Give examples of differences and conflicts between religious beliefs and practices during 8th century and 18th century.


Explain the textual traditions regarding religious beliefs.

There were conflicts during 8th and 18th century between different methods of worship, to attain state’s grants and to gain a place anywhere. Following examples could be given in this regard:

(i)    Worship of Goddess : Forms of worship of goddess were often classified as Tantric. Tantric practices were widespread in many parts of subcontinent. These practices were open for both men and women.

Except this, within the ritual context differences of caste and class were often ignored. Many of these ideas also influenced Shaivism and Buddhism. Especially in the norhtern, eastern and southern parts of subcontinent, all these beliefs and practices were classified in the form of Hindu.

(ii)    Differences in Vedic and Puranic Traditions : These differences would become clear if we would compare Vedic and Puranic traditions. Deities like Agni, Indra and Soma had completely lost their importance during Vedic age. They are rarely visible in textual or visual representatives. But we can see a glimpse of Vishnu, Shiva and the goddess in Vedic mantras, probably their Puranic form was changed. However, even after these discrepancies, the Vedas were continued to be regarded as authoritative.

(iii)    Situation of Conflict : There were sometimes conflicting situations as well. Followers of Vedic tradition generally condemned those practices which went beyond the closely regulated contact with the divine through performance of precisely chanted mantras. On the other hand there were people who were engaged in tantric practices. They often ignored the authority of the Vedas. Except this, devotees often tried to project their respective deity, Shiva or Vishnu, as supreme. Relations with other traditions like Jainism or Buddhism were also often fraught with tension. Even then there were less chances of open conflict. Example of Bhakti tradition could be given in this regard.

(iv) Bhakti Tradition : Bhakti tradition included the devotion ranged from the routine worship of deities within temples to ecstatic adoration when devotees could attain a state like a trance. The singing and chanting of devotional compositions was a part of this type of worship. It was particularly applicable on Vaishnava and Shiva sects.



Explain how the biography of the saint poetess Mirabai has been primarily constructed. How did she defy the norms of society?

I. Biography of Mirabai : Mira, the devotee of Giridhar Gopal occupies special position among the saints of medieval times. The Ganges of devotion, which she flooded with the poetry springing out of her heart, influenced not on to barren land of Rajasthan but the whole of northern India.

Mira was born in Kurki or Chaukri Village of the paragana of Merta or Rajasthan in about 1516 AD. Mira was the daughter of Rana Ratan Singh Rathor, ruler of Jodhpur. Her mother died when she was only 4-5 years old. Her grandfather brought her up. She was much influenced by the religious ideas of her grandfather.

At the age of 18 years, Mira was married to Bhojraj, the son of Sangram Singh, the ruler of Mewar.But the married life of Mira was very short-lived. Only a year after her marriage, Mira’s husband died. Thus, Mira became a widow at an early age. After sometime, Mira’s father-in-law Rana Sangram Singh also died. Now Mira was left without any support. She, therefore, renouncing worldly atachments and lost in devotion to Lord Krishna. She showed hospitality towards saints, and wearing anklets in her feet, she took to dancing before the idol of Krishna. People at her in-law’s house took her activities at contrary to the dignity of the family. They, therefore, torturing her in different ways, tried to put an end to her life. It is said that fed up with her in-laws, Mira sought the advice of Tulsidas through a letter written to him. Tulsidas replied to Mira as under :

“Who does not love Rama and Sita, should be deserted like thousand of enemies, however affectionate he may be to you.”

Seeking this reply, Mira left home and went to Brindaban. After staying there for some time, Mira went to Dwarika. It is said that Brahmanas from her parental home as well as in-laws went to fetch her from Dwarika but she did not return. She died in Dwarika in 1574 AD.

II. How did Mirabai defy the norms of Society :

(a)    Mirabai (c. fifteenth-sixteenth centuries) is perhaps the best-known woman poet within the bhakti tradition. Biographies have been reconstructed primarily from the bhajans attributed to her, which were transmitted orally for centuries. According to these, she was a Rajput princess from Merta in Marwar who was married against her wishes to a prince of the Sisodia clan of Mewar, Rajasthan. She defied her husband and did not submit to the traditional role of wife and mother,instead recognising Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu as her lover.

(b)    According to some traditions, her preceptor was Raidas, a leather worker. This would indicate her defiance of the norms of caste society.

(c)    Although Mirabai did not attract a sect or group of followers, she has been recognised as a source of inspirations for centuries.



What were the similarities between Sufism and Bhakti Movement?


Explain the concept of Sufism and its main features.

There is no denying the fact that there was a remarkable similarity between the ideologies of Sufism and Bhakti Movement which exhibits a clear reflection of the contemporary social and religious life of the people. The following facts confirm this statement:

1.    Development of Goodwill amongst Hindu and Muslims : Both the communities sternly opposed the discrimination of castes, religions and divisions. They stressed the same before the people that basically there are no differences between the Hindus and Mohammedans. They are both the children of God. They told that the simple route to the attainment of Godlihood lies in the love for humanity. Both the Hindus and the Mohammedans treated Kabir, Farid and Noor-ud-din as their ideals.

2.    Religious Tolerance : As a result of influence of the sermons of the saints of Bhakti Movement and Sufism, religious fanaticism grew less among the people. Even Sultans of Delhi and the Mughal rulers too were influenced by their sermons and they followed liberal policy.

3.    Encouragement to the Regional Literature : The Bhakti saints compose their compositions in local languages. Guru Nanak wrote in Punjabi, Kabir in Hindi, Chaitanya in Bangla whereas the sufi saints and the Faqirs wrote in Urdu.

4.    Feelings of Social Service : The sufi saints and the Bhakti poets appealed to the helpless that they should serve the poor, helpless and the orphans. Most probably many Sultans of Delhi had opened orphanages and charity houses under the influence of the sufi saints.

5.    Increase in Pilgrimages : Both the sufi and the Bhakti saints were popular among the people. Hence their tombs and shrines became the places of pilgrimages. Both the Hindus and Mohammedans visited those places.


Explain the significance of Kabir’s poems and the traditions he drew to describe the ultimate reality.

(a) Kabir (c. fourteenth-fifteenth centuries) is perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of a poet-saint who emerged within this context. Historians have painstakingly tried to reconstruct his life and times through a study of compositions attributed to him as well as later hagiographies.

(b)    Verses ascribed to Kabir have been compiled in three distinct but overlapping traditions. The Kabir Bijak is preserved by the Kabirpanth (the path or sect of Kabir) in Varanasi and elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh, the Kabir Granthavali is associated with the Dadupanth in Rajasthan, and many of his compositions are found in the Adi Granth Sahib.

(c)    Kabir’s poems have survived in several languages and dialects, and some are composed in the special language of nirguna poets, the saint bhasha.

(d) Diverse and sometimes conflicting ideas are expressed in these poems. Some poems draw on Islamic ideas and use monotheism and iconoclasm to attack Hindu polytheism and idol worship.

(e) Just as Kabir’s ideas probably crystallised through dialogue and deba e explicit or implicit with the traditions of sufis and yogis in the region of Awadh (part of present day Uttar Pradesh), his legacy was claimed by several groups, who remembered him and continue to do so.

(f) However, the attributed to Kabir, he use the words guru and satguru, but do not mention the name of any specific preceptor.


Explain giving examples the connection between the State and the Bhakti and Sufi traditions.

Relation Between State and Bhakti Tradition:

(i)    The initial Bhakti movement was launched under the leadership of Alvars and Nayanars. The Alvars were the disciples of Lord Vishnu whereas the Nayanars were the devotees of Lord Shiva. They settled at one place and roamed in the nearby areas. They recited hymns in praise of their idol in Tamil language.

(ii)    During their travels, the Alvars and Nayanars declared some sacred places as the abode of their respective deities. Later on large temples were constructed on these places and all these places became the centres of pilgrimage.

(iii)    The central point of the Tamil devotional creations was their opposition to Buddhism and Jainism. This feeling of opposition is more distinct in the creations of the saints belonging to the Nayanar saints. According to the historians, the main reason for their opposition was that there was a competition between different religious communities to seek state patronage.

(iv)    The powerful Chola rulers supported the Brahmanical and Bhakti tradition. They donated land for the construction of temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.

(v)    The vast and imposing temples of Lord Shiva in Chidambram, Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram were built with the help of the Chola rulers.

(vi)    The Alvar and Nayanar saints were honoured by the Vallal peasants. Even the rulers also tried to seek their help and patronage. For example, the Chola rulers claimed to get the divine support. They also got built vast and magnificent temples to expose their grandeur and authority. These temples had statues made of stone and metal.

(vii)    An edict of 945 AD mentioned that a Chola ruler Parantak-I got built the metal statues of saint poet Sambandar and Sundrar. He got them installed in the Shiva temple.

(viii)    The temples of North India especially emphasise the worship of Vishnu and Shiva. All these temples were basically built with the help of the rulers.

Relation between Sufi Saints and State :

(i)    Major characteristic of the Chishti community was its simple and disciplined life. They emphasised to remain away from the mundane authority. But it did not mean to keep aloof from the political power. The Chishtis accepted all the donations made by the royal rulers. However they themselves never demanded such gifts or donations. The Sultans gave khanqahs land in donation. Many trusts were set up regarding grants, gifts and donations.

(ii)    The Chishtis accepted donation both in cash and kind. But they never accumulated donations. They spent them on immediate requirements like food, clothes, living quarters and ritual necessities. It enhanced the moral authority of the Shaikhs who attracted people from all walks of life. They became very popular as they possessed piety, scholarship, miraculous powers and royal patronage. That is why, all the rulers tried to secure their support.

(iii)    The Sultans knew that most of their subjects did not follow Islam. So when the Turks set up the Delhi Sultanate, they rejected the wish of the ulama to impose Shariat as state law. They expected opposition from their subjects as majority of them were non-Muslims. They depended on the sufis who derived their authority directly from God. They did not depend on jurists to interpret the Shariat.

(iv) There are many examples of conflict between the Sultans and the sufis. Both wanted to assert their authority. Both emphasised the prostration and kissing of the feet. Because of the moral authority of the Chishtis, the kings often wanted their tombs to be in the vicinity of Rufi shrines. On the other hand, the sufi Shaikhs were also addressed with high-sounding titles. For example, the disciples of Nizamuddin Auliya.