People perform rituals of worship, or sing bhajans, kirtans or qawwalis, or even repeat the name of God in silence, and some of them are moved to tears. Such intense devotion or love of God is the legacy of various kinds of bhakti and Sufi movements that have evolved since the 8th century. To understand the concepts related to Chapter 8 of CBSE Class 7 History, students can refer to the CBSE Notes Class 7 History Chapter 8-Devotional Paths To The Divine. These notes help students to prepare most competently for the exam.
The link to access the PDF version of the CBSE Class 7 Social Science Notes from Chapter 8 History is given below in this article. Students can just click to download and start revising the Chapter thoroughly.
The Idea of a Supreme God
Prior to the emergence of large kingdoms, different groups of people worshipped their own gods and goddesses. With the growth of towns, trade and empires people were brought together and new ideas began to develop. The idea that every living thing passes through countless cycles of birth and rebirth performing good and bad deeds was widely accepted. Also, the idea that not all human beings are equal in birth also gained ground. Many learned texts focussed on the belief that social privileges come from birth in a “noble” family or a “high” caste. Uneasy with these ideas, many people turned to the teachings of Buddha or the Jainas, which stressed on the possibility to overcome social differences and break the cycle of rebirth via personal effort. Some were also attracted to the idea of a Supreme God, who could deliver humans from such bondage if approached with devotion or bhakti, an idea advocated in the Bhagavad Gita. It grew more popular in the early centuries of the common era. Supreme deities to be worshipped using elaborate rituals include Shiva, Vishnu and Durga. Also, the gods and goddesses worshipped in various areas came to be identified with Shiva, Vishnu or Durga. Local myths and legends became a part of the puranic stories. Methods of worship recommended in the Puranas were introduced into the local cults. Puranas also laid down the possibility for devotees to receive the grace of God regardless of their caste status. The idea of bhakti became highly popular and even Buddhists and Jainas adopted these beliefs.
A New Kind of Bhakti in South India – Nayanars and Alvars
7th to 9th centuries-emergence of new religious movements-led by the Nayanars (saints devoted to Shiva) and Alvars (saints devoted to Vishnu)-came from all castes including “untouchable” like the Pulaiyar and the Panars-were sharply critical of the Buddhists and Jainas- preached ardent love of Shiva or Vishnu-path to salvation- drew upon the ideals of love and heroism-found in the Sangam literature (the earliest example of Tamil literature, composed during the early centuries of the Common Era)-blended them with the values of bhakti-Nayanars and Alvars went from place to place- composed exquisite poems in praise of the deities-enshrined in the villages they visited and set them to music-Between the 10th and 12th centuries- Chola and Pandya kings built elaborate temples around many of the shrines visited by the saint-poets-strengthened the links between the bhakti tradition and temple worship-their poems were compiled-hagiographies or religious biographies of the Alvars and Nayanars were also composed-use these texts as sources for writing histories of the bhakti tradition.
Philosophy and Bhakti
Shankara-most influential philosophers of India-born in Kerala in the 8th century- an advocate of Advaita or the doctrine of the oneness of the individual soul and the Supreme God which is the Ultimate Reality-taught that Brahman, the only or Ultimate Reality, was formless and without any attributes-considered the world around us to be an illusion or Maya, and preached renunciation of the world-adoption of the path of knowledge to understand the true nature of Brahman and attain salvation-Ramanuja-born in Tamil Nadu in the 11th century-deeply influenced by the Alvars-the best means of attaining salvation was through intense devotion to Vishnu-Vishnu in His grace helps the devotee to attain the bliss of union with Him-propounded the doctrine of Vishishtadvaita or qualified oneness in that the soul, even when united with the Supreme God, remained distinct-Ramanuja’s doctrine greatly inspired the new strand of bhakti-developed in north India subsequently.
The connection between the Tamil Bhakti movement and temple worship-led to a reaction best represented in the Virashaiva movement- initiated by Basavanna and his companions like Allama Prabhu and Akkamahadevi-movement began in Karnataka- in the mid 12th century-Virashaivas argued strongly for the equality of all human beings-against Brahmanical ideas about caste and the treatment of women-were against all forms of ritual and idol worship.
The Saints of Maharashtra
From the 13th to the 17th centuries-Maharashtra saw a great number of saint-poets, whose songs in simple Marathi continue to inspire people-most important among them were Dnyaneshwar (Gyaneshwar), Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram-women like Sakhubai and the family of Chokhamela, who belonged to the “untouchable” Mahar caste-regional tradition of bhakti focused on the Vitthala (a form of Vishnu) temple in Pandharpur- and on the notion of a personal god residing in the hearts of all people- saint-poets rejected all forms of ritualism, outward display of piety and social differences based on birth-even rejected the idea of renunciation and preferred to live with their families, earning their livelihood like any other person, while humbly serving fellow human beings in need- humanist idea emerged as they insisted that bhakti lay in sharing others’ pain-famous Gujarati saint Narsi Mehta said, “They are Vaishnavas who understand the pain of others.”
Nathpanthis, Siddhas and Yogis
Religious groups emerged during this period- criticised the ritual and other aspects of conventional religion and the social order-used simple, logical arguments-among them were the Nathpanthis, Siddhacharas and Yogis-who advocated renunciation of the world- as per them, the path to salvation lay in meditation on the formless Ultimate Reality and the realisation of oneness with it-advocated intense training of the mind and body through practices like yogasanas, breathing exercises and meditation to achieve this- groups became particularly popular among “low” castes-criticism of conventional religion created the ground for devotional religion to become a popular force in northern India.
Islam and Sufism
Saints, much in common with the Sufis- they adopted many ideas of each other-Sufis were Muslim mystics- they rejected outward religiosity-emphasised love and devotion to God -compassion towards all fellow human beings-Islam propagated strict monotheism-submission to one God-In the 8th and 9th centuries religious scholars developed different aspects of the Holy Law (Shariat) and theology of Islam-the religion of Islam gradually became more complex-Sufis provided it with an additional dimension- favoured a more personal devotion to God-Sufis often rejected the elaborate rituals and codes of behaviour demanded by Muslim religious scholars-sought union with God much as a lover seeks his beloved disregarding the world-Like the saint-poets, the Sufis too composed poems- expressed their feelings- a rich literature in prose, including anecdotes and fables, developed around them. Among the great Sufis of Central Asia were Ghazzali, Rumi and Sadi- Like the Nathpanthis, Siddhas and Yogis, the Sufis too believed that the heart can be trained to look at the world in a different way- developed elaborate methods of training using zikr (chanting of a name or sacred formula), contemplation, sama (singing), raqs (dancing), discussion of parables, breath control, etc-under the guidance of a master or pir-emerged the silsilas, a spiritual genealogy of Sufi teachers- following a slightly different method (tariqa) of instruction and ritual practice. Sufis from Central Asia settled in Hindustan from the 11th century-process was strengthened with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate-several major Sufi centres developed all over the subcontinent-The Chishti silsila was among the most influential orders- had a long line of teachers like Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki of Delhi, Baba Farid of Punjab, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi and Bandanawaz Gisudaraz of Gulbarga-Sufi masters held their assemblies in their khanqahs or hospices-Devotees of all descriptions (members of the royalty and nobility, and ordinary people) flocked to these khanqahs- discussed spiritual matters-sought the blessings of the saints in solving their worldly problems-simply attended the music and dance sessions-people attributed Sufi masters with miraculous powers that could relieve others of their illnesses and troubles-The tomb or dargah of a Sufi saint became a place of pilgrimage – thousands of people of all faiths thronged to it.
New Religious Developments in North India
The period after 13th century-a new wave of the bhakti movement in north India- Islam, Brahmanical Hinduism, Sufism, various strands of bhakti, and the Nathpanths, Siddhas and Yogis influenced one another-new town and kingdoms were emerging-people were taking up new professions-finding new roles for themselves-craftspersons, peasants, traders and labourers, thronged to listen to these new saints and spread their ideas-Some like Kabir and Baba Guru Nanak rejected all orthodox religions-Tulsidas and Surdas accepted existing beliefs and practices but wanted to make these accessible to all-Tulsidas conceived of God in the form of Rama-composition, the Ramcharitmanas, written in Awadhi (a language used in eastern Uttar Pradesh)-important both as an expression of his devotion and as a literary work.
Surdas-an ardent devotee of Krishna-compositions, compiled in the Sursagara, Surasaravali and Sahitya Lahari, express his devotion-contemporary was Shankaradeva of Assam (late 15th century)-emphasised devotion to Vishnu- composed poems and plays in Assamese- began the practice of setting up namghars or houses of recitation and prayer, a practice that continues to date-tradition also included saints like Dadu Dayal, Ravidas and Mirabai-Mirabai a Rajput princess married into the royal family of Mewar in the 16th century-became a disciple of Ravidas, a saint from a caste considered “untouchable”-was devoted to Krishna-composed innumerable bhajans expressing her intense devotion-also openly challenged the norms of the “upper” castes-became popular with the masses in Rajasthan and Gujarat-unique feature of most of the saints is that their works were composed in regional languages and could be sung- became immensely popular -were handed down orally from generation to generation. The poorest, most deprived communities and women transmitted these songs adding their own experiences. So songs are as much a creation of the saints as of generations of people who sang them-a part of our living popular culture.
A Closer Look: Kabir
Kabir-lived in the 15th-16th centuries-most influential saints-brought up in a family of Muslim julahas or weavers- settled in or near the city of Benares (Varanasi)-Got to know of his ideas from a vast collection of verses called sakhis and pads-said to have been composed by him-sung by wandering bhajan singers-Some were later collected-preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib, Panch Vani and Bijak-his teachings were based on a complete, indeed vehement, rejection of the major religious traditions-openly ridiculed all forms of external worship of both Brahmanical Hinduism and Islam-the pre-eminence of the priestly classes and the caste system- language of his poetry was a form of spoken Hindi widely understood by ordinary people- used cryptic language, which is difficult to follow-believed in a formless Supreme God -preached that the only path to salvation was through bhakti or devotion-drew his followers from among both Hindus and Muslims.
A Closer Look: Baba Guru Nanak
Baba Guru Nanak (1469-1539)-born at Talwandi (Nankana Sahib in Pakistan)-travelled widely -established a centre at Kartarpur (Dera Baba Nanak on the river Ravi)-regular worship consisting of the singing of his own hymns was established there for his followers- Irrespective of their former creed, caste or gender, his followers ate together in the common kitchen (langar)-sacred space thus created by Baba Guru Nanak was known as dharmsal-known as Gurdwara- before his death in 1539-Baba Guru Nanak appointed one of his followers as his successor-name was Lehna- came to be known as Guru Angad, signifying that he was a part of Baba Guru Nanak himself- he compiled the compositions of Baba Guru Nanak also added his own in a new script known as Gurmukhi-three successors of Guru Angad also wrote under the name of “Nanak”- all of their compositions were compiled by Guru Arjan in 1604-To this compilation were added the writings of other figures like Shaikh Farid, Sant Kabir, Bhagat Namdev and Guru Tegh Bahadur-In 1706 this compilation authenticated by Guru Tegh Bahadur’s son and successor, Guru Gobind Singh-is is now known as Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs-number of Baba Guru Nanak’s followers increased through the 16th century under his successors- belonged to a number of castes- but traders, agriculturists, artisans and craftsmen predominated-Baba Guru Nanak’s insisted that his followers must be householders – should adopt productive and useful occupations-were expected to contribute to the general funds of the community of followers-by beginning of the17th century, the town of Ramdaspur (Amritsar) had developed around the central Gurdwara called Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple)-was virtually self-governing- modern historians refer to the early-17th-century Sikh community as ‘a state within the state’’-Mughal emperor Jahangir looked upon them as a potential threat – ordered the execution of Guru Arjan in 1606- Sikh movement began to get politicised in the 17th century- culminated in the institution of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699-community of the Sikhs, called the Khalsa Panth, became a political entity- changing historical situation during the 16th and 17th centuries influenced the development of the Sikh movement-ideas of Baba Guru Nanak had a huge impact on this development from the very beginning-emphasised the importance of the worship of one God-insisted that caste, creed or gender was irrelevant for attaining liberation- idea of liberation was not that of a state of inert bliss but rather the pursuit of active life with a strong sense of social commitment-used the terms nam, dan and isnan for the essence of his teaching, which actually meant right worship, the welfare of others and purity of conduct- teachings are now remembered as nam-japna, kirt-karna and vandchhakna- also underline the importance of right belief and worship, honest living, and helping others- Baba Guru Nanak’s idea of equality had social and political implications-partly explain the difference between the history of the followers of Baba Guru Nanak and the history of the followers of the other religious figures of the medieval centuries, like Kabir, Ravidas and Dadu- with ideas were very similar to those of Baba Guru Nanak.