A religious movement centered on the worship of Vishnu as the supreme God. It developed in India in the early centuries before Christ. Its characteristic is devotion (bhakti ) to a personal God who manifests his love by his descent (avatāra ) to save man. The Bhagavad Gītā is the classical expression of its doctrine and devotion. The cult was developed especially in South India from A.D. 500 to 1000 by poets known as Ālvārs. Its doctrine was developed by a number of masters of the Vedānta, from Rāmānuja in the 11th century to Vallabha in the 15th century. Its followers are now found all over India and are distinguished by the vertical lines in red or white that they paint on their foreheads.
Bibliography: w. crooke and j. hastings, eds., Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 12:570–572. See bibliography for hinduism.