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Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia

London: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2002, pp xxii + 183.

ISBN (Hardback): 1 86064 758 8
ISBN (Paperback): 1 86864 828 2

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Remember the name of the Lord
And light will emerge within you;
Taste the nectar of love
And ecstasy will overwhelm you.

Translated from Candrabhan, a ginan attributed to Pir Shams.

This publication brings together a number of essays by the author on the devotional and mystical literatures of the Nizari Ismailis in the Indian subcontinent. Most of these essays–some published previously in journals or collective volumes and others appearing here for the first time–focus on the ginans, a large corpus of hymns and poems composed in a variety of Indic languages and attributed to a series of preacher–saints who propagated Ismaili Islam in the subcontinent over several centuries.

In his Introduction to the volume, the author situates the development of the Ismaili tradition in South Asia within three cultural contexts. The first is the broad historical perspective of the Ismaili tariqa as it has manifested and evolved in many different parts of the Muslim world. The second is the Indo–Muslim framework of the growth of Muslim institutions and movements in the Indian subcontinent. The third is the Indic context in which the Ismaili tradition interacted with various local cultures and folk traditions and indigenous religious groups such as the Sufis, bhaktas, sants and yogis.

It is against the background of these three, overlapping cultural contexts that Dr Asani proceeds in subsequent chapters to explore specific aspects of the ginans, such as their history, themes, prosody and melodies; the devotional character of the ginans and their role in Ismaili religious life; the symbolism of divine love and spiritual marriage in the ginans; and a discussion of some of the questions connected with the issue of authorship of the ginans. There is also a chapter on the development of the git tradition as a related but separate genre of religious poetry among the Ismailis.

The final two essays are devoted to an examination of the unique Khojki script in which the ginans came to be recorded and which has been hitherto little studied by scholars. Originating in Sind around 10th/16th century, Khojki was developed by the Ismailis of South Asia with the specific purpose of preserving their literature. Dr Asani provides the first systematic analysis of this script, its phonetic system and manuscript tradition.

The essays in this volume are preceded by a useful Foreword contributed by Professor Annemarie Schimmel, the eminent authority on Islamic mysticism and literary traditions. She notes that ‘Ali Asani’s book is a treasure–trove for everyone who is interested in Ismaili history and thought. It offers important material not only for members of the community, but also to scholars from various branches–be they Islamicists, Indologists, sociologists or historians of religion.’ The book culminates with an appendix of selected mystical and devotional poems in translation.


Illustrations and Tables

Foreword by Professor Annemarie Schimmel


Editorial Note


Introduction: The Nizari Ismaili Tradition in South Asia

The Ginans as Devotional Literature: Their Origins, Characteristics and Themes

Bridal Symbolism in the Ginans

The Git Tradition: A Testimony of Love

Reflections on Authority and Authorship of the Ginans

The Khojki Script: A Legacy of Ismaili Islam in the Subcontinent

The Khojki Script and its Manuscript Tradition


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Content Date: January 2002

The Institute of Ismaili Studies - Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia
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