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Medieval india from sultanat to the mughals - səhifə 24

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The Chishti saints laid great emphasis on a life of simplicity, poverty, humility and selfless devotion to God. They carried the concept of poverty to such an extreme that they did not live in pucca houses but mud covered and thatched houses, and wore patched clothes. They and their families sometiems remained without food for days. They considered that control of the senses was necessary for a spiritual life. For the purpose, they resorted to ascetic practices, such as fasting, holding of the breath etc. and self-mortification through penances. They advocated renunciation of the world, by which they meant renouncing wealth, government service, and association with (loose) women. This did not mean withdrawal from society. For Muinuddin Chishti, the highest form of devotion to God was nothing but to redress the misery of those in distress, to fulfil the needs of the helpless, and to feed the hungry. According to Nizamuddin Auliya, altruistic service was more important than obligatory prayers. Except Nizamuddin Auliya, all the leading Chishti saints were married, and had a family. Thus, married life for the saint was accepted, as long as it did not come in the way of his leading a spiritual life.

The Chishtis generally divided people into four categories. Of these, the mystics who preached to the others came in the highesst category, their disciples next. The rulers and the scholarly elements came in the third category, and the common people who had neither learning nor desire for spiritual elevation came in the fourth. For the disciples, the Chishtis advocated earning their livelihood from a profession. Agriculture and business was also accepted, but they were advised not to accumulate money beyond their daily needs. Honesty and fair dealing in business was emphasised. Family responsibility


was accepted, but again it was not to be a barrier in spiritual progress. The values of forbearance, avoiding anger, or causing hurt to others, and a policy of love and tolerance or avoiding violence was emphasised, though it cannot be called a policy of non-violence because that was concerned with the attitude of the state.

The Chishtis made no discrimination between people on the basis of their wealth, religious beliefs, family status etc. At a time when the Turks had largely forgotten the Islamic concept of brotherhood, and looked down on the ordinary people, including the converts, the sufi attitude of non-discrimiation not only made them popular, but helped to relieve social tensions. Thus, the doors of Niamuddin Auliya's Jamaat-khana were always open to people for sympathy, support and advice. Although the main concern of the sufi saints was the amelioration of the condition of Muslims, their care and concern did not exclude the Hindus. Muinuddin Chishti's pupil, Hamiduddin Nagauri, was so careful of Hindu sentiments that he had become a vegetarian, and constantly urged his disciples to give up meat-eating.

The Chishti saints freely assoicated with Hindu and Jain yogis, and discussed with them various matters, especially yogic exercises. While welcoming voluntary conversions, they considered that preaching contributed little to the change of faith, only example. However, the Chishti saints were fully conscious of the strength of the Hindu faith. As a mystic exhorted:

"Oh you who sneer at the idolatry of the Hindus, learn also from him how worship is done." On one occasion, while strolling on his terrace with his friend, the poet Amir Khusrau, Nizamuddin Auliya saw a group of Hindus at worship. Greatly impressed at their devotion, he said to him, "Every community has its own path and faith, and its own way of worship."

It was this broad tolerance which went a long way in making the Chishtis a success in the predominantly non-Muslim Ganga Valley.

However, sufi orders differed in their attitude towards poverty, and the extent of tolerance to non-Muslims. The Qubrawiya order in Kashmir encouraged their supporters to demolish and desecrate Hindu temples. At the same time, they kept good relations with the Hindus.


The Suhrawardis

The Suhrawardis, while treading the same mystic path, differed from the Chishtis in important aspects. Thus, Bahauddin Zakariya, the founder of the order in India, did not believe in starvation or self-mortification but favoured an ordinary life in food and dress. Nor did he consider poverty to be a necessary means for a spiritual life. Unlike the Chishtis who refused to accept grant of villages as iqta, or grants for the maintenance of the saints and their khanqahs, but only accepted unsolicited gifts (futuh), or uncultivated land (ihya) where the sufis could labour themselves, the Suhrawardis acceptd royal grants. Thus, Bahaduddin Zakariya was rich, and even led a life of affluence. He justified his riches by arguing that money enabled him to serve better the poor who thronged around him. Regarding the orthodox ulema, Bahauddin Zakariya laid emphasis on observing all the external forms of religion, i.e. namaz, roza, etc. He advocated a combination of scholarship (ilm) with mysticism. He did not reject sama or musical gathering, but indulged in it only occasionally. Despite this, the hostility of the orthodox ulema towards Bahauddin Zakariya did not abate. The successors of Bahauddin Zakariya continued to play a leading role in Punjab and Sindh for a century and a half after his death. In course of time, the Suharwardis extended their influence in Gujarat, Bengal and Kashmir. The Suhrawardis were opposed to some of the Hindu practices adopted by the Chishtis, such as bowing before the shaikh, presenting water to visitors, tonsuring the head of a new entrant to the mystic order etc. They were also more keen on conversions. Thus, the Subrawardi saint, Shaikh Jamaluddin, who had settled in Bengal, did not hesitate in making forcible conversions, and pulling down a Hindu temple at Devatalla near Pandua in order to create his khanqah there.

There was a major difference, also, in the attitude of the Chishtis and Suhrawardis towards the State. We are told that the Chishtis believed in cutting themselves off from kings, politics and government service because government service "distracted" a mystic from the single minded pursuit of the ideal of "living for the Lord alone". We are further told that medieval thinkers, such as Imam Ghazali, considered all the income of the State to come from prohibited sources so that service paid from these sources was illegal; and that the entire pattern of life at the court and the government was alien to the true spirit of Islam. Therefore, Imam Ghazali adds: "One should neither desire their continuation, nor praise them, nor enquire about their affairs, nor keep contact with their associates."


However, Islamic tradition was not uniform on this matter. While some of the orthodox ulema also pointed out the essentially un-Islamic aspects of the state as it evolved after the rule of the first four Caliphs, they and some sufis themselves underlined that the rulers of the world were the chosen of God the Almighty, and that under no condition showing disrespect to them or disobeying their orders was proper or permitted in sharia. They also quoted the Tradition that the Prophet had said 'Whoever obeys the sultan, obeys God and whoever obeys God obtains salvation.'

The Suhrawardi sufis, therefore, did not reject government service, The founder of the silsilah, Shihabuddin Subrawardi, had close contact with the Caliph, preached in Baghdad under court patronage, and continued in government service. Bahauddin Zakariya, the founder of the Suhrawardi silsilah in India, accepted this tration, and argued that visits to royal courts provided the saints an opportunities to help the poor people by getting their grievances redressed by the sultan. He also felt that there was no reason why the sultan and his associates should be deprived of the spiritual ministrations of the saints.

The Suhrawardi saints also took active part in politics. Thus, Bahauddin Zakariya openly sided with Iltutmish, and invited Iltutmish when the Sultan wanted to add Sindh to his dominions by ousting Qubacha, although the Shaikh had received full backing and support from Qubacha.

The attitude of the Suhrawardi saints towards state and politics cannot be explained away by saying that the early Turkish sultans stood in need of the support of the religious classes in order to consolidate their power and build up an integrated and compact polity, because this argument would apply equally for the Chishtis. As we have shown, both the orthodox clerical elements and many sufis were ambivalent in their attitude towards the state. To most of them it was a necessary evil. Even then, they expected justice from the Sultans, and protection of the poor. A Chishti saint quoted the Prophet as saying: "If any woman goes to bed hungry in any town of a kingdom, she would hold the collar of the ruler on the Day of Judgement which is sure to come."

Thus, even the Chishtis expected the ruler to be benevolent. In such a situation, they could hardly adopt an attitude of hostility towards the state. The attempt of some modern historians to present the Chishtis as the representative of the masses, whereas the governing class by its very nature was an exploiting class, and an association with them would mean association with the exploiters,


appears to be a grossly mistaken view of the situation. The Chishti saints tried to associate closely with the masses, but they can hardly be called representatives of the masses any more than the official clergy. Unlike Central Asia where many of the sufis were drawn from various professions—such as attar (dealer in perfumes or drugs), hallaj (cotton dresser), qassab (butcher), haddad (blacksmith) etc. in India most of the sufis came from the class of clergymen. Perhaps, Nasiruddin Chiragh, whose father was a dealer in pashmina shawls, was the only exception. While rejecting grant of villages, the Chishtis largely depended on futuh or unsolicited grants. The main source of this was undoubtedly the nobility supplemented by grants from merchants. The latter was an important source and most khanqahs were significantly located at or near important trade routes. But neither of these sections would have been provided futuh if the attitude of the ruler was one of hostility or opposition. Broadly, rulers welcomed the sufi because they considered that their blessings, and their goodwill with the people would not only enhance their own prestige but legitimize their position. Also, the sufis were a force of social harmony, and acted as a kind of a device for letting off steam to offset social tensions and mass discontent.

The Chishti saints, it would seem, were not as much opposed to government service and the state as has sometimes been made out. The full restrictions about government service and association with the rulers applied only to those disciples who were given patents of spiritual authority, and were asked to lead others on the mystic path. The ordinary disciples were not so strictly barred from government service. Shaikh Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehli said that government service was not necessarily an obstacle to contemplation and meditation. What the Chishti saints advocated, above all, was labour in which, as we have seen, crafts and agriculture were given primacy.

Thus, what the Chishtis advocated was maintaining a certain distance from the state and the ruling classes, while trying to create conditions in which the state could function in a more humanitarian way. There was no fundamental clash of interests between the two, though there were differences of approach. The proper functioning of the state was necessary for the sufis to tread the path of mysticism in peace, and the sufi attempt to create harmony helped in the process of the consolidation of the state and the Muslim society.

The Chishti advocacy of toleration between peoples of different faiths, their opening the doors of their khanqahs to all irrespective


of their religious beliefs, their attitude of benevolence to all, their association with Hindu and Jain Yogis, and using Hindavi in their conversation and in their musical assemblies, created an atmosphere of greater interaction between the two major communities, the Hindus and the Muslims. It also helped, to some extent, to mitigate the harsher aspects of Turkish rule, and the manner in which Islam was interpreted by some of the Turkish warriors and some orthodox clergymen. However, it would be an exaggeration to believe that they were the means of a social and cultural revolution, as some modern scholars have argued. For such a revolution, a structural change in society was necessary which was hardly feasible and which, in any case, was beyond the capacity of the saints. Sufi saints in different parts of the country, including the wandering saints, followed their own courses, sometimes liberal, sometimes orthodox, sometimes a combination of the two. These need to be studied, without making broad generalisations, though we would not be too far wrong in saying that, on balance, and with some exceptions, the sufis followed a liberal rather than an illiberal course.

Some of the negative aspects of the sufi ideology should, not be lost sight of. The tradition of exaggerated reverence to the saint brought many devotees to the door of image worship, particularly when after the death of a saint, his tomb became an object almost of worship. Implicit obedience to the wishes of the saint sometimes created an atmosphere of sycophancy. That is why some of the wandering minstrels, the qalandars, were strongly opposed to the khanqahs.

Along with excessive book learning, the sufis denounced philosophy which they equated to rationalism. The orthodox ulema and the sufis included among the philosophers natural scientists. According to the biographer of Nizamuddin Auliya, the saint told the story how a philosopher, carrying books, had approached a Caliph, and told him that the motion of the heavens was of three kinds—natural, voluntary and involuntary. If a stone was thrown into the air it must fall to the ground, so such a motion was natural. An involuntary motion was beyond the control of human beings. Based on such an argument, the motion of the heavens was involuntary, said the philosopher. Shaikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi rushed to the Caliph to contradict this. He stressed that the involuntary nature of the heavenly motions was due to the miraculous activity of angels acting under divine command. He then proceeded to show the supernatural sight of angles moving the heavens.


Thus, under the influence of the sufis, miracle mongering and suspicion about science and scientists increased. It was in these adverse circumstances that philosophy and natural sciences grew in Central and West Asia, and in India during the subsequent centuries.

(b) The Bhakti Movement: Early Origins

The bhakti movement which stressed mystic realization of God within oneself, and the ultimate union of the individual with God, based on loving devotion on the part of the devotee and God's grace (prasad), had been at work in India long before the growth of sufism in Islam, and its arrival in India. The seed of bhakti can be traced to the Vedas in which some hymns are full of the sense of wonder before divinity which is sought to be perceived in a mystic manner. Such sentiments are also found in the Upanishads.

As the worship of personal Gods—Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh grew in the post-Vedic age, the concept of bhakti or personal devotion to them also grew. Thus, we find elements of bhakti in the Bhagawata movement aimed at Vasudeva (later associated with Krishna) in the post-Maurya period, as also the rise of the Pashupat school devoted to the worship of Siva. The worship of a gracious (avakokita) Buddha who had refused nirvana in order to deal with the sufferings of humanity also arose at this time. In the final shape given to the Ramayana and Mahabharata, of which the Bhagawat Gita formed a significant part, bhakti was considered, along with jnana and karma, a path to salvation.

Two aspects of bhakti may be distinguished here. One was the path of devotion based on service to God with the devotee (bhakta) throwing himself completely at the mercy of God. This was the path of prapatti or surrender. It has been argued that the word bhakta, derived from the root bhai, meaning 'to apportion' literally means one who enjoys a share. Since the word bhakta was originally employed to denote a servant or retainer who shared the wealth of his master, in course of time the word was used for a devotee in view of his dasabhava or attitude of service. In any case, the path of prapatti was an easy one, and could be followed even by slaves, retainers and the lowly people because it did not need any book-learning or preparation.

The second aspect of bhakti was that of a bond based on pure love. This was based on equality rather than service, with the ideal changing from emancipation to that of participation in the life


divine. This was exemplified in the legend of Prahald set out in the Vishnu Purana in which Prahald prays that he may be blessed with unwavering devotion to God wherever he is born. But gradually this bond was sought to be explained in terms of carnal love between a lover and his beloved, and the example chosen was the relationship of Krishna with Radha and the gopis. This, apparently, was first expounded in the Bhagawata Puran which is generally dated to the 9th century.

It was the latter aspect of bhakti, of loving devotion to Siva and Vishnu, which was emphasized by a remarkable series of saints who flourished in south India between the latter part of the 6th and the 10th centuries. Starting from the Tamil lands under the Pallava rulers, bhakti spread to different parts of south India, including the Pandya kingdom in southern Tamil lands, and to the Chera kingdom in Kerala. There were several new features in this movement. It was preached and spread by a large number of popular saints, called Adiyars or Nayanars who were Saivites, and the Alvars who were worshipers of Vishnu. Among them we find not only brahmans but many from low castes. There was among them a woman, Andal, who said that the relation of a devotee with God was like that of a loving wife towards her husband. The broad-based character of the saints made it clear that their message of loving devotion was not meant for any one section, but could be followed by all, irrespective of caste, family or sex. To that extent, the movement had an egalitarian approach which disregarded caste.

The main attack of the Nayanars and Alvars was against Buddhism and Jainism which were dominant in south India at the time. These saints were able to wean over people to their side because Buddhism and Jainism had, in course of time, become hide-bound, and enmeshed in meaningless ritualism with an emphasis on austerities to inflict pain on the body. Thus, they no longer catered to the emotional needs of the people. The Nayanars and the Alvars preached a simple faith in the language of the people, Tamil, using or incorporating local myths and legends. Thus, they were able to make a strong emotional appeal.

The movement was pushed forward by the support of many local rulers, the Pallava rulers to begin with. The change in the attitude of the rulers is generally ascribed to the influence of some eminent saint whose aura of saintliness combined with his capacity to make miracles, to the discomfiture of their Buddhist or Jain opponents, led to the change in the attitude of the ruler. Sometimes, the leading minister or the queen is also brought into the


picture. While all these must have undoubtedly played a role, the rulers may have had their own political considerations. They could hope for greater legitimacy by allying themselves to a popular movement. This was reinforced by the rise of temples which played a role in stabilizing society, expanding agriculture and even taking part in trade. The temples were strengthened by royal gifts, including grant of lands, and the rulers were strengthened by the brahmans legitimizing their powers and position. In the immediate context, royal support was used, on occasions, to persecute the Jains and Buddhists. Thus, the Pallava king, Mahendra Varman, destroyed a Jain monastery after ousting the Jains from his court. Another rulers, Neduraman, is reputed to have impaled several thousands of Jains.

At the intellectual level, the Buddhist ideas and beliefs were given a death blow by Sankara who is placed at the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th century. Sankara systematized the Vedanta system, and was the great exponent of the phiosophy of advaita or non-dualism. According to him, the separation of God and the phenomenal world was due to ignorance, and the way to salvation was through the realization, by means of knowledge (jnan), that God and the created world was one. He used dialectics to demolish Buddhist ideas, and to establish that the Vedas were the fountain-head of knowledge.

With its trimph over Buddhism and Jainism, the bhakti movement in south India slowly began to lose its open, egalitarian character. While the saints often disregarded the caste taboos, they did not challenge the caste system as such, or the primacy of the brahmans. In the temples which proliferated, the deity was treated as a living king, and an elaborate ritual and ceremonial was developed to emphasize his position. These ceremonials were presided over by the brahmans who continued to use the traditional caste restrictions. This situation was sought to be modified by Ramanuja who is placed in the eleventh century. Ramanuja argued that for salvation, the grace of God was more important than knowledge about him. He further argued that the path of bhakti was open to all, irrespective of caste, and enrolled disciples from all castes. Unlike the Nayanars and Alvars who distrusted book learning, Ramanuja tried to link bhakti with the tradition of the Vedas.

Thus, Ramanuja was a bridge between the popular movement based on bhakti, and total surrender to God (prapatti), and the upper caste movement based on the Vedas. In this way, it was Ramanuja rather than Sankar who stood forth as the guiding spirit


of a movement which brought important changes in popular religion, attitude to God, and His relationship with man. He, thus, prepared the ground for meeting the challenges of a new age.

It may be mentioned in passing that a more radical movement, represented by the Vir Shaiva or Lingayats, rose to prominence in the 12th century in parts of modern Karnataka. An old sect which was revised and reformed by Basava, the brahman prime minister of the Chalukyan rulers, the Lingayats were worshippers of Siva, and laid emphasis on love towards God, and bhakti as the means of attaining the goals of human life. They attached great importance to the guru, and rejected fasts, feasts or pilgrimages. They were strongly opposed to Buddhism and Jainism, as also to the Brahmans, and the values and social institutions associated with them. They upheld human equality, and denounced the caste system. All those who joined the sect were to eat together, intermarry, and to live in unity. They disapproved of child marriage. Divorce was allowed. Widows were treated with respect and they were allowed to marry again.

Popular Bhakti Movement in North India

Although the sentiment of bhakti had grown in the early phase in north India, its development as a mass phenomenon took place in the south, as we have seen. The popular bhakti movement which began in north India from the 14th-15th centuries onwards has often been considered an off-shoot of the southern movement. Interaction in the cultural field between north and south India was a continuous process, both among the Hindus and among the Buddhist and Jain scholars. During the 9th century, Sankara is supposed to have undertaken a journey to north India to engage in scholarly discussions because, according to tradition, such discussions in north and south were necessary to establish a system of thought. What is notable, however, is that despite this strong tradition, and the early origins of bhakti in north India, bhakti did not become a mass phenomenon in north India till the fifteenth century. This gap of five hundred years or more can only be explained in terms of the social, political and cultural conditions obtaining in the two regions. In south India, the bhakti movement began as a reaction against the rigidities of the Buddhists and the Jains. In north India, the Buddhists and the Jains had been ousted from their preeminent position much earlier, the Gupta rulers being strong champions of Hinduism Harsh, though a votary of Siva, had not discriminated

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