The early Sufi mystics stressed on the virtues of repentance, abstinence, renunciation, poverty and trust in God. The early Sufis were wanderers but in due course of time the Sufi groups had become orders and we notice the formation of Sufi orders or Salsilas.
After the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, many Sufi orders were established in different parts of India and Sufism became very influential by the 14th century.They believed in the equality of all human beings and brotherhood of man. Their concept of universal brotherhood and the humanitarian ideas of the Sufi saints attracted the Indian mind. A movement similar to Sufism, called the Bhakti cult, was already afoot in India on the eve of the Muslim conquest of the country. The liberal-minded Sufis were, therefore, welcomed in India. The Sufi movement proved very helpful in bridging the gap between the followers of the two religions and in bringing the Hindus and the Muslims together.
1. The Suhrawardi Silsila which was founded in India by Shaik Bahauddin Zakaria (AD 1182-1262).After his death in 1236 A.D., his devotees continued to celebrate an annual Urs festival at Ajmer.
2. Nizamuddin Auliya. He led a simple austere life and lived in Delhi. By his vast learning, religious knowledge, and tolerant attitude to all religions, he earned devotion of both the Hindu and Muslim masses.
3. The Chisti Silsila introduced in India by Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, who died in AD 1236. Even today he is venerated by Muslims and his tomb is located at Ajmer, which became a sacred pilgrimage. Besides the above two orders, there existed the orders of the Firdausi, the Qadiri, the Shatauri, Qalandari, etc.
While Sufism reached India in the 12th century A.D, ts influence grew considerably during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In India, Chisti and Suhrawardi Silsila were most prominent.
A critical study of the tenets of Sufism indicates that it was acquainted with Hinduism and Hindu thought and had imbibed certain elements of Indian idealism and adopted many Yogic practices and also was influenced by Upanishadic idealism and Vedanta.
The early Sufis were not only ascetics but also lived a life of voluntary poverty shunning all types of worldly pleasures. Khwaja Fariduddin, popularly known as Baba declared, “The main purpose of this path is the concentration of heart which can be achieved only by the abstination from prohibited means of livelihood and association with kings”. Thus, most of the Sufis in India conceived and preached divine unity in terms of idealistic monoism while many Hindus found the Sufi ideas very similar to those of Vedantic philosophy.
The lower strata of Hindu community appear to be greatly attracted by the ideas of social equality and fraternity of Islam. Thus the simplicity, toleration and liberation of the Sufis in India released syncretic forces and led to a sort of cultural synthesis.
The Sufi movement gained impetus during the reign of Akbar who adopted a liberal religious policy under the influence of the Sufi saints.
Abul Fazal had mentioned the existence of 14 Silsilahs in India. A close link that existed between the leader or Pir and his murids or disciples was a vital element of the Sufi system.
The Sufi Movement in India helped in establishing peace and amity among the Hindus and Muslims.
The liberal ideas and unorthodox principles of Sufism had a profound influence on Indian society. The liberal principles of Sufi sects restrained orthodox. Muslims in their attitude and encouraged many Muslim rulers to pursue tolerant attitude to their non-Muslim subjects. Most Sufi saints preached their teachings in the language of common man that contributed greatly to the evolution of various Indian languages like Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri and Hindi. The impact of Sufi Movement was deeply felt on some renowned poets of the period, like Amir Khusrau and Malik Muhammad Jayasi who composed poems in Persian and Hindi in praise of Sufi principles.