Manifestations of divine love: Finding the connection between Bhakti-Yoga and Sufism



By Gaurav Sharma

Throughout the timeline of history, there have been innumerable conceptions of God. Every individual professes and pledges allegiance to the religion he/she has been subjected to socially and culturally, particularly during the formative years.

While most philosophical schools of thought emphasize a strict adherence to a set of strictures, rites and rituals in order to realize God, there are certain movements which cannot be bound by the designated ropes of cast, creed, and language.

While Sufism is labeled as an Islamic religion and Bhakti-Yoga considered a subdivision of Hinduism, both the movements possess certain intrinsic qualities that bear uncanny resemblance to each other and stand out as a testimony to the recalcitrant nature of love.

Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”. Bhakti-Yoga means “worship or adoration of God where love exists for the sake of love.”

While Sufis attach great importance to Dhikr–a practice of repeating God’s name, Bhaktas also, lay great stress on chanting the name of God–known as Japa in theological parlance, along with glorifying his pastimes.

Both the movements, through focus on direct communication and union with God, inextricably involve an aspect of mysticism based on loving devotion.

In Sufism, qawaali is the devotional form of music whereas Bhakti espouses sankirtan as the music that transcends all bounds and limitations.

The meditative practices of Singing, Dancing, Music, Swirling etc are described as both means and an end to achieve trance. While the term Hadhra is used to classify trance in Sufism, Bhaktas use the term Bhava to characterize the stupor of unalloyed love.

The idea of seclusion is prominent in the boundless crusades of both Sufism and Bhakti. While Khalwa is a retreat practiced by Sufis to concentrate on the divinity of the Almighty, Bhaktas follow a similar doctrine of Vairagya–detachment from the pleasures and pains of the material world–Maya.

One of the most important concepts of Sufism, Qutb– a man who is the perfect channel of grace from Allah to man is also reminiscent of the Bhakta’s father-figure called Guru– a teacher who dispels the darkness of the material world and transmits experiential knowledge to the student.

However, the confluence of the two great expeditions is at their very essence. The vital element of the Sufi belief as well as the Bhakta view, is the feature of Divine Love. Both of them propound love as the cause and the effect of Gnosis-  the knowledge of spiritual mysteries.

The Quran mentions:  “Say (O Muhammad) my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death belong to Allah; He has no partner and I am ordered to be among those who submit.”

The ultimate injunction of the Gita is similar. Krishna says, “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto me. Do not Fear.”

The fulcrum of spiritual life starts with the knowledge of the Rooh or Atma, both of which are ethereal in nature and hence capable of communion with Allah or Bhagwan.

Such knowledge can only be attained through purification of the Heart, something incapable of being achieved by the Intellect. This calls for moving beyond the dirt of Lower Self known as The Nafs in Sufi terminology and the tamas/rajas mode of nature in Vedic lingo.

As such Love of God cannot be constricted or restrained within the limiting leash of wordings and concepts. Differences exist only in the flickering minds of persons unable to fathom the light of love.



  • Nitin

    Great piece… Beautifully written… What a great connect between two different schools of philosophy. At the very basic level of all religions, it is love that is ethereal.