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Introduction
Islam entered India in the 7th century CE in the form of merchants from Saudi Arabia who traded with the western coastal regions of India. After that in the north, the religion entered Multan and Sind when the regions were captured by Muhammad Bin Qasim in the 8th century CE. Sufism, however, gained prominence in the 10th and 11th centuries during the reign of the Delhi Sultanate.
In India, Sufism adopted many native Indian concepts such as yogic postures, music and dance. Sufism found adherents among both Muslims and Hindus.
There were two broad Sufi orders:

  • Bashara – Those who obeyed Islamic laws.
  • Beshara – Those who were more liberal.

There were twelve silsilas or orders under the Bashara. The most important ones were Chisti, Suhrwardi, etc.
The Beshara was also called ‘mast kalandar’. They comprised of wandering monks who were also called Baba. They did not leave any written accounts.


≫ Chishti Order (Chishtiyyah)

  • Originated in Persia and Central Asia.
  • First saint was Abu Ishaq Shami. He established this order in Chishti-i-sharif in Afghanistan. He died in 940 CE.
  • The most important saint was Moinuddin Chishti, who died in 1236 in Ajmer. His resting place is the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan.
  • He made this order very popular in India, this continues to this day.
  • Another important saint of this order was Nizamuddin Auliya (who died in 1335 at Delhi).
  • Saints of this order mingled with people freely and led austere lives.

≫ Suhrwardi Order

  • Founded by Abdul-Wahid Abu Najib as-Suhrawardi.
  • Leaders of this order were also rich and held important government positions.
  • A famous saint is Bahauddin Zachariah.

Other important orders are: Kubrawiya, Naqshbandi, Mawlawiyya, Qadiri, etc.

≫ Important Sufi Terms in India

  • Sufi, Pir, Murshid – Saint
  • Murid – Followers
  • Khanqah – Place where Sufis lived, hospices
  • Khalifa – Disciples
  • Zikr – Recitation of God’s name
  • Tauba – Repentance
  • Fanaa – Spiritual merging with the Almighty
  • Urs – Death
  • Sama – Musical gathering
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FAQs on Sufism in India - UPSC

1. What is Sufism and how does it relate to India?
Ans. Sufism is a mystical and spiritual dimension of Islam that emphasizes the personal experience of the divine. It involves seeking a direct connection with God through prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices. In India, Sufism has a long and rich history, dating back to the medieval period. It has played a significant role in shaping Indian culture and society by promoting religious tolerance, syncretism, and harmony among different communities.
2. Who are the famous Sufi saints in India?
Ans. India has been home to numerous Sufi saints who have left a lasting impact on the country's spiritual landscape. Some of the famous Sufi saints in India include Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah, and Sheikh Salim Chishti. These saints preached love, compassion, and unity, attracting a large number of followers from different faiths.
3. How has Sufism influenced Indian music and art?
Ans. Sufism has had a profound influence on Indian music and art forms. Sufi music, known as Qawwali, has its roots in the devotional practices of Sufi saints. It combines soul-stirring poetry with melodic tunes and is often performed in Sufi shrines and dargahs. Sufi poetry has also inspired renowned Indian poets and writers, such as Amir Khusro and Bulleh Shah. Additionally, Sufi art, characterized by vibrant colors and intricate designs, can be seen in the architecture of Sufi shrines and mosques in India.
4. How does Sufism promote religious harmony in India?
Ans. Sufism promotes religious harmony in India through its teachings of love, tolerance, and acceptance. Sufi saints have been known to welcome people of all religions and backgrounds into their gatherings and dargahs. They have emphasized the unity of all humanity and the importance of transcending religious boundaries. Sufi practices and rituals often involve elements from different faiths, fostering a sense of shared spirituality and interfaith dialogue.
5. What is the significance of Sufi shrines in India?
Ans. Sufi shrines hold immense significance in India as they are seen as spiritual centers where people can seek blessings and guidance. These shrines are dedicated to Sufi saints and are believed to possess a divine presence. People from various religious backgrounds visit these shrines to offer prayers, seek solace, and participate in Sufi rituals. These shrines also serve as spaces for communal harmony and social welfare, with many offering free meals and shelter to the needy.
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