THE BHAKTI AND SUFI MOVEMENTS
According to the ancient Hindu thought, salvation or freedom from the bondage of birth which is the ultimate end of human life can be attained by three means, nam (knowledge), karma (action) and bhakti (devotion). During the period of the Sultanate series of Hindu religious thinkers and reformers set on foot, a movement for religion emphasised the last, namely devotion, which became known as the bhakti movement. I will, thus, be seen that the movement was not altogether new and it did not owe its origin to Islam as has been erroneously supposed by some modern writers.
What really happened was that this movement received impetus from the presence of iconoclastic Muslim preachers who vehemently criticised the Hindu religion and thought. The earliest exponent of this school of religious thought was a great Vaishnava teacher, Ramanuja, who flourished in the early years of the twelfth century. He did his best to popularise the cult of devotion to a personal God and preached that salvation can be had by this means alone.
The next reformer was Ramananda, a follower of the Ramanuja school, who was born in a Kanyakubja family of Allahabad. A worshipper of Rama, he preached the doctrine of bhakti to people of all castes and to both the sexes. He had twelve principal disciples, one of whom was a barber (Senadas), another a cobbler (Raidas) and the third, a Muhammadan weaver (Kabir).
The third teacher of the school was Vallabhacharya who was a worshipper of Krishna and, therefore, an exponent of the Krishna cult. He preached monism of the pure type, known technically as shuddhadwaita or pure non-duality and became very popular with the common people. Another famous saint in south India was Madhvacharya who was the founder of the Dwaita school of philosophy which said that the world is not an illusion but a reality, full of distinctions God soul and Matter are all unique in nature, and hence they are irreducible to each other.
But the greatest saint of the bhakti movement was Chaitanya who was born in a learned Brahman family of Nadia in Bengal in 1485. At the age of twenty-four, he renounced the world, became a. sadhu and spent the rest of his life preaching his message of love and devotion. He travelled over most parts of the country and spent a considerable time at Vrindaban. Chaitanya opposed the domination of the priests and complex rituals. He preached to all different castes and creeds. His influence was so profound and lasting that he is considered as an incarnation of Vishnu. He died in 1533.
The bhakti saints in the north were divided into two schools of thought – Nirguna school led by Kabir and Nanak which said that God was without any form or attributes and the Saguna school led by Chaitanya, Surdas, Mirabai, Tulsidas and Shankaradeva who believed that God had many forms and attributes. Of the notable exponents of the bhakti cult, two, namely Kabir and Nanak, stood definitely for a Compromise between Hinduism and Islam.
Kabir is said to have been adopted by a Muslim weaver of Benares. He is said to have become a disciple of Ramananda. Kabir might have been only nominally a Muslim, for his poems are, beyond the shadow of a doubt, saturated with the Hindu religious and philosophical thought of a high order. He was also influenced by Sufi thought and practices. He preached the religion of love to all people irrespective of caste and creed and worked hard throughout his life to promote unity between Hinduism and Islam. Like other reformers of the bhakti cult, he was against caste and ritual and the external formalities of religion.