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.