bhakti (bŭkˈtē) [key] [Skt., = devotion], theistic devotion in Hinduism. Bhakti cults seem to have existed from the earliest times, but they gained strength in the first millennium A.D. The first full statement of liberation and spiritual fulfillment through devotion to a personal god is found in the Bhagavad-Gita. The Puranas (from the 1st cent. A.D.) further elaborated theistic ideas. Devotion to Shiva and Vishnu and to the latter's avatara (incarnations), Rama and Krishna, continues to be practiced throughout India. Intense love for God and surrender to Him, reliance on His grace rather than on rituals, learning, or austerities, and the continuous repetition of His name are the means to the goal of His constant presence. The devotee may worship the chosen deity as child, parent, friend, master, or beloved. The bhakti tradition has tended to stress authentic inner feelings as opposed to institutional forms of religion and to disregard caste distinctions. Great devotees and saints such as the Alvars of S India (a Vaishnavite group of wandering singers), Mirabai, Tukaram, Tulsidasa, Kabir, and Chaitanya have continuously inspired the cults, founded their own sects, and produced a great literature of songs and poems in their vernaculars.
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