Two articles on Bhakti are already published which deal on - what is Bhakti (Doctrine of Bhakti) and how to cultivate Bhakti (Cultivation is Bhakti). This article aims at explaining the various evolutionary stages of Bhakti. Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva, Sri Vallabha and Sri Chaitanya are acharyas (teachers) of bhakti who excelled and propagated Bhakti among masses; resultantly India witnessed Bhakti movement in medieval period. Bhakti is looked upon as a distinct fifth Purusartha.
Once the devotee follows the discipline of Bhakti, the devotional sentiments are more & more pronounced. When the heart of devotee is unshakably established in the God and mind refuses to move, complete devotion is accomplished.
From Shraddha, ardour (dedication & eagerness) is born. When ardour deepens, it is called Prema or Love. As Prema grows it is successively called Sneha, Mana, Pranaya, Raga, Anuraga, Bhava and Mahabhava. These are stages in the development of love.
Evolutionary stages explained by various philosophers of Bhakti:
Such self-forgetting dedication, uncorrupted by the narrow self, eliminates from the aspirant all thoughts of attaining Mukti, or release from cycle of birth and death, even the dawn of pure devotion. One who has attained this state of mind is said to have attained the fifth Purusartha, the state of selflessness. Selflessness is the characteristic of spiritual love, whereas self-consideration is the very basis of sensuous attachments.
Reference: Bhakti Schools of Vedanta – by Swami Tapasyananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.