Bhakti and Power: Debating India’s Religion of the Heart
John Stratton Hawley, Christian Lee Novetzke and Swapna Sharma
158 x 240 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

Bhakti means many things to many people. It is private and public, personal and political, silently contemplative and loudly musical. Often it speaks in the marginalized voices of women and the oppressed, yet it has also played a role in perpetuating injustice. What, then, is the power of bhakti? And how does it interact with forms of power other than its own?

Bhakti and Power provides an accessible entry into these issues, presenting voices and vignettes from the sixth century to the present. It asks a range of questions. Is bhakti lower-class, middle-class, or ruler-class? Is its power intrinsically tied to music and the arts? Does it address the earth and ecology, or broker the divides between Hindus, Muslims, and Jains? Does bhakti have gender, and if so, how?

Each chapter is short and pointed, generating a world of its own, but each becomes a piece in a bigger puzzle. Readers will come away with new resources for thinking about bhakti and power in specific and varied situations—and also in broad and general terms. Historians, sociologists, religionists, and students of literature, politics, and the arts will all be enriched by this discussion. 

John Stratton Hawley is Claire Tow Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University.

Christian Lee Novetzke is professor of South Asian studies and comparative religion at the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.

Swapna Sharma is senior lecturer in Hindi at Yale University

Introduction: The Power of Bhakti


Chapter One
Affect and Identity in Early Bhakti: Karaikkal Ammaiyar as Poet, Servant, and Pey
Karen Pechilis

Chapter Two
Religious Equality, Social Conservatism: The Shiva-Bhakti Community as Imagined in Early Kannada Hagiographies
Gil Ben-Herut

Chapter Three
Caste and Women in Early Modern India: Krishna Bhakti in Sixteenth-Century Vrindavan
Heidi R. M. Pauwels

Chapter Four
“Are You All Coming to the Esplanade?”: Devotional Music and Contingent Politics in West Bengal
Eben Graves

Chapter Five
All the Valmikis Are One: Bhakti as Majoritarian Project
Joel Lee


Chapter Six
The Political Theology of Bhakti, or When Devotionalism Meets Vernacularization
Christian Lee Novetzke

Chapter Seven
Bhakti as Elite Cultural Practice: Digambar Jain Bhakti in Early Modern North India
John E. Cort

Chapter Eight
Lover and Yogi in Punjabi Sufi Poetry: The Story of Hir and Ranjha
Manpreet Kaur

Chapter Nine
Illuminating the Formless: God, King, and Devotion in an Assamese Illustrated Manuscript
Phyllis Granoff

Chapter Ten
Bhakti as Relationship: Drawing Form and Personality from the Formless
David L. Haberman

Chapter Eleven
Bhakti the Mediator
John Stratton Hawley


Chapter Twelve
Singing in Protest: Early Modern Hindu-Muslim Encounters in Bengali Hagiographies of Chaitanya
Kiyokazu Okita

Chapter Thirteen
Bhakti and Power from the Inside: A Devotee’s Reading of What Chaitanya Achieved
Shrivatsa Goswami

Chapter Fourteen
Fall from Grace?: Caste, Bhakti, and Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century Marwar
Divya Cherian

Chapter Fifteen
The Ties That Bind: Individual, Family, and Community in Northwestern Bhakti
Tyler Williams

Chapter Sixteen
Waterscape and Memory: The Aina-i Tirhut of Bihari Lal “Fitrat” and the Politics of a Bhakti Past
Aditi Natasha Kini and William R. Pinch

Chapter Seventeen
Bhakti in the Classroom: What Do American Students Hear?
Richard H. Davis

List of Contributors

1. Book Review | Published in the Journal Contemporary Voice of Dalit, 1 May 2022.
2. Book Review | Published in the Bhartiya Samajshastra Sameeksha Journal by Indian Sociological Society Hindi, 1 June 2020.
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