The Sufi Movement: Practices of various orders of Sufis in India

Evolved into a well developed movement, the Sufi movement, by the 11th century, Sufism had emerged in the 8th century and the early known Sufis were Rabia-al Adawiya, Al-Junaid and Bayazid Bastami. The followers of Sufism believe, as the fundamental to Sufism is God, Man and the relation between them that is Love, that from man emerged the theories of ruh (soul), qurbat (divine proximity), and hulal (infusion of the divine spirit) and that from relation between God and Man came into being ideas such as Ishq (divine love) and Fana (self-annihilation).

The Sufis were considered as people who kept their heart pure and sought to establish communication with God through their ascetic practices and doctrine of divine love and union with God. The murid (disciple) has to pass through maqamat (various stages) in this process of experiencing communication with divine.

In India, the Sufi Movement commenced in  11th century AD. The oldest Sufi in the sub-continent was Al Hujwiri who established himself in North India and was buried in Lahore. In the history of medieval India are recorded the activities of different Sufi orders of Sufism. The most important Sufi Orders of the period were: Chishtitiya, Suharwardiya, Qadiriya and Naqshbandiya. These ‘Sufi Orders’ were popularly known as ‘Sufi Silsilas’.

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The principal features of the Sufi Movement, as it emerged in India, are:

  • It was believed by Sufis that for Union with God one needs a spiritual guru or a
  • The Sufi pirs lived in Khanqah (the hospice).
  • The Sufis were organized in a number of ‘Sufi Orders’ (Silsilas).
  • These orders (silsilas), mostly, were led by some important pir or Sufi saint. Generally a silsila was named after the pir and was followed by his disciples.
  • The Khanqahs evolved as important centres of learning that were different from madrasas.
  • In their Khanqahs many Sufi enjoyed the sama (the musical congregation). Qawwali, a musical form, developed during this period.
  • An important form of ritual pilgrimage, the Ziyarat meaning pilgrimage to the tombs of the Sufi saints, developed.
  • Almost all pirs were linked with the miracles as most of the Sufis believed in the performance of miracles.
  • The different Sufi orders (silsilas) had different approaches about the matters of polity and state.

The Chisthi Silsilah

Muinuddin Chisthi, the founder of the Chisthi Silsilah in the chain of the Sufi Movement, came to India after the invasion of  Muizzuddin Muhammad Ghori and subsequently to Ajmer in 1206. He became popular as Khwaja Muinuddin after his death in 1235, his grave was visited by Muhammad Tughlaq. In the fifteenth century it was Mahmud Khalj of Mqalwa who erected the mosque and dome. After the Mughal Emperor Akbar the dargah’s patronage peaked.

It was Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki who established the presence of the Chisthi Silsilah in Delhi who had come from Transoxiana in 1221 and settled there. By Kaki’s presence the Suharwardis, another order of the Sufi Movement, were threatened and tried to force him to leave by leveling charges against him. However, Iltutmish, the then Sultan of Delhi, dismissed these attempts of Suhrawardis and forced them to relent.

The pirs of the Chisthi Silsilah placed great emphasis on the simplicity of life (life soul of the Sufi Movement), poverty, humility and Selfless devotion to God. According to the pirs of the Chisthi Silsilah, to maintain a spiritual life it is necessary to have control of the senses and this control could only be realized by the renunciation of worldly possessions. Khwaja Muinuddin Chisthi spread the message that the highest form of devotion or God was to rectify the misery of those in distress, fulfilling the requirement of the helpless and to feed the hungry. This Chisthi Silsilah of the Sufi Movement refused to accept any grant for their maintenance from the Sultans.

The best known Chisthi saint of the Sultanate period was Nizamuddin Aulia, who lived in the fourteenth century, the period marked by political change and turmoil. There are numerous stories about the life of Nizamuddin Auliya; famous among them were stories of confrontations between him and the Sultans of Delhi. It is said that the Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya used to maintain a strict policy of not engaging himself with the group and factions of the Sultan’s Court in Delhi, that earned him respect of many people. Nasiruddin Chiragh Delhi was another famous Chisthi saint of Delhi who played an active role in the political affairs of the period.

In the Deccan the Chisthi Silsilah was established by Shaikh Burhanuddin Gharib in the 13th century. Muhammad Banda Nawaz is among the famous pirs in the region; the Deccan city of Bijapur emerged as an important centre for the Sufi movement.

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The Suhrawardi Silsilah

As the constituent of the Sufi Movement, the Suhrawardi Silsilah was founded by Shihabuddin Suhrawardi in Baghdad. In India it was established by Bahuddin Zakariya. The Suhrawardi, unlike Chisthis, accepted maintenance grants from the Sultans. They believed that a Sufi should own the three attributes of property, knowledge and hal (mystical enlightenment). Suhrawardi saints took the position that this was necessary to ensure that they served the poor better. They stressed on observance of external forms of religious belief and advocated a fussion of ilm (scholarship) with mysticism.

The practices of the Chisthi Order were rejected by the pirs of Suhrawardi order; these practices involved bowing before time of initiation into silsilah. After the death of Bahuddin Zakariya, the silsialh continued to play an important role in Punjab and Sindh.

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Naqshbandi Silsilah

This Silsilah was established in India by khwaja Bahauddin Naqshband. From the very beginning the mystics of this order emphasized on the observance of Sharint and denounced all innovations or biddat. According to the philosophy of this Silsilah, the relationship between man and God was that of between the slave and the master and not the relation of a lover and beloved. They, in fact, tried to harmonize the doctrines of mysticism and teachings of orthodox Islam.

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The Qadri Silsilah

The Quadiriyya Silsilah was popular in Punjab. The pirs of this Order supported the concept of Wahadat al wajud. Miyan Mir was one of the famous pirs of this silsilah; he had enrolled the Mughal princess Jahanara and her brother Dara as disciples. In the works of the prince the influence of the Sheikh’s teachings is evident.

Shah Badakhshani, another pir of this Silsilah while dismissing orthodox elements, declared that, the infidel who had perceived reality and recognized reality was an infidel.

There was a constant tension between the liberal and orthodox view in Islam during medieval period. However, the Sufis, the flag bearers of Sufi Movement, featured on both sides. On the one side there were those like the Chisthis who held a liberal view and favoured the assimilation of local traditions’ and at the other side there were others like representatives of the Qudiriyya Silsilah who held the view that the purity of Islam was being diluted. This orthodox view was represented by the Ulema that advocated from the perspective of being upholders of the Shariat. The liberal opinion found its voice among many Sufis who were entirely against the narrow definition of Islamic laws by the ulema; and this was the main objective of the Sufi Movement that was a natural response to the growing cult of orthodoxy during the medieval period.

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