• The coming of Islam to India resulted in many things. One was the exchange of religious ideas between the Hindus and Muslims. This led to the development of two popular religious movements: the Sufi movement and the Bhakti movement.
    • No cultural pattern of the Sultanate period was more enduring for the Muslim population than that of Sufi devotionalism. The mystics of Islam are called Safis.
    • The Sufi holy men typically adhered to the sharia, but they also stressed inner realisation of the divine presence, the practice of moral and physical disciplines, and the need to submit to the authority of charismatic chains of saintly authority.
    • They served the rulers, yet, to a varying degree, sought to present themselves as distant from the corruption of worldly rule. The founders of the most important Sufi lineages, Chisti, Suhrawarhi, Qadiri, and Naqs bandi, were central and west Asian in origin, but they flourished in the sub-continent.
    • The Qadiri order, for instance, was introduced in India by Shaikh Niamatullah and Makhdum Muhammad Jilani. Sufi teachings were enriched and stimulated by the presence and competition of similar holy men of the Indian bhakti traditions of devotion, spiritual disciplines and sophisticated monistic philosophies. Bhakti devotion and worship, in turn, flowered as well.
    • Some say the name Sufi was derived from ‘sofa’ (pure) because of the purity of their hearts; others from ‘sigf (wool) because of the coarse woollen garments they chose to wear: yet others traced the origin of the word to ‘suffa‘ from the low clay built verandah attached to the Prophet Muhammads mosque in Medina where some of the poorest among his devoted followers used to sit.
    • A derivation from the Arabic verb ‘safwe’. meaning those who are selected, is another possibility. Eventually the word came to be identified with seekers of spiritual enlightenment.
    • The emergence of Sufis as a group of people with a set identity probably did not happen until about two hundred years after death of the Prophet Muhammad. This movement came as a reaction against the degeneration that had taken place amongst the Muslims.
    • The years that followed the Prophet Muhammads passing were to see a weakening of his teachings. Islam became the basis of an empire and its leadership passed into the hands of worldly men who sought temporal power rather than spiritual.
    • Men of the art had the option either to rebel against the leadership which was corrupt and bereft of spiritual guidance — and there were many such rebellions — or to turn towards their own inner development.
    • So it was that the more the world of Islam grew in power and wealth, the more the spiritually inclined embraced lives of ascetheism and developed ways of enhancing their inner devotional state. as if to redress the imbalance in the world around them.
    • The Sufis believe that there was a small circle of such men around the Prophet Muhammad. Prominent among them was the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, to whom the Prophet transmitted the knowledge of agnostic sciences, Imam Ali, who was to communicate these to his sons, Imams Hasan and Husayn, and to a few close pupils, such as Hasan of Basra. They, in tum, passed the truths on to their pupils, and so the chains of enlightenment have continued up to our present time.
    • The mystics were also to start their spiritual education with the study of Quran. The ignorant Sufi was considered a danger to himself and the community. The Sufi orders sprang up around a recognised master.
    • There were several of them. They differed in the methods adopted. even while their objectives were the same – the opening of hearts. When the founder of the order died his appointed successor would continue to teach in much the same way as his predecessor had done.
    • The ultimate awakening of a Sufi, however, was considered to be the gift of Allah, and thus beyond the wishes or efforts of either the teacher or pupil.
    • The sufi orders were to perform a major role, not only in the spiritual development of individual seekers. but also in the regeneration of the Muslim world when it was devastated the Mongols. They spread the message of Islam to distinct lands. From the llth century, Sufi teachings spread from Sind and Punjab across north and central India.
    • The teachings were designed to express the experience, the love of god, culminating in reverence for Sufi saints and for the holy places associated with them, like in the bhakti tradition of Hinduism. The Qawwali was a familiar form of singing at their gatherings.

The Bhakti movement in medieval India spread due to the influence of Islam.

The Islamic ideas were of monotheism, no idol worship, no casteism, equality and brotherhood of man. The influence of Sufi saints shaped the thinking of saints like Ramananda, Nanak and Kabir. 


The Sufism originated in Persia and came to India in the eleventh century. The Sufi saints that were famous were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.

The Sufis were revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Sufis stressed on love and devotion as effective means of realisation of god.

They said service to man is tantamount to service to god. Sufis believed in inner purity not external conduct. They believed in devotion to god instead of blindly following rituals. They inculcated a spirit of tolerance amongst their disciples.

Sufis protested against the materialism of caliphate as a religious and political institution and turned towards ascetism, mysticism. They believed Prophet as the perfect human being.

Sufis were led by sheikh or Pir. They had 12 communities or Silsila means a chain – linking master and devotees.

The Sufis believed a guru is necessary to reach spiritual development. They also preached meditation, pilgrimage, suppression of passion, fasting, prayer, charity. The influence of Sufism was seen on Bhakti movement. Their message of equality attracted the lower castes of Hinduism as they were oppressed.

The Mughal emperor Akbar too appreciated Sufi doctrines and they shaped his religious outlook.

Bhakti and Sufi movement succeeded in bringing Hindus and Muslims together due to their message of love, devotion. 


Bhakti movement: 


The Bhakti saints talked about God being Supreme Being and concept of one god. The message was self surrender to god and removal of caste and birth distinctions. 

They emphasized on complete devotion as the path to god and urged people to shed age old superstitions. However the Bhakti saints in early period belonged to Hinduism and recognized Hindu gods although they too preached message of love and unity. The teachers of this movement: Shankaracharya, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas. 

The later Bhakti saints like Kabir, Nanak remained apostles of Bhakti movement. They learned from old masters but showed a novel path. They didn’t adhere to any particular religion.

They preached against idolatry, superstitions, casteism, polytheism, rituals and ceremonies. They believed in devotion as only way of salvation. They asked for unity amongst all religions. 

    • The Bhakti and Sufi movements were well developed before an active process of interaction between them began from the 11th century onwards. The Bhakti movement was a continuation of the earlier devotional cult.
    • But what distinguished it now was that the Sufi ideas influenced its doctrines, as did also certain Islamic concepts, particularly those of social justice. Their interaction grew till it reached a climax in the 16th century.
    • Its impact, however, continued to shape popular minds and attitudes till the end of the 18th century when new conditions were created with the advent of colonialism.
    • The Bhakti teachers taught that the relationship between man and god was based on love and worshiping the god with devotion was better than merely performance of religious ceremonies. Bhakti teachers stressed the need for tolerance among men and religions.
    • They also objected to the division of society into castes and the low status given to women. They encouraged the women to join the gatherings. Bhakti leaders dating from this period whose teachings and cults persist to the present include Ramananda (c. 1360-1470), Kabir (1440-1518), Guru Nanak (1469-1539), Mirabai (c.l495 — c.l550), Dadu (1544-1603). Tukaram (l608—l649), and Chaitanya (1486-1533).
    • Ramananda was the first Bhakti saint to use Hindi for the propagation of his message. Like the Sufis, the bhakti teachers emphasised the individual’s own devotion to the divine. A minor, but extremely significant strand, represented by Kabir and Nanak, emphasised worship of a personal God without forms i.e. Nirguna. In so doing, they distanced themselves from dis1inctive Hindu and Muslim symbols.
    • More common than worshippers of a formless god were Vaishnavites devoted to Lord Vishnu; Shaivaites, devoted to Lord Shiva; and worshippers of the Goddess (devi) in her many forms. Vaishnavite worship was focused on the manifestations of Lord Vishnu as either the ideal king, Lord Ram, or as the pastoral Lord Krishna, celebrated as child, cowherd, and lover. This emphasis on individual access to the divine. often coupled with critiques of merely formal ritual, nonetheless accommodated, for the most part guidance of Brahman priests, who played a central role in sectarian communities.

Kabir and Nanak

    • Kabir (1438-1518) either denied the Hindu and Muslim ideas of God or else equated them by stating that they were identical. Nanak (l469 -1539) went a step further and described God without reference to either Hindu or Muslim concepts. Kabir expressed his ideas in single couplets or dohas which were compiled on his death. His followers were known as Kabirpanthi.
    • Nanak’s teaching in the form of verses was collected in the Adi granth. Nanak wanted his followers to eat together in a common kitchen Langar – no matter what their caste.
    • He grouped his followers together and on his deathbed, appointed a guru to be their leader. They called themselves the Khalsa.
    • In the l7th century, the Khalsa under their tenth Guru Gobind Singh, was to become a strong military group.
  • It was then that the Sikhs distinguished themselves from other people by the five characteristics which are commonly called the five K’s — kesha (hair), kangha (comb), kara (iron bracelet), kirpan (dagger) and kachcha (underwear). Guru Govind Singh also named the Grant Sahib as the everlasting Guru of the Sikhs.

Contributions of saints:

  1. Ramananda: simplification of worship and disregarding of caste system were his contributions. 
  2. Kabir: Disciple of Ramananda. Studied Hindu and Muslim religions both. He wanted to establish harmony between them.
  3. Guru Nanak: Founder of Sikhism. Attacked all ill effects of religion and gave a moral code for all.

Importance of Bhakti movement: 

  1.  The Bhakti saints spoke and wrote in regional languages. The movement provided an impetus to development of regional languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada.
  2. The saints could establish close contact and appeal directly to the masses.
  3. They disregarded caste system and advocated equal status to women. Hence they were popular amongst the lower classes.
  4. The movement gave people a simple religion to show devotion to god and not rituals and sacrifices.