Sufi and Bhakti Movement in India

India is known to the world as a birth as well as meeting place of various religions, creeds and faiths.

Apart from the oldest ancient Hinduism, India had given birth to Jainism and Buddhism, the two glorious religions which by their rich principles, ideas and philosophy not only saved Indians from superstitious beliefs and spiritual dogmas but also enriched the ancient Hinduism which had been misinterpreted by Brahmanism.

The two religions with their principles of non-violence and noble Philosophy proved to be the sister religions of Hinduism.

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After them, came Islam in the beginning of the medieval age in India, which in-spite of its principle of universal brotherhood could not associate herself with Hinduism. It was due to the fact that the Islamic people were annoyed with the outer form of Hinduism like elaborate rites and rituals, polytheism and idolatry etc.

Of course they did not try to go deep into Hindu Philosophy, Islamic religious men and the Muslim rulers wanted to propagate the Islamic religion by adopting forceful methods. It was characterised as a militant religion. Muslims consider Hindus infidels and Muslim rulers very often declared jihad on the eve of wars against Hindus. Muslim rulers of the Sultanate period did not treat Hindus properly. The Hindu religious sentiments had received a rude set back, when the Muslim rulers plundered and destroyed the Hindu temples.

Antagonism between the two different sects of people continued to grow day by day. Religious supremacy made the Muslim rulers and people to exhibit mutual hatred and hostility, towards their fellow Hindu Citizens. At this critical hour of human ignorance and mutual hatred and hostility, there appeared a group of serious religious thinkers who by their Sufi and Bhakti movement awakened the People about God and religion. They did everything to establish brotherhood, love and friendship between the Hindus and Muslims.

The Sufi Movement:

The Sufi movement was a socio-religious movement of fourteenth to sixteenth century. The exponents of this movement were unorthodox Muslim saints who had a deep study of vedantic philosophy and Buddhism of India. They had gone through various religious text of India and had come in contact with great sages and seers of India. They could see the Indian religion from very near and realized its inner values. Accordingly they developed Islamic Philosophy which at last gave birth to the Sufi Movement.

The Sufi movement therefore was the result of the Hindu influence on Islam. This movement influenced both the Muslims and Hindus and thus, provided a common platform for the two.Though the Sufis were devout Muslims, yet they differed from the orthodox Muslims. While the former believed in inner purity, the latter believed in external conduct. The union of the human soul with God through love and devotion was the essence of the teachings of the Sufi Saints. The method of their realizing God was the renunciation of the World and Worldly pleasures. They lived a secluded life.

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They were called Sufis as they wore garments of Wool (suf) as their budge of poverty. Thus the name ‘Sufi’ is derived from the word Suf. They consider love to be the only means of reaching God. Historian Tara Chand says, “Sufism indeed was a religion of intense devotion, love was its passion; poetry, song and dance, its worship and passing away in God its ideal”.

The Sufis did not attach importance to namaz, hajj and celibacy. That is why they were misunderstood by orthodox muslims. They regarded Singing and dancing as methods of inducing a state of ecstasy which brought one nearer to realisation of God. There were some leading Sufi saints like Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti, Fariuddin Ganj-i-Shakar, Nizam-ud-din Auliya etc.

Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti (1143-1234):

Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti was a great Sufi Saint of India. The Chisti order was established in India by him. He was born in 1143 A.D. in Seistan in Persia. He came to India around 1192 A.D. shortly before the defeat and death of Prithvi Raj Chauhan and settled on at Ajmer. It is said that some of the Hindu families influenced Prithviraj to drive out Muinuddin Chisti from his state.

Accordingly Prithvi Raj sent the chief priest of Ajmer, Rama Deo, with an order to Muinuddin to leave his state. But Rama Deo was so much impressed and fascinated with the personality of Chisti that he became his disciple and remained with him. In this way he attracted everyone who came in contact with him. He had a large number of followers.

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By leading a very simple ascetic way of life and spreading the message of love and equality, he had tried to wipe out ill- feelings from the minds of the people of two communities i.e. Hindus and Muslims. Of course no authentic record of his activities is available. He did not write any book but his fame rose with the fame of his successors. However living for a long period of more than ninety years and spreading the message of love and universal brotherhood he breathed his last in 1234 A.D.

Farid-ud-din Ganj-i-Shakar (1176-1268):

Farid-ud-din Ganj-i-Shakar was another great Sufi Saint of India. He was popularly known as Baba Farid. He was a great disciple of Shaikh Muinuddin Chisti. He spent most of his time in Hansi and Ajodhan (in modern Haryana and the Punjab, respectively). He was deeply respected in Delhi. He was surrounded by a large number of people 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. He avoided the company of the Sultan and the Amirs. He used to say, “Every darvesh who makes friends with the nobles will end badly”. Baba Farid raised the chisti order of the Sufis to the status of an all India organisation by his high mysticism and the religions activities. He breathed his last in 1268 A.D.

Nizam-ud-din Auliya (1235-1325):

Nizam-ud-din Auliya was the most famous of the Chisti Saints. He was the disciple of Baba Farid. He came to Delhi in 1258 and settled in the Village Chiaspur near Delhi. In his life time seven Sultans ruled over Delhi, but he did not go to any of them. When the Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilizi once expressed his desire to meet him, he said, “I have two doors in my home. If the Sultan would enter through one door I would go out through the other.”

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Nizam-ud-din’s strong personality and mystic ideology made him most popular. He laid much emphasis on love which leads one to the realization of God. He also said that love of God means love of humanity. Thus he spread the message of universal love and brotherhood. He said that those who love god for the sake of human beings and those who love human beings for the sake of God are favorite to God. This is the best way to love and adore God. However, preaching his teachings for a long period he breathed his last in 1325 A.D. After him, the Chistis did not stay around Delhi; they dispersed and extended their message to the eastern and southern parts of India.

The Bhakti Movement:

The Bhakti movement was another glorious religious movement in the history of India. It was purely based on devotion to God and nothing else. Devotion means Bhakti through which one can realize God. The chief exponents of this cult were Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Ramananda, Vallabhacharya, Kabir, Nanak and Sri Chaityana. They preached the doctrine of love and devotion to realize God. Therefore the movement came to be known as Bhakti Movement.

The concept of Bhakti or devotion to God was not new to Indians. It is very much present in the Vedas, but it was not emphasized during the early period. Much later during the Gupta period, when the worship of Lord Vishnu developed, many holy books including the Ramayan and the Mahabharata were composed depicting the love and mystical union of the individual with God. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, though written earlier were re-written during the Gupta times. Therefore Bhakti was accepted, along with Jnana and Karma, as one of the recognized roads to salvation. But this way (Marga) was not popularized till the end of fourteenth century in India.

However, the development of Bhakti started in South India between the seventh and the twelfth century. During this period the Shaiva Nayanars and the Vaishnavite disregarded the austerities preached by the Jains and the Buddhists and preached personal devotion to God as a means of Salvation. They also disregarded the rigidities of the caste system and unnecessary rites and rituals of Hindu religion.

They carried their message of love and personal devotion to God to various parts of South India by using the local languages. Although there were many points of contact between south and north India, the transmission of the ideas of Bhakti Saints from South to north India was a slow and long drawn-out process.

It was mainly due to the fact that Shaiva Nayanars and the Vaishnavite alvars preached in the Local Languages. And use of Sanskrit language was still less. However the ideas of Bhakti were carried to the north by scholars as well as by saints. Among these mention may be made of Namadeva, Ramananda, Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Vallabhacharya etc.

Namadeva:

Namadeva was a Maharashtrian Saint who flourished in the first part of the fourteenth century. He 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.

Ramananda:

Ramananda was also a Maharashtra Saint who belonged to the period between the second half of the fourteenth and the first quarter of the fifteenth century. He was a follower of Ramanuja. He was born at prayag (Allahabad) and lived there at Banaras. He was a great devotee of Lord Ram and therefore he substituted the worship of Ram in place of Vishnu. He was dead against caste system in India.

He picked up disciples from different castes of Indian Society. He taught his doctrine of Bhakti to all the four Varna’s, and disregarded the ban on people of different castes cooking or eating their meals together. Among his disciples there were a cobbler, a weaver, a barber and a butcher. His favorite disciple was Kabir who was a weaver.

His disciples also included women like Padmavati and Surasari. He was broad in enrolling his disciples. Ramananda founded a new school of vaishnavism based on the gospel of love and devotion. He laid stress on the Worship of Ram and Sita. He preached in Hindi instead of Sanskrit. Thus his teachings became popular among the common men.

Ramanuja:

Ramanuja was a great preacher of Bhakti cult. He flourished in the early part of the twelfth century. He belonged to South India. He was a follower of Vaishnavism. His great disciple was Ramananda. He preached that devotion to God was the only way to attain Salvation. He disregarded caste system and lined to be entertained by the low caste people.

Nimbarka:

Nimbarka was another great preacher of Bhakti Cult. He belonged to the South, but spent most of his life in Mathura. He was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and Radha. He preached the doctrine of Self Surrender. Vallabhacharya was another distinguished preacher of the Bhakti Cult. He was born in a telugu Brahman family in Banaras in 1479.

He was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. He spent most of his time at Vrindavana, Mathura and Banaras and preached Krishna Bhakti or devotion to Lord Krishna. He was the founder of the pushti marga, the path of divine grace. He preached that the follower of Pushti Marga or the path of divine grace will definitely get the highest bliss.

Besides these great preachers of Bhakti Cult, there were other three prominent exponents of the cult who by their sincere efforts not only popularised the Bhakti Cult but also immortalised themselves in the history of India. They were Kabir, Nanak and Sri Chaitanya.

Kabir:

Among those who was most critical of the existing social order and made a strong plea for Hindu-Muslim Unity, the name of Kabir stands out. Kabir was a Champion of the Bhakti Cult. Of course there is a good deal of uncertainty about the dates and early life of Kabir. According to a legend, Kabir was the son of a brahmana widow who due to certain reasons left him after his birth in a helpless condition on the bank of a tank at Banaras in 1440 A.D.

Fortunately a Muslim weaver Niru by name saw the baby and took him home. He was brought up in the house of a Muslim Weaver. But he was not given proper education. He learnt weaving from his foster father and made it his profession. Kabir from his very childhood developed a love for religion. While living at Kashi he came in contact with a great saint named Ramananda who accepted him as his disciple.

He also met a number of Hindu and Muslim Saints. Though he was married and later become the father of two children his love for God could not be wiped out amidst worldly cares. He did not leave home. He spent his life as a family man. He at the same time started preaching his faith in Hindi Language. He attracted thousands of people by his simple spell bounding speech. His followers were both the Hindus and the Muslims.

He breathed his last in 1510. It is said there happened a miracle after his death. His dead body was claimed by both the Hindu and the Muslim followers. Even a quarrel took place over this issue. After some time a follower out of curiosity lifted the cloth which had covered Kabir’s dead body. To the utter surprise of everybody present there, it was found a heap of flowers at the place of the body. Where did the body go? Realizing its implication both Hindu and Muslim followers distributed flowers among themselves.

Teachings:

The teachings of Kabir were very simple. He first of all emphasized on the unity of God. He said, we may call the God by any name such as Rama, Hari, Govinda, Allah, Sahib etc. it makes no difference. They are one and the same. Kabir said God is formless. He strongly denounced idol-worship. He also did not believe in incarnations (Avatara) of God. He disregarded formal worships and practices like idol-worship, Pilgrimages, bathing in holy rivers.

He advised people not to give up the life of a normal house holder for the sake of a saintly life. He said that neither asceticism nor book knowledge could give us true knowledge. Dr. Tara Chand says ‘The mission of Kabir was to preach a religion of love which would unite all castes and creeds. He disregarded the outer form and formalities of both Hindu and Islamic religion. Kabir strongly denounced the caste system. He gave emphasis on the unity of men and opposed all kinds of discrimination between human beings.

His sympathizers were with the poor man, with whom he identified himself. The teachings of Kabir appealed both Hindus and Muslims. His followers were called as Kabir panthis or the followers of Kabir. His poems were called as dohas. After his death, his followers collected his poems and named it Bijak.

Nanak:

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was one of the great exponents of Bhakti Cult. He was born in 1469 in the village of Talwandi (now called Nankana) on the bank of the River Ravi in the state of Punjab. Nanak from his very childhood showed a religious bent of mind and later preferred the company of Saints and Sadhus.

Although he married early and inherited his father’s profession of accountancy, he did not take interest either. He had a mystic vision and forsook the worldly life. He composed hymns and sang them with stringed instrument which was played by his faithful follower named Mardana.

He is said to have made wide tours all over India, even beyond it, to Srilanka in the South and Mecca and Medina in the west. He attracted a large number of croweds where-ever he went. His name and fame spread far and wide and before his death in 1538 he was already known to the world as a great saint.

Teachings:

First of all like Kabir, Nanak laid emphasis on the oneness of Godheads. He preached that through love and devotion one can get the grace of God and the ultimate Salvation. He said, “Caste, creed or sect have nothing to do with the Love and Worship of God.” Like Kabir, he said, “God does not live in any temple or mosque. One cannot realize Him by taking bath in holy rivers or going on pilgrimages or performing rites and rituals. One can attain him by complete surrender.

Therefore like Kabir, he strongly denounced idol-worship, Pilgrimages and other formal observances of the various faiths. However Nanak laid great emphasis on the purity of character and conduct as the first condition of approaching God. He also laid emphasis on the need of a Guru for guidance. He spoke about the universal brotherhood of man.

Nanak had no intention of founding a new religion. He only wanted to bridge the differences and distinctions between the Hindus and the Muslims in order to create an atmosphere of peace, goodwill, mutual trust and mutual give and take. The scholars have given different opinions about the impact of his teachings on Hindus and Muslims.

It has been argued that the old forms of religion continued almost unchanged. It also did not affect any major change in the caste system. Of course his ideas in course of time gave birth to a new creed called Sikhism.

However in a broader sense it can be viewed that both Kabir and Nanak could create a climate of opinion which continued to work through the succeeding centuries. Their teachings had been reflected greatly in the religious ideas and policies of Akbar.

Sri Chaitanya:

The worship of Lord Vishnu was much popularized in the form Rama and Krishna, his incarnations, in the later phase of Bhakti Movement. It became a sectarian movement and the champion of this movement was Sri Chaitanya. But the Bhakti movement led by Kabir and Nanak were non- sectarian. The Bhakti Movement of Sri Chaitanya based on the concept of love between Lord Srikrishna and the milk-maids of Gokul, especially Radha.

He used the love between Radha and Krishna in an allegoric manner to depict the relationship of Love, in its various aspects of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. In addition to love and devotion as a method of worship, he added the musical gathering or Kirtan which can give a special form of mystic experience while praying Him (God).

Through this method of worship one gets himself detached from the outside world. According to Chaitanya, worship consisted of love and devotion and song and dance which produced a state of ecstasy in which the presence of God, whom we called Hari, could be realised. He said that such a worship could be carried out by all h-respective of caste, colour and creed.

The teachings of Sri Chaitanya had profound impact in Bengal and Orissa. His love and form of worship crossed all the man made boundaries of the Indian Society and he welcomed the people into his fold irrespective of caste, creed and sex.

Sri Chaitanya, who took the Bhakti Movement to the extraordinary heights of lyrical fervour and love, was born at Nawadip or Nabadwip (Nadia) a place in West-Bengal. His parents Jagananth Mishra and Sachi Devi was a pious Brahmin couple migrated from Orissa. They gave Chaitanya early education in Bengali and Sanskrit. His early name was Bishwambhar but he was popularly known as Nimai.

He was also called Goura as he was white in complexion. Chaitanya’s birth place Nadia was the centre of vedantic rationalism. So from an early life he had developed an interest in reading scriptures. He had acquired proficiency in Sanskrit literature, logic and grammar. He was a great lover and admirer of Krishna. His biographer Krishna Das Kabiraj says “Sri Chaitanya used to say, O Krishna! I don’t want education, power or followers.” Give me a little faith which will enhance my devotion to you. He was very unfortunate from family point of view, as he had lost his parents and his wife at an early age.

However at the age of 22 he visited Gaya where he was initiated into the Krishna cult by a recluse. He became a god-intoxicated devotee who incessantly uttered the name of Krishna. Chaitanya is said to have travelled all over India in spreading the Krishna Cult. He spent most of his time in Puri, Orissa on the feet of Lord Jagannath.

His influence on the people of Orissa was tremendous. He is said to have initiated Prataprudra Dev, the Gujapati king of Orissa into his cult. He is still worshipped as Gauraong Mahaprabhu as the very incarnation of Krishna and Vishnu. He is said to have disappeared in the temple of Lord Jagannath in 1533 A.D.

Causes of the Popularity of Bhakti Movement:

The causes of the popularity of the Bhakti movement are not far to seek. There are mainly two causes which are clearly seen behind its success. The first and the foremost cause was the simplicity of the Bhakti cult as well as the simplicity of its teachings. The second great cause was that it was preached in the local languages.

The Results of Bhakti movement:

The results of the Bhakti movement were far-reaching.

The first and the foremost result was that it minimized the differences and distinctions between the Hindus and the Muslims. The people of one religion tried to understand the people of other religion.

Secondly, the caste system gradually lost its previous importance as the Bhakti preachers disregarded it.

Thirdly, the spiritual life of the people became very simple and more developed than before.

Lastly, the movement had tremendous impact on the literature and language of the country. It helped the regional languages to get enriched in spreading the cult of Radha and Krishna. Bhakti Literature were produced in plenty in different regional languages. In Orissa Bhakti literature in Oriya language were produced by Panchasakha and others.

And this Bhakti movement has ever lasting influence on the people of India and outside. Even Akbar the great, was greatly influenced by the Bhakti and Sufi Philosophers, which made him to follow a secular stand in the field of religion.

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