Principles and Concepts

What is Bhagti?

According to Sikhi, Bhagti (also spelt Bhakti) is a way of life, a dynamic manifestation of faith, a kindling of the mind and awakening of the heart.

Bhagti is absolute devotion to God. Bhagti does not mean living in an ivory tower, isolated from one’s fellowmen. It is neither asceticism nor renunciation. It is the leading of a dedicated life in the midst of the world. Rivalry among different Bhagti sects is the very negation of spirituality. Real Bhagti is service to God’s creation, Benevolence and kindness to all types of men, without distinction. It is both humanism and humanitarianism.

Bhagti may take either an outward or an inner form. The Sikh Gurus rejected outer forms like devotional dancing. They emphasised inner devotion, through love. Bhagti, rightly interpreted, is giving oneself away. Even if one is poor, one can share one’s love and sympathy with others. This gift of affection, this pouring out of the heart, this outflow of sympathy and understanding, is the true worship of God.

Bhagti enjoins self-analysis and self-control. Both the body and the mind have to be trained according to the Guru’s word. Guru Nanak says:

ਮਨੁ ਹਾਲੀ ਕਿਰਸਾਣੀ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਰਮੁ ਪਾਣੀ ਤਨੁ ਖੇਤੁ ॥
ਨਾਮੁ ਬੀਜੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਸੁਹਾਗਾ ਰਖੁ ਗਰੀਬੀ ਵੇਸੁ ॥
ਭਾਉ ਕਰਮ ਕਰਿ ਜੰਮਸੀ ਸੇ ਘਰ ਭਾਗਠਦੇਖੁ ॥੧॥
“Make your mind the farmer, good deeds the farm, modesty the water, and your body the field. Let the Lord’s Name be the seed, contentment the plow, and your humble dress the fence. Doing deeds of love, the seed shall sprout, and you shall see your home flourish. ||1||”
(Ang 595)

The Sikh Gurus developed the concept of Bhagti in two ways. While the Hindu saints and mystics discussed the academic aspects of Bhagti, the Gurus practically demonstrated it through creative literature, through hymns of adoration to the Almighty. That concept of Bhagti which was directed to idols and living persons was then modified to cover only an all embracing devotion to the Timeless and the Formless God. Dedication to Nirgun (God) is the highest form of Bhagti.

A Bhagat is a practical example of a man God, a sort of superman, who by leading a life of ethical discipline, faces the problems of life and lives nobly and worthily.