‘Nava’ means nine, and ‘vidha’ means approach; when read as a whole it means nine approaches of Bhakti to reach Ishwara (īśvara). Why nine, why not just one? Before we dive into the ‘why’ let us make sure we understand what Bhakti is? Bhakti has no simple definition so please explore the concept of Bhakti and its fundamentals as explained by Sanātana Ḍharma (Hinduism) literature on this portal.
Why nine, why not just one? Creation and reality accommodate all, or rather, numerous possibilities of thoughts and approaches. Everyone is different in their mental propensities, temperament influenced by the guṇa of Prakṛti, saṃskāra, and vāsanā. If there was one specific approach to devotion, then every individual’s psyche would fit in that specific approach; or one would try to follow that approach. When we get some templates and borrowed vocabulary from other societies, and squeeze the vast Sanātana Ḍharma literature/culture, we are bound to find a siddhānta (regimen) that fits into that template. Does that limit Sanātana Ḍharma to that specific template? The profound composition of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra, translated by I.K Taimni says:
“A system which is meant to sub-serve the spiritual needs of different types of individuals living in different ages and with different possibilities and capacities could never prove very useful and could not withstand the ravages of time if it demanded adherence to a rigid and uniform course of discipline. The value of Patanjali’s system of Yoga lies in its elasticity and the capacity to sub-serve the needs of different types of individuals”
Also, there are only nine digits mathematically and every other number is constructed with these nine digits. Śūnyatā (zero) as per Shastra (Śāstra) does not mean ‘nothing’, it means whole, but its a negative connotation to purnam (whole). So, anything that goes into Śūnyatā becomes Śūnyatā, and everything that exists came out of Śūnyatā. Hence, when we assimilate any combination of these nine approaches of bhakti within us as one, we become one with the whole. When we realize the ONE (who is īśvara) through bhakti, the notion ‘I’ ceases to exist and we dissolve (laya) into Iśvara; and since He is everything or Vishvam (viśvām), we become one with viśvām. Today we walk this reality as an independent being, forgetting the māyā that creates ahaṃkāra (self-identity). This is the reason why Śrī Viṣṇu Sahastranama Stotram starts with the title ‘viśvām’ and every other title in it is but a flavor or its synonym.
In Śrīmad Bhagavātam (Śrīmad Bhagavāta Purana) Mahamuni Narada tells Pandavas how differently Sri Krishna (Kṛṣṇa) is worshiped. Mahamuni Narada says Maharśi (sages) reach out to Śrī Kṛṣṇa with respect and devotion, Pandavas show their affection as a relative and as a friend, Gopikas try to reach Him with love and Kama, Sishupala constantly invites His attention by cursing Him out of hate and enmity; through different approaches, all reach Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Paundraka (also known as Srigala Vasudeva), another king during the Dwapara Yuga, also hated Śrī Kṛṣṇa; rather than saying hated, he mostly wanted to be like Him, he desired to dress, walk and talk like Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He believed himself to be the incarnation of Vasudeva (Sri Mahā Viṣṇu). He mimiced Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s appearance and His gestures, and so constantly discussed Him with his staff and others. In a way, he was jealous of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and so wanted only himself to exist. When he went to war with Śrī Kṛṣṇa, even before they could fight, Śrī Kṛṣṇa burst into laughter and instead of fighting, He dissolved Paundraka’s physical form and unified him with Himself. In a separate version of the same story, Srigala Vasudeva was not a trained warrior and so was unable to battle Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He did amuse Śrī Kṛṣṇa with vain attempts but was eventually defeated. By behaving like and constantly thinking about Śrī Kṛṣṇa, in the end, he became one with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. (Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. 2018)
The message in the above examples is ‘all paths lead to one Iśvara’. No matter which path, destiny is the same; however, there are some paths that are considered preferable. Bhakti is one such path, wherein there are nine approaches.
What are the different types of approaches to foster bhakti (devotion)?
There exist nine approaches as explained in Śrīmad Bhagavātam canto 7, chapter 5, and sloka 23:
‘श्रवणं कीर्तनं विश्नोह स्मरणं पादसेवनं
अर्चनं वन्दनं दास्यां सकयं आत्मनिवेदनं’
‘sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam
archnam vandanam daasyam sakyam atma-nivedanam’
Shravanam: Meaning, to immerse oneself into listening to the accounts of īśvara, His forms, actions, manifestations, appearance, and more. The icon for such an approach was King Parikshit, the last descendant and grandson of the Pandavas. It was to him that Rishi Shuka:brahmā (Son of Vedā Vyāsa) narrated Śrīmad Bhagavātam.
Kirtanam: Rishi Shuka:brahmā, son of Vyāsa, and the narrator of Śrīmad Bhagavātam became an exemplar for this approach. In this approach one constantly chants and narrates īśvara’s accounts. It can be poetic or descriptive or both.
Smaranam: This approach is to constantly dwell in the thoughts of īśvara, recollecting īśvara’s actions and beauty, and His glory. King Prahlada is the quintessence of this approach. Prahlada saw Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu everywhere and in everything; anything he saw or felt made him think about Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu.
Daasyam: Daasyam means to be in total servitude to īśvara. Servitude might sound negative but the meaning is to be totally servile to īśvara and submit oneself to Him. As Sadhguru profoundly says “to have no will of our own”. The summit for such humbleness and servility is Hanuman. His strength and wisdom is unparalleled, yet he was humble and servile to Śrī Rama and Devi Sita. No wonder He is one among the seven Chiranjeevi (the seven immortals) and on His way to becoming the next Brahmā.
Archanam: This is a constant act to worship a deity with various titles/names of īśvara, recollecting their significance and the feats/acts leading to those titles. The icon for this approach is Pṛthu Maharaj, one of the many incarnations and manifestations of Sri Mahā Viṣṇu, from whom Earth got the name Pṛthivī.
Vandanam: Vandanam is a salutation to īśvara. Akrura (minister of King Kamsa), who was ordered by Kamsa to bring Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Balram to him, is considered an epitome for his Vandanam. Kindly read the topic of Namaskar to further explore its significance.
Sakhyam: Meaning to have a friendship with īśvara. Arjuna, before the Śrīmad Bhagavād Gita upadesha (dialog) at the beginning of the Maha Kuru:kshetra war, was very close to Śrī Kṛṣṇa as a friend; they shared so much frankness with each other. After understanding His supremacy, Arjuna urged Śrī Kṛṣṇa to forgive him for the liberty he took towards Śrī Kṛṣṇa – similar to a young child towards one’s father. It is in this dialog between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Partha (Arjuna) that Bhakti Yoga (one of four classifications of yoga) was explained.
Atma-Nivedanam: This approach is to present/surrender one’s Ātman to īśvara an offering, making oneself a tool to īśvara, giving up complete ownership/will towards karma. The icon for this approach of bhakti is King Bali (grandson of King Prahalada). Since he submitted everything, including himself, to Vamana (one of the manifestations of Sri Mahā Viṣṇu) even though he had the option to say no, he attained Satyaloka and the position of Indra in the upcoming creation.
Padasevanam: Meaning to serve īśvara in content, unified with his charm and glory. Sri Maha Lakshmi (Lakṣmī) is the pinnacle for this approach. The Padmanabha posture of Sri Mahā Viṣṇu is usually depicted with Sri Lakṣmī seated at His feet, massaging them, while Sri Mahā Viṣṇu is in His Yoga Nidra (Tantram). It is Sri Lakṣmī who wishes to sit at His feet mesmerized by His charm, due to which Śrī Viṣṇu placed Her in His hridaya(m) as Her eternal abode. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.17, Srichaganti. D.N, n.d., p.4)
REFERENCE ENTRY (APA Style citation)
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Shuka Brahma narrating Srimad Bhagavatam to Parikshit and others (Opaque watercolour on paper. Rajasthan, India). (July 2, 2011). Wikimedia Commons File:Shuka preaching.jpg. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shuka_preaching.jpg
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Sri Lakshmi pressing feet of Sri Maha Vishnu, reclined on Adi Shesha (Deogarh, Dasavatara Temple, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh). (1999). Wikimedia Commons File:Deogarh Dasavatara-Tempel Vishnu (1999).jpg. Retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Deogarh_Dasavatara-Tempel_Vishnu_%281999%29.jpg
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