Chapter 6. Bhakti-Sufi Traditions

• subcontinent’s landscape was dotted with a variety of religious constructions by mid-first millennium CE — stupas, monasteries, and temples.
• If they represented some religious ideas and practises, others have been reconstructed from textual traditions, such as Puranas, many of which took shape around same time, and yet others are very faintly discernible in textual and visual sources.
• Compositions attributed to poet-saints, most of whom expressed themselves verbally in regional languages utilised by ordinary people, are among new textual sources known from this period.
• Perhaps most striking feature of this phase is increasing visibility of a wide range of gods and goddesses in sculpture as well as in texts.

integration of cults
• Historians suggest that there were at least two processes at work.
• Process of disseminating Brahmanical ideas: It is exemplified by composition, compilation and preservation of Puranic texts in simple Sanskrit verse, explicitly meant to be accessible to women and Shudras, who were usually excluded from Vedic learning.
• Second process at work: Brahmanas accepting and reworking beliefs and practices of these and other social categories. Examples of this process is evident at Puri, Orissa, where principal deity was identified, by twelfth century, as Jagannatha, a form of Vishnu.
• Worship of goddess, often simply in form of a stone smeared with ochre, was evidently widespread.
• These local deities were often incorporated within Puranic framework by providing them with an identity as a wife of principal male deities sometimes they were equated with Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, in other instances, with Parvati, wife of Shiva.
• principal deities of Vedic pantheon, Agni, Indra & Soma, become marginal figures, rarely visible in textual or visual representations. Vishnu, Shiva & goddess in Vedic mantras, these have little in common with elaborate Puranic mythologies.
• Devotional worship had a long history of almost a thousand years.

Tantric practices- Difference and conflict
• Tantric practices were widespread in several parts of subcontinent-they were open to women and men, and practitioners often ignored differences of caste and class within ritual context. Many of these ideas influenced Shaivism as well as Buddhism, especially in eastern, northern & southern parts of subcontinent.
• Sometimes conflicts as well-those who valued Vedic tradition often condemned practices that went beyond closely regulated contact with divine through performance of sacrifices or precisely chanted mantras. On other hand, those engaged in Tantric practices frequently ignored authority of Vedas. Also, devotees often tended to project their chosen deity, either Vishnu or Shiva, as supreme.
• singing and chanting of devotional compositions was often a part of such modes of worship. It was particularly true of Vaishnava and Shaiva sects.

Poems of Prayer: Early Traditions of Bhakti
• At a different level, historians of religion often classify bhakti traditions into two broad categories: Saguna [with attributes] and nirguna [without attributes].
• Saguna bhakti included traditions that focused on worship of specific deities such as Shiva, Vishnu & his avatars [incarnations] and forms of goddess or Devi, all often conceptualised in anthropomorphic forms.
• Nirguna bhakti on other hand was worship of an abstract form of God.

Alvars and Nayanars of Tamil Nadu
• They led some of earliest bhakti movements of 6th century. They travelled from place to place singing hymns in Tamil in praise of their gods.
• Very often large temples were later built at these sacred places.
• These developed as centres of pilgrimage.
• Singing compositions of these poet-saints became part of temple rituals in these shrines.

Alvars: Those who are ‘immersed’ in devotion to Vishnu.

Nayanars: Leaders who were devotees of Shiva.

Women Devotees
• Perhaps one of most striking features of these traditions was presence of women.
• compositions of Andal, a woman Alvar, were widely sung and continue to be sung to date. Andal saw herself as beloved of Vishnu; her verses express her love for deity.
• Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a devotee of Shiva, adopted path of extreme asceticism in order to attain her goal.
• These women renounced their social obligations, but did not join an alternative order or become nuns.
• Their very existence and their compositions posed a challenge to patriarchal norms.

Attitudes Towards Caste
• According to some historians, Alvars & Nayanars initiated a movement of protest against caste system and dominance of Brahmanas or at least attempted to reform system.
• One of major anthologies of compositions by Alvars, Nalayira Divyaprabandham, was frequently described as Tamil Veda, thus claiming that text was as significant as four Vedas in Sanskrit that were cherished by Brahmanas.

Chola Kingdom
• powerful Chola rulers supported Brahmanical and bhakti traditions, making land grants and constructing temples for Vishnu and Shiva.
• Chola kings often attempted to claim divine support and proclaim their own power and status by building splendid temples that were adorned with stone and metal sculpture to recreate visions of these popular saints who sang in language of people.
• These kings introduced singing of Tamil Shaiva hymns in temples under royal patronage, taking initiative to collect and organise them into a text.
• Inscriptional evidence from around 945 suggests that Chola ruler Parantaka I had consecrated metal images of Appar, Sambandar & Sundarar in a Shiva temple.
• These were carried in processions during festivals of these saints.
• Most magnificent Shiva temples: Chidambaram, Thanjavur & Gangaikondacholapuram, were constructed under patronage of Chola rulers.
• One of major themes in Tamil bhakti hymns is poets’ opposition to Buddhism and Jainism. It is particularly marked in compositions of Nayanars.
• Both Nayanars and Alvars were revered by Vellala peasants.
• It was period when some of most spectacular representations of Shiva in bronze sculpture were produced.

Virashaiva Tradition in Karnataka
• The 12th century witnessed emergence of a new movement in Karnataka, led by a Brahmana named Basavanna [1106-68]. His followers were called Virashaivas or Lingayats.

• Lingayats continue to be an important community in region to date. They worship Shiva in his manifestation as a linga, and men generally wear a small linga in a silver case on a loop strung over left shoulder.
• Lingayats believe that on death devotee will be united with Shiva and will not return to this world. Therefore, they do not practise funerary rites such as cremation, prescribed in Dharmashastras. Instead, they ceremonially bury their dead.
• Lingayats challenged idea of caste and ‘pollution’ attributed to certain groups by Brahmanas. They questioned theory of rebirth.
• Lingayats encouraged certain practices disapproved in Dharmashastras, such as postpuberty marriage and remarriage of widows.

Religious Ferment in North India
• During same period, in north India deities such as Vishnu and Shiva were worshipped in temples, often built with support of rulers.
• Many new religious leaders questioned authority of Vedas, and expressed themselves in languages spoken by ordinary people, which developed over centuries into ones used today.
• A new element in this situation was coming of Turks which culminated in establishment of Delhi Sultanate.
• This undermined power of many of Rajput states and Brahmanas who were associated with these kingdoms.
• It was accompanied by marked changes in realm of culture and religion. coming of Sufis was a significant part of these developments.

New Strands in Fabric: Islamic Traditions
• Arab merchants, for instance, frequented ports along western coast in first millennium CE, while Central Asian people settled in north-western parts of subcontinent during same period.
• From 7th century, with advent of Islam, these regions became part of what is often termed Islamic world.

Taxes under Muslim Ruler
• category of zimmi, meaning protected developed for people who followed revealed scriptures, such as Jews and Christians, and lived under Muslim rulership. They paid a tax known as jizya and gained right to be protected by Muslims. In India this status was extended to Hindus as well.
• Several rulers gave land endowments and granted tax exemptions to Hindu, Jaina, Zoroastrian, Christian & Jewish religious institutions and expressed respect and devotion towards non-Muslim religious leaders.
• These grants were made by several Mughal rulers, including Akbar and Aurangzeb.

Faiths of Rulers and Subjects
• In 711 an Arab general named Muhammad Qasim conquered Sind, which became part of Caliph’s domain. Later Turks and Afghans established Delhi Sultanate. It was followed by formation of Sultanates in Deccan and other parts of subcontinent; Islam was an acknowledged religion of rulers in several areas.
• This continued with establishment of Mughal Empire in 16th century as well as in many of regional states that emerged in 18th century.
• Theoretically, Muslim rulers were to be guided by ulama, who were expected to ensure that they ruled according to shari‘a.

popular practice of Islam
• coming of Islam were not confined to ruling elites; it has spread through subcontinent, amongst different social strata – peasants, artisans, warriors, merchants, to name a few.
• All those who adopted Islam accepted, in principle, five ‘pillars’ of faith:
(1) That there is one God, Allah, & Prophet Muhammad is his messenger [shahada];
(2) Offering prayers five times a day;
(3) Giving alms [zakat];
(4) Fasting during month of Ramzan [sawm]; and
(5) Performing pilgrimage to Mecca [hajj].
• Khojahs, a branch of Ismailis [a Shi‘a sect], developed new modes of communication, disseminating ideas derived from Qur’an through indigenous literary genres.
• These included ginan meaning ‘knowledge’, devotional poems in Punjabi, Multani, Sindhi, Kachchi, Hindi & Gujarati, sung in special ragas during daily prayer meetings.
• Arab Muslim traders who settled along Malabar coast [Kerala] adopted local language, Malayalam.

Names for Communities
• Historians who have looked at Sanskrit texts and inscriptions from 8th to 14th centuries say that word “Muslim” was almost never used. Instead, people were sometimes identified by area where they came from. So, rulers of Turkey were called Turushka, people from Tajikistan were called Tajika, and people from Persia were called Parashika.
• A more general term for these migrant communities was mlechchha, indicating that they did not observe norms of caste society and spoke languages that were not derived from Sanskrit.
• term ‘Hindu’ was used in a variety of ways, not necessarily restricted to a religious connotation.

Growth of Sufism
• In early centuries of Islam, a group of religious minded people known as Sufis turned to asceticism and mysticism in protest against growing materialism of Caliphate as a religious and political institution. They were critical of dogmatic definitions and scholastic methods of interpreting Qur’an and Sunna [traditions of Prophet] adopted by theologians.

Khanqahs and Silsilas
• By 11th century Sufism evolved into a welldeveloped movement with a body of literature on Quranic studies and sufi practices.
• Sufis began to organise communities around hospice or khanqah [Persian] controlled by a teaching master called shaikh [in Arabic], pir or murshid [in Persian]. He enrolled disciples [murids] and appointed a successor [khalifa]. He established rules for spiritual conduct and interaction between inmates as well as between laypersons and master.
• Sufi silsilas began to crystallise in different parts of Islamic world around twelfth century.
• word silsila literally means a chain, signifying a continuous link between master and disciple, stretching as an unbroken spiritual genealogy to Prophet Muhammad. It was through this channel that spiritual power and blessings were transmitted to devotees.
• Special rituals of initiation were developed in which initiates took an oath of allegiance, wore a patched garment, and shaved their hair.
• When shaikh died, his tomb-shrine became centre of devotion for his followers. This encouraged practice of pilgrimage or ziyarat to his grave, particularly on his death anniversary or urs.
• It was because people believed that in death saints were united with God, and were thus closer to Him than when living. People sought their blessings to attain material and spiritual benefits. Thus evolved cult of shaikh revered as wali.

Outside Khanqah
• Some mystics initiated movements based on a radical interpretation of sufi ideals.
• Many scorned khanqah and took to mendicancy and observed celibacy. They ignored rituals and observed extreme forms of asceticism. They were known by different names – Qalandars, Madaris, Malangs, Haidaris.

Chistis in Subcontinent
• Of groups of sufis who migrated to India in late 12th century, Chishtis were most influential. It was because they adapted successfully to local environment and adopted several features of Indian devotional traditions.

Life in Chishti khanqah
• khanqah was centre of social life.

Shaikh Nizamuddin’s hospice
• This is on banks of river Yamuna in Ghiyaspur, on outskirts of what was then city of Delhi. It comprised several small rooms and a big hall [jama’at khana] where inmates and visitors lived and prayed.
• There was an open kitchen [langar], run on futuh [unasked-for charity].
• From morning till late night people from all walks of life – soldiers, slaves, singers, merchants, poets, travellers, rich & poor, Hindu jogis [yogi] and qalandars – came seeking discipleship, amulets for healing, and intercession of Shaikh in various matters.
• Other visitors included poets such as Amir Hasan Sijzi and Amir Khusrau and court historian Ziyauddin Barani, all of whom wrote about Shaikh.
• Shaikh Nizamuddin appointed several spiritual successors and deputed them to set up hospices in various parts of subcontinent. Thus, teachings, practices & organisation of Chishtis as well as fame of Shaikh spread rapidly.

Chishti Devotionalism: Ziyarat and Qawwali
• Pilgrimage, known as ziyarat, to tombs of sufi saints is prevalent all over Muslim world.
• most revered shrine is that of Khwaja Muinuddin, popularly called ‘Gharib Nawaz’.
• earliest textual references to Khwaja Muinuddin’s dargah date to 14th century.
• Muhammad bin Tughlaq was first Sultan to visit shrine, but earliest construction to house tomb was funded in late 15th century by Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khalji of Malwa. This is a part of ziyarat is use of music and dance including mystical chants performed by specially trained musicians or qawwals to evoke divine ecstasy.
• Sufis remember God either by reciting zikr or evoking His Presence through sama or performance of mystical music.
• Sama was integral to Chishtis, and exemplified interaction with indigenous devotional traditions.
• By 1600s, shrine was very popular. Akbar was inspired to visit tomb by singing of pilgrims on their way to Ajmer. He went there 14 times, sometimes twice or three times a year, to ask for blessings for new victories, keeping his promises, and having sons. He kept doing this until year 1580. Each of these visits was marked by gifts that were so nice they were written down in imperial records. He had a mosque built on grounds of dargah.

Sufis and State
• A major feature of Chishti tradition was austerity, including maintaining a distance from worldly power.
• Chishtis accepted donations in cash and kind.
• When Turks set up Delhi Sultanate, they resisted insistence of ulama on imposing shari‘a as state law because they anticipated opposition from their subjects, majority of whom were non-Muslims.
• Sultans then sought out Sufis – who derived their authority directly from God – and did not depend on jurists to interpret shari‘a.

Languages and Communication
• It was not just in sama that Chishtis adopted local languages. In Delhi, those associated with Chishti silsila conversed in Hindavi, language of people. Other sufis such as Baba Farid composed verses in local language, which were incorporated in Guru Granth Sahib.
• prem-akhyan [love story] Padmavat composed by Malik Muhammad Jayasi revolved around romance of Padmini and Ratansen, king of Chittor.
• Their trials were symbolic of soul’s journey to divine. Such poetic compositions were often recited in hospices, generally during sama‘.
• A different genre of sufi poetry was composed in and around town of Bijapur, Karnataka. These were short poems in Dakhani attributed to Chishti sufis who lived in this region during 17th and 18th centuries.
• These poems were probably sung by women while performing household chores like grinding grain and spinning.
• Other compositions were in form of lurinama or lullabies and shadinama or wedding songs.

Baba Guru Nanak
• Baba Guru Nanak [1469-1539] was born in a Hindu merchant family in a village known as Nankana Sahib near river Ravi in predominantly Muslim Punjab. He trained to be an accountant and studied Persian. He was married at a young age but he spent most of his time among sufis and bhaktas.
• message of Baba Guru Nanak is spelt out in his hymns and teachings. These suggest that he advocated a form of nirguna bhakti. He rejected sacrifices, ritual baths, image worship, austerities and scriptures of both Hindus and Muslims. For Baba Guru Nanak, Absolute or ‘rab’ had no gender or form.
• Baba Guru Nanak would sing these compositions in various ragas while his attendant Mardana played rabab.
• Baba Guru Nanak organised his followers into a community. He set up rules for congregational worship involving collective recitation. He appointed one of his disciples, Angad, to succeed him as preceptor, and this practice was followed for nearly 200 years. It appears that Baba Guru Nanak did not wish to establish a new religion, but after his death his followers consolidated their own practices and distinguished themselves from both Hindus and Muslims.
• fifth preceptor, Guru Arjan, compiled Baba Guru Nanak’s hymns along with those of his four successors and other religious poets like Baba Farid, Ravidas & Kabir in Adi Granth Sahib.
• These hymns, known as ‘gurbani’, are composed in various languages. In late 17th century, tenth preceptor, Guru Gobind Singh, included compositions of 9th guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and this scripture was known as Guru Granth Sahib.
• Guru Gobind Singh laid foundation of Khalsa Panth and defined its five symbols: uncut hair, a dagger, a pair of shorts, a comb & a steel bangle. Under him community got consolidated as a socio-religious and military force.

• Kabir is perhaps one of most outstanding examples of a poet-saint who emerged within this context.
• Verses ascribed to Kabir have been compiled in three distinct but overlapping traditions. Kabir Bijak is preserved by Kabirpanth [the path or sect of Kabir] in Varanasi and elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh; Kabir Granthavali is associated with Dadupanth in Rajasthan, and many of his compositions are found in Adi Granth Sahib.
• All these manuscript compilations were made long after death of Kabir. By 19th century, anthologies of verses attributed to him circulated in print in regions as far apart as Bengal, Gujarat & Maharashtra.
• Kabir’s poems have survived in several languages and dialects; and some are composed in special language of nirguna poets, sant bhasha. Others, called ulatbansi, are written in a form in which everyday meanings are inverted. He used terms drawn from Vedantic traditions, alakh [the unseen], nirakar [formless], Brahman, Atman.
• Other terms with mystical connotations such as shabda [sound] or shunya [emptiness] were drawn from yogic traditions. His legacy was claimed by several groups, who remembered him and continue to do so.
• Hagiographies within Vaishnava tradition attempted to suggest that he was born a Hindu, Kabirdas but was raised by a poor Muslim family belonging to community of weavers or julahas, who were relatively recent converts to Islam. They suggested that he was initiated into bhakti by a guru, perhaps Ramananda.

• Mirabai is perhaps best-known woman poet within bhakti tradition. She was a Rajput princess from Merta in Marwar who was married against her wishes to a prince of Sisodia clan of Mewar, Rajasthan. She defied her husband and did not submit to traditional role of wife and mother, instead recognising Krishna, avatar of Vishnu, as her lover.
• According to some traditions, her preceptor was Raidas, a leather worker.
• Mirabai did not attract a sect or group of followers; she has been recognised as a source of inspiration for centuries.
• Her songs continue to be sung by women and men, especially those who are poor and considered ‘low caste’ in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

• devotional worship of god with ultimate objective of attaining moksha [salvation] is known as Bhakti. word ‘Bhakti’ was derived from root word ‘Bhaj’ meaning to adore. impact of bhakti movement on Indian society was significant and far-reaching.
• Virtually all these religious traditions continue to flourish to date. This continuity has certain advantages for historians as it allows them to compare contemporary practices with those described in textual traditions or shown in old paintings and to trace changes.

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