Kabir’s Satlok: Syncretism and a Socialist Utopia
Kabir, The Enlightened Weaver
Kabir was a 15th century poet, a contemporary of Sikander Lodi (1489-1517) and a resident of Banaras, who was the most radical intellect of his age. He was born into a family of Dalit weavers belonging to the Julaha community. His verses have been compiled and referred to in the Adi Granth, Panchvani, Sarvangi, Bijak and the Granthavali which still significantly mould social idioms, academic discourses, folk traditions and radical praxis. He is assumed to have been illiterate and his verses were composed and circulated by his disciples using oral tradition in various historical periods.
“ I don’t touch ink or paper, This hand never grasped a pen. The greatness of four ages Kabir tells with his mouth alone .”
His songs are sung all over India in ‘ Bhajan Mandalis’ and in the monastic order of Kabir Panthis (followers of Kabir). Kabir died in Maghar in eastern Uttar Pradesh sometime around the late 15th century and his birth and death years are multiple in record.
‘Who is Kabir?’ is one of the most important philosophical questions that plague political philosophers as well as literary scholars. There are several debates as to whether he was a poet, a social reformer, a religious leader, a revolutionary who wanted to foster Hindu-Muslim unity or simply an interpreter of Indian philosophical thought. There is consensus among scholars about the fact that Kabir cannot fit into a monolithic category as he can be seen both as a negatron of everything having no identity as well as a Dalit god who uses this absence of identity as a statement of rebel. As an individual belonging to the subalternculture of Northern India his works reflect his vision of a secular society and his rhetoric emerges as a rebellion against caste based hierarchies, communal violence, Brahmanic ritualism and oppressive social practices.
“It’s all one skin and bone, One piss and shit, One blood, one meat, From one drop a universe. Who’s Brahmin? Who’s Shudra?”
The syncretism of Kabir’s philosophy of simple love of God is reflected in his poetry as well in the apocryphal tales surrounding his personal life. His aversion and rejection of orthodox trends in both Islam and Brahmanism and syncretic understanding of popular culture is what made him a saint among the masses of each.
“It’s a heavy confusion. Veda, Koran, holiness, hell- Who’s man? Who’s woman? A clay pot shot with air and sperm. When the pot falls apart, what do you call it? Numskull! You’ve missed the point.”
An illustration depicting his syncretism with poetry that reached far and wide and his followers belonged to several communities across the Indian subcontinent.
Within the context of religious syncretism Kabir was not attempting to harmonize the two communities but his position was one of a revolutionary who challenged ‘ritualized conduct.’ He wasn’t a reformist as he wasn’t looking for any form of accommodation or compromise. He represented rebellion. The radical upheaval of social norms and his ‘sabbat’ or his words represented his relentless criticism of traditions, conducts, beliefs and the hegemony of the religious clergy.
”Pandit, you’ve got it wrong. Monk stop scattering your mind. Pandit, do some research and let me know how to destroy transiency. Now, you, Mr Qazi, what kind of work is that, going from house to house chopping head? Who told you to swing the knife?”
He has often been classified as a ‘Nirgun’ philosopher who believed in an indeterminate formless God. In his works, Kabir has often termed this formless God as ‘ Ram’ . Ram is his works has also been interpreted as the practice of spiritual meditation and the practice of ‘Bhakti’ . His philosophical position was that of a ‘bitter critique’ and his philosophy centred on early principles of secularism that gave man the ultimate freedom to confirm to his own beliefs.
“Kabir say, plunge into Ram! There: No Hindu. No Turk.”
Kabir can be primarily seen as a medieval secular poet who is associated with radical autonomous followers of a syncretic faith under which the question of Kabir’s religious identity fades away. His popularity among the masses was unquestionable as his oral traditions and songs appealed to the agricultural population of Bihar, Rajasthan and UP who sung them in huge groups which led to the rise of the ‘Saguni Kabir’ tradition that reflected Krishna based devotionalism. On the other hand texts like ‘ Adi Granth’ celebrated a ‘ Nirguni Kabir’ .
A pictorial amalgamation of Saguni and Nirguni Kabir
In the Eastern part of India there has been an older tradition of understanding Kabir as a philosopher poet that forms the basis for the romantic mystic presented in Tagore’s Kabir. Tagore had called Kabir ‘ Muktidoot’ and his poems as ‘Chir adhunik’ (ever modern). Within the Bhakti tradition Kabir is associated with a reformer of history as his social message can be clearly linked to his identity of protest against Brahmanical hegemony. In the Sufi tradition he is clearly linked to the ‘ Nirgunai Muslim’ tradition that celebrates the formlessness of ‘Allah’ .
Kabir is also seen as a Dalit poet who is concerned about the marginalized communities within the Hindu fold. Very often his poetry drew attention to the plight of Dalits especially converts who were oppressed and subjugated in the society. His texts and poetry often talks about the impermanence of the socio-religious identity of a Dalit or a convert. His poetry can be seen as a reflection of an unfinished identity.
“Dropped from the belly at birth, a man puts on his costumes and goes through his acts.”
Theorists like Gail Omvedt have attempted to understand the various manifestations of Kabir and his message born out of protest against the inequalities of caste and the uselessness of priestly ritualism that climaxed in a new vision of utopia free from class and caste oppression, a heritage, a vision of the ideal society. Omvedt sees Kabir as a rebel renouncer and a fierce individualist who refused to acknowledge the collectivistic nature of religion. Kabir as a prophet spoke in a divine language of authority and as a moralist influenced people to live a righteous way of life free of ‘Maya’ or worldly materialism. Finally Kabir as a visionary envisaged an ideal society, a utopia beyond this time and place that surpassed both the Bhakti and Sufi traditions.
There is rarely any works that focus on the political ideas of Kabir and his discourse for a socio-political alternative. Kabir’s critique of state, particularly of judicial and revenue administration and his vision of an ideal village polity without any private property, taxation and injustice has been adequately captured in the idea of ‘amar desh’ or ‘ desh divana’ in Kabir’s songs. It later manifests as ‘Satlok’ for the Kabir Panthis and ‘Begumpura’ for the followers of Ravidas. Kabir’s political ideas and his vision can only be understood by situating it against the backdrop of 15th century Banaras in North India with its prevalent hegemonic culture and ideology of elite, hierarchical state structure, taxation, social structures of caste, class, religion, gender dominance and the protest movements of the subaltern in different forms. It also needs to be contextualized with the rising trade that facilitated opportunities for vertical-horizontal mobility of social groups and individuals. The elite, however, reacted against this upward mobility of the subaltern. Kabir, himself a weaver and the vendor of his products in the textile market of Banaras, was critical of this feudal reaction and discrimination by the elite. His universal categories and monotheistic praxis was intended to transcend the social divide of his time.
Kabir’s Satlok, A Socialist Utopia founded on the principles of Egalitarianism.
Kabir was extremely critical of the existing order of society and searching for social alternatives was not only frowned upon but was also dealt with coercively. In such a situation, Kabir broke away from the traditions, defied it, was critical of the state, the elite, the clergy, and suggested the political alternatives of his time in his vision of the ideal society. His praxis for it continued till his death in his undifferentiated understanding of private-public domains of life.
His political utopia i.e. Kingdom of God, was an ideal village society without any sorrow, private property, taxes, monarchy or social hierarchy. It was a land of saintly people without any fear, greed, caprice, crime and scarcity. There was no distinction and discrimination premised on primordial identities like caste, religion and gender. This Utopia was to be constructed through bhakti i.e., through collective participation of people in decision making and in constructing a society free of various forms of inequality.
“Anya karma sab jeevon ko bandhne wali karma jal hai, parantu bhaktirupi karma, sab karmo ki jad katkar niskarm banane wala hai. Atev sab bhram tyag kar bhakti karo.”
The monotheism (muwahid) that he had envisaged pre-set this condition. It was the ideological avant-garde for social change; and its believers, the ‘bhakt’ , were vanguards of the ideal society. It reflected, in praxis, the freedom of religious expression premised on equality without any religious divide and internal hierarchical order. It manifested into syncretism of ideas and secularization of the ‘bhakt’ personified by Kabir himself.
Kabir’s vision had emerged out of his critical observation of society, of the functioning of the State, of clergy and its linkages with the elite that perpetuated propertied relations and social divisions. This reflects in his critique of the revenue as judicial administration of his time.
“Gaon ku Thakur khet kunape, kaith kharchan pare. Jeri jevri kheti pasare, sab mili mauko maare ho Ram. Khoto Mahato vikat balahi, sirkas dam ka pare. Buro Diwan dadi nahi laage, eki baandhe ek maare ho Ram.” “kazi tumhare man ko rajsi baatein hi bhaati hain. Ishwar ne kabhi atyachaar karne ki aagya nahi di. Tu deen se sahanubhuti nahi rakhta.”
Kabir represents the organic, subaltern intellect of radical intent. His ideal society was a rupture from the past. It was the land of freedom and plenty. The sovereignty of the people over the temporal and spiritual was final and primary. He rejected the sovereignty of the monarch or refused to accept him as the incarnation of God. He constantly endeavoured to subvert the authority of the elite and of a culture that fostered their dominance. But, for the oppressed, he was inclusive in mind and spirit. His emancipatory cultural movement and his utopia represented the alternative political ideas of his age.
Caliban and the Witch : Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
28 November 2023
Kabir (1440-1518): A Mystic Weaver’s Influence on Bhakti, Social Change, and Critique
Education , good governance , Indian Political Thought , Kabir , Political Philosophy , Political Science , Politics , Society
“I searched for the crooked, met none. When I searched myself, the crooked one was there none.” – Kabir
In the rich tapestry of Indian history, Kabir emerges as a luminous thread, a fifteenth-century (Period of Sikander Lodhi) mystic poet, philosopher, and saint. His profound writings not only shaped his era but continue to resonate in the corridors of time. Kabir’s influence extends beyond the realms of literature, touching the very core of the Bhakti Movement in India. A weaver by birth and a Julaha by caste, Kabir’s political thought and poetry have left an indelible mark on generations.
Table of Contents
Works of kabir.
Kabir’s literary legacy comprises 72 books, primarily a collection of ‘Dohas’ or couplets, reflecting his spiritual insights. Kabir in his writing uses Sadhukkadi language.
Notable among his works are ‘Rekhtas,’ ‘Suknidhan,’ ‘Mangal Vasant,’ ‘Sakhis,’ ‘Kabir Bijak,’ and ‘Holy Agams.’ These verses find a revered place in the Sikh Scripture, the ‘Guru Granth Sahib.’
His comprehensive works are compiled in texts:
- Bijak (consisting of three parts – Ramaini (Philosophical Ideas), Sabda (Singing love for god) and Saakhi (Teachings Principles)
Influences on Kabir
The 14th-century poet-saint Ramananda played a pivotal role in shaping the spiritual landscape of India. His influence on the Bhakti movement, particularly in popularizing the worship of Ram and Sita, left an indelible mark on Kabir. Ramananda’s broad religious outlook, aiming to reconcile the mysticism of Islam with Hindu and Christian theology, resonated deeply with Kabir. Under this influence, Kabir skillfully fused elements of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity in his philosophy.
Kabir’s commitment to the ideals of Truth, Non-violence, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha reflects the influence of Jain philosophy. His doctrine of Non-violence finds roots in Jain principles, evident in his vision of Begumpura – India’s Utopia, a land free from violence, greed, and crime.
Context of Kabir’s Ideas
In the bustling 15th-century Benaras, where Kabir spent the majority of his life, trade and opportunities flourished, connecting towns and villages. This economic transformation challenged existing caste rules and hierarchical feudal orders, fostering a culture of universal humanism. Social mobility became apparent, causing discomfort among the elite class that sought to maintain the status quo. Kabir, belonging to a lower caste, criticized the discrimination faced by the poor, earning the ire of Brahmins. Despite ideological clashes, Kabir’s popularity soared among the common people, whom he endeared with his transformative couplets.
Criticism of the King and his Administration
Kabir did not limit his critique to societal norms; he also scrutinized the prevailing systems of taxation and zamindari. His sharp criticism targeted the burden placed on the poor and weaker sections of society by the taxation system. Kabir vocalized his dissent against the decision to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, highlighting the ensuing economic and social repercussions on the populace.
Syncretism in the Bhakti Movement: Kabir’s Vision of Communal Harmony
The Bhakti movement, a significant religious and social transformation in India, originated in the 15th century with influential saints like Mirabai and Ravidas challenging prevailing social oppressions. Kabir, a prominent figure in this movement, played a pivotal role in shaping its trajectory. His writings reflect a unique synthesis, combining principles from both Hinduism and Islam, a phenomenon known as Syncretism.
Kabir’s contribution to the Bhakti movement extended beyond regional and religious boundaries. His advocacy for social harmony bridged gaps between Hinduism, Islam, and non-Hindu religions, emphasizing unity over division. In Kabir’s view, Allah and Rama were different names for the same divine entity, existing not in temples or mosques but in the hearts of devotees. This inclusive perspective marked him as a father of syncretism in North India.
The Bhakti tradition, as classified by Kabir, encompasses two categories: Saguna with attributes and Nirguna without attributes. Kabir, an advocate of Nirgun Bhakti, worshiped an abstract form of the divine, rejecting idol worship and emphasizing a connection beyond material representations. His critique extended beyond religious practices to societal structures, addressing issues of socio economic exploitation and various forms of deprivation.
Kabir’s writings exposed the exploitative practices embedded in the cultural and economic fabric of society. He criticized both Hindu and Islamic orthodoxy, challenging established norms and advocating for the marginalized. His focus on humanity, brotherhood, and emancipation underscored a commitment to the eternal development of society.
The legacy of Kabir endures through the Kabir Panth, a community known as Kabir Panthis. Central to his teachings is the idea that true divinity is found in those who tread the path of righteousness. Kabir advocates for an intimate, inward worship, asserting that the authentic God resides within the hearts of those dedicated to a life of virtue and moral integrity.
While Kabir’s contributions are widely celebrated, it’s essential to acknowledge a less commonly discussed aspect of his legacy. Critics point out his apparent silence on the existence of patriarchy, suggesting that the social conditions of his time may have limited the critique of such deeply ingrained structures. In understanding Kabir’s holistic impact, it is crucial to recognize both his transformative contributions and the contextual challenges he faced.
Amarpur and Prem Nagar: A Vision of Equality and Justice
Amarpur (Amar Deshwa), often referred to as the city of immortality, holds a unique designation as Prem Nagar, the city of Love. It is envisioned as a land free from discrimination and private property, where its inhabitants lead lives marked by liberty . This vision stems from the aspirations of Kabir, who yearned for a society that would transcend prevailing inequalities and offer a superior living environment grounded in equality . Within this utopian settlement,, fostering a sense of freedom for all. Amar Deshwa earned the moniker of India’s Utopia, representing an envisioned societal ideal based on Bhakti on lines of Thomas More’s work Utopia (1516).
Kabir’s desire for a society based on equality, devoid of injustices, is intricately linked with the principles of bhakti. In an era characterized by stark inequalities and discrimination, Kabir boldly rejected societal norms such as caste and religion, presenting a vision of governance idealized by subsequent scholars. His critique extended to the feudal order, challenging authoritarianism, elitism, and the domination of marginalized communities by the majority.
Interestingly, Kabir’s philosophical framework lacks a specific critique of patriarchy. While he vehemently opposed various forms of inequality, the absence of a direct commentary on patriarchal structures within his thought is noteworthy. In Kabir’s envisioned state , freedom is envisioned as being intricately tied to equality, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these principles.
The title, “Amarpur and Prem Nagar,” reflects the prevailing stress and discrimination that serve as the backdrop for imagining utopias. The objectives associated with these utopias are rooted in the eradication of these societal ills, envisioning a future where equality and justice reign supreme. As Kabir’s vision unfolds, the narrative emphasizes the imperative of dismantling oppressive structures, paving the way for a more inclusive and just society. His disciple Sant Raidas defined this ideal state as “Begumpura”.
Important Work – “Seeking Begumpura:The social visions of anti – cast Intellectual” (2008), Gail Omvedt
Important Comments on Kabir
- Rabindranath Tagore – Muktidoot of his and over times
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy – Agra Darshak
- B.R. Ambedkar – (3 Gems – Buddha, Kabir and Phule)
- Ram Vilas Sharma – Compare Kabir with Tulsi
- Hazari Prasad Dwivedi – Reclaims Kabir as people’s philosopher
Kabir, a revered saint amalgamating elements of the Nath tradition, Sufism, and Bhakti, forged a unique religious path. Through his poetic expressions, known as Dohas, he not only captivated the hearts of his contemporaries but also maintains enduring relevance in the contemporary era. His visionary pursuit of societal harmony and egalitarian values resonates through time, inspiring a multitude of thinkers and leaders. The torchbearers of Kabir’s ideals, drawn from his profound political philosophy, propelled his dream of a harmonious and equitable society into subsequent generations, fostering a legacy that persists in shaping the socio-political landscape.
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Philosophical and Theological Responses to Syncretism
Beyond the mirage of pure religion, series: philosophy of religion - world religions , volume: 7.
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- Preliminary Material Editor(s): Patrik Fridlund and Mika Vähäkangas Pages: i–viii
- Introduction By: Patrik Fridlund and Mika Vähäkangas Pages: 1–8
- Syncretism as the Theoretical Foundation of Religious Studies By: Jerker Karlsson Pages: 9–24
- Gnosticism as Inherently Syncretistic? Identity Constructions among Ancient Christians and Protestant Apologetes By: Paul Linjamaa Pages: 25–40
- Responding to Syncretism By: Patrik Fridlund Pages: 41–67
- Theo-Logical Positions vis-à-vis Syncretism By: Mika Vähäkangas Pages: 68–87
- Fair or Foul? Contextual Theology, Syncretism and the Criteria for Orthodoxy By: Stephen Bevans Pages: 88–103
- Assessing Catholic – Buddhist ‘Dual-Belonging’ in the Light of the Catholic Magisterium By: Gavin D’Costa Pages: 104–162
- Khrist Bhaktas and the Reconstruction of Syncretism By: Jonas Adelin Jørgensen Pages: 163–177
- ‘We are In-Between’ – Syncretism and Making Sense of Empirical Data By: Lotta Gammelin Pages: 178–189
- Is Dual Religious Belonging Syncretistic? An Evangelical and Missiological Perspective By: Kang-San Tan Pages: 190–208
- Syncretism or Inclusivist Subordination? An Exploration into the Dynamics of Inter-Religious Cooperation By: Elizabeth J. Harris Pages: 209–225
- Index of Names and Subjects Editor(s): Patrik Fridlund and Mika Vähäkangas Pages: 227–230
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Kabir as "The Apostle of Hindu Muslim Unity" : A Critique on Secularism and Religiosity
This essay investigates Kabir’s compositions on his ideas about organised religion and transcending religion itself which will be explored vis-a-vis his co-option into the project of communal harmony in present times .
Indian Social Reformer
Medieval Bhakti tradition and literature had given a space to articulate the discrimination that was happening under the guise of religion. The priestly class denied the right of spiritual, social equality to downtrodden. But this hegemony had been always contested. The establishment of the Delhi sultanate had further reduced the Brahmin-Kshatriya domination, facilitating the voices of descent to surface more vigorously. Kabir personifies this voice. He is critical of the discrimination and superstitions in Hinduism and Islam both. It is believed that many of his poems that had come down to us are not composed by him but goes on his name, but instead of Kabir as a historical figure, the dissenting voice as reflected in his poetry is more important. He is not an individual, but an idea. This paper explores the protest against elitism in Kabir’s poetry. Key words- Advaita, Bhakti, Brahma, Nirguna, Saguna.
David N Lorenzen
“Kabir and the Secular State”, published in Pinuccia Caracchi et al. (eds.), Tirthayatra: Essays in Honour of Stefano Piano, pp. 243-253. Allesandria, Italy: Edizione dell’Orso. ISBN 9788862742047 8862742045.
DR. MUZAFAR A H M A D DAR
The present paper will try to analyze the role of Azad in promoting Hindu-Muslim unity during the national movement of India. It will also try to explore his support for communal harmony, integrity and national unity. Azad was among those nationalist Muslim leaders of India, who were talking about composite nationalism, pluralism and cultural unity in diversity. Azad as a Muslim and nationalist always focused on unity of these two main communities in Indian sub-continent, both before and after partition. Besides the work will try to see what were the efforts which he took in order to promote this type of notion among the Muslims of India. Further it will also analyze the contribution of Al-Hilal towards Hindu-Muslim unity. Al-Hilal was one of the main sources through which Azad addressed generally all and particularly the Muslims of India during the national movement.
MUHAMMAD MUMTAZ ALI
Muhammad Burhanuddin Qasmi
Mutual coexistence, cooperation and genuine understanding among different religious nations is a need for global peace and harmonious livings. And more so it is an urgent call today in India. We are facing communal polarization at its peak both on religious as well as caste basis. Our citizens are being killed, lynched and inhumanly treated by both religious terrorists and communal goons! Is it the India that the father of this Nation Mahatma Gandhi had dreamt about? Today on his 148th birth university and in this International Day of Nonviolence we the Indians need to ask ourselves as what might have gone wrong with us? Why our country is gradually reducing into a boiling volcano? Coexistence is a two-way effect. The parties sharing same interest should come ahead to understand each other. Need of the time is to utilize modern recourses while bridging gapes and making stronger relationship than ever before among all major religions being practiced in India like Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity. Our strength is unity and our idea is ‘unity in diversity’. The more we enjoy this idea of India the more respectable and stronger we will be at home as well as in abroad. The modern fathers of this nation – Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. BR Ambedkar, Maulana AK Azad and their likes have chosen it to be – a cosmo, a nation with innumerable differences but one and a proud India. We need to abolish hatred from the roots – from school level. It is the political history of India which is seeding enmity. It is our political rhetoric which is problematic. Let us diagnose the actual problems sooner than later and fix them there only. No religion or religious text preaches hatred, it is we the upholder of religions who make it our way to befit our interests.
In his own time, the nirguna poet-saint Kabir was a controversial ﬁgure. He spoke ill of Islam and Hinduism alike, yet, in the end, both groups claimed him as their own. In this essay, various imag ...
Sant 'Kabir' or 'Kabir Das' were common names for him. He resided in Varanasi, India, around the 15th century. Love and compassion for one another is the only way to God, Kabir taught his followers. Of the last several years, there has been a surge in interest in Kabir's teachings. When Kabir was alive, he had a unique perspective on the world. Social inequities, feudal rules and religious dogma were only some of the things he had to cope with. His couplets and sonnets have been utilised in North India for more than 500 years. They were written in simple khari boli, which made it easier for everyone to understand what they were saying about abstract concepts. Because he drew inspiration for his poems from ordinary events, his work continues to resonate with readers today. As a response, he encouraged people to search within and find peace via spiritualism. Humanism, he argued, should be the universal faith of all people. In his couplets, Kabir teaches a universal truth that may be applied to anybody, regardless of their religious or social background. In many ways, Saint Kabir has remained the same since his day. As long as religion, superstition and rituals are prevalent, Kabir is still relevant today. Even world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi shared Kabir's message of peace and equality. Kabir had a clear goal and strategy for achieving social equality. In order to better grasp today's worldwide syncretic challenge in light of Kabir's continued relevance, this study pulls together some of these concepts and conversations.
Abstract: Girish Karnad is one of the most profound dramatists of Modern Indian English literature. He is popularly known for revitalizing indigenous culture. As a responsible artist, he has given vent to the concerns over the contemporary religious and communal tensions. Religion not only constructs a structure of code of ethics but also punishment awarding institution. In the course of time, as it got established as an institution, it became a bastion of evils also. It started exercising upper hand in its allied institutions like society, politics, family and other. Occasionally, it sidelined morality and freight of humanity too. Without being biased, Karnad presented the both side of religion. The paper aim is to explore how much Karnad successful in his attempt to represent the religion in his two plays- Hayavadana and Naga-Mandala. The paper also tries to find out how human life gets affected by it. Keywords: Religion, belief, desire, society, traditional values.
On one hand, this ‘book of logic ‘n reasoning’ appraises the Islamic faith shaped by the sublimity of Muhammad's preaching in Mecca and the severity of his sermons in Medina, which together make it Janus-faced to bedevil the minds of the Musalmans. That apart, aided by “I’m Ok – You’re Ok”, the path-breaking work of Thomas A. Harris and Roland E Miller’s “Muslim Friends–Their Faith and Feeling”, this work for the first time ever, psycho-analyses the imperatives of the Muslim upbringing that has the potential to turn a faithful and a renegade alike into a fidayēn. On the other, this work, besides appraising the monumental rise and the decadent fall of Hindu intellectualism, analyses how the sanātana dharma came to survive in India, in spite of the combined onslaught of Islam and the Christianity on Hinduism for over a millennium. Also, besides providing a panoramic view of the Indian history, this thought-provoking book appraises the way Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad, Ambedkar, Indira Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi et al made or unmade the post-colonial India. Possibly in a new genre this free eBook is a book for our times. Contents Preface of Strife Chapters 1. Advent of Dharma 2. God’s quid pro Quo 3. Pyramids of Wisdom 4. Ascent to Descent 5. The Zero People 6. Coming of the Christ 7. Legacy of Prophecy 8. War of Words 9. Czar of Medina 10. Angels of War 11. Privates of ‘the God’ 12. Playing to the Gallery 13. Perils of History 14. Pitfalls of Faith 15. Blinkers of Belief 16. Shackles of Sharia 17. Anatomy of Islam 18. Fight for the Souls 19. India in Coma 20. Double Jeopardy 21. Paradise of Parasites 22. The Number Game 23. Winds of Change 24. Ant Grows Wings 25. Constitutional Amnesia 26. The Stymied State 27. The Wages of God 28. Delusions of Grandeur 29. Ways of the Bigots 30. The Rift Within 31. The Way Around 32. The Hindu Rebound 33. Italian Interregnum 34. Rama Rajya 35. Wait for the Savant
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- Politics and Poetics of Syncretism: Case Studies of the Bonbibi Cult, the Mappila Teyyam Performances, and Three Poems of the Bhakti Tradition from the Indian Subcontinent
- Akhila Vimal C (bio) , Dipanjali Deka (bio) , and Poulomi Das (bio)
The concept of syncretism has often been at the receiving end of much scholarly criticism and scrutiny. In this article, we explore the politics and poetics of Hindu-Muslim syncretism in select cultural traditions from the Indian subcontinent. Poulomi investigates the religious ecosystem of the Bonbibi cult of Sundarbans in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Akhila studies the ritual healing practice of Teyyam in the North Malabar region of the South Indian state of Keralam. Dipanjali reads three mystic poems/songs from three different geocultural contexts (by Lal Ded of Kashmir, Azan Fakir of Assam, and Kabir of the Northern Indian subcontinent). Through the lens of cultural, performative, and poetic/lyrical spaces, this article acknowledges and analyzes the organic yet contradictory forces of hybridity and acculturation prevalent within these syncretic traditions. The arrival of rigid institutionalized Islam and the larger cultural appropriation of popular folk myths by Hinduism in India have accentuated existing social conflicts. In the light of this emergent crisis, this article also foregrounds how syncretism has often been used as a rhetorical strategy to cover underlying religious and political frictions.
syncretism, religion, Bonbibi, Teyyam, Bhakti
Syncretism has been loosely understood as the synthesis of religious and cultural ideas wherein two or more faith patterns and practices combine in varying degrees to become an amalgamated hybrid. It has often been observed that there is an instinctive tendency in many South Asian cultural and social contexts to romanticize the idea of religious assimilation between Hinduism and Islam, their overlapping ritual practices and their hybrid performance traditions. 1 On the surface, these in-between cultural and performative spaces have often been identified as the loci of syncretic forces, vectors that result in neat hybrid zones of harmonious appropriation. However, in most cases, they are a result of discordant and dissimilar indigenous interactions, which are malleable enough to precariously co-exist out of people's sheer need to survive and live. While discussing syncretism in India it is important to use a lens that enables us to interpret the varied dynamics of the [End Page 55] phenomenon and to weave in the possibilities of accommodating complex and extended connotations of the concept. This article therefore invokes the category of "space" to read the syncretic tendencies in the three select embodied practices and knowledge systems, viz. the Bonbibi cult, the Mappila Teyyam performances, and three poems of the Bhakti tradition. In doing this, it also underscores the age-old tendency of Hindu-Muslim polarization that has often threatened the secular nature of our democracy.
Among the numerous "little traditions" of Bengal's religious ecosystem, 2 Sundarbans's Bonbibi cult gets a lot of attention because of its seemingly syncretic beliefs and practices. 3 The people of Sundarbans, who are dependent on the resources of the forest and rivers for their bare subsistence, irrespective of their religion hold deep reverence for Mother Goddess Bonbibi. They believe she is a Muslim pirani (religious lady) who was sent by Allah to safeguard them from Dokkhin Rai: the Brahmin-tiger God, an incarnation of the ferocious Royal Bengal tiger, which threatens their lives. The origin of Sundarbans's variant of syncretism is polyphonic and a matter of conjecture. In Forest of Tigers , Annu Jalais analyzes the works of Richard Eaton 4 on the Islamization of Bengal and finds that the roots of this cult might be traced to the "new agrarian communities [that] started professing an Islamic identity" 5 —the new converts to Islam who associated the expansion of agricultural endeavors to Sufisaints who tamed and controlled the forest. In Bonbibi of Badabon , Sujit Sur speculates it to be related to an ancient tribal deity, who later became extremely popular among the migrants of both religions, inhabitants who settled in the islands since precolonial times. 6 But no matter how much contested the origins of the cult might have been, what remains the ground reality today is a unique palimpsest of traditions that affirm and contradict each other. Therefore, rather than assuming that the Bonbibi cult is a spontaneous wholesome acculturation of the rites and ritual practices of the two religions, the first case study analyzes the cultural manifestations of the cult as a shade of syncretism that selectively appropriates customs arising out of the dire necessity of a precarious ecological existence, hinged on fear and faith. As the data collected from ethnographic field visits were conducted on the Indian side of Sundarbans, this study does not refer to the half of Sundarbans that lies in Bangladesh.
Teyyam is a popular ritual healing practice prevalent in the northern Malabar region of the south Indian state of Keralam. The term Teyyam is a colloquial form of "Daivam" or "God," and this practice of community worship commemorates dead heroes and local deities. Teyyam originated as an indigenous form in which different communities of the region had ritual participation. Teyyam performance is rich in its use of spectacle, music, and movement. Anyone from these communities, irrespective of their caste, religion, or occupation can achieve the status of Teyyam. However, the right to performance is vested with specific caste groups like Vannan, Malayan, Velan, Pulayan, Koppalan, Mavilan, and so on, who belong to various "Hindu lower castes". In the Muslim Teyyams, as also in the performances of the [End Page 56] Bonbibi cult, the faith of the characters (Muslims) is different from that of the performers (Hindus) who embody them. In such spaces, syncretism tends to become a psychological process where performers have to overrule their identity conflicts before the performance. The second case study problematizes syncretism through the lens of Muslim characters in Teyyam pantheon. This will help to identify how Muslim Teyyams engage and position themselves in the Teyyam space, which has been transformed into a Hindu ritual with the intervention of Hindu upper castes starting around the thirteenth century. It is important to understand the paradigm shifts in Teyyam and how it negotiated with the changing space and patronages in various sociopolitical scenarios.
The Indian Bhakti movement came into being around the seventh century in Tamil South India and gradually swept across other regions of the subcontinent. The Bhakti movement is considered to have played a multifaceted role in decentralizing devotion from the brahmanical priesthood by bringing vernacular languages to the fore and in producing a rich oral tradition of poetry and music. The commonly used English translation for bhakti, "devotion," fails to capture fully the spectrum of experience that bhakti covers. Bhakti poetry can be a passionate call of longing for God, praise of zir form and attributes or a call to the formless divinity, 7 life lessons, critique of the worldly disparities of religion and caste, and sometimes even a call for communal harmony and religious confluence. This last category of song text is what the third case study of this article explores. Amidst the plethora of bhakti voices that are believed to facilitate an inclusive syncretic space, we take examples from three distinct geographical terrains, cultures, and languages: Lal Ded, a fourteenth-century Kashmiri Saivite yogini; Kabir, a fifteenth-century nirgun poet popular across the northern Indian subcontinent; 8 and Azan Pir Fakir, a seventeenth-century Sufi poet from Assam. The song of each poet arises from their own context of historical and sociocultural necessity, leading to a distinct variant of poetic syncretism that is explored in this study.
This article uses space as a methodological lens to explore the idea of syncretism. The first kind of space is the "cultural space" of a community, which in itself is the macrocosm of a society and all its elements: practices, performances, emotions, thoughts, "forms," and often even their "contradictory effects," as argued by Carolyn Levine. 9 To understand Bonbibi, who is at once a goddess, a myth, a belief, a philosophy, it is the lens of cultural space that adequately dismantles the synchronicities of the mythical and ritualistic performances intermingling in it. A more focused tool is the lens of "performance space" to explore syncretism. Through the lens of performance in Mappila Teyyam, political negotiations manifesting at a performative and cultural level is mapped in the rhetorical narrative of syncretism in North Malabar. Invoking Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space , K. Arunlal and Sunitha Srinivas C argue that "like other cultural spaces, poetic space is at once both 'lived' and 'conceptualized'." 10 A certain syncretic image or message that is conceptualized in the poetic realm of thought can have [End Page 57] the potential to be manifested in the physical sociocultural space. Keeping faith in this potential, bhakti poetry is often invoked to call forth the message of syncretism. The poetic or lyrical space is hence the third lens of space that is explored in this article to understand the multiple shades of syncretism in the Indian subcontinent.
Syncretism in the Cultural Space of the Bonbibi Cult
The present population of Sundarbans, either descendants of the Indigenous tribes who converted to Islam or those who migrated and settle in the deltas, 11 are Paunda Kshatriya, Namoshudra (Chandal), Bagdi, Kapali, Malo, Napit, Kaibarta, Jalia, Tior, Dhoba, Jogi, Suri, Kaor, and Rajbangshi—low-caste Hindus 12 (the scheduled castes); Shaikh, Mirshikari, Sapuria and Bediya—low-caste Muslims; and Santhal, Munda, and Oraon (the scheduled tribes). The dispossessed poor who had been fleeing their places of origin to escape the oppression of the mainstream society for centuries or who had been brought by the British for deforestation and reclamation work to yield revenue for the state 13 had taken up cultivation, fishing, crab-collecting, woodcutting, seafaring, and honey/wax/timber collecting as their occupation to survive in the dense mangroves. But frequent tornados, regular tidal floods, and the presence of wild and dangerous animals, especially the Royal Bengal tiger, have made them peg their faith in the powers of a sylvan goddess, Bonbibi. This potent Muslim deity is their only messiah who can ensure their safety irrespective of their religion, gender, caste, class, and age, but only if one enters the terrain in need and not greed. It is, however, not unusual to find low-caste Hindus praying to a divinity of Islamic lineage instead of trusting the prowess of their existing divinities of the Puranic pantheon. What is rarer is that some Muslims who depend on the forest and rivers of Sundarbans for their sustenance, practice idol worship, something that is prohibited in the tenets of Islam. The Bonbibi cult is therefore no simple portrayal of religious hybridity; instead, it is the prototype of a religious logic that organically springs from the functionality of a cult. This case study closely analyzes the inherent threads of syncretism embedded in this religious cult and its sociocultural manifestations, to dismantle the politics of rhetorically using the tropes of syncretism. This will in effect foreground the deep-seated ecological necessity and the often-neglected real-life functionality of a syncretic cult.
The cult of Bonbibi affects and absorbs the past and the present of islanders in more ways than can be strictly encoded. It is not just the fulcrum of the community's ancestral existential wisdom but also a vessel and vehicle of their omnipresent fear of death and misery on the one hand, and their indomitable hope of a better life on the other. The presence of Bonbibi is ubiquitous in their collective and private lives: their rituals and faith systems, their celebrations and festivities, their everyday utterances and adages. The mythic tale of their cult text, Bonbibi Johuranama (the Islamic word johur means "jewels," and nama means "chronicles") in fact merges, dilutes, and sometimes over-empowers the ground reality of human settlement in [End Page 58] Sundarbans. Moreover, a close reading of the Johuranama written by the Muslim authors 14 would reveal how the literary practices of the Hindu Mangal Kavya and the Islami Pir Sahitya traditions 15 have informed and influenced each other to birth this prototype religious text.
The narrative of the Johuranama is representational and mimetic of the lives of the islanders to such an extent that the forest-going folks often identify themselves as Dukhe: the child-protagonist of the story, who is extremely poor and unfortunate. Bonbibi saves this small hapless Muslim boy from the cunning conspiracies of his greedy, rich merchant uncle, Dhona. Dhona had connivingly planned to sacrifice Dukhe to the fearful tiger-god Dokkhin Rai in exchange for the forest's store of honey and wax. The life of the poor bartered to make the rich richer: an age-old and timeless tool of oppression. The forest-dependent poverty-stricken inhabitants of Sundarbans feel an intimate resonance with this narrative. Reciting it in parts or whole is an essential ritual practice of the Bonbibi worship ceremonies: the puja s, which happen on and around the time of the full moon in the winter month of Magha (corresponding to January-February). Its plot forms the basic storyline on which the Bonbibi pala s 16 are performed, which are unequivocally one of the most popular forms of ritual performances and an integral part of the annual festivities of the community. To adequately comprehend the ecology-driven syncretic texture of the fabric of Sundarbans's community life, it becomes inevitable to untangle the minute threads of inherent yet incongruous thoughts that have flowed and merged in the common crucible of their cult text.
The cast of a Bonbibi pala performance from Annpur (with the director of the team, Anuja Adhikari, who is also playing the role of Dukhe's mother, clad in a white saree in the picture), 2017. Photo credit: Poulomi Das.
[End Page 59]
The Johuranama starts by telling the tale of Bonbibi and her brother Shah Jongoli's arrival, gaining control of and cultivating the mangroves, after defeating and then befriending the erstwhile human-devouring form-changing Brahmin tiger-god-ruler Dokkhin Rai and his mother, Narayani. This is almost symbolic of the beginning of agriculture and Islamization in the mangroves. The Johuranama , with its curious mixture of Arabic and Persian words laced with Bengali, is interestingly read backward from the last page to the first, like books in Arabic or Urdu, but it is composed in payar chhanda , a specific meter 17 in Bengali that is traditionally used in Hindu panchali s. 18 Though this text was indeed "an idealized creation of Hindu and Muslim minds, which were…eager to meet with each other on a common platform of cordiality and unity," 19 its story has contradictions and fractures that frustrate attempts of unidimensional religious hybridity.
In the first part of the Johuranama , Bonbibi defeats Narayani and Dokkhin Rai, but instead of completely ousting them from their position, Bonbibi enters into a relationship of sisterhood with Narayani and in the process, accepts Dokkhin Rai as her adopted son. However, by the time we reach the second part of the book, it seems Bonbibi has completely forgotten this arrangement. On the verge of vanquishing Dokkhin Rai for attacking Dukhe, she has to be reminded by Gazi Pir of the prior settlement and the conflict ends in an amicable treaty. 20 This is no mere authorial slip but evidence of intersections of numerous oral myths. The resources of the forest—the honey and the wax—belong to Dokkhin Rai, but if a human devotee of Bonbibi enters the forests in search of basic subsistence, they will remain unscathed. Therein lies the seeds of ancient ecological wisdom that prioritizes neither man nor animal but foregrounds the centrality of nature as a supreme entity. Bonbibi is the custodian of the balance of life in Sundarbans—in its soil, water, air, trees, and its beings. Such an intense sense of community adherence and ecological cohesion is mostly seen among tribal societies. In fact, Sur locates the existence of her cult to a time that predates or circumvents the debates of Hindu-Muslim connections. The basis of his speculation is embedded in the story itself. When Dukhe leaves his mother, she reminds him to remember Bonbibi in times of need. Could it mean that Dukhe's mother belonged to the clan that worshipped Bonbibi? When Dukhe successfully returns to the village, he carries a totem of an axe in a necklace. Could this imply that he was saved by a community of woodcutters, who worshipped Bonbibi and therefore the connections between Dukhe and Bonbibi ensued?
The philosophy of ultimate balance and surrender to ecology is also reflected in the mind-set of the people who work in the bada (the mangroves), irrespective of their religious affinities. They often take pride in the fact that they are better in terms of constituency of heart and health than those who work in the abad (inhabited land) because the forest is a sacred nondiscriminatory place. It is Bonbibi's territory, a space with special healing powers. They believe that the soil of the forest has an intrinsic cooling quality that alters the health and disposition of the person who connects with it, but only for those who obey Bonbibi's rules, or else one is doomed [End Page 60] to meet death by becoming a target of wild animals or being killed by the roots and branches of the mangrove trees. In fact, the soil of Bonbibi's thaan (place of prayer) is believed to have miraculous medicinal properties and can allay diseases of the mind and the body: a faith that runs deep in the psyche of both Hindus and Muslims.
Bonbibi is intrinsically linked to the community's occupational cycles. She is worshipped every time they venture into the forest and rivers of Sundarbans. While the rhythmic reading of Bonbibi Johuranama in the panchali melody takes up a central place in the ritual, it has to be done by a non-Brahmin, even better, by a Muslim. It is interesting to note how numerous Islamic words like hajot (devotional penance), shinni/shirni (an offering to the goddess primarily made of rice and milk), manot (the solicited blessing), and khoirat (the custom of donation) have seamlessly woven themselves into the ritual ecosystem of the cult. Khoirat is integral to the worship ritual; it is symbolic of a community's altruism, a way to bridge the haves and have-nots, a benevolent society's responsibility to look after the needy. However, equally significant are the non-Islamic practices such as idol worship, worshipping earthen mounds, and offering prasad (cooked food) to the goddess.
The idol of Bonbibi is in the form of a woman, mostly with Dukhe on her lap, but not always, though. She is always accompanied by Shah Jongoli and often by two other male human figures: one of the Gazi Pir and the other of Dokkhin Rai. Dokkhin Rai is sometimes portrayed as a tiger, sometimes as a Brahmin, and sometimes even half-tiger and half-human. Scholars have argued that "in response to their environment the locals have evolved a religion which is a curious mix of animism, pir-ism and Shakti cult." 21 However, the regional variations in the iconography of Bonbibi and her cohort is what contradicts the uniformity of a hybrid syncretic divinity. In the Hindu majority regions, her depiction is more like the idols of Hindu goddesses: crimson-colored in complexion. She is clad in a saree, with a crown on her head, usually garlanded with wildflowers. However, in "the Muslim majority regions [she]…is…dressed in a salwar kameez , wearing necklaces, hair plaited and at times head covered with a dupatta , or with a decorated Muslim topi (cap) and feet covered with shoes and socks. She is either empty handed or portrayed carrying an ashadanda ." 22
Therefore, in light of the aforementioned analysis, the cult of Bonbibi seems overtly syncretic; however, it is not without its internal contradictions that refuse any homogenous categorizing. Hindus and Muslims do not just have different types of idols for worshipping Bonbibi. They live almost segregated in different villages, clearly marking their religious affiliations. During the annual-ritual Bonbibi pala performances the portrayal of Muslim divinities and characters is considered pious, however, there are hardly any Muslim performers. These are indicative that the domain of Bonbibi has immensely fluid boundaries that can be permeated easily without even shedding the markers of individual fundamentalist religious practices. [End Page 61]
Syncretism in the Performative Space of Mappila Teyyam
The Mappila Muslim identity has undergone tremendous transformation over the past thirteen centuries. 23 The syncretic notion of cultural integration between Mappila Muslims and other communities in North Malabar is a complex postulation. The integration, in varying degrees and depth, is visible in the everyday life of the people of North Malabar, ranging from food and rituals to traditions. Though this cultural and religious fusion fits into the framework of syncretism perfectly, it is important to have a multilayered approach to understand the nuances of this blend of syncretic texture.
According to Roland E. Miller, Mappila culture of North Malabar "is the offshoot of a successful marriage between the Malayalam and the Islamic cultural traditions." 24 In Malabarile Mappila Teyyangal (Mappila Teyyams of Malabar), R. C. Karippath states that the Arabs who married women of Keralam were called Mappila. 25 Mappila is a blended identity in local culture and the term signifies outsiders who got incorporated into the community. According to Miller, Mappila means "great child," and the title was given to them by Hindus out of respect when they first came to Keralam. It is the oldest Muslim community in South Asia, and "the name carries intimations of their double-streamed Arab–Malayalam cultural background." 26
North Malabar celebrates this cultural integration and even has a prominent dialect called Mappila Malayalam or Arabi Malayalam, developed through the creolization of Arabic and Malayalam. Mappila Malayalam is used widely in Mappilapaattu (a Muslim song genre) and the literary traditions of Mappilas, including the Mappila Ramayanam . "These texts and their oral transmission proved decisive in shaping…[the] 'Mappila habitus' across the region. A range of collective ritual conventions and performances propagated by these texts in practice helped to determine how vernacular Muslims in Malabar conceived their cultural practices and social order in their new surroundings." 27
The major characters of Mappila Teyyam that range across different classes, vocations, and genders are Mappila, Aali, Bappiriyan, Koyi Mammad, Mukripokker, Kallayi Mammu, Soolikkallu Moothachi, Neytyar, and Ummachi. Some of these characters of Mappila Teyyam are unjustly killed, whereas some are the ones who caused an injustice. However, the one who caused injustice will attain the status of Teyyam only if they are killed by the goddesses or come in contact with a divine entity or divine place after death. Their becoming a Teyyam is therefore a divine intervention that justly accommodates them within the folds of mainstream social order. According to Ezhom Pavithran, a performer of Teyyams from the Vannan community, the main objective of narrating and rendering these characters is to ensure and retain social equilibrium while adopting new members within the structure of the community. 28
Mappila and Aali are performed along with Chamundis, 29 a prominent Hindu Teyyam, and they are addressed as Mappila Chamundi and Aali Chamundi. [End Page 62]
Bappirian Teyyam with Mappila Porattus at Mottammal Parambath Karoth Bhagavathy temple, Kannapuram, Kannur, 2013. Performers: Madhu Thavam (Bappirian) Balakrishnan Odayanmmad, and Prabhakaran Pallichal (Porattus). Photo credit: Ashokan Neelima.
According to the myth of Mappila Chamundi, Mappila beat Karimchamundi and broke her back for killing his pregnant wife and devouring the fetus. Later, Chamundi killed Mappila and both of them became Teyyams. Ali was a trader who was killed by the woman he raped, and he is performed along with Parachamundi, who helped the woman to kill him. Bappiriyan is one of the most popular and extensive Teyyam characters performed in parts of Kannur district by the Vannan community.
Bappiriyan gets staged with the Hindu Teyyam Aryapunkanni, a rich woman with magical powers from Malabar who traveled across the sea in search of diamonds and gold with her brothers and was shipwrecked. Bappiriyan helped Aryapunkanni to find her brothers. Mukripokker, a mantrik , 30 was the caretaker of a ruling family of Malom and was killed during namaz for having an affair with a woman of Malom family. The fact that during the namaz he lets down his guards makes it possible to kill him. The performance of Mukripokker has an elaborate sequence of namaz , as a reminder of his identity and the injustice meted out to him. Soolikallu Moothachi was a female mystic with healing powers who became a Teyyam after saving a king from a lethal disease.
Mappila Teyyams are commonly addressed as Mappila Poraatt, and according to R. C. Karippath, the term poraatt indicates "ritualistic fun." 31 Community identity gets reflected in the costumes, dialogues, and performance of Mappila Teyyams. Other than Bappiriyan, all other characters of Mappila Teyyams use the attire of local Muslims as costumes. Male Mappila Teyyam characters wear a specific style of moustache to indicate Muslim identity. Female Mappila Teyyams cover the [End Page 63] head using a scarf and wear bangles, sartorially resembling Muslim women during the old days. Earlier, Mappila Teyyams were important in terms of character and ritual context. They were also active in criticizing and challenging social actions. But with the changing times, Mappila Teyyams have lost importance and have become poraatt .
Muslim association and participation in Teyyam are not limited only to performing Teyyam characters. Neighboring Muslim devotee families participate in the ritual and are hereditarily entitled to the share of offerings made by devotees during Koyi Mammad Teyyam, while it is performed at Kaappattukavu Daivathaar temple. Vishnumoorthy Teyyam, a "Hindu" god, when performed at Padarkulangara Bhagavathy temple, visits the neighboring Munirul Islam Juma Masjid as part of its ritual practice. Teyyams address the Muslim community as "Madayinagaram," the people of Madayi, the place where the first Mosque of northern Kerala was built during the seventh century. Meanwhile, Muslim Teyyams address Hindu devotees as odappirannore or koodappirappe (brother). Teyyams bless Muslim devotees by stating the historical bonding in the local community and proclaim to protect them by ensuring livelihood and safeguarding religious practices. The blessing indicates the assurance given by the Teyyam, the local deity, to a new person/family who joins the community. There is a prolonged dialogue sequence with Mappila devotees in the performance of various important Teyyam characters like Muthappan and Thondachan, who are considered wise elders. This sequence is called Mappila Vedam, which comprises stories about the arrival of Muslims to Malabar, events that led to their integration into the community and their celebrations as part of the community. Adaptation and integration of Muslims into the community is clearly visible in the myths of Mappila Teyyams or stories associated with community participation. Hence, it is important to regard community participation of Muslims in the Teyyam context as established examples of coexistence or harmony in its actual sense.
Teyyam is a festival rather than a form, where every community from the region has a ritual role. According to Y. V. Kannan, Teyyam performance existed from the time of indigenous culture, but it underwent reformations during the fifteenth century and became more aestheticized. 32 In the last five hundred years, Teyyam underwent various changes, adaptations, and integrations whereby the local myths were incorporated into a larger narrative and the upper castes got involved in the performance. It was during this time that the rituals of upper-caste Nambutiris gained prominence and it influenced Teyyam rituals as well. Sacred groves, where Teyyams were performed, were converted to temples dominated by upper-caste Nambutiris. Teyyam performers, who were part of sacred groves, lost their prominence and became mere performers who were allowed to be part of temple rites only during the performance. The period marks a major shift whereby Teyyam transformed from an indigenous form to a Hindu ritual that is much tauter than the aboriginal framework. [End Page 64]
Bringing a culturally blended art form, having different characters from various communities, including Islam, into a Hindu religious space led to conflicts. When Teyyam became a Hindu ritual performed within temple premises, Muslims, who were part of the traditional belief system, became the "other," and Mappila Teyyam was thrown into a quandary. Generally, performers of Teyyam who identify themselves as Hindus while playing the Muslim figures (Mapillas) experience no dissonance between their real and performed religious identities. However, on various recent occasions the performers have raised concerns regarding the Hindu-Muslim conflicts that might affect the portrayal of characters and its identity. 33 For instance, Hindu fundamentalists and even some people belonging to the Teyyam community raise speculations about the religious identity of characters like Bappiriyan. 34 In another situation while witnessing one of the Bhagawati (goddess) Teyyams in Kannur district in 2017, the Teyyam character embodying the goddess commands the devotees to reclaim the land from the "Madayinagaram". While traditionally Teyyams have played a functional role of resolving disputes related to land and theft that led to socio-religious conflicts; in the recent times, the rising pan-Indian fundamentalist tensions have fed seeds of discordance within the syncretic space and practice of Teyyam. 35
Sometimes religious conflicts also arise from within the organizers of temple festivals. A recent incident was the erection of a signboard restricting entry of Muslims from the Malliot Temple during festivals. The organizers justified the move, stating that the board was in place for over three decades. However, no such restriction was imposed or followed in the past. The latest move by the organizers repudiates the history of the area and shatters the long-term harmony among Hindus and Muslims. 36 The shift in the scenario has also affected the relationship between Mappila characters and the performance space. The performance of namaz and recital of takbir 37 has been inherent to several character portrayals. As Teyyam performance spaces became temple premises, these performative elements, which were part of the ritual belief system of these spaces through their historical/mythical order, started creating uneasiness and bitterness.
This discourse is not only centered on the friction created by Muslim assimilation into the "Hindu space" but also the trouble generated in the religious structure of "true Islam." It was common for Muslims to witness Teyyam performances and make offerings to the deity. However, Muslims visiting temples during Teyyam performance has become a rare sight nowadays owing to restrictions imposed by fundamental Muslim religious thoughts. Such associations go against din (judgment, custom, and religion): the core of Islam. The incorporation of Mappila Muslims into the larger structure of Islam threatens their identity as a native Muslim community. Meanwhile, tensions and conflicts within and between these communities create frictions largely affecting the integration and involvement of Mappila Muslims in the cultural spaces of Malabar. [End Page 65]
Syncretism in the Poetic and Lyrical Space of Bhakti Poems
In the poetic or lyrical space of bhakti, one can identify multiple textures or modes of syncretism, and not one monolithic kind. These modes are not isolated from the social and historical contexts in which they were conceived or were transmitted. Fueled by their cultural necessity, what manifests in the poetic realms of Lal Ded and Azan Fakir is a syncretic mode that can be read as assimilative and accommodative in nature. In Kabir, the radical opposition to all kinds of religious orthodoxies facilitates a space of negation in his philosophy and poems that translates into his syncretic mode of thinking. The following sections thus explore the disparate categories of syncretic conceptualizations: assimilation and accommodation through the poems of Lal Ded and Azan Fakir as well as the category of negation through a poem of Kabir.
In the fourteenth century, Lal Ded (fondly addressed as Lalla) utters, shiv chhuy thali thali rav zaan (Shiva is everywhere, know Him as the sun):
Shiva is everywhere, know Him as the sun, Know the Hindu no different to the Musalman; If you are wise, know yourself, That's the way to know the saheb! 38
The above is a vakh (four-line poem). There are many translations and interpretations of this vakh available, but the above translation by Neerja Mattoo takes the analysis of the word zaan (to know) to such a philosophical depth that it lends a rationale to my interpretation of syncretism through the mode of assimilation.
At the commonest and obvious level, zaan (to know) means the ability to see the sun, something that is clear as daylight and that almost everyone can comprehend. The second line goes up to a higher level of knowing, i.e., discernment, the ability to understand the essential non-difference between Hindus and Muslims. The third line raises the level of understanding still higher, asking the listener to look squarely at something most of us are unable to see, our own self, and then to see it as one ray of that very light of the sun, as a part of that glorious supreme light which pervades the whole universe…Only after passing… [the test of our understanding] can we claim to have found what the poet has sought: God realization and the real meaning of life. 39
There are vakh s that abound with Lalla's transcendent yearnings for the formless divinity within, as well as others that are ruthless criticism of the idolatry of brahmin pundits. The aforementioned vakh , however, has a more compassionate tone. Through the most ordinary yet irrefutable of things as the sun, Lalla dissolves [End Page 66] the boundaries between a Hindu and a Muslim. In doing that, she builds a poetic space of syncretic confluence between the two.
Lalla was from the Trika philosophy of Kashmiri Saivite tradition and had her spiritual training from Siddha Mol Srikanth. 40 However, despite that background, she has often dismissed the ritualistic aspects of high-elite brahmanical worship. In her vakh s, she even calls out the hypocrisy of worshipping idols and stones. Lalla endorses reaching the formless Shiva consciousness instead. This antiauthoritarian streak sets her apart from the "Sanskrit literature of the following centuries," 41 and instead makes her an integral part of "Kashmiri folk imagination." 42
However, Lalla also needs to be located vis-à-vis her contemporary Muslim Rishi tradition of Kashmir. In Sufism In Kashmir , Rafiqi sees the spread of Islam in medieval Kashmir in terms of two streams of thought: the immigrant Sufis from Persia and Central Asia, who were mostly attached to the royal court and worked to spread Islam in Kashmir, and the Rishi Sufis, who were active in the countryside amongst the rural people, who taught in the native tongue and "did not concern themselves with Islamic missionary activities or the establishment of madrasas and kept themselves aloof from the ruling classes…[They] did not hesitate to borrow the ideas and practices of the Hindu ascetics, especially those of the Saivites of Kashmir." 43
Nund Rishi or Sheikh Ul Alam was a Muslim Rishi, a younger contemporary of Lal Ded, and is considered the patron saint of Kashmir today. In practice and in philosophy, both Lal Ded and Nund Rishi did not fear to push the boundaries of their orthodox parent religions to assimilate other religions. This deviance is crucial to understanding the assimilative syncretic nature of Lal Ded's thoughts. It is through the lens of this deviance that we can sufficiently understand her acute voice against ritualism as well as place her philosophy of religious syncretism and inclusivity.
Moving ahead three centuries into the far eastern Indian context of Assam, we read another song (called zikir ) mur monot aan bhab nai o allah (I carry no discrimination in my mind O Allah) by another mystic poet, Azan Pir Fakir of Assam.
I carry no discrimination in my mind O Allah, I do not see a Hindu different from a Muslim, O Allah! When dead, a Hindu is cremated While a Muslim buried under the same earth… You leave this Home To reach that Home Where All merge into One! 44
Azan Pir Fakir is said to have traveled to India from Baghdad via Ajmer and Gaur to Assam around the seventeenth century. 45 On arriving, he realized that the Muslims in Assam were far from practicing the tenets of Islam. He learnt the local [End Page 67] language and customs, understood the deeply embedded Vaisnavite faith that was in vogue in then Assam, pioneered by the fifteenth-century saint-poet Srimanta Sankardeva. The erstwhile Vaisnavite faith propagated the philosophical tenet of Eka-Sarana-Nama-Dharma , which is a philosophy that called for the unified devotion of one god, Vishnu or Krishna. Zikir songs are the Muslim devotional songs that Azan Fakir composed to infuse Islamic tenets in Assamese Muslims. But he did that by philosophically and musically keeping in line with the already existing Vaisnavite faith, religious vocabulary, and local folk tunes. There are zikirs that sing of the five tenets of Islam: kalima (the sacred Word), namaz, roza (fasting), haz (pilgrimage), and zakat (religious obligatory offerings). There are also zikir s that sing of Sankardeva and Azan Fakir as brothers of the same spiritual journey. Azan Fakir introduced Sufi Islam in Assam not through conflict but through a philosophy of devotional assimilation. As Carl W. Ernst puts it, there is no generic Sufism, and one has to locate Sufism in its "distinctive local sacrality." 46 In the case of Assam, the local sacrality is a space of accommodative syncretism between Sufism and preexisting Vaisnavism.
However, it is the category of negation that surfaces in a popular song, moko kahan dhoondhe re bande? (Where do you search for me, Seeker?) of fifteenth-century Kabir, who can be historically located between Lal Ded and Azan Fakir.
Where do you search for me, Seeker? I am close to You. Neither am I in icons and idols, Nor in solitary abodes Neither in temples, nor in mosques, neither in Kaba nor in Kailash Where do you search for me? I am close to You. Neither in prayers, nor in meditation nor in fasting Neither in yogic exercises nor in renunciation Seek earnestly and discover, In a moment of search! Says Kabir, Listen! Where your faith is, I am there. 47
In this poem, Kabir begins with a question. Here it is a question in the voice of Divinity itself—Where do you look for me? Then he answers it through a series of refutations—that it is present neither in the temple nor in the mosque, neither in holy mountains nor in rituals. This structure of negation leads up to the affirmative statement at the end, which says main toh hu vishwas mein , meaning, "Where your faith is, I am there." What Kabir does is in tandem with the Upanishadic Neti Neti , or method of negation. It also resonates with the Sufi method of negation and affirmation as is found in the fundamental Islamic kalima, la ilaha illallah (There is no god [negation] but God [affirmation].
As a society we constantly place faith on the outer : some rules, an image, some dogma, a scripture, an idol. What Kabir hints at is that having faith in anything outside creates binaries and conflicts, and hence he rejects all outer religious manifestations. In refuting both the mandir and the masjid, both the Mecca and [End Page 68] the Kailash, Kabir turns his back on the sacred beliefs of all religions. But I argue that this negation itself creates the space for syncretic thought. After clearing the mental space of futility of all the outer countenances, Kabir leads us towards an all-inclusive inner space close to us, the hriday (heart). Kabir finally affirms his vishwas (faith) in this intimate space within—the most sacred of all spaces and yet the most secular. By negating the "specific" as sacred, Kabir makes the "whole" as sacred, thus making it an all-encompassing space for both religions.
According to the most popular legend, Kabir was believed to have been born in fifteenth-century Varanasi to an unmarried Hindu Brahmin woman, who abandoned him in the river, only to be found and adopted by a Muslim couple, Nima and Niru in a class of weavers ( julaha caste) recently converted to Islam. These weavers were earlier the lower caste julaha s, who even stood against the brahmanical caste system. Kabir has repeatedly called himself a julaha , but never a Hindu or a Muslim. Beyond an obvious spiritually heightened meaning of this negation, perhaps it also has a more grounded societal meaning. 48 It is through this lens of negation that Kabir speaks radically against the orthodoxy of both Hindus and Muslims, and it is through the same lens that we understand Kabir's syncretic message in the space of his songs.
Thus, pertaining to the lens of the poetic/lyrical space that is employed to analyze the utterances of medieval bhakti poets, there is a possibility of reading disparate syncretic forces in the conceptual realm. As opposed to this intangible lens, the earlier case studies of the Bonbibi cult and Mappila Teyyams employed the tangible lens of cultural space and performative space, respectively. However, the force and urgent functionality of these polyphonic syncretic forces cannot be completely comprehended unless we punctuate our interpretation with the politics and relevance they hold in the current schema of contemporary Indian politics.
Politics and Relevance of Syncretism Today
The seeds of concordant and diverse cultural beliefs and practices that were organically ingrained within the past and continuity of the Bonbibi cult have never encountered such dissent and irrationality as it does today at the wake of fundamentalist forces, who find it problematic to accommodate democratic ecosystem-driven faith patterns within their rigid decree. Some Hindus have internalized the worship of this Muslim deity with such gusto that they seem to have forgotten the indiscriminate philosophy of the cult. Disregarding the conscious act of the cult practices to challenge oppressive caste distinctions, they are employing Brahmins to perform the worship rituals, thus reinforcing the brahmanical hegemony. On the other hand, maulavi s (Muslim religious scholars) of the prominent mosques in Sundarbans are increasingly prohibiting the worship of any God entity other than Allah. Fearful of being declared outcasts, Muslims are increasingly denying their affiliation for the deity publicly. However, the force of their bearings can be understood in the light of news reports about how Hindu fundamentalist forces are [End Page 69] trying to polarize the gods by claiming Bonbibi to be exclusively for the Hindus and denying her joint heritage, thus offending the Muslims. 49 Though the Muslims are being weaned off the tradition, in casual conversations they unanimously agree that they enjoy a Bonbibi pala performance in the village: "The pala is so much fun to watch. It tells our stories, our struggles, about our rivers and forests." 50 With the access to secondary education and alternatives of safer occupations, with the penetration of developmental and tourism initiatives in Sundarbans, some sections of Sundarbans's society are slowly but gradually climbing the economic ladder, and with it there is a decline in their dependence for livelihood on the forests and rivers, but there is no faith lost in the cult of Bonbibi. She has evolved to become a goddess who ensures good health and grants the wishes of her devotees—such as getting the desired job, the birth of a son in the family, guaranteeing that the lost are found, offering peace, success, and justice to the poor and needy. The non-native vectors of religious polarization have surely attempted to detrimentally impact Bonbibi's all-expansive faith, but the cult—flexible, malleable, and resilient like the ecosystem that hosts it, has emerged in a metamorphosed avatar every time it has been battered with regressive politics.
A similar tendency of religious polarization is operative in the context of Mappila Muslims, their representation and participation in Teyyam spaces, which has undergone a thorough process of alteration. Nowadays, Mappila Teyyams are rhetorically used to define an ideal situation of harmony within the current scenario of intense political tensions. Harmony facilitates peaceful and happy coexistence; communal harmony as a political term refers to being together or sharing of spaces. However, ongoing political killings and incidents like the Marad massacre 51 indicate that Malabar now lacks "ideal harmony." The sociocultural position of Mappila Teyyam in the current framework is being politically and superficially construed to project the abstract idea of harmony. The fact that the Mappila Teyyams have recently gained popularity and attracts a larger crowd is the evidence of this political maneuvering. Raju Maniyara, who has been performing Mukri Pokkar, vouches that he has witnessed a shift in the attitude of people who come to view and participate in the performance. 52 He states that, over the past fifteen years, the reception for Mukri Pokkar has changed from devotion to curiosity. People are more curious to see Muslim representation in a Hindu ritual. Romanticizing such practices while sidelining existing tensions does not contribute to the essence of integration that Malabar as a region propagated. Instead of perceiving the organic devotional consonance, what attracts people now is the reductive trope of Hindu-Muslim syncretism. Thus, the framework of syncretism cannot be limited to a religious blend in the context of Mappila Teyyam; rather, it manifests as an intense problematic cultural blend. The problem and politics get divulged in the identity shift that the Mappila Teyyams have incorporated. Rather than being a ritual that derives its force from within the society, they have mutated to become a political symbol of overt harmony. Hence, this intricate probing of the syncretic elements of [End Page 70] Mappila Teyyams have aided us to discern how a ritual enactment gets transformed from being an indigenous integration to a political adaptation.
A variant of political adaptation also emerges in times of political crises when the medieval bhakti figures and their poetry are invoked to spread messages of syncretism and religious tolerance. Kabir has been the most invoked bhakti figure in progressive and activist circles, especially since the aftermath of the Babri Masjid massacre. In post-Partition India, there are constant debates in the scholarly circle to claim Lal Ded into a completely Pandit-Hindu fold on the one hand as Lalleshwari, and into a Kashmiri-Muslim fold on the other as Lal Arifa. 53 However, for common Kashmiris, both Hindus and Muslims, she remains a grandmother figure whose vakh s they remember by heart along with the shrukh s (spiritual poetic utterances) of Nund Rishi or Sheikh Ul Alam. This "un-indoctrinated folk approach" of looking back at the connected history of Lal Ded and Nund Rishi has always been an inclusive one, 54 and one that goes into what is called Kashmiriyat. The word Kashmiriyat however, is also often seen as a "deliberate design, part of a perceived grand hegemonic Indian project…to trivialize the political aspirations of Kashmiris." 55 The narrative of syncretism is therefore not without its inherent internal political contradictions. In a distinct context of Assam, which is currently ridden with debates around citizenship, 56 Azan Fakir and his zikirs become relevant today to highlight who the ideal "indigenous" Muslim figure is. The assimilation of Azan Fakir and Sankardeva, both philosophically and musically, becomes a potent representation for projection of xomonyoy (religious confluence) that was and that is to be sought in times of current political conflicts to build one brihhotor axomiya jaati (vast Assamese community).
Therefore, the shades of Hindu-Muslim syncretism in the Indian subcontinent are not akin to the result of an alchemy experiment that gives birth to a third mixture, one that has no identifiable attributes of the parent elements. Instead, it is more like a palimpsest, or a delectable concoction of rice, pulses, fruits, and nuts—better known as the pulao or pulav in the Indian household. Yet there is no one taste or flavor or version of syncretism that would be the most authentic or ideal one. The dynamics of Hindu-Muslim religious confluence in India, as has been demonstrated in the three case studies, is location, history, and context-specific. Molded by the push and pull of othering, negating, appropriating, assimilating, accepting, and contradicting forces, the Indian blend of Hindu-Muslim syncretism is composite and plural.
Dr. Akhila Vimal C is a Performance Studies scholar. Her thesis is titled Performing Disfiguration: Pain, Affect and Staging of Relationalities in Classical and Ritual-Healing Performances of Kerala .
Dipanjali Deka is a Theatre and Performance Studies scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her ongoing PhD project is titled Interweaving Musical Pluralities: Travelling through the Musical Renditions of Nirgun Poems of Lal Ded, Kabir and Azan Fakir .
Dr. Poulomi Das , a Performance Studies scholar, is currently a Critical Writing Faculty at Ashoka University, Haryana. Her thesis is titled The Bonbibi Cult of Sundarbans: Expressions and Expectations in the Performances of Everyday Life .
1. Sumanta Banerjee, Logic in a Popular Form (Kolkata: Seagull Books, 2002); J. J. Roy Bur-man, "Hindu-Muslim Syncretism in India," Economic and Political Weekly 31, no. 20 (May 1996): 1211–15.
2. Banerjee, Logic in a Popular Form , 7.
3. This is the author's experiential observation of being a native of Bengal and a deduction of her six years of ethnographic fieldwork.
4. Annu Jalais, Forest of Tigers: People, Politics & Environment in the Sundarbans (London: Routledge, 2010), 152: "…from 1200, Sufiholy men and their converts cleared the forests of the northern parts of Sundarbans. Agriculture came to be intimately linked to the spread of Islam in Bengal." Here, she cites R. M. Eaton's seminal book, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204–1760 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993).
5. Jalais, Forest of Tigers , 153. Here, she cites Eaton's paper "Human Settlement and Colonization in the Sundarbans 1200–1750" presented at a workshop at the Smithsonian Institution, Washing-ton D.C., 20–21, November 1987.
6. Sujit Sur, "Bonbibi of Badaban" (unpublished, typescript manuscript, December 12, 2014).
7. Zir is a gender-neutral term, used intentionally in this article to denote the God-entity.
8. While saguna bhakti implies devotion of the manifest form of God with attributes, nirgun bhakti refers to a divinity without attributes, where truth is unmanifest.
9. Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), 7.
10. K. Arunlal and Srinivas C. Sunitha, "All in the Space of a Poem: Spatial Logics in Poetry," Journal of European Studies 47, no. 3 (2017): 250.
11. Sur, "Bonbibi of Badaban."
12. According to Danda, "Amongst the Hindus, about 74 percent belong to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and 10 percent to the Scheduled Tribes (ST); strictly speaking STs are not within the Hindu fold." A. A. Danda, "Surviving in the Sundarbans: Threats and Responses: An Analytical Description of Life in an Indian Riparian Commons" (PhD diss., University of Twente, 2007), 12.
13. Before the Bengal Forest rules came into force as late as the 1870s and in the period prior to that, the British considered forests chiefly as hindering agriculture.
14. First written by Boinuddin in 1877 but later versions written by Md. Khater and Abdur Rahim (alias Md. Munshi) in 1888 and 1898, respectively, were more popular.
15. Mausumi Mandal, "Bonbibi-r Palagaan of the Sundarbans: An Interpretive Analysis" (PhD diss., Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2011), 27.
16. Performances, replete with songs, dances, and dialogues, that enact the story of the Bonbibi Johuranama ; usually done along with the ritual worship by the devotees of Bonbibi.
17. Rhymed couplets where each line has roughly twelve syllables and a caesura, in the middle.
18. Local poems eulogizing Hindu deities.
19. Banerjee, Logic in a Popular Form , 74.
20. A local Bengali Muslim Pir , or saint, known for his powers over dangerous animals and demons, powers that were of great significance to the new settlers of the Sundarbans as they penetrated the dense mangrove forests.
21. Burman, "Hindu-Muslim Syncretism in India," 1212.
22. Mandal, "Bonbibi-r Palagaan of the Sundarbans," 32. Salwar is a pair of light loose trousers with a tight fit around the ankles worn by women from the Indian subcontinent; kameez is a long tunic worn by many people from the Indian subcontinent; asadanda is a stick symbolizing the scepter of a Muslim kingdom, which is also carried by the pirs or piranis .
23. The Mapillas came to Kerelam in and around the seventh century.
24. Roland E. Miller, Mappila Muslim Culture: How a Historic Muslim Community in India Has Blended Tradition and Modernity (New York: State University of New York Press, 2015), 3.
25. R. C. Karippath, Malabarile Mappila Theyyangal (Kannur: New Books, 2014), 18.
26. Miller, Mappila Muslim Culture , 4.
27. P. K. Yasser Arafath, "Polyglossic Malabar: Arabi-Malayalam and the Muhiyuddinmala in the Age of Transition (1600s–1750s)," Journal of Royal Asiatic Society Series 3, 30, no. 3 (2020): 518.
28. Ezhom Pavithran ( teyyam performer) in discussion with the author, Kannur, October 5, 2019.
29. In the larger narrative of Hinduism, Chamundi is a goddess who is born to kill Chanda and Munda. In the Indigenous context of Teyyam, Chamundi is not one goddess; rather, she has multiple characterizations, myths, names, and attires.
30. Those who derive magical healing powers by practicing mantra are known as mantriks , loosely translated as "magicians" or "sorcerers."
31. Karippath, Malabarile Mappila Theyyangal (Kannur: New Books, 2014), 23.
32. Y. V. Kannan, Kanaladi Manasu : Teyya Prabandhangal (Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2015), 9.
33. Revealed during conversations with Teyyam performers like Unnikrishnan Peruvannan, Pavitran Ezhom, and Rahul Kasargod.
34. During recent field-work in Kannur some of the Teyyam performers narrated Bappiriyan's character as if denying his Muslim lineage.
35. The North Malabar region is influenced by the 'logic' of a functional god, embodied in the Teyyam performer, who talks and listens to you, heals your illnesses, solves problems and even resolves legal disputes. Though the system has changed, the beliefs and cultural memory of Tĕyyaṃ is deep rooted in the values of the region.
36. V. K. Anil Kumar (documentary filmmaker) in discussion with the author, Kannur, October 20, 2020.
37. The Arabic prayer call— Allah-ho-Akbar , meaning "God is great."
38. Neerja Mattoo, The Mystic and the Lyric: Four Women Poets from Kashmir (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2019), 41.
39. Mattoo, The Mystic and the Lyric , 23–24.
40. A philosophy that is concerned with the threefold existence of Shiva (the universal being), Sakti (the universal energy), and Nara (the individual).
41. Jaishree K. Odin, Lalla to Nuruddin: Rishi SufiPoetry of Kashmir (New Delhi: Motilal Banaridass Publishers, 2016), 5.
42. Odin, Lalla to Nuruddin , 6.
43. Abdul Qaiyum Rafiqi, "Sufism in Kashmir from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century," (PhD diss., Australian National University, 1972), 12.
44. Zikirs have been transmitted as part of the oral repertoire of Assam's folk traditions since the 17 th century. This English translation, however, is by the author.
45. Gaur was the ancient capital of Bengal from fourth century to the beginning of seventh century, after which it remained to be a powerful seat of authority, education, and culture.
46. Carl W. Ernst, "Situating Sufism and Yoga," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society , Third Series, 15, no. 1 (April 2005): 21.
47. This song too has been transmitted as part of the oral repertoire of Kabir's song traditions since the 15 th century. This is the author's translation from the Hindi version.
48. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Kabir (New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 1971), 9.
49. Tamaghna Banerjee, "In polarised Bengal battle, even the name of a deity is changing." The Times of India . May 18, 2019. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/lok-sabha-elections-2019/west-bengal/in-polarised-bengal-battle-even-the-name-of-a-deity-is%20changing/article-show/69381811.cms (Accessed January 20, 2021).
50. This is a collective opinion that the author encountered during her field-work.
51. The Marad massacre marks a scar on the history of Malabar's secularism. On May 2, 2003, eight Hindus were massacred by a Muslim mob at Marad Beach, Calicut. This was a planned revenge for a quarrel that happened in January 2002, where three Muslims and two Hindus were killed.
52. Raju Maniyara ( Teyyam performer) in discussion with Akhila Vimal, Kannur, February 5, 2018.
53. Here, Pandit refers specifically to the Kashmiri-Pandit population and not the generally understood "priestly" or "scholarly'" connotation of the word pandit among Hindus. The tendency to claim Lal Ded to one side rather than seeing her as a common heritage can be traced back to centuries of conflicts between Islamic ruling forces and the local Hindu communities in Kashmir, resulting in the displacement of Kashimiri-Pandits at multiple points in history. However, in recent times their exodus in the 1990s has created a deep scar in the relation between the Muslim and Hindu communities in Kashmir, resulting in a cultural amnesia where their shared syncretic history (referred to as Kashmiriyat ) seems to have taken a blow.
54. M. H. Zaffar, "Mystical Thought of Kashmir," in Parchment of Kashmir History, Society and Polity , ed. Nyla Ali Khan (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 71.
55. Neerja Mattoo, "Syncretic Tradition and the Creative Life: Some Kashmiri Mystic Poets," in Parchment of Kashmir History, Society and Polity , ed. Nyla Ali Khan (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 89.
56. There is no consensus on who qualifies as "indigenous" to the state of Assam because its demography has been shaped by multiple waves of migration of communities from various parts of South and Southeast Asia over the centuries. The State's exercise of identifying illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam from the "indigenous" population, called the National Register of Citizens, has therefore become an immensely contentious debate. The 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act added a communal angle to this ongoing debate. This has increased anxiety in Muslims all across India, including those in Assam, and accentuated their need to claim a connection to the region. Azan Fakir from the seventeenth century, existing much before these debates, thus became an important landmark figure symbolizing a bridge to the land and history for Assamese Muslims.
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From Site to Self: Immersion, Audience Research, and Polyvocality
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