Bhakti Virtual Archive



Starting around 700 CE, the rise of bhakti traditions heralded major transformations across South Asia. Bhakti traditions usually emphasized emotional and bodily experience, the use of vernacular languages for sacred purposes, communal ritual worship, and the inclusion of previously marginalized groups. Regionally based and locally organized, these traditions deeply impacted South Asian literature, culture, and history. Until the late 20th century, bhakti traditions were relatively neglected by scholars, who viewed them as derivative of elite Sanskritic culture. The turn in cultural studies toward popular and non-elite culture in the 1970s put diverse bhakti traditions in a much more positive light, and scholars invested more time in learning regional languages. Study of regional bhakti traditions now has greatly enriched our understanding of Indian social and cultural history. But this boom in bhakti scholarship also compartmentalized knowledge into region- and language-specific silos. The success of bhakti studies thus created a new problem: how to coordinate these rapidly growing, independent bases of knowledge about phenomena that nonetheless seemed to cross languages and regions without clearly revealing how. 

Two hurdles stand in the way: conceptual and logistical.  We need an overarching conceptual rubric to navigate this vast terrain and address big-picture questions. Identifying patterns across regions and languages requires a level of comparative analysis that is difficult to carry out now, with inadequate cataloging standards and silos of knowledge. Logistically, we lack a platform for knowledge sharing among scholars of various languages, regions, and periods. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that most bhakti research appears in journals and edited volumes, which are not cataloged as thoroughly as monographs are.  It is thus less integrated with digital networks and less detectable. Most bhakti scholarship—and its historical, literary, and social relevance—focuses on specific languages and regions, overlooking cross-fertilization and interaction.  BHAVA connects silos of knowledge, to make finding materials easier, guide users through the sometimes-arcane world of cataloging conventions, and discover connections. 

Project structure

Structurally, BHAVA involves three major parts—a Faceted Classification System, a team of thirteen bibliography curators who have diverse expertise, and a deeply searchable bibliographic database.

  1. Each bibliographic item will be cataloged with at least one term within each of the following facets: Regions, Sources, Periods, Approaches, Focus Languages, Traditions, and Topics. Each facet has a closed vocabulary of terms that may be used for cataloging, which enmeshes all the bibliographic references within a searchable matrix that is more efficient and extensive than any current cataloging system or search engine. Terms within the System have been correlated to existing metadata, such as Library of Congress Subject Headings. When no such precedent exists, we will propose new terms to be added to the Subject Headings.
  2. Thirteen bibliography curators are responsible for collecting bibliographic items within their linguistic, regional, and topical area of expertise. Because of this expertise, they each will be deeply familiar with their sub-field’s literature and knowledge base. Curators will use the Faceted Classification System to catalog each bibliographic reference, which will eventually be fed into a consolidated database.
  3. Items in the database contain both the typical bibliographic fields (author, title, publication date, etc.) and terms from the Faceted Classification System. Anyone will be able to use a free, online interface to run searches on the faceted terms and then display, download, and follow up on the results. Initially, the search interface consists of columns of checkboxes next to faceted terms. In the future, a graphical search interface may be added.

Potential benefits

Once completed, BHAVA will provide many benefits. Its bibliography of bhakti-related materials will far outstrip any other similar database or search engine, enhancing research and teaching in the areas that bhakti traditions pervade—history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, religion, gender studies, media, performance, and many more. Publications that are currently hard to discover (e.g., chapters in edited volumes) will become much more visible. BHAVA’s careful use of metadata will enable it to interface with external repositories and catalogs, and the systematically deployed Faceted Classification System will enable users to cut through knowledge silos to discover themes, patterns, and connections across South Asia’s diverse languages languages and regions. Historically, bhakti moved across the subcontinent informally and organically in ways that were not always remembered. Human limitations of language fluency and knowledge hinder our ability to recover these cross-regional and linguistic connections. BHAVA helps to overcome those limitations and foster research on a wider scale.