Tuesday, 5 November 2013

notes for Bhakti and Sufi traditions


Bhakti and sufi traditions

Sources to understand Bhakti and sufi traditions

1.      Textual sources available for this periodinclude compositions attributed to poet-saints,most of whom expressed themselves orally inregional languages. Thesecompositions, which were often set to music, werecompiled bydisciples or devotees, afterthe death of the poet-saint.
2.      Historians also draw on hagiographies orbiographies of saints written by theirdisciples or devotees. These may not beliterally accurate, but allow a glimpse into the waysin which devotees perceived the lives of these pathbreakingwomen and men.

India is a Mosaic of Religious Beliefsand Practices

1.      The integration of various cults or traditions of Hinduism

·         There were twoprocesses at work to integrate different cults. One was a process of disseminatingBrahmanical ideas. This is exemplified by thecomposition, compilation and preservation of Puranictexts in simple Sanskrit verse, explicitly meant tobe accessible to women and Shudras.
·         At the sametime, there was a second process at work – that ofthe Brahmanas accepting and reworking the beliefsand practices of Shudras
·          Infact, many beliefs and practices were shaped througha continuous dialogue between “great” (Brahmans) traditionsand “little” (Shudras) traditions throughout the land.
·         One of the most striking examples of this processis evident at Puri, Orissa, where the principal deitywas identifiedas Jagannatha(literally, the lord of the world), a form of Vishnu.
·         Such instances of integration are evidentamongst goddess cults as well. Worship of thegoddess, often simply in the form of a stone colouredwith red and yellow mud. They were identified as wives of the principal male deities – sometimes theywere equated with Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, inother instances, with Parvati, the wife of Shiva and Saraswati, wife of Brahma.

2.       Difference and conflict betweenvarious cults or traditions of Hinduism
Tantric practices
Puranic traditions
Vedic Traditions
Those engaged in Tantric practices frequently ignored the authority of the Vedas.
Also, devotees often tended to project their chosen deity, either Vishnu or Shiva, as supreme.

In Vedic traditions the principal deities are Agni, Indra and Soma,
Tantric practices were widespread in several parts of thesubcontinent – they were open to women and men, and practitioners often ignored differences of caste and class within the ritual context
The singing and chanting of devotional compositions were often a part of such modes ofworship. This was particularly true of the Vaishnava and Shaiva sections
Those who valued the Vedic tradition oftencondemned others practices
They followed sacrifices or precisely chanted mantras
Alvars and Nayanars were part of this tradition.
Vedic practices were for only men and Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.They practiced Vedic tradition by chanting long Vedic hymns and elaborate sacrifices.

Early Traditions of Bhakti in Tamil Nadu (South India)

1.      Historians of religion oftenclassify bhakti traditions into two broad categories: sagunaand nirguna
2.      The Saguna Bhakti included traditions thatfocused on the worship of specific deities suchas Shiva, Vishnu and his avatars (incarnations) andforms of the goddess or Devi, in anthropomorphic (early human) forms. Nirgunabhakti on the other hand was worship of an abstract (Nonliving objects) form of god.
3.       The Alvars: Some of the earliest bhakti movements were led by the Alvars, literally, those whoare “immersed” in devotion to Vishnu. Nayanars: literally, leaders who were devotees of Shiva.Theytravelled from place to place singing hymns in Tamilin praise of their gods.
4.      During their travels the Alvars and Nayanarsidentified certain shrines as abodes of their chosen deities and large temples were built atthese sacred places. These developed as centers ofpilgrimage.
5.      Some historians suggest that the Alvars and Nayanars initiated a movement of protest againstthe caste system and dominance of Brahmanas. Bhaktas joined from diverse social backgrounds from Brahmanas to cultivators and even from castes considered untouchable.
6.      Alvars and Nayanars claimed that their compositions were as importantas the Vedas. The composition of the Alvars, the NalayiraDivyaprabandham, was frequently described as the Tamil Veda and the composition of Nayanars is Tevaram.
7.      One of the most striking features of thesetraditions was the presence of women. For instance ,the compositions of Andal, a woman Alvar, were widely sung and continue to be sung to date. Andal saw herself as the beloved of Vishnu; her versesexpress her love for the deity.
8.      Another woman, Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a devotee of Shiva, adoptedthe path of extreme asceticism in order to attainher goal. Her compositions were preserved wit in the Nayanar tradition.
Alvars and Nayanars and their Relations with the state(Rulers)

1.      Cholas,Pallavas and Pandyasruled south India. Buddhism and Jainism hadbeen prevalent in this region for several centuries. Alvars and Nayanarsopposed Buddhism and Jainism through their hymns.This hostility was due to competition between religious traditions for royal patronage.
2.      Chola rulers supported Brahmanical and bhakti traditions, making land grants andconstructing temples for Vishnu and Shiva.In fact, some of the most magnificent Shivatemples, including those at Chidambaram, Thanjavur were constructed under the patronage of Chola rulers and representations of Shiva in bronze sculpture wereproduced.
3.      Rulers tried to win the support of Alvars and Nayanars. The Chola kings often attempted to claim divine supportand proclaim their own power and status by buildingsplendid temples that were adornedwith stone and metal sculpture torecreate the visions of these popularsaints who sang in the language ofthe people.
4.      These kings also introduced the singing of Tamil Shaiva hymns inthe temples under royal patronage,taking the initiative to collect and organise them into a text (Tevaram).
5.      Cholaruler Parantaka I had consecratedmetal images of Bhakti Saints -Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar in a Shiva temple.These were carried in processionsduring the festivals of these saints.

The Virashaiva Tradition in Karnataka

1.      A new tradition in Karnataka, led by a Brahmananamed Basavanna who was initially aJaina and a minister in the court of a Chalukyaking. His followers were known as Virashaivas(heroes of Shiva) or Lingayats (wearers of the linga).
2.       They worship Shiva in his manifestation as a linga, and men usually wear a small linga in a silver case on a loop strung over theleft shoulder. Those who are revered include the jangama or wandering monks.
3.      Lingayats believe that on death the devotee will be united with Shivaand will not return to this world. Therefore they donot practice cremation instead, theyceremonially bury their dead.
4.      The Lingayats challenged the idea of caste andthe “pollution” attributed to certain groups byBrahmanas. They also questioned the theory ofrebirth. These won them followers amongst thosewho were neglected by the Brahmanas.
5.      The Lingayats also encouraged certain practices such as post-puberty marriage and the remarriageof widows. Our understanding of the Virashaiva tradition is derived from vachanas(literally, sayings)composed in Kannada by women and men whojoined the movement.

 Religious (Tradition)Ferment inNorth India

1.      During this period, in north India deities such asVishnu and Shiva were worshipped in temples, often builtwith the support of rulers. However, historians have notfound evidence of anything resembling the compositions of the Alvars,Nayanars and Lingayats.
2.      Thiswas the period when several Rajput states emerged in North India. Inmost of these states Brahmanas occupied positions ofimportance, performing a range of secular and ritualfunctions.
3.      There seems little attemptto challengeBrahmanical position directly. These included the Naths, Jogis and Siddhas.Many of them came fromartisanal groups, including weavers, who had long-distance trade withCentral Asia and West Asia.
4.      Many of these new religiousleaders questioned theauthority of the Vedas, andexpressed themselves in languages spoken by ordinarypeople, which developed over centuries into the onesused today. However, thesereligious leaders were not in a position to win thesupport of the rulers.
5.      A new element in this situation was the coming ofthe Turks and establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. This underminedthe power of many of the Rajput states and theBrahmanas who were associated with these kingdoms.

 New Strands in the FabricIslamic Traditions(Arrival of Islam into India)

1.       Arab merchantsfrequented ports along the western coast in the firstmillennium CE, they settledin the Malabar Coast.
2.      In 711 an Arab general named Muhammad Qasim conquered Sind, which became part of the Caliph’s domain.
3.      Later the Turks and Afghans established theDelhi Sultanate.This continued with theestablishment of the Mughal Empire in the sixteenthcentury.
4.      Theoretically, Muslim rulers were to be guided bythe ulamas. Ulemas are theologians who are well versed in Islamic laws.Rulers ruled according to the sharia.The sharia is the law governing the Muslim community. It is based on the Quran and the hadiths.
5.      Muslimsruled and protected people of all the religions but collected Jizya tax from the Non- Muslims. Several rulersgave land endowments and granted tax exemptionsto Hindu, Jain, Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewishreligious institutions and also expressed respect to the Saints.

 The popular practices of Islam in India

1.      The developments that followed the coming of Islampermeated far and wide, through the subcontinent,amongst different social strata – peasants, artisans,warriors, merchants, to name a few. All those whoadopted Islam accepted, in principle, the five “pillars”of the faith.
2.      There is one God, Allah, and ProphetMuhammad is his messenger; offeringprayers five times a day; giving alms; fasting during the month of Ramzan;and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca.
3.      However, these universal features were oftenoverlaid with diversities in practice derived fromlocal customary practices of converts from differentsocial milieus. For example, the Khojahs, a branch of the Shi‘a sect composed devotional poems in Punjabi,Multani, Sindhi, Kachchi, Hindi and Gujarati, sing them in special ragas during daily prayer meetings.
4.      Arab Muslim traders who settledalong the Malabar Coast (Kerala) adopted thelocal language, Malayalam. They also adoptedlocal customs such as matriliny and matrilocal residence.
5.      Some architectural featuresof mosques are universal – such astheir orientation towards Mecca,evident in the placement of the mihrab(prayer niche) and the minbar(pulpit).However a mosque in Kerala is built with Shikara, a mosque is built in Kashmir with wood and a mosque is built in Bangladesh with bricks.

Different Names for Muslim community

1.       Historians pointed out that the termMusalmanor Muslim was virtuallynever used in India upto 14th century. Instead they wereoccasionally identified in terms ofthe region from which they came.
2.      Turkish rulers were designated as Turushka.
3.      Tajika were people from Tajikistan. Parashika were people from Persia.
4.      Sometimes, terms usedfor other peoples were applied to thenew migrants. For instance, theTurks and Afghans were referred to as Shakas andYavanas.
5.      A more general term for these migrant communities was mlechchha, indicating that they didnot observe the norms of caste society and spokelanguages that were not derived from Sanskrit.

The Growth of Sufism

1.      In the early centuries of Islam a group of religiousmindedpeople called Sufis turned to asceticism andmysticism in protest against the growing materialismof the Caliphate.They were critical of the dogmatic definitions andscholastic methods of interpreting the Quran and sunnahby the Ulemas. They emphasized on seeking salvationthrough intense devotion and love for God by following the commands of Ph. Muhammad.
2.      Khanqahs:Institutionally, the Sufis began to organize communities around thehospice or khanqahc ontrolled by a teaching master known as sheikh. He enrolled disciples and appointeda successor. He established rules for spiritualconduct and interaction between inmates as well asbetween laypersons and the master.
3.      Silsilas:The word silsilaliterally means Spiritual chain, signifying a continuouslink between master and disciple, stretching as anunbroken spiritual genealogy from Allah> the Prophet Muhammad > Sufis > devotees. It was through this channel that spiritual power andblessings were transmitted to devotees.
4.      Ziyarat:When the sheikhdied, he was buried in a tomb shrine and his tomb-shrine is called dargah. Itbecame the center ofdevotion for his followers. This encouraged the practiceof pilgrimage or ziyaratto his grave, particularly onhis birth, deathand marriage anniversaries. This was becausepeople believed that in death saints were united with God.
5.      Be-sharia and Ba-sharia Sufis:
Sufis, Who left the khanqahand took to mendicancy and observedcelibacy and extremeforms of asceticism were called Be-Sharia
The Sufis who lived in Khanqas by following normal Sharia practices were called Ba-Sharia Sufis.
They were known by differentnames – Qalandars, Madaris, Malangs, Haidaris,etc.
They did not have other names.

The Chishtis’s Tradition in the Subcontinent
1.      The Chishtis,one of the groups of Sufis who migrated to India inthe late twelfth century.They were themost influential because they adaptedsuccessfully to the local environment and adoptedseveral features of Indian devotional traditions.
2.      Life in the Chishtikhanqah

a.       The khanqahwas the centre of social life. It comprised several small rooms anda big hall, where the inmates andvisitors lived and prayed.
b.      The inmates included familymembers of the Shaikh, his attendants and disciples.The Shaikh lived in a small room on the roof of thehall where he met visitors in the morning and evening. Sufi or Walior friend of the God, who claimedproximity to Allah, acquiring God’s Grace to performmiracles.
c.       There was an open kitchen (langar), run on unasked charity. From morning till late nightpeople from all walks of life – soldiers, slaves,singers, merchants, poets, travellers, rich andpoor, Hindu jogisand qalandars– cameseeking discipleship, amulets for healing.
d.      Practices that were adopted, including bowing beforethe Shaikh, offering water to visitors, shaving theheads of initiates, and yogic exercises, representedattempts to assimilate local traditions.
e.       ShaikhNizamuddin appointed several spiritualsuccessors and deputed them to set up hospices invarious parts of the subcontinent. As a result, theteachings, practices and organisation of the Chishtisas well as the fame of the Shaikhwere spread rapidly.
3.      Ziyarat

a.       Pilgrimage, called ziyarat, to tombs of sufi saints isprevalent all over the Muslim world. This practiceis an occasion for seeking the sufi’s spiritual grace.
b.      For more than seven centuries people ofvarious creeds, classes and social backgrounds haveexpressed their devotion at the dargahsof the fivegreat Chishti saints.Amongstthese, the most revered shrine is that of KhwajaMuinuddinChishti, popularly known as “Gharib Nawaz”(comforter of the poor).
c.       But the earliestconstruction to house the tomb was funded in thelate fifteenth century by Sultan GhiyasuddinKhalji of Malwa. Since the shrine was located on the traderoute linking Delhi and Gujarat, it attracted a lotof travellers.
d.      The earliest textual references to KhwajaMuinuddin’sdargahdate to the fourteenth century.It was evidently popular because of the austerityand piety of its Shaikh, the greatness of his spiritualsuccessors, and the patronage of royal visitors.Muhammad bin Tughlaq (ruled, 1324-51) was thefirst Sultan to visit the shrine.
e.       Akbar visitedthe tomb fourteen times,sometimes two or three times a year, to seekblessings for new conquests, fulfilment of vows, andthe birth of sons. He offered a hugecauldron (degh) to facilitate cooking for pilgrims.He also had a mosque constructed within thecompound of the dargah.
4.      Qawwali

a.       Also part of ziyaratis the use of music and danceincluding mystical chants performed by speciallytrained musicians or qawwalsto evoke divineecstasy.
b.       The sufis remember God either by reciting the Divine Names or evoking His Presencethrough sama‘(“audition”) or performanceof mystical music called Qawwali.
c.       Amir Khusrau the great poet, musician and disciple of ShaikhNizamuddinAuliya, gave a unique form to the Chishtisama by introducing the qaul, a hymn sung at the opening or closing of qawwali.
d.       This was followed by sufi poetry in Persian, Hindavi or Urdu, and sometimes using words from all of these languages.
e.       Qawwals (those who sing these songs) at the shrine of ShaikhNizamuddinAuliya always start their recital with the qaul. Today qawwali is performed in shrines all over the subcontinent.
5.      Languages and communication in Chishti Tradition:

a.        In Delhi, those associated withthe Chishtisilsilaconversed in Hindavi, the languageof the people. Other sufis such as Baba Faridcomposed verses in the local language.
b.      Yet otherscomposed long poems or masnavisto express ideasof divine love using human love as an allegory (Symbol). Forexample, the prem-akhyan(love story) Padmavatcomposed by Malik Muhammad Jayasi revolvedaround the romance of Padmini and Ratansen, theking of Chittor.
c.       A different genre of sufi poetry was composed inand around the town of Bijapur, Karnataka. Thesewere short poems in Urduattributed to Chishtisufis who lived in this regionduring the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
d.      These poems were probably sung by women whileperforming household chores like grinding grain andspinning. Other compositions were in the form oflurinamaor lullabies and shadinamaor weddingsongs.
e.       It is likely that theSufis of this region wereinspired by the pre-existing bhakti tradition of theKannada vachanasof the Lingayats and the Marathiabhangsof the santsof Pandharpur. It is throughthis medium that Islam gradually gained a place inthe villages of the Deccan.

6.      Sufis and their relations with the state(Rulers)

a.        The sufisaccepted unsolicited grants and donations from thepolitical elites. The Sultans in turn set up charitabletrusts as endowments for hospices andgranted tax-free.
b.      The Chishtis accepted donations in cash and kind.Rather than accumulate donations, they preferredto use these fully on immediate requirementssuch as food, clothes, living quarters and ritualnecessities.
c.       All this enhanced themoral authority of the shaikhs, which in turnattracted people from all walks of life. Further, theirpiety and scholarship, and people’s belief in theirmiraculous powers made Sufis popular among themasses, whose support kings wished to secure.
d.      Kings did not simply need to demonstrate theirassociation with Sufis; they also required legitimationfrom them. When the Turks set up the DelhiSultanate, theyanticipated opposition from Ulemas for not imposing Sharia as the state law. The Sultansthen sought out the Sufis – who derived theirauthority directly from God – and did not depend onjurists to interpret the shari‘a.
e.       Besides, it was believed that the auliyacouldintercede with God in order to improve the materialand spiritual conditions of ordinary human beings. That is why kings often wanted their tombs tobe in the vicinity of Sufi shrines and hospices.
f.       However, there were instances of conflict betweenthe Sultans and the Sufis. To assert their authority,both expected that certain rituals be performed suchas prostration and kissing of the feet. Occasionallythe Sufi shaikhwas addressed with high-soundingtitles likesultan-ul-mashaikh.

Life and teachings of Kabir

1.      Kabir was born in aHindufamily (Kabirdas)but was raised by a poorMuslim family belonging tothe community of weavers orjulahas, who were relativelyrecent converts to Islam. Theyalso suggested that he wasinitiated into bhakti by a guru,perhaps Ramananda.
2.      Kabir was one of the most outstanding examples of a poet-saintwho emerged in North India.Verses ascribed to Kabir have been compiled inthree distinct but overlapping traditions. The KabirBijakis preserved by the Kabirpanth in Varanasi and in UttarPradesh; the KabirGranthavaliis associated withthe Dadupanth in Rajasthan, and many of hiscompositions are found in the AdiGranth Sahib.
3.      Kabir’s poems have survived in several languagesand dialects; and some are composed in the speciallanguage of nirgunapoets, the santbhasha. Others,known as ulatbansi(upside-down sayings), arewritten in a form in which everyday meaningsare inverted.
4.      Kabir’s mystical experiences are many to describe the Ultimate Reality. These includeIslam: he described the Ultimate Reality as Allah,Khuda, Hazrat and Pir.
5.      He also used terms drawnfrom Vedantic traditions, alakh(the unseen), nirakar(formless), Brahman, Atman, etc. Other terms withmystical connotations such as shabda(sound) orshunya(emptiness) were drawn from yogic traditions.
6.      Diverse and sometimes conflicting ideas areexpressed in these poems. Some poems draw onIslamic ideas and use monotheism and iconoclasmto attack Hindu polytheism and idol worship; othersuse the Sufi concept of love to expressthe Hindu practice of Nam-simaran(remembranceof God’s name).
7.      Scholars havetried to analyze the language, style and content toestablish which verses could be Kabir’s. What thisrich corpus of verses also signifies is that Kabir wasand is to the present a source of inspiration forthose who questioned entrenched religious andsocial institutions, ideas and practices in theirsearch for the Divine.
8.      However, the verses attributed to Kabir use thewords guru and satguru, but do not mention the nameof any specific preceptor. Historians have pointedout that it is very difficult to establish thatRamananda and Kabir were contemporaries, withoutassigning improbably long lives to either or both.

Life and Teachings of Baba Guru Nanak

1.      Baba Guru Nanakwas born in a Hindumerchant family in a village called Nankana Sahibnear the river Ravi in the predominantly MuslimPunjab (now in Pakistan). He trained to be an accountant and studiedPersian.
2.       He was married at a young age but he spentmost of his time among sufis and bhaktas. He alsotravelled widely.The message of Baba Guru Nanak is spelt out inhis hymns and teachings.
3.      Headvocated a form of nirgunabhakti. He firmlyrepudiated the external practices of the religions hesaw around him. He rejected sacrifices, ritual baths,image worship, austerities and the scriptures of bothHindus and Muslims.
4.      For Baba Guru Nanak,the Absolute or “rab” had no gender or form. Heproposed a simple way to connect to the Divine byremembering and repeating the Divine Name,expressing his ideas through hymns called “shabad”in Punjabi. Baba GuruNanak would sing these compositions in variousragas while his attendant Mardana played the rabab.
5.      Baba Guru Nanak organised his followers into acommunity. He set up rules for congregationalworship (sangat) involving collective recitation. Heappointed one of his disciples, Angad, to succeedhim as the preceptor (guru), and this practice wasfollowed for nearly 200 years.
6.      It appears that Baba Guru Nanak did notwish to establish a new religion, but after his deathhis followers consolidated their own practicesand distinguished themselves from both Hindusand Muslims.
7.       The fifth preceptor, Guru Arjan,compiled Baba Guru Nanak’s hymns along withthose of his four successors and other religiouspoets like Baba Farid, Ravidasand Kabir in the AdiGranth Sahib. Thesehymns, called “gurbani”, are composed in variouslanguages.
8.      In the late seventeenth century the tenthpreceptor, Guru Gobind Singh, included thecompositions of the ninth guru, Guru TeghBahadur,and this scripture was called the Guru Granth Sahib.
9.      Guru Gobind Singh also laid the foundation of theKhalsaPanth (army of the pure) and defined its fivesymbols: uncut hair, a dagger, a pair of shorts, a comband a steel bangle.
10.  Under him the community gotconsolidated as a socio-religious and military force.

Life and Teachings ofMirabai, the devotee princess

1.      Mirabai is perhapsthe best-known woman poet within the bhaktitradition. Biographies have been reconstructedprimarily from the bhajansattributed to her, whichwere transmitted orally for centuries.
2.      According to the traditions, she was a Rajput princess from Marwar who was married against her wishes to aprince of Mewar, in Rajasthan.
3.      Shedefied her husband and did not submit to thetraditional role of wife and mother, insteadrecognising Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu, as herlover.
4.      Her in-laws tried to poison her, but she escapedfrom the palace to live as a wandering singercomposing songs that are characterised by intenseexpressions of emotion.
5.      According to some traditions, her preceptor(student) wasRaidas, a leather worker. This would indicate herdefiance of the norms of caste society.
6.      Afterrejecting the comforts of her husband’s palace, sheis supposed to have donned the white robes of awidow or the saffron robe of the renouncer.
7.      Although Mirabai did not attract a sect orgroup of followers, she has been recognised as asource of inspiration for centuries.
8.      Her songscontinue to be sung by women and men, especiallythose who are poor and considered “low caste” inGujarat and Rajasthan.

Varieties of sources used to reconstructthe history of sufi traditions

1.      A wide range of texts were produced in and around sufikhanqahs.
2.      These included Treatises or manuals dealing with sufi thought and practices
3.      Malfuzator conversations of sufi saints Theywere compiled over several centuries.
4.      Maktubat or written” collections of letters. These letterswritten by sufi masters, addressed to their disciples
5.      Tazkirasor biographical accounts of saints


1.      Explain with examples what historians mean by theintegration of cults.
2.      To what extent do you think the architecture ofmosques in the subcontinent reflects a combinationof universal ideals and local traditions?
3.      What were the similarities and differences betweenthe be-shari‘aand ba-shari‘asufi traditions?
4.      Discuss the ways in which the Alvars, Nayanars andVirashaivas expressed critiques of the caste system.
5.      Describe the major teachings of Kabir
6.      Describe the major teachings of Baba Guru Nanak.
7.      Describe the major teachings ofMirabhai.
8.      Discuss the major beliefs and practices thatcharacterised Sufism.
9.      Examine how and why rulers tried to establishconnections with the traditions of the Nayanars andthe sufis.
10.  Analyse, with illustrations, why bhakti and sufithinkers adopted a variety of local languages in whichto express their opinions.


  1. very good source of learning.....also need notes of political science of class 12th...

  2. How alvars and nayanars expressed their critiques of caste system?

  3. It's really helpful for me ... before it I was almost unable to make my notes and now it's very easy for me

  4. Preceptor means teacher. Please correct!