Abul Fazl gave a list of the Sufi orders in India, which comprises dozens of ‘silsilahs’. The most important among the Sufi orders include the ‘Chistiya’, ‘Qadriya’, ‘Naqsbandiya’ and the ‘Suhrawardiya’. The ‘silsilahs’ were generally led by the Sufi saints who lived in hospices (‘Khanqahs’) along with their disciples.
The Chishti Order was introduced in India by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (1143-1223 A.D.), who was one of the most renowned Sufi saints of India. He arrived in India from Iran around 1192 A.D. and reached Ajmer in 1195 A.D. to set up a ‘Khanqah’ to spread the message of universal brotherhood. Soon a large number of people became his followers and started seeking spiritual guidance from him. After his demise in March 1223 A.D. (6th day of ‘Rajab’, 633 A.H.), his devotees started holding an annual congregation (‘Urs’) at Ajmer during the first six days in the month of ‘Rajab’. The Chisti order is based on the concept of “pantheistic monism” called ‘Wahdat-ulwajud’, which is similar to the Vedanta philosophy. This is the most widespread among all the Sufi orders in India.
The other renowned Sufi saints of this order include Shaikh Qutubuddin Bakhtyar Kaki, Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar (‘Baba Farid’) of modern Punjab, Shaikh Jamaluddin Hanowi, Shaikh Nizamuddin Aulia, Shaikh Hamiduddin Sufi of Nagaur, Hazrat Moinuddin Ajmeri, Shaikh Allauddin Sabir, Shaikh Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Delhi and Khwaja Gesu Deraz of Gulbarga. The legendary poet and musician, Amir Khusro, also belonged to this order.
Suhrawardi Order :
This order was founded by Shaikh Shahabuddin Umar Suharwardi (d.1234 A.D.), who is the author of ‘Awarif ul Maarif’. It was represented in India by Shaikh Bahauddin Zikiriyya of Multan and Shaikh Jalal Tabrizi of Lucknow. This order became popular in Punjab, Sind, Kashmir and parts of Bengal and reached its zenith under Shaikh Ruknuddin (d.1335 A.D.).
This ascetic order of Sufism was instituted by the renowned Iraqi saint Saiyid Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani (“Pir Dastagir”) in 561 A.H. Shah Niamatullah (d.1430 A.D.) introduced the Qadriya Order in India, which was later promoted by Syed Makhdum Muhammad Gilani (d.1517 A.D.). The Qadriyah Order is popular in Punjab, parts of northern India and the southern part of India. The famous Urdu poets Hasrat Mohani and Mohammad Iqbal belonged to this order.
The Naqshbandi order was popularised in India through the efforts of Khwaja Baqi Billah (d.1642 A.D.), who came to India during the reign of Akbar. Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi, who is popularly referred as “Mujaddid-e-Alf Sani”, Shah Waliullah of Delhi, Shah Ghulam Ali and Syed Ahmed of Rae Bareilly were some of the great Sufis of this order. Mirza Mazhar Jan-e-Janan and Mir Dard were the famous Sufi poets of this order.
Nimatullahi Sufi Order:
Nimatullahi Sufi Order was founded towards the end of the 14th century A.D. by Shah Nimatullah Wali, a great Sufi from Iran. After him, the saints of the Nimatullahi Order resided in India until the end of the 18th century A.D., before shifting back to Iran with the arrival of Sayyed Ma’sum Ali Shah Dakkani to Iran in 1775 A.D.
This order was introduced in India by Shah Abdullah Shattari (d.1485 A.D.) and became popular in Malwa, Jaunpur and Bengal. Shaikh Muhammad Alas Qadin of Bengal, Shaikh Hafiz of Jaunpur and Shaikh Muhammad Ghauth of Gwalior were the eminent Sufi saints of this order. Tansen, the legendary musician of Akbar’s court, also belonged to this order.