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A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics


London: Curzon in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2002, pp. xi + 227.

ISBN (Hardback): 0 7007 1767 6
Synopsis

Publication page on Google Books

The Ginans are a body of religious lyrics reflecting the synthetic and ecumenical reach characteristic of allied genres, such as the poetry of the Sufi and Bhakti traditions in the mediaeval, Indo-Islamic environment. Testifying to the origin and evolution of the Ismaili community in India, the Ginans continue to form the community’s living, poetic traditions to this day.

In translating them into English, the author has focussed principally on the poetic qualities, rather than the theological or communal interpretation and usage of this literature. The result is a translation suggestive of the depth of religious thought, feeling and imagination out of which this poetry was born and the lyrical beauty of the form in which this experience found a voice. Reflecting the simple, vernacular idiom of popular culture in the rural and semi-rural ethos of the Subcontinent, the poetry nonetheless has a mature, complex sensibility which is elucidated by the author through his translations of selected Ginans and the detailed commentaries upon them.

In introducing and commenting on the poetry of the Ginans, the author illuminates their linguistic and literary characteristics through detailed analysis of individual hymns as well as the corpus as a whole. The Introduction, which summarizes the recorded tradition in the community about the origin of the literature, goes on to tackle the much broader, philosophical question of the nature, respectively, of historical and mythic consciousness. The introductory essay then goes on to address the vital question as to whether, and in what terms, the poetry may be described as ‘Islamic’. Rather than taking a simplistic or apologetic stance, the author subjects the term ‘Islamic’, employed in this particular way, to critical scrutiny. He argues that judgements of orthodoxy and heterodoxy are ultimately arbitrary and tendentious, reflecting a discourse of power rather than reason. He is especially concerned to show that the content of the Ginans, far from being peculiar, exemplifies a stock of ideas to be found in other Indo-Islamic communities sharing the vernacular or popular culture of the Subcontinent. Regardless of the judgements of ‘orthodox’ ideology, what the author describes as ‘inter-culturalism’ is the reality of vernacular religiosity in this land as in others. In this connection, the author goes on to show how our notions of ‘conversion’ (to which the origin of the Ginans is ascribed in the tradition) need to accommodate an awareness of nuances rather than black and white contrasts.

In an interesting, ensuing section, the author elucidates the principles he has employed for translating the poetry. He sets these in the larger framework of the literary philosophy of translation. This section is a reminder to the reader (and would-be translators of the corpus), of the fact that translation is far from a simple activity. It requires a many-sided alertness to the syntax, idiom and literary resources of both languages in question. Moreover, the act of translation, the author argues, mirrors the way in which a stock of meanings, or cultural sensibilities, come to be transposed, adapted and re-created in a far-off time or place, with its very different vision of life, and its own mode of human experience.

There follows an Interpretative Essay which illuminates the religious, linguistic and literary features of the poetry through specific examples, examined in close detail. The same close attention is applied in a verse by verse analysis of practically every composition in the notes which follow the translations of the various Ginans.

The poetry of the Ginans illustrates a historically and culturally specific conception of the world, and of the norms peculiar to that culture, as well as a religious perception that forms a significant part of the religious experience of mankind. Issued under a title drawing on an image from the poetry, this volume will appeal both to specialists and more general readers, including Indologists, scholars of Islam in the Subcontinent, students of Comparative Religion, Comparative Literature, and those with an interest in mystical or devotional poetry.



Contents

 Preface and Acknowledgements

Introduction

Interpretative Essay

Miscellaneous Ginans

From the Saloko Nano (Pir Sadardin)

“A Plea” (Pir Hasan Kabirdin)

Notes on Ginans

Appendix 1: Note on Transliteration

Appendix 2: Sources and Index of First Lines

Appendix 3: Select Bibliography



Bibliography

 Select Bibliography

The following is a list of selected works of secondary scholarship. Not all the works cited in the Introduction are included here, the aim being only to indicate works with a specific and substantial focus on the Ginans.

Allana, G, ed and trans. Ginans of Ismaili Pirs Rendered into English Verse. Karachi: Ismailia Association for Pakistan, 1984.

Asani, Ali S. Encyclopaedia of Religion, 5th ed. S.v. “Ginan.”

——“The Khojki Script: A Legacy of Isma‘ili Islam in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 107:3 (1987): 439-449.

—— “The Khojahs of Indo-Pakistan: The Quest for an Islamic Identity.” Journal of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs 8:1 (1987): 31-41.

——The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1991.

——“The Ginan Literature of the Ismailis of Indo-Pakistan: Its Origins, Characteristics and Themes.” In Devotion Divine: Bhakti Traditions from the Regions of India, edited by D Eck and F Mallison. Groningen-Paris: John Benjamin, 1991, pp. 1-18.

——The Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Languages: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding Aid. Boston: Macmillan Reference, 1992.

——“The Ismaili Ginans as Devotional Literature.” In Devotional Literature in South Asia: Current Research, 1985-8, edited by R S McGregor. Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge UP, 1992, pp. 101-112.

——“Bridal Symbolism in Isma‘ili Mystical Literature of Indo-Pakistan.” In Mystics of the Book: Themes, Topics, and Typologies, edited by R A Herrera. New York: Peter Lang, 1993, pp. 389-404.

——“The Isma‘ili Ginans: Reflections on Authority and Authorship.” In Mediaeval Isma‘ili History and Thought, edited by Farhad Daftary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996, pp. 265-280.

Chunara, A J. Nuram Mobin. 4th ed. Bombay: Ismaili Association for Pakistan, 1961.

Hooda, V N, trans. “Some Specimens of Satpanth Literature.” In Collectanea: Vol 1, edited by W Ivanow. Leiden: E J Brill for the Ismaili Society, 1948, pp. 55-137.

Ivanow, W. “The Sect of Imam Shah in Gujrat.” Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series 12 (1936): 19-70.

——“Satpanth.” In Collectanea: Vol. 1, edited by W Ivanow. Leiden: E J Brill for the Ismaili Society, 1948, pp. 1-54.

Kassam, Tazim R. “Syncretism on the Model of Figure-Ground: A Study of Pir Shams’ Brahma Prakasa.” In Hermeneutical Paths to the Sacred Worlds of India: Essays in Honour of Robert W. Stevenson, edited by Katherine K Young. Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1994, pp. 231-242.

——Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Isma‘ili Muslim Saint, Pír Shams. Albany: SUNY, 1995.

Khakee, Gulshan. “The Dasa Avatara of the Satpanthi Ismailis and Imam Shahis of Indo-Pakistan.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 1972.

Khan, Dominique-Sila. “The Coming of Nikalank Avatar: A Messianic Theme in Some Sectarian Traditions of North-Western India.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 25 (1997): 401-426.

Khan, Dominique-Sila and Zawahir Moir. “Coexistence and Communalism: The Shrine of Pirana in Gujarat.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies XXII (1999): 133-154.

——“The Lord will Marry the Virgin Earth: Songs of the Time to Come.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 28 (2000): 99-115.

Mallison, Francoise. “Les Chants Garabi de Pir Shams.” In Litteratures Medievales de l’Inde du Nord, ed. F Mallison. Paris: Ecole française d’Extréme-Orient, 1991, pp. 115-138.

——“Muslim Devotional Literature in Gujarati: Islam and Bhakti.” In Devotional Literature in South Asia: Current Research, 1985-1988, edited by R S McGregor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992, pp. 89-100.

Mallison, Francoise and Zawahir Moir. “‘Recontrer l’Absolu, O Ami’: Un Hymne Commun aux Hindous Tantriques et Aux Musulmans Ismaeliens du Saurashtra (Gujarat).” Purusartha 19 (1996): 265-176.

Moir, Zawahir. “Bibi Imam Begam and the End of the Ismaili Ginanic Tradition.” In Studies in Early Modern Indo-Aryan Languages, Literature and Culture: Research Papers, 1992-1994, Presented at the Sixth Conference on Devotional Literature in New Indo-Aryan Languages, Held at Seattle, University of Washington, 7-9 July 1994, edited by Alan W Entwistle and Carol Salomon. New Delhi: South Asia Books, 1999, pp. 249-265.

——“The Life and Legends of Pir Shams as Reflected in the Ismaili Ginans: A Critical Review.” In Constructions Hagiographiques dans le Monde Indien: Entré Mythe et Histoire, edited by Francoise Mallison. Paris: H Champion, 2001, pp. 365-384.

Nanji, Azim. The Nizari Isma‘ili Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent. Delmar, NY: Caravan Books, 1978.

Shackle, Christopher and Zawahir Moir. Ismaili Hymns from South Asia: An Introduction to the Ginans. Revised edition. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2000.

Virani, Shafique. “The Voice of Truth: Life and Works of Sayyid Nur Muhammad Shah, a 15th/16th Century Isma‘ili Mystic.” MA thesis, McGill University, 1995.

Content Date: August 2002

The Institute of Ismaili Studies - A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics
Last updated: 6/4/2010 11:51