Medieval India: Bhaktism, Sufism and Sikhism (NCERT)

We have already posted about the major kingdoms and tribals societies in Medieval India. In this post let’s see in detail the devotional paths followed by people during the medieval period – Bhakitsm, Sufism, and Sikhism.

Brahminism vs Buddhism/Jainism vs Devotional Paths (Bhakitsm, Sufism, and Sikhism)
Brahminism based on caste-system was prominent during the Medieval period. But there was opposition to the same as well.

Many people were uneasy with such ideas and turned to the teachings of the Buddha or the Jainas according to which it was possible to overcome social differences and break the cycle of rebirth through
personal effort.

Others felt attracted to the idea of a Supreme God who could deliver humans from such bondage if approached with devotion (or bhakti). This idea, advocated in the Bhagavadgita, grew in popularity in the early centuries of the Common Era.

Intense devotion or love of God is the legacy of various kinds of bhakti and Sufi movements that have evolved since the eighth century. The idea of bhakti became so popular that even Buddhists and Jainas adopted these beliefs.


Bhakti was accepted as a means to attain moksha along with jnana and karma. The development of this cult took place in South India when the Nayanars and Alwars moved against the austerities propagated by the Buddhist and Jain schools and professed that ultimate devotion to god was the means to salvation.

People were no longer satisfied with a religion which emphasized only ceremonies. The cult is the combined result of the teachings of various saints, through the then times. Each of them had their own views, but the ultimate basis of the cult was a general awakening against useless religious practices and unnecessary strictness. The cult also emerged as a strong platform against casteism.

Some of the important leaders of the movement are:

  • Namadeva and Ramananda (Maharashtra and Allahabad) – Both of them taught the concept of bhakti to all the four varnas and disregarded the ban on people of different castes cooking together and sharing meals.
  • Sankara and Ramanuja – The propounders of Advaita (non-duality) and vishishta adwaitha (qualified non-duality) respectively. They believed god to be nirguna parabrahma and satguna parabrahma respectively.
  • Vallabhacharya – propounder of shuddha adwaitha or pure non-duality.
  • Chaitanya (Bengal) – relied on the use of music, dance and bhajans to get in touch with God. ‘love’ was the watchword of the chaitanya cult.
  • Kabir – was a disciple of Ramananda, and was raised by a Muslim weaver. He stood for doing away with all the unnecessary customs and rituals in both religions and bringing union between these religions.
  • Guru Nanak.
    Nimbakacharya – founder of the Radha-Krishna cult. He expressed this relation to substantiate the importance of marriage. It was also used as an example of God’s love to the people.

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