18 April, 2021

It's Time To Rescue The Word 'Bhakti' From High Priests Of The Secular

Bhakti is no juvenile love affair. The word has been used to describe blind faith to a political regime, writes cultural curator, Arundhathi Subramanium

Passionate Yearnings
Pia se milan hum jaib ho Rama, artwork by Haku Shah
It's Time To Rescue The Word 'Bhakti' From High Priests Of The Secular

If there is a word we need to urgently reclaim from mutilation and terminal banality, it is ‘bhakti’. We need to reclaim it, above all, from dogmatism—both theological and ideological. On the one hand, the word is employed with derision: to describe blind faith to a political regime. On the other, it is employed with sanctimony: to describe self-righteous adherence to a religious tradition. It is time to rescue the word—from both the high priests of the secular and the commissars of the sacred.

What exactly is bhakti? Experientially, it is as old as ­humanity. Historically, it was a series of popular movements that regarded devotion as the supreme path to the sacred. However, this was not an antiseptic devotion, a tame piety, an easy faith. Instead, it was a feral, unabashedly sensuous yearning with a voltage so intense that it incinerated, at least in much of its poetry, the barriers ­between the erotic and the existential, the profane and the sacred.

The upsurge appears to have begun around the sixth and seventh centuries...

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