Its origins are traced to the Brahamanical and Buddhist traditions of ancient India.
The movement led by popular saints reached its climax in the 10th century A.D.
The bhakti movement attempted to break away from orthodox Brahmanism.
The movement gathered momentum in the early medieval period.
During the 13th and 14th centuries the demand for manufactured goods, luxuries and other artisanal goods increased leading to a movement of artisans into the cities.
The artisans were attracted to bhakti because of its ideas of equality.
These groups were dissatisfied with the low status accorded to them by Brahmanical system.
The movement gained support from these classes of society.
In Punjab Khatris and Jat peasants were attracted to this movement.
The bhakti movement in the north included socio-religious movements that were linked to one of the acharyas from the south and is sometimes seen as a continuation of the movement that originated in the south.
The notion of bhakti varied in the teachings of each of the saints.
The Nirguna Bhaktas like Kabir rejected the varnashrama.
The Saguna Bhaktas like Tulsidas on the other hand upheld the caste system and the supremacy of the Brahmins.
Kabir (A.D.1440–1518 A.D.) was the earliest and most influential Bhakti saint in north India.
He was a weaver.
His poems were included in the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth.
Among those who were influenced by Kabir were—-
Raidas, who was a tanner by caste from Banaras,
Guru Nanak, who was a Khatri from Punjab
Dhanna, who was a Jat peasant from Rajasthan
There are similarities in the teachings of the various monotheistic Bhakti saints in North India.
Most of the monotheists belonged to the low castes and were aware that there existed a unity in their ideas.
They were also aware of each other’s teachings and influence.
In their verses they mention each other and their predecessors in a manner suggesting ideological affinity among them.
All of them were influenced by the Vaishnava concept of Bhakti, the Nathpanthi movement and Sufism.
Their ideas seem to be a synthesis of the three traditions.
The importance given to the personal experience of Bhakti saint with God was another common feature among the monotheistic bhakti saints.
Nirguna bhakti and not saguna bhakti was what they believed in.
They had adopted the notion of bhakti from vaishnavaism but they gave it a nirguna orientation.
Though they called God using different names and titles their God was non-incarnate, formless, eternal and ineffable.
The Bhakti saints refused any formal association with the organized dominant religions of the time and criticized what they regarded to be the negative aspects of these religions.
They rejected the authority of the Brahmans and attacked the caste system and practice of idolatry.
They composed their poems in popular languages and dialects spoken across north India.
This enabled them to transmit their ideas among the masses.
It helped their ideas to spread rapidly among the various lower classes.