Though there was no visible direct evidence of positive impact of Islam on Indian culture, interactions between common Hindus and Muslims, Sufi and Bhakti saints created an environment for the emergence of a Hindustani culture, wherein we can witness the mutual borrowings from both cultures.

Culture is a complex and a very sensitive phenomenon. Each culture claims to be unique and uninfluenced by any other culture.

However, such rigid view of culture cannot be truthful and realistic when specified geographical area is shared by people of different cultures and there is more than a likelihood of ideas, beliefs and practices mixing with one another.

Satish Chandra rightly observes that the 13th century with the coming of the Turks into India and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was a period of both turmoil and devel­opment.

The Indian Sultanates - The David Collection

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The first phase was one of death and destruction on a large scale with many sacred, beautiful symbols of culture – temples being destroyed and palaces and cities being ravaged.

This rather was a continuous process throughout the period of expansion and consolidation of the Delhi Sultanate along with the process of development and peaceful co-existence as well.

Contact between the two cultures started much earlier to the coming of Islam to India but the interaction quickened after Islam arrived. It is true that some bigoted Ulemas such as Nasiruddin Mubarak Ghaznavi of the regime of Iltutmish advocated a policy of inveterate hostility towards the Brahmins of the Hindu community as some of the very orthodox Hindus resented the Muslim entry into India.

In due course of time, in spite of the seemingly irreconcilable nature of Islam and Hinduism, with Islam advocating strict monotheism, rejecting the image worship and worship of innumerable gods through Bhakti and Karma paths. Yet we notice the development of a gradual process of mutual adjustment and accommodation along with conflict and rapprochement.


No doubt, with setbacks under some rulers in some regions and faster development under some other rulers, travelers and saints played a key role as agents of transmission of ideas of one cultural adherent to another group.

By the time Delhi Sultanate was established, it is rightly suggested that the main features of early Islam underwent many changes. It is also said that outwardly the migrants of Islamic religion professed to be fervent followers and showed respect to the Islamic rites and prayers appear to have imbibed many non-Islamic ideas of the upper strata of the Persian society, retaining some elements of its original simplicity, tribal democracy and social justice.

Some Hindus who were opposed to the caste oppression and hierarchical ordering of social structure appear to have preferred conversion to Islam while some were forced into conversion while there were others lured by pecuniary gains. As Tarachand states, it is hardly possible to exaggerate the extent of Muslim influence over Indian life in all departments. But nowhere else is it shown so vividly and as picturesquely as in customs, in intimate details of domestic life, in music, in the fashion of dress, in the ceremonies of marriage, and fairs, and in the courtly institutions and etiquette. It is to be admitted that though these cultures lived for ages side by side, there was no real fusion of cultures but the impact of each on the other cannot be underestimated.

Tarachand further observes the influence exercised by Muslim mystics and their religious thought, which inspired a number of reform movements among Hindus, which spread over the whole of the country and profusely affected the Hindu outlook. S. Abid Husain writes that one of the most powerful factors, which contributed to the reconciliation was the historic mediating role played by the Muslim Sufis and Hindus saints of the later Bhakti school.


The Sufi Movement:

Sufism or Tasawwuf the composite name for various mystical tendencies and movements of Islam. Its object was to establish direct communication between God and man through personal experience of inherent mysticism. It is also based on the spirit of Quranic purity. There is an evolution in the growth and development of Sufism up to the 10th century, where we notice a formative stage of growth of organized Sufi movement. This was also the period of emergence of Sufi poetry in Persian. Fariduddin Attar, who died in AD 1220 and Jalaluddin Rumi, who died in AD 1273 were its two great exponents.

The early Sufi mystics stressed on the virtues of repentance, abstinence, renunci­ation, poverty and trust in God. The early Sufis were wanderers but in due course of time the Sufi groups have become orders and while in Arab regions there developed hostels called Ribat and in Iran there developed hospices or Kanquash, where the Sufi mystics stayed in the late 12th and 13th centuries.

We notice the formation of Sufi orders or Salsilas. Al Hujwiri of the late 11th century was the earliest Sufi saint to settle in India. He was the author of Kasf-ul-mahjub, a famous treatise on Sufism in Persian. After the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, many Sufi orders were established in different parts of India and Sufism became very influential by the 14th century.

Some of the most important Silsilas during the period of the Sultanate are as follows:

1. The Suhrawardi Silsila which was founded in India by Shaik Bahauddin Zakaria (AD 1182-1262).

2. The Chisti Silsila introduced in India by Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, who died in AD 1236. Even today he is venerated by Muslims and his tomb is located at Ajmer, which became a sacred pilgrimage. Besides the above two orders, there existed the orders of the Firdausi, the Qadiri, the Shatauri, Qalandari, etc.

A critical study of the tenets of Sufism indicates that it was acquainted with Hinduism and Hindu thought and had imbibed certain elements of Indian idealism and adopted many Yogic practices and also was influenced by Upanishadic idealism and Vedanta.

The early Sufis were not only ascetics but also lived a life of voluntary poverty shunning all types of worldly pleasures. Khwaja Fariduddin, popularly known as Baba declared, “The main purpose of this path is the concentration of heart which can be achieved only by the abstination from prohibited means of livelihood and association with kings”. Thus, most of the Sufis in India conceived and preached divine unity in terms of idealistic monoism while many Hindus found the Sufi ideas very similar to those of Vedantic philosophy.

The lower strata of Hindu community appear to be greatly attracted by the ideas of social equality and fraternity of Islam. Thus the simplicity, toleration and liberation of the Sufis in India released syncretic forces and led to a sort of cultural synthesis.

The Bhakti Movement:

Abid Hussian is of the view that another great force that created a general atmosphere of religious harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims was the Bhakti movement that swept northern India between the 14th through 17th century. Bhakti as a path of salvation was as old as the Vedas. The Bhakti stresses mystic realization of God within oneself and the ultimate union of the individual with God based on loving devotion on the part of the devotee and gods is a given popular concept in India.

There are two aspects of Bhakti:

(i) The path of devotion based on service to God by the devotee or Bhakta throwing himself completely on the mercy of God or Prapatti.

(ii) The path of bond based on pure love based on equality rather than service and the ideal being participation in the life divine.

We notice the currency of these two aspects of Bhakti in early medieval period in South India and in the later medieval period in northen India. There is a controversy regarding the origin and relationship between the Bhakti movement of the Nayanars and Alvars of South India and the popular Bhakti movement of northern India.

One view is that the new situation created by the coming of the Turks, the defeat of Rajput states, the wanton destruction of the temples and trampling of images, lowering of the image of Brahmins and the failure of the Rajput and the Brahman alliance to stem the tide of Turks led to the popular Bhakti movement in many parts of northern India. Max Weber, a well-known sociologist suggested that an apocalyptic movement such as Bhakti was often the ideology of a defeated ruling class with aspects of quietism and suffering being emphasized.

Satish Chandra disagrees with the view of Max Weber as the Bhakti movement was a mass-based popular movement but not an ideology of a defeated ruling class with a vested interest. There is also another view that the movement grew in the north as a kind a defence mechanism to safeguard the Hindu social organization from the threat of Turkish onslaughts of and the challenge faced from the Islamic ideology, which was based on ideas of brotherhood and equality.

However, even this view does not take into account the totality of the situation as both the Hindus and the Muslims realized the futility of the efforts to forcibly convert Hindus to Islam. Both Sultans and saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya admitted that the Hindu faith was too strong to be affected either by threats of force or the concept of broth­erhood and equality held out by Islam.

Further, it is to be remembered that the concept of social equality as a bonding factor long disappeared in Indian Islam as the Turkish ruling group looked down upon Hindu converts from the low strata of society. It is suggested that the Sufi emphasis on monotheism, on the role of the Pir or Guru, on mystical union with the beloved happen to be elements of Hinduism that influenced saints and people to come together.

Satish Chandra says, “Thus the Bhakti movement marks a phase of symbiosis where common elements were emphasized and this aspect is more important than the claim of mutual borrowings which is always a matter dispute”.

K. Damodaran writes that the Bhakti movements in India have many points of resemblance to the Reformation movement led by Wycliff and Thomas More — it was not a purely religious movement, it expressed itself in the cultural field as a national renaissance; in its social content, it represented a revolt of great significance against domination and injustices of the caste system.

It gave a new impetus to the growth of diverse nationalities in India, to the development of national languages and their literature. The doctrine that all men high and low were equal before God became the central idea, which pulled wide sections of the masses to fight caste tyranny. Thus, this great movement of the middle ages not only helped the development of a composite Indian culture embracing different linguistic and religious communities, but also paved the way for united struggle, against feudal oppression. J.T.F. Jordans observes: “During medieval times (13th through 17th century) Hinduism underwent a transformation as great as that of Christianity by the Reformation. The focus of religious activities moved from the great gods and the liturgies connected with polytheism to one god, and his avatars, especially Krishna and Rama.

A new attitude to God, emotional, passionate Bhakti replaced the old approaches of sacrificial rites and monoistic meditation, just a new mysticism, practical yet ecstatic, replaced the former philosophical type. Forms of religious expression changed: love songs to the Lord were sung, and group singing created a new popular cultural form, the Kirtan. Finally, the Bhakti movement without destroying the Hindu social frame work fostered ideas of brotherhood and equality before the loving God and its saints drawn from all levels of society proclaimed that in Bhakti, caste had no meaning”.

In conclusion, we can say that though there was no visible direct evidence of positive impact of Islam on Indian culture, interactions between common Hindus and Muslims, Sufi and Bhakti saints created an environment for the emergence of a Hindustani culture, wherein we can witness the mutual borrowings from both cultures. As cultures are dynamic but not static when two people, two cultures meet, cultural interaction either positive or negative is inevitable and the same happened in India during the rule of Delhi Sultanate.

The initial suspicion, dislike, animosity and hatred did not quite disappear but the slow and gradual realization that the Muslims and the Hindus have to live side by side occupying and sharing geographical space made them reconcile, adjust, accommodate and adapt themselves to the changing circumstances with their identities reflected in their cultural practices and symbols.