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.