There are three paths in Hinduism – the path of knowledge, the path of devotion and the path of action. The topic to be discussed in this paper is the path of devotion, or ‘bhakti’ in Sanskrit. Devotion is defined as, “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause” (Google Definitions). In the case of any religion, specifically Hinduism, this devotion is towards a God or number of gods and realizing that they are not just there to be worshipped but will also protect you and help you when you need them, creating a more personal relationship.
I chose this topic because I think it is important, regardless of what religion you are, to have an utmost devotion toward whatever God or deity you are worshipping. God is the center of most religions, and without a devotion and love towards God we cannot bear the fruits of the religion, which are the qualities which that God possesses. Bhakti is a predominate theme seen in Hinduism (mostly after the Vedic times) especially in the Epics (Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, etc. ). We will discuss the path of devotion and how it is defined, practiced and brought out in Hinduism.
In Vedic times, although there were many gods, the religion was very sacrificial and ritualistic, emphasizing more on the ritualistic aspect of giving and not on a personal, loving relationship with the gods. The relationship was more a business type – I will give you what you need and in return please give me with what I need. We can say that there was a bit of devotion here, because the people relied on the gods for whatever needs they had, but it had to be accompanied with a ritualistic sacrifice or the gods wouldn’t help them.
The idea of a personal, saving, loving God is not seen in this era. In the Upanishads, which is the end of the Vedas, but considered as a major scriptural text in Hinduism, we can see the ideas of Brahman and Atman. Now, the Upanishads tell us that we need to understand Brahman and Atman in order to attain liberation. Although this is a difficult concept to understand, in order to understand the Brahman it will take a kind of devotion, because we need to completely immerse ourselves in the Brahman, loving it, feeling it and living it… therefore being devoted to it to fully understand it.
It is much harder to do this because the Brahman is a concept more than a deity or God, making it harder to relate to. When analyzed today, this is not very appealing, because everyone wants someone to love and for them to love and protect them back, especially in a God. This type of ‘Vedic’ devotion is definitely not what is seen in present day Hinduism. As time went on, we come to the era of the Epics (which include scriptures like the Mahabharatha (which encompasses the Bhagavad Gita) and the Ramayana). These scriptures introduce the idea of a personal God.
Lord Vishnu, in both pieces, is reincarnated on earth as Lord Krishna (in the Mahabharatha) and Lord Rama (in the Ramayana). God comes down from the heavens to help his people in times of trouble and need. We see the path of devotion being taught and carried out in these Epics. In the Bhagavad – Gita, Lord Krishna teaches that those who meditate on him and focus all their energies on him before doing anything will achieve him, which is the ultimate goal. In other words, when we are completely devoted to Lord Krishna, we will gain everything else.
Lord Krishna states, “When they entrust reason to me, Arjuna, I soon arise to rescue them from the ocean of death and rebirth” (Bhagavad-Gita 12:7). Lord Krishna is saying to rely on him and he will set everyone free. Here we see the idea of being devoted to a god and relying on one. This is the idea of devotion which is prevalent in today’s Hinduism. Today, Hindus who are devoted solely to Lord Krishna are called, “Harekrishnas” and can be seen chanting Krishna’s name and singing praises to him all over the world.
Although sacrifice and ritual is still present, there is more of a personal relationship with the gods, and people can depend on and love them. When we go to temples today, we can see people bowing down, praying and giving money or food to the gods, while asking them to protect them and bless them. Although this happens, there is more of a “loving” relationship present, so rituals and sacrifices are not the only focus, rather being one of the smaller focuses. In present day worship, there are many songs, poems and dances which are performed in devotion to Lord Krishna. In the Ramayana, we see devotion being presented to us in a similar way.
Lord Rama and his wife Sita go through a lot of tribulations in this Epic. Sita, being a devoted wife to Lord Rama, shows her devotion in many ways. When Lord Rama gets banished to the forest, she goes with him, showing her devotion as a wife to her husband (who is equivalent to a wife’s God). We should show equal devotion to our gods. When Sita get’s kidnapped by King Ravanna from Sri Lanka, she shows her devotion by staying chaste to her husband, Lord Rama. This kind of devotion is an example of how a wife can fulfill her dharma properly to her husband and be devoted to her husband and God.
Through this example, Sita is seen as a Goddess at times, and prayed to by many people, in turn making many people devoted to her also. This deep devotion is the kind of devotion that one should have to their God or gods. Another example of devotion we see in the Ramayana is that of Hanuman, the Monkey-faced warrior King. Hanuman is an ardent devotee of Lord Rama, serving him in any way possible. Hanuman is a good example of the devotion that is seen today in Hinduism. People all over the world have personal gods in whom they put their trust, faith and love and believe that they will protect them.
This is devotion as seen today in Hinduism. We can see how this path of devotion has developed in Hinduism. All of the three paths lead to liberation, but they should be practiced hand in hand. We can see how the Epics illustrate how one can practice this devotion and be devoted to one’s own personal God. One can show his or her devotion by trusting in their God (or Goddess) and performing prayers to that God every day, chanting songs, offering incense, fruits and other items and by showing utmost love and respect to that God.
After writing this paper, I have learned a lot about the development of devotion in Hinduism and how one goes about practicing this devotion. It is really interesting to see the difference in worship and just religion in general from the Vedic times to now. I personally appeal to the present form of worship in Hinduism, which involved being devoted to a personal God or gods. The Vedic times were very philosophical and felt like more of a business transaction then actually having a relationship with a God or the gods.
Writing this paper helped me remind myself what devotion means and to help me in my personal religious views. I think in order to expand this paper and topic, I could have done specific research on how devotional practices vary tradition to tradition within the smaller sects of Hinduism. This is certainly something missing because this paper covers a general view on devotion in Hinduism, but there is definitely a lot more to write about, especially pertaining to the different traditions within Hinduism.