From my understanding the Bhakti movement did not start until around 700 - 1000 CE in Tamil Nadu.

My understanding of Bhakti is that it is a pure, selfless love towards a deity. A path which can ultimately lead to self realisation, as described in the Bhagavad Gita.

There have obviously been great proponents of bhakti yoga since this period. E.g. Vallabha Acharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu etc.

So to me,it's clear this was a post vedic movement. But as a concept is there any origin in the Vedic age?

The vedas mentions worship of primal gods such as Agni, Vayu, Indra etc. But was this really the same bhakti as described in the Gita? To me, worship in the vedic age was to appease gods, so as to receive their benefaction.

Is there any reference to bhakti as a concept in the vedic age, with the same meaning as described in the Gita? I.e. as a path that can lead to knowledge of the Self, and not merely for appeasement?

  • what do you mean by Vedic age?
    – Sai
    May 11, 2015 at 3:52
  • I mean the age where vedic practices were at their height ~ 1700 - 2000 BCE
    – Aditya K
    May 11, 2015 at 7:35
  • 1
    The Bhakti movement refers to a movement in South India, spearheaded by the Alwars and Nayanars (Vaishnavites and Shaivite poet-saints), which revitalized Hinduism and devotion to the gods in response to the popularity of Buddhism. But Bhakti Yoga was not invented by the Alwars and Nayanars; they were just reintroducing it to a populace that had forgotten it. The Bhagavad Gita is far older than the Bhakti movement. May 11, 2015 at 8:07
  • I have revised my answer with more references. May 11, 2015 at 10:20
  • "To me, worship in the vedic age was to appease gods, so as to receive their benefaction." Actually, even when Vedic yagnas were being done there were differing views on their purpose. Jaimini, author of the Mimamsa Sutras, believed that the reason you should do Yagnas is because it will benefit you. (So in his view Dharma was just a set of guidelines that told you what actions would be beneficial to you, and what actions would be harmful.). The sage Badari, on the other hand, believed that Yagnas should be done because they are your dharma, not because of any expectation of reward. May 18, 2015 at 19:30

6 Answers 6


Don't confuse the Bhakti movement with Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is not of post-Vedic origin. Many Western scholars have claimed a post A.D. origin for Bhakti - this was originally done by 19th century Western academics. It was done so that they could claim that Bhakti was originally Christian, and not Hindu, and that the Hindus derived their Bhakti from Christian sources. This claim has been around a long time, long enough that even Swami Vivekananda commented on it and refuted it by showing that Bhakti Yoga was in the Vedas. Vivekananda's comments are in his lecture 'Vedanta and Indian Life' (V3, pp 230-231) and also here - http://cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_3/vol_3_frame.htm

There were Bhakti movements in the past before the modern ones.

Narada, the author of Narada's Bhakti Sutras, one of the seminal works on Bhakti, is mentioned in the Chhandogya Upanishad (Chapter VII). In the Chhandogya he is seeking knowledge of Brahman and goes as a student to the enlightened sage Sanatkumar. Narada is mentioned in numerous other texts.

  • Can you give some examples of such movements? And can you be more specific on where Bhakti Yoga was in the Vedas?
    – Aditya K
    May 11, 2015 at 7:37

It seems to me that you think about the question that you have asked in an inappropriate manner, so therefore you're looking for some confirmation of the existence of bhakti in the Vedas. As far as I can see from your question your assumption is that the Vedas actually are the Vedic Samhitas which are the oldest, and only later emerged the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures in which we see quite explicitly clarified and defined in detail the doctrine of bhakti. So you differentiate between the earlier Vedic age from the later post Vedic age. These are all the views and attitudes that come from the scientific community. But I must emphasize that all these views and attitudes the tradition has never agreed with, nor it is so presented in the Hindu dharma scriptures. What the tradition and scriptures teach is something completely different than that. Here I will try to illustrate what is the traditional view of these matters.

First of all we should know it is said that the Vedas are eternal. There are many statements in the scriptures that talk about that. Here is an example from the Manu-smriti, chapter 12:

  1. "The Veda is the eternal eye of the manes, gods, and men"

    1. "The eternal lore of the Veda upholds all created beings"

Here the translator used appropriate term "lore" meaning "accumulated knowledge or beliefs held by a group about a subject, especially when passed from generation to generation by oral tradition". Here the term "Veda" refers to all Shruti texts, which means that it refers to the Upanishads also.

The passage from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.10 speaks about the origins of the scriptures:

"As clouds of smoke proceed by themselves out of a lighted fire kindled with damp fuel, thus, verily, O Maitreyî, has been breathed forth from this great Being what we have as Rig-veda, Yagur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharvâṅgirasas, Itihâsa (legends), Purâna (cosmogonies), Vidyâ (knowledge), the Upanishads, Slokas (verses), Sûtras (prose rules), Anuvyâkhyânas (glosses), Vyâkhyânas (commentaries). From him alone all these were breathed forth."

So from the above verses not only we learn that the Vedas are eternal, but that they came out of the Lord's breath. All these scriptures actually has no human authors, and even the gods in heaven are not their source, but it is the Supreme Lord who revealed vedic knowledge in all these scriptures to the gods and men.

Puranas are even mentioned in the Atharva Veda 11.7.24:

"Verses, and Songs, and magic hymns, Purāna, sacrificial text."

Even from the fact that the Puranas and Itihasas were mentioned in the above verses from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Atharva Veda speaks of the eternal nature of these Puranas and Itihasas. Since Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Atharva Veda are eternal Shruti texts per the Manu-smriti verses stated above, it follows that the Puranas and Itihasas scriptures mentioned in these Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Atharva Veda verses are also eternal scriptures!

Thus, knowledge revealed in all these scriptures is actually eternal knowledge, and so is the knowledge of bhakti also eternal knowledge. That knowledge as its origin does not have humans nor gods, but the Lord. In the Upanishads and Puranas and Itihasas including the Bhagavad gita there are clear references to bhakti. Here I will not mention these examples on bhakti because I guess you heard about them. Even in the Rig Veda we can find verses that can be interpreted as references to bhakti.

This would be from the traditional point of view. Knowledge of bhakti were not created supposedly later, but it is eternal knowledge about the relationship between the soul and the Lord. It is the knowledge of Sanatana Dharma which means eternal religion of the relationship between the living being and the Lord.

  • I think that Brihadaranyaka Upansihad quote just means that all texts which speak the truth, whether divinely authored or humanly authored, ultimately originate from Brahman. That's why it even mentions things like commentaries. It doesn't mean that those commentaries were divinely authored, just that truth ultimately comes from Sriman Narayana. May 15, 2015 at 2:05
  • In any case, I think Aditya K's question is meaningful regardless of your views of the provenance of different scriptures. Even if the Puranas existed in the divine mind forever, the fact remains that they weren't revealed to human beings until the time of Vyasa. So we can still ask the question, considering that humans in the Dwapara Yuga did not have the Puranas available to them, but they did have the (uncompiled) mantras of the Vedic Samhitas at their disposal, did they or did they not practice Bhakti Yoga. May 15, 2015 at 2:11
  • That's the sort of perspective from which I answered this question: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/6896/36 May 15, 2015 at 2:13
  • By the way, if you're a Gaudiya Vaishnava, I've posted a few questions on Gaudiya Vaishnavism that you might be interested in: hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/gaudiya-vaishnavism May 15, 2015 at 2:47
  • @Keshav Regarding 1st point: Well, as far as I can understand that Bri. Up 2.4.10 verse, there are two possibilities, 1. one is that the Lord Himself is the author, in fact even He can be the author even of some scriptures such as "commentaries" and "verses" and similar! This is not impossible. For example, it is said that Buddha was avatara of Lord Vishnu, and He taught the people, preached, and so is the author in some way, although maybe he haven't literally wrote the book. Similar was the avatara of Lord Vishnu, Lord Kapila, and His teachings on bhakti ... May 15, 2015 at 18:07

Bhakti movement(700 - 1000 CE) was a relatively modern thing.

True. Bhakti is a pure, selfless love towards God. Bhakti Yoga is the path which can ultimately lead to self realization through the Complete Devotion to God.

Bhakti Yoga is also described in Yoga Vasistha (योग-वासिष्ठ) from Ramayana.

Going by Vedic dates...

  • Mahabharat (incl. Bhagavad Gita): 3100 BCE or earlier
  • Ramayan (incl. Yoga Vasistha): 5100 BCE or earlier

Earliest references of bhakti:

Chapter 12 of Bhagvad gita is named "Bhakti yoga" . It describes path of completely loving devotion to God in very detailed manner. Bhagvad gita is among Prasthantrayi scriptures of Vedanta Philosophy. So that obviously means Bhakti yoga is atleast as old as Gita or even far more older. that definitely pushes it hundreds/thousands years before Christ

see :

Earliest references of bhakti:

Now, This book "Bhakti yoga for beginners" ; shows that bhakti yoga is dealt by Sama veda.

Apart from that, term Bhakti appears also in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिः यथा देवे तथा गुरौ ।
तस्यैते कथिता ह्यर्थाः प्रकाशन्ते महात्मनः ॥

He who has highest bhakti of Deva (God),
just like his Deva, so for his Guru (teacher),
to him who is high-minded,
these teachings will be illuminating.

            (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.23)

Note that Shvetashvatara Upanishad is embedded in Yajurveda.

Earliest references of bhakti movement:

Regarding bhakti "movement", the link which you refer only talks of "movements" in context of modern day or middle era; and that too as per western interpretation. Western interpretations deliberately want to show that bhakti movement of India is post christ era only. But In ancient era, narad, hanumana(post-ramayana war) were themselves shown as bhakts roaming and chanting around everywhere. These examples and also Panchratra agama indicates powerful presence of bhakti "movement" existing before Buddhist era.


Swami Harshananda writes in "A CONCISE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF HINDUISM",

Bhakti or devotion or love of God is one of the most widely recognised religious sentiments in all the major religions of the world. In Hinduism, its origins can be traced even to the Ṛgveda itself. Praise of God (1.156.3), hearing or recitation of his names as also surrender to him (1.156.2), filial affection towards God (8.98.11), that he seeks his devotees (6.47.17), that he is our dearest and nearest (10.82.3)—these are some of the aspects of bhakti found in it.

Coming to the Upaniṣads, we see that though they are mainly devoted to jñāna or knowledge, the doctrine of grace which is an important aspect of the philosophy of devotion, is found in some statements like, ‘Whom the Ātman chooses, by him is He obtained; to him, He reveals Himself’. (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.23) So also another: ‘When he who is devoid of desire-motivated actions, through the grace of God, the Supporter, sees the Paramātman’s glory, then does he become freed from sorrow’ (ibid 2.20). The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad actually uses the word ‘bhakti’ and clearly states ‘prapatti’ (self-surrender) also (6.23; 6.18).


Sri Yogindra writes that a Chandogya Upanishad mantra mentions Bhakti as a path.

Mental activities relative to the Saguna Brahman - such as are described in the Shandilya Vidya are Upasanas or devotions.

Vedantasara 12 of Sadananda Yogindra

So where is Shandilya Veda? It is in Chandogya Upanishad.

Verily, all this universe is Brahman. From Him do all things originate, into Him do they dissolve and by Him are they sustained. On Him should one meditate in tranquility. For as is one's faith in this world, such one becomes on departing hence. Let one, therefore, cultivate faith.

Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1

The bolded mantra in the above Chandogya shloka is considered by Sri Yogananda as Upanishadic support for Bhakti marga. If you agree with Sri Yogindra then this Chandogya Upanishad mantra must be the earliest reference to Bhakti marga.

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