Persian Influence on Literary and Sufi Traditions in South Asia

Khaliq Ahmad Nizami
The Annual Noruz Lecture by a Distinguished Scholar of Irania Studies
March 1992


The story of South Asian relations with Iran goes back to hoary past and covers many important aspects of life–political, literary, cultural and religious. The spirit of Persian renaissance turned Iranian traditions into a vibrant force and shaped the sociopolitical ideals of the sultans, the literary and artistic paradigms of scholars, the moral code and spiritual goals of the sufis, the melodies of the musicians and the parameters of the medical science. The artists, the painters, the architects, the caligraphists of Iran all came to be admired and imitated. The aesthetic and artistic genius of Iran inspired for centuries the literary and spiritual activities of the people in South Asia and its intellectual and emotional life revolved around the patterns set by Iranian traditions. Hardly any other cultural tradition has had such far-reaching and abiding impact on the lives of the people. Naturally therefore when one thinks of Iranian impact on South Asia, a world of historic visions and memories glows into consciousness.

Two preliminary observations may be made to put the present discussion in its proper conceptual framework. First, many of the important scholars of Islamic sciences who influenced Muslim mind in South Asia belonged to Iranian lands, though they wrote in Arabic. When their works came to be translated into Persian, the area of their influence widened. Of the six distinguished compilers of the hadith collections (sihah sitta) five were Iranians. Zamakhshar^, the author of kashshaf, the classical work on exegesis, and Seboyah, the celebrated Arabic grammarian, belonged to Zamakhshar and Shiraz in Iran. The Arabs themselves, remarks Ami^r Khusrau, acknowledged their preeminent academic stature and addressed them as `Allamah.1 In fact, Persian became in South Asia the transmission house for Islamic sciences including tafsir, kalâm, fiqh and tasawwuf.

Second, if the course of different streams of thought in Iran is closely followed, it would appear that there has been considerable cycling and recycling of ideas between Iran and India. India is the cradle of pantheistic philosophy and the Upanishads contain the earliest expositions of these ideas. When Islam reached Khurasan and transoxiana, the religious atmosphere was saturated with Buddhist and Hindu ideas. The temples of Bamyan, Balkh and Marv were centers of Buddhist tradition. It was but inevitable that some of their concepts influenced the Iranian mind. The Upanishads proclaim Tattvam assi (Thou art thou), and the idea finds its echo in Bâyazid. The Karramiyan2 cult was a half way house between Islam and Buddhism. Hujwiri has given an account of twelve schools of mystic thought which flourished during the eleventh century of the Christian era.3 An analysis of the thought contents of these garohs, as he calls them, reveals the impact of Indian ideas. Concepts like fanâ, baqâ, hulûl, etc. are inexplicable except in the context of Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions. Thus some of the Iranian mystical ideas that reached India during the medieval period had in fact originated in India and were cycled back to India under Islamic rubrics. Indian fables (like Panchatantra), lexical and phonological traditions, mathematical theories and astronomical concepts reached Iran and influenced Iranian thought.

If one surveys the historical landscape of India during the medieval period, a number of Iranian cultural streams in the realm of polity, social traditions, literature, historiography and mystic thought seem flowing in every direction enriching the soil and contributing to the variegated culture pattern of India. It was generally believed in India during the Sultanate period that kingship was not possible without emulating Persian customs, ceremonies and principles of government. When Iltutmish, the real founder of the Delhi Sultanate, is referred to as Fari^du^n far, Qubâd Nahâd, Kâvûs Nâmûs, Sikandar Daulat, Bahrâm Shaukat,4 the whole concept of greatness seems to reel round the Iranian heroes. Both Iltutmish and Balban prided in calling themselves descendants of Afrâsiyâb.5 Barani’s Fatâwây-i Jahândâri illustrates the depth and dimensions of Iranian influence on medieval Indian polity. The sultans of Delhi were Turks by race but Iranian by culture. Their entire administrative set-up–from names and nomenclature of offices to forms and functions of institution–was modeled on the Iranian pattern.6 Barani remarks: “…it became necessary for the rulers of Islam to follow the policy of the Iranian emperors in order to ensure the greatness of the True Word…and the maintenance of their own authority.”7

In the fields of learning and literature, Iranian influence shaped the contour and conspectus of historiography, poetry, tasawwuf (mysticism), inshâ (epistolary principles) and tibb (medicine). Amir Khusrau has referred to the linguistic homogeneity brought about by the Persian language in a country of proliferate linguistic traditions. He remarks:

“The Persian language as spoken in India is the same from Sind to Bengal. This Persian is our Dari. Indian languages differ from group to group and change (their dialects) after every hundred miles. But Persian is the same over an area of four thousand farsangs.8

History writing among the Muslims was conditioned by two distinct traditions–the Arab and the Iranian. The Arabs wrote history of an age and handled the historical data year by year; the Iranians, inspired by the traditions of Shâh Nâmah, dealt with dynasties and their assortment of facts concerned mainly the court and the camp. The Iranian historians generally dedicated their works to rulers or the ruling dynasties. In India the Iranian tradition influenced the pattern of history writing. From Hasan Nisha^pu^ri^, the earliest historian of the Delhi Sultanate (Tâj al-Ma’âthir) to Khair al-Din Ilâhâbâdi, the last historian of the Mughal Empire (`Ibrat Nâmah), the Iranian pattern determined the collection and presentation of historical data. The whole jargon of official correspondence and epistolography was developed in India on the principles of `ilm-i dabi^ri^, as described in Chahâr Maqâla and as adopted in Dastur al-Albâb fi `Ilm al-Hisâb by “Abdul Hamid Muharrir Ghaznavi. The drafting of Fath Nâmahs (official communiques of victory) was done on the Iranian model. The Fath Nâmahs of `Ala^ al-Di^n Khalji^ drafted by Kabir al-Din have not survived but Balban’s fath Na^mah of Lakhnanti as drafted by Ami^r Khusrau is available in I`jâz-i Khusravi and Akbar’s fath Nâmah of Chittor is preserved in Namakin’s Munsha’ât wa Ruqa`a^t. Their form and format are to all intents and purposes Iranian.

With the Sha^h Na^mah, which crystallized the historic memory of Iran, begins the history of literary, cultural and political traditions of Iran. It ushered in the dawn of Persian Renaissance and Firdausi justly claimed: `Ajam zinda kardam bedin Pa^rsi (I have brought back `Ajam to life through this Persian.) From the time of Balban to the days of Akbar and even later the Sha^h Na^mah was read at the courts of sultans and principles of governance and cultural effervescence were drawn from it. Its verses were recited even in the khânqâhs. When Balban presented himself at Pakpattan to seek the blessings of Shaikh Farid Ganj-i Shakar, the saint recited the following verses of Firdausi:9

Fari^du^n-i farrukh firishtih nabu^d

Za `u^d-o za `anbar sirishtih nabu^d

Za dâd-o dahish yâft ân nikui^

To dâd-o dahish kun, firishtih to-i

(Fari^du^n, the blessed, was not an angel; he was not made of agallochum or ambergris. He attained the position of kingship through his bounty and liberality. Bestow liberally and Fari^du^n is thee.)

The Shâh Nâmah influenced the politico cultural thinking of the people so deeply that its translations were undertaken in several Indian languages–Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, etc. `Isa^mi wrote his Futu^h al-Sala^ti^n as Sha^h Na^mah-i Hind and said:10

Jahân tâ ki bâqist andar jahân

Bi Shahna^ma Ba^qist na^m-i shaha^n

(As long as the world lasts, the Sha^h Na^mah will remain and with it the names of the kings it describes.)

Shaikh A^zari versified the conquests of Ahmad Sha^h Bahmani in Bahman Na^mah on the pattern of Sha^h Na^mah. During the time of Aurangzeb, Baha^dur Ali rendered into prose many stories of Sha^h Na^mah and named them Sha^h Na^mah-i Bakhta^war Kha^ni. The glamour of Sha^h Na^mah as a model of sociopolitical activities inspired Hafeez Jallandhari to write Sha^h Na^mah-i Islam in Urdu.

In all the important genres of poetry–ghazal, mathnawi^, qasi^dah–the success of a poet in South Asia was measured by the extent of his approximation to the standards set by the Iranian poets. In the words of J^m^ there were three prophets in the sphere of poetry–Firdausi of abiya^t, Anwari of qasi^dah and Sa`adi^ of ghazal.11 Each one of them had his literary following in India.

Sa`adi^ was the great master of ghazal. He was justified in claiming sovereignty over the realm of letters (Sukhan Mulkist Sa`ad^ r^ musallam). In his poetry, which is soaked in cosmic emotion, feelings move in tune and time as naturally as the heart beats. Am^r Khusrau and Hasan both tried to emulate him but did not succeed. However, both of them admitted their indebtedness to Sa`ad^i. Khusrau acknowledged having poured in his cup the wine of Shiraz12 and Hasan claimed to have plucked a flower from the garden of Sa`ad^.13 Shaikh Nas^r al-D^n Chir^gh, a friend of both Khusrau and Hasan, however, remarked:14

Amir Khusrau va Amir Hasan bisiyâr khwâstand ki be-tariq-i Khwâja Sa`adi bi-guyand, muyassar nashud; Khwâja Sa`adi^ a^nchih guft az sirr-i hâl guft.

(Amir Khusrau and Amir Hasan much desired to emulate Khwâja Sa`adi^ in their poetry, but did not succeed. Whatever Khwa^ja Sa`adi^ has said is based on cosmic experience).

Unfortunately this sirr-i hâl of Sa`adi^ was overshadowed by his eminence as a poet. But in India his pre-eminence as a dedicated Sufi was widely acknowledged and invocatory and incantational significance was attached to his verses. Shaikh Hamid al-Din Nagauri, a distinguished khalifa of Khwâja Mu`in al-Din Chishtî of Ajmer, told his audience that during the closing years of his life Shaikh Sa`adi lived in seclusion at the mausoleum of Shaikh “Abdullâh Khafifi and spent his time in prayer and meditation. He thus advised those who came to see him:

“Offer five time prayers regularly and whatever much or less God has given you share it with the needy and the poor. If you do that then wherever you may be (placed in life), you can proceed from there on the path to God (and attain gnosis).”15

He made altruism a corner stone of his mystic discipline. He had learnt from his spiritual mentor, Shaikh Shihâb al-Dîn Suhrawardi, that rejection of egotistical arrogance and self-abnegation was the only way to spiritual enlightenment. He says:

Marâ Pîr-i dânâ-yi murshid, Shihâb

Do andarz farmûd bar rû-yi âb

yiki in-ki bar khwîsh khud-bîn mabâsh

duvum in-ki bar ghayr bad-bin mabâsh

(My wise and blessed spiritual mentor, Shih^b

Gave two pieces of advice to me while sailing on the river

First, do not be ego-centric (and overbearing)

Secondly, do not look down upon and wish ill of others.)

Sa`adi’s role in focusing on moral and ethical ideas of Islamic mysticism was second to none. Innumerable works of Indian Sufis have quoted his verses as the real way to attain gnosis. In fact, in India the mystic spirit was generated and sustained more by Persian verses than mystic classics or ethical treatises.

In the thirteenth century the elan of Persian poetry was towards moral rejuvenation of society by restoring the dignity of man as Man and inculcating respect for moral and ethical values. There was a painful realization that the moral fiber of man had weakened and that human beings were multiplying while humanity was languishing. The life breath of the poetry of Sa`adi, Rumi and `Irâqî was their restless concern for humanity. In fact, the process of what Iqbal called âdamgarî (shaping the man) and which later on became the summum bonum of mystic activity, begins with them. Rumi set out in search of “Man” crying insânam ârizûst (I yearn for a true human being); Sa`ad^ found beasts masquerading in human form16 and sought protection from vicissitudes and revolution of the time (zinhâr az dowr-i gîtî va inqilâb-i rûzigâr). They applied all their energy to resurrect the fallen structures of faith and confidence and in directing the soul movement of man. In the poetry of Amir Khusrau one can hear an echo of the spirit generated by these great masters. His mathnawi, Matla` al-Anwâr, is soaked in this spirit of the age and reflects his anxiety to salvage humanity from its imminent doom. Surprisingly, the Iranian poets were writing in an age of gloom and depression when the Mongols had devastated centers of Muslim culture and Khusrau wrote when the Khalji Empire had risen with all its grandeur and glory. That under so dissimilar circumstances their concern for humanity should be the same shows their anxiety to salvage higher values in times of both gloom and glory. Rûmi’s Mathnawi and Khusrau’s Matla` al-Anwâr supplied Iqbal with both ideals and emotions and he prayed to God in Armaghân-i Hijâz

`Atâ kun shûr-i Rumi, sûz-i khusrau

(Bestow on me the tumult of Rumi and the flame of Khusrau).

Ghazals apart, Sa`adi’s Gulistân and Bûstân were read by princes and plebeians alike and were prescribed in the syllabus of medieval Indian madrasahs. The Gulistân became a manual of guidance for the ethical and moral training of young minds. Not only its verses, but prose sentences also passed into proverbial literature and set the norms of good behavior. A number of works were written in imitation of Gulistân–Bahâristân, Khâristân and Parîshân–to name a few, but none could come anywhere near Sa`adi’s work. Khâristân was written by Majd al-Din Khwâfi at the instance of Akbar;17 Qâsim Kûhi wrote in imitation of Bustân during the same period. But Sa`adi was inimitable.

In the sphere of ghazal, Hâfiz (d. 1389) was the other charismatic figure whose influence on the literary traditions of India was deep and far-reaching. A literary artist, he depicted delicate feelings and ideas like a painter, giving them a life-like touch. Bâbâ Fughâni, Sâ’ib, Naziri, `Urfi and a large number of other poets in Iran and India struggled hard to emulate his musical thought but did not succeed. Even the arrogant `Urfi considered him a literary sanctum (ka`abih sukhan). Urdu poets like Ghâlib, Saudâ and Momin have borrowed delicate sensitivity of emotions from him.

Hâfiz’s literary reputation reached India during his life time. Bengal and Kashmir were in direct contact with him. About the appreciation of his poetry by the people of Kashmir he himself says:

Bi-shi`r-i Hâfiz-i Shiraz mi-raqsand-o mi-nâzand

Siyah-chashmân-i kashmiri-o Turkân-i Samarqandi

(The black-eyed Kashmiris and Turks of Samarqand love the verses of Hâfiz of Shiraz and dance in tune).

His poetry came to represent the quintessence of romantic fervor of Iran. His verses, chiselled linguistically and charged emotionally, took the contemporary Persian-speaking world by storm. Both men of letters and mystics enjoyed his verses in India. Looked upon as lisân al-ghayb (the tongue of secrets), people turned to his work for auguries and divinations. An old manuscript of Diwân-i Hâfiz preserved in Bankipur Library shows that Humâyûn and Jahângîr frequently consulted it for fâl (augury). Reacting to this aspect of popular interest in Hâfiz’s poetry, Iqbal warned them against too much involvement in Hâfiz. He was opposed to impressionism but fully realized Hâfiz’s greatness as a poet and his charismatic influence.

In fact the ghazal tradition in India, both in Persian and Urdu, derived its hue and color from Hâfiz. There were people in India who ascribed talismanic effect to his verses. Shâh Fazl-i Rahmân Ganj Murâbâdi, spiritual leader of some of the most distinguished Indian `ulama of the nineteenth century, wrote Hâfiz’s verses in amulets.

Hâfiz returned India’s compliment to persian masters by eulogizing Tûtiân-i Hind. Amir Khusrau has very beautifully described in Dîbâcha Ghurrat al-Kamâl the significance of tûti imagery in literature. Hâfiz’s appreciation and esteem of Khusrau’s poetry is evident from the fact that he copied out his khamsah in his own hand.

The Khamsah tradition in Persian literature owes its origin to Nizâmi of Ganja (d.1209), the most resplendent poet of romantic epic. The profundity of his ethical and philosophical thought created a stir in the literary and Sufi circles in India. A large number of Khamsahs were written in Central Asia, Turkey and India in its imitation, but in Browning’s words, “They strove to do, agonized to do, but failed in doing.” In India Khusrau wrote a replica of his Khamsah. According to Jâmi, no other poet could write a better rejoinder to Nizâmi than Khusrau.18 But Nizâmi’s emotional rigor and grasp of minute detail could not be achieved by Khusrau. Shibli thought that Nizâmi wrote with patience and concentration; Khusrau hurriedly and with a distracted mind.19 The result was obvious. According to Daulat Shâh Samarqandi some Central Asian princes held a seminar on the relative merit of the two Khamsahs. They debated and argued in support of their points of view. Ultimately the following verse of Khusrau:

qatri-yi âbî na-khurad mâkiyân

Tâ na-kunad rûy sûy-i âsmân

(No hen takes a drop of water without lifting its head towards the sky (in gratefulness to God),

led to their verdict in favor of Khusrau. This was rather too much. However, it cannot be denied that Khusrau’s use of bird symbols was superb. Explaining the concept of makân and lâ-makân he said:

Gar makân-o lâ-makân khwâhî ki yak-jâ bingarî

Murgh râ bîn dar havâ–ham lâ-maqâm-o ham maqâm

Important mystic teachers in India like Shaikh Farîd al-Dîn Ganj-i Shakar and Shaikh Nizâm al-Dîn Awliyâ’ cited verses of Nizâmi to explain and illustrate different emotional states and mystical concepts. `Isâmi said that every word of Nizâmi was loaded with breathtaking incantational power.20 Inspired by Nizâmi’s Khusrau-o-Shirîn, Jâmi wrote his Mehr-o-Mâh. But Nizâmi was nonpareil.

The masters of Persian qasîdah–Rûdaki, `Unsuri, Farrukhi, Khâqâni and others–determined qasidah patterns and motifs in India. Rudaki inspired generation after generation of Indian poets, including Ghâlib and Shibli, to compose verses in the same rhyme and meter. Khusrau admits in Tuhfat al-Sighar that he struggled hard to emulate Khâqâni but did not succeed. The Mughal court poets–Ghazzâli, Meshidi, Faizi, Tâlib Âmuli, Kalîm Hamadâni–all followed the footsteps of the qasidah writers of Iran. Ghâlib wrote a rejoinder to Nazîrî (d.1612), the chief lyric poet of the time, but confessed his mistake:

javâb-i Khwâja Nazîri nivishti-am Ghâlib

Khatâ nimûdi-am-o chashm-i âfarin dâram

In fact, the Iranian milieu–its smiling meadows, murmuring brooks, twittering bulbuls,21 melting glow of the twilight and moving moon up the sky–was a source of undying inspiration to the poets of Iran. As the Indian poets did not have first hand and direct experience of the Iranian phenomena of nature, their references to it appear insipid and prosaic. However, the incantation of words in the qasidahs of Indo-Persian poets was superb.

The most prolific period of Persian poetry in India was the age of Akbar (1556-1605), which Professor Hermann Ethe considered to be the “Indian summer of Persian poetry.” Abul Fazl has referred to Gulistân, Hadiqah, Mathnawi of Rumi, Auhadi’s Jâm-i Jam, Shâh Nâmah, Khamsah-i Nizâmi, Kulliyâti-Jâmi, Diwân-i Hâfiz as popular studies at the court of Akbar. These works set the norms of excellence and the poets of Akbar’s court vied with each other in emulating these masters. Akbar’s liberal patronage of men of letters attracted to his court scholars, philosophers, poets and artists from every part of the Persian speaking world–Meshed, Ispahan, Shiraz, Nishapur, Harat, Marv, Najaf, Hamadan, Kashan, Ray, Sabzwar and Tabriz.22 Under him Agra could boast to have within its confine many of those celebrities whom the author of Ma’âthir-i Rahîmî significantly calls the musta`idân-i Iran. This atmosphere continued in the centuries that followed and as late as the nineteenth century Ghâlib claimed:

Emrûz man Nizâmi-o Khâqâni-am bi-dahr

Delhi za man bi Ganja-o sherwân barâbar ast.

(In the world today I am like Nizâmi and Khâqâni. Due to my presence here Delhi is like Ganja and Sherwan.)

The Persian poetic genius found a congenial atmosphere at Akbar’s court and its influence spread far and wide. India became a channel for the spread of Persian poetic traditions in other lands. “After Jâmi,” wrote Ghâlib, “`Urfi and Faizi were the chief Persian influences on Turkish poetry.”23 Nefa’î, the greatest Turkish poet of the seventeenth century is specially seen vying with `Urfi and it is not without significance that copies of some of the best qasidahs and Diwâns of `Urfi are found in the libraries of Ankara and Istanbul.24 `Urfi infused a new spirit in eulogistic literature by his qasidahs and ghazals, which are characterized by high ideals, deep egotistical perspicacity, dynamism and drive. According to Iqbal, who drew inspiration from him in evolving his concept of khudî, `Urfi’s imagination built a magnificent palace at the altar of which the wonderland of Bû Ali Sînâ and Fârâbi could be sacrified. Even Ghâlib was beholden to him. 25

The emotional vigor and linguistic finesse with which Persian language, literature and traditions spread in India may be gauged from their effect on the various vernacular languages of India. Dr. Maulwi `Abdul Haq has traced the impact of Persian language on the Marathi language.26 Many Persian tales and terms form part of Bengali literature.27 Jayananda writes in his Chaitanya Mangal:28 “A Brahmin will grow a beard and read Persian. He will put on socks and with a stick in one hand will take a bow in the other. The holy Brahmin will recite the mathnaw^.”29 Similarly in the Punjab many themes and stories of Iran were assimilated in the Punjab literature.

When Akbar got Sanskrit works translated into Persian, the frontiers of Persian language were further widened and Persian became the language of all Indian religions. Mahabharat Ramayan, Atharban, Haribas, etc. were rendered into Persian by the scholars of Akbar’s court. It was through D^r^ Shukoh’s Persian translation that the philosophy of Upanishads was introduced to Europe.30

“Sufism,” remarks Shaikh Ali Hujwiri, “is too exalted to have any genus from which it might be derived.”31 Notwithstanding the fact that mysticism has no genealogy and that the mystical attitude was developed in all regions, languages and religions of the world, the Sufi ideology and institutions in Islam were nurtured in Iran. South Asia imbibed these metaphysical and ontological concepts from Iran and its mystical thought rotated within the perimeters laid down by the Iranian thinkers. Ideology apart, even the organization of khânqâh life was largely determined by the Sufis of Iran. Shaikh Abu Said Abul Khair, Shaikh Saif al-Din Bâkharzi and Shaikh Shihâb al-Din Suhrawardi had taken a momentous decision to transform the mystic discipline, which had hitherto remained confined to individual spiritual salvation, into a movement for mass spiritual culture. Iran provided drift and direction, animation and ardor to this effort. Organization of khânqâh life, principles of spiritual training and demarcation of areas of spiritual jurisdiction (walâyats) were the crucial matters and once their details were worked out, the mystic movement entered a new phase and vast areas became available for the proliferation of Sufi ideology and institutions.

Shaikh Abd al-Qâhir Abu Najîb Suhrawardi laid down rules regarding pîr-murîd relationships in his âdâb al-Murîdîn. His nephew Shaikh Shihâb al-Din Suhrawardi gave in `Awârif al-Ma`ârif a complete code for the organization of khânqâhs. Shaikh Farid al-Din Ganj-i Shakar who was anxious to transform mystic disciplines into a mass movement taught `Awârif to his senior disciples and prepared its summary.32 The `awârif became widely popular when its Persian translations were made and mystics of all silsilahs turned to it as manual of guidance. At a time when the concept of walâyat was being worked out as silsilahs were taking shape, it served a great need of the time. The earliest Persian translation, as could be expected, was made at Multan by Q^sim D^’^d Khat^b during the time of Shaikh Bahâ al-Din Zakarriyâ, a distinguished khalifa of Shaikh Shihâb al-Din.33 Qâsim Dâ’ûd’s aim, as he himself says, was to make it available to a large circle of people so that they could act upon it. Another early translation of `Awârif was made by Shaikh `Abdur Rahman b. Ali Buzghûsh whose father was a disciple of Shaikh Shihâb al-Din Suhrawardi. Long before `Izz al-Din Mahmûd Kâshâni (d.1334) prepared a Persian recension of `Awârif al-Ma`ârif under the title Mishah al-Hidâya wa Miftâh al-Kifâyah,34the ideas of Shaikh Shihâb al-Din Suhrawardi had become popularly known in the Sufi circles of South Asia and kh^nq^hs were organized on the foundational principles enunciated in `Aw^rif. With the effective organization of khânqâhs, it became possible for the saints of different silsilahs to carry forward their programs of mass spiritual culture.

A number of mystic silsilahs flourished in South Asia during the medieval period. Abul Fazl gives a list of fourteen orders which have worked in India. Some of the important saints of these silsilahs either belonged to Iran or had spent some time in the Sufi centers of Iran. Before he entered India, Khwâja Mu`în al-Din Chishti, the renowned founder of the Chisht^ order in India, had spent considerable time in the company of Sufi saints in Iran. The founder of the Suhrawardi order in India, Shaikh Baha al-Din Zakarriyâ, was a disciple of Shaikh Shihâb al-Din Suhrawardi and the spiritual guide of `Irâqi. The founder of the Firdausi order in India, Shaikh Badr al-Din Samarqandi, was a disciple of Shaikh Saif al-Din Bâkharzi who was a friend of Maulânâ Jalâl al-Din Rumi’s father. Makhdum Muhammad Gîlâni, who popularized the Qâdiri order in India, had for years travelled in Iran and Khurasan. Khwâja Baqi Billâh , founder of the Naqshbandi order in India, was born in Kabul and had spent considerable time in Mâwarâ al-Nahr (Transoxiana) and Balkh. The Shattâri silsilah, which traced its origin to Shaikh Bâyazîd Taifûr Bistâmi and was known in Iran as Tarîqa-i `Ishqiya,35 came direct from Iran. Its pioneer saint in India was Shâh `Abdullâh Shattâri who lies buried in Mandu. Shaikh Muhammad Ghauth, an outstanding Shaikh of the Shattâri order, translated Amrit Kund into Persian under the title of Bahr al-Hayât. The way Shaikh Muhammad Ghauth has used Muslim mystic terminology to communicate Hindu mystical concepts is most striking. He was in a way a precursor of Dara Shukoh, whose majma` al-Bahrain is an expression of the same attitude which inspired Shaikh Muhammad Ghauth.

The organization of silsilahs in India made the dissemination of Sufi ideology easier. Itineracy being a part of the mystic discipline in those days, itinerant Sufis from Iran and India carried mystic traditions from one country to another. Delhi, Lahore, Multan and Ajodhan were connected with the mystic centers of Iran and Central Asia. `Ir^q^ of Hamadan joined the circle of Shaikh Bahâ al-Din Zakarriyâ’s disciples in Multan and brought to India Ibn `Arab^’s pantheistic philosophy, which he had learned at the feet of Shaikh Sadr al-Din Qunavi. Through Khwâja Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyâr Kâki who hailed from Aush, a great Hallâji center, pantheistic ideas of Ahmad Jâm found currency in the mystic circles of Delhi.

Both mystic thought and experience derive their sustenance from cosmic emotion (`ishq), which is embedded in the psyche of Iran. It was cosmic emotion that wove the essential features of Sufi soul movement into the texture of Iranian thought. Since mystic experiences could not be explained in plain language, the Sufi poets adopted the language of symbols for the communication of their ideas. Abu Sa`id Abul Khair, Sanâ’î, `Attâr and Rumi planted the symbolist tradition in Iran and Indian Sufis drew inspiration from them. Iqbal was so deeply influenced by Rumi that according to Sa`îd Naficy he revived the “symbolist traditions with magnificent results.”36 In India the Sufi tradition developed under the symbolist rather than the impressionist trends in Iran.

The poetical works of Shaikh Abu Sa`id Abul Khair (d.1049), Khwâja `Abdull^h Ansâri (d.1088), San^’^ (d.1131), Ahmad J^m (d.1142), Niz^m^ Ganjav^ (d.1209), `Att^r (d. 1229), Shaikh Saif al-Din Bâkharzi (d. 1259), Rumi (d.1273), `Irâqî (d. 1289) Sa`adi (d.1292), Shaikh Awhad al-Din Kirmâi^ (d.1237), Hâfiz (d.1389) and Jâmi (d.1492) supplied a warm fund of emotions to Indian Sufis and provided those moral and ethical ideals which became the elan of the Sufi movement in South Asia. The mystic literature produced in India during the last 800 years or so is replete with extracts from the works of these poets. Many of their verses have been accepted as epitomes of ideal behavior and have assumed the significance of proverbs based on unimpeachable human experience.

Iqbal has remarked in his Development of Metaphysics in Persia that the secret of vitality of Sufism is the complete view of human nature upon which it is based.37 A mystic teacher, therefore, needed nafs-i gir^ (intuitive intelligence) and psychological insight to make his efforts at moral and spiritual regeneration of man and society really effective. Apart from inculcating love of God, the Sufis strove hard to strengthen the moral fiber of man by drawing him to futuwwat (generosity and manliness).38 The mystic poetry of Iran consequently became a powerful vehicle for the dissemination of these ideas.

Looked at from this angle, Shaikh Abu Sa`^d Abul Khair was a powerful influence on Indian mind. He captured the imagination of Indian Sufis by his quatrains39 vibrating with emotions of human love and sympathy. Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliyâ’, in particular, derived his mystic ideas and social ethics from him. His faith that real human happiness lies in large-hearted tolerance, compassion and good will towards all human beings was based on the teachings of Shaikh Abu Sa`id. He frequently recited these verses in support of his views:

Har-ki mârâ ranja dârad, râhatash bisiyâr bâd

Har-ki mâ râ yâr nabvad, Izad ‘û râ yâr bâd

Har-ki andar râh-i mâ khâri nahad az dushmani

Har guli kaz bâgh-i `umrash bishkufad bî-khâr bâd.

(He who nurses ill-will against me may his joys (in life) increase,

He who is not my friend, may God be his friend,

He who puts thorn in my way on account of enmity,

May every flower that blossoms in the garden of his life be without thorns.)

The Indian Sufis derived from Shaikh Abu Sa`id’s teachings the following principles of mystic morality:

1) Concern for the welfare of man as the summum bonum of mystic ethics.

2) Harmony in social relations as the basis of individual and collective happiness.

3) Ways of dealing with cognition, feeling and volition with a view to reforming human behavior.

4) Treating all living beings–man and animal–with equal affection.

5) Emphasis on cultivation of cosmic emotion in preference to intellectual pursuit.

6) Superiority of moral and ethical life over academic achievement.

7) Determinism and free will–extent and implications.

Inspired by Shaikh Abu Sa`id’s teachings, Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliya’ advised his followers to reform human responses at the stage of cognition. This was the surest way to bring about change in human character. Further he believed that a man with vast human sympathies alone understood the divine purpose of life. He admired Shaikh Abu Sa`id’s benevolent attitude towards all living beings., men and

animals. Shaikh Abu Sa`id once saw a man beating his bull and cried out in agony as if he himself was being beaten.40

Again inspired by the example of Shaikh Abu Sa`id Abul Khair, Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliya’ told his disciples that a morally autonomous personality was superior to an intellectual prodigy. He cited the following incident of Shaikh Abu Sa`id’s life. One day Bu Ali Sinâ visited khânqâh of Shaikh Abu Sa`id. He instructed an acquaintance to report to him the Shaikh’s impression about him after he had left. The Shaikh on being asked by the person said: “Bu Ali is a philosopher, a physician and a man of vast learning, but he is devoid of moral qualities (makârim-i akhlâq nadârad).” On hearing this Bu Ali Sînâ wrote to the Shaikh that he had written several books on ethics. “How do you say that I do not have moral qualities?” The saint smiled and said:41

Man na-gufte-am ki Bu Ali makârim-i akhlâq na-dânad; bal gufte-am ki na-dârad.

(I did not say that B^ Ali does not know ethical qualities; I said that he does not possess them.)

In fact, Shaikh Abu Sa`6d and Khwâja `Abdullâh Ansâri, popularly known as Pîr-i Hari, supplied elan and motive power to the Muslim mystic activity in India. Pir-i Hari’s risalahs sowed the seeds of later mystical didactic epic poems; his quatrains propagated mystic concepts as ideals of human behavior; his Tabaqât al-Sûfiya laid the foundation of biographical studies of Sufi saints, while his Munâjât provided fire and fervor to Sufi invocation gatherings. In his foreword to Sardâr Jogendra Singh’s English translation of Munâjât, Gandhiji appreciated him as one of the best minds of all the religions of the world.

Shaikh Abu Sa`id and Pir-i Hari gave a revolutionary dimension to Sufi weltanschauung by defining the purpose of religious devotions in terms of the service of mankind. Countless genuflexions of prayer and endless fasts, they said, could not give divine significance to life, if not accompanied by deep and abiding concern for the welfare of man. They emphasized that life dedicated to social service was of greater value than pious contemplation in seclusion. Shaikh Mu`in al-Din Chishti’s definition of devotion (tâ`at) as42

Darmândigân râ farâd rasîdan va hâjat-i bî-chârigân ravâ kardan va gurusnigân râ sîr gardânîdan

(Providing redress to the destitute, fulfilling the needs of the downtrodden and feeding the poor)

and Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliyâ’s classification of devotion into tâ`at-i lazmi and t^`at-muta`addi43 are, in fact, echoes of the same spirit. Bîbî Fâtimah Sâm, a distinguished mystic woman of the thirteenth century, demonstrated the working of these principles in her life and shared her piece of bread with neighbors in straitened circumstances.44

An early Persian poet whose poetry influenced Indian mystics at the emotional level was Shaikh Ahmad Jâm. Shaikh Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyâr Kâkî breathed his last listening to his verses.

Sanâ’i presented mysticism as a philosophy of life. His diwân and Hadîqah were popular studies in India. The Hadîqah was read both in khânqâhs and the courts of the kings.45 Shaikh Nasîr al-Din Chirâgh of Delhi referred to Sanâ’i’s life as a model of spiritual excellence. He invited people absorbed in materialistic pursuits to the realm of spirit by reciting the following verse of Sanâ’i:46

Ay ki Shanûdî sifat-i Rûm-o Chîn

Khîz-o biyâ mulk-i Sanâ’i be-bîn

(O’ you who have heard of the glories of Rome and China; Rise and behold the realm of Sana’i.)

Shaikh Saif al-Din Bâkharzi’s remark that Sanâ’i’s verses made him a real Muslim,47 were often cited in the mystic circles of Delhi. Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliyâ’ approvingly quoted the following supplication of shaikh Saif al-Din Bâkharzi:48

Ay-kâsh marâ bâd ânjâ barad ki khâk-i sanâ’i-st, yâ khâk-i `û biyârad ki man surmeh kunam.

(O’ that some gale might take me to where Sana’i lies buried, or that it might bring his dust to me to put in my eyes.)

During the time of Shâh Jahân, `Abdul Latîf `Abbâsi wrote a commentary on Hadîqah under the Laâ’if al-Hadâ’iq.49 From the time of Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliyâ’ to the days of Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Sanâ’i has been a powerful influence on Indo-Muslim religious thought. Iqbal’s Shikwa, Iblîs Ki Majlis-i Shurâ etc. at once takes one’s mind to Sanâ’i’s “Lament of Satan.” Unlike many contemporary mystics, Sanâ’i did not think of knowledge as hijâb-i akbar (the greater curtain preventing the vision of Reality). He, however, rejected over-intellectualism and defined the purpose of knowledge (`ilm)50 clearly and thoughtfully. According to him Sufism was an appeal to a higher source of knowledge.

Khwâja Farîd al-Din `Attâr’s Mantiq al-Tayr and Tadhkirat al-Awliyâ’ were avidly read in the Sufi circles of Delhi. The Mantiq al-Tayr provided an interesting excursion in the realm of the spirit and its symbolic approach inspired others to undertake similar works. Ziâ Nakhshabi’s Tûtî Nâmah and Nâmûs-i Akbar seem inspired by `Attâr’s technique. His Pand Nâmah was for centuries included in the syllabus of madrassahs and its sentences passed into aphorisms. `Attâr became a symbol of catholicity of thought and liberal tradition. His following verse was inscribed in the temples of Kashmir51and was recited in the khânâ^hs of Delhi as a veritable expression of the cosmopolitan spirit:

Kufr kâfer râ-o dîn dîn-dâr râ

Zarre-yi dardî dil-i `Attâr râ

Irâqi was another dynamic figure whose verses provided moral and spiritual animation to the Sufi movement in India. His Lama`ât captured the imagination of intellectuals; his diwân fascinated the Sufis. His `Ushshâq Nâmah traverses the same path of cosmic emotion that R^m^ has covered with greater artistic deftness and symbolistic vigor. His concept of ego and his emphasis on self-respect, resignation and contentment inspired Khusrau, `Urfi and Iqbal. Iqbal52was, in particular, deeply impressed by a risalah of `Iraqi, Ghâyat al-Imkân fî Warâyat al-Makân,53which contains striking modern concepts. He interpreted, remarks Iqbal, “his spiritual experience of time and space in an age which had no idea of the theories and concepts of modern mathematics and physics.”54

With Rumi’s Mathnawî the impact of Iranian Sufi traditions on South Asia touched its highest watermark. No mystic writer before or after him has succeeded in portraying soul movement and its subtle, inexpressible experiences with such perception and delicate sensitivity. Rumi believed in the creative urge of the self and visualized a long and unending process of its evolution and growth. He had a philosophy of life, a vision of moral and spiritual needs of man and society, a fine spiritual sensibility and a powerful imagination that made his delineation of delicate spiritual experiences a magical performance. In fact, he provided a picture gallery of mystic ideas and images. In India he was first quoted by Shaikh Nasîr al-Din Chirâgh, a disciple of Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliyâ’.55 In subsequent years the mystics were so enamored of his Mathnawi that they taught it to their disciples, heard it in their audition parties and expounded mystic ideas to their audience in the light of the anecdotes given in it. It provided a powerful technique to communicate mystic ideas symbolically. Akbar remembered by heart a large number of poems from the Mathnawi and enjoyed reciting them.56 Significantly, Rumi has selected some stories that are of Indian origin and there are many words in the Mathnawi that are common to Persian and Hindi, as `Abdul Latîf `Abbâsi (d.1648) has pointed out in his glossary of Mathnawi, the Latâ’if al-Lughat. I may refer, incidentally, to only two references to India in the Mathnawi. God thus speaks in the Mathnawi:

“In the Hindus the idiom of Hind (India) is praiseworthy,

In the Sindians the idiom of Sind is praiseworthy

I look not at the tongue and the speech

I look at the inward [spirit] and the state of feeling.”57

At another phase Rumi says:

He whose adversary is his own shadow is not safe either in India or Khutan.”58

These verses reveal Rumi’s assessment of India. It is interesting to find that in Rumi’s mind the Indian animal elephant was a symbol of nostalgic remembrance. At several places in the Mathnawi he says:

Pîl chun dar khâb bînad Hind râ

When the elephant dreams of India)9.


Zân-ki pîl-am dîd Hindustân bi-khâb(Because my elephant dreamed of India) V.20.

Shams Tabrîzi was perhaps the first to present the Indian elephant in that way. He said:59

Dûsh âmad pîl-i mâ râ bâz Hindustân bi-khâb

Pardi-yi shab mî-darîd `û az junûn tâ bâmdâd

(Last night our elephant dreamed of India again

(Tearing madly at the curtain of night till the morn.)

The Indian Sufis drew inspiration from Rumi’s moral and ethical ideals and admired his cult of `Ishq (cosmic emotion), but an integrated approach to his work on which could be based integration of individual personality and regeneration of human society was still far off. It was left to Iqbal to turn to Rumi for inspiration and guidance for this purpose. Iqbal’s philosophy–his concept of khud^, his ideal of human excellence, his spiritual goals–were all determined by R^m^. Iqbal proudly calls himself a `disciple of Rumi’. Throughout the centuries, no one in India has been so deeply inspired by the Mathnawi as Iqbal was and none has fathomed the depth of Rumi’s thought as minutely as Iqbal did. Emotionally speaking, Indian Sufis have always been in the domain of Rumi. A number of commentaries were compiled, particularly noteworthy being those of Muhammad Afzal Allâhâbâdi, Wali Muhammad, Maulânâ `Abdul Ali Bahr al-`Ulûm, Muhammad Râzî, Mîrzâ Muhammad Nazîr Arshi, Maulânâ Ahmad Husain Kanpûrî and Maulânâ Ashraf Ali Thanvi. The writer of these lines has two very interesting manuscripts of Mathnawi. One is a thematic summary made by Muhammad b. Dost Muhammad, a disciple of Khwâja Obeidullâh Ahrâr and another summary belonging to Shâh Waliullâh of Delhi with marginal notes by Abu Razâ.

While interest in Mathnawi was unabated throughout the centuries, it was Iqbal who found in Rumi a real guide in the arduous task of resurrecting the individual and the community. Iqbal saw Rumi in his imaginary excursion to the other world addressing him as zinda rûd (living stream).60 Inspired by Rumi’s symbolic imagery, Iqbal adopted shâhîn as his symbol for selfless and persistent effort to achieve the goal and for hitching wagons to the stars. If there is any truth in Arnold’s remark that noble and profound application of ideas to life is the most essential part of poetic greatness, Sa`adi and Rumi may undoubtedly be ranked among the great poets of all time.

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme.

Muslim mystics of Iran looked at the Ultimate Reality from different angles–as self-conscious Will, as Beauty, as Light and as Thought. All these trends are reflected in the Indo-Muslim religious thought. The symbols captured the imagination and preserved concepts otherwise abstruse and difficult to comprehend. Shaikh Shihâb al-Din Suhrawardi Maqtul’s (d.1191) Hikmat al-Ishrâq deeply influenced religio-philosophic thought. Who can say that his Âwâz-i Par-i Jibril did not suggest to Iqbal the title of his collection of poems Bâl-i Jibril (Gabriel’s Wing). Suhrawardi presented human soul as an element of `light’ (nûr) and God as `light of lights (nûr al-anwâr) and used color and light as symbols of spiritual development. Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s thought provoking study of Bû Ali Sînâ, Suhrawardi and Ibn `Arabi is most helpful in fathoming the depth and impact of the thought of these three sages. Ishrâqî ideas reached India through the pupils of Mullâ Sadrâ, particularly Mîr Bâqer Dâmâd. Shaikh Mubârak, Mir Fathullâh Shirâzi, Abul Fazl and Faizî and a few others became ardent advocates of Ishrâqi philosophy. `Abd al-Nabî Shattâri (d.1611) wrote a commentary on Hikmat al-Ishrâq under the rubric Rûh al-Arwâh. The author of Anwâriya was a relation of the author of Tabaqât-i Akbari.

The thought of Ikhwân al-Safâ became a significant factor in the intellectual life of India during the time of Akbar. It was in a way a recycling of the ideas which were articulating through Kalîla wa Dimna. Akbar got a Persian version of Ikhwân prepared at his court. Rejection of denominationalism, faith in evolutionary concepts, astral influences, millenary ideas came from Ikhwân. Some of the concepts of Ikhwân were echoed in the A’în-i Akbarî.

Though lesser in impact and influence, the Nuqtawî movement of Iran also exercised some influence on religious thought in India. The Nuqtawi ideas spread in India through Sharîf Âmuli, Tashbîhi of Kâshân, Wuqû`î of Nîshâpûr. It appears from Târîkh-i `Alam ârâ-i `Abbâsi that Akbar had contact with Mir Syed Ahmad Kâshi.

Semasiological study of mystical terms with their subtle and fluctuating connotations in Iran and India is an interesting field for investigation and analysis. In Akbar’s time Shaikh Muhammad Ghauth had made an earnest effort to transfer Hindu mystical concepts into Muslim mystical parlance. Shaikh ahmad Sirhindi was perhaps unique in fixing sharp, clear and penetrating connotation of mystic terms in the light of Islamic mystical concepts. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Indian semantics saw subtle clashes arising out of ideological backgrounds of terms flowing from Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian sources. However, some concepts were from the very beginning differently understood in India and Iran. For instance, the following observations by Shaikh Ali Hujwiri, the author of Kashf al-Mahjûb, about fanâ (annihilation) and baqâ (subsistence) are significant:

Some wrongly imagine that annihilation signifies loss of essence and destruction of personality, and that subsistence indicates the subsistence of God in man; both these notions are absurd. In India I had a dispute on this subject with a man who claimed to be versed in Koranic exegesis and theology. When I examined his pretensions I found that he knew nothing of annihilation and subsistence, and that he could not distinguish the eternal from the phenomenal.”61

Mansûr Hallâj is a seminal figure in the history of religious thought. His works were mainly in Arabic but he was born in Iran and had visited many countries, including India. It was through Persian works that his ideas reached Indian mystics. He came to be regarded as an embodiment of the principles underlying the pantheistic philosophy. Opinion about him was, however, divided. The earliest Persian work to refer to him is the Kashf al-Mahjûb of Shaikh Ali Hujwiri who firmly held the view that `it would be an act of dishonesty’62 to omit his biography in any mystical work. He quotes Shibli, who is reported to have observed : “Al-Hallâj and I are of one belief, but my madness saved me, while his intelligence destroyed him.”63 Hujwiri refers to his fifty works which he found in Baghdad and other places. Though he considered him an ecstatic (maghlûb andar hâl-i khud),64 he “derived much support from him” and even wrote a book in deference to his views. In one of his books entitled Minhaj, now extinct, Hujweri gave a biological sketch of Hallâj.65 Though Hujwiri seems deeply impressed by Hallâj and Kashf al-Mahjûb was a popular study in medieval India, the attitude of Chisht^ and Suhraward^ saints towards Hallâj was one of caution. They feared lest his pantheistic utterances led to moral confusion. During the time of Firûz Shâh Tughluq all those mystics who were inspired by Hallâji thought–Mas`ûd Bak, Ahmad Bihârî, Rukn al-Din and others–were charged with heresy and executed. Even as late as seventeenth century the state dealt strictly with Hallâji trends. The execution of Sarmad at the orders of Aurangzeb indicates the same attitude of disagreement with the views of Hallâj. Professor Louis Massignon once told me that his research suggests that Aush, where Khwâja Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyâr Kâki was born, was a Hallâji center and a focal point for the spread of pantheistic ideas in India.66 His friend and associate Qâzi Hamîd al-Din Nagauri was also keenly interested in the thought of Hallâj. His Risâla-i `Ishqiya bears an indelible stamp of Hallâji thought. As I have shown elsewhere,67 Hallâj’s works were widely read in Chishti mystic circles. Hallâj’s execution became a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of freedom of thought and poets found no better expression of communicating the spirit of sacrifice for a cause than the episode of Mansûr Hallâj. Iqbal found in his thought many elements of permanent value. In Jâvîd Nâmah he presents Hallâj as a dynamic force revealing secrets of khudî. In Zabûr-i `Ajam he depicts Hallâj along with Shankar and seems to suggest that he was inspired by vedantic philosophy.68 In his Metaphysics of Persia he presents Mansûr’s slogan `I am God’ as an echo of Indian Vedantist’s Aham Brahmâ Asmi. In his Lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam and in Jâvîd Nâmah he emphasized the originality of his thought and his greatness as a thinker. “In the history of religious experience in Islam, which, according to the Prophet, consists in the `creation of Divine attributes in Man’, this experience has found expression in such phrases as `I am the creative truth’ (Hallâj), `I am time’ (Muhammad), `I am the speaking Qur’ân’ (Ali), `Glory to me’ (Bâyazîd),”69 observes Iqbal.

While Hallâj’s ideological influence remained confined to higher mystic intellects, the impact of Imam Ghazzâli was more widespread. His Kîmiyâ-i Sa`âdat became a popular study throughout South Asia. Its passages were read out daily in some mystic centers.70 Though for all practical purposes it is a Persian recension of Ihyâ al-`Ulûm, the religious circles in India undertook to translate Ihyâ into Persian. During the time of Iltutmish, Muaiyid Jâjarmi translated it into Persian. Unique in the comprehensiveness of its approach and incomparable in its psycho-ethical analysis of the basic religious situations, the Kîmiyâ became a manual of guidance for the Indo-Muslim society. Ghazzali had himself been a student of Greek philosophy and as he confesses in his al-Munqidh min al-Zalâl was greatly disillusioned by philosophy. He came to believe in the efficacy of `cosmic emotion’ which could unravel the mysteries of nature and give that solace and peace of mind which human soul longed for. His approach appealed to those also who believed in the supremacy of reason and thus its impact was felt on a wide scale.

The Kashf al-Mahjûb consolidates mystic ideas as they had developed in Iran and Central Asia up to the eleventh century. The author had personal contact with many eminent mystic teachers like Hasan Khuttali and Abul Qâsim Gurgâni. Dârâ Shukoh considers Kashf al-Mahjûb as the first book on mysticism written in Persian. This may or may not be correct, but it is a fact that Kashf al-Mahjûb exercised tremendous influence on contemporary and later religious thought, not only in India but in Iran also. Jâmi quotes from it extensively in his Nafahât al-‘Uns. In India Shaikh Nizâm al-Din Awliyâ’ used to say that for one who had no spiritual mentor, Kashf al-Mahjûb was enough to guide.71

At the purely intellectual level it was Ibn `Arabi (d.1240) who dominated the scene. Though his works were in Arabic, it was mainly through Persian channels that his ideas found currency in India. The key and kernel of Ibn `Arabi’s thought is pantheism, the earliest exposition of which is found in the Upanishads. It was thus a recycling of ideas that had originally traveled from India under different rubrics. The pantheistic philosophy provided an ideological bridge between Islam and Hinduism. Though commentaries on Ibn `Arabi’s works were written in India by Syed Ali Hamadâni of Kashmir, Ali Piru Mahaimi of Gujurat and others, the ideas of Ibn `Arabi fascinated the Indian Sufis when `Irâqi and Rumi prepared the ground for their reception. Mas`ûd Bak’s Dîwân as well as his Mir’ât al-`Ârifîn reflect the influence of Ibn `Arabi. Shâh Muhibbullâh of Allhâbâd wrote commentaries on Ibn `Arabi’s works both in Arabic and in Persian. From the sixteenth century onward enormous literature appeared in India on the mystical ideas of Ibn `Arabi. Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s criticism of pantheism gave a temporary set-back to this trend, but when Shâh waliullâh attempted a reconciliation between the thought of Ibn `Arabi and Sirhindi pantheistic ideas again became a force in the mystic sphere.

In the propagation of Ibn `Arab^’s mystical thought Mahmûd Shabistari’s Gulshan-i Râz also played a very important role.72

One of the most distinguished Persian Sufis who was a very enthusiastic advocate of Ibn `Arabi’s ideas was `Abdur Rahmân Jâmi (d.1492). His literary works and his mystical ideas were well known in India during his lifetime. Mahmûd Gawan corresponded with him and Jâmi created in him an interest in Ibn `Arabi’s thought.73 The last great mystic itinerant who visited Iran was Maulânâ Fazlullâh, better known as Jamâli. His meeting with Maulânâ Jâmi at Harat was a historic event. Due to long and arduous travels, Jamâli had no clothes on his body when he entered the majlis of Maulânâ Jâmi. Jâmi was a bit displeased when he saw a beggar-looking visitor sit near him regardless of the dust and the dirt that had enveloped his body. When Jâmi came to know about his Indian origin, he asked him if he knew Jamâli. Jamâli recited the verse

Mâ râ za khâk-i kûyat, pîrâhani-st bar tan

ân ham za âb-i dîdeh, sad châk tâ bi-dâman

(I have on my body a garment made of the dust of your lane,

And that too tears have torn into hundreds of pieces.)

and as those verses ran on his lips tears trickled down his cheeks and rolled on his body piercing the garment of dust. Jâmi stood up excited, embraced him with mixed feelings of surprise, love and embarrassment. This meeting between Jâmi and Jamâli was in fact a historic meeting between mystic traditions of India and Iran. Jâmi had written Nafahât al-‘Uns to popularize the great mystics of Islam and their teachings; Jamâli wrote Siyar al-`Ârifîn on his return, perhaps inspired by Jâmi and after him compilation of mystic tadhkirahs gathered momentum in India.

The ethical and moral ideas enunciated by Persian masters like Sa`adi, `Attâr, Rûmi, Sanâ’i and `Irâqi became the inspiring motive of the lives of the Indian saints. Taken as a whole, the Persian Sufi ideas and traditions supplied to Muslim mystical movement in South Asia its motive power, its driving force, its ideals and its goals.