Early Bhakti traditions saw emergence of poet saints as leaders surrounded by communities of devotees. In Tamil Nadu, Alvars and Nayanars were early leaders of Bhakti movement. They initiated protests against caste and against dominance of Brahmanas. There was also marked hostility against Buddhism and Jainism. Basavanna, a Brahmin in twelfth century Karnataka, started a new movement called Lingayats, who were challenging old ideas. Saints in North India, which included Naths, Jogis and Siddhas, questioned the authority of the Vedas and expressed themselves in languages spoken by ordinary people.

Kabir was a source of inspiration for those who questioned established institutions. His poems expressed diverse and conflicting ideas. Baba Guru Nanak advocated the Nirguna form of Bhakti. He also rejected rituals, sacrifices, image worship and scriptures of both Hindus and Muslims. Mirabai, a Rajput princess, viewed Krishna as a supreme lover, while rejecting traditional role of wife and mother.

Delhi Sultanate got established with the coming of the Turks in the thirteenth century. Changes in culture and religion was marked by the coming of the Sufi’s. Sufism, which grew in protest of materialism in the Caliphate, emphasised on seeking salvation through intense devotion for God. Through Sufi Silsilas, a continuous spiritual link between the disciple and the master was established. Sufi Dargah – tomb shrines of the Shaikh or Wali after his death became the centres of worship. Chishtis were a group of Sufi’s who migrated to the subcontinent in 12th century. While Sufism legitimised state law, there were also examples of conflict between the Sultan and the Shaikh.

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