Bhakti Yoga is a form of yoga that uses devotion as a tool towards divine union. Yoga is majorly about the union between Atman and Brahman. This, in the modern-day, can be regarded as the union of body and consciousness. It is popular in all Religions, however, philosophically it is the component of Hinduism. Other forms of Yoga are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga.
Bhakti Yoga is the union through devotion. When there is unidirectional devotion towards a chosen deity there is a psychological connection between a seeker and the god. This connection forms the bonding of Bhakti. When supreme love is achieved, it is the final destination of Bhakti Yoga. A devotee becomes immersed in the eternal love with a chosen deity.
However, Bhakti is done f or various purposes. Even Ravana had a devotion towards Lord Shiva and Hanuman had devotion towards Rama. Both of them were great devotees but Ravana couldn’t fight his own ego and Hanuman was able to do it. This happens because of aspirations and ambitions. Ravana was too much ambitious with many aspirations and Hanuman was selfless. Devotion has to be selfless.
There are five types of Bhakti Yoga. Each of the types is related to Bhavas or emotions. One can practice all the types at the same time or one, it depends on the experience. The level of emotions may differ in each one but true Bhakti sees no discrimination in levels of Bhakti.
Bhakti Yoga is mentioned as one of the paths of a union. The other two paths are Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. As per Swami Vivekananda, it is one of the surest ways to achieve salvation. When one is immersed in Bhakti, he/she loves all and hates none.
Practicing Bhakti doesn’t need any posture or any Asana. Showing immense love towards a chosen deity is enough. This can be in the form of prayers or songs. In Vaishnavism, the chosen Deity is Vishnu or Avatars of Vishnu. In Shaivism, chosen Deity is Shiva or Avatars of Shiva and in Shaktism chosen Deity is Devi or Avatars of Devi. In Smartism, you can choose all the major Deities.
These are the six different ways to start the devotion.
Bhakti Yoga has no exact date like that of the origin of Hinduism. However, the Bhakti Movement began when India started facing invasion from foreign nations. This started around 800 CE when the Bhakti Movement was started. Also, the rise of Buddhism gave a strong sense of devotion towards other Indic Deities.
Sometimes Bhakti can be dangerous, for example, Bhakti of Ravana made him feel that the knowledge gained by him is supreme. He couldn’t go against the ego. Sometimes in polytheistic traditions, a Bhakta may get a false ego that whatever his Diety has said is only right. Such Bhaktas create confusion between Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga This is also common in other Religions where one’s god is proven as greater than the other’s god. In fact, even the Deities are shown in meditation of each other which means no one is greater.
The basis of Bhakti has to be love and only love not knowledge. Kabir has rightly said, one who knows the 2 and a half letters (Prema) love is a greater Pandit. So the sheer focus has to be love. In Bhakti Yoga there is no discrimination based on knowledge of an individual. There is only love.
You can read our other guides on different types of Yoga.