Notes on the Doctrine.


As has been already mentioned above, it would be preposterous to attempt to offer a general summary of the Sat-Panth dogma and practice before its literature is properly studied. All that may be offered here is a few explanatory notes which perhaps may be useful to the reader by drawing his attention to certain points.

The most important point, however, should be the advice to exercise patience and restraint in the discovery of various "influences" in the doctrine. We must not forget even for a moment that this religion is of a very late origin. Its ingredients, i.e., the elements which composed that unique combination, both Islamic and Hinduistic, themselves had a very long evolution, absorbed many influences, local modifications and adjustments to new conditions. It would be no exaggeration to say that we probably know even less about mediaeval popular Hinduistic beliefs than we do about their Islamic corresponding numbers.

There is no doubt, indeed, that the form of Islam which has given Satpanth a final touch was Persian Nizari Ismailism of a very late date. But, surely, it was by no means the only form of Islamic ideology which went into the melting pot. Mediaeval Sind was not only the land of Islam, of the orthodox beliefs, but also to a very great extent the land of the Sufis, of varied learnings. As Sufic organisations surely stood incomparably nearer to the non-Islamic rural population than the learned theologians of the cities, we must expect, and really do find, many traces of Sufic influences.

Not being a specialist on Hinduism, I cannot take upon myself to discuss the extent to which Tantrism influenced Satpanth. If Tantrism, especially the cult of Shakti, was the autochthonous religion of pre-Aryan India, particularly associated with the Dravidian population, it would be necessary to ascertain how far it was spread in Sind. As is known, the province in which it is particularly common is the opposite side of India, namely Bengal. There is also another question, which perhaps may sound very paradoxical : are those practices which look very similar to Ali-Ilahism genuinely old? There is a general tendency to treat every thing in Hinduism as coming from immense antiquity, a tendency which is by no means reliable in every case. 1. Cosmogony, it seems, remains entirely Hinduistic, with all its mythological elements, hyperbolism, "astronomical" figures in the calculation of periods, etc.

2. God, as the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the Universe, despite mythological Hindu names, appears to be a purely Islamic idea, contrary to the system of the cosmology. Significantly, Satpanth chiefly uses foreign terms to express the idea : Persian term khudā , rarer Allah, and only much more rarely the Indian terms Ishvar or Parmeshvar. Equally, the basic idea of the Creator is chiefly rendered by the Arabic (through Persian) Khāliq . Bhirma, the Hindu term, is rarely used. The idea is somewhat vague, however because the gnans do not enter theological discussions, and because the idea of God is very closely associated with that of the Imam.

3. Imām, as has been mentioned above, the idea of the Imam here appears in its later Nizari form, as the Manifestation of the Divine Light, i.e. Divine Intelligence and Creative Will. The Satpanth Imam bears closer resemblance to the Christian Jesus than to the Hindu Parmeshvar. As a purely Hinduistic feature, everywhere in evidence there is that characteristic vagueness, or rather "blurredness" of the ideas. It is by no means easy to discern the difference in the attributes of the Supreme Deity, the Imām , and the Pir , just as in Hindu speculations distinctions between the Supreme God the Brahman, the sacrificed offerings, etc., are all, intentionally or otherwise, rendered imperceptible.

The Imam, who is technically termed Shāh , or Nar 1, residing in the mysterious countries of the remote West, in strict disguise, and continually "reviving", in the sense of the transfer of his powers from, father to son, was obviously little more than an abstraction for the ordinary member of the community. Although the usual hyperbolism of the gnans makes some Pirs visit him, in company with something like 120 millions of followers at a time, nobody could possibly take this literally, seeing in the abnormal number merely a sign of devotion and piety on the part of the author.

4. Guru, or Pir Just as in Hinduism, the most important participant of the Divine Substance becomes the Guru, or Pir 2, the term obviously derived from Sufism, and standing instead of the post-Alamūt Persian term hujjat have already emphasised elsewhere the fact that late Nizari Ismailism of Persia in a striking way repeats the earliest theories of Ismailism, only promoting each rank to the next highest. The Imam becomes divinized ,the hujjat Pir takes the functions of the early Imam and the idea of the hierarchy of dignitaries, already given up in Persia, becomes atrophied.3 The religious and political aims which the dawat organisation had to pursue became obviously unattainable under the changed circumstances, and Nizari Ismailism became the religion of personal salvation, just as other forms of Islam.

The Pir , who is the "door", bāb , to the Imam, i.e of paramount importance, because without him no one can attain the knowledge of the Imam, and God. As in Christianity and some other religions, the ordinary mortal is incapable of comprehending the Divine nature ,and this could only be done by one who participates in the Divine substance. Thus the Guru becomes a parallel to Christ, consubstantial to God, and yet born as a mortal. He is thus a link between God and man, really the " door", bāb, of the Imam, without whose guidance and instruction all efforts of the individual may remain futile and fruitless. The most remarkable feature of this doctrine is the disregard of the earlier institution of the dawat hierarchy which formed the channels through which the Imam's (later the Pir's ) instruction should flow to all sections of the community. Strangely, no such apparatus is ever mentioned. The Pir is everything, but it does not require much imagination to see that he can directly guide a comparatively very small proportion of the whole Jamat 4 . It seems that there is no arrangement for those individuals or communities who for various reasons are deprived of the possibilities of coming into personal contact with the Pir . Satpanth knows no priests. 5 The head of the community in every place is the local mukhi or headman, whose functions are rather those of a honorary magistrate and president of the parish. He is assisted by his kamadiya (pronounced kamriya), who is the honorary secretary and treasurer, and has no religious functions whatever. These dignitaries are not supposed to carry out any instructional duties. Such duties are often relegated to special functionaries, apparently corresponding with earlier dais of different ranks. It is also remarkable, however, that not only is the term dai never used, but it even had never been replaced by a proper term derived from the Indian languages. Formerly he was called bhagvat , which really means "devotee, ascetic". Now the English term "missionary" is in use.

The Satpanth tradition makes the Pirs at least the last five, form a dynasty. There are, however, apparently no dogmatic reasons for Pir -ship being hereditary. During the Fatimid period there were, or at least were expected to be, always 24 hujjats , promoted from the ranks of talented and efficient da'is surely not on account of any hereditary rights. The late Nizari doctrine of the hujjat as a supernatural "witness" of the Imam's identity, the only speaker on his behalf, was, as has been mentioned above, accompanied by the practice of the dignity of the hujjat being conferred only upon the Imam's closest relatives. 6 It is, however, obvious that the new practice by no means implied the post being hereditary. After centuries of merciless persecutions, the Ismaili community in Persia most probably had shrunk to a great extent, and no longer required any complex organisation for its control. We know nothing as to how the Imams of that period generally exercised their control and guidance of the communities in such remote corners as in Sind, Badakhshān, etc. In the Satpanth community tradition is preserved that the Imams kept their relations ,with their followers through special emissaries, wakils , while the community itself used to send its representatives to the Imams when need arose. The custom was established according to which such persons had to receive special certificates (technically called daresh ), testifying to the fact that they really had visited the Imam. 7.

In connection with the doctrine of the hujjat or Pir it is not out of place to mention also that the usual prototype of the super-human dignitary of this rank, Salmān-i Fārsi, so popular in Persian Nizari texts, is entirely forgotten here. He was a national religious hero of the Persians, and the Indians obviously had no special interest in him. Instead of Salmān, as also amongst Persian darwishes, a far more prominent place is occupied by Qanbar, a Negro slave of Ali, who is only referred to in early works on Shi'ite tradition.

5. Dogmatic system. Satpanth, it seems, does not possess a properly formulated creed, or, even formula of the profession of religion. It seems that its dogmatic principles have never been elaborated and systematize .The gnans contain a profusion of exhortations to piety, offering of prayers, paying the dasondh , or tithe, but it seems that all this has never been properly arranged in a systematic way. There are collections of advices on how to live a righteous and pious life, as in the well-known So Kiriya , translated in this collection. All this, however, has nothing to do with religious law, shariat , as a system. It may be noted that while living under the government of various Muslims principalities and at the same time, forced to preserve their caste organisation, the Satpanth community solved the problem by following Muslim custom in some matters and Hindu custom in others. For instance, marriage and burial were performed by Muslim mullahs, but in matters of inheritance the community preserved Hindu practice.

Strangely, the gnans , as far as I could ascertain, never enter into discussions of abstract theological matters, on the lines of the Muslim works on 'aqā'id , or Ismaili literature of haqa-iq. There is, however, a powerful stream of interest in ascetic practices, according to Hindu style with the use of Hindu terminology.

6. Eschatology In eschatological ideas, more than in any other branch of the doctrine, it seems, two currents, Islamic and Hinduistic, are struggling in the Satpanth beliefs. The Pirs apparently found it impossible to uproot the ancestral outlook of their Hindu converts, based on the belief in immortality of the soul, and re-births in accordance with the Karma theory. The idea of re-birth, as is well-known was not entirely alien to ancient Greek philosophers, to the Coran itself; in the Ummu'l-kitāb it is openly recognized, being apparently developed without any Indian influence. In Ali-ilahism and Nusayrism it is also accepted though in a different form. Thus, in a purely Hindu way, it is believed that the soul is gradually purified, and ultimately becomes saved, in the sense that it no longer belongs to the 'wheel of re-birth", and joins the Divine Infinite. At the same time the gnans often discuss Paradise, hurries , etc., in a fully Muslim style, make all this located on a certain Heaven, and the faithful are promised they shall stay there eternally, "ruling as princes", i.e. probably living blissfully as princes on earth. They are promised immortality, although both in Hinduism and Islam the soul is regarded as immortal. The Jannatpuri , translated here, gives a wealth of interesting details of such Indo-Islamic ideas. Here Paradise is independent of the Hindu Paradise, the mount Meru. The hurries huran are pictured on the model of temple hierodules, devadasis , and everything is obviously taken from the actual practice of their profession. An interesting addition, however, is that Hindu deities and ancient heroes are admitted there for their piety.

Hell, obviously supplementing the "wheel of re-birth" is also superimposed upon Hindu theories. Therefore it is not entirely certain which method should be taken as the standard. Such ambiguity is eloquent testimony to the struggle of opposite currents in the evolution of Satpanth, that of Islamisation, and of the Hindu reaction. The term Nirvana is not used, and salvation is expressed with the term mukti .

7. Worship , As in all popular religions the central point in religious life is occupied by worship. Satpanth is determinately iconoclastic in its tendencies and outlook. Prohibition of idolatry is the most prominent motif in the gnans accompanied by admonitions arguing that idols are made by man and possess no power. Such attitude implies a complete dissociation from Hinduism in which idol worship cannot be separated from the usual daily worship. On the other hand, Satpanth has not adopted the Muslim salāt , obviously on account of its Arabic form. The Pirs steered midway by introducing and developing the Sufic form of prayer, dhikr pronounced zikra, The numerous converts from lower classes also have probably brought in various details connected with the Tantric cult, which is supposed to be a relic of the ancient local religion of pre-Aryan India, as has been mentioned above.

Contrary to orthodox Hindu worship, which is based on the individual and intercession of the priest, Satpanth knows no priests, and its prayer is congregational, in which even women and children also participate. In Hinduism such features are exhibited only in Tantric cults. Such prayers take place three times a day in Satpanth, namely morning, evening, and before going to bed, in a special praying hall, called Jamat khana At such meetings any one, young or old, may be appointed by the mukhi or head man to recite the prayers. The most interesting detail is the distribution of sacred water from a vessel in which water is either mixed with clay of Kerbela, or with water blessed by the Imam. Thus this is a kind of communion and as such it is conceived. In the gnans this ceremony, called ghat-pat , literally "table (in) assembly"8, is particularly regarded as a symbol of conversion and participation in the religious life of the community In addition to the distribution of sacred water, or certain occasions a kind of solid vegetable food, jure is distributed. Some particular gnans are recited on various special occasions.9

There is no secrecy about all this, and although spectators are not encouraged, they are by no means completely excluded with a rigidity similar to that amongst the Ali-Ilahis and Nussayris who never admit anyone who is not a member of the community.

Communal drinking of consecrated water, or whatever it may be, or partaking of consecrated food, is a custom of immense antiquity amongst all races and nations, accepted as a symbol of bond between the members of an assembly, party, gang, etc. There is no ceremony of this kind prescribed in orthodox Islam, but various customs including such Eucharist are in use amongst Persian darwishes. It is the piyāla which is offered at the initiation of the darwish into the tarīqat This institution is supposed to have been introduced by the Prophet himself, on the night of the Miraj under the "blue cupola without doors". He offered it to the mystical chihil tan ("forty bodies"), symbols of Sufic fraternity, crushing a piece of raisin in a bowl of water 10. Thus it plainly symbolizes the religious bond of a confraternity.

A similar ceremony is used by the Ali-Ilahis who, how ever, usually distribute cooked food prepared from a sacrificed cock or sheep. The darwishes also have the same custom dik-jush . We may note that the most Satpanthis are meat-eaters.

Similar customs are used in India by the followers of the Tantric cults. At such ceremonies both men and women are present. After various prayers, milk, wine, meat, honey, etc. are distributed, also obviously to symbolize the bond of unity. It is said that in the cult of certain secret Tantric sects of the Vamachara branch 11 on specific occasion one of the men present at the ceremony, as a part of the worship, copulates with a woman. This detail is not in keeping with other ceremonies which consist of partaking of some food or beverage. I therefore feel inclined to give credence to what I heard from some informed people that the performance of the couple is merely a means of obtaining a quantity of sperm which is diluted in water and distributed to the faithful.12 Now, as they say, with advance of education, this ceremony became rarely enacted and sperm is symbolically substituted by some other liquid.

An interesting feature is the terminology. The old term for consecrated water was ami, now replaced by Persian ābi-safa (water of purity). In old gnans , however, it is called pāval , a term not of Sanskrit origin, unknown to orthodox Hindu literature. It would be very interesting to trace the origin of the term, and the history of its association with the Tantric cults.

An interesting gnan , though obviously not of an early origin, preserves a significant story of the reason why animals are no longer immolated for the sacramental food. During different ancient epochs various animals were sacrificed such as elephants, horses, and so forth. By a prayer of the assembly these animals were miraculously revived by God, but on a certain occasion their prayer remained ineffective, and thus the practice came to an end. This legend apparently has far reaching implications. We may remember the Jewish injunctions against breaking the bones of the sacrificial animal. The Ali Ilahis and Persian darwishes at their dīk-jush ceremonies do not break the bones of the animal, carefully collect them, and bury with the rites intended for the burial of human beings. This detail apparently forms a trace of the earlier idea of a vicarious sacrifice. Should we think that originally, in remote antiquity, such sacrifice was human ?

It is quite possible that in India the disappearance of animal sacrifice was due to the continuous pressure of orthodox Hindu ideas, and, of course, also the influence of the change in economics, with, the growth of prices.

8. Initiation In various gnans conversion is mentioned on comparatively numerous occasions, but, unfortunately few details of the rites accompanying it are given. There was apparently no special formula to be repeated, or taught to the neophytes. Their explicit desire to accept the new religion was sufficient, they received a special dhikr 13 (" zikra"), and were urged to participate in the daily worship (ghat-pāt) . Neither circumcision, nor any fixed period of apprenticeship, are mentioned. I was told that at the present time, conversion (or rather the ceremony of the initiation, admission into the new religion) is accompanied also by a symbolical act, obviously implying the fact that the new convert becomes loyally bound to the rules and duties imposed upon him. The person who converts the neophyte dips a finger into consecrated water and passes it around the wrist of the convert, as if drawing the image of a bracelet.14 The dhikr, given to the neophyte, should be kept secret and not revealed to others.

It must be added that the conversion to Satpanth by no means implies admission into the caste. According to Hindu ideas one can only be born into a caste, not transferred from another community.


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