Students of English literature are required to study the works of William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Norman Mailer, and Bertolt Brecht, among others. In the play The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, there is a paragraph where Galileo's student, Andrea, claims that A land (or nation) without heroes is unhappy. Galileo disagrees, saying, "No, miserable (is) the place that needs heroes."
Galileo's statement produces a number of questions in the minds of the reader. The foremost being, how can a land do without its heroes? An inquisitive reader may encounter questions such as: What does it mean to be a true hero? What role may a hero play in a nation's life? Galileo, although more rational, is practical? Can we agree with Galileo, or reject his no-hero philosophy? The important question is: what criteria determine whether someone is a hero? The irony is that Galileo himself proved to be a hero when he proclaimed the planets revolve around the sun, thus making Andrea’s statement true.
We all grow up idolizing those as heroes who we believe have special talents and have accomplished tremendous things in their lives. King Porous fought gallantly against Alexander on the banks of the Jhelum River. He defended his kingdom from a foreign invasion. He stood out as a hero, perhaps. The nomadic but barbaric Afghans and Moghuls who invaded Bharat changed the course of our nation. Historians may call them heroes. St. Thomas, the apostle, came to the southern coast of Bharat to spread the faith of Christianity and then it took on an ethnic look, forever. St. Thomas was a hero for many. The war veterans of the Indo-China war, the war of East Pakistan for liberation and establishment of Bangladesh and then, more recently, the Kargil war soldiers who defended our borders are heroes of a different kind.
This hero-worshipping or idealization of a personality is the product of humanity's long-standing longings for perfection. Humans continue to imagine the ideal, a perfectionist from Aristotle's magnanimous man "whose walk is measured, his voice deep, and his words unhurried" pictures a walk of a king. Nietzsche's Ubermensch (superhuman) replaces God after His death. Plato's Ideal Republic is for the People of Greece. St. Augustine's “The City of God” and Thomas Moore's “Utopia” are examples of idealization. In Karl Marx's words, all of them interpreted the ideal world in their minds, and philosophers created an ideal society in their imagination.
When it comes to the definition of heroes, Thomas Carlyle gives a non-materialist perspective of history and is the first to glorify the role of heroes in history in his book, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroics in History. (1841). He felt that history would have been different if heroes had not been there. He defined heroes as "men of literature" who, through their dynamic and charismatic personalities, alter the course of history. As per Carlyle this hero is Prophet Mohammad. He describes the Holy Prophet as a prominent light who, with his hero-like persona, altered the age-old civilization of Arabs, economically and spiritually.
The lineage and legacy of kings and queens have long ceased to exist after the advent of a democratic system of statehood. A cursory glance at the pages of history makes us realize that the aristocracy of kings and queens has met harsh ends. Two jarring examples of the death of aristocracy won't be out of place here, one being the execution of the French king Louis XVI and Mary Antoinette by guillotine, paving the way for the end of monarchy and establishment of French Republic and the second, the end of the Tsarist regime in Russia taking the cue from the French Revolution.
The criteria to be a hero is being spiritual and preaching about the ways to achieve enlightenment and salvation through literature as advocated by Carlyle. If that is the yardstick, then Bharat is a land where one finds not one hero but scores of heroes, who go back past the Holy Prophet for many centuries. Some heroes may not have written literatures by themselves, but they gave the world the path to tread for righteousness through their behaviour and action that thousands of linguistics came forward eulogizing such heroes and writing millions of pages about them. Some heroes gave discourses on the values of life, which turned out to be gospels for humanity.
Amongst scores of heroes that the land of Bharata produced Sri Rama and Sri Krishna are the two glittering examples of heroes who changed the course of humanism. Sri Rama defined the Sanatan Dharma through his behaviour and actions whereas Sri Krishna preached the objectives of life through his Bhagavad-Gita on the battlefield. The baton of Sanatan Dharma and objectives of life through Bhagavad-Gita was passed on by the people through generations for many centuries and continued to do so even after the passage of about 7000 years. However hard a Mohammed Ghori or a Mehmud of Ghazni tried to wipe out the values of Sanatan Dharma and Bhagavadgita, it came out alive and kicking like a phoenix through the efforts of spiritualists from the land of Bharat consisting of Sufi and Bhakti saints. The august luminaries from the Sufi and Bhakti cult who began the social and religious reforms in Bharat from the twelfth century onwards through their preaching and literature made a sea change in the outlook of religion.
The Sufi movement arose through the encounter of unorthodox Muslim saints with the renowned sages and seers of Bharat. . The Muslim saints studied Vedantic philosophy and read a variety of Bharatiya holy texts. They were able to observe Bharatiya religion up close and recognise its core values, resulting in an Islamic philosophy that spoke of love and devotion. The Sufi movement was a result of Hindu impact on Islam, thus offering a single platform, for both Muslims and Hindus.
Sufis differ from traditional Muslims in that they have faith in the humanity. The Sufi Saints' teachings focused on the human spirit's unity with God via worship and commitment. Their way of honoring God was to give up natural pleasures in order to live a hermitic life. They didn't value namaz, hajj, or virtue, but on second thought, they saw singing and movement as ways of bringing one closer to God's revelation. The Sufi luminaries are Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti, Fariuddin Ganj-I-Shakar, and Nizam-ud-din Auliya .
Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti arrived in Bharat in 1192 A.D. and settled in Ajmer. He met Rama Deo, Prithvi Raj Chauhan's primary minister, and they were both attracted and enthralled by each other's personalities. Chishti continued to live a simple, frugal life while promoting the message of love and homogeneity. He attempted to remove dismal feelings from the minds of people from two different groups: Hindus and Muslims. He developed the Chishti holy people's Sufi tradition.
Farid-ud-din Ganj-I-Shakar, also known as Baba Farid, was a follower of Shaikh Muinuddin Chishti. Because of his broad and humanistic perspective, portions of his music were later cited in the Sikh Adi-Granth. He avoided the Sultan and the Amirs at all costs. "Every darvesh who makes friends with the nobles would end tragically", he used to remark. Due to Baba Farid's unique enchantment and stringent undertakings, the Sufi Chishti tradition continued throughout Bharat.
Nizam-ud-din Auliya, Baba Farid's supporter, whose spiritualist perspective saw God's affection motivating mankind's affection as a source of power. He then went on to promote the message of unity and love to the rest of the world. He promised that God favours those who love God for the sake of people. This is the most effective method for appreciating and loving God. The Chishtis dispersed and propagated their teachings throughout eastern and southern regions of Bharat after him. A teacher is seen as a hero and a person worthy of reverence in Sufism. Bulleh Shah would not exist without Inayat Hussian as his spiritual mentor, Rumi would not exist without Shams, Waris Shah would not without Baba Makhdoom, Ibn-e- Arabi would not without Shaykh Abu Madyan al Maghribi, Saadi would no longer without Shihab al-din Suharwardi, Farid al-din Attar would exist without Majd al-Din of Baghdad, and so on. Despite the employment of metaphors in their poems, the intensity of their love for their masters is palpable.
From the 14th to 17th century, which was aptly called Bhakti Yug, the lineage of spiritualists and preachers of world view continues till today.
Kabir, the head of the Bhakti Cult, stands out among those who were usually skeptical of the ordinary societal call and created places of strength for Hindu-Muslim friendship. Kabir's objective was to promote a religion of adoration that would unite people of all classes and faith statements. He was unconcerned by the Hindu and Islamic religions' outward appearances and practices. Kabir was a vocal opponent of the religious framework. He emphasized friendship amongst two sects and fought against all forms of individual separation.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and one of the greatest exponents of the Bhakti Cult, is next in line. Nanak, like Kabir, began by emphasising the oneness of Godheads. He preached that love and devotion can bring God's favour and ultimate salvation. He added, "Caste, creed, or sect have nothing to do with God's Love and Worship", repeating Kabir, that "God does not live in any temple or mosque." It is not required to bathe in sacred rivers, go on pilgrimages, or perform rites and ceremonies to realise Him. He can only be gained by submitting completely. As a result, he, like Kabir, was a harsh critic of idol worship, pilgrimages, and other religious practices. As the first criterion for attaining God, Guru Nanak placed a high value on character and behaviour purity. He also emphasised the importance of seeking instruction from a Guru. He discussed the universal brotherhood of mankind. Guru Nanak attempted to reconcile Hindus and Muslims in order to establish a climate of peace, generosity, mutual trust, and reciprocal giving and taking.
The Bhakti movement led by Kabir and Nanak was nonsectarian at first, but it later became a sectarian movement, with Sri Chaitanya as its champion. It is centered on the love between Sri Krishna and the Gokul milkmaids, particularly Radha. He utilised Radha and Krishna's love as a parable to illustrate the relationship of Love, in all of its forms, between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. He added musical assemblies, or Kirtan, to the list of ways to worship Him, in addition to love and devotion. Kirtan can provide a unique sort of mystic experience while praying to Him (God) he said.
The Bhakti movement had far-reaching consequences. It downplayed the disparities and differences between Hindus and Muslims. As Bhakti preachers ignored the caste system, it eventually lost its significance. People's spiritual lives became far more basic and developed than previously. The movement had a huge impact on the country's literature and language. It contributed to the enrichment of regional languages in the growth of the Radha-Krishna religion. Bhakti Literature was abundantly created in a variety of regional languages. The Bhakti movement has had a long-lasting impact on Bharat and people around the world. Even Akbar was inspired by Bhakti and Sufi philosophers, who persuaded him to take a secular approach to religion.
The other luminaries were Sur Das a blind poet of the Bhakti cult, Abdul Rahim Khankhanna better known as Rahim Das, a fanatic devotee of Sri Krishna, Tulsidas who wrote Ramcharitmanas and a host of the rest including Namadeva whose poetry in Marathi exudes an ardent love and devotion to God. Ramananda, a Ramanuja devotee, was anti-caste. He was against discrimination and enjoyed cooking or dining with the people of different castes. His followers were cobblers, weavers, barbers, and butchers among others. Kabir, a weaver, was his favourite disciple. He preached in Hindi, a popular language among the common people. Ramanuja, a Dakshin Bharatiya preacher, believed that the only road to salvation was to devote oneself to God. He was unconcerned about the caste structure and lined up to be entertained by low-caste folks. Nimbarka, despite being from Dakshin Bharat , spent the majority of his life in Mathura. Self-surrender was his doctrine. Vallabhacharya was another well-known Bhakti preacher who lived in Vrindavana, Mathura, and Banaras, preaching Krishna Bhakti. He was the originator of the Pushti Marga, a path of heavenly grace that leads to absolute bliss.
It continued further during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries which produced a host of spiritualists who gave the world a path of progress. Among such luminaries were the Sai Baba of Shirdi, Meher Baba of Nagar, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Samarth of Akkalkot, Ma Anandamoyee, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma). Then came Acharya Rajnish (Osho) who transcended religious boundaries completely. Then there were those who used metaphysics to do social good like Pandit Ramji Upadhyaya and Pandit Vijay Balwant Shastri. Their position could be described as “service to man amounts to service to God” exactly like Carlyle's Holy Prophet. They were basically social emancipators who taught morality and were considered “perfect masters (heroes) of their time” being egalitarian, secular and humble. Their unshakeable faith in divinity was matched with a worldview far ahead of their times.
Coming back to Carlyle once again, his writings showcase the duality of statements. For example, in one of the passages, Carlyle writes that Mohammad’s acts, voice, and feelings, made him great, and the sheer power of his "thunder-voice" mixed with his sincerity made him a hero. However, Carlyle claims that Muhammad lacks the heroism of the Poet since, unlike Dante or Shakespeare, Muhammad's teaching is not universal and thus will become obsolete. (Orientalist tropes in "The Hero as Prophet"). The obsoletion as imagined by Carlyle will never happen with the Sufi and Bhakti saints of Bharat. Their literature and teachings will remain immortal and eternal since they have demonstrated that they were the real heroes, as they fought to sustain the values, principles and morals preached in the Ramayana and the Bhagavad-Gita.