Tag Archives: culture

Book: Historical Dictionary of the Sufi Culture of Sindh in Pakistan and India by Michel Boivin

Michel Boivin, Historical Dictionary of the Sufi Culture of Sindh in Pakistan and India, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Michel Boivin is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for South Asian Studies, CNRS-EHESS, in Paris.

“This book tackles the issue of delimiting Sufism: where does it start and where does it end? Speaking about Sufism does not typically account for its wide range of influence on societies and cultures. Thus this Dictionary aims to highlight the extent of Sufism’s reach, specifically in the context of Sindh. Various forms and Continue reading Book: Historical Dictionary of the Sufi Culture of Sindh in Pakistan and India by Michel Boivin

Tribute to Dr Charu Gidwani (1970-2013)

Dr Charu Gidwani was born on 21 August 1970 in Pune, Maharashtra (India). She was the daughter of the renowned scholar Dr Parso Gidwani (1932-2004) and of Pushpa Khubchandani. Parso was born in Dadu, Sindh, nowadays in Pakistan and Pushpa was born in Karachi. In 1947 both their families migrated to India, leaving their ancestral Sindh. Dr Parso Gidwani finally established in Pune where he taught Sindhi linguistics and literature at the Deccan College. Born after an elder brother named Rohitesh, young Charu grew up in the academic environment of the Deccan College in Pune. Continue reading Tribute to Dr Charu Gidwani (1970-2013)

Interview with Ali S. Asani, 2011

Ali Asani is Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard University. He is a renowned specialist in the field of Sindhi literary studies. Michel Boivin interviewed him during his passage to Canada for a conference in May 2011.

Could you tell us a few words about your background and training as a scholar?

I received my undergraduate and doctoral (Ph.D.) education at Harvard. My undergraduate (B.A.) degree was in the Comparative Study of Religion with a specialization in Islam and Indo-Muslim literatures, while my doctorate was from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations where I specialized in the study of Islam and Muslim Cultures in South Asia. In receiving this education, which combined the study of religion with the study of South Asian Muslim literatures and cultures, I was fortunate to have two renowned mentors, Professors Annemarie Schimmel and Wilfred Cantwell-Smith.

How did you come to be interested in Sindhi literature? Did Annemarie Schimmel, who was your academic mentor, play a role?

I developed an interest in Sindhi literature for several reasons. While growing up in Kenya, I was always aware of my family’s ancestral roots in Sindh. My father, in particular, educated me about many aspects of Sindhi culture. I also learnt from him the important cultural and social roles that my grandfather and great-grandfather had played in the history of the Khojah community of Sindh. When I came to Harvard to pursue my studies, my interest in Sindhi was further sparked by Professor Annemarie Schimmel who, as you know, was one of the few western scholars to engage in research on Sindhi literature. The fact that my undergraduate and doctoral theses, both supervised by Professor Schimmel, focused on aspects of the Ismaili ginan literature helped consolidate my interest in Sindhi. Several ginans are regarded as examples of early Sindhi literature. In addition, Khojki, the script used in manuscripts to record the ginans and other literatures of interest to Sindhi Khojahs, is one of several vernacular or local scripts used to write the Sindhi language.

According to you, why is Sindhi literature and culture understudied in the West, in comparison with Punjabi, Gujarati, and also Hindi and Urdu?

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, Sindhi is regarded as a language of limited political and cultural significance since it is mainly spoken in the province of Sindh in Pakistan. In addition, the language is of little significance in India as Sindhis, lacking a state of their own, have found it difficult to maintain the language among younger generations. In contrast, Urdu/Hindi is considered more influential as it functions as a lingua franca in South Asia and elsewhere. Similarly, the importance of Punjabi or Gujarati is sustained by the fact that they are associated with economically and politically significant populations in India and Pakistan as well as among the South Asian diaspora in the West, many of whom have maintained their connection and interest in their literary heritage. Secondly, Sindhi lacks adequately developed material to teach the language to speakers of Western languages. I have yet to come across a textbook that applies modern methods of language pedagogy to teaching Sindhi to English speakers that is accompanied by a sound set of exercises and audio recordings. Thirdly, Sindhi is more difficult to learn than any other North Indian languages. Its fairly complex grammar with its peculiar use of enclitics, its special sounds (especially the implosives) as well as the use of a modified version of the Arabic script are significant hurdles.

You have done extensive work on data written in Khojki script, the secret alphabet of the Ismaili Khojas. What is according to you the relation of Khojki with Sindh? In your work, did you come over Sindhi scripts like Khudawadi, Lohanaki or others?

Khojki was one of several scripts prevalent in Sindh before a modified version of the Arabic script was introduced as the standard script for the language during British colonial times. As its name indicates, it was a script primarily associated with Sindhi Khoja communities. In this sense, the script served as a marker of Khoja identity. As a member of the Landa family of “clipped” alphabets, it is related not only to other vernacular Sindhi scripts (such as Lohanaki and Khudawadi) but also to Gurmukhi, the script used to record the Sikh religious texts. As with Khojki, Gurmukhi also served to foster religious sectarian identity. As a result of the central role that Khojki played in the manuscript tradition recording the ginans of the Khoja communities, I devoted a lot of time and effort in researching the script’s origins and its relationship to other Sindhi alphabets. In the course of my research on Khojki manuscripts, I came across several varieties of Khojki which I suspect is the result of interaction with other script systems.

The leading “Sindhologist” Professor N.B. Baloch passed away in April 2011. What is your appreciation of his legacy? What would give as orientations?

Professor Baloch was clearly one of the most prominent scholars of Sindhi literature and culture. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he was the founder of Sindhi studies. With his demise, Sindhology has lost one of its shining stars.

The life of many Sindhi Sufi poets is shrouded in mystery. For example, you have devoted a study to Qazi Qadan (1453-1551). According to some sources, he was a qazi, but also a Mahdavi. How could we understand what stands like a contradiction?  

The Mahdavi were one of several groups who arose during the end of the first Islamic millennium in response to a widespread belief that a Mahdi (rightly guided one) would emerge to reform Muslim communities and bring them back to the path outlined by the Prophet Muhammad. This belief was shared by both Sunni and Shia groups, so for Qazi Qadan to be a Sunni Qazi and also be a believer in the Mahdi is not a contradiction. Although the Mahdi of Jaunpur, who is commonly regarded as the founder of the Mahdavi movement in South Asia, was persecuted for political reasons, his teachings can be considered in keeping with the religious mores of his time. From a literary point of view, what is significant about the Mahdavis is that they sought to propagate their ideas in vernacular languages. This is of course relevant to the history of Sindhi literature since Qazi Qadan is regarded as one of the early pioneers of Sindhi poetry.

What are the main features of the Sufi poetry of Sindh? What is shared with others like Punjabi and Gujarati? What are the main differences?

The use of folk poetic forms; the mystical interpretations of folk romances; the fusion of poetic and musical traditions; the dominance of the feminine voice and expressions of viraha (love in separation); imagery from agrarian work life (spinning, weaving, grinding grain, etc.); the influence of Sufi, sant and bhakti worldviews – these are some of the main characteristics of classical Sindhi poetry. There are certainly strong similarities with Punjabi literature. I have not studied Gujarati literature in sufficient depth to comment on comparisons with Sindhi.

What are your favorite verses in Sindhi poetry?

My Sindhi favorite verse is from a ginan attributed to Pir Sadr ad-Din (14th c.) that interprets the traditional imagery of a woman spinning cotton as a symbol for an important Islamic mystical practice – the constant recitation of the zikr or remembrance of God. I am drawn to it by the skillful way in which it fuses the material with spiritual significance.

How could we encourage the development of studies devoted to Sindhi literature and Sindhi culture?

The current political and economic climate in Pakistan, and specifically Sindh, is a particularly difficult obstacle to promoting studies of Sindhi culture. I do not see Sindhi studies thriving until there is stability in the province of Sindh. Political and economic stability are essential to promoting interest in Sindhi literature and culture. If European and American universities had more financial resources to devote to the study of Sindhi culture, perhaps through grants or private donations, I think that would also stimulate interest. In this regard, we should perhaps encourage wealthy Sindhis to donate to this cause. Equally critical is making available more research related to Sindh available in the languages of western scholarship. For instance, Professor Schimmel, through her studies and translations of Sindhi mystical poetry, did much to increase awareness about Sindhi mystical traditions among scholars of Islamic Studies. Finally, the study of Sindhi language needs to be made more accessible to those who want to learn the language. For this purpose, the writing of a pedagogically sound textbook providing instruction in the language from an elementary to advanced level with the appropriate audio-visual resources is crucial.

More about Ali Asani

2009 “Satpanth Ismaili Songs to Hazrat Ali and the Imams,” Islam in South Asia in Practice, edited by Barbara Metcalf, Princeton University Press, pp. 48-62.

2003 “At the Crossroads of Indic and Iranian Civilizations: Sindhi Literary Culture,” in Literary Cultures in History. Reconstructions from South Asia, edited by S. Pollock, University of California, pp. 612-646.

2002 Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia, London: I.B. Tauris.

1992 The Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Languages: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding Aid, Boston: G.K. Hall/Simon and Schuster.

Book: Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on Culture and History

Michel Boivin & Matthew A. Cook (Ed.), Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on Culture and History, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2010.

The book edited by Michel Boivin (CNRS, Paris) and Matthew Cook (North Carolina Central University) provides an array of papers dealing with society and history. The topics are thus varied. Some of them are devoted to Pakistan, others to India and also to the Sindhi diaspora. One of the main effects of the book is to show that Sindhi studies are growing all over the world, since the authors belong to a world wide diversity of academic institutions. Among the most innovative papers, one has to mention Lata Parwani’s study of Jhule Lal. She “deconstructs” the myths of Jhule Lal, a regional Hindu god who was made the community God of the Hindu Sindhis of India. It played a leading role in the construction of a Sindhi Hindu identity in India. Paulo L. Horta highlights how Sindh was a salient experience in Richard Burton’s formation in Orientalism. He was nevertheless highly embedded in the British colonial agenda in asserting poetry as the expositor of the Sindhis.

Book: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab

Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab, New Delhi, Permanent Black, 2010.

Farina Mir’s book is the published version of the Ph. D. she defended with Ayesha Jalal as supervisor. The author is currently Assistant Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Her book is a highly sophisticated study of the vernacular culture in colonial Punjab. It argues that Punjabi vernacular culture “reveals a different story of social and cultural relations that suggested by socioreligious reformists’ tracts, language activists’ propaganda, and the Urdu press” (p. 24). Mainly based on literature published into booklets and other tracts, which were neglected both by the English officers and nowadays by scholars, Mir’s book is a quite innovative study since it gives evidence that the imposition of Urdu by colonial power in Nineteenth Century Punjab did not destroy vernacular culture of Punjab. Her study is mainly based on the exploration of what is usually coined as folklore in a more or less derogatory tone, like for example the different versions of the tale of Hir and Ranjhe. It allows her to demonstrate how vernacular culture, and also the use of Punjabi language, was able to resist State policy as well as religious nationalist discourses.

Farina Mir’s book is the published version of the Ph. D. she defended with Ayesha Jalal as supervisor. Her book is a highly sophisticated study of the vernacular culture in colonial Punjab. It argues that Punjabi vernacular culture “reveals a different story of social and cultural relations that suggested by socioreligious reformists’ tracts, language activists’ propaganda, and the Urdu press” (p. 24). Mainly based on literature published into booklets and other tracts, which were neglected both by the English officers and nowadays by scholars, Mir’s book is a quite innovative study since it gives evidence that the imposition of Urdu by colonial power in Nineteenth Century Punjab did not destroy vernacular culture of Punjab. She demonstrates how vernacular culture, and also the use of Punjabi language, was able to resist State policy as well as religious nationalist discourses.

Michel Boivin

Fellowships: Popular Images and Media in Muslim Religious Spheres

Short-term Fellowships of

“The Cluster of Excellence – Asia and Europe in a Global Context”,

Transcultural Image Database Project “Satellite of Networks”

The Circulation of Popular Images and Media in Muslim Religious Spheres

 

“In the summer of 2010, Tasveerghar invited proposals for short term fellowships from scholars, researchers and practitioners of popular arts and culture for multi-disciplinary and multi-media projects of research and documentation on the topic of popular visual cultures and practices in and around Muslim shrines and public spaces, with an emphasis on the transcultural flows as emerging in the globalised contemporary popular arts and media.

Muslim public spheres in India/South Asia exhibit a wide array of image practices such as calendar and poster art, devotional framed pictures, portrait photography with artificial backdrops, illustrated covers of religious chapbooks and magazines, besides innovative wall murals and printed notices, all of them incorporating popular icons of Mecca, Medina, local Sufi shrines, saints, Shia symbols, and Arabic calligraphy. Besides these, one also finds religious narratives in popular recorded media such as audiocassettes, video CDs/DVDs, and now the cell-phone software. Much of this popular visuality and ephemera circulate around institutions such as Sufi shrines or mosques in south Asia, although these may not be limited to only one shrine area or a city. One may also find inter regional connections between shrines of different towns and villages through the passage of these media to wider areas.

Although much of these mass duplicated images and media may have their origins in the traditional religious performative practices of the pre-modern era, the impact of new technology and media, especially derived from outside their local spaces, has altered the way religious devotion is practiced today. One could highlight this with an example about the mobility and transformation of Muslim shrines, saint portraits and relics through images and media on the Indian subcontinent (although by no means do we wish to limit the regional focus to India but explore transnational and transcultural flows!). Usually a Sufi shrine holds the original grave or relic of a specific saint that cannot be replicated anywhere else (unlike a Hindu deity whose idol or replica shrine can be recreated in other locations too). Thus the visit to a particular Sufi shrine has its unique value for a pilgrim for its originality. But the mass duplicated images of the same can easily be made and have been in circulation for a long time, making a shrine or relic mobile beyond its original location. There are evidences of hand drawn illustrations of Sufi shrines and saint portraits being made available before the onset of print in India. The printing industry, especially of colour posters and other types of images made the mass produced images of Sufi shrines even more accessible and popular. The photography has added newer dimension to this visual culture where an odd photo of a saint is used again and again to make drawings and even idols, such as in the case Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Through this multi-disciplinary project we wish to go a few steps further from the nexus of photography, painting, and printed posters, to study the newer practices of the use of “original” images for the creation of new mediated material such as collage posters, videos, animation and even Internet-based presentations that seek newer generation of devotees and their popular piety. A typical example of this would be the production of popular devotional videos about Sufi shrines that are basically music videos with a performer/Qawwal singing a new song seeking the saint’s blessing, dramatically videographed in a studio or staged settings, interspersed with the vérité shots of the actual shrine – the two of which can sometimes be very different in style and quality. There can be several such examples from the contemporary popular culture of Muslims in India. Thus, we invite you to be a part of a larger project by contributing with your specific research about a shrine, institution or public space that is witnessing the production of popular images and media and getting altered through transcultural impact.”

More infos here: http://www.tasveerghar.net

Book: Sindh. Past Glory, Present Nostalgia

Pratapaditya Pal (ed.), 2008, Sindh. Past Glory, Present Nostalgia, Mumbai, Marg Publications, vol. 60, n° 1, 180 p.

This collective book aims at making the public aware of the long and rich cultural heritage of Sindh, at the crossroads of Iranian, Central Asiatic and Indian Rajasthani-Gujarati worlds, and open on the Arabian Sea. From the remains of the protohistoric Mohenjodaro to the history of the modern Karachi and its inhabitants; from Budhhist and Hindu art and architecture, Islamic conquest and the development of Islamic architecture, to contemporary art, traditional crafts, and regional cookery; from history, political and cultural encounters through coinages to British production of representations on the region. It also points out some crucial studies that should be undertaken, for example about Buddhist sculptures, Hindu art and architecture, the medieval port of Banbhore which needs a new survey, etc. In sum, it highlights a composite Sindhi culture and identity, spoiled with the Indo-Pakistan Partition, in 1947.

Johanna Blayac

 

More infos

http://www.marg-art.org

 

Book: Ginân. Texts and Contexts

Tazim Kassam and Françoise Mallison (eds) (2007) Ginân. Texts and Contexts. Essays on Ismaili Hymns from South Asia in Honour of Zawahir Moir, New Delhi, Matrix Publishers.

The ginâns are devotional hymns of the Khojas, Nizari Ismailis of South Asia, disciples of Shâh Karîm, better known in Europe as Aga Khan IV. The contributions collected in this volume by Tazim Kassam and Francoise Mallison are offered to Zawahir Moir. Following the foreword by Christopher Shackle, the book offers a bibliography of Zawahir Moir who is without doubt the most knowledgeable expert on ginâns. The fifteen contributions reflect the diversity and dynamism of ginân studies. Among the issues under discussion, are ginâns the devotional heritage shared by the Khojas and other communities in Gujarat and Sindh. Historians also point out the interest of the role of the ginâns in the construction of Khojas identity during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Michel Boivin