Bhakti and Sufi Movement in India

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Bhakti and Sufi Movement in India

The Bhakti and Sufi Movement in India played an important role in bringing harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims.

Bhakti Movement

The Bhakti Movement was a reform movement in Hinduism. It occupies a significant position in bringing about harmony and normal relationships between the Hindus and Muslims.

The development of the Bhakti cult first began in South India in the 7th-8th century in order to bridge the gulf between the Shaivas and the Vaishnavas. It stood for intense personal devotion and complete self-surrender to God. It believed in the unity of godhead, brotherhood of man and equality of all religions. The roots of the Bhakti Movement can be traced to the Upanishads, the Puranas and the Bhagvad Gita. Shankaracharya is reputed to have been the first and principal exponent of this reform movement.

After the advent of Islam, the necessity of making Hinduism a living active force in the life of the common people was felt deeply. Islam with its liberal outlook, equality of status among its followers, and concept of one God, posed great threat to Hindu society that was suffering from ritualism, rigid caste system, evils of untouchability and multiplicity of gods and goddesses. In this situation many lower class Hindus were attracted by the catholic outlook of Islam in these respects. They were also tempted to adopt Islam which could afford them better status in society and a less cumbersome religion. But at this critical juncture the preachers of Bhakti Movement tried to bring harmony among various religons. The often condemned the Hindu Caste System. Though the Bhakti cult had a long tradition, it was during this time that the cult grew to a new dimension.

Features of Bhakti Movement

Its proponents preached the ‘unity of the god-head’ and emphasized that ‘devotion to God’ and faith in him led to salvation. It also laid stress on equality of all human beings and universal brotherhood. The other tenets of the Bhakti cult were purity of heart and honest behaviour. The basic features of this cult thus had many similarities with those of Sufism. This helped greatly in checking the growth of Islam in India.

Impact of Bhakti Movement

The Bhakti movement became popular among the common masses as its teachings were preached in the form of hymns in various popular languages. In this accessible form Bhakti ideas were spread among wide strata of the population and the hymns frequently became folk songs. Amongst the leaders of the Bhakti movement, Ramananda, Kabir, Ramanuja, Sri Chaitanya, Nanak etc. were prominent.

Sufi Movement

The Sufi Movement had twofold aims:

  1. To make their own spiritual progress and
  2. To serve the mankind.

Sufism, which started as a reform movement, laid emphasis on free-thinking, liberal ideas and toleration. They believed in the equality of all human beings and brotherhood of man. Their concept of universal brotherhood and the humanitarian ideas of the Sufi saints attracted the Indian mind. A movement similar to Sufism, called the Bhakti cult, was already afoot in India on the eve of the Muslim conquest of the country. The liberal-minded Sufis were, therefore, welcomed in India. The Sufi movement proved very helpful in bridging the gap between the followers of the two religions and in bringing the Hindus and the Muslims together.

The Sufi movement gained impetus during the reign of Akbar who adopted a liberal religious policy under the influence of the Sufi saints.

Abul Fazal had mentioned the existence of 14 Silsilahs in India. A close link that existed between the leader or Pir and his murids or disciples was a vital element of the Sufi system.

The Sufism reached India in the 12th century A.D. Its influence grew considerably during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In India, Chisti and Suhrawardi Silsila were most prominent.

Chisti order was founded in India by Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. His dargah at Ajmer became a centre of veneration for both the Muslims and Hindus. After his death in 1236 A.D., his devotees continued to celebrate an annual Urs festival at Ajmer. But the most famous Sufi saint of the Chisti order was Nizamuddin Auliya. He led a simple austere life and lived in Delhi. By his vast learning, religious knowledge, and tolerant attitude to all religions, he earned devotion of both the Hindu and Muslim masses.

The Sufi Movement in India  helped in establishing peace and amity among the Hindus and Muslims.

Impact of Sufism

The liberal ideas and unorthodox principles of Sufism had a profound influence on Indian society. The liberal principles of Sufi sects restrained orthodox. Muslims in their attitude and encouraged many Muslim rulers to pursue tolerant attitude to their non-Muslim subjects. Most Sufi saints preached their teachings in the language of common man that contributed greatly to the evolution of various Indian languages like Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri and Hindi. The impact of Sufi Movement was deeply felt on some renowned poets of the period, like Amir Khusrau and Malik Muhammad Jayasi who composed poems in Persian and Hindi in praise of Sufi principles.

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