August 29, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Bhakti tradition flourished under the Mughal rule. We also look at the new cybercrime hub in Haryana, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Did the Bhakti tradition flourish under the Mughal rule?
The Mughal period in India is under great scrutiny in public discourse. Being typified as oppressive, colonial, and cruel, the Mughals often come out as villains in the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party’s narrative of Indian history.
The latest attack against these rulers has something to do with the 15th-century mystic poet-saint of the Bhakti movement, Sant Ravidas. In a rally in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Ravidas awakened society during instability and oppression. The narrative may be old, but the new claim deserves a deeper dive. Did the Bhakti movement emerge against the oppression of the Mughals, or did it flourish in the period’s socio-political currents?
The Bhakti tradition originated in the south Indian region of present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the 6th and 7th century AD. The ‘movement’, as we know it, spread through the creation and exchange of a plethora of songs, poetry, and hagiographical stories by Bhakti saints.
Many of them emphasised devotion as the only path to salvation. A related, enduring idea was that the love between devotees and God surpasses birth and social class differences. Yet, this was also a time when Tantric practices, spanning several religions and cultures, were prevalent in many regions of the subcontinent. Think rituals, Goddess worship, yogic practices, and mantras.
Now, with the Ghaznavid invasions of the 11th century, things get even more interesting. The Persian-influenced cosmopolitan culture reached South Asia. It centred on the concept of a fair, divinely ordained king, responsible for the harmony and success of varied religious and cultural worlds.
The Delhi Sultanate succeeded the Ghaznavids, reigning over northern and central India from the 13th to 16th centuries. Mongol invasions in Iran and Central Asia brought Persian-influenced elites to India. It led to a rise in mass-oriented Sufism across Asia, focusing on political and religious influence among people.
Unlike Tantric practices, Sufism emphasised inner devotion and love, rather than external rituals. Sufism and the Bhakti movement proved fertile ground for the Mughals to gain legitimacy and rule vast parts of the subcontinent. Mughal rulers formed alliances with Rajputs, giving way to a Mughal-Rajput court culture. The Kachwahas of Amer, part of the Ramanandi Bhakti group, played a key role in moulding imperial policies and governing methods.
In the growing popularity of Bhakti devotion in north and west India, we can locate Ravidas, also known as Raidas. In that era, there were established orthodox sects like Vallabhaites in the north and Ramdasis in Maharashtra. Alongside existed some as radical bhakta sants – this is where you find Ravidas along with Kabir, Mira, Tukaram, Cokhamela, and Namdev.
Residing in Benares around the 15th or 16th century, he belonged to the chamar community, who were leatherworkers. Their main job was to handle animal carcasses, notably cows, and tan their hides. His hymns often envisioned an egalitarian society and renounced the authority of societal stratifications.
The Ravidas sect gained immense popularity in the 19th century, especially among Dalits. Many chamars adopted the name Raidasis. It was subversive in the sense that it allowed them to shed the derogatory connotations of “chamar” and openly express their reverence for Ravidas.
Even now, Sant Ravidas is highly revered among Dalits. In Madhya Pradesh, the Scheduled Caste (SC) group makes up about 17% of the population, and a significant portion of them are followers of Sant Ravidas.
In the poll-bound state, PM Modi laid the foundation stone for a temple dedicated to the poet-saint. In his speech, he mentioned a link between Ravidas’ life and work and Mughal rule. While there’s no denying such a connection exists, Modi’s words about the nature of that connection have become a subject of debate.
VIEW: Subverting hierarchies
PM Modi asserts the Mughal period was a time of identity threat and imposed restrictions. Amidst this, Ravidas had stood firm. He recalled Ravidas’s words, stating that submission was a great sin, disliked by all. Modi also noted that Ravidas’s teachings inspired the bravery to resist oppression, a sentiment embraced by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and numerous freedom fighters in India’s quest for independence.
Another argument that comes out of the prime minister’s speech is the role of Bhakti traditions in becoming an instrument of subversion for Dalits. The society wasn’t free of divisions and discrimination, and Ravidas’ compositions confronted such challenges. Sant Ravidas stood as a prime example of such greatness.
COUNTERVIEW: Quite the contrary
The Bhakti movement thrived due to the Muslim emperors’ rule, which created a perfect social and political backdrop. Patton Burchett, a scholar of religious studies, points out that Akbar’s alliances with Rajputs greatly boosted Bhakti institutions and literature in early modern north India. Take Vrindavan, for instance. It emerged as a Bhakti religious hub during that time, thanks to the support from the Mughal-Kachawaha connection.
Additionally, the Bhakti and Sufi movements mutually influenced spiritual ideas, whether knowingly or subconsciously. Both Bhakti and Sufism emphasised inner devotion. Historian Shahabuddin Iraqi noted how these spiritual movements mutually influenced each other. This connection is particularly evident in the Nirgun Bhakti order, which Ravidas belonged to. The lower-caste Nirgun saints challenged Vedic authority and Brahmin influences. While Sagun saints like Mirabai and Surdas adored God in forms like Krishna, Nirgun saints worshipped the formless aspect of God.
- How the Bhakti movement flourished under Mughals – The Indian Express
- As BJP seeks Dalit votes in MP, Modi hails Ravidas, says ‘held firm’ under Mughals – The Indian Express
- From Bhakti to Buddhism: Ravidas and Ambedkar – Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp – EPW
- Bhakti Rhetoric in the Hagiography of ‘Untouchable’ Saints – Springer
- A brief history of the Bhakti movement – Mint
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Bhakti tradition did flourish under Mughal rule.
b) The Bhakti tradition didn’t flourish under Mughal rule.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Amended Forest Act may open the door for biodiversity destruction
For the Left:
We can’t have a shoot-and-scoot Opposition
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Cybercrime hub (Haryana) – The state’s Nuh district is fast becoming a hub for organised cybercrime activities. Among the reports are phishing scams targeting people across the country. The “Jamtara module” involves a group of people who pose as representatives of legitimate companies. They’re normally organised in groups of 3-4 in the 18-35 age bracket. They usually post ads on social media to offer services like setting up fake bank accounts and getting fake SIM cards, and they charge 5-50% commission fees.
Why it matters: Nuh is one of the most backward regions in the state and many of the illiterate youth engage in cybercrime by using stolen high-end phones. Two villages, Jurehera and Ghamdi, on the Rajasthan-Haryana border are cybercrime training hubs. Many of the reported crimes happen on the border since it becomes difficult to track their mobile locations.
Regularisation cap lifted (Andhra Pradesh) – The state government has decided to lift the cap on the regularisation of contract employees. However, this has made 4,000 timescale employees unhappy. Those recruited as Nominal Muster Roll (NMR) employees between 1987 and 1993 saw no mention of regularisation in the recent announcement. They’ve been waiting for their turn but it hasn’t arrived.
Why it matters: A few years ago, over 40 employees from the Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority approached the court which ruled in their favour for regularisation. The government followed the order. Regularising wouldn’t put any additional financial burden on the government and it would need an allocation of only ₹16 crore per year, including all benefits. Ever since the government decided to remove the five-year service rule, the employees have been waiting for the government to act.
Coastal highway package (Odisha) – A part of the ambitious coastal project has gotten the green light with environmental clearance pending. Package 3 of the 346-km coastal highway project Kakatpur to Erasama faced opposition from local residents due to its realignment. Now, it has been realigned again. This has helped revive the project. Bids for the four-lane coastal road were abruptly cancelled before the end of the deadline on August 10.
Why it matters: The project was announced in 2015 by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari to pass through seven coastal districts of the state. The goal of the project is to facilitate transportation to the ports and ease traffic on NH-16. It would also help boost tourism. The length of the Rameshwar to Digha stretch was reduced from 451 km to 346 km.
Sunburn festival controversy (Goa) – Goa Tourism Minister Rohan Khaunte said the government won’t bow to the festival’s organisers amid speculation that the festival might be moved to Mopa, close to the Manohar International Airport. He said the government has clearly laid out the process for organising events by private operators, and they should follow that. However, some residents are opposed to it due to the loud music that will be played.
Why it matters: The local collective, Mopa Vimantal Panchcroshi Pidit Jan Sanghathana, described the festival as a nuisance. It requested all panchayats in the region, the local police, and the Sub Divisional Magistrate to oppose the festival. For the past few years, the festival has been held at Vagator Beach. Khaunte said unless the organisers get a no-objection certificate from the Tourism Department, the festival can’t go ahead.
Chinese villages along LAC (Arunachal Pradesh) – Local reports state China is setting up border settlement villages in several sensitive areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh. Some villages have been set up in Tawang and Tulung La. While some are concerned about Chinese activity, officials warn against treating these as villages. One official said they should be called Chinese border settlements in un-demarcated areas.
Why it matters: Tulung La is considered the entry point to the state and the northeast. For Tibetans, it has some significance. Historically speaking, this was the place where the Chinese ambushed 4 Assam Rifle troops in 1975. China’s 2022 Land Border law states resettling the population and upgrading infrastructure at the border. These villages are seen as a filler between civilian and military infrastructure.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
500 million – The Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) has crossed the 500 million mark nine years after its launch. The total deposits have crossed ₹2 lakh crore, with more than 55% belonging to women.