UPSC History Bhakti, Sufi Tradition 15th and 16th Century Religious Movement

15th and 16th Century Religious Movement

Category : UPSC



The Sufi Movement

Mystics, who are called Sufis, had risen in Islam at a very early stage these saints wanted to have nothing to do with the state- a tradition which continued later on. Some of the early Sufis, such as the woman mystic Rabia and Mansur bin Hallj laid great emphasis on love as the bond between God and the individual soul. But their pantheistic approach led them into conflict with the orthodox elements who had Mansur executed for heresy Despite this setback, mystic ideas continued to spread among the Muslim masses.


Al-Ghazzaili (1112), who is venerated both by the orthodox elements and the Sufis, tried to reconcile mysticism with Islamic orthodoxy. This he was able to do in a large measure. He gave a further blow to the rationalist philosophy by arguing that positive knowledge of God and his qualities cannot be gained by reason, but only by revelation. Thus, the revealed book, Quaran, was vital for a mystic. Around this time, the Sufis were organised in 12 orders or silsilahs. The silsilahs were generally led by a prominent mystic who lived in a khanqah or hospice along with his disciples. The like between the teacher or pir and his disciples or mufids was a vital part of the Sufi system. Every pir nominated a successor or wali to carry on his work. The monastic organization of the Sufis, and some of their practices such as penanee, fasting and holding the breath are sometimws traced to the, Buddhist and Hindu yogic influence. Buddhism was widely prevalent in Central Asia before the advent of Islam, and the legend of the Buddha as a saintly man had passed into the Islamic legend. Yogis continued to visit West Asia even after the advent of Islam and the yogic book, Amrit-kund, had been translated into Persian from Sanskrit.


The Sufi orders are broadly divided into two: Ba-shara, that is, those which followed the Islamic Law (shara) and be-shara, that is, those which were not bound by it Both types of orders prevailed in India, the latter being followed more by wandering saints. Although these saints did not establish an order, some of them became figures of popular veneration, often for the Muslims and Hindus alike.


The Chishti and Suharwardi Silsilahs

Of the bashara movements, only two acquired significant influence and following in north India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. These were the Chisti and Suharwardi silsilahs. The Chisti order was established in India by Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti who came to India around 1192, shortly after the defeat and death of Prithvi Raj Chauhan. After staying for some time in Lahore and Delhi he finally shfted to Ajmer which was an important political centre and already had a sizable Muslim population.


Among the disciples of Shaikh Muinuddin were Bakhtiyar Kaki and his disciple Faridud-Din Ganj-j-Shakar. Farid-ud-Din confined his activities to Hansi and Ajodhan (in modern Haryana and the Punjab, respectively). He was deeply respected in Delhi, so much so that streams of people would throng around him whenever he visited Delhi. His outlook was so broad and humane that some of his verses are later found quoted in the Adi-Granth of the Sikhs.


The most famous of the Chisti saints, however, were Nizamuddin Auliya and Nasiruddin Charigh-i-Delhi. These early Sufis mingled frely with people of the lower classes, including the Hindus. They led an austere, simple life, and conversed with people in their dialect, Hindawi or Hindi. Nizamuddin Auliya adopted yogic breathing exercises, so much so that the yogis called him a sidh or perfect. After the death of Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Delhi in the middle of the four- teenth century, the Chishtis did not have a commanding figure in Delhi.


The Suharwardi order entered India at about the same time, as the Chistis, but its activities were confined largely to the Punjab and and Multan. The most well-known saints of the order were Shaikh Shihabuddin Suharwardi and Hamid-ud-Din Nagore. Unlike the Chistis, the Suharwardi saints did not believe in leading a life of poverty. They accepted the service of the state, and some of them-held important posts in the ecclesiastical department. The Chistis, on the other hand, preferred to keep aloof from state politics and shunned the company of rulers and nobles.


The Bhakti Movement

However, the real development of Bhakti took place in south Indian between the seventh and the twelfth century. As has been noticed earlier, the Shaiva nayanars and the Vaishnavite alvarsh disregarded the austerities preached by the Jains and the Buddhists and preached personal devotion to God as a means of salvation. They disregarded the rigidities of the caste system and carried their message of love and personal devotion to God to various parts of south India by using the local languages. Although these were many points of contact between south and north India, the transmission of the ideas of the Bhakti saints from south to north India was a slow and long drawn-out process. The ideas of Bhakti were carried to the north by scholars as well as by saints. Among these, mention may be made of the Maharashtrian saint, Namadeva, who flourished in the first part of the fourteenth century, and Ramananda who is placed in the second half of the fourteenth and the first quarter of the fifteenth century.


Namadeva was a tailor who had taken to banditry before he became a saint. His poetry which was written in Marathi breathes a spirit of intense love and devotion to God. Namadeva is said to have travelled far and wide and engaged in discussions with the Sufi saints in Delhi. Ramanda, who was a follower of Ramanuja, was born at Prayag (Allahabad) and lived there and at Banaras. He substituted the worship of Rama in place of Vishnu. He enrolled disciples from all castes, including the low castes. Thus his disciples included Ravidas, who was a cobbler by caste; Kabir, who was a weaver; Sena, who was a barber; and Sadhana, who was a butcher. Namadeva was equally broadminded in enrolling his disciples. The seeds scattered by these saints fell on fertile soil.


The brahmanas had lost both in prestige and power following the defeat of the Rajput rulers and the establishment of the Turkish Sultanat. As a result, movements, such as the Nath Panthi movement challenging the caste system and the superiority of the brahmanas, had gained great popularity.


These concided with the Islamic ideas of equality and brotherhood which had been preached by the Sufi saints. People were no longer satisfied with the old religion; they wanted a religion which could satisfy both their reason and emotions. It was due to these factors that the Bhakti movement became a popular movement in north India during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


Among those who were most critical of the existing social order and made a strong plea for Hindu-Muslim unity, the names of Kabir and Nanak stand out. These is a good deal of undertainty about the dates and early life of Kabir. Legend has it that he was the son of a brahmana widow who abandoned him after his birth and that he was brought up in the house of a Muslim weaver.


He learned the profession of his adopted father, but while living at Kashi, he came in contact with both the Hindu and Muslim saints. Kabir, who is generally placed in the fifteenth century, emphasised the unity of God whom he calls by several names, such as Rama, Hari, Govinda, Allah, Sain, Sahib, etc. He strongly denounced idol-worship, pilgrimages, bathing in holy rivers or taking part in formal worship, such as namaz. Nor did he consider it necessary to abandon the life of a normal householder for the sake of a saintly life Kabirstrongly denounced the caste system, especially the practice of untouchability, and emphasized the fundamental unity of man. He was opposed to all kinds of discrimination between human beings, whether on the basis of castes or religion, race, family or wealth.


Guru Nanak, from whose teachings the sikh religion was derived, was born in a Khatri household in the village of Talwandi (now called Nankana) on the bank of the river Ravi in 1469. Sometime later, he had a mystic vision and forsook the world. He composed hymns and sang them to the accompaniment of the rabab, a stringed instrument played by his faithful attendant, Mardana. It is said that Nanak undertook wide tours all over India and even beyond it, to Sri Lanka in the south and Mecca and Medina in the west. He attracted a large number of people towards him and his name and fame spread far and wide before his death in 1538. Like Kabir, Nanak laid emphasis on the one God, by repeating whose name and dwelling on it with love and devotion one could get salvation without distinction of caste, creed or sect. However, Nanak laid great emphasis on the purity on character and conduct as the first condition of approaching God, and the need of a guru for guidance. Like Kabir, he strongly denounced idol worship, pilgrimages and other formal observances of the various faiths. He advocated a middle path in which spritual life could be combned with the duties of the householder.


Nanak had no intention of founding a new religion. His catholic approach aimed at bridging distinctions between the Hindus and the Muslims, in order to create an atmosphere of peace, goodwill and mutual give and take. This was also the aim of Kabir.

The Vaishnavite Movement

Apart from the non-sectarian movement led by Kabir and Nanak, the Bhakti L movement in north India developed around the worship of Rama and Krishna, two of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. The childhood escapades of the boy Krishna and his dalliance with the milk-maids of Gokul, especially with Radha, became the themes of

a remarkable series of saint-poets who lived and preached during the 15th and early 16th centuries. They used the love between Radha and Krishna in an allegoric manner to depict the relationship of love, in its aspects of the individual soul with the supreme soul. Like the early Sufis, Chaitanya popularisied musical gathering or kirtan as a special form of mystic experience in which the outside world disppeared by dwelling on God's name.


The writings of Narrsinha Mehta in Gujarat, of Meera in Rajasthan, of Surdas in western Uttar Pradesh and of Chaitanya in Bengal and Orissa reached extraordinary heights of lyrical fervour and of love which transcended all boundaries, including those of caste and creed, this is seen most clearly in the life of Chaitanya. Born and schooled in Nadia which was the centre of Vedantic rationalism, Chaitanya's tenor of life was changed when he visited Gaya at the age of 22 and was initiated into the Krishna cult by a recluse. He became a god-intoxicated devo- tee who incessantly uttered the name of Krishna Chaitanya is said to have travelled all over India, including Vrindavan, when he revived the Krishna cult. But the one who probably influenced the saint poets most was Vallabha, a Tailang brahmana, who lived in the last part of the fifteenth and the early part of the sixteenth century.

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