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Bhakti Movement in North India, Sufism

Spread of Bhakti Movement to the North India

  • When the popularity of the bhakti movement in south India reached its peak, the doctrine of bhakti was expounded at the philosophical level by a series of Vaishnava scholars and saints.
  • Ramanujar expounded the philosophy known as Vishistadvaita, or qualified monism.
  • His teaching qualified Adi Sankara’s emphasis on absolute monism or the oneness of the ‘supreme’ and the ‘souls’.
  • If the Bhakti movement flourished in the Tamil country from the seventh century, it was only from the fifteenth century that there was an extraordinary outburst of devotional poetry in north India.
  • The society had degenerated into a caste-ridden community with practice of segregation, polytheism and idolatry.
  • The religious minded saints raised their voice of protest against rites and ceremonies, superstitions, and unwanted formalisms.
  • A popular monotheistic movement along with Vaishnava Bhakti movement came to be launched.
  • The monotheists followed a path which was independent of dominant religions of the time, Hinduism and Islam.
  • They denied their allegiance to either of them and criticized superstitious and orthodox elements of both the religions.
  • The advent of Islam with the Turkish conquest posed a challenge to Vedic scholars and priests.
  • By the end of the fourteenth century Islam had spread to large parts of India.
  • A considerable section of the Indian population had taken to Islam.
  • Combined with state power, the universal message of Islam with emphasis on equality attracted the lower sections of society.
  • The new political and social situation created conditions for the growth of nonconformist movements with anti-caste, anti-vedic and anti-puranic traditions.
  • The resultant changes in the cultural sphere were development of regional languages, the evolution of Hindustani, and of Indo-Muslim music and architecture.
  • The Hindu response to Muslim political power was complex.
  • While there was considerable hostility to the new religion there was also a tendency to internal reform to strengthen Hinduism so as to face the challenge.
  • An important outcome of the encounter was the rise of syncretic sects and major poets and Saints such as Kabir, Guru Nanak, and Ravidas.

Impact of Sufism

  • In parallel with the Bhakti movement in Hinduism, Sufism played a similar role in Islam.
  • The terms Sufi, Wali, Darvesh and Fakir are used for Muslim saints who attempted to develop their intuitive faculties through ascetic exercises, contemplation, renunciation and self-denial.
  • By the 12th century, Sufism had become an influential aspect of Islamic social life as it extended over almost the entire Muslim community.
  • Sufism represents the inward or esoteric side and the mystical dimension of Islam.
  • Sufi saints transcended religious and communal distinctions, and worked for promoting the interest of humanity at large.
  • The Sufis were a class of philosophers remarkable for their religious catholicity and tolarance.
  • Sufis regarded God as the supreme beauty and believed that one must admire it, take delight in His thought and concentrate his attention on Him only.
  • They believed that God is ‘Mashuq’ (beloved) and Sufis are the ‘Ashiqs’ (lovers).
  • Sufism crystallized into various ‘Silsilahs’ or orders.
  • The most popular Sufi orders were Chistis, Suhrawardis, Qadiriyahs and Naqshbandis.
  • Sufism took root in both rural and urban areas, and exercised a deep social, political and cultural influence on the masses.
  • It rebelled against all forms of religious formalism, orthodoxy, falsehood and hypocrisy, and endeavoured to create a new world order in which spiritual bliss was the ultimate goal.
  • At a time when struggle for political power was the prevailing trend, the Sufi saints reminded people of their moral obligations.
  • In a world torn by strife and conflict they tried to bring peace and harmony.
  • The most important contribution of Sufism is that it helped to blunt the edge of Hindu-Muslim conflicts and prejudices by forging the feelings of solidarity and brotherhood between these two religious communities.

Salient Features of Bhakti Movement

  1. The bhakti reformers preached the principles of monotheism (oneness of God)
  2. They believed in freedom from the cycle of life and death. They advocated that the salvation could be attained only by deep devotion and faith in God.
  3. They emphasized the self-surrender for obtaining the bliss and grace of God.
  4. Gurus could act as guides and preceptors.
  5. They advocated the principle of Universal brotherhood.
  6. They criticized idol worship.
  7. They stressed the singing of hymns with deep devotion.
  8. Arguing that all living beings, including humans, were god’s children, they strongly denounced caste system which divided people according to their birth.
  9. They condemned ritualism, pilgrimages and fasts.
  10. They did not consider any language as sacred and composed poems in the language of the common people.

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