In medieval South India, poet-saints emerged as leaders around whom there developed a community of devotees. This led to the creation of Bhakti movement that acknowledged not just women but people of lower castes as well. Bhakti movement was started by Alvars (worshippers of Vishnu) and by Nayanars (worshippers of Shiva). Both Alvars and Nayanars were against the caste culture and dominance of Brahmanas. They used the language of the masses (Tamil, Telugu) to preach and propagate their ideas and this gained them support from both the masses and the rulers.
Adi Shankaracharya was the most prominent Bhakti Saint in South India. He wrote commentaries on Upanishads and gave the doctrine of Advaita. From South India, Bhakti reached Maharashtra where it was popularized by Jnaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram. It then reached North India where it was a byproduct of the Delhi Sultanate. In North India, Bhakti Movement was divided into Saguna (with attributes) and Nirguna (without attributes) Bhakti. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Tulsi Das, Mira Bai were some important Saguna Bhakti saints whereas Nirguna Bhakti was practiced by Kabeer Das and Guru Nanak among others.
Sufism was started in West Asia as an Islam reform movement against the materialism of the Caliphate as a religious and political institution. Sufis were divided into Be Shari’a (those who did not follow Islamic laws) and Ba Shari’a (those who followed Islamic laws). According to (Ba Shari’a) Sufi saints, the ultimate aim of humans should be to achieve Wisal-e-yaar (The Union of God and his devotees). Mast Qalandars (Be Shari’a) Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti started Chisti Silsila and Pir- Murid (teacher-student) Parampara.
Sufi Saints never promoted conversion; they believed in universal brotherhood and never accepted the services of the state. Sufism stated that people should go for pure contemplation rather than Namaaz, Hajj.
Sufism and Bhakti movements are parallel concepts. They influenced each other and were influenced by each other. Together they developed an atmosphere of harmony called Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeele which was a combination of both Hindu Islam cultures.
What is interesting to note is that the word ‘Muslim’ was never used when India was developing culturally and religiously. History teaches that Hindu and Islam cultures have lived and thrived together. Hindu and Muslims have been brothers since the very beginning. Why the fights then? Why are we still living in the ‘Divide and Rule’ phase?