotion and a pure mind (heart), a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water—I accept (this offering).[11]

From Vaidhi Bhakti, he passes on to Ragatmika Bhakti or Prema Bhakti. He beholds the whole world as the Lord. The ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, etc., vanish. He sees the Lord in a rogue, dacoit, cobra, scorpion, ant, dog, tree, log of wood, block of stone, sun, moon, stars, fire, water, earth, etc. His vision or experience baffles description. Thus, the aspirant who worships the idol in the beginning beholds the Lord everywhere and develops Para Bhakti.

  • Para Bhakti (or higher Bhakti) is advanced type of devotion that transcends all convention. A devotee of this type knows no rule. He does not perform any external worship. He beholds his Lord everywhere, in every object. His heart is saturated with love for the Supreme. His state is ineffable. He attains the pinnacle of bliss. He radiates love, purity and joy wherever he goes and inspires all who come in contact with him.[21][22]

In fact, Para Bhakti or the highest devotion is actually the devotion that arises after the realization of the Supreme Being. And Apara Bhakti or the lower devotion, also known as Gauni Bhakti is the means thereof that is of the form of chanting the Lord's name, singing His glories, etc.[1]

नवविधा भक्तिः ॥ Navavidha Bhakti

In the Bhagavata Purana (Skandha 7, Adhyaya 5) when Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlada to recite some of the excellent passages learnt well by him from what his teacher has taught him through the years, he elaborates on the nine forms of bhakti as follows:

श्रवणं कीर्तनं विष्णोः स्मरणं पादसेवनम् । अर्चनं वन्दनं दास्यं सख्यमात्मनिवेदनम् ॥७.५.२३॥[24]

śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇaṁ pādasevanam । arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ sakhyamātmanivedanam ॥7.5.23॥

Meaning: There are nine forms of devotion to Vishnu -

  1. श्रवणम् । śravaṇam refers to listening to the names, stories etc. of Vishnu
  2. कीर्तनम् । kīrtanam refers to singing of his name and glories
  3. स्मरणम् । smaraṇaṁ means to remember him (his name)
  4. पादसेवनम् । pādasevanam refes to rendering service to him
  5. अर्चनम् । arcanaṁ means to worship him
  6. वन्दनम् । vandanaṁ refers to paying obeisance to him
  7. दास्यम् । dāsyaṁ refers to the intent of dedicating all of one's actions to him
  8. सख्यम् । sakhyam refers to the ability of one to confide in him as a friend
  9. आत्मनिवेदनम् । ātmanivedanam refers to offering oneself and one's belongings completely to his service and care.

Prahlada further states that offering oneself completely to Vishnu and performing this nine-fold devotion is regarded as the highest type of learning. In fact, complete dedication as described above, is in fact the precedent to real devotion.[25]

इति पुंसार्पिता विष्णौ भक्तिश्चेन्नवलक्षणा | क्रियेत भगवत्यद्धा तन्मन्येऽधीतमुत्तमम् ||२४||[24]

iti puṁsārpitā viṣṇau bhaktiścennavalakṣaṇā | kriyeta bhagavatyaddhā tanmanye'dhītamuttamam ||24||

एकादशधा आसक्तिः ॥ Ekadashadha Asakti

The Narada Bhakti sutra says that devotion, though one in kind, manifests as attachment of eleven fold forms as follows:

  1. गुणमाहात्म्यासक्तिः ॥ guṇamāhātmyāsaktiḥ - Attachment to the attributes and greatness of the Supreme.
  2. रूपासक्तिः ॥ rūpāsaktiḥ - Attachment to the beauty of His form
  3. पूजासक्तिः ॥ pūjāsaktiḥ - Attachment to His worship
  4. स्मरणासक्तिः ॥ smaraṇāsaktiḥ - Attachment to His remembrance
  5. दास्यासक्तिः ॥ dāsyāsaktiḥ - Attachment to His service
  6. सख्यासक्तिः ॥ sakhyāsaktiḥ - Attachment to His friendship
  7. कान्तासक्तिः ॥ kāntāsaktiḥ - Attachment to Him as a beloved
  8. वात्सल्यासक्तिः ॥ vātsalyāsaktiḥ - Attachment to parental affection towards Him
  9. आत्मनिवेदनासक्तिः ॥ ātmanivedanāsaktiḥ - Attachment to Self-Surrender to Him
  10. तन्मयतासक्तिः ॥ tanmayatāsaktiḥ - Attachment to Self-absorption
  11. परमविरहासक्तिः ॥ paramavirahāsaktiḥ - Attachment to permanent Self-obliteration

Here, the different bhavas of the devotees towards the Supreme are included. It is said that among the bhavas, the bhakta begins with dasya bhava, attitude of a servant like Hanuman. From there on, climbing up in the ladder of bhakti, he takes up a friendly attitude towards the Supreme (Sakhya bhava) like Arjuna. As his fear vanishes and he claims equality with his object of worship, he slowly develops a bhava of parental affection (Vatsalya bhava) towards the Supreme. That is, he sees Shri Krishna as his son. At this stage, not only do all fears, but also all expectations vanish. The followers of Sri Vallabhacharya’s sampradaya entertain this bhava.

It is also said that Kantasakti or Madhurya rasa where the Supreme Being and the devotee become one like a lover and the beloved is the highest stage. However, there is fear of downful in kantasakti, if the devotee is not careful. This bhava is purely mental and hence, a high standard of purity is required in those who take to this bhava.[2]

भक्तिफलम् ॥ Fruit of Bhakti

After describing Shishupala's uninterrupted hatred for Vishnu (Sri Krishna), the Vishnu Purana says,

अयं हि भगवान् कीर्त्तितः संस्मृतश्च द्वेषानुबन्धेनापि अखिलसुरासुरदुर्लभं फलं प्रयच्छति किमुत सम्यग्भक्तिमताम् ॥ ४,१५.१७ ॥[26]

ayaṁ hi bhagavān kīrttitaḥ saṁsmr̥taśca dveṣānubandhenāpi akhilasurāsuradurlabhaṁ phalaṁ prayacchati kimuta samyagbhaktimatām ॥ 4,15.17 ॥

Meaning: Bhagavan, even if named or remembered with uninterrupted hatred, will confer the boon that is hard to be obtained even by deities and demons. Then, how much more will He reward those who possess perfect devotion ? Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says,

भक्त्या मामभिजानाति यावान्यश्चास्मि तत्त्वतः । ततो मां तत्त्वतो ज्ञात्वा विशते तदनन्तरम् ॥१८.५५॥[27]

bhaktyā māmabhijānāti yāvānyaścāsmi tattvataḥ । tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā viśate tadanantaram ॥18.55॥

Meaning: By devotion he knows Me in truth, what and who I am; and knowing Me in truth, he forthwith enters into the Supreme.[11]

Thus, many treatises declared Moksha as the reward.

In the Shandilya Bhakti Sutra Bhashya, it is said that attachment to the Supreme Self in the form of devotion becomes the cause of destruction of birth and re-birth by removing the limitations of the jiva.[3]

The 7th sutra in the 1st Pada of the 1st Adhikarana of the Brahmansutra says,

तन्निष्ठस्य मोक्षोपदेशात् । १.१.७ ।[28] tanniṣṭhasya mokṣopadeśāt । 1.1.7 ।

Meaning: Moksha is declared to the one who is abiding in that (sat).

While commenting on the Shandilya Bhakti Sutras, the commentator Svapneshvara quotes this sutra and reiterates that by 'nishtha' is meant 'devotion' in this sutra. Thus, the sutra is to be understood as 'Moksha accrues to him who is devoted to Him'.

The fruit of bhakti being Moksha is also reiterated in the Vishnu Purana when Bhagavan tells Prahlada,

यथा ते निश्चलं चेतो मयि भक्तिसमन्वितम् । तथा त्वं मत्प्रसादेन निर्वाणमपि यास्यसि ।। १.२०.२८ ।।[7]

yathā te niścalaṁ ceto mayi bhaktisamanvitam । tathā tvaṁ matprasādena nirvāṇamapi yāsyasi ।। 1.20.28 ।।

Meaning: As your mind filled with devotion to Me, always remains steadfast, you shall, through My grace, obtain Nirvana. Then again after describing the ascent to heaven of Rama, Lakshmana and others, it is said in the Vishnu Purana,

येऽपि तेषु भगवदंशेष्वनुरागिणः कोसलनगरजानपदास्तेऽपि तन्मनसस्तत्सालोक्यतामवापुः | ४.४.१०३ |[29]

ye'pi teṣu bhagavadaṁśeṣvanurāgiṇaḥ kosalanagarajānapadāste'pi tanmanasastatsālokyatāmavāpuḥ | 4.4.103 |

Meaning: Those citizens of Kosala who cherished a fervent affection (anuraga) for Rama, Lakshmana and others as Divine Emanations, having their minds fixed on them, also attained the same world to live with them.

According to the commentator Svapneshvara, 'anuraga' here is used in place of bhakti. Therefore, attaining the same world as the Lord is the fruit that is emphasized here.[1][3]

However, Narada emphasizes that devotion is higher than the other paths to reach the divine because it is its own reward. Therefore, he says,

फलरूपत्वात् ॥२६॥ phalarūpatvāt ॥26॥

It is devotion for devotion’s sake; love for love’s sake. And that is the reason why it excels others. Because, those who follow other paths cherish some ulterior motives in view and thus, fail to attain the Supreme.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Swami Harshananda (1984), Sandilya Bhakti Sutras with Svapnesvara Bhasya, Mysore: University of Mysore.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1937), Practice of Bhakti Yoga, Amritsar: Editor, Ideal Home Magazine.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Manmathanath Paul (1911), The One Hundred Aphorisms of Sandilya with the Commentary of Svapnesvara, Allahabad: The Panini Office, Bhuvaneswati Asrama.
  4. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14 (Gunatrayavibhaga Yoga) .
  5. Vachaspatyam, see भक्ति |
  6. Shabdakalpadruma, see भक्तिः |
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Vishnu Purana, Amsha 1, Adhyaya 20
  8. Nandlal Sinha (1911), The Bhakti Sutras of Narada, Allahabad: The Panini Office, Bhuvaneswari Asrama.
  9. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10 (Vibhuti Yoga).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7 (Jnana Vijnana Yoga)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Swami Sivananda (2000), Bhagavad Gita, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 11, Adhyaya 11
  13. 13.0 13.1 Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 11, Gorakhpur: Gita Press.
  14. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12 (Bhakti Yoga)
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 The Siva Purana (Part 1), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Shiva Purana, Samhita 2 (Rudra Samhita), Khanda 2 (Sati Khanda), Adhyaya 23
  17. Vishnu Purana, Amsha 3, Adhyaya 7
  18. Ramayana, Uttara kanda, Sarga 108
  19. Vishnu Purana, Amsha 1, Adhyaya 19
  20. Mahabharata, Bhishma Parva, Adhyaya 59
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Swami Sivananda (1999), All About Hinduism, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Swami Ramarajyam, The Narada Bhakti Sutra, Rishikesh: Divine Life Society.
  23. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9 (Raja Vidya Raja Guhya Yoga)
  24. 24.0 24.1 Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 7, Adhyaya 5
  25. The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.
  26. Vishnu Puranam, Amsha 4, Adhyaya 15
  27. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18 (Moksha Sannyasa Yoga)
  28. Brahmasutra, Adhyaya 1, Pada 1
  29. Vishnu Purana, Amsha 4, Adhyaya 4.