From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, sufis dominated the mystical and social landscape of the Delhi Sultanate. The sufis were revered on account of their spiritual prowess, intuitive knowledge, charismatic appeal, and their textual productions. They produced many texts, engaged with politics in myriad ways and interacted with local societies that contributed to their popularity. Conventional historiography classifies sufis as per their affiliation to silsilahs (spiritual order): Chishti, Suhrawardi, Firdausi and several others. The linear perception of a silsilah as a chain of transmission of authority from a sufi pīr (spiritual master) to his k̲h̲alīfās (spiritual successor), and fixed notions about precepts and praxis conflates the heterogeneous spiritual paths of individual sufis. Most of the spiritual orders did not have a unilateral expansion. These were constructed through a process of negotiation amongst the competing claimants to authority that included murīds (disciple), k̲h̲alīfās and sometimes familial descendants. The uniformity in the precepts and praxis, and the linear history of the sufis are contingent on the projection of hegemonic notion of sufi order in the vast literary productions of the sufi preceptors and their disciples. This is evident in the retrospective recounting of the lives of sufis in the taz̠kirāts (biographical dictionaries), which are usually written from the standpoint of a single silsilah. This presentation focuses on the process of crystallization of the Chishti spiritual order as an outcome of negotiation and competition and differential textual strategies deployed by the authors of the taz̠kirāts and malfūz̤āt (utterances).
Sushmita Banerjee is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Miranda House, University of Delhi. Her research interests focus on Persian literary tradition in South Asia, sufism, and religion and politics in the early modern period. She has published articles and review essays on intellectual history and sufism in India in the Sultanate and Mughal era. At present, she is working on her monograph on the seventeenth century sufi-scholar, ‘Abd al-Haqq Muhaddis Dehlawi. Her publications include a prosopographical study of the Akhbar al-Akhyar in the Indian Economic and Social History Review (2017) and sufi dynastic families in Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Asian History (2021).