History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2001: Q.7

Q.7 Evaluate the impact of the Sufi and Bhakti Movements on vernacular languages and life and thought of the common people.


Evaluating the impact of the Sufi and Bhakti Movements on vernacular languages:

The bhakti and Sufi saints challenged the sanctity of ancient Indian scriptures and Sanskrit language, which had become unintelligible to the masses. They preached through vernaculars and in the local dialects of the people, which could be easily understood by them. In this way, the bhakti and Sufi movements greatly contributed to the development of vernacular languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Maithili, Marathi, Gujarati, Rajasthani etc. The theme of bhakti and Sufi enriched the literature in these languages.

South India: Tamil, Telugu and Kannada

  1. Tamil: Bhakti movement has originated in South India. Alvar and Nayanar were Vaishnavite and Shaivite saints respectively and they composed several Tamil texts to spread their ideas. The religious works Alvar saints in Tamil, songs of love and devotion, are compiled as Divya Prabandham.
  2. Telugu: Tamil bhakti also had a profound impact of the development of Telugu. Earliest major work to survive is the Telugu Mahabharata produced by three successive poets, Nannaya, Tikkana and Erra Pragada. Vaishnavism influenced the next stage of the development of Telugu literature in the reign of Vijayanagara king Krishna Deva Raya.
  3. Kannada: Kannada was also impacted by the Bhakti movement in Shavism and Vaishnavism. Basava was a 12th century Kannada poet in the Shaivite bhakti movement, Lingayat.

Eastern India: Bengali, Oriya, Assamese and Maithili

  • Bengali: In the east, Chaitanya and the poet Chandidasa, to spread their ideas of Vaishnavism, used Bengali. A new genre of Vaishnava biographies in Bengali came into being like Brindabandas’s Chaitanya Bhagvata and Krishnadas Kaviraj’s Chaitanya-Charitamitra. Later Mirza Hussein Ali composed songs in Bengali in honor of Goddess Kali.
  • Oriya: The Bhakti movement of Chaitanya and of the Vaishnava poets made a lasting influence on Oriya literature. Sarladeva, an Oriya writer, wrote Mahabharata in 14th
  • Assamese: The fifteenth century the Vaishnava bhakti leader, Shankaradev, popularized the use of Assamese in the valley of the Brahmaputra. He wrote short plays and poetry in Assamese to spread his ideas. He was followed by Madhavadas who wrote famous work Bhakti-Ratnavali in Assamese which dealt with various aspects of Bhakti.
  • Maithili: The development of Maithili language in modern Bihar was associated with Vaishnava bhakti culture. Vidyapati is most prominent poet and writer in Maithili who wrote story and poetry devoted to Radha-Krishna and Shiva.

Western India: Rajasthani, Gujarati

  1. Rajasthani: The bhakti saint, Mirabai, composed her songs in Rajasthani. She was however, influenced by the poems of bhakti saints who composed in Hindi.
  2. Gujarati: Narasimha Mehta was an 15th century bhakti saint from Gujarat who composed his devotional lyrics in Gujarati. The age of these Bhakti poets is considered as the golden age of Gujarati literature.


Baba Farid, a mystic Sufi poet was the pioneer of the new school of poetry in Punjabi. Guru Nanak contributed to the development of Punjabi through his poetry in 15th century. Later Sikh Gurus contributed to the enrichment of Punjabi language. Guru Arjun Dev compiled the Adi Granth in 1604. It contains works of some great saints of medieval India like Kabir, Farid, Namdev, Surdas, Mirabai and Ravidas. There are several poems depicting the struggle between the Sikhs and the Mughals. These war ballads are known as varsin Punjabi.

Arjun Dev also wrote the Sukhmani Sahib, one of the longest and greatest of the medieval mystic poems. Guru Gobind Singh’s writings are included in the Dasam Granth.


A major contribution in Marathi literature, which emerged in 13th century, was made by the saint-poets of the Natha cult founded by Gorakhanatha.

Other important contributors were Janadeva (wrote Jnanesvari and Amritanubhava), Eknatha, Tukaram (wrote Abhangas) and Ramdas.

Marathi literature received its high level due to the writings of Ekanth and Tukaram. Eknath compiled his great commentary on the Bhagwadgita in 1563. He also wrote Bhavartha Ramayana. Mukteshwar completed the translation of Mahabharata. Tukaram’s devotional lyrics have become popular among the masses.


Amir Khusro was a 13th century Sufi poet. He wrote poetry in Hindavi, Punjabi and Persian. Hindavi was earlier form of Hindi.

Adi Kala, the first stage of Hindi literature was the richest period in the history of Hindi literature; major literary contributions were made by bhakti and sufi poets. Bhakti poets were Kabir, Guru Nanak, Dadu, Sundaradasa, Tulsidasa (wrote Ramcharitamanas), Surdas (wrote Sur-Sagar), Mirabai etc.

The mystic poet Dadu Dayal (16th century) composed devotional songs in brajbhasha

Malik Muhammad Jaisi (wrote Padmavati), Nur Muhammad (wrote Indravati), Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan (wrote several dohas like Rahim Dohavali) contributed greatly to the development of Hindi.

Ras Khan wrote beautiful poem Prem Batika on Lord Krishna and his life in Vrindavan.


The Sufi saints wrote poetry in Urdu which greatly helped in the development of Urdu literature. The Sufi elements is quite strong is Urdu. The gazal appears to suit the Sufi mode of thought. As in the songs or padas relating to the Krishna cult, the mystical and the erotic merge in the ghazals too.

Amir Khusro composed many Urdu verses. Miranji Sham al-Ushshaq established Urdu as a recognized medium of Sufi narrative verse. Sufi saints freely transplanted Persian and Arabic religious vocabulary and form of though and experience into Urdu.

Impact of the Sufi and Bhakti Movements on life and thought of the common people:

The bhakti movement, though originated in the south assumed the form of a widespread mass movement, which embraced practically the whole of the country. Perhaps, after the decline of Buddhism, there had never been a more widespread and popular movement in India than the bhakti movement. It achieved to a considerable extent the objectives it set forth.

According to Prof. A.L. Srivastava the bhakti movement had two main objectives. One was to reform the Hindu religion so as to enable it to withstand the onslaught of Islamic propaganda and proselytism. Its second object was to bring about reconciliation between Hinduism and Islam and foster friendly relations between the two communities.

The bhakti movement succeeded to a great extent in realizing the first objective of bringing about the simplification of worship and liberalizing the traditional caste rules. The high and low among the Hindus forgot many of their prejudices and believed in the message of the reformers of the bhakti cult that all people were equal in the eyes of God and that birth was no bar to religious salvation. However, the movement failed in achieving the second objective namely, Hindu-Muslim unity. Neither the Turko-Afghan rulers nor the Muslim public accepted the Rama-Sita or Radha-Krishna cult. They refused to believe that Rama and Rahim, Ishwar and Allah were the names of the same God.

It is important to note that the bhakti reformers and the Sufi saints directly as well as indirectly created an atmosphere of brotherhood and fellow feelings between the Hindus and the Muslims. This enabled the Mughal Emperors to follow a policy of religious toleration. The bhakti movement prepared the way for Akbar’s glorious rule that tried to transform the predominantly Muslim character of the Mughal state into a national state. The bhakti movement also inspired Shivaji to establish the swarajya. Foundation of Sikhism was one of the results of the bhakti movement.

Impact of the Sufi Movement:

In the fourteenth century the influence of the Sufis declined. This was due to the doctrinal differences between different Sufi orders and assertion of Islamic orthodoxy. However, the Sufis played an important role in spreading the Muslim culture among the masses in various parts of the country.

  1. Like the bhakti movement, Sufism also contributed to a great extent in molding the character of the medieval Indian society. The Sufis stressed the essential unity between different religions and showed an attitude of toleration towards other religions and tried to bring about reconciliation between the Hindus and the Muslims.
  2. The Sufis promoted educational advancement of the society. Their khanqahs (monasteries) became centers of knowledge and wisdom.
  3. The Sufis, specially belonging to the Chisti order appealed to the lower caste Hindus, which led to large-scale conversions. The Islamic concept of equality and brotherhood attracted the lower class Hindus.
  4. The Sufis emphasized the unity of God and superiority of the path of devotion over rituals, ceremonies, pilgrimages and fasts.
  5. Initially Hindus belonging to high castes remained aloof from the Sufi saints. It was only during the reign of Akbar that some of the Persian educated Hindus began to show interest in the Sufi philosophy of the Chisti order. The liberal and tolerant attitude adopted by Akbar and his successors made the Sufi literature and thought popular among the Hindu intellectuals. The Sufi doctrine of Universal Brotherhood (sulh-i-kul) was adopted by Akbar in his attempt to establish a national state in India.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s