This is not the first time I co-authored a book. Yet this time around it was at variance with the normal.
First, the topic was related to Civil Services Examination [CSE] - more popularly, the 'IAS Exams'. The previous four manuscripts were related to India's internal security architecture, or more closely to the Maoist insurgency.
Second, during the tenure of writing, the captain of my Team - my father - bid adieu to the physical realm and I watched as a helpless nincompoop. I was exactly half-way through with my contribution for the book when on the darkest night of 26 January, Bimal Kumar Mukherjee fell asleep, deep and infinite.
Undeterred by the agony and enthused by the iconic mental strength of my deceased father, I told my Publishing Director, Shri Kannath Prakash of Access-GK-CL Educate that I would adhere to the initial deadline of submission, 15 February.
The book is specifically targeted toward CSE aspirants. And with the mandate of penning down 'model answers' to questions framed by UPSC, an author cannot really act as a researcher, rather has to be more goal-oriented. Yet with this obvious constraint, I have not sacrificed my style of writing, though have tried to keep the language fairly straightforward, in tune with the demands of the readers as well as for the Examination. I have not gone by the word limit specified very strictly since my aim was to disseminate some 'extra dimension' of knowledge to the readers.
I do not claim complete originality in the answers written by me since some factual part had to be perused online as well as offline. Nevertheless, the style of presentation and the art of narration are totally my own.
My contribution covers Modern Indian History, World History, Indian Culture and Society - all pertaining to GS Paper I of IAS Mains Exam.
This is a small contribution nonetheless, still this is First in the Series for My Team Captain.
Father, this one is dedicated to you, your enthusiasm, your energy, your optimism, your encouragement, and simply your muscular presence.
In this context, I would like to share the answer which I crafted on that tragic night of 26-27 January:
Q. Sufis and medieval mystic saints failed to modify either the religious ideas and practices or the outward structure of Hindu / Muslim societies to any appreciable extent. Comment.
[GS I 2014]
[GS I 2014]
Sufism or tasawwuf ' is the name for various mystical tendencies and movements in Islam. It aims at establishing direct communion between God and man through personal experience of mystery.
Bhakti, as a religious concept in Hinduism means devotional surrender to a personally conceived Supreme God for attaining salvation.
The two movements have been credited to have unfurled religious syncretism in the Indian sub-continent. There were similarities between the two, which primarily included the following:
1. emphasis on monotheism [belief in one God],
2. upholding the role of the spiritual guide (pir or guru) through whom to reach God,
3. focus on mystical union with God through songs & meditation [Bhakti] and sama [Sufi],
4. being critical of the orthodox elements in Hinduism and Islam,
5. interaction between the Chishti sufis and the Nathpanthi yogis during the Sultanate period is a well established fact as the nathpanthis frequently visited the khanqahs of the leading Chisti Shaikhs and had discussions with them on the nature of mysticism,
6. the Nathpanthis had opened their doors to all sections of the society irrespective of caste distinctions,
7. Saint Jnaneswar of the Mahasahtra Dharma said that there was no place for caste distinctions in Bhakti,
8. the Chishti practice of ‘sama’ provided the basis for a common musical tradition between the two movements.
The common outlook of the two popular movements emboldened the mutual understanding between Muslims and Hindus, at least during the medieval period.
In one of his pieces, Ram Jethmalani provides the instance of Kabir as a lone warrior who spent his life-time trying to reconcile Islam and Hinduism. He preaches that: "Allah and Ram are but different names" given to the same God.
However, living in the 21st century amidst Wahabi/Salafi fundamentalism, in an ambience of communal disharmony and having witnessed the largest exodus of human population during partition based on religious hatred, it is not at all impertinent to analyse in hindsight, the ‘real’ contribution of the medieval mystic movements in modifying the overall structures of the two major religions in the sub-continent.
The overall structure of Hindu / Muslim societies is a non-linear sum of the following parameters:
1. religious ideas and practices of the masses as evolved through cultural legacy, and also shaped through
2. philosophy of the intellectuals/preachers/ulemas/reformers and the interpretations of holy scriptures by them
In that context, it would be too harsh to infer that Sufism/Bhakti failed to affect the Muslim/Hindu societies ‘to any appreciable extent’ as the examples delineated here indicate to the contrary. At least as far as ‘religious ideas and practices of the masses’ are concerned, Sufism/Bhakti enjoys a formidable position in history.
However, the integument or ‘outward structure’ of the two religions exemplify the behavioral patterns of the two societies and as a matter of fact, had remained reactive and sensitive, being prone to external jitters, shocks and ‘perceived attacks’.
There is no doubt that Sufism/Bhakti never attempted any complete alteration of their respective religions but basically essayed a reformist trajectory so as to project a holistic space for co-existence of the two communities. They attracted large number of followers to their cults. In that regard, they succeeded, at least in that time zone. Even today, the head of state of Pakistan makes it a point to visit the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer. And every year, pilgrims from across the border flock to Delhi to participate in the Urs of Khawaja Nizamuddin Aulia.
Nevertheless, to expect the medieval movements to have created a permanent panacea for any futuristic communal flare-up and to universally prescribe any antidote to the rise of a bunch of zealots would be asking far too much. After all, we need to remember that any religious intolerance is spearheaded by a tiny, yet militarily powerful minority – the masses hardly have much role in it, at least initially.