There was strong criticism of rituals and other aspects of conventional religion and social order by a number of religious groups that emerged during the period. They used simple logical arguments to support their ideas. Nathpanthis, Siddhacharas and Yogis were few such groups who criticized rituals as mentioned above. They became particularly popular among low castes and their criticism of existing practices created the ground for devotional religion to become a popular force in north India.
They advocated renunciation of the world. According to them, the path to salvation lay in meditation on the formless Ultimate Reality and the realization of oneness with it. For putting their ideas into practice, they suggested intense training of the mind and body through practices, like yogasanas, breathing exercises and meditation.
Islam: Islam propagated strict monotheism which means submission to one God. It rejected idol worship and simplified rituals of worship considerably, into collective prayers. At the same time, Muslim scholars developed a holy law that was called Shariat.
Sufis were Muslim mystics. The sants had a lot in common with the Sufis. It is believed that they adopted many ideas of each other. They rejected outward religiosity, elaborate rituals and codes of behavior demanded by Muslim religious scholars.
They also composed poems like the saint-poets. Even their poems expressed their feelings. By including anecdotes and fables, a rich literature in prose developed around them. Ghazzali, Rumi and Sadi were the great Sufis of Central Asia.
The Ideas of Sufis: They also, like the Nathpanthis, Siddhas and Yogis, believed that the heart can be trained to look at the world in a different way.
Methods of Sufis: For implementing their ideas and beliefs they developed elaborate methods of training using:
These were developed under the guidance of a master or pir. This led to the emergence of silsilas, a genealogy of Sufi teachers, each following a slightly different method of instruction and ritual practice.
Eleventh century onwards, many Sufis from Central Asia settled in Hindustan. The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate strengthened the process when major Sufi centres developed all over the subcontinent. One of the most influential orders was the Chishti silsila. It had a long line of teachers such as:
|Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti||Ajmer|
|Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and Khwaja Nizammudin Auliya||Delhi|
Sufi Masters: People often attributed Sufi masters with miraculous powers that could relieve others of their illnesses and troubles. Sufi masters held their assemblies in their khanqahs or hospices. A variety of devotees including members from the royalty and nobility, and the ordinary, flocked to these assemblies. They discussed spiritual matters, sought the saints’ blessings in solving their worldly problems, or simply attended the music and dance sessions. The tomb or dargah of a Sufi saint became a place of pilgrimage to which people of all faiths thronged in very large numbers.
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