Sufi Movement – Development of Sufism in India, Silsilas of Sufism

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

In India, the Sufi movement began in 1300 A.D. & spread to South India during the 15th century. At the onset of 12 A.D., few holy people in Persia turned to austerity due to the rising materialism of the Caliphate. They were called ‘Sufis.’ The word ‘Sufi’ was introduced from the Arabic word ‘Suf, which means wool. The Muslim saints who wore the apparel of coarse wool began to be called Sufi saints. The meaning of Sufism is denoted by the meaning of mysticism in Islam. The rise of the Sufi movement was marked during the 10th and 11th century.

The Sufi movement was regarded as a liberal amendment within Islam that emphasized the aspects of attachment and dedication as effective tools for realizing God. The Sufi movement is based on the relationship of Teacher-student (Pir-Murid). Rabia and Mansur Bin Hallal were the early Sufi saints. In this article, learn the complete details about the Sufi Movement (1200-1500), which will be helpful for UPSC exam preparation.

What is Sufi Movement in India?

Sufism is the magical constituent of Islam. Sufis symbolize the inner side of the Islam ideology (Tasawwuf), a term given to mysticism in Islam. Sufism started from the philosophy of unity of being or Wahadut-ul-Wajud by Ibn-ul-Arabi [1165-1240 AD]. The Sufi movement was renowned in the third phase after the 15th century.

  • Sufism is an Islamic religious form, an academy of training that concentrates on the divine hunt for God and ignores materialism.
  • Sufism in India focuses on loyalty and love toward God, and there are various Sufism schools worldwide, including in India.
  • Sufism considers self-discipline as an essential requirement to gain an understanding of God.
  • The Sufis emphasized internal purity, whereas orthodox Muslims stressed external conduct.
  • Al-Hujwari, popularly known as Data Ganj Naksh (Distributor of endless treasure), was the first Sufis who resided in India. They passed away in 1089 AD.
  • Punjab and Multan were the initial centers for Sufism, spreading to Deccan, Bengal, Kashmir, and Bihar.
  • In India, Sufism adopted many native Indian notions such as music, and yogic postures, and dance. Sufism found adherents among both Hindus and Muslims.

Development of Sufism in India

Islam penetrated India from Saudi Arabia as traders during the 7th century C.E. and exchanged goods with the coastal areas of India in the western part. The belief spread to Sind and Multan during the 8th century C.E. when the territories were seized in the north by Muhammad Bin Qasim. The Sufi movement attained superiority during the sovereignty of the Delhi Sultanate in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Rise of Sufi Movement

Below are the three stages of the Sufi movement in India, along with the period they stretched and the critical activities that occurred during that stage.

Stages of Sufi Movement

Period of Sufi movement in Medieval India


1st Phase: Khanqah

10th century

Also named the age of Golden Mysticism

2nd Phase: Tariqa

11-14th century

Sufism was being institutionalized. Customs and logos became affixed.

3rd Phase: Tarifa

After 15th century

Sufi Movement became popular worldwide.

Silsilas Of Sufism in India

The Sufis got categorized into 12 Silsilas of Sufism or orders by the 12th century. A Silsila was directed by a renowned mystic who lived with his supporters in a hospice or Khanqah. The sufi movement in the 2nd phase was incorporated through the affixation of the customs and logos.

  • There are two Sufi orders.
  • Those who obeyed Islamic laws were called Bashara, and those who were more liberal were known as Beshara.
  • The Beshara was called ‘Mast Kalandar’ and included roaming monks called Baba, who did not leave any documented accounts.
  • Chistis, Qadririyas, Suhrawardis, and Naqshbandis were the 4 Silsila in Islam.

The Chisti Order of Sufi Movement

Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti (also named Gharib Nawaz) established the Chisti order in India around c. 1192 CE. Ultimately, he shifted to Ajmer after being in Delhi and Lahore. Ajmer was the most important political center with sizeable Muslim inhabitants.

  • Gharib Nawaz’s popularity increased after his death when Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq visited his grave in c. 1235 CE.
  • Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti dome and mosque were pitched in the 15th century by Mahmud Khalji of Malwa.
  • The custom of the dargah stretched to phenomenal heights after the assistance of Akbar, the Mughal Emperor.
  • In Delhi, Chisti’s presence was established by Qutub ud din Bhakhtiyar Kaki under the subsidy of the Sultanate monarch, Iltutmish.
  • The Chistis lived uncomplicated lives and communicated using their local language, Hindawi.
  • These Sufi saints became famous by embracing lyrical recitations called Sama to develop a mindset of closeness to God.
  • Nizamuddin Auliya adapted yogic breathing practices and was named a Sidh or “perfect” by Yogis.

Here is the list of important chistis along with their contribution to the Sufi movement in India. Gather complete details of the Sufi movement as it is an integral part of the UPSC syllabus.

Chishti Silsila

Importance of Chistis Silsila in Sufism

Nizamuddin Auliya

(c. 1238 – 1325 CE)

Sheikh Burhanuddin Gharib

He founded the Chisti order in the Deccan during the 13th century.

Nasiruddin Chiragh – i – Dehlavi.

He was a 14th-century mystic poet and a Sufi saint.

He was the last important Sufi from Delhi.

Farid-ud-din Ganj-i-Shakar (c.1175 – 1265 CE)

Also popular as Baba Farid.

He limited his actions to Hansi and Ajodhan (Modern Haryana and Punjab, respectively).

His view was wide and humane, which is why some of his verses were cited in the Adi Granth of the Sikhs.

Muhammad Banda Nawaz

Deccan city of Bijapur region.

The Suhrawardi Silsila

They joined India, similar to Chisti’s, but their actions got restricted largely to Multan and Punjab. Bahauddin Zakariya established the Suhrawardi Silsila in India, and Shihabuddin Suhrawardi founded it in Baghdad.

  • The Suhrawardis accepted supervision assistance from the Sultans and were involved in politics, unlike the Chistis.
  • According to Suhrawardi, a Sufi should have three qualities: knowledge, property, and mystical enlightenment (Hal).
  • They did not support extreme abstinence and self-mortification and endorsed a mixture of ilm (scholarship) with enchantment.

The Naqshbandi Silsila of Sufism in India

Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshbandi established the Naqshbandi Silsila. Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shiekh Baqi Billah (1563 – 1624), who were his successors, later multiplied the Silsila. They were commonly called Silent Sufis who believed in rehearsing quiet meditation of the heart. According to Naqshbandi Sufi Silsila, the relationship between God and human beings was that of a master and slave.

Sufis followed the Shariah law in its purest form and criticized all Biddats (inventions in belief). They were against the liberal approaches of Akbar, like

  • Abolishing Jizya
  • Giving high status to many non-Muslims
  • Sama (holy music)
  • Ban cow slaughter
  • The practice of pilgrimage to the graves of saints

After the death of Sirhindi, the Sufi Silsila was defined by two important mystics, each having a distinct strategy.

  • Liberal approach under the leadership of Mirza MazharJan-i-Jahan.
  • Conservative approach under the supervision of Shah Waliullah.

The Qadri Silsila

During the Mughal reign, Sheikh Abdul Qadir and his sons, Mukhdum Muhammad Jilani, Sheikh Niamatullah, and Miyan Mir, introduced the Qadri Sufi Silsila, which was prevalent in Punjab.

  • Shah Badakhshani was another renowned saint of the Qadri order.
  • The Mughal queen Jahanara and her brother Dara were devotees of this Silsila.
  • Qadri’s believed in the vision of Wahdat-al-Wajood, denoting “Harmony of Existence” or “Unity of Being,” i.e., God and his creation are one and identical.
  • The saints of this Silsila neglected orthodox segments.

Sufi Movement For UPSC Exam

The development of Sufism surged in the 10th-11th centuries. Aspirants preparing for UPSC Prelims and Main exams must have proper knowledge about the topic of the Sufism UPSC in Medieval India.

Candidates can also download Ancient History Notes for UPSC PDF to have complete knowledge about the three sections, Ancient History, Medieval History, and Modern History, and the crucial questions that can be asked in the IAS exam. It is of utmost importance for the candidates to be completely conversant with the details and topics of the exam to be able to attain good grades in the exam.

Sufi Movement in India – Important Terms

The term ‘Sufi’ derives from the Arabic word ‘Suf,’ which signifies ‘one who wears wool.’ Other important terms of the Sufi movement in India and their meanings have been described below.

Sufi Terms




Sufi, Murshid, Pir



Perfect human with all good virtues


Musical gathering


Recitation of God’s name


One god for entire universe; unity of god and being.


Place where Sufis lived, hospices


Spiritual merging with the Almighty







Impact of Sufism

The unorthodox and liberal components of Sufism strongly affected medieval Bhakti martyrs. There is a certain difference between bhakti and sufi movement. The Sufi principles influenced the religious view of the monarchs, along with recalling them of their ethical responsibilities. For instance, in the later years, Akbar, the Mughal Emperor’s spiritual viewpoint and guidelines were shaped dramatically by Sufism.

  • The Sufism movement impacted urban and rural regions. It also strongly affected the masses culturally, politically, and socially. Religious delight became the greatest purpose, and the individuals could raise their voices against orthodoxy, lies, spiritual formalism, and insincerity. The Sufis attempted to obtain tranquility and balance in a world torn by conflict.
  • Another Sufism’s influential contribution is it facilitated the relationship of brotherhood and harmony between Muslim and Hindu societies. Muslims and many Hindus appreciate the Sufi martyrs, and their burials have become a standard pilgrimage site for both sections of society.

Key Features of Sufi Movement

Sufism is focused on the divine relationship between God and humans. They also motivate us to serve mankind, as this is the love of humanity denotes the love of God. The Sufi movement in India also emphasized the belief in equality, it considers all religions to be equal and confers equal status to humans. Self-discipline is considered to be an eminent segment of Sufism in India, it also emphasizes the importance of inner purity. They considered devotion to be of higher value than fast [Roza] or prayer [Namaz].

Relevance of Sufism in the Present World

The Sufi movement in India focused on several principles that can be followed in today’s world. Devotion to God and self-discipline can help mitigate the violence persisting in the present era.

  • Sufism in India focuses on equality of the living beings, it does not follow any hierarchical method of class and caste, gender etc.
  • It also focuses on social welfare and helping others in need. Imbibing these values will help humans to do charity and also lend their helping hands to all those in need to mitigate the suffering of the world.
  • Sufism lays importance on the power of meditation, it plays a key role in mitigating stress and anxiety in the present world.
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