They belonged to various castes and communities, spoke varied language and dialects and came from different professions. We had Kabir the weaver, Namdev the tailor, Akho the goldsmith, Goro the potter and Chokhmela the mahar who rebelled against the exploitative caste system and exclusiveness of organised religions. While Eknath and Gyanadev, the Brahmin, from Maharashtra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal, and Shankardev from Assam strove for bringing about reform and transformation in religion. Namdev, Tukaram and Chokhamela from Maharashtra, the Lingayat Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi and Allamaprabhu from Karnataka spoke of a novel tradition based on equality of all mankind. Then there was Mirabai and Narasinh Mehta – who, intoxicated with the love of God, overcame pain and suffering by singing and dancing to their beloved Lord. They belonged to no one religion or tradition. They belonged to this country and its people. They did not write high philosophies in Sanskrit, but preached and sang in the common dialect and their poetry survived hundreds of years of oral tradition. The Santvani (song of the saints) of this land still vibrates in its air and ether, if we could only tune in…..
These saint poets were the harbingers of the Bhakti movement which rose in the southern part of India and from there surged upwards into east, west and northern parts of the country. Its philosophy was guided by a humanizing multiculturalism, an passionate fervor and a thirst for the the Beloved – the Divine essence, and experience.
The Bhakti movement was a unique attempt, a first of its kind, at decentralizing the rigid class and caste hierarchy imposed by the Brahmins and the elite. The saint poets used the language of the masses – the marginalized part of the society i.e. the vernacular languages of the common people and their folk idioms motifs in their poetry.
The Bhakti movement began in the 8th century Tamilnadu with the Shaiva and Vaishnav Bhakti cults and continued into the 12th century by the Lingayats of Karnataka, onto the 13th century Warkari Panth of Maharashtra . From here it flowed into Central and North India where Nirguna Bhakti was initiated in the 14th century by Ramananda’s school along with the Saguna Vaishnava Bhakti of Chaitanya in Bengal and Orissa which had a parallel stream flowing from the Saguna saint poets of Gujarat.
Sadarangani,N M. 2004. Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception , Cultural Encounter and Impact. Sarup & Sons. New Delhi