The Bhakti movement in medieval India spread due to the influence of Islam.

The Islamic ideas were of monotheism, no idol worship, no casteism, equality and brotherhood of man. The influence of Sufi saints shaped the thinking of saints like Ramananda, Nanak and Kabir. 


The Sufism originated in Persia and came to India in the eleventh century. The Sufi saints that were famous were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.

The Sufis were revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Sufis stressed on love and devotion as effective means of realisation of god.

They said service to man is tantamount to service to god. Sufis believed in inner purity not external conduct. They believed in devotion to god instead of blindly following rituals. They inculcated a spirit of tolerance amongst their disciples.

Sufis protested against the materialism of caliphate as a religious and political institution and turned towards ascetism, mysticism. They believed Prophet as the perfect human being.

Sufis were led by sheikh or Pir. They had 12 communities or Silsila means a chain – linking master and devotees.

The Sufis believed a guru is necessary to reach spiritual development. They also preached meditation, pilgrimage, suppression of passion, fasting, prayer, charity. The influence of Sufism was seen on Bhakti movement. Their message of equality attracted the lower castes of Hinduism as they were oppressed.

The Mughal emperor Akbar too appreciated Sufi doctrines and they shaped his religious outlook.

Bhakti and Sufi movement succeeded in bringing Hindus and Muslims together due to their message of love, devotion. 

Bhakti movement: 

The Bhakti saints talked about God being Supreme Being and concept of one god. The message was self surrender to god and removal of caste and birth distinctions. 

They emphasized on complete devotion as the path to god and urged people to shed age old superstitions. However the Bhakti saints in early period belonged to Hinduism and recognized Hindu gods although they too preached message of love and unity. The teachers of this movement: Shankaracharya, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas. 

The later Bhakti saints like Kabir, Nanak remained apostles of Bhakti movement. They learned from old masters but showed a novel path. They didn’t adhere to any particular religion.

They preached against idolatry, superstitions, casteism, polytheism, rituals and ceremonies. They believed in devotion as only way of salvation. They asked for unity amongst all religions. 

Contributions of saints:

1.  Ramananda: simplification of worship and disregarding of caste system were his contributions. 

2.  Kabir: Disciple of Ramananda. Studied Hindu and Muslim religions both. He wanted to establish harmony between them.

3.     Guru Nanak: Founder of Sikhism. Attacked all ill effects of religion and gave a moral code for all.


Importance of Bhakti movement: 

1.   The Bhakti saints spoke and wrote in regional languages. The movement provided an impetus to development of regional languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada.

2.      The saints could establish close contact and appeal directly to the masses.

3.   They disregarded caste system and advocated equal status to women. Hence they were popular amongst the lower classes.

4.    The movement gave people a simple religion to show devotion to god and not rituals and sacrifices.