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Sufism in India (Part Three)

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Sufi Culture

Syncretic Mysticism

Islam was not the only religion in India contributing the mystical aspects of Sufism. The Bhakti movement also gained respect due mysticism popularity spreading through India. The Bhakti movement was a regional revival of Hinduism linking language, geography, and cultural identities through devotional deity worship.[59] This concept of “Bhakti” appeared in the Bhagavad Gita and the first sects emerged from south India between the 7th and 10th century.[59] The practices and theological standpoints were very similar to Sufism, often blurring the distinction between Hindus and Muslims. Bhakti devotees linked puja (Hinduism) to songs about saints and theories of life; they would meet often to sing and worship. The Brahman Bhaktis developed mystical philosophies similar to those advocated by Sufi saints. For example, the Bhaktis believed that there is a special reality beneath the illusion of life; this reality needs to be recognized to escape the cycle of reincarnation. Moreover, moksha, liberation from Earth is the ultimate goal in Hinduism.[60] These teachings run nearly parallel to Sufi concepts of dunya, tariqa, and akhirah.

Sufism helped the assimilation of the Afghani Delhi Sultanate rulers within mainstream society. By building a syncretic medieval culture tolerant and appreciative of non-Muslims, Sufi saints contributed to a growth of stability, vernacular literature, and devotional music in India.[61] One Sufi mystic, Saiyid Muhammad Ghaus Gwaliori popularized yogic practices among Sufi circles.[62] Literature related to monotheism and the Bhakti movement also formed sycretic influences in history during the Sultanate period.[63] Despite the camaraderie between Sufi saints, yogis, and Bhakti Brahmans, medieval religious existed and continue to splinter peaceful living in parts of India today.[61]


One of the most popular rituals in Sufism is the visiting of grave-tombs of Sufi saints. These have evolved into Sufi shrines and are seen among cultural and religious landscape of India. The ritual of visiting any place of significance is called ziyarat; the most common example is a visit to Prophet Muhammad’s Masjid Nabawi and grave in Medina, Saudi Arabia.[64] A saint’s tomb is a site of great veneration where blessings or baraka continue to reach the deceased holy person and are deemed (by some) to benefit visiting devotees and pilgrims. In order to show reverence to Sufi saints, kings and nobles provided large donations or waqf to preserve the tombs and renovate them architecturally.[65] Over time, these donation, rituals, annual commemorations formed into an elaborate system of accepted norms. These forms of Sufi practise created an aura of spiritual and religious traditions around prescribed dates.[66] Many orthodox or Islamic purists denounce these visiting grave rituals, especially the expectation of receiving blessings from the venerated saints. Nevertheless, these rituals have survived generations and seem adamant to remain.[66]
Musical InfluenceEdit

Music has always been present as a rich tradition among all Indian religions.[67] As an influential medium to disperse ideas, music has appealed to people for generations. The audience in India was already familiar with hymns in local languages. Thus Sufi devotional singing was instantly successful among the populations. Music transmitted Sufi ideals seamlessly. In Sufism, the term music is called “sa’ma” or literary audition. This is where poetry would be sung to instrumental music; this ritual would often put Sufis into spiritual ecstasy. The common depiction of whirling dervishes dressed in white cloaks come to picture when paired with “sa’ma.”[67] Many Sufi traditions encouraged poetry and music as part of education. Sufism spread widely with their teachings packaged in popular songs accessing mass demographics. Women were especially affected; often used to sing Sufi songs during the day and in female gatherings.[33] Sufi gatherings today are known as qawwali. One of the biggest contributors to the musical Sufi tradition was Amir Khusro (d. 1325). Known as a disciple of Nizamuddin Chishti, Amir was known as the most talented musical poet in the early Muslim period of India. He is considered the founder of Indo-Muslim devotional music traditions. Nicknamed “Parrot of India,” Amir Khusro furthered the Chishti affiliation through this rising Sufi pop culture within India.[67]
Impact of SufismEdit

The massive geographic presence of Islam in India can be explained by the tireless activity of Sufi preachers.[68] Sufism had left a prevailing impact on religious, cultural, and social life in South Asia.The mystical form of Islam was introduced by Sufi saints.[69] Sufi scholars traveling from all over continental Asia were instrumental in the social, economic, and philosophic development of India.[70][71] Besides preaching in major cities and centers of intellectual thought, Sufis reached out to poor and marginalized rural communities and preached in local dialects such as Urdu, Sindhi, Panjabi versus Persian, Turkish, and Arabic.[68] Sufism emerged as a “moral and comprehensive socio-religious force” that even influenced other religious traditions such as Hinduism.,[72][73] Their traditions of devotional practices and modest living attracted all people. Their teachings of humanity, love for God and Prophet continue to be surrounded by mystical tales and folk songs today.[68] Sufis were firm in abstaining from religious and communal conflict and strived to be peaceful elements of civil society.[71] Furthermore, it is the attitude of accommodation, adaptation, piety, and charisma that continues to help Sufism remain as a pillar of mystical Islam in India.