Also published in the Weekly Friday Times July 24 issue
The subcontinent during the 15th century witnessed the coming of age of a process that started brewing with the arrival of Central Asian Sufis, those eternal travellers who arrived in India with a message of Islam and mystic love. When Sufi thought, an off-shore spiritual undercurrent to the rise of Islam, met its local hosts, the results were terrific. There was no shortage of fundamentalists and communalists in that cultural landscape; and the gulf between alien rulers and the native subjects was a stark reality as well.
Nevertheless, a synthesis of sorts was navigated by hundreds of yogis, Sufis and poets of South Asia. Very much a people’s movement from below, the Bhakti movement articulated a powerful vision of tolerance, amity and co-existence that remains relevant today. This is many centuries before the suave, Western-educated intelligentsia coined the “people-to-people” contact campaigns. Yes, much has been lost in the tumultuous 20th century and perhaps these histories are irreversible. But a vast and complex common ground was nurtured by mystic poets of northern India, now comprising India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. […]