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ECSAS2012: The 22nd European Conference on South Asian Studies

ISCTE-Lisbon University, 25th-28th July 2012

(P23)

Yogis, sufis, devotees: religious/literary encounters in pre-modern and modern South Asia

Location C402
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2012 at 09:00

Convenors

Heidi Pauwels (University of Washington) email
Mauro Valdinoci (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) email
Veronique Bouillier (CNRS France) email
James Mallinson (Institute of Classical Studies, Lavasa) email
Mikko Viitamäki (University of Helsinki - Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE)) email
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Short Abstract

This panel investigates the confluence of ideas in modern and pre-modern South Asia, focusing on reports/imaginations of encounters between holy men of all stripes, highlighting the dynamics of exchange/competition between them and the processes involved in identity construction/affirmation.

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to investigate the confluence of ideas in modern and pre-modern South Asia, by highlighting reports/depictions/imaginations of encounters between holy men of all stripes, whether Sufi, Yogi, Bhakta, Sikh, Buddhist, Siddha... We want to focus on the dynamics of exchange/competition between them and the processes involved in identity construction/affirmation. We welcome contributions from all disciplines, whether religious studies, comparative literature, history, or art...

As for the core-contributors: Véronique Bouillier (EHESS, Paris) will present on Nāths and Sufis encounters, Jim Mallinson (Oxford University, UK) will discuss how from the 16th century onwards sectarian affiliation became important and within a relatively amorphous group of ascetics various orders coalesced, adopting organisational structures, and philosophical and doctrinal principles, Heidi Pauwels (U. of Washington, Seattle) will present on soirées of Bhaktas and Sufis in the early eighteenth century, Mauro Valdinoci (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy) will look at the views of a contemporary Hyderabadi Sufi master concerning the dealings between various religious traditions, and Mikko Viitamåki (Univ. Helsinki - Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris) will discuss the controversial Nizami Bansuri "translated" by Khvaja Hasan Nizami in the late 1940s.

Chair: Heidi Pauwels

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Nâth and Sufis encounters

Author: Veronique Bouillier (CNRS France)  email
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Short Abstract

I shall focus on a short text recently published by the Nāth Yogis entitled Mohammad Bodh and present it in the more general context of the Nāth Yogīs’ encounters with Islam as seen from the Nāth side.

Long Abstract

Since a few years some studies have dealt with the relationships between Sufis and Nāth Yogīs, seen from the Sufi side. I will focus here on the Nāths' perspective, and on their dialogue with Islam, to the point that even the existence of Muslim Yogīs is reported and special practices are recommended as seen in the chapter entitled Mohammad Bodh recently published by the Yogīs. These relationships will also be studied in the many legends surrounding Nâth figures (such as Gogā, Ratannāth and Kāyānāth). Their complex link to Islam is based on their territorial location and expresses itself in their parallel position facing the Muslim political power.

Unity and difference among medieval Indian ascetics

Author: James Mallinson (Institute of Classical Studies, Lavasa)  email
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Short Abstract

Indian ascetics are very similar in appearance and practice, despite a variety of sectarian and doctrinal affiliations. This paper explains the origins of their shared features and of their differentiation into different sects in the late medieval period.

Long Abstract

The members of the main ascetic orders in India today lead very similar lives despite the orders having very different doctrinal principles. Thus the advaitavedantin Dasnāmī Saṃnyāsīs, the viśiṣṭādvaitin Rāmānandī Tyāgīs, the tantric Nāths and the Sikh-affiliated Udāsins are in practice very hard to tell apart. They are itinerant, wandering from festival to monastery to hermitage. They live around smouldering dhūni fires, engage in a variety of ascetic practices, and spend a lot of time smoking cannabis. They wear their hair in jaṭā, long and matted, and smear their bodies in ashes. They sing the praises of the "name" and espouse devotion to a god without attributes. A small number among them practise yoga.

 

Many of these ascetic attributes are ancient. They came together in the early medieval period, when tantric and more orthodox ascetic orders adopted each others' practices in a mutually beneficial synthesis, and in an atmosphere where sectarian affiliation was of little importance. Some features of Islamic ascetic practice were also thrown into the mix. From the 16th century onwards sectarian affiliation became much more important and within this relatively amorphous group of ascetics various orders coalesced, adopting organisational structures, and philosophical and doctrinal principles.

 

In this paper, I shall examine this process and advance hypotheses for why it happened and what it can tell us about the development of a pan-Indian Hinduism. My sources will be ethnographic, textual and visual (i.e. medieval miniatures).

The formation of the identity of the Dasanami-Samnyasis

Author: Matthew Clark (SOAS (affiliate))  email
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Short Abstract

According to tradition, the Dasanami-Samnyasis were founded by Sankaracarya. I have previously suggested that the identity of the sect developed in several stages. This paper explores the extent to which their identity was influenced by Sufi institutions and practices.

Long Abstract

According to tradition, the Dasanami-Samnyasis, one of the largest of the sects of South Asian sadhus, was founded by the philosopher Sankaracarya (fl. c. 700 CE), who is also supposed to have founded monasteries in the 'four corners' of India, administered by four of his disciples. I have previously suggested ('The Dasanami-Samnyasis: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order', E. J. Brill: Leiden/Boston, 2006) that Sankaracarya had nothing to do with either the founding of an ascetic order or with the establishing of monasteries. Rather, I maintain that the identity of the Dasanami-Samnyasis, as an order or sect, developed in several stages, beginning in the late fourteenth century and culminating around the end of the sixteenth century, by which time the Dasanami-Samnyasis emerged as a fully formed sect with a historical founder, Sankaracaraya. I also suggested that the identity of the sect, in terms of its legendary historical formation, may have been influenced by Sufi institutions, which had significant influence within Islamic political structures during this period. The Dasanami-Samnyasis primarily constitute their own identity as a sect in terms of a 'miracle-working' historical founder who had four disciples. Similarly, Sufi institutions, during the same period in South Asia, developed an almost identical understanding of their own history. In this paper I further explore the extent of the possible influence of Sufi beliefs and practices on the formation and identity of a newly emergent Hindu sect.

Kabir's banis in Mauritius: holy men and devotees

Author: Catherine Servan-Schreiber  email
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Short Abstract

In Mauritius, the habit of welcoming holy men coming from India in order to give sermons, explain the Hindu ritual, give a lecture, or a lead a religious ceremony, is quite usual. Craftsmen skilled in sculpture or wooden carpentry are requested for the decoration of the newly built temples. This paper will analyse the role played by the Varanasi leaders of the Kabirpanth in the transmission of the message of Kabir in Mauritius through musical medias, booklets or sermons.

Long Abstract

In Mauritius, the message of Kabir is transmitted through several means. Among the chutney songs repertoires, that is to say Bhojpuri folk songs influenced by the rhythm of African sega, bhanitas, including Kabir's philosophy are integrated. During the musical entertainments of the marriage evening reception (gamat), the singers who take part in competitions (lacrosse) have to know the Kabir poetry as well as parts of Tulsi Das' Ramayana in avadhi. Inside the Hindu temples, most of the devotional songs refer to Kabir. Yet, a great part of the Kabirpanth dynamism and transmission is maintained through regular links between Varanasi's Kabirpanthis and the Mauritian Hindu community. The Kabir Temple of Vacoas (Bonne Terre) welcomes a small congregation of renouncing devotees, under the guidance of a priest coming from Varanasi. The role played by the Varanasi Holy men and in the Mauritian Kabirpanth will be underlined. Their influence will be analysed through musical transmission, booklets, and sermons.

The Niranjani connection: bhaktas, yogis, Sikhs and courts in early modern Rajasthan

Author: Tyler Williams (University of Chicago)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores how the Niranjani devotional community of 17th and 18th-century Rajasthan, by embracing literacy, participated in literary and intellectual exchange with nearby bhakti, yogi, and Sikh communities as well as Rajput and Mughal courtly traditions.

Long Abstract

The Niranjani Sampraday of Rajasthan, being founded in the late 16th/early 17th century by Haridas 'Niranjani' around the area of modern-day Didvana, developed in the midst of several similar devotional communities in the area, most importantly the Dadu Panth and the Nath ascetic order, not to mention the Ramanandi Sampraday in nearby Galta and the Sikh community to the north in Punjab. Although the Niranjanis are best known for their erudite articulations of nirgun bhakti, it was actually through extensive intellectual exchange with not only other 'nirgun' traditions but also with Vaishnava and Shaiva groups that they developed their heady mix of nirguni Adhyatma literature. Even more interesting, the many types of texts that they composed -- including hymns (bhajan and kirtan), commentaries on Sanskrit works (bhasya and tika), treatises on metaphysics (tatva-mimansa) and poetics (chand and alankar shastra) -- reveal that their thought and practice developed in conversation with not only 'bhakti' and ascetic communities, but also with more 'orthodox' Sanskritic traditions and even with 'courtly' traditions of both religious and 'secular' literature. I argue that this exchange was made possible by the Niranjanis' enthusiastic embracement of literacy and their prolific, multi-lingual literary activity.

Religious others redacted: the writings of and hagiographies about Eknath

Author: Jon Keune (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)  email
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Short Abstract

The compositions of the 16th-century Marathi poet Eknath portray a wide variety of religious others, whereas the 18th-century hagiographies about him depict a much narrower set. This discursive change indicates a coalescing standard narrative about Marathi bhakti and its priorities over time.

Long Abstract

The Marathi bhakti poet Eknath in his bharuds (metaphorical drama-poems) depicted a wide variety of societal and religious characters. From among these texts, scholars are most familiar with the "Hindu-Turk Samvad," which portrays a heated debate between a brahman and a Muslim cleric. Other bharuds depict Muslim mendicants, Virashaiva jangams, Sikhs, yogis and Mahanubhavs (a minor Maharashtrian bhakti tradition), all of whom Eknath discursively employs to teach devotional and philosophical lessons. Nearly forty bharuds are written as if the narrators were Mahars (untouchables), some of whom rebuke and instruct brahmans in the compositions. Marathi scholars have commonly asserted that these bharuds offer a window into the historical circumstances of 16th-century western India. In contrast to the broad cast of characters in Eknath's bharuds, the four main hagiographies composed about Eknath in the 18th century portray a much narrower range of holy others and dialogue partners. These texts contain no clashes between bhaktas and sufis or yogis, although there are muted hints of such encounters. Instead, Eknath's main dialogue partners are mainly arrogant brahmans and meek but spiritually inclined untouchables - a narrative configuration that influenced how Marathi bhakti was interpreted in the 19th- and 20th-centuries. I argue that the differences between portrayals of holy others in these earlier and later texts shed light on how a standard narrative of Marathi bhakti was coalescing in pre-colonial western India, and how the concerns of bhakti proponents changed.

Soirées of bhaktas and Sufis in the early eighteenth century: evidence from the pen of Savant Singh of Kishangarh

Author: Heidi Pauwels (University of Washington)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will look at poetic dialogues and exchange of ideas in eighteenth-century North India by studying the case of Savant Singh of Kishangarh (1699-1764). The paper will present evidence of poetic dialogues between what is now regarded as separate poetic traditions of Braj Bhasha and Urdu.

Long Abstract

This paper will look at poetic dialogues and exchange of ideas in eighteenth-century North India by studying the case of Savant Singh of Kishangarh (1699-1764). He is best known as patron of the Kishangarhi miniatures and as a Krishna bhakti poet who wrote under the pen name of Nagridas. However, he also experimented with the then-new style later called Urdu poetry and included Urdu poets in the anthologies he collected. The paper will present evidence of such poetic dialogues between what is now regarded as separate poetic traditions. I will do so on the basis of recent manuscript research in India of his poems and collections, as well as on the basis of miniatures depicting gatherings in Kishangarh and try to situate this historically.

Encounters with the Guru

Author: Anne Murphy (University of British Columbia)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will examine how the Sikh Guru is constructed as a "holy man" or saintly figure, and how this construction--and the ways in which devotees related to him--reveal the religious and cultural contact zone that comprised the Guru's community.

Long Abstract

This paper delves into the ways in which the Guru and communities around the Guru are described in the eighteenth century gurbilās literature, which describes the lives of the ninth and tenth Gurus of the Sikh tradition and the community that followed them. The paper takes as a starting point Purnima Dhavan's recent observation that one way to understand Sikh cultural production in the eighteenth century--which reflects a wide range of courtly and religious influences and diverse religious orientations--is to see the diverse content of the gurbilās texts as reflecting their participation in "a mutually enobling love," a set of "complex affective ties of patronage and devotion that had begun to weave disparate groups within Panjabi society into an emotional community devoted to Guru Gobind Singh." (Purnima Dhavan, _When Sparrows Became Hawks_, 150-152). In doing so, the paper examines the idea of the holy man that these texts mobilize--a model that speaks to various religious communities--as well as the ways the texts describe the community's relationship with the Guru as holy man, and how the webs of connection of the "affective community" are so constructed. In so doing we see that the Gurus themselves, as "holy men," stand in a kind of "encounter zone," the intersection of traditions, forms of devotions, and devotees..

Archetypal Bhakti encounters

Author: Jack Hawley (Barnard College, Columbia University)  email
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Short Abstract

I will try to pull apart archetypal relationships and representative genres that constitute the “encounter stories” aspect of the pan-Indian narrative of the bhakti movement, asking whether they are specific with regard to region, religion, social level, or epoch.

Long Abstract

Stories of encounters between poet-saints comprise one of the most significant genres contributing to the standard narrative of a pan-Indian bhakti movement. The relationships defined by these encounters, however, are of several sorts: between rulers and persons they wish to enroll as their spiritual advisers, between leaders of religious communities that perceive each other as rivals, between bhaktas who speak and bhaktas who record, between gurus and disciples, between family members (whether by birth or adoption), between poet-singers who desire to hear one another perform, or between sparring or debating partners. The list is long—so long that one wonders whether it is possible for a poet-saint to be enrolled in the bhakti movement in the absence of one or more of these ties.

In this presentation, I would like to try to pull apart these archetypal relationships and genres, asking whether they are specific with regard to region, religion, social level, or epoch. Clearly such stories are often in the business of creating relationships where strictly speaking they did not exist, thus weaving a bhakti web that adds value to history. But in the course of doing so, do they also cast aside other sorts of encounters that fail to measure up to someone's perception of what ought to count as true bhakti? If so, perhaps value is simultaneously being subtracted.

Encounters between Sufi saints and court musicians in the sultanate and Mughal periods

Author: Françoise 'Nalini' Delvoye (EPHE (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes))  email
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Short Abstract

The paper will present a survey of representative examples of historical and imaginary encounters between Sufi saints and court musicians from the time of Shaikh Nizamuddin and Amir Khusrau (13th-14th c.) onwards, as documented by Indo-Persian and vernacular chronicles, hagiographies and song texts.

Long Abstract

The paper will present a survey of representative examples of historical and imaginary encounters between Sufi saints and court musicians from the time of Shaikh Nizamuddin and Amir Khusrau (13th-14th c.) onwards. Two case-studies from the 16th-17th centuries documented by Indo-Persian and vernacular chronicles, hagiographies and song texts will exemplify the contribution of such encounters to Indo-Persian cultural history.

The appropriation of legendary court poet-composers by hereditary musicians invite scholars to be extremely 'careful' in their assessment and interpretation of documents selected from a wide range of written and iconographic sources and later representations. Research based on medieval and pre-modern sources may be contradictory to the oral transmission of musicians and raise sensitive ideological issues, that are worthy of being discussed with the panel participants and the audience.

An [imaginary?] encounter of a Hindu prince with a Sufi master in Khwaja Hasan Nizami's Nizami Bansuri

Author: Mikko Viitamäki (University of Helsinki - Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE))  email
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Short Abstract

The paper discusses the encounter of the Hindu prince Hardev with Nizamuddin Auliya’ in Nizami Bansuri, a text allegedly translated from a single Persian manuscript by Khwaja Hasan Nizami (d. 1955). I analyse the text as a means of instructing both Hindu and Muslim disciples of the author.

Long Abstract

Nizami Bansuri, a text allegedly translated from a single surviving manuscript, describes an encounter of Hindu prince Hardev, who is captured in the Deccan and brought to Delhi during the early 14th century, with Khwaja Nizamuddin, by far the most influential Sufi master in India of that day. In the course of the narrative that proceeds as a dairy and is interspersed with copious margin notes by the translator/author, Hardev is introduced into the circle of disciples of Nizamuddin and the Sufi way of life. The narrative culminates in Hardev's conversion to Islam.

It would be tempting to speculate about the authenticity of the text or analyse it as a part of Khwaja Hasan Nizami's construction of history in recently divided India. However, I choose to analyse the text in relation to Khwaja Hasan Nizami's career as a Sufi master who guided numerous Hindu and Muslim disciples through printed texts. As a didactic tool, the text achieves multiple aims. It includes a historical sketch of the Chishti order, relays information on the correct practice of Sufism and, interestingly, manages to portray Hinduism as a valid way to approach God while simultaneously encouraging conversion to Islam.

Encounters between Sufis and Yogis in the Sufi hagiography of the Deccan: a preliminary analysis

Author: Mauro Valdinoci (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia)  email
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Short Abstract

By analyzing two narratives of encounters between Sufis and Yogis in an anthology of Sufi saints’ lives of the 19th century, this paper aims to explore how the author reproduces the dynamics of exchange between these religious figures and how he views and portrays Yogis and their spiritual powers.

Long Abstract

It has been pointed out that Sufi hagiographies contain much of the historical evidence for the interaction of Sufis and Yogis and that such material definitely reflects the Sufi point of view (Ernst 2005: 33). Attempts to analyze accounts of encounters between Sufis and Yogis have been made since the 1970s (Digby 1970, Rizvi 1970), these studies have highlighted significant features of these tales, however they rely mostly on sources produced in Northern India and dating to the Delhi Sultanate period. This research intends to enrich this field of studies by focusing on a more recent text, written in the Deccan in the 19th century. What local sources tell us about Sufis-Yogis interaction in the Deccan? Are the key issues and typologies put forward by previous studies valid also in this context? This paper is based on an anthology of Sufi saints' lives named Mishkat al-nubuwwat, written by Sayyid Shah Ghulam 'Ali Qadiri (d. 1842) of Hyderabad. By focusing on two tales of encounters between Sufis and Yogis, it aims to explore how the author reproduces the dynamics of exchange between them. A further aim of the paper is to show how this author viewed and portrayed Yogis and their spiritual powers. There seems to be a continuity between the stories included in the medieval biographies and those related in the aforementioned text. The depiction of the Yogi acknowledging the superior spiritual power of the Sufi is a striking common element both in older and in more recent hagiography.

Truth, exchange and rivalry: constructions of Prannath's seventeenth century encounter with the call to prayer

Author: Jacqueline Suthren Hirst (University of Manchester)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will analyse the very varying constructions of Prannath’s apparent aural encounter with the Islamic call to prayer in 1674, in terms of truth claims, cultural exchange and rival identities, both contemporary and modern.

Long Abstract

In 1674, Prannath (1618-94), the leader of a mercantile sect influenced by Vallabha Krishnaite devotion, apparently heard a mullah give the call to prayer. According to the main hagiography of his life, the Bitak, it was then that he declared the inner meaning of that Arabic summons to the faithful (33.69-71). I look at this encounter between a holy man from a particular bhakti background and these words epitomising Islam to see how the event and its significance have been variously constructed in terms of truth claims, cultural exchange and rival identities. Analysing contemporary and modern accounts, I show how a contextualised focus on a single case can contribute to a nuanced understanding of shifts in the construction of 'religion' in pre-modern and modern South Asia.

The formation of the Bengali Sufi idiom and religious debates in seventeenth-century eastern Bengal

Author: Thibaut Dhubert (University of Chicago)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the dialogue between Islam, Nathism and Vaishnavism in eastern Bengal in the 17th c. It provides a study of Sufi treatises on yoga from Chittagong and relocates the doctrinal standpoints of their authors in the contemporary debates on morals and around the figure of Krishna.

Long Abstract

The dialogue between Islam, Nathism and Vaishnavism in eastern Bengal around the seventeenth century is characterized by both identification and rejection. Thanks to several recent works on Bengali Sufism, the literature composed in the religiously diverse society of eastern Bengal can be apprehended in a different, more comprehensive way. Formerly Sufi texts on yoga were presented as oddities resulting from a rough attempt by the local populations to manage the rapid changes in the socio-religious landscape of the early modern period. By highlighting the nature of the seemingly composite religious idiom of the Chittagongian authors, Tony Stewart invited the readers of those texts to appreciate their internal dynamics, the "coherence of conception" that they project. Rather than the inadequate combination of several systems, it is the isotopy observable in this corpus that should be the focus of our attention.

By analyzing the Nurnama of Muhammad Shafi' and comparing its language with that of his relative Saiyad Sultan and his spiritual guide Haji Muhammad, in the first part of the paper I propose to describe this literary idiom and define the key doctrinal standpoints of the authors. After drawing the outline of the discourse of this didactic corpus, I will turn to narrative literature and examine the criticisms made by Muslim authors of this period toward some aspects of the Vaishnava faith. We should see that in this controversial atmosphere the interest for Muslim authors in yoga was instrumental in a larger discussion on morals and social behaviors.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.