1. religious movements of 15th& 16th century


  1. Muslim Religious Movements


Sufism came to India in the medieval times.  In fact the advent of Islam in India led to the rise of various movements which either tried to bring the two major communities – Hindus and Muslims – nearer each other or tried to reform Islam which had deviated considerably from the tenets of Shariat due to the conversion of a large number of lower class people in India, who brought with them their own customs and superstitions and continued to practice them.  This gave rise to a mystic order called Sufism.

The word sufi is derived from suf, meaning wool.  The early ascetics wore woolen clothes.  According to another view it is derived from an Arabic word safameaning pious and hence the pious and hence the pious people were called sufis.

They were organized into different silsilas or orders and accepted the parenthood of Muhammad and the authority of the Quran.  Besides they also absorbed a variety of ideas and practices from different religions such as Christianity, Neo-Platonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism etc.  The two objectives of Sufis were: (i) their own spiritual development; and (ii) service of mankind.  Sufis discouraged a materialistic life but encouraged working for the necessities of life.  They did not support complete renunciation of the world for attaining spiritual stage.  They strictly believed in peace, non-violence, repentance, abstinence, piety, poverty, patience, gratitude, fear, hope, contentment and love for mankind.

Some of the famous sufi saints were Khwajah Muinuddin Chisti, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Nizamuddin, Auliya etc.  Sufis were divided into several silsilas or orders.  But most of them were mystic groups and even sub-branches of the silsilas.  The most important of these orders were thechishti, the Suhrawardi, the Qadiri, the Shattari and the Naqushbandi. Each of these religious orders originated outside India but became quite popular here.  These orders differed among themselves.  The Chistis, for instance, believed in Sama– in listening to song and music as a means of stimulating the spiritual urge – and they insisted that it was allowed by Shariat.  Many of the orthodox ulemas and adherents of others believed that it was given the same status by all the four orders, but the Chistis transfigured the reverence and implicit obedience due to Shariat by introducing an element of personal absolute dedication because of which the relationship of master and disciple became a poetic image.  All the four orders believed that one should not have any worldly possessions, but the Suhrawardis held that there was no harm in possessing and distributing wealth if the heart was dedicated, while the Chistis regarded their dependence on God for sustenance as a spiritual necessity.  All four orders believed that the Shariat must befollowed, but while the Qadiris and Nawshbandis were almost legalistic in their strictness, the Chistis’ attitude ranged from a basic inclination to forgive and forget deviations.




Chisti order

Khwajah Muinuddi Chisti, a native of Sijistan, settled in Ajmer, died in 1206, introduced the Chisti order in India.  His ‘pantheistic approach’ made a great impact on Hindus.    His important disciples were Shaikh Qutabuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (died A.D. 1235) and Shaikh Hamiduddin (died A.D. 1276).

The popularity and success of the Chisti saints in India was due to their understanding of the Indian conditions and the religious attitudes and aspirations of the Indian people.  They adopted many Hindu customs and ceremonies in the initial stages of the development of their silsila  in India.  The Chistis were liberal in outlook and recognized that there were liberal in outlook and recognized that there were many paths to God..  The life of abject poverty in which the saints of this order lived made a great impact on the Hindus whose religion held in high esteem all those who followed the path of renunciation.  It is true that the Chistis did not practice renunciation in the literal sense but their preachings amounted to adopting a detached view towards the world and having no love for money, women, government service or honours.  They gave priority to social service over all other forms of devotion.


Suhrawardi order

Shihabuddin Suhrawardi (died A.D. 1234), was the founder of this silsila which was introduced in India by his disciples Jalaluddin Tabrizi and Bahauddin Zakariya (1183-1262).  Yet another disciple, Jalaluddin Surkh Bukhari (died A.D.1291), and his grandson and successor Sayyid Jalaluddin organized and strengthened Uchch centre.  Shaikh Ruknuddin Abdul Fath (died A.D. 1335), grandson of Shaikh Ruknuddin Abdul  Fath (died A.D. 1335), grandson of Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya, was the most important Khalifah of this order.  He occupies the same high position in the Shrawardi silsila as Shaikh Nizamuddin does in the Chistis order.

Unlike the Chistis, the saints of this order led a comfortable life.  Suhrawardis belived that there was no harm in possessing and dispensing of wealth, if the heart was detached.  Suhrawardis also did not approve of the Chistis practice of bowing before the Shaikh or in sama, i.e.,  ‘in listening to music and song as a means of stimulating the spiritual urge’. Suhrawardis, contrary to the practice of the other silsilas believed that ‘they could perform their functions more effectively if they cultivated relations with the political authority’.  They actively associated with the government.


Qadiri silisla

This was the earliest mystic order in Islam and was founded by Shaikh Abdul Qadir Gilani (1077-1166).  This silsila was introduced in India by Sayyid Muhammad Gilani (died A.D. 1517) who migrated to India and settled in Uchch near Multan in 1482. .  The most  famous saint of this order was Shaikh Mir Muhammad or Miyan Mir.  Some of the saints of this order were very  orthodox in their outlook, such as Shaikh Daud and Abul Malli, the other saints Miyan Mir and Mulla Shah were quite liberal.  This silsila had not much following in India.


Firdausi silsila

Badruddin introduced this silsila into India.  Its most important leader was Shaikh Hussain Balkhi who expounded his doctrines clearly and emphasized the fact that hunger is the root cause of all trouble.  Any spiritual endeavour would not be fruitful if this basic need was not fulfilled.  The Firdausi order did not flourish in India.


Naqshbandi order

Introduced by Khwaja Baqi Billah (1563-1603) in India. Of all the Sufi orders, it was the nearest to orthodoxy and tried to counteract the liberal religious policies of Akbar whom they considered a heretic  the movement reached its climax under the leadership of Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi (1564-1624), the most distinguished disciple of Baqi Billah.He criticized the pantheistic philosophy of the Sufis and instead propagated his own theory of the ‘unity of the phenomena’.  He was strongly in favour of following the Shariat in practice and spirit.  He did not agree with the Chishtis that the saints should keep aloof from the court and the King.  He wanted to utilize them for the propagation of Islam.


Influence on Indian culture

These mystics were responsible for the spread of Muslim culture among the masses in the various parts of the country.  The Islamic concept of equality and brotherhood of man greatly attracted the lower classes of the Hindus who had no access to the temples and were even forbidden to read the scriptures.  In the khanqahs set up by these mystics there was no discrimination between the high and the low.  Many of the mystics particularly of the Chishtis order showed a spirit of toleration towards other religions and creeds.  It led to large-scale conversions of Hindus of low castes, particularly in Bengal.  The mystics re-emphasized the unity of Godhead and superiority of the path of devotion over rituals and ceremonial pilgrimages and fasts.  It made a great impression on the minds of the Indian reformers and thinkers who became the pioneers of the Bhakti Movementwhich tried to harmonize Hinduism and Islam and find a common meeting-ground for the devout of both the creeds in which the differences of rituals, dogmas and external marks of faith were ignored.  It is not merely a coincidence that most of the leaders of the Bhakti Movement, such as Chaitanya, Kabir, Nanak, Dadu did not belong to the upper stratum of society.

These mystics and their silsilah set a high standard of morality and discipline before the public.



  1. Hindu Religious movements

Bhakti movement

During the medieval period most of the Hindus belonging to the upper and intellectual classes believed that God is one, “the Almighty, the Creator, the Absolute, the Omniscient, and Upholder of moral law and maintenance of cosmic order’.  The masses had, however, vague and confused ideas; they believed in many gods and goddesses and were more or less polytheistic in their views.  Moksha or emancipation, however, remained the ultimate goal of every Hindu.  There were three paths for the achievement of this purpose: the path of action (karma) of knowledge (gyan); and of devotion (bhakti).  The path of action was considered the most important.  Next in importance was the path of knowledge.  The least emphasis was laid on devotion or bhakti.  The Muslim mystics, however, attached primary importance to love or devotion to God.  Knowledge was of secondary importance and in fact served only as  means for he ‘attainment of love of God’.  This worship of God or devotion or bhakti became one of the cardinal features of the religious reform movements, called the Bhakti movements, which were started by Hindu saints and reformers during the Sultanate period.  These early reformers were also greatly impressed by the idea of the brotherhood of Islam and of theoretical equality among its adherents, belief in one God and complete surrender to His Will.  The contact of Islam with Hinduism in south India led to the revival of anti-caste and monotheistic movements which were later on transmitted to the north.  The Bhakti movement may be said to have originated in the south in the teachings of Tamilian mystic saints of the 7th – 9th centuries AD.  It was systematized by Ramanuja in the 12th century A.D.


Characteristic features of bhakti movement

  • God is one
  • Were anti-ritualistic
  • Were against caste rigidity
  • Believed devotion to god as a path of moksha
  • No discrimination between the high and the low
  • Were against social evils.
  • Emphasized on importance of teacher or
  • Stressed on devotion


Different schools of Bhakti movement

Bhakti movement had two different schools of thought

  • Saguna school: Mystics belonging t this traditional school believed that God had many forms and attributes, that he manifests Himself in incarnations such as Rama, and Krishna, and that His spirit is to be found in the idols and images worshipped at home and in temples. Some mystics of this school were Tulsidas, Surdar,  Mira Bai, Chaitanya.
  • Nirguna school: Followers of this school believed in a God without form or attributes, but nevertheless merciful and responsive to human alien to Hindu Vedantic philosophy, but there is no doubt that Islamic thought gave it a new form and strength. Some mystics of this school were Kabir, Ramanuja, Dadu Dayal, Guru Nanak etc.


Important saints of Bhakti movement

Born at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, he consolidates and systematically expounded the philosophy of southern Vaisnavism known as Visistadvaita (qualified monism) which holds that the supreme deity (Vishnu) is the creator of all things and apart from him nothing exists, but the material world is not an illusion.  According to him, the way to moksha lies through karma, gyan and bhakti.  He propagated the cult of devotion to god and preached that salvation lies only in this.  He opposed idol worship and caste discrimination.  He admitted outcastes and sudras into his sect, encouraged female education and upheld the social and religious equality of men and women.  He composed his commentaries in Sanskrit on the Brahmasutra, Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta.  His Sribhashya  is still an authoritiative text for Vaishnavas.


Ramananda (1390-1470)

Bhakti movement was transferred to the north by Ramananda, (a Vaisnava Saint), a disciple of Raghavananda, who belonged to Ramanuja’s sect.  Ramananda was  born at Prayaga.  He had a broad outlook and started a new sect into which he admitted disciples from all castes, from both sexes and even from among the Muslims.  His twelve disciples, who became famous later on, included a Jat, Dhanna, a barber, Sena, a cobbler, Ramdas and a Muslim, Kabir.  He was a worshipper of Rama and taught his message of Bhakti to all those who came to him.  His followers are called Ramanandis and his cult is followed largely in north India.


Madhava (1199 – 1278)

Madhava, who belonged to Karnataka, was one of the greatest exponents of the Bhakti movement in the south in the 13th century.  A great scholar he is said to have mastered the Vedas and Vedangas before the age of five.  He founded the dvaita philosophy (dualism, opposing Sankara’s monism (advaita)  and illusionism and tried to establish pluralism and realism.  He founded the Madhava sect at Udipi (his birth place).  His important philosophical works are Sarva Dharsana Sangrah, a critical analysis and explanation of the systems of (Indian) philosophy which sums up their most important principles and a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedanta Sastra.


Important schools and their founders
1. Advaitavad (monism) Sankaracharya
2. Visistavaitavad (modified monism) Ramanujacharya
3. Dvaitavadvaitavad (duatistic monism) Nimbarkacharya
4. Dvaitavad (dualism) Madhavacharya
5. Suddhadvaitavad (pure non-dualism) Vallabhacharya
6. Sivadvaitavad Srikanthacharya
7. Bhedabhedvad Bhaskaracharya
8. Achintyabhedabedavad Chaitanya
Important Saints
Saints of North India: Ramananda (Allahabad), Raidas, Kabir, Dadu Dayal, Jagjivandas, Guru Nanak, Tulsidas, Surdas, Mira Bai (Rajasthan), Chaitanya (Bengal)

Saints of Maharastra: Jnandev, Namdev, Ekanath, Tukaram, Ramdas

Saints of South India:  Ramanuja (Tamil Nadu), Madhavacharya (Karnataka), Basava (Karnataka), Srikantha, Nimbarka, Vallabha.

Peeths established by Adi Sankaracharya




Badrinath (UP)

Puri (Orissa)

Dwarika (Gujarat)

Mysore (Karnataka)


Kabir (1398 – 1518)

An important disciple of Ramananda, he was born in Varanasi as the son of a Brahman widow and was brought up in a Muslim weaver’s family at Varanasi.  He imbibed the tenets of both the religions, Hinduism and Islam, stood for Hindu-Muslim unity and declared that ‘Allah and Rama’ were the names of the same God.  He neglected both the Quran and Vedas and ridiculed the supremacy of ‘Mulah and Brahman’.  His god was formless nirguna.  He vehemently opposed rituals and ceremonies and worship in temples and mosques. He denounced caste distinctions, idol worship and rejected the doctrine of reincarnation.  He emphasized the unity of God and preached the path of love, devotion and bhakti.  He founded Kabir panthi sect.  his works are written in colloquial and simple western Hindi, a collection, Beejak, being the scripture of his followers.


Dadu Dayal (1544-1603)

Dadu Dayal, a weaver of Ahemdabad, was one of the most important exponents of the Nirguna School.  Like his master, Kabir, he opposed all distinctions of caste and creed, and preached the message of universal religion based on love and devotion of God.  He stood for Hindu-Muslim unity.  Sundardas was a disciple of Dadu and spread the message of bhakti.


Guru Nanak (1469-1539)

Guru Nanak, the contemporary of Kabir, was the founder the Sikh religion.  He was born in a Khatri family at Talwandi (Nankana Sahib) in west Punjab.  His followers branched off from Hinduism and founded a separate religious system.  Highly influenced by Kabir he became a wandering ascetic who was against caste system, ritualism, the supremacy of the Brahman and the Mullas.  He was absolutely against idol worship.  ‘Unity of God and Unity of Mankind’ were the two fundamental doctrines of the Guru.  Like other spiritual teachers he fiercely attacked some religious customs of the communities and advised his followers to refrain from these practices and develop in their place love for God and His creatures.  Guru Nanak, however, believed ‘in the doctrine of karma’ and the theory of transmigration of souls.  He had both Hindus and Muslims as his disciples.  His teachings are included in the Adi Granth compiled by the fifth Guru, Arjun Das (1563 -1604).  The last of the Gurus, Gobind Singh (1667-1708), transformed Sikhism (corruption of the Sanskrit word ‘shisya’ meaning disciple) into a military mission due to the policy of religious persecution followed by the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb.

Nine gurus followed in succession to Nanak and gave the sect a stability,


Tulsi Das (1532-1623)

Tulsi Das, the renowned author of Ramacharit Manas was as great a poet as a devotee.  He depicted Rama as the incarnation of God and believed that man could reach him only through bhakti or devotion.


Surdas (1478-1583)

Surdas, foremost poet of the Krishna sect and the disciple of Vallabhacharya, was second only to Tulsi Das in poetry but not in devotion.  Krishna’s bal lila constitutes the first great theme of Surdas’ poetry.  To him Krishna is the divine being – the God at the helm of affairs of the Universe.  The intensity of passion displayed by the gopis for Krishna is an expression of the natural attraction of the human spirit towards the divine soul.  Surdas’s monumental work ‘Sur Sagar’ or ‘the  Ocean’ is a story of Lord Krishna from his birth to his departure for Mathura.  Surdas’s works inspired millions of people to follow the path of bhakti.


Mira Bai (1498-1546)

Mira Bai, the great grand-daughter of Rana Jodhaji, founder of Jodhpur, was a staunch devotee of Lord Krishna.  She surrendered her life to the worship of her deity, Krishna, whom she adored with unalloyed bhakti.  She became a disciple of Ravidas, a low caste saint; became a wandering mystic.  She was a poetess and composed devotional songs and hymns in Braj bhasha mixed with Rajasthani in honour of Krishna.  For her Krishna was the Divine Being – the God whose presence she felt in all her activities.  Her from of love, as depicted in her poetry, is to regard Him as lover and a real husband.


Chaitanya (1486-1533)

The greatest saint of the bhakti movement is however, Chaitanya (1486-1533) – a devotee of Lord Krishna.  Born of Brahman parents at Nadia, he came under the influence of the Vainava sait, Isvara Puri and his whole life was transformed.  He experienced in himself, the mystic love of Radha and the Gipis towards Krishna, and spread the message that ‘raga-marga’ or the path of spontaneous love was best for salvation.  He founded a vaishnava sect.  his doctrine of philosophy was bhakti (pure love for Krishna) which he considered more efficacious than charity, meditation, virtue or knowledge.  He abhorred tantricism and all caste distinctions, admitted men and women of all religions into his fold.  He was anti-Veda, Sankara and the Vedantists.  He was responsible for establishing Brindaban.  The sect founded by him and his influence was a great importance in Bengal and in Bengali literature.


Jnanesvar (1275-1296)

Jnanesvar, whose father Vitthal Pant was a disciple of Ramananda, was the progenitor of the bhakti movement in Maharashtra.  He was a great intellectual and spiritual genius.  When still a boy of fifteen years, he wrote ‘Jnanesvari’, a famous commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, and later Amrtanubhava.Jnanesvar firmly opposed the Brahmans who would not permit the lower castes to read the scriptures.


Namdev (1270-1350)

A Bhakti saint of Maharashtra, he was against caste system, Brahmanism and superstitions.  He also opposed certain rituals such as fasting, pilgrimage etc.


Tukaram (b.1608)

He was one of the greatest Maratha saints.  He was a Sudra by birth.  He was a contemporary of Shivaji, the great Maratha leader.  His teachings helped to draw together by emans of a common religious enthusiasm all classes of the community and weld them into a ‘people united in aims and aspiratins’.  Like other saints of the Bhaktimovement, Tukaram condemned external forms of religion-pilgrimages, vows, fasts, idol worship, etc.  His  teachings are contained in his abhangas.  He also tried to reconcile Hinduism and Islam.


Ramdas (b.1608)

He was a saint  of Maharashtra and a contemporary of Tukaram.  His teachings were both spiritual and practical.  Ram Das’s teachings inspired Shivaji to establish an independent kingdom in Maharashtra after throwing off the Muslim yoke.  He established a number of maths in Maharashtra to propagate his teachings.


Eknatha (b.1548)

Eknatha, a saint of Maharashtra, was opposed to caste distinctions and evinced the greatest sympathy for men of low castes.  He composed many abhangas and wasreputed for his ‘bhajans’ and ‘kirtans’.  He wrote a voluminous commentaryon the verses of the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’.


Nimbarka (b.11c.A.D.)

Nimbarka was a Telugu Brahman, a Vaisnava philosopher and a mystic.  He was one of the  five principal commentators on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra and the first Vedantic who systematically propounded the five main schools of the Vedanta.  He founded the Nimandi sect which flourished in the Mathura region and produced many literary works.  None of his works is extant except his Dasaloka (ten stanzas).

 Vallabha (1497-1531)

Vallabha, a Telugu Brahman, founded another Visnava school of Vedanta, called Suddhadvaita (pure non-dualism).  He wrote commentaries on the Vedanta Sutras  and the Bhagavad-Gita .  His philosophy is known as Pustimarga (the path of grace), and his school by the name Rudrasampradaya.  Vallabha identified ‘Brahman’ with Sri Krishna.  He is one, omnipotent and omniscient, and the cause of all that is there in the universe.  He is characterized by sat (being), ‘chit’ (consciousness) and ananda (bliss).  The only means of salvation is sneha (deep-rooted and all surpassing love) of God, which is not attained by the efforts of the individual alone.

 Ravidas ( 1430)

Belonging to a leatherwork caste family of Varanasi, he was a disciple of Ramananda and was one of the greatest Vaisnava bhakt.  He had thousands of disciples from all walks of life including the celebrated Mirabai of Mewar.  His followers are known as Raidasi or Sadnami, a creed which is a branch of the Ramanandi sect.  the Sadnami creed prohibits all external forms of worship (such as images) except the morning and evening invocation of the holy name of God, who must be kept constantly in mind.  His deeply devotional humans had a great influence on Hindi literature and more than thirty of them were included in the Sikh Granth.

Impact of Bhaktimovement

The Bhaktimovement, which originated in the south, spread to the whole of India and made a deep impact on the life of the people.  The main results of the movement, according to M.G. Ranade in his Rise of the Maratha power, were the ‘development of the vernacular literature, the modification of caste exclusiveness, the sanctification of family life, the elevation of the status of women, the spread of humaneness and toleration partial reconciliation with Islam, the subordination of rites and ceremonies, pilgrimages and fasts and learning and contemplation to the worship of god with love  and faith,  the limitation of the excesses of polytheism and the uplift of the nation to a higher level of capacity both of thought and action. To this may be added the removal of distinctions, at least at some places, between the higher and lower castes and outcastes in the religious sphere.  Perhaps more lasting and far-reaching were the socio-religious reforms of the saints of the Bhakti cult who flourished during medieval period.  They raised their powerful voice against the vices prevailing in society and made it incumbent on their followers to desist from them.