The Winding Road From Somanatha To Ayodhya Or How Colonial Historiographies Continue To Bewitch, Bewilder and Bedevil

The Winding Road From Somanatha To Ayodhya Or How Colonial Historiographies Continue To Bewitch, Bewilder and Bedevil

Because of the dominance of … ‘fundamentalist’ knowledge at the level of the establishment and those in power …[they] find themselves – in spite of all the changes of the past centuries – moving on a stage where history is repeating itself with just one objective; the continual actualization of the past. Adonis, Arabic Poetics […]

The Hindu Right Sings The Blues Or How The Fear Of The Inconsequential Pervades The Soul Of The Righteous
The Hindu Right Sings The Blues Or How The Fear Of The Inconsequential Pervades The Soul Of The Righteous

A certain group of self appointed guardians of the faith are up in arms over an animated movie called Sita Sings The Blues in which graphic artist and animator Nina Paley weaves a dark moment of abandonment in her persona life into the story of Sita’s repeated abandonment by Ram, the man she is devoted […]

Idea Of India Project Update: With The Passing Of The Monsoon A Return To Maharashtra

I am now in the final few weeks of this stage of the The Idea Of India project and focusing on key sites and stories from the state of Maharashtra.

Continuing The Search For The Female Sufi Saints And Finding The Business Of The Blessing
Continuing The Search For The Female Sufi Saints And Finding The Business Of The Blessing

The evidence of new money from the Gulf is vividly evident at the shrine of the female warrior saind Beema Biwi. It is evident in the large, ostentatious and garishly pink structure that now surrounds what was once a small shrine.

The Hindus Live In Small And Dark Houses Or Finding The Roots Of War In Textbooks – The Pakistan Episode
The Hindus Live In Small And Dark Houses Or Finding The Roots Of War In Textbooks - The Pakistan Episode

The minds of children are usually shut inside prison houses, so that they become incapable of understanding people who have different languages and customs. This causes us to grope after each other in darkness, to hurt each other in ignorance, to suffer from the worst form of blindness. Religious missionaries themselves have contributed to this […]

A Temple Where I Begin To Understand That Neither Hindu Nor Muslim Means What We May Believe
A Temple Where I Begin To Understand That Neither Hindu Nor Muslim Means What We May Believe

The Hindu temple contains two shrines, both to men who were once Muslims. As I write last statement this I realize that the two religious categories mentioned here - Hindu and Muslim actually make little sense. The fact remains that neither the word Hindu nor the word Muslim used here describes a set of clear, precise, differentiated, and orthodox ideas of the two […]

The Salvation Of The Lunatic
The Salvation Of The Lunatic

His clairvoyance resulted in his being consigned to a lunatic asylum where he languished for nearly sixteen years. The news of his miracles however spread far and wide and the king Raghoji Rao, a devote Hindu who also become a devotee, finally ordered his release. Today his shrine on the outskirts of the town of […]

The Monsoon Washes Me To Maharashtra’s Eastern Horizons
The Monsoon Washes Me To Maharashtra's Eastern Horizons

The monsoon came with the shock of a slap, the walls of rain ensuring that I was left staring out of my hotel window for nearly three days straight. And though beautiful, and reminiscent of the joys of childhood, the monsoon rains for a photographer are nothing but a dead stop. With life in the […]

The Thangals And Way Of The Other Muslims
The Thangals And Way Of The Other Muslims

There seems to be little written about the Thangals of Kerala. Professor Hussain Randathani tells me that there is some original research that has been done on this line of Muslims in Kerala, but that most of it is in Malayalam and hence inaccessible to me. 

The Goddess Of The Sea
The Goddess Of The Sea

Some days later, there was a wild dance of the elements in Ponnani sea. The heavy clouds burst and brought the heavens down to meet the sea, which reached up and met it halfway, rising in mountainous waves…A fishing boat overturned. The sons of Ponnani were thrown into the water looked around in terror. All […]

At The Shrine Of Malang Shah Aulia And The Dance Of The Wandering Dervish And The Goddess
At The Shrine Of Malang Shah Aulia And The Dance Of The Wandering Dervish And The Goddess

When the Muslim wandering mystic died, the goddess Bhagavati buried him with her own hands.

The Reality Of Legends: The Sabarimala Pilgrimage And The Dance Of Faiths
The Reality Of Legends: The Sabarimala Pilgrimage And The Dance Of Faiths

I would not have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears, and felt its power and passion within my own body and soul. But on a cold winter’s morning in the city of Erumeli while standing on a hill overlooking the Vavar mosque I saw it […]

The Kerala Phase Begins Or The Power Of The Feminine Divine
The Kerala Phase Begins Or The Power Of The Feminine Divine

I am finally in Kerala and beginning my work here with an exploration of the power of the female deity in Hindu, Muslim, and Christian spirituality. Each of the three religions venerate powerful goddesses (for the Hindus), saints and martyrs (for the Christians) and revered holy women (for the Muslims).

Wrapping Up The Gujarat Phase Of The Work
Wrapping Up The Gujarat Phase Of The Work

Its been a long, tiring two months in Gujarat’s heat, dust and paranoia. Behind the triumphant rhetoric of a fast industrializing Gujarat lie the quiet whispers of a fear and psychosis that colors most everything that happens here.

The Idea Of India Project Update: The Eunuch Goddess

Note: This essay was originally published on March 21st. This is an update based on a recent meeting with historian Samira Sheikh who has generously provided me with her research into the legend and contested history of Bahuchara Mata. All updates reflect insights gained from her work. Ω A continuity of history has been erased […]

The Eunuch Goddess
The Eunuch Goddess

Note: This essay was originally published on March 21st. This is an update based on a recent meeting with historian Samira Sheikh who has generously provided me with her research into the legend and contested history of Bahuchara Mata. All updates reflect insights gained from her work. Ω A continuity of history has been erased […]

Seeing Myself In Another
Seeing Myself In Another

 

The Laughter Of The Interrogator

He is waiting for me in the hotel lobby, but barely lifts his head to acknowledge me when I come down from my room to meet him. His face, decorated with a pair of plastic sunglasses, is perfectly round. An equally perfectly round chin, nose, pair of cheeks and eyes but an incongruously square mouth […]

The Idea Of India Project Update: Personal Diary Entry: Dawn At The Dargah of Dadu Pir, Bhuj Gujarat

It stands there with its veneer of rude decay and abusive repair. Peeling paint, carelessly applied white wash, cracked and broken jalis (screens), gently leaning wooden doors held in place by rusting hinges, and large areas of carelessly applied cement to repair gaps in its walls. Sitting low to the ground, the mausoleum appears to […]

Dawn At The Dargah of Dadu Pir
Dawn At The Dargah of Dadu Pir

It stands there with its veneer of rude decay and abusive repair. Peeling paint, carelessly applied white wash, cracked and broken jalis (screens), gently leaning wooden doors held in place by rusting hinges, and large areas of carelessly applied cement to repair gaps in its walls. Sitting low to the ground, the mausoleum appears to […]

The Idea Of India Project Update: Project Readings: Kabir: An Irrelevant Voice?
The Idea Of India Project Update: Project Readings: Kabir: An Irrelevant Voice?

A new set of translations of the works of the Indian poet Kabir are about to be published by The New York Review Of Books.  

Project Reading List: J.J. Roy Burman Gujarat Unknown
Project Reading List: J.J. Roy Burman Gujarat Unknown

Professor J.J. Roy Burman, who currently teaches at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai/Bombay, India has been a crucial guide and advisor on the current phase of The Idea Of India project.  

Birth Of The Idea Of India Project Or How I Can Make What Was Random And Fortuitous Appear Structured And Disciplined

The diagram below is my attempt to explain the birth and execution of this project I am tentatively calling The Idea Of India. I have been asked to present this work on at least five occasions now and each time I have struggled to really articulate it. The fact remains that I am simply unable […]

All Faiths Bring You To The Feet Of Haji Pir
All Faiths Bring You To The Feet Of Haji Pir

You can already see them on the roads leading up to this small town in remote Western Kutch. Pilgrims from as far away as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are slowly, determinedly making their way to the town of Naragram in the Banni region of Kutch, Gujarat. Many are on foot and carrying the green […]

Achyut Yagnik The Shaping Of Modern Gujarat & Ahmedbabad: Royal City To MegaCity

Towards the end of this work, Yagnik’s words seem to be weighed down by a terrible despair. Though the work is a broad social science study of Gujarat’s political, economic and cultural history, one can’t help but feel that it is more an attempt to understand and explain the state’s descent into cultural xenophobia and […]

Gilmartin & Lawrence Beyond Turk & Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities In Islamicate South Asia
Gilmartin & Lawrence Beyond Turk & Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities In Islamicate South Asia

It was a William Dalrymple review, ‘India, The War Over History’, in The New York Review Of Books that first bought my attention to this work. It remains on my reading list and has already been referenced in my India project writings a few times. Gilmartin & Lawrence’s Beyond Turk And Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities […]

The Shrine Of Hazrat Syed Ali Mira Datar And The Trace Of The Devil
The Shrine Of Hazrat Syed Ali Mira Datar And The Trace Of The Devil

Her face is a mask – without expression and stone hard. Her eyes stare into the distance, oblivious to the hundreds of men and women milling about the courtyard of the shrine. In the dying dusk light, under the glare of incandescent lights from the flower sellers inside the shrine complex, she lets out a […]

The Idea Of India Project Update: 2 March 2011: The Fulbright Phase Begins
The Idea Of India Project Update: 2 March 2011: The Fulbright Phase Begins

After a near nine month break I am once again turning my attention to the The Idea Of India project. This phase of the project is expected to last about nine months and will concentrate on the regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala and, time permitting, West Bengal. I arrived in India on February 5th, but […]

Staring At The Many Faces Of Doubt – Some That Cripple And Others That Inspire
Staring At The Many Faces Of Doubt - Some That Cripple And Others That Inspire

Doubt. If there is one word that can capture how I feel as I return to India to continue work on the The Idea Of India project, then it is the word ‘doubt’. I mean it in both the definitions of the word – as a noun that suggests a lack of conviction, and as […]

Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Parables Of Bet Dwarka
Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Parables Of Bet Dwarka

On any given day hundreds of Hindu pilgrims can be seen standing in the courtyard of Bet Dwarka’s famous Krishna temple. On the day of the annual festival, tens of thousands will congregate here. And on that special day, as on any ordinary day, the pilgrims would have been helped to cross the three kilometer […]

Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Sant Devidas Temple, Parab, Gujarat
Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Sant Devidas Temple, Parab, Gujarat

We hacked, we burnt, did a lot of that. We believe in setting them [Muslims] on fire because these bastards say they don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it, they say this and that will happen to them. Babu Bajrangi, VHP and Bajrang Dal leader, speaks about events in Naroda, Gujarat in 2002, Tehelka […]

Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Shrine Of Data Pir, Junagadh, Gujarat
Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Shrine Of Data Pir, Junagadh, Gujarat

I don’t remember the names of those Muslims… but the ones who were there… they were handpicked and killed one by one. There was one Katki in Madhopura… whenever a riot took place, he was the first to come out… That day we targeted him and killed him. There were two advantages to that… it […]

Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Ideological Shadows Of Somnath
Gujarat’s Faded Testaments: The Ideological Shadows Of Somnath

Mahmud of Ghazni, a legendary looter, descended on Somnath from his Afghan kingdom and, after a two-day battle, took the town and the temple. Having stripped its fabulous wealth, he destroyed it. So began a pattern of Muslim desecration and Hindu rebuilding that continued for centuries. The temple was again razed in 1297, 1394, and […]

Idea Of India Project Update: May 24th 2010 Gujarat’s Faded Testaments – The Parables Of Bet Dwarka

On any given day hundreds of Hindu pilgrims can be seen standing in the courtyard of Bet Dwarka’s famous Krishna temple. On the day of the annual festival, tens of thousands will congregate here. And on that special day, as on any ordinary day, the pilgrims would have been helped to cross the three kilometer […]

Idea Of India Project Update: May 14th 2010 Gujarat’s Faded Testaments – The Sant Devidas Temple, Parab, Gujarat

We hacked, we burnt, did a lot of that. We believe in setting them [Muslims] on fire because these bastards say they don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it, they say this and that will happen to them. Babu Bajrangi, VHP and Bajrang Dal leader, speaks about events in Naroda, Gujarat in 2002, […]

Idea Of India Project Update: May 11th 2010 Gujarat’s Faded Testaments – The Shrine Of Data Pir, Junagadh, Gujarat

I don’t remember the names of those Muslims… but the ones who were there… they were handpicked and killed one by one. There was one Katki in Madhopura… whenever a riot took place, he was the first to come out… That day we targeted him and killed him. There were two advantages to that… it […]

The Idea Of India Project Update: May 9th 2010: The Ideological Shadows On Somnath

Mahmud of Ghazni, a legendary looter, descended on Somnath from his Afghan kingdom and, after a two-day battle, took the town and the temple. Having stripped its fabulous wealth, he destroyed it. So began a pattern of Muslim desecration and Hindu rebuilding that continued for centuries. The temple was again razed in 1297, 1394, and […]

Gujarat’s Faded Testaments, April 28th 2010
Gujarat’s Faded Testaments, April 28th 2010

They were the seven minutes that changed India's future. At 7:43AM on February 27th, 2002, the Sabaramati Express, on its way from the city of Ayodhya, arrived at Godhra railway station. The train was packed with Hindu pilgrims on their way back from Ayodhya. During its standard four-minute stop a series of confrontations broke out […]

The Idea Of India Project Update: Gujarat’s Faded Testaments, 28th April 2009e

They were the seven minutes that changed India’s future. At 7:43AM on February 27th, 2002, the Sabaramati Express, on its way from the city of Ayodhya, arrived at Godhra railway station. The train was packed with Hindu pilgrims on their way back from Ayodhya. During its standard four-minute stop a series of confrontations broke out […]

A Dancer’s Map Of Lucknow
A Dancer's Map Of Lucknow

Jab chhorh chaley Lakhnau nagari, Kaho haal adam par kya guzeri… (When we left our beloved Lucknow, See what befell us..) Wajid Ali Shah Its [British colonial education] cumulative effect was to be described…as nothing short of a chasm that…made it impossible for the new generation of the educated and the older generation of the […]