IV. AN ALI-ILAHI FRAGMENT


By W. Ivanow.

In my notes on Satpanth and its literature published at the beginning of this volume, I have stressed some remarkable instances of parallelism that exists between various religious ideas, forms, and even the general spirit of the beliefs of Sat Panth on the one hand, and of the Ali-ilahis on the other. As is known, the followers of the latter sect inhabit Persian Kurdistan, Luristan, are found in Adhar-bayjn, Mazandaran, and in isolated communities all over N.W. Persia, incidentally also in Kirman, Shiraz, and even as far west as the eastern part of Asia Minor. Thus they apparently have no direct contact whatever with the population of the remote Sind and Western India where the Sat-Panthis reside. However, the parallelism mentioned here happens too substantial to be treated as entirely fortuitous. In any case it well merits careful investigation. It would be a great achievement indeed if by any means we could discover a method of tracing those invisible ties and channels of mutual influences, which never stop in their slow and yet far reaching work amongst the masses, work which goes on without leaving any written record. Such "sub-cultural" evolution may often be as important as those cultural relations at the high level of learning and art which usually occupy all the attention of the official historian.

It is therefore unfortunate that we know so little concerning such popular religions. Satpanth until a few years ago was not, so-to-speak, on the student's map 1. Our knowledge of the Ali-llahis is very meagre. In fact leaving out travelers' references to them, and works of a general nature, we so far possess only one substantial text. This, however, was only translated into Russian, 2 and so far even remains unedited. For this reason every fragment of the genuine Ali-ilahi works is invaluable for the extension of our information about the sect and its literature.

In circumstances such as these I believe I am right in venturing to offer, in the original Persian and a translation, a fragment of what apparently was a booklet dealing with the Ali-ilahi ideas of cosmogony and cognate matters. In fact this should have been published thirty years ago. The paper was prepared, in Russian, by me in 1917, was recommended for publication in the "Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences" (St. Petersburg) by the late Prof. S.Oldenburg (in the session of the Section of History and Philology, 17-i-1918), and was set in type just before I left Petrograd (as it was then called). Later on, owing to my absence, it was cancelled, and never appeared in print.

Here I offer the text and translation into English together with a short introductory note which is necessary because the subject is hardly familiar to many in India.

The origin of the fragment is as follows. While staying in Shiraz in the autumn of 1914, I purchased from a certain Sayyid Nr, an old man who posed as a darwish, a bundle of Ali-ilahi booklets and disjointed leaflets. Almost all were written in various dialects of Kurdish and Gurani which neither Sayyid Nr, nor any of my Kurn 3 friends were able to read. There was only one small fragment in Persian, which is here edited, consisting of five leafs in one sixteenth of the foolscap sheet of Russian (no. 5) paper, probably written some fifty years ago in rather uncouth Persian handwriting. I offered an attractive reward to anyone who would bring me the rest of the booklet, and I am sure that careful search was made, but, unfortunately, with no result.

Just as in the case of other known Ali-ilahi literary productions of this kind, the fragment bears the stamp of being written by a man of very limited education, who mixes his usual colloquial Persian with high flown expressions remembered by him from learned books. It has the appearance of a note written for memory only by someone who never intended it to be published. The beginning is devoted to the question of mortals being unable to comprehend the nature of the Divine Substance, this being proved with the help of Kabbalistic discussions (ff. 1-2v). Although the text is apparently continuous, the subject later on is completely changed, and refers to the creation of the world and the foundation (ithbt) of various ceremonies in the religion of the Ali-ilahis.

The stylistic helplessness of the little educated author, his errors in spelling, and the general tone of the work are valuable indications of the fact that we have to deal here with current beliefs, probably a summary of a talk with some well-informed person, and not the individual fantasy of someone. It is a great pity indeed that we are unable to find its continuation.


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