Religious Movements of Medieval Age

  1. Bhakti Movement

Nirguna Bhakti Saints of North India 


Kabir (1398-1518)

    • Pleaded for Hindu -  Muslim unity.
    • Emphasised the unity and formlessness of god.
    • Denounced formal religious practices in both Hinduism and Islam.
    • Did not suggest the abandonment of thelife of a normal householder for the sake of a saintly life.
    • Asceticism and book knowledge not necessary for true knowledge and salvation.
    • Sharp condemnation of caste and religious distinctions and the preaching of the brotherhood of man.


Nanak (1469-1539)

    • Like Kabir, he also preached a casteless, universal, ethical, anti-ritualistic, monotheistic and highly spiritual religion.
    • Differences between Nanak and Kabir: 

Nanak laid greater stress on the purity of character and conduct as the first condition for approaching God, and also the need of a guru for guidance.

    • After his death, his followers called themselves `Sikhs’ and a new religious sect, Sikhism was founded.
    • Nanak was followed by nine Sikh gurus. 
    • Guru Angad – second guru who started the Gurumukhi script;
    • Guru Arjun – fifth guru who compiled the Granth Sahib (Adi Granth) and also built the Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar, 
    • Guru Tez Bahadur – ninth guru who was executed by Aurangazeb;
    • Guru Gobind Singh – tenth and last guru who established the `Khalsa’ and organized the Sikhs into a military sect.


Saguna Bhakti Saints of North India 

Chaitanya (1436-1533)

    • Responsible for the popularity of Vaishnavism in Bengal through his ‘kirtans’.
    • Spread the message that ‘ragamarga’ or the path of spontaneous love was best for salvation.


Surdas (1483-1563)

    • Disciple of Vallabhacharya of south India.
    • Popularised the Krishna cult by singing songs glorifying Krishna’s childhood.
    • Author of the Sur Sagara, Sur Sarawali, etc.


Mirabai (1498-1569)

    • Great devotee of Krishna.
    • Popularised his cult in Rajasthan through her songs.


Sankaradasa (1532-1623)

    • Contemporary of Chaitanya.
    • Spread Vaishnava bhakti in Assam.


Tulsidas (1532-1623)

    • Unlike  the above, he was a worshipper of Rama.
    • Composed the famous Ramcharitmanas in Hindi, expounding the various aspects of Hindu ‘dharma’.


Saints of Maharashtra Dharma  Jnanadeva (13th century)

    • He was the founder of the bhakti movement in Maharashtra, called ‘Maharashtra Dharma’.
    • His work Jnaneswari (a commentary on the Bhagawad Gita) earned him the title  of ‘Jnaneswara’.


Namadeva (14th century)

    • He preached the gospel of love and was opposed to idol-worship and priestly domination.
    • Vehemently opposed to the caste system, his followers came from all castes.


Eknatha (16th century)

    • Opposed caste distinctions.
    • Reputed for his `bhajans’ and `kirtans’.


Tukaram (17th century)

    • A contemporary of Shivaji and a great devotee of Vithal of Pandharpur.
    • Responsible for creating a background for Maratha nationalism.


Ramdas (17th century)

    • Unlike the others, he sought to combine spiritual and practical life and evinced much interest in politics. Hence he was a ‘dharakari’ as opposed to the others who were ‘varakaris’.
    • Established ‘asrams’ all over Maharashtra.
    • Influenced Sivaji to a great extent to overthrow the Mughal rule.
    • He was the author of Dasabodha, a work which gave advice on all aspects of life.


Bhakti Saint-philosophers of South India  Ramanuja (11th century)

    • He gave a sound philosophic basis to the bhakti cult of the Vaishnavas by founding the philosophy of ‘visishtadvaita’ (modified monism).


Madhavacharya (13th century)

    • He was the founder of the ‘advaita’ (dualism) school of philosophy.


Nimbarka (13th & 14th centuries)

    • He advocated another school of philosophy, called ‘dvaitadvaita’ (dualistic monism).


Vallabhacharya (15th & 16th centuries)

    • He was the founder of yet another school of philophy, called the ‘suddhadvaita’ (pure non-dualism).

All the above saint-philosophers belonged to Vaishnavism. Ramanuja was a Tamilian and Madhava was a Kannadiga, while Nimbarka and Vallabha were Telugus.


    1. Sufism 

Meaning 1

    1. Sufis were mystics who had risen in Islam at a very early stage.
    2. Their basic doctrine was ‘wahadat-ul-wujud’ or the unity of the being.


Organisation of Sufis

    • Organisation of the Sufis into orders, called ‘silsilahs’.
    • Division of the Sufi orders into ‘ba-shara’ (those which followed the Islamic law) and ‘beshara’ (those which were not bound by it).
    • A prominent mystic who lived in a ‘khanqah’ or hospice along with his disciples generally led Silsilahs.
    • The link between the teacher (pir) and the disciples (murids) was vital for the Sufi system.
    • According to Abul Fazl, there were 14 orders in the Mughal period.


Main Sufi Orders in India 

Chisti Order

    • Its founder was Shaikh Muinuddin Chisti (12th & 13th centuries).
    • Other leaders – Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (12th & 13th centuries), Nizamuddin Auliya (13th & 14th centuries) and Shazikh Salim (16th century).
    • They established themselves at Ajmer and other parts of Rajasthan and in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and the Deccan.
    • They believed in simplicity and poverty.
    • Became popular by adopting musical recitations, ‘samas’ to create a mood of nearness to god.


Suhrawardi Order

    • Founder – Shaikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi (12th & 13th centuries).
    • Other leaders – Bahauddin Zakariya (13th century), Ruknuddin Abul Fath (14th century), etc.
    • Established themselves mainly in north-western India.
    • They did not believe in leading a life of poverty and so accepted the direct service of the state.


Qadri Order 

    • Founder – Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad (12th centuries).


Important leaders in India – Shah Nizamat Ullah, Nasiruddin Muhammad Jilani (most important Qadri).

    • Dominant in Sind and Lahore.
    • Prince Dara Shikoh was its follower.

Naqshbandi Order

    • Important leaders – Khwaja Baqi Billah (1563-1603) and Shaikh Ahmad Sarhindi (contemporary of Akbar and Jahangir).


Other Muslim Sects and Movements

    • Mahadawi movement – started by Muhammad Mahdi of Jaunpur (15th century).
    • Raushaniya sect – founded by bayazid Ansari of Jullunder (16th century).
    • Shattari order – introduced in India by Shah Abdullah Shattari (15th century).


  1. New Literary Languages  Punjabi
    • Masud Fariduddin (13th century), a mystic-poet, was the pioneer of a new school of poetry in Punjabi.
    • Guru Nanak’s contribution came towards the end of 15th century.
    • Compilation of the Adi Granth (1604) and Sukhamani by Guru Arjun.
    • Works by writers of poetical romances such as the Hir of Warith Shah.



    • First stage of Hindi literature, known as ‘adi kala’ (1206-1318); mainly bardic in nature; Narapati Nalha and amir Khusrau – the two major poets of this stage.
    • Second stage, known as ‘bhakti kala’ (1318-1643); richest period in the history of Hindi literature; major contribution by the nirguna and saguna saint-poets and mystic poets.
    • Third stage (1643-1850), known as ‘ritikala’ (riti means love); poetry was essentially secular during this period.



    • Emerged due to the interaction of Persian and Indian languages in the military camps of Alauddin Khaliji; Deccan – the cradle of Urdu and it flourished first in the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda.
    • The earliest available work in Deccani Urdu is a mystical prose treatise Miraj-ul-Ashiqin by Saint Gesu Daraz (early 15th century).
    • Shah Miranji Shamsul (Khush Namah) of Bijapur and Ghawasi (Tuti namah) of Golconda – the most famous Urdu writers of the Deccan.
    • Coming of Urdu to north India in a developed form during the Mughal period



    • Origin of Oriya in the 8th and 9th centuries.
    • Important Oriya writers were Sarladasa (Mahabharata in the 14th cent.), Balaramadasa, Jagannadhadasa, etc.

Balaramadasa and Jagannadhadasa belonged to a group known as ‘panchasakha’, i.e.

five associates, of the 15th century.



    • First stage covered the period between 10th and 12th centuries. Its literature was mainly in the form of fold-songs.
    • Second stage begins with the Muslim conquest of Bengal in the 13th century and continues till the end of the 17th century; three main trends in this stage:
      • Vaishnava poetry – important people were Chandidasa, Chaitanya, etc;
      • Translations and adaptations from classical Sanskrit – Kasirama (Mahabharata), Kristtivasa Ojha (Ramayana), etc; and              Mangal Kavya, a form of poetry.



    • First phase from 13th to 15th centuries; marked by two main forms – ‘prabandha’ (narrative poem) and ‘mukta’ (the shorter poem).
    • Second phase covers 15th to 17th centuries; this period was the golden age of the Gujarati literature; major contributors – Narasimha Mehta, Bhalana and Akho.



    • Emergence of Marathi literature in the late 13th century.
    • Contribution of saint-poets of the natha cult (founded by Gorakhnatha).
    • Contribution of saint poets of Mahanubhava cult to Marathi prose and poetry.
    • Other important contributors – Jnanadeva, Eknatha, Tukaram, Ramdas and Vamana Pandit.
    • Complication of secular poetry in the 17th century in the form of ‘povadas’ (ballads describing lightening warfare and selfless valour of the Marathas) and ‘lavanis’ (romantic works).



    • Alvars (Vaishnava saints) – their literature known as the Prabhandas, most important among them being the Nalayiram. 
    • Nayanars (Saiva saints) – their literature known as the Tevaram; their works known as the Tirumarai.
    • Kamban’s Ramayana, also called Ramanataka (Chola period).
    • Sekkilar’s Tiruttondar Puranam, also known as Periya Puranam. It is a biography of 63 nayanars.
    • Pugalendi’s Nalavenba (15th century).



    • Kavitraya – Nannaya (11th century), Tikkana (13th century) and Yerrapragada (13th and 14th centuries); their translation of the Mahabharata into Telugu.
    • Bhima kavi’s Bhimeswara Puranam (17th century).
    • Nanne Choda’s Kumarasambhava (18th century).            Somanatha’s Basava Puranam (13th century).

Srinattha’s Sringaranaisada, Kasikhanda, etc. (14th and 15th centuries). 

    • Bammera Potana’s Bhagavatam (15th century).
    • Vemana’s Sataka.
    • Molla’s Ramayana (a poetess of a low caste of 16th century).


    • Kavirajamarga by Rashtrakuta Amoghavarsha I – earliest extant work in Kannada.
    • Ratnatraya – Pampa (9th century), Ponna (10th century) and Ranna (10th century); Pampa – Adi Purana and pampa Bharata; Ponna – Santi Purana; Ranna – Ajitanatha Purana and Gadhayudha.
    • Narahari’s Taravi Ramayana.
    • Virupaksha pandita’s Chenna Basava Purana (16th century).



    • Unnunili Sandesam – this work of unknown writer of 14th century is the earliest literary work in Malayalam.
    • Ramanuja Elluttoccan (greatest of all) – Harinamakirtanam Bhagavata Killippa-ttu, etc.