Do not go to the garden of flowers!
O Friend! go not there;
In your body is the garden of flowers.
Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus,
and there gaze on the Infinite Beauty.
(translation by Tagore)
Fifteenth century India witnessed the coming of age of a process that started brewing with the arrival of Central Asian Sufis who accompanied or followed the invaders from Asia Minor. 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 India. Very much a people’s movement from the below, Bhakti movement articulated a powerful vision of tolerance, amity and co-existence that is still relevant. 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 twentieth century and perhaps the histories and nation states rhetoric are also irreversible. But common ground remains.