Read this article to learn about the socio-religious movement in the Indian history!

The Sufis:

Mystic movements in Islam, also called Sufism had risen in Islam at a very early stage.

Most of the Sufis were persons of deep devotion who were disgusted by the vulgar display of wealth and degeneration of morals following the establishment of the Islamic empire.

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.

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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 generation, often for the Muslims and Hindus alike. Here we shall discuss the various sufi orders that were organised in India following the arrival of Chistiya order in India.

Of the ba-shara movements, i.e. those Sufi movements which followed the Islamic law (shara), only two acquired significant influence and following in north India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. These were the Chisti and Suhrawardi silsilahs.

Orders, Beliefs and Practices of Sufis:

Chisti order:


This was essentially an Indian one, founded in India by Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti who came to India around 1192. After staying for sometime at Lahore and Delhi he finally shifted to Ajmer where he died in 1236. He commented: “for years I used to go around the Kaba; now the Kaba goes around me.”

His tomb at Ajmer was at first tended by the Sultans of Malwa, but from Akbar’s reign it came under state management. The Khwaja’s young-disciple, Shaikh Hamiduddin Nagauri made Nagaur (Rajasthan) the chief Chistiyya centre. He was succeeded by his grandson Shaikh Faridudin Mahmud. Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq was deeply devoted to Shaikh Farid’s family and married his daughter to his grandson.

One of Shaikh Farid’s disciples, Khwaja Ziyauddin Nahkashabi, translated Chintamani Bhatt’s Suka Saptati into Persian from Sanskrit and gave it the title Tuti-nama. He also translated Rati-rahasya of Kokapandita into Persian.

The Chistiyya’s work in Delhi was organised by Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, whom the emperor lltutmish was deeply devoted. Of the Khwaja’s disciples, Shaikh Fariduddin or Baba Farid was very celebrated, he moved to Ajodhan (in modern Punjab) where he built his jamaat khana for communal living.


The most famous of the Chisti saints, however, were Nizamuddin Auliya and Nasiruddin Chirag-i-Delhi. Nizamuddin Auliya was estranged from Sultan Mubarak Shah Khilji and Ghiyasuddin Tughluq. He adopted yogic breathing exercises, so much so that the yogis called him sidh or ‘perfect.’ He was succeeded in Delhi by his disciple Nasir­uddin Mahmud, later known as Chirag of Delhi.

His teachings were embodied in the Khayrul-Majalis compiled by one of his disciples. After the death of Nasiruddin in the middle of the fourteenth century, the Chistis did not have a commanding figure in Delhi. As a result, the Chisti saints dispersed, and extended their message to the eastern and southern parts of India.

The Sufi who did most to make the Chistiyya silsila popular in the Deccan, however, was Sayyid Muhammad bin Yusuf al-Husayni, commonly known as Khwaja Banda Nawaj or Mir Gisu Daraz. He went first to Gujarat and later to Gulbarga and was a prolific writer.

His earlier works are based on the Wahdat-al-Wujud philosophy, but he was later diverted to the Wahdat-al-Shuhud doctrines. He died in 1422 A.D. In the sixteenth century, Thaneswar became an important Chistiyya centre.

Shaikh Jalal Thaneswari and his disciple, Shaikh Nizam Thaneswari were famous Chistiyya sufis, but in 1606 Jahangir banished Shaikh Nizam to Mecca for blessing the rebel Prince Khusraw. Salim Chisti’s prayers begot Akbar a son (Prince Salim) in August 1569. Akoar built Fatehpur-Sikri to show his gratitude to the Sheikh.

The Chishti sufis believed in simplicity and poverty; possession of private property was considered as an impediment to the development of the spiritual personality and hence they lived mainly on charity. These sufi saints made themselves popular by adopting musical recitations called sama, to create a mood of nearness to God. The Chishtis preferred to keep aloof from state politics and shunned the company of rulers and nobles

Suhrawardi order:

The Suhrawardi order entered India at about the same time, as the Chishtis, but its activities were confined largely to the Punjab and Multan. This order was founded by Sheikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi, but the real founder of this order in India was Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariyya born at Kot Karor, near Multan, in about 1182-83.

He did not mix with the common people, opposed Qalandars and invited Sultan lltutmish to invade Multan and topple its ruler, Qabacha. After his annexation of Multan in 1228, lltutmish appointed Bahauddin the Shaikh-ul-islam (leader of the Muslim community.

His disciple Shaikh Fakhruddin Ibrahim Iraqi composed a treatise called Hamat (Flashes) which constitutes a very impressive commentary on the Unity of Being (Wahdat-al-Wujud). Shaikh Ruknuddin was highly respected by the Delhi Sultans from Alauddin Khilji to Muhammad bin Tughluq.

After his death in 1334- 35, the Suhrawardiyya silsila declined in Multan, but the order became very popular in other provinces and spread from Uch to Gujarat, the Punjab, Kashmir and even Delhi. It was revitalized by the Sufi Sayyid Jalaluddin Bukhari, popularly known as Makhdum-i-Jahaniyan (Lord of the world’s people). So widely travelled was he that he was called Jahangasht (World Traveller).

Unlike the Chishtis, the Suhrawardi 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 departmentMusic was rejected by this order.

Firdausiya order:

In the fourteenth century, a collateral line of the Suhrawardiyyas, known as the Firdausiya, emerged and its activities were confined to Bihar. The outstanding sufi of this order was Shaikh Sharufuddin Ahmad Yaha Munyari whose khanqah in Munayr (near Patna) was the rendezvous for many seeing a spiritual life. He opposed Firuz Shah Tughluq’s execution of two sufis, Shaikh Izz Kakui and Shaikh Ahmad Bihari.

Kubrawiyya order:

The principal centre of this order was Kashmir. The order was introduced there by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who was a zealous missionary and encouraged his followers to demolish Hindu temples and convert the Hindus to Islam.

Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413) became a disciple of Mir Muhammad, son of Sayyid Ali, and under the influence of his noble Saifuddin (earlier Suha Bhatta, but after becoming disciple of Mir Muhammad, adopted Saifuddin as his Muslim name) and Mir, he demolished many ancient temples in Kashmir. Sultan Zainul-Abidin (1420-70) became the patron of the Baihaqi Sayyids who were also Kubrawiyyas.

Shattariyya Order:

This order was founded in India by Shah Abdullah, who earned the name Shattar (Fast Runner) because he claimed to make his disciples perfect by the shortest and quickest means. Leaving his homeland in Transoxiana, Shah Abdullah reached India during the first half of the fifteenth century.

He travelled in style through northern India, dressed like a king, while his dervishes marched wearing soldier’s uniforms, beating drums and displaying their banners. Sultan Ghiyasuddin Shah (1469-1500) became his disciple at Mandu. Shah Abdullah died at Mandu in 1485. The outstanding Shattariyya Sufi, however was Muhammad Ghauth who lived in Gwalior. He was the author of two well- known books Jawahir-i-Khamsa and Khalid-i-Makhazin.

He also re-translated the Yogic Bahr-ul-Hayat Tansen, the great musician and Humayun seem to have been attracted towards this order. In the reigns of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, Gujarat, Gwalior, Mandu and Burhanpur were the principal Shattariyya centres. Shaikh Burhanuddin of Burhanpur would not see rich men and princes and even refused to allow the orthodox Prince Aurangzeb, who was the viceroy of Deccan.

Qadiriyya order:

The Qadiriyas orginated from the great Sufi Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad (12th century). One of his descendants, Shaikh Muhammad al Hasaini and his son Sheikh Abdul Qadir made the Qadiriyya order famous throughout the Punjab and Sind in the sixteenth century. Miyan Mir impressed Jahangir who presented Mir an antelope’s skin to pray on.

The most renowned of his disciples was Mulla Shah of Badakhshan who settled down in India in 1614-15. In 1630-40, both Prince Dara Shikoh and his sister Jahan Ara became Mulla Shah’s disciples. The Emperor Shahjahan was also deeply devoted to him. From 1640, Dara Shikoh began to write Sufi treatises. He wrote Sakinat- ul-awliya, which includes a detailed biography of Miyan Mir and his disciples.

He also wrote Hasanat- ul-arifin, devoted to the ecstatic Sufi sayings. In his Majma-ul-bahrayn (The Mingling of two Oceans) he tried to prove that an appreciation of the deeper elements in Sufism and Hindu mysticism could be achieved only by the elite of both religions.

Dara’s most important contribution was the Persian translation of the Upanishads, titled Sirr-i-Akbar, which he said, contained subtle hints relating to the Wahdat-al- Wujud doctrines. Jahan Ara Begum, in her early career was interested in Chistiyya Sufism and wrote a biography of Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti and some of his disciples.

She completed her biographical account of Mulla Shah, entitled the Sahibiya, in 1641. During Aurangzeb’s reign the Qadiriyya order lost the patronage of the court, but its general popularity did not wane.

Naqshbandiyya order:

This order was popularized in India by Baburwho was deeply devoted to Naqshbandiyya leader Khwaja Ubaidullah Ahrar. The Sufi who did most to make this order outstanding in Indig was Khwaja Baqi Billah of Kabul (born in 1563 or 1564). Many leading nobles from Akbar’s court became his devotees.

One of his disciples Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi disliked the dominance of rational and philosophical thinking at Akbar’s court. At first he followed the Wahdat-al-Wujud doctrines but later he became expert in the Wahdat-al-Shuhud system. During Akbar’s reign he opposed the concept of pantheistic mysticism (tauhid) or the belief in the unity of Godhead, denouncing it as an- Islamic.

He also opposed all those practices and beliefs which were due to the influence of Hinduism and demanded re-imposition of Jizyah. He was imprisoned by Jahangir for claiming a status beyond that of the Prophet (He beleived that he was the renewer (Mujaddid)) of the Islam and had been sent by God to restore Sunni orthodoxy to its pristine purity.

Technological Changes:

The production of cloth improved during the period because of the introduction of the spinning wheel (charkha) and bow of the cotton-carder (dhunia). The building industry also witnessed introduction of new techniques.

A new industry which arose during the period was paper-making there is no evidence of its use in India before the 13th century and the Turks were the first to produce it in India. Other crafts such as leather making, salt making, metallurgy increased its production but these crafts did not witness any significant technological changes.

The Leading Sufi Saints:

1. The leading Sufi saints were Sheikh Muinuddin Chisti, Baba Fariduddin, Nasiruddin Mahmud, Nizamuddin Aulia, Chirag-i-Dhelvi, Khwaja Shaikh Takiuddin, Muhammad Gaus of Gwalior and Malik Muhammad Jayasi.

2. Some of the early Sufis, such as the woman mystic Rabia (d. eight century) and Mansur bin Hallaj (d. tenth century), 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.

3. Al-Ghazzali (d. 1112), who is venerated both by the orthodox elements and the Sufis, tried to reconcile mysticism with Islamic orthodoxy. Thus 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; Quran, was vital for a mystic.

4. The Chishti order was established in India by Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti who came to India around 1192 shortly after the defeat of Prithvi Raj Chauhan.

5. Among the disciples of Shaikh Muinuddin (d. 1235) were Bakhtiyar Kaki and his disciple Farid-ud-Din Ganj-i-Shakr. Farid-ud-Din confined his activities to Hansi and Ajodhan (in modern Haryana and the Punjab, respectively).

6. The most famous of the Chishti saints, however, were Nizamuddin Auliya and Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Delhi.

7. Nizamuddin Auliya adopted yogic breathing exercises, so much so that the yogis called him a sidh or ‘perfect’.

8. After the death of Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Delhi in the middle of the fourteenth century, the Chishtis did not have a commanding figure in Delhi.

9. The most well-known saints of the Suharwardi order were Shaikh Shihabuddin Suharwardi and Hamid-ud-Din Nagori.

Bhakti Cult:


Unlike Vaishnavism, Saivism had its origin in the very ancient past. The pre-Vedic religion (i.e. Harappan religion) has, as one of its important components the worship of Pasupati Mahadeva, a deity described as Proto-Siva. In the later Vedic religion, Rudra came to be considered as the Vedic counterpart of Pasupati Mahadeva.

Panini, for the first time refers to a group of Siva-worshippers of his time named by Patanjali as Siva Bhagavatas in his Mahabhasya (second century B.C.) Saivism, thus, came to the fore in the post-Upanishadic times, when Siva is identified with the Vedic god Rudra.

The theistic Upanishad, Svetasvatara, calls Rudra sometimes ‘Eka Deva’, the ‘One God’, another sign of his great prominence. The word Siva means auspicious. Siva’s many names, attributes and epithets indicate his diverse functions: as the personification of the disintegrating power of time, he is called ‘Kala’; as the cosmic Lord of Dance ‘Nataraga’; as the supreme Yogin, he is ‘Mahayogi; as the giver of the bliss arising from absolute knowledge, he is ‘Sankara’, etc.

Siva is universally worshipped in the form of the phallus (linga), the source of manifestation and life, which inevitably contains the seeds of disintegration and death. The female generative organ (yoni) represents Siva’s sakti, the personification of his cosmic energy.

When represented together, they signify the two great generative principles of the universe. Saivism in South India, like Vaishnavism, flourished in the beginning through the activities of Saiva saints popularly called the Nayanars. Their poetry in Tamil was called Tevaram.

Branches of Saivism:

1. Pasupatas:

This is probably the earliest known Saiva cult which flourished in Orissa and in Western India from the seventh to the eleventh centuries. The founder of the Pasupata cult was Lakulisa, said to be an incarnation of Siva. Lakulisa’s special emblem was a club (Lakuta). He is usually depicted naked and ithyphallic which signifies sexual restraint by means of yogic techniques.

The Pasupata doctrine, founded by Lakulisa, was dualistic in nature. Pasu (the individual soul) was eternally existing with the Pati (the supreme soul), and the attainment of dukkhanta (end of misery) was through the performance of Yoga and Vidhi (means). The cult’s main text is the Pasupata Sutra attributed to Lakulisa which primarily concerns with ritual and discipline.

2. Kapalikas:

An extreme Tantric cult which flourished from about the 10th to the 13th century A.D. in Karnataka, it was probably an off-shoots of the Pasupata movement. The Kapalikas reduced the diversity of creation into two elements – the Lord and Creator and the creation that emanated from him.

The Kapalikas (Skull-bearers) were adherents of an ancient ascetic order and centred on the worship of the terrifying aspects of Siva, namely, Mahakala and Kapalabhrit (he who carries a skull) and Bhairava. They were preoccupied with magical practices, and attaining the ‘perfections’ (Siddhis).

They ate meat, drank intoxicants, and practised ritual sexual union as a means of achieving consubstantiality with Siva. They took the ‘Great Vow’ and Yoga was mandatory. Human sacrifices and wines were offered to Bhairava and his consort Chandika.

3. Kalamukhas:

This was also an extreme Tantric cult which flourished in the Karnataka area from about the 11th to the 13th century A.D. The teachings and practice of this cult was similar in all aspects to that of the Kapalikas.

4. Kanphata Yogi’s or Gorakhnathis:

Gorakhnath reorganised the earlier teaching of this movement. He synthesised the Pasupata teachings with those of Tantrism and Yoga and is identified with Siva by his followers. This extreme order of ascetics is characterised by their split ears and huge earrings of agate, horn or glass, conferred on them at their initiation. The ultimate aim of the devotee is to attain eternal union with Siva by means of Yogic techniques. The dead are buried in the posture of meditation for they are permanently in Samadhi.

5. Kashmiri Saivism:

The secluded valley of Kashmir became the venue of the Pratyabhijna and Spandasastra schools founded respectively by Vasugupta and his pupils Kallata and Somandaka (9th century A.D.).

6. Agamantas or Saiva Siddhantas:

The Agamantins based their tenets mainly on the 28 Agamas said to have been composed by the various aspects of Siva himself. The philosophy of this school was dualistic, and one of its ablest exponents, Aghora Sivacharya, belonged to the 12th century A.D. This was the main Saiva movement in the South. The Siddhanta Sastras were written during the 13th and the early 14th century A.D. by a succession of six teachers most of whom were non-Brahmins.

7. Suddhasaivas:

They upheld Visistadvaitavada, and its great expounder Srikanth Sivacharya appears to have been influenced by Ramanuja (13th century A.D). According to the Suddhasaivas, the Supreme Siva (Para-Siva) is identified with Brahman – the material and the operative cause of the world.

8. Virasaivas:

A south Indian devotional cult, also called the Lingayat cult, this was founded by Basava, who later became a minister of the Chalukyan King Bijjala of Kalyani, Basava used his political power and positon in furthering the cause of the movement which was as much a social reform as a religious one. In the tenents of this school Visishtadvaita played an important part. The main scriptural text of the Virasaivas was the Sunyasampadane.


Vaishnavism, as the name implies, means the particular theistic religion of which Vishnu is the object of worship and devotion as the Supreme God. The first step in the evolution of Vaishnavism was the identification of Vasudeva Krishna with the Vedicdiety Vishnu. This was accomplished by the time bhagavadgita was composed, and henceforth the Vasudeva cult or Bhagavata religion also came to be known as Vaishnava dharma.

The earliest evidence regarding the identification of Narayana with Vishnu is probably to be traced in Baudhayana’s Dharma-Sutra. An important feature of Vaishnavism in the Gupta Age was the popular worship of the avataras, i.e., descents or incarnation of Vishnu.

Branches of Vaishnavism:

1. Bhagavatas:

Initially the Pancharatra and the Bhagavata cults were separate, the Pancharatras worshipping the deified sage Narayana, and the Bhagavatas worshipping the deified Vrishni hero Vasudeva. The two sects were later amalgamated in an attempt to identify Narayana and Vasudeva.

The Bhagavata is a theistic devotional cult which originated several centuries before the Christian era. It is based mainly on the Bhagavad Gita, but later Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana became its main texts. When the Bhagavata cult peaked during the second century A.D., it came to known as the Pancharatra Agama.

2. Pancharatras:

According to tradition, the Pancharatra teachings were first systematised in about 100 A. D. by Sandilya, who stressed the need for total devotion to Vasudeva Krishna. A cosmological basis was given to Vasudeva Krishna by identifying him and the members of his family with specific emanations (Vyuhas). The Pancharatras postulate a supreme Brahman, who reveals himself as Vishnu, Vasudeva and Narayana and whose power gives birth to the universe.

3. Vaikhanasas:

This ritualistic cult was founded by the legendary Vikhanas whose teachings was disseminated by four ancient sages: Atri, Marici, Bhrigu and Kashyapa. Initially the cult formed part of the Taittiriya school of the Black Yajur Veda, but later it became an orthodox Vaishnava cult. In its main text, the Vaikhanasa Sutra (3rd century A.D.), the cult of the Vedic Solar Vishnu coalesces with that of Narayana.

Vaikhanasa ritual theory is based on the five­fold conception of Vishnu as brahman (the supreme God), as purusha, as Satya, as achyuta (the immutable) and as aniruddha (the irreducible aspect). Image worship is important in this movement and is said to be a development of symbolic Vedic rituals.

In the post Gupta period, Vaishnava saints popularly known as Alvars in south India, preached Vaishnavism and their songs in Tamil were collectively named Prabhandhas.