Bhakti Bibliography


Prentiss, Karen Pechilis. The Embodiment of Bhakti. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

--Though this work is primarily an in-depth study of a regional tradition of Tamil Shiva-bhakti (i.e, the nayanmars, cf. Poems to Shiva), it is valuable for its up-to-date and succinct summary of the history of the scholarly interpretation of ‘bhakti’ as a category. As such, it is replete with references to ‘orientalists’ and the many scholars that have worked in this field, but through all the detail a broad sense of the ‘hot spots’ of the history and present state of bhakti studies can be gained. See especially Part I, pp. 13-41.

Edited Volumes

Eck, Diana and Francoise Mallison. Devotion Divine: Bhakti Traditions from the Regions of India. Paris: Ecole Francaise D’Extreme-Orient, 1991.

--A collection of essays in tribute to the work of french scholar Charlotte Vaudeville. In keeping with this purpose, the essays approach Hinduism and bhakti mainly (though not exclusively) through their ‘folk’ origins. Essays on manifestations of bhakti such as the significance of the worship of footprints (Bakker, pp. 19-37) and on the dog as a symbol of bhakti itself (Tulpule, pp. 273-285).

Lele, Jayant, ed. Tradition and Modernity in Bhakti Movements. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981.

--Though a bit dated, this is the only collection of essays (that I have found) organized around the question of bhakti and modernization. Particular attention is paid to the Warkari (Maharastra) bhakti movement. Also contains an essay by Hawley on Sur Das’ poetry.

Schomer, Karine and W. H. McLeod, eds. The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series, 1987.

--By gathering a set of essays on the Sant tradition of bhakti in North India, this volume highlights the ways in which bhakti itself stretches the limits of religious traditions, informing Hindu, Sikh and Islamic belief and practice. Essays on several of the poets examined in Songs of the Saints of India, especially Kabir. Also, because of its topic, this volume has several essays dealing with the ‘nirguna/saguna’ distinction.


Primary Sources

Dimock, Edward C. and Denise Levertov, eds. In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

--A veritable dip in the ocean of madhurya-bhava (the erotic devotional mood) . Dimock and Levertov have arranged these Bengali Vaishnava devotional songs (kirtan) (mostly in the voice of Radha) according to traditional categories of the stages of a human love affair. Good for getting a ‘feel’ for the mutations of viraha (longing in separation).

Ramanujan, A. K. Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Vishnu by Nammalvar. New York: Penguin Books India, 1993.

--Beautiful and at times provocative selected translations from one of South India’s most beloved bhakti poets and poems—Nammalvar’s Tiruvaymoli. Also contain’s A.K. Ramanujan’s extremely helpful "Afterword" on early Tamil bhakti. Ramanujan’s considerable sensitivity to poetic language informs all his work.

--------------. Speaking of Siva. New York: Penguin Books, 1973

--The necessary sectarian complement to Hymns for the Drowning. Unlike that work, however, these translations span a broad range of the South Indian Shaivate Nayanmar tradition, from Basavanna to the well-known female Virashaiva, Mahadeviyakka.

Schelling, Andrew. For the Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai. Prescott, Arizona: Hohms

Press, 1998.

--Recent translations of about 80 of Mira’s poems. In his selection process, Schelling has paid attention to a wide range of themes in the poems, particularly that of Mir as yogini, but as he reminds us in his "Introduction"—"Even her asceticism rings with eroticism" and such is nowhere lacking in this volume. This provides a helpful supplement to the more common image of Mirabai as Krishna’s consort.

Vivekananda. Bhakti-Yoga. Calcutta: Sri Gouranga Press, 1922.

--Modern thoughts on the three principle margas (paths) from the man who become the icon of "Hinduism" in the West in the early 20th century. Like all of Vivekananda’s "writings" this book is a re-formulation of parts of several lectures and address, often delivered ex tempore. Particularly interesting are his comments on the relationship of Vedanta to bhakti-yoga.

Women and Bhakti

Harlan, Lindsey. "Abandoning Shame: Mira and the Margins of Marriage." In From the Margins of Hindu Marriage: Essays on Gender, Religion, and Culture. eds., Lindsey Harlan and Paul Courtwright. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

--Focuses on a regional version of the Mira story as told among Rajasthani Rajput women. Highlights the ambivalence felt towards Mira as someone to be admired and yet not imitated.

Hawley, John Stratton. "Mirabai as Wife and Yogi." In Asceticism, ed. Victor Wimbush. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

--The divide between the householder (in this case pativrata) and the ascetic has often been painted as so wide as to be unbridgeable. By paying close attention to an often overlooked aspect of Mira’s poems (her ascetic/yogic imagery), Hawley’s work suggests that bhakti complexifies this dichotomy. Hawley also pays close attention to the way the tradition(s) and even popular culture have interpreted Mira in relation to the ideals of the pativrata.

Kinsley, David. "Devotion as an Alternative to Marriage in the Lives of Some Hindu Women Devotees." In Tradition and Modernity in Bhakti Movements. ed. Jayant Lele. Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1981.

--Examines the ‘tension between bhakti and dharma’ (with emphasis on the ‘tension’) as manifested in the lives of several female bhakti saints. Brief and to the point.

Rukmani, T. S. "Bhakti, the Bhagavata Purana and the Empowerment of Women," Journal for the Study of Religion. 8, 1 (March 1995: 55-70).

--Good for an introduction to the range of literature and female figures that figure in the discussion of ‘bhakti’ and women. Attention is focused mostly on southern regions, though Mirabai and Lal Ded (Kashmir) are mentioned. The thesis is that bhakti has, if in a limited way, "paved the path for equality amongst the sexes."

Gupta, Sanjukta. "Women in the Shaiva/Shakta Ethos. In Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women." ed. Julia Leslie. London: Pinter Publishers, 1991.

--A comparison of three Virashaiva and three Vaishnava women saints, arguing that the Shaivite traditions, through its emphasis on shakti, provided a more female ‘friendly’ environment. A bit tendentious in places.

Bhakti as Social and Political Phenomenon

Lorenzen, David N. "Introduction: The Historical Vicissitudes of Bhakti Religion." In Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action. ed. David N. Lorenzen. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

--Lorenzon posits bhakti as an underlying religious structure that informs both Sikh and Hindu traditions in North India, and examines the relationship of bhakti to the current debate over ‘communalism.’ Pays particular attention to the ideological implications and uses of nirguni and saguni bhakti. Ends with a helpful evaluation and expansion of Max Weber’s examination of class and religious affiliation.

Schaller, Joseph. "Sanskritization, Caste Uplift and Social Dissidence in the Sant Ravidas Panth." In Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action. ed. David N. Lorenzen. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

--An examination of contemporary followers of Ravidas, arguing that devotion to this "untouchable" (chamar) saint is intimately intertwined with political and economic factors of the situation of the devotees. Bhakti as a "dissident socioreligious ideology." Interesting comparisons to Ambedkar’s neo-Buddhism and the chamars of Agra.

Shobha, Savitri Chandra. Medieval India and Hindi Bhakti Poetry: A Social-Cultural Study. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 1996.

--Collection of essays by Shobha dealing with Kabir, Sur Das, and Tulsi, asking questions about bhaktis relationship to dissent, protest and social philosophy in general. Chapter 5 deals with the ‘position of women’ in medieval bhakti poetry.


God, the Self and the self in Bhakti

Carman, John B. "Conceiving Hindu ‘Bhakti’ as Theistic Mysticism." In Mysticism and Religious Traditions, ed. Steven T. Katz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

--Though for some ‘theistic mysticism’ may seem a contradiction in terms, Carman argues that the bhakti traditions, such as that expressed in the theology of Ramanuja or in the character of Prahlada in the Vishnu Purana, provoke a radical re-thinking of what ‘mysticism’ itself may mean.

Nelson, Lance E. "Bhakti-Rasa for the Advaitin Renunciate: Madhusudana Sarasvati’s Theory of Devotional Sentiment," Religious Traditions: A Journal in the Study of Religion. 12, 9 (1988:1-16).

--The strengths of this short article are many. In the life and thought of this important medieval monk and intellectual, Nelson finds an apparent anomaly: a Krishna-devotee who is also a strict advaitin (non-dualist) philosopher. Though advaita certainly wins the day here, Nelson has pointed out that ‘on-the-ground’ neat categories never quite hold up.In addition, Nelson gives some brief and helpful discussions of important bhakti concepts such as rasa and the various bhavas in terms of aesthetic theory and Vaishnava theology.