Indian culture prides itself in its age-old historical conflation with mysticism. Rishis and Sufis in India introduced a broader notion of syncretism, known as “Rishi-Sufi” tradition. This emerged as a harbinger of harmony in social, cultural and religious regeneration of the Indian polity. As integral part of the Vedic mysticism and Islamic spirituality, India’s spiritual synergy flourished under the aegis of the mystical philosophers of the two faith traditions.Inspired by mysticism of both Sufism and Bhaktimat, Dara Shikoh — the eldest son of Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan — also known as Sufi philosopher and author, wrote a beautiful treatise on this spiritual synergy, Majma’ al-Bahrain (Mingling of the Two Oceans). The “two oceans” referred to in this book implies Vedic culture and Islamic spirituality. Heavily based on the Sufi Islamic discourses and the Upanishadic texts, this treatise stimulates an avid interest in the mystical aspects of Islam and Hinduism and the esoteric interplay between the two traditions. For instance, take a look at this moving account:
“I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity of God, which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment. Thereafter, I began to ponder as to why the discussion of monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian mystics and theologians of ancient India do not disavow the Unity of God, nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians”.
Remarkably, Dara rendered 52 Upanishads into Persian language and substantiated the Absolute transcendental unity inferring from both the Quran and Vedic scriptures. Thus, a monistic harmony between Islam and Hinduism was perceived in the 16th century India. However, this notion of spiritual synergy did not go down well with the orthodox Islamic clergy who declared the Sufi philosopher a heretic and eventually issued the decree for his death in 1659.
Sufi perspective of Islam in India is in much harmony with the letter and spirit of Bhaktimat. For instance, while the Sufi poet Bulleh Shah composed: “God is mixed in every heart”, the Bhakti belief goes like this: “Into the bosom of the one great sea, flow streams that come from hills on every side.” While Rishis were born in the Indic regions, Sufis came to India from different lands with diverse cultures. But remarkably, both got united and became parts of a strong spiritual thread — Rishi-Sufism. They spoke different languages like Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, but still they endeavoured to blend together in an everlasting Indic culture — unity in multiplicity.