Explain with examples what historians mean by the integration of cults.
Many historians have tried to understand the integration of cults. They found that there were
at least two processes at work. First of all, there was a process of disseminating
Brahmanical ideas. For example, all the Puranic texts were composed, compiled and preserved
in simple Sanskrit verse. It was done so that they may be accessible to all women and the
Shudras who were generally excluded from Vedic learning. Secondly, the Brahmans accepted and
reworked the beliefs and practices of these and other social categories. They were engaged
in a continuous dialogue between great Sanskritic Puranic traditions and little traditions
throughout the land. For example, at Puri in Orissa, the principal deity of Vishnu was
identified as Jagannatha which meant ‘Lord of the World’. The terms of great and little
traditions were coined by Robert Redfield, a sociologist of the 20th century.
Such examples of integration can also be seen in the cults of goddesses. The goddess was often worshipped in the form of a stone smeared with ochre. These local deities were usually incorporated within the Puranic framework by providing them with an identity as a wife of the principal male deities. For example, Lakshmi is associated with Vishnu as his wife and Parvati with Shiva as his wife.
To what extent do you think the architecture of mosques in the sub- continent reflects a combination of universal ideas and local traditions?
The Muslim rulers in the sub-continent got many mosques built. Their architecture was a complex blend of a universal faith and local traditions. Most of the features of these mosques are universal. They had a special orientation towards Mecca. It was evident from the placement of the mihrab (prayer niche) and the minbar (pulpit). But there were also many variations in their architecture. These variations can be seen in the roofs and the building materials. For example, a mosque was built in Kerala in the 13th century. Its roof resembled the Shikhar of the temple. Contrary to it, the roof of Atia Mosque in Bangladesh is round. The Atia Mosque was made of bricks. However the Kashmiri wood has been used in Shah Hamdan Mosque built in Srinagar on the banks of Jhelum river.
What were the similarities and dissimilarities between be-sharia and ba-sharia Sufi tradition?
There were some mystics in the Islam religion. They gave radical interpretation of the Sufi ideals. Many of them hated the Khanqah. They took to mendicancy and observed celibacy. They ignored rituals and adopted asceticism in their lives. They were known by different names such as Qulandars, Madaris, Malangi and Haidaris. They deliberately defined the sharia. So they were often called as be-sharia. On the other hand, the ba-sharia Sufis were those Sufis who complied with the ideas of Islam. However, both kinds of people belonged to Islam.
Discuss the ways in which the Alvars, Nayanars and Virashaivas expressed critiques of the caste system.
Alvars and Nayanars were the Bhakts or Saints of Tamil Nadu. The Alvars were devoted to
Vishnu whereas Nayanars were the devotees of Shiva. They travelled from place to place and
sang hymns in praise of their gods. They built many temples at sacred places. Later on,
these temples developed into centres of pilgrimage.
(i) Some historians stated that the Alvars and Nayanars started a movement against the caste system. They protested against the dominance of Brahmans and wanted to reform the caste system. That is why, all the Bhakats belonged to different castes and social strata of life. They ranged from Brahmanas to artisans and cultivators to untouchables.
(ii) The compositions of Alvars and Nayanars were as important as the Vedas. Their main anthology of compositions was the Nalayira Divyaprabandham which was described as the Tamil Veda. In other words, this work of the Alvars was considered as important as the Vedas.
(iii) The Virashaivas belonged to Karnataka and were the followers of Basavanna. They challenged the Brahmanical social order and their idea of caste. They also opposed the pollution attributed to certain groups of Brahmanas.
Describe the major teachings of either Kabir or Guru Nanak, and the ways in which these have been transmitted.
Explain the teachings of Kabir.
Describe briefly the message and teachings of Baba Guru Nanak.
‘Kabir was and is to the present a source of inspiration for those who questioned entrenched social institutions and ideas in their search for divine’. Explain.
“Kabir is perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of a poet-saint of 14th-15th centuries.” Substantiate the statement with reference to his description of ultimate reality.
Explain giving examples the traditions and philosophy of Baba Guru Nanak Dev.
Kabir had an important place among all the poet-saints. His teachings are as follows :
(i) He described the ultimate reality as Allah, Khuda, Hazrat and Pir. He also used terms like alakh (the unseen) and nirakar (the formless). These words were drawn from Vedantic traditions.
(ii) He repudiated idol-worship and polytheism.
(iii) He emphasised the Sufi concept of zikr and ishq (love) to express the Hindu practices of nam-smaran (remembrance of God’s name).
(iv) He believed that God was one though his names are different.
(v) He referred to God as formless.
(vi) He stated that salvation can be attained through Bhakti.
(vii) He opposed the religious rituals of both Hindus and Muslims.
(viii) He was against caste discriminations.
Expression of views
Kabir expressed his views in the language that was spoken and understood by the common people. After his death, the followers spread his views through various means of communication. From here it is quite clear that Kabir was a source of inspiration for those who questioned entrenched social institutions and ideas in their search for divine.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his teachings : Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in 1469, at Nankana Sahib near the River Ravi. This place is now in Pakistan. He was born in a Hindu family and learnt Persian, Arabic, Hindi and Mathematics. He was married at a very young age. However he remained aloof from this mundane world and travelled widely. He spent most of his time in the company of Sufi saints and Bhaktas. His main teachings are as follows : (i) He advocated nirguna bhakti. He firmly repudiated and rejected the religious practices like sacrifices, ritual baths, idol worship and austerities.
(ii) He rejected the scriptures of both Hindus and Muslims.
(iii) He stated that the Almighty had no gender or form.
(iv) He proposed that all his followers should connect to the Divine by remembering and repeating the Divine Name. In fact, Guru Nanak Dev Ji expressed his ideas through hymns called ‘shabads’. He expressed all his views in Punjabi, the language of the region. He recited his ‘shabads’ in various ragas.
Discuss the major beliefs and practices that characterised Sufism.
In the early centuries of Islam, a group of religious minded people turned to asceticism and
mysticism and were called as Sufis. Major beliefs and practices of Sufism are given below
(i) Sufis criticised the dogmatic definitions and scholistic methods of interpreting the Quran and Sunna (traditions of the Prophet) given by theologians. Sufis, thus, interpreted the Quran on the basis of their personal experiences.
(ii) They gave emphasis on seeking salvation through great devotion and bhakti of God.
(iii) They regarded Prophet Muhammad as a perfect human being and preached to follow the Prophet Muhammad.
(iv) They were in favour of zikr, sama, singing, dance and training of mind, through different methods under the guidance of any Auliya or Pir.
(v) They gave stress on mendicancy and celibacy. They ignored rituals and observed extreme forms of asceticism.
(vi) They used to go for Ziyarat, to tombs of Sufi saints. Music and dance were also parts of Ziyarat. The Sufis remember God either by reciting the divine names or evoking his presence through Sama or performance of mystical music. Sama was integral to the Chishtis, and exemplified interaction with indigenous devotional traditions.
(vii) According to Sufis, God is one and is all-powerful. Everyone is his creation. That is why all are equal.
(viii) According to Sufism service of mankind and needy people is as equal to the devotion of God. That is why a common kitchen (langar) was being run in Khanqah of Shaikh Nizam-ud-din Aulia which was being run on ‘futuh’ (unasked for charity). From the morning till late night this kitchen was being run to provide food for all sections of the society.
(ix) A major feature of Sufism was austerity including maintaining a distance from worldly power.
Examine how and why rulers tried to establish connections with the traditions of the Nayanars and the Sufis.
Nayanar and Alwar saints had a lot of respect among Vellal peasants. So many rulers tried to get their support. For example, the Chola kings got magnificent temples built to seek divine support. Many stone and metal statues or idols adorned these temples. They gave a concrete shape to the imagery of saint-poets who composed hymns in the language of the common people. The Chola rulers also started the singing of Shiva hymns in the Tamil language. They also took the responsibility of compiling a new book of bhakti songs. An inscription of 945 C.E. tells us that Chola King Parantak-I got built metalled statue of saint-poet Appa Sambandar and Sundarar in the Shiva Temple. These idols were shown to the people during processions.Sufi Saints and Rulers
1. Sultan : The Sultans knew that most of his people belonged to Islam. So
when the Turks established the Delhi Sultanate, they rejected the demand of Ulma to
introduce Shariat. They did so to avoid any kind of opposition from their people who were
mainly non- Muslims. So they took the help of Sufi saints who considered their spiritual
authority as the blessing of God. They were not dependent on the explanation of Shariat by
Some people believed that the Auliya could intercede on behalf of God in order to improve the material and spiritual conditions of the common people. That is why, the kings often wanted to have their tombs in the vicinity of the Sufi shrines. They used to visit the dargahs of Sufi saints. The king who first visited the dargah of Shaikh Muin-ud-din Chishti at Ajmer was Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq (1324–51). However, the first monument on the tomb of Shaikh was built by King Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji in the fifteenth century. As this dargah was on the road that linked Delhi with Gujarat, it was visited by many travellers.
2. Sufi Saints and Mughal Emperor Akbar : This dargah at Ajmer had become quite popular in the 16th century. The devotional hymns of those travellers who visited this dargah over the years inspired Emperor Akbar to visit this shrine. Akbar came to this dargah fourteen times. Sometimes he visited this place twice or thrice a year. Sometimes he visited this dargah to seek blessings for new victory and sometimes he came to seek the fulfilment of his desires. He also visited this holy place on the birthday of his son. Akbar kept this tradition till 1580. He donated a lot on all such occasions. For example in 1568, he donated a big cauldron (degh) so that food may be prepared for all the pilgrims. He also got built a mosque in the compound of the dargah.
Analyse, with illustrations, why Bhakti and Sufi thinkers, adopted a variety of languages to express their opinions.
The Bhakti and Sufi thinkers used the languages of the common people to express their
opinions. They often spoke in local languages which was well-understood by the common
people. Had they used a few distinct languages, they would not have reached to all the
people and would have gone extinct. Hence, their use of the local languages proved very
(i) The Alvars and the Nayanars made use of the Tamil language.
(ii) Bhakat Kabir wrote his poems mostly in saint language which was the distinct language of the Nirguna poets.
(iii) The Sufi saints also used the local languages. For example, Baba Farid used the Punjabi language.
(iv) Guru Nanak Dev Ji also preached in Punjabi language.
(v) The Chishtis also adopted the local languages. They conversed in Hindavi, the language of the common people.
(vi) The poets of Bijapur and Karnataka wrote short poems in Dakhani, a variant of Urdu.
Read any five of the sources included in this chapter and discuss the social and religious ideas that are expressed in them.
The Chaturvedin Brahmanas were well versed in the four Vedas. They did not keep a devotion of
service towards Lord Vishnu. That is why Lord Vishnu loved those servants who expressed
their love for their feet.
(ii) Servants or Dasas were not included in the Varna System.
(iii) Brahmanas used to pour milk on a serpent carved in stone. But if a real serpent came they tried to kill him. This thing was also evident in serving food. They used to offer dishes of food to the images of God which cannot eat but they clearly denied to give food to the servant of God who could eat.
(iv) Mughal rulers, especially Akbar, used to respect all the religions and used to protect and patronage them. People of all the religions were allowed to construct their places of worship. Aurangzeb also used to help religious teachers of different sects.