By the time the Mughal rule was established in India, the religious milieu of India was deeply influenced by the growth of Bhakti propagated by saints in different areas and by the Sufi Pirs in different parts of India.
There was an earnest attempt for the fusion of two cultures resulting in a composite culture along with revivalism of the old Hindu faith to suit the needs of the time.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century.
Guru Nanak preached the unity of God and laid emphasis on having a real and true guru and asked his followers to put into practice the principles of ‘sach’ or truth, ‘halal’ or lawful earnings, ‘khair’ or wishing well of others, ‘niyat’ or right intention and service of the lord. He denounced caste system and its inequality. He advocated universal brotherhood of men and equality of men and women. Sikhism gave importance to ‘guru parampara’ and we have 10 gurus who shaped Sikhism from that of peaceful sect to a militant one.
Dadu is another great saint inspired by the philosophy of Kabir. He lived in the second half of the 16th century and died in the first few years of the 17th century (1544-1603). His Banifa collection of hymns and poems regard Allah, Ram and Govind as his spiritual gurus. Dadu Panthis were the followers of Dadu. Dadu Panthis were also non-conformists and by the 18th century, after the decline of the Mughal rule, they became professional fighters.
Gyaneshwara was the founder of the Maratha Vaishnavism and it was founded in the 13th century. Saints Tukaram, Namdev and Ramdass were famous in Maratha Vaishnavism in the 16th and 17th centuries. Tukaram and Ramdass, who exercised considerable influence on Shivaji in the 17th century, are very much responsible for the growth of Maratha nationalism by preaching equality of all by denouncing caste system.
This movement also led to the growth of Maratha vernacular literature as a literary language. Mahadeva Govinda Renade appropriately suggests that this movement led to the upliftment of the self-respect of the lower castes. Gaudiya Vaishnavism or Vaishnavism of Bengal also had a deep impact on the psyche of the Bengalees in particular, and on the social, religious and cultural life of the people of Assam, Bengal and Orissa. Chaitanya stands as a colossus among Gaudiya Vaishnava saints. By his preachings, desperate social classes belonging to subaltern groups joined this movement and enriched the consciousness of oneness.
By the 13th century, Sufis in India were divided into 14 orders or Silsilas. Of the 14 silsilas, the Chisti silsilah had become a predominant one. Shaik Abdul Qudders Gangoli, who died in 1537, was a great exponent of the unity in one being (Wahdat-ul-wizhad), which became very popular among the masses as well as the intelligent.
Prince Dara Shukhoh was a great devotee of Miyan Mir, a Sufi saint of the Qadri order. After his death, Dara became the disciple of Mulla Shaik Badakhashi. During Akbar’s reign, the influence of Chisti order rose to prominence. The Naqshbandi order was introduced into India by Khwaja Baqi Billah, who lived between 1563 and 1603. Shah Wallaullah, who lived between 1702 and 1762, was a noted scholar and a saint of the Naqsbandi order.
He tried to reconcile the two doctrines of Wahdat-ul-muja.d and Wahadat-ul-Shuhud (apparentism). Khwaja Mir Dard, a famous Urdu poet, was another mystic of the Naqsbandi order and contemporary of Shah Wallullah. We also notice the Mahdavi movement that believed in the advent of a deliverer to save the mankind from the bondage of life of this world. Syed Mohammed of Jaunpur was the only Mahdair who did not crave for political power but was mainly interested in spiritualism and purifying Islam.
In the background of anti-Islamic risings in India after the death of Aurangzeb by the Sikhs, the Marathas and the Islamic revivalist movement was started by Shah Walliullah, who lived between 1703 and 1762. His religious and political thought influenced a group of religious reformers called Mujahiddins or holy warriors.
They exercised good influence on the later developments of the Indian Muslim thought like development revivalism, the modernism of Sayyad Ahmad Khan and in the Aligarh movement, the nationalist theology of Deoband School and the neo-traditions\Ahihadith or followers of Muhammad’s traditions.
In the backdrop of the religious milieu of India as found expression in the individual policies of the Mughal rulers and the rise of the Bhakti School of devotion as represented by Sikhism, Maratha and Gaudiya, Vaishnavism and the growth of Sufi silsilas of Chisti, Qadri and Naskbandi and the revivalist movements, there arose a composite Hindustani culture which was yet to take deep roots on the basis of the concept of peaceful coexistence.
In the contemporary times, when Europe was embroiled in crusades, the suppression of the liberal Islamic kingdom of Spain and the inquisition, India witnessed comparatively an era of inter-faith harmony and inter-religious comradery.
The emergence of the Sufi Rishi culture in medieval Kashmir, testifies this. Ibrahim Khan a Pathan warrior of Uttar Pradesh becoming a lifelong devotee of Krishna and the author of famous Premvatika or the forest of love, Ibarhim Adil Shah of Bijapur commencing his work Kitah-i-Nauras with an invocation to goddess Saraswathi and Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah of Golkonda, Wali Deccani and many poets and writers of the Deccan also bear testimony to the above view.
Dusan peak shows that in medieval Maharashtra a Muslim saint Chand Bodhale took the form of a Hindu god Dattatreya, and was the guru of Janardhan, himself the guru of Ekanath and concludes that in the sacred sphere of the divine game, Hindu can become Muslim or the other way round, which appears to be unbelievable to the ordinary souls and the believers of the present day.