Once, the music legend Tyagaraja Swami went to another classical music concert. The performer was an expert musician, but the sweetness of Bhakti was lacking in his music.
After this incident, Thyagaraja swami composed a song and it goes like this
సంగీత జ్ఞానము భక్తి వినాF
saṅgīta jñānamu bhakti vinā
Mere knowledge of music bereft of devotion.
Music is not mere virtuosity of the vocal cords. A hymn is not a mere cacophony of sound. The sweetness and melody of its music lie in the intensity of devotion with which it is sung. It is that which gives life to it.
Bhakti itself can be of two types. Nishta Bhakti & Para Bhakti. Another way of terming it is Apara Bhakti & para Bhakti. Mirabhai and Andal were completely absorbed in the Lord 24X7, oblivious to the world. They were able to traverse the joy and sorrow and each circumstance of their life with their state of Bhakti. This kind of devotion is known as Para Bhakti.
It is not natural for many people. For ordinary people, is prescribed the route of discipline, faith, and observing customs. They must go on regular pilgrimages, keep their body clean, wear clean clothes, be regular in their prayers, and in the chanting of Lalita Sahasranama and other stotras, chant their mantra, contemplate and deliberate on spiritual sayings.
Gradually they will develop Para Bhakti. We must turn to God for anything other than Bhakti. Our prayer to God must become a prayer for gaining this Para Bhakti (absolute devotion). There are nine aspects of Bhakti mentioned in the scriptures,
श्रवणं कीर्तनं विष्णो: स्मरणं पादसेवनम् ।
अर्चनं वन्दनं दास्यं सख्यमात्मनिवेदनम् ॥ Srimad Bhāgavatam 7.5.23
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇaṁ pāda-sevanam
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ sakhyam ātma-nivedanam
Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Viṣṇu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words)
Amma gives a beautiful example of this aspect. She talks of women with small children who are working in various jobs in metropolitan cities like Bombay. They might be typing something, or in the computer, or doing office work, In the midst of all these jobs, their thoughts will be constantly with their small child. Did it drink milk, is the baby awake and crying?
There is not even a second when the child is not in their thoughts. Their child will be in their thoughts, in the midst of all their work. This is Smarana Bhakti. Whatever we do, keep an unbroken remembrance of the Lord, For the Gopikas of Vrindavan, the remembrance of the Lord was unbroken and uppermost in their minds.
The next one is Pada Sevanam, serving the feet of the Lord or the Guru or perform actions in obedience to the instructions of the Guru. Live in accordance with the dharma that is given in the scriptures and by the Guru. Worship or perform archana to the Lord with flowers.
Vandanam- always prostrate to the Lord in your mind, with faith and reverence. The Lord is infinitely glorious. It is said that when the gopas, who was totally unaware of his glory played with Lord Krishna, the celestial beings also developed an intense longing to play with the Lord.
They saw the gopas leaping over Sri Krishna tumbling on the ground with him, but when they came near to the Lord, they were unable to touch him. Because, it was Maha Vishnu himself who had taken on the form of Sri Krishna, and devas were aware of the fact. So they were unable to touch him.
So, we must never forget the glory of mahatmas, or Devi Herself, even though She can be easily attained by Her devotees (Bhakta Sulabha). Therefore, our attitude must always be one of adoration, of prostration. It must be evident in each and every movement. We must constantly remember their infinite glory.
Dasyam – Be of service to the Mahatmas and Great brings. Take care of their objects and institutions. Take care of their needs. Serve their devotees. Sakhyam is being a dear friend to God. Atma Nivedanam is Self-Surrender. These are the nine forms of Bhakti.
The most important aspect of Bhakti is Love. There is a song in Tamil that describes this story. There was a man called Sakkiya Nayanar, who worshipped Lord Shiva by throwing stones at the Linga. But Lord Shiva accepted each stone thrown at him as if it was a flower.
Arjuna stuck the Lord with his bow, Gandeevam, But the Lord accepted the blow without any sorrow. There was another man who hit the Lord with a stick, and the Lord accepted that as well.
Kannappa Nayanar would take water in his mouth and spit it out as abhisheka on the idol of Lord Shiva. He kept his sandals on top of Shiva Linga. He would first bite and taste the food before he offered it to Lord Shiva.
Shabari bit into the wild fruit and tested its sweetness before she offered it to Lord Rama. The Lord only sees our hearts. It is our heart that we must offer to the Lord. That is called Bhakti or devotion.