Woman’s access to Dargah –Shrines to tolerance


Mohammed Wajihuddin | November 10, 2012, Times Crest

Some Mumbai dargahs have banned the entry of women devotees into the sanctum. When the Sufi saints lying buried there didn’t discriminate between men and women, why should religious busybodies, ask liberal activists.

Covered with green chadars and rose petals, the shrines of Sufi saints are usually enveloped in a fragrant haze. And if you happen to be at there at the right time, you can catch Sama, the session of devotional music dedicated to the inclusive, tolerant character of the saints. In the durbars of the saints young and old, rich and poor, men and women are treated equally;discrimination is the antithesis of the Sufi cult.

This air of easy egalitarianism took a beating last week. Mumbai’s leading Sufi shrines, including the iconic Haji Ali and the Makhdoom Mahimi, have banned the entry of women devotees from entering the sanctum of the shrines. Leading the protest against this move are members of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) which, through a survey done in September this year, found that seven out of 20 dargahs in Mumbai prevent women from going closer to astana (graves of the saints).

While dargah committees cite Shariat to justify their action, scholars and activists call it an insult to the Sufi tradition which is based on a moderate variant of Islam. “We are not antiwomen. We are just accepting what many senior clerics have been demanding for long, ” says Sohail Khandwani, managing trustee of Mahim dargah and one of the trustees of Haji Ali. “Dargahs are basically premises which house graves of the saints and Shariat prevents women from visiting graves. ”

Many scholars are aghast at this gross “misreading” and “misinterpretation” of the Shariat. “The Quran doesn’t say anything about visiting of graves. They call it Shariat rule just because the Prophet is believed to have asked women not to visit graves. The authenticity of this tradition is doubtful and in this case we must follow the Quran which is silent on it, ” explains Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer.

Other scholars cite instances from early history of Islam when women did visit graves. “The Prophet’s daughter Hazrat Fatima visited her father’s grave. Do the dargah committees want to tell us that daughters should not visit graves of their parents, ” asks Ali. He adds that there is anyway a difference between grave of an ordinary person and that of a Sufi saint. “Sufis are sacred souls. People visit mausoleums of saints not to worship, but to pay homage to the Waliallahs, friends of Allah, ” says Ali. BMMA activist Noorjahan Safia Niaz says earlier women would touch the shrines at Haji Ali, the new rule would obviously put an end to that proximity.

However, Dr Syed Liyaqat Hussain Moini, scholar of Sufism and a khadim gaddi nashin (direct descendant ) of famous Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, says Sufism doesn’t discriminate against human beings on the basis of caste, creed or gender. “At Ajmer, both men and women have visited the sanctum for centuries, ” says Moini.

Spiritual tourism is booming and many dargahs in India see a large number of celebrity devotees. Will the ban stem this flow? Moini says it will. “How will it help if women are banned? It will only discourage members of other communities from visiting dargahs. Unlike mosques, dargahs are purely secular spaces and this feature of the Sufi shrines will be affected if women are banned, ” he adds.

Dargahs are a magnet for those seeking relief from distress and grief. Devotees seek the “intercession” of the saints in their destiny. “Women dealing with emotional troubles often find solace at dargahs. This ban will seem to them like a divine rejection, ” says Mumbai-based senior Hindi commentator Feroz Ashraf.

The government is refusing to step into the debate. In Mumbai when activists of BMMA requested minority affairs minister Arif Naseem Khan to intervene, he refused calling it a purely “religious” issue. “Only muftis and clerics can decide on this, ” he says.

Urdu poet-lyricist Nida Fazli quotes a famous incident from the life of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuudin Aulia (incidentally women are banned from entering sanctum of Nizamuddin too). One day the saint’s disciple, Amir Khusrau, found his master watching Hindus devotees offering libation to the sun on the banks of the river Yamuna in Delhi. “What do you think of sun worship?” asks Khusrau. “Every follower has his own Kaaba and that is the right path, ” replies the saint.

“Such was the tolerance of a Sufi who was a devout Muslim as well as a great human being. Those who want to restrict women’s access to the dargahs are fanatics who are shattering the tolerant image of the saints, ” says Fazli.

 

#Invitation – Artistes travel across #Gujarat- Oct 29- Nov8 #mustshare


 

AJWADI WATEY

VIVIDHTA KA JASHN

AN ARTISTS KARWAN TRAVELS ACROSS GUJARAT

October 29- November 8, 2012

 

MALLIKA SARABHAI TO FLAG OFF ARTISTS CARAVAN ON OCTOBER 29, 2012 AT 3PM AT SABARMATI ASHRAM, AHMADABAD

 

CITY DATE Time Address
FLAG OFF:Ahmadabad 29/10/2012 3.00PM Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmadabad
Surat 30/10/2012 8.00PM Ishwar Farm,In Union Park Street, Ghoddod-Bhatar Road, Opp. Krushi Farm, Surat.
Ankleshwar 31/10/2012 7.30PM GIDC Town Hall, Ankleshwar
Ahmadabad 1/11/2012 7.00PM Darpana Academy, Usmanpura, Ahmadabad
Anand

Anand

02/11/2012

FRIDAY

8.00pm Town Hall, Anand
Mehsana 04/11/2012 8.00pm Samarpan Chawlk, Near Lake ,Mehsana- 384001
Rajkot 06/11/2012 9.30pm Hemu Gadhvi Hall, Tagor Road,Rajkot.
Bhuj

Bhuj

08/11/2012

THRSDAY

8.00pm Town Hall, Bhuj

 

Cultures, civilizations grow and develop because they constantly take from each other. Civilizations borrow from others and give to others. And it is in this process of give and take that each civilization, each country, each nation constantly reinvents itself. It defines and redefines itself. The idea is not to purge what we consider alien but to recognize that it is impossible to say what is ours and what is not. What we need to do is to see what is relevant, living and robust in our culture as it exists today, to accept what will enrich our lives and help us to improve as human beings and to reject and discard all that is likely to sustain prejudice and malice towards other human beings.

 

The search for the meaning of culture is a continuous process in the historical evolution of all societies. The dynamism of Indian culture is derived from its diversity, which molded the cultural practices of the people.

Anhad as part of its campaign Bole Gujarat is celebrating this diversity.

 

The programme’s objective is to contribute in creating a conducive environment for safeguarding cultural diversity, to promote and design ways of ensuring access to culture to all and to create platforms for artists to promote peace, diversity and pluralism. The programme also aims at strengthening the capacities of professional and rural  artists and youth at large to contribute towards a diverse and composite cultural atmosphere in Gujarat.

 

An Artist Caravan (musicians, dancers, poets, writers, designers, filmmaker etc will travel across seven small and large towns of Gujarat and perform in seven cities: Surat, Ankleshwar, Ahmadabad, Anand, Mehsana, Rajkot and Bhuj between October 30 and November 8, 2012.

 

Performing artists include: Siddi Goma Tribal Dance Group, Avni Sethi- a classical dancer from Ahmadabad, Odyssey Rock band from Surat, Sufi singer- Dhruv Sangari from Delhi and Namrata Pamnani –a Kathak dancer of international repute. A number of video spots and celebrity interviews will be screened during these concerts.

 

The programme called ‘Us Subah Ki Khatir’- Ajwadi Watey- hopes to spread the message of peace, communal harmony and non-violence through the artistic expression and celebrate the intermingling of different streams of cultural expression.

 

The artists will stop on the way to interact with local villagers in a number of villages on November 3, 5 and 7, 2012.

 

Information on Performing Artists

 

Dhruv Sangari

 

Dhruv Sangari began training in Hindustani classical music at the age of 7 under Smt. Shahana Bannerjee and Tabla with Pt. B.S. Ramanna. Later, he developed an interest in Sufism and Sufi music,and began learning Qawwali under Ustad Meraj Ahmed Nizami of the Delhi-Qawwalbachhe Gharana. He was also given training and guidance by the legendary Qawwali and Classical maestro late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khansaheb.

 

Dhruv has a masters degree in Hindustani Classical music from the University of Delhi and has been performing professionally since 2001 with his Sufi music troupe ‘Rooh’. His repertoire includes Persio- Arabic poetry, Punjabi-Hindvi Sufi poetry and Urdu Poetry from the works of famed poets and saints such as Amir Khusrau, Sant Kabir, Baba Farid , Bulleshah, Meerabai,  Hafez,  Rumi ,  Jami,   Baba Nanak, Sant Tulsidas

 

In addition to stage concerts at major festivals and international collaborations with artistes in more than 15 countries including China, India, Morocco, Turkey, Italy, Germany, France, U.K. and Spain; he has recorded for a number of private albums, film and solo projects like Jet-Lag (Phat-Phish Records, Mumbai, India.) and Rooh e Sufi.

 

Dhruv has taught and performed Sufi music in several universities, museums and cultural institutions such as Colby College, Maine, University of Boston, Massachusetts, University of York, UK; Nehru Center, London, UK; House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany; Stadt Theatre, Freiburg-Breigsau, Germany; Louvre Museum, Paris, France; Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC, Society for Ethical Cultures, New York, US Library of Congress; Washington DC, Embassy of India, Washington DC, and Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC etc.

 

Avni Sethi

 

Avni  Sethi is an interdisciplinary artist who works with multiple mediums. Her work extends from choreographing large ballets or performing small solos to creating sound installations in parks to creating new forms of organisms in a lab to devising performance pedagogy for schools.

Her focus has primarily been on exploring the politics and poetry of humanity through her artistic practice. She is presently curating a museum of conflict in Ahmedabad.

 

Siddi Goma Tribal Dance Group

 

The Siddis of Gujarat are a tribal Sufi community of East African origin which came to India eight centuries ago and made Gujarat their home. They carried with them their exceptionally rich musical tradition and kept it alive and flourishing through the generations, unknown to the rest of the world.

 

A traditional occupation of African-Indian Sufis in Gujarat has been to perform sacred music and dance as wandering faqirs, singing songs to their black Sufi saint, Bava Gor.

 

Sidi Goma perform in a group of twelve: four lead musicians (drummers and singers) and eight dancers. While the music gradually gets more rapid and excited, the dances unfold with constantly evolving individual and small-group acts of animal imitations, climaxing in a coconut-breaking feat.

 

The exuberant energy and joy Sidi Goma brings to the stage is captivating and powerful, their unique African-Indian heritage a fascinating discovery, and every performance an exhilarating experience!

 

NAMRATA PAMNANI

 

Born in 1980, Namrata Pamnani began her training in Kathak with Guru Smt. Bharti Gupta with later specialization under Pt. Jaikishan Maharaj at the National Institute of Dance, Kathak Kendra, in New Delhi. A graduate in Economics from Delhi University, Namrata decided to take up her passion as a profession. She has also taken formal training in Hindustani classical music and holds a diploma from Prayag Sangeet Samiti; she is also learning the nuances of dhrupad singing from the Gundecha brothers.

Namrata believes that dance is a form of self purification.

 

Some of her major overseas performances have been at the Lincoln Centre in New York, the International Kathak Festival in Chicago, the Avignon Festival in France, and at venues in Switzerland, Estonia, Finland, South Korea, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Moscow, Sri Lanka and Germany.

 

Within India she has been featured at the Kathak Mahotsava (Baroda), Konark Festival, Pt. Lacchu

Maharaj Utsav, Kalakshetra Festival, Natya Vriksha Festival, Taj Mahotsava and Kathak Yatra by Sangeet

Natak Academy. Namrata has been a member of the renowned Kathak Kendra Repertory, New Delhi where she had the opportunity of working under some of the best gurus.

 

Odyssey Rock Band

 

Sometime in 2009, in the historical city of Surat, Odyssey was formed with the aim of creating independent, original music. Hailing from the diamond city draped in textile, Odyssey is a rock band with a unique touch to it. Five guys, each having more than a decade of stage experience, combine to create music that is not restricted to any specific genre. Each band member is a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is Odyssey. The band strives to put Surat, a city more known for its trade and cuisine (not to forget its trademark slang!), on the global music scene.

 

ENTRY TO PERFORMANCES IS FREE AND DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY INVITATION ON FIRST COME FIRST SERVE BASIS.

 

Sufi Balm for troubled times #Sundayreading


 

Jay N Jayaram

An urs, or commemoration of the death of a Sufi philosopher-poet-singer, began in Kasur/Qasur, in Pakistan on Friday, August 24, and someone posted a few lines on Facebook from a beautiful poem anyone – atheist or believer – can identify with.

Baba Bulleh Shah’s poem, Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun(text and youtube links below), has particular resonance in the context of a great deal of xenophobia and distrust of the other that we are witnessing in many parts of the world, and especially in India.

In my southern Indian city, Bangalore, rumours recently led to the exodus of thousands of people originally from Northeastern India. The rumours were blamed on another minority in the city, the Muslims, who then felt obliged to host extensive rounds of Iftar parties (breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan/Ramzan) and dinners, inviting people from Northeastern India living in Bangalore, so as to reassure them that neither posed any threat whatsoever to the other.

It was apposite that just as the city began to recover from that ignoble trauma, the urs for a humanistic saintly figure began in another part of the subcontinent, where too large numbers of Pakistani civil society activists were energetically denouncing attacks on minorities and outrageous allegations of blasphemy. The troubles in India itself had started because of exaggerated rumours and false pictures depicting the fate of the Rohingyaminority in Burma. And what is far worse, there have been clashes in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, pitting tribal people against presumed ‘outsiders’ from Bangladesh.

Who are outsiders and insiders among human beings who have been constantly migrating for thousands of years, whose DNAs can be traced back, according to overwhelming scientific evidence, to an African mother and whose languages, philosophies and religions are so interlinked? What earthly basis is there for this Auslaender raus (outsider out) thinking?

The poem by Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) contains many lines acutely relevant to the present times. This version is taken from the singer Rabbi Shergill’s websites.

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun (Bulla, to me I’m not known – also translated as Bulla, who knows who I am?)

Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.
Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun
Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharaoh
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.
Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun.
Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun
Bulleh!, ki jaana maen kaun
In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun
Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun
Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun
Bulleh , ki jaana maen kaun
Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun
Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

The legendary Mehdi Hasan sings it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMbqs2QbZZg

And Pakistan’s world-renowned Coke studio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOriUKHfnrs

Iqbal Bahoo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNDTc35g2GI

Sain Zahoor Ahmed looking every bit a Sufi recluse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd0Wbli39zA&feature=related

Imran Aziz Qawwal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSY9k2Soedk&feature=related

The great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has sadly been let down in this recordinghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbRPnehCgnk

A version which has gotten massive hits is Rabbi Shergill’s:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTxZy32Fv_0

Baba Bulleh Shah’s supreme relevance to today’s India and the world is further brought out in these superb lines:

Chal Way Bullehya Chal O’thay Chaliyay

Jithay Saaray Annay

Na Koi Saadee Zaat PichHanay

Tay Na Koi Saanu Mannay

O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there

Where everyone is blind

Where no one recognizes our caste (or race)

And where no one believes in us

Or in the words of that 20th century Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore,

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;…”

This day, 49 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr made his stirring I have a Dream speech which too contain similar sentiments: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” http://www.mlkonline.net/dream.html

Different continents and centuries, one dream.

 

Death threats over free speech


BY 

FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, APRIL 17,Toronto Sun

Earlier this week, the Kuwaiti parliament voted to institute the death penalty against any Muslim who is judged by Islamic clerics to have insulted God.

As medieval as this may sound to the ears of the Western non-Muslim, the threat is real and the target is the millions of Muslims, like me, who are fed up with the clerics who have sucked the joy out of our lives for centuries.

The tradition of silencing dissident Muslims by beheading them is not new; its most famous victim was beheaded in Baghdad over a 1,000 years ago and the most recent ones are the victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Today, at the Toronto Public Library on Palmerston Street, a group of Muslims are going to say “Enough is enough.” They will honour a 21st century Muslim reformer in the name of a 10th century Muslim rebel who died for speaking the truth. This will be their rebuke to the Kuwaiti parliament.

The celebrated and controversial Canadian author Irshad Manji will receive the first “Mansoor Hallaj Freedom of Speech Award” by the Muslim Canadian Congress.

So who is Mansoor Hallaj?

Hallaj was a Persian mystic Sufi saint who had rebelled against the hierarchy of the Sufi Orders and had taken his message to the masses, making enemies in high places.

His indiscretions crossed the limits when he would fall into trances claiming he was near God himself. It was during one of these trances that he uttered the words, “Ana al-Haqq,” or “I am the Truth.” His naysayers claimed this chant meant Hallaj was claiming to be God, though he never said anything of this sort.

As his popularity against the decaying orthodoxy of the caliphate increased among ordinary Muslims, he was accused of sorcery that they said he had picked up after a visit to distant India. He was asked to recant and stay silent, but Hallaj would not and could not be silenced.

The caliph did what he did best — sent the Sufi saint to an 11-year imprisonment in a Baghdad dungeon.

That isolation gave further credence to Hallaj and his following among dissidents and rebels grew enormously. The mullahs and imams insisted that the caliph have him beheaded to end the “sorcerer’s” magical incantations.

When imprisonment did not silence him, on March 25, 922, Mansoor Hallaj was given a public trial and a death sentence was pronounced. As a last warning, the caliph had his arms chopped off and the stumps that remained were dipped in burning tar. He was given the night to ponder about his future and recant if he wished to live.

The next morning as the sun rose over Baghdad, the caliph approached Hallaj who was tied to a post and asked him to recant. Hallaj is said to have spat on the ground.

That was it. Moments later Mansoor Hallaj was no more; his head was sliced off and rolled down the bridge.

Popular myths arose that even when Hallaj was beheaded, his head kept repeating the words. “Ana al-Haqq … I am the truth.”

Since that day, no Muslim group has dared celebrate the man who died for the truth. Except today in Toronto when Irshad Manji receives the award named after the 10th century Sufi saint.

Join us this evening at the Toronto Library on Palmerston St. as we stand tall in the face of medieval madness.

A Sufi message from a Pakistani President


Saeed Naqvi, April 9,2012, The Hindu

Asif Ali Zardari must be applauded for choosing to visit the shrine of Chishti at Ajmer at a time of rising extremism in India and Pakistan.

That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan at a suitable time is important news, of course. But, put it down to my personal bias if you like, the loftier symbolism of the visit lies elsewhere. The appearance of such a large Pakistani delegation at the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s shrine in Ajmer will strike a chord with an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are more comfortable with the soft, humane message of the Sufis compared with the vengefulness that Hafiz Saeed represents.

Disconcertingly, his ratings in Pakistan have shot up in an atmosphere of high voltage anti-Americanism. In this atmosphere, an American bounty even on the head of the devil would give him championship in the popularity stakes. That is why Mr. Zardari’s Ajmer mission deserves applause.

Contrary to popular perception, the rapid spread of Islam across the length and breadth of India was primarily the handiwork of Sufis. At a time when Rahul Gandhi and his cohorts are wondering how to win friends and influence people, the Sufis offer an excellent model. For the model to gain traction, the first requirement is a message which can be simply put across. The message the Sufis sought to communicate offended nobody: oneness of Being (Wahdat ul Wajood), equality of men, Love as a universal value.
Egalitarian

Rungs of the stratified Hindu order found the egalitarianism of Sufi Khanqahs, ashrams, hospices, compelling. The first-time visitors to the hospice were overwhelmed by the hospitality. The cuisine was custom made for universal consumption. It was not just vegetarian but care was taken to avoid garlic and onion too which some Hindu sects abstain from.

If there was one dogma the Sufis lived by, it was their total aversion to Kings and Sultans or those who sat at the top of the feudal heap. Since they would not visit the Sultans as a matter of principle, there were instances of the rulers who, overawed by the saint’s boundless popularity, expressed a desire to visit them at their hospices.

“If the King enters from the front gate, I shall leave by the backdoor” Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia once famously said. They lived by the Biblical dictum: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So, the poor and the intellectually precocious flocked to them.

It was not just their charming temperament, demeanour and belief which attracted the people to them. It was part of their spiritual training to harmonise totally with the cultural environment of whichever place they had made their home. They accepted and adopted the local culture.

Their contribution therefore to folk, popular and classical art forms was immense. For instance, Hazrat Amir Khusro, principal disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, invented the sitar, tabla, ragas. And, by experimental fusion of Hindvi and Persian, he virtually laid the foundation of what later came to be recognised as Urdu. For popular participation, there were always the Qawwalis, with trance inducing rhythms deftly employed between spiritual and romantic lyrics.

It was in pursuance of the trend set by the Sufis that every great Urdu poet proceeded to strengthen sub-continental syncretism. Hasrat Mohani always followed up his “haj” by a visit to Barsana for a “darshan” of Radha, because it was a belief he fancied that God had sent prophets to every country and the one he sent to India was Lord Krishna! It can only happen in the subcontinent: Maulana Hasrat Mohani was a member of the Communist Party and a member of the Constituent Assembly. He refused to sign the Constitution because it was “anti-people”. He is an icon in modern Urdu ghazal. The famous ghazal sung by Mallika Pukhraj, “bezubaani zubaan na ho jai” (hark! Silence begins to have voice) is the Maulana’s composition.

Quite naturally, the rapid expansion of this spectacular, colourful Islam, far removed from the arid rigidity of Najd in Saudi Arabia, invited a puritanical reaction.

There were one or two schools of Sufism, like the one to which Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi belonged and which deviated towards puritanism divorced from the colours of India. He was principally opposed to Moghul Emperor Akbar’s effort at forging Din-e-elahi or a common religion of God. Later, Shah Waliullah opposed the syncretic excess which leaned too much on the arts, music and dance as a path towards spirituality.

Darul Uloom at Deoband became the centre for puritanical reform within Islam. The effort to bring the faithful back to the straight and narrow continues. Unfortunately, politicians in search of vote banks find Deoband and one or two Imams of mosques, the only Muslim middlemen they know.

These institutions have been plodding away for decades. However, it was the war on terror painting Muslims as terrorists which generated anger in the community, enabling Deoband to marginally augment its reservoir.

By and large, Islam in Afghanistan, Kashmir, North West Frontier Province, other parts of Pakistan and India has, for years, been cloaked in colours of Sufism. But it was the manufacture of Wahabism in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union which was at the bottom of recent Islamic upheavals, of which 9/11and its aftermath are landmarks.
Islamic extremism

Basically, a strand of Islamic extremism has been in Pakistan’s DNA since the country’s inception but it was only a strand. The Munir Commission in 1953 investigated what is true Islam and came to no conclusion. But a backlash from the Afghan war reached its crescendo with the fall of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007. Extremism has remained on a plateau since, helped by U.S. policies and the military establishment in equal measure.

Hafiz Saeed is currently the most high profile representative of this extremism which is linked to Wahabism first manufactured in Afghanistan in 1980. In India, Deoband is a harmless reform school. But in Pakistan, Deobandi/Salafi alliance is embarked on a vicious Jehad for the soul of the nation.

It is for this reason that Mr. Zardari’s pilgrimage to Ajmer has symbolic value for Pakistan and beyond.

(The writer is a senior journalist, television commentator and interviewer.)

Sunday Reading-Three sisters and Kabir


Mar 17, 2012, Women Feature Service (WFS) :

Kamayani Bali Mahabal meets three sisters who took their interest in the weaver-poet, Kabir, to a new level.

So just what is common between three sisters from South India: Archana Sundararajan, a classical dancer from Madurai; Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy, a graphic designer from Bangalore, and Jaya Madhavan, a writer from Chennai? The poet, Kabir.

During the Kabir Festival held at Prithvi House in Mumbai last month, the trio staged a unique and thought-provoking presentation on the great poet-weaver, entitled ‘Ankath Kahani’, which translates as ‘Unsaid Story’. The Kabir festival is a voluntary effort by people from different walks of life, drawn together by their passion for the poetry of Kabir and the music of folk singers.

The performance of the sisters threaded story, song and dance into a unique “word-sound and movement” dramatisation, punctuated by personal sharing, excerpts from Kabir’s work and dance movements for selected couplets. But the pivot on which ‘Ankath Kahani’ rested was a song which they sang as an impassioned plea to the great weaver-poet, to evoke a sense of Kabir, the sensitive, sensible and spiritual being that is present in all of us.

Archana danced to Kumar Gandharva’s ‘Ud jaaega hans akela…’ even as Bindhumalini’s singing took audiences to a level where being is “just to be there”. The beautiful interpretation of the song, in dance form, mesmerised the 100-plus listeners as they chanted Kabir’s couplets with the sisters. Soon there seemed to be no difference between the performers and the audience — both entities had merged in the bliss of Kabir’s verse.

How did the women choose Kabir? It was Jaya who first took the plunge when she wrote a book on him seven years ago. She says, “Kabir was a fortuitous encounter, a life enhancing one for me.” Describing this journey she reveals that it was Linda Hess’s translations of Kabir’s work that first opened her eyes to the poet. “I was so enraptured by the man’s courage, vision and well — insanity — and the fact that there was so much drama around him, that I decided to record my responses to him as a play.”

She then wrote a short skit with just two characters — a warp and a weft — with her sister Bindhumalini and herself playing the two roles. The play was shot through with Kabir’s couplets, his ideals and anxieties; not as his admirers and protégés saw them but as an outsider who loved Kabir. The warp and weft became many things in the play: Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan, Mullah-Pundit — but never was Kabir evoked in his entirety. Looking back Jaya confesses, “I think he still had shades of grey in my mind then.”

At that point Jaya realised that she knew only two things about Kabir: One, that he was a poet, and, two, that he was a weaver. “The poet I seemed to know, the other I didn’t. So I took up weaving classes,” she laughs. That experience changed her view of the poet. As she puts it, “Frankly, it is the loom that showed me a glimpse of Kabir, and taught me creative introspection.

It is the ‘thakli’, the dye, the loom, the warp and the weft, which spoke of the image of the poet for me. I married the weaver and poet as the warp and weft to draw a fuller picture of Kabir. I really believed, like the much loved Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar (also a weaver), Kabir’s ‘dohas’, or couplets, were born out of the material at hand and his vocation. This may be the reason why the loom features so strongly in my book. It is as if it bears witness to his bursts of poetry,” she elaborates.

It was not just Jaya’s work that got influenced by Kabir, her life changed, too. “For a while I even did drastic things like trying to fit all my needs into a small bag and living out of it. I wanted to distinguish between needs and wants. I began reducing my needs, meditating regularly, walking to my destination, and so on. The man does that to you. Unlike other Bhakti poets we know, this man wants to take you along. He wants to share his truths with you,” reveals Jaya.

But how did her sisters get roped in? Says Bindhumalini, who is also a trained singer in Carnatic and Hindustani music, “What attracted me was that Kabir touches every aspect of life. Happiness, bliss, renunciation. He becomes the ultimate being, the guru, the formless one that speaks. And his special poems, called ‘Ulat Bansi’, really made me fall in love with him. He is abstract no doubt, but somewhere something will catch you and the insight hits hard.”

As for Archana, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer with an M.Phil in French, she discovered Kabir through the French language! “That was the catalyst. I got attracted to him when I started translating Jaya’s book into French. Later, I started to dance to Kumar Gandharva’s music on Kabir,” says Archana with a twinkle in her eyes.

Explaining their unique style of presentation — they just sit, read, sing and dance — the sisters say almost in unison, “Kabir, we felt, could be reached only through simplicity and with no pretension. He is someone you cannot claim to know. But we know ourselves and we know how we are impacted by Kabir. The lesser the distractions in the presentation, the better the focus.” In other words, the less the audience looks towards the performers, the more they look inwards so there is nothing visually distracting about the presentation.

What are their favourite Kabir couplets? Archana says, a touch philosophically, “My favourite is ‘Maya Maha Thugni Hum Jaani’ (Maya is the biggest thug, I have come to understand the power of illusion to be a great thug). It perfectly suits my life. Everything is bound in ‘maya’, illusion. I totally believe that.” Jaya finds solace in ‘Dheere dheere re mana/Dheere sab kuch hoi/Mali seenche sau gade/Ritu aaye phal hoye (Slowly, slowly O mind/Everything happens at its own pace/The gardener may water with a hundred buckets/fruit arrives only in its season). “We are leading such fast lives and want everything to happen immediately, but we don’t realise everything has its own time,” says Jaya.

Humming the couplet, Bindhumalini indicates her choice: “Haman hein ishk mastana/Haman ko hoshiyari kya/Rahe aazad yeh jag se/ Haman duniya se yaari kya” (I am bursting with love/ Why do I need to be careful?/Being free in the world). Says she, “This is a beautiful poem in which Kabir talks about the blissful state of absolute love, supreme and unconditional love towards oneself and the world. Here, when everything becomes one, there is no waiting. When the lover is within oneself, why befriend anyone else? And so on. It talks of a happy state and the happiness in this song makes these seemingly difficult concepts or experiences really possible. When we are blissfully happy, don’t we lose ourselves as we merge with the world?”

The sisters now hope to keep sharing Kabir with more and more people. Says Jaya in conclusion, “We have kept our performance simple so that it fits all contexts. It is entirely up to the listeners on how they should interpret it. We are ready and willing to go anywhere. We operate within the spirit of sharing. We have performed in drawing rooms, conference halls, balconies and, well, now Prithvi House, too! It is Kabir and the listeners that matter to us. As long as the sharing continues, the journey will materialise on its own.”

Lo fir basant aaya-Happy Basant Panchami


A short documentary film about Basant, the spring festival of the Sufis in north India. The video covers a day in the life of qawwals and Sufis at the shrine of Nizamuddin Aulia in New Delhi, India. The Sufi festival of Basant is related to a legend of Amir Khusrau and Nizamuddin Aulia, is celebrated each year on the eve of Basant Panchami.

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