The Bhakti movement has its inception in the 8th century Tamil Nadu. By the 10th century it had spread to Karnataka and Maharashtra and finally by the 16th century, it had established itself in North , West and East of India . This era saw the rebel-mystic-poets who in their spiritual poetry spoke against the orthodox Brahmins, the caste system and the irrelevance of mindless rituals. For them Divinity dwelt within the heart of Man and could be experienced with Love and surrender. They insisted on the personal experience of God.
In its initial stages it was nurtured by Shaiva and Vaishnava Bhakti cults in Tamil Nadu and by Lingayats of Karnataka in 11th and 12th century followed by the Warkari panth of Maharashtra in the 13th century. In the 14th century Central and North India saw the initiation of Nirguna Bhakti by Ramananda’s school and the Chaitanya school of Saguna Vaishnava Bhakti and Bengal and Orissa. There was a parallel stream of Saguna Bhakti running in Gujarat (Sadarangani: Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India, 2004).
The Vaishnava Bhakti school was born at the time when Buddhism and Jainism were on the decline. This movement found acceptability among the so called lower castes who had been sidelined by mainstream Hinduism.
Premanand Bhatt was a 17th century bhakti poet (1649-1714), who mastered the art of akhyan: a form of story telling popular during the middle ages. The first clear notion of Gujarati language developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in the work of Premanand. The stories were usually taken from the Puranas. The episodes were modified depending on the theme; for entertainment or edification. The narration was split into units called kadavans. The narration was dramatized giving a detailed description of the characters, their emotional states, the seasons and scenes etc. The narrator who presented the tale before an audience was called a bhatt, who produced beats on a copper pot hitting it with metal rings on his fingers. The pot was called mann, .
Premananda was the supreme akhynkara. His akhyans were based on Puranic themes, the life of Narsinha and lilas of Shri Krishna. He was a master of language and melodious verse. Akhyans were offshoots of Bhakti poems and their stories celebrate the infinite lila of the Divine.
To listen to an Akhyan please check the following link :