The nature of bhakti among women in Medieval IndiaThe word ‘bhakti’ is generally understood as meaning ‘selfless devotion’to theDivine. When we talk of the bhakti movement per se, we mean the religiousmovement in which the main spiritual practice was devotion to God, or bhakti. Thedevotion was directed towards a particular form of God, such as Shiva, Vishnu,Murukan or Shakti. The bhakti movement started in southern India and slowlyspread north during the later half of the medieval period (800-1700 CE). Thismovement is known to have played a crucial role in shaping the cultural andreligious life of people of all religions in the subcontinent. The bhaktas asserted theequality of all souls before God and denounced caste and class. There is a vastamount of bhakti literature available to us for study today. It needs to be made clearthat the bhakti movement did not start as a movement of the lowest and the poorestclasses. A. K. Ramanujan reasonably suggests that to ‘give up something’ necessarilyimplies having that ‘something’ in the first place. The bhakti movement did startwith people from the ‘upper castes’, but soon began to enlist people from all castesand occupations. It is surprising, however, that women bhaktas inspite of having flouted societalnorms and having defied convention ‘were not persecuted as heretics or dismissedas lunatics’, but were given much respect and their teachings later became a part theliving and growing tradition. This is made clearer by the fact that it is nearlyimpossible to study poetry without coming across works by eminent womenbhaktas such as Mira in the case of North India or Andal in the case of the South(Tamil literature).Given their belief in the centrality of personal devotion, poet-saints were highlycritical of ritual observances as maintained and fostered by the Brahmin priesthood.Another thing in common was their usage of the vernacular, or regional languages ofthe masses, as opposed to the sacred language of the elite priesthood, Sanskrit. Thispractice, too, stemmed from the movement’s focus on inner, mystical, and highlypersonal devotion to the Divine.