Destiny of Choice for a Modern Indian Woman?

modernindianwomanDo women never think beyond the age of 21? Don’t we do more than feel the this is all i want to be as if the future is closing in behind the walls. So why do girl fall the mystique of marriage when throw a career away?

It is an answer must we make for ourselves if we are to control our own destiny. As girls talk chirpily of love and family ask them in private and they admit unspoken unease of the question.

They don’t want to face a question those who know straight up seem to be the lucky ones because they don’t have to think about it. The engaged girls seem subdued, even a little angry – they know they will never use their degree. They say they will work in the community and keep interested in community issues, but its not the same. They will have no control of their destiny or of making society a better place.

It is as if femininity requires ignoring the question of your identity whereas to be decisive is to be masculine.

However, girls find that ignoring the question falls flat on their face in their  mid thirties when the last child is at school. Beings Sanjay’s mother is not enough. Suddenly, being Sandeep’s wife seems empty.

As Western consumerism invades India do women know who they are or are they chasing who they are being brainwashed they should be?

I admit to being totally stunned. “Brown is beautiful” I said arriving in India. “Why do you want whitening creams?”

Youth have always resented – while still loving – mothers who held onto their girls too tightly.  It took our own lives as parents to realise the aching pain of our mother own emptiness that protested the beauty of tradition because to admit it was shallow was to turn a woman’s whole life into folly.

Girls of the past took arts degrees and studied the beauties of poetry,  but soon drifted into the need to be popular. To be popular meant also being popular with boys – how else can you compete with the girls?

The creative or mental interests die – chasing boy after boy and feeling increasingly alone with oneself.

Perhaps Mr Right will fill the void ….. Then it was marriage, pregnancy and ….. Then you look in a mirror and discover you have become your mother after all.

Behind the facade of success, as The dust of work has filled the lungs and turned the songs of poor husky, the middle class talk politics and promotions, even the odd affair secreting whisky behind closed doors.

The choice is yours.  So how will you face the terrifying decision?

“Will I gave up my dream – or will I buck the social pressure and be who I want to be?”

However, the discontinuity of life’s role is only half the problem. What of the pressure to deny your heart aspirations in the first place?

Those girls who slid into their sexual roles as women had convinced themselves they did not have to choose. It seemed easy – but a decision put off is only delayed and waiting to be faced. It stunts our need to grow and face our need to live as fulfilled human beings.

The question of identity is not just for women only. Men have been made to decide early or be lost to usefulness. As the world changes their are fewer parental role models that the boys can relate too.

But why assume a girls biology denies her the need to ask the same yearning question? Victorian times denied woman the right to enjoy their sexuality, now we open careers to them and simultaneously crush the right to ask what it means to be a whole woman offering your entirety to the world.

Do not hide our women in a corner, allow them their identity. To be able to decide who we are to be is a question beyond once women. It is  a question of female identity.

Riding the Bulls Indian Style

By Iamkarna' (Own work') [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Iamkarna’ (Own work’) [CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

As Ihear of more idiots have been rushed to hospital for running with the bulls in Spain, I was surprised to learn that India has her own mad bull riding extravaganza at Alanganullu, near Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

I understand you may may disapprove of my lack of sympathy. I do understand the rush of testosterone of men hoping to be heroes. My Tamil friends are now probably angry and you are welcome to write and tell me off. But if you visit the traditional bull taming festival of  Jallikattu in mid January stay on your upstairs balcony if you don’t want to be run over.

Normally this panchayat town of irrigated sugar cane, rice, coconut and plantains sits quietly 16 kilometres from Madurai. But during the  Pongal festival the town now draws international tourists.

Pongal is a Tamil Harvest festival from  the last day of the Tamil month Maagazhi to the third of next moth Thai.

Once a trial for prospective bride grooms, now there is little reward now except your pride. For centuries, youths have attempted to tame specially bred Jalicut bulls as they make an entry into the Jallikattu ground.

Catching the bull by the shoulders they try to hang on while the bull, totally disoriented, tries to escape through a wall of adrenaline hyped men, slapping the bulls hide. You win if you can hang on for 50 metres and win a T-shirt.

I really can appreciate a young man seeking to win a maidens heart by bravery. But for a T-shirt? That’s stupidity, not manliness.

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Bull  holding is a Tamil tradition, that was popular with Tamil warriors during classical period. An Indus Valley seal may even  suggest a similar more ancient sport. The ancient Mycenaean’s of Greece also jumped bulls.

Legend claims chose husbands from successful bull tamers.   The term Jallikaṭṭu comes from the term Calli Kācu (coins) and kaṭṭu (meaning a package) tied to the bulls horns  as prize money. However, the present festival seems to have developed in Colonial times.

In 2014 it was reported  there were 29 injured Tamers and a few hurt spectators.

According to The Hindu a total of 447 bulls and 475 tamers participated in the 2014 event, and the number of injuries was much less this year in comparison to the previous year.

1700 police were on hand and the whole event video recorded, apparently at the order of the supreme court.

Perhaps locals wished they had’nt. On May 8, 2014 the Supreme Court banned the sport to the dismay of locals and the delight of animal rights campaigners.




alanganallur Jallikattu map

What is a tribe anyway?

Growing up in the sixties the sense of pervasive change of a movement filled my mind the like the rush of a river. As I aged I realised life has many counter currents. It is not just one all embracing movement..

The buzz word now is tribe or community. Seth Goden wants us to market to our tribe. Pickup artists imagine a man with his harem of doting females. An ashram,  Mosque or Church may seem somewhat static, locked in the past. For they too want to preserve an image of their community.

What of the Adivasi of India or Australian Aboriginee? Tribal peoples see the world more organic, like rhizomes and trees fostered from the earth.

Politically, a Cold War sense of power is still there – us versus them. Colonizer versus colonized, liberated and past oppressor.  Colonial times? … And what is that? There is as much colonialism today in the diplomacy of trade.

The science of culture and society has remade itself out of loose concepts. These great metaphors may suit  certain cultures but hand on the thin air of popular consent. Culture is no longer primordial. The self versus other is now called by other words

We want to see ourselves as moderate. We avoid ideas of  the radical other, the primitive or uncivilised or barbaric.

Perhaps they remind us to much of our own societies shadow.  So we avoid our social periphery, use nice words and don’t want to be seen as ethnocentric.

Perhaps in trying to avoid the over emphasis of difference  and by rejecting an apocalyptic view of a disintegrating worldview, we are refusing to face our truth. We don’t want to admit we have dismantled the hunter gatherer, or that we are risking our own cultures sustainability.

Modernism needs to be critiqued – but its worshippers simply attack the other and want more of the same.

Why not ask how we can be both modern and do better?

India is a land of (technologically changed) images


It is not just the stunning asparas of Ajanta, or intricacy of a Nataraj. Visual images made possible by nineteenth century printing transformed India’s art then as it now assaults our eyes from billboards, calendars, and posters or from stickers, magazines, posters, and television.

Large scale distribution of Indian imagery in its modern form came via the printing presses of Germany and Britain as Hindu mythological figures found there way in the subcontinent. Aided by new materials and techniques including litholography, oleography, photography, Colonial art emphasized realism, and its use of perspective helped make idealized traditional figures and divinities more tactile and sensual.

Look at a bill board and it is easy to see how imagery is shaping the Indian population´s identity. Images shape how we see gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion and power Images are changing peoples personal and social values.

We should not rush back to the good old days. This is nothing new.


Inspired by the Enlightenment, the British seemed driven by a fear of dirt, with skin scrubbed white clean with an almost chromophobic view of Indian senuality and colour. Meanwhile, artists like Ravi Varma (1846 – 1906) revived a sense ‘classical’ Hindu mythology by distributing romanticized images

This allowed (perhaps spoiled?) the diverse expressions to become more homogenised, and universally grasped by a people negotiating the new and old, sacred and profane, erotic and political.

I am reminded of the Bharat Mata, the pure image of India, so Romanticized I imagine her draped in flowing Grecian robes. Or Aurobindu Ghost calling on Kali to fight for Independence.

Joy of Life  by Satya Dheer Singh

Joy of Life by Satya Dheer Singh

Technology also opened the fun of Satya Dheer Singhs’ exbuberant hybrid flying tigers in acrobatic freehand fusion. I remember his Joy of Life exhibit at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery for all its fun. The contrasts inspire a bright mix and match, much as Singh mixes Hindu and Muslim motifs just as transformative as the Sufis alchemical black light and the bright almost unnaturally bright hues made possible by new chemistry. I wondered what  the late scholar Coonaswamy would make of it.

Cowdung and mud on paper. Train station - Jivya Soma Mashe

Cowdung and mud on paper. Train station – Jivya Soma Mashe

Change can also be more subtle yet deeply pervasive. Brown paper and white paint transformed painting as a fertility act for the Avashini or Warli artist, to an expression of life within the fields, that has now allowed even a man, Jivya Same Mache to take up a role once know only to women, and bring its language in a modern form.

This transformation seems deeply personal. A space for the artist to understand himself as part and apart from his community.

Individuality is a concept modernity takes for granted. Jivya, reminds us in his art of the wholeness of unity with an that awareness difference makes the whole.

Perhaps he can remind our disjointed modern world to remember to see our self as different from others but we are part of larger unified reality.

Bhojpur could have been the grandest of all

Bhojeswar Shiva Temple

Bhojpur is a tiny town that lies “a at the base of a rock strewn hill on the summit of which signs of a much older settlement may still be traced” wrote Major C. Eckford Laurd, in the Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India.

I am reading a tourist brochure, across the open rock forecourt is the Bhojeswar Shiva Temple, 28 kilometres south-east of Bhopal. Named after patron 11th century Raja Bhoj, who, according to the apocryphal Bhoja Prabandham , founded it.

“This is Gandwana land”, a friend explained of the ancient landmass beneath us, part of the Vindhya ranges.

However, only the temple survives in memory and it is incomplete. Had it been finished it was potentially one of the grandest examples of medieval architecture – a huge claim when once considers the temples of Khajuraho north of the same state.

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“The temple at Bhojpur is above all, a tribute to one of the finest feats of aesthetic engineering in which perfection of design, and architectural landscaping join hands in a happy organic consummation.” wrote K K Chakravarty, in his Bhojpur Temple, (Bhopal, 1991.)

The temple is built on sandstone ridges typical of central India, next to a deep gorge where the Betwā River flows. Two large dams, constructed of massive hammer-dressed stones, were built in the eleventh century to divert and block the Betwā, so creating a large lake, but in the 15th century, one of the cyclopedian masonry dams was opened by Hoshang Shah of the 15th century, reportedly at the request of local merchants in Bhopal and Vidisha because bandits found the dam afforded them in accessible refuge there.Within its garbhgriha is a massive shiva lingam. Temple is built on 2 metre high plinth supported by four massive pillars,   exquisitely carved in built in 3 sections octagonal in two lower portions with 24 facets in the upper section in an unfinished dome.

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The bracket capitals of the pillars are decorated with intricate images of Parvati and Shiva.

On a pedestal of three graduating sandstone platforms, the uppermost 7metres square, Within the sanctum Santorum is a single stone lingam 2.3 m high and 5.3 metres in circumference. Once sheaved in gold it is claimed pillaged by invaders who stripped Bhoj’s possessions.


To the north remains of massive earthen ramparts, probably used to raise the blocks of stone in position, prove the temple incomplete . Numerous carved blocks still lay strewn on the site. These include stone rings for the temples dome.

Bhoj probably died in 1055 defending his capital from the Chalukyas and Lakshmi-Karna Kalachuri, the sculptures fled and the temple vision abandoned and looted.

Interesting hill side forecourt incisions show the ground plans, elevations, cross sections and superstructure, pillar diagrams and illustrations of the intended brackets and capitals.


As we left baskets with pythons were flashed open. Snakes are associated with Shankar the divine manifestation seen as destroyer, so I asked why a Shiva temple had them. I was told there actions were not really religious, but simply begging. Another person then claimed the temple was dedicated to Shankar but everything I read claimed the temple was to Shiva, the creative expression of god.

In a second visit a month later the snake bearing hawkers were absent. I missed them.


Sweet Date Cookies in Basra

My first trip to the Taj Mahal in India was with a a friend whoose family traded Iranian carpets . It inspired me to taste the delights of Iranian food.  Now, with the recent violent deterioration in Iraq and the renewed conflict in Gaza I was reminded of “Sweet Dates in Basra” by Jessica Jiji which I read years ago.

Jiji is a UN ambassador but writes of Jewish and Muslims happily side by side in preIndependent Iraq and how the rise of Nationalism and Independence corresponded with the rise of rise of Israel effecting neighbours and friends of different viewpoints and faiths.

It is a brilliant novel I encourage anyone to read.

Ms Jilli was inspired by her father’s rich experiences of growing up in Iraq in the 1940s. Unlike the war-torn country we see on the news, this was a place of family, friendship and warmth. By naming Iraq’s most emblematic fruit in the title, I hoped to suggest two other meanings for ‘dates’: the romantic encounters between two lovers and the promising time when they meet, after independence but before the Second World War.

She once released this Date recipe and this is it.

“For millennia, people knew dates as a wonder fruit that can promote everything from fertility to longevity, and modern science has confirmed their many nutritional benefits. In my experience, these cookies prove that dates can also be addictive!” she writes.

I agree. Until I had travelled to India I had no idea how many types of dates there were. Many imported from Arabian states. I was spell bound.

So while this is not strictly Indian, it matches well with my Indian culinary experience. I hope you enjoy it.

 For the dough:

2 cups of white flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
½ stick of butter
1 packet of yeast
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of salt

For the filling:

½ pound of pitted dates, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of water

For the coating:

1 egg white
3 tablespoons of sesame seeds

To make the dough:

Soak the yeast in the water for 10-15 minutes.
Melt the butter; while it is melting whisk the flours and salt in a mixing bowl.
Whisk the melted butter into the yeast and then add that mixture to the flours.
Knead into a smooth dough but do not over mix.
Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise until doubled, about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two cookie trays with parchment paper.

To make the filling:

While the dough is rising, gently simmer the dates, butter and water in a saucepan, stirring frequently for 7-10 minutes to make a soft mixture. Remove from heat and let it cool.

To form the cookies:

When the dough is ready, roll it into walnut-sized balls and flatten to make a circle about two inches in diameter. Place a ball of the date filling the size of a hazelnut at the center, gently gather the edges of the dough over the filling and press them together. Turn the dough over and press it gently to flatten until it is about 2 ½ inches in diameter, so flat so you almost see the dates through the dough. Dip it into the egg white and then sprinkle on both sides with sesame seeds. Repeat until you have used all of the dough and filling.

Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet and prick them with a fork so they do not puff (you can make a circular design or spokes for visual effect). Bake for about 10 minutes on the middle shelf and then 5 more minutes on the top, until golden

Makes about 18 cookies.


… and by the way. I really do recommend the novel “Sweet Dates in Basra” by Jessica Jiji.


How Does an Armenian Jew dressed like a naked fakir, become a sufi saint?

Said Sarmas the naked sufi sadhu

Said Sarmas the naked sufi sadhu

Sa’id Sarmad is described a Jewish, Sufi, Catholic Priest and Hindu sadhu, beheaded by Aurangzeb and yet honoured a Sufi saint.

So how did this sadhu, “naked, covered with thick crisped hair all over the body and long nails on his fingers[1]” become a Muslim Saint while being accused of drinking wine an a homosexual affair?

Or was his religious identity commandeered ex post facto by the official Islam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, where called shaheed, or martyr, his dargah of blood red tiles , lays beside the Sufi Khwaja Harey Bhareys calm green tomb. Incense and candles burn perpetually, gawalwali singers praise him as pir, prayers are offered, fatwas issued, pilgrimages made, vows fulfilled and mystics venerated.

A festival is held on his death anniversary, the 18th day of Rabi.

In his Rubaiyat, he describes himself “a follower of the Furqan (i.e., a Sufi), a (Catholic) priest, a (Buddhist) monk, a Jewish rabbi, an infidel, and a Muslim:’ His voice seems humourless, critical of religions for the sake of the god they hide.

 So what are we to make of this Armenian Jew born in 1590?


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Sarma refused to see god in an orthodox way.

 “ Survey his 320 quatrains … we discover the following motifs: (1) Four quatrains express disdain for organized religion in general; (2) Eight quatrains convey contempt for Islam in general and even Sufism in particular. Another five praise wine-drinking, which of course is proscribed in Islam but which is a central metaphor for mystical ecstasy in Sufi literature. He also commits two Islamic blasphemies: in three quatrains he proclaims himself an idol-worshipper, and in one equates himself with the Prophet Muhammad; (3) Seven quatrains poke fun at Hinduism, especially the sadhus, al- though in one he proclaims himself a devotee of Rama and Lakshman, and as mentioned, in three he proclaims himself an idolater, which may be an affirmation of a Hindu identity; (4) In one quatrain he expresses disdain for Judaism” observed scholar Nathan Katz (Katz, 154)

Perhaps he reflected a turbulent religious period, or were his contemporaries simply mistaking sufism critique of organised religion for atheism. Was Sa’id Sarmad seeking the essence of divinity behind the mask of religion?

 “Widespread religious movements, having… their roots partly in the vivifying contacts of Hinduism with Islam, had produced a religious enthusiasm among the masses that was transforming the older Brahmanical religion.” (Ikram, Muslim Civilization in India, p. 232.). Even before the Mughals Sufism; Ramananda’s (ca. 1400 – ca. 1470) non- caste- devotion to Rama; monotheistic, bhakti Vaisnava movements such as Vallabhacarya’s (1479-?); the Kabir Panth founded by Benarsi poet Kabir (1398? 1440?-1518); and Sikhism by Guru Nanak (1469- 1538). Often caste was blatantly ignored in North India.

Even before the demise of the Delhi Sultanate in the fourteenth cen tury, official policies allowed Hindus self government according to Hindu law, so long as they paid their jizya or non-believer’s tax to Muslim rulers.

The Mughal dynasty was founded by Babur (1483-1530), whose policy was to suppress Hinduism , Sufism and Shi’a Islam, destroying Hindu temples, often constructing a masjid on the site. However, within fifty years, his grandson Akbar (1556-1605) reversed the jizya in 1565, and opened religious diversity and debate between Sunni, Shi’a, Jesuit, Hindu, Zoroastrian, or Jaina sages much as 3rd century BCE Buddhist, Ashoka Maurya. This led to Akbar’s policy of suhl-i-kuhl , respect for all religions, praised by minorities but seen as heretical by some Sunni’s. The policy was to be in force until Aurangzeb seized power and reinstated the hated jizya in 1679. (Under enormous pressure, Aurenzebs successor revoked it).

Sarmads prominence occurred under Prince Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, who followed Sarmad’s advice to reinstitute a policy of religious debate once held by Jehans grandfather Akhbar.

Akbar’s openness to other religions led to his being claimed to have been a Christian, a Jain, and a Parsee (Zoroastrian), as well as a Sufi. However by others it was “resented as being in substance an attack on the Muhammadan religion,” (Vincent A. Smith, Akbar, the Great Mogul, New Delhi, S. Chand & Co., 1966, p. 132).

Believed to have great sanctity and supernatural powers, Prince Dara Shikoh brought Sarmad to the attention of his father, Emperor Shah Jehan.

to investigate Sarmad. The Qazi (judge) Inayat Ullah Khan to head an inquiry, but Sarmad was inaccessible to the judge, and accosted the Emperor at court. The Emperor praised Sarmad’s sanctity, but questioned his nakedness.

Sarmad is said to have replied with a quatrain:

“Why do you object to my nudity at the same time as you acknowledge my miracles?
The truth is not what is visible,
but the truth is what is concealed in my heart,
and that is love.”

“With the encouragement of his guru, Dara transformed the Mughal court into an arena for interreligious debate, much as had done his grandfather, Emperor Akbar (1542-1605).The [Urdu] taskara describes the unlikely scene: “There used to be Muslim scholars as well as Hindu yogis present in his [Dara's] court and he used to rank them all alike. In fact, he adopted religious practices that were a mixture of Muslim and Hindu beliefs… These practices were such that Aurangzeb, a staunch Muslim, hated him. As Aurangzeb was against Dara Shik[oh, automatically Hazrat Sarmad came under suspicion.” Nathan Katz, 28 (9)

As Jehan aged, driftng into insanity say some, his kingdom was divided. Aurangzebs won the internecine battles ending suhl-i-kuhl .

“Aurangzeb reimposed the jizya… and followed a policy of destroying as many Hindu temples as possible… goods belonging to Hindu merchants were subjected to a custom’s duty twice as heavy as that demanded from Muhammadan traders.” (Edwards and Garrett , Mughal Rule in India, Delhi, pp. 153-154.)

Why was Sa’id Sarmad executed?

Dargah of Sarmad Shaheed

His nakedness was scandalous, as was his use of bhang (marijuana), outlawed by Aurangzeb and Sarmad’s homosexual (?) affair with Abhai Chand concerned others.

Some Sufis known as Malamatiyas, or the blameworthy, discarded shariah to express their belief that love was the ultimate means of achieving union with God.

Most biographers describe that the love between Sarmad and Abhai Chand was “pure.”

The earliest written account of their relationship is the 1660 work, Mu’bid Shah’s Dabistan:

“When he arrived at the town of Tatta, he fell in love with a Hindu boy, called Abhi Chand, and abandoning all other things, like a Sanyasi , naked as he came from his mother, he sat down before the door of his beloved. The father of the object of his love, after having found by investigation the purity of the attachment manifested for his son, admitted Sarmad into his house, and   Abhai Chand became Sarmad’s student, studying Jewish religion and the Hebrew and Persian languages well enough to translate sections of the Hebrew Bible into Persian”.

For unknown reasons, Sarmad later renounced all clothing.

Perhaps, Sarmad’s fearless attitude was too much for Aurangzeb who soon called on his chief Qazi, Mullah Qawi, and plotted to do away with Sarmad. The Urdu taskara, argues that both Aurangzeb and Sarmad were “right,” as expressed in the Preface (pp. 7-8): “Hazrat Sarmad was a victim of injustice, but on the other hand Aurangzeb was not a culprit… urangzeb was not an enemy of Hazrat Sarmad, but as Emperor he had a moral obligation to defend the religion, Islam.”

After the assassination of Dara’s and his close associates Sarmad is said to have accused Aurangzeb of injustice, naked in the court and without respect. His support for Dara gives political motive and quatrain 320 expresses faith in Hindu gods which may have alarmed the Emperor.

In another story, Aurangzeb found Sarmad on the roadway between the palace and the Jama Masjid for Friday prayers.

When he rebuked Sarmad for nakedness, the Sufi asked the ruler him to cover him with a blanket. he saw “freshly chopped heads, including the heads of his three innocent nephews and their companions.” Terrified by this vision, Aurangzeb dropped the blanket, and Sarmad asked, ‘”Tell me, shall I hide your crimes or my body?”( Urdu taskara, pp. 39-40.)

Poetically Sarmad wrote:

He who gave thee an earthly throne,
Gave poverty to me;
The costume covers ugliness;
The faultless are granted the gift of nakedness.
Rubiy’at 105, in Ezekiel, Sarmad (Jewish Saint of India), p. 321).

His ability to command immediate attention and Sarmads support for the murdered Prince Dara worried the emperor concerned of rebellion, or possibly, as Lakhpat Rai suggests, the religious establishment pressured the more conservative Aurengzeb.

Arrested in 1070 A.H. he was first accused of breaking Sharia by his nakedness, and denying that Ahmed (Muhammad) miraj to heaven.

Sarmad had written:

The mullah says that Ahmad went to the heavens;
Sarmad says the heavens were inside Ahmad.

Nakedness did not merit execution and the poem was unclear said Aurangzeb.

He was convicted of blasphemy. Sarmad was asked to recite the kalimah shahada, to accept the oneness of God, or “La Ilaha Illallah, Muhammad-ur Rasul Allah” (there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad SWT is the messenger of Allah). Sarmad recited only “La ilaha” (There is no god) without completing it with “illa’llah” (except God).

He claimed:

Presently I am drowned in negation;
I  have not yet attained the station of affirmation.
If I said the whole phrase in this state,
I would be telling a lie.

This reflects the Sufi doctrine of fana and baaqa, the annihilation of the individual and subsistence in the Eternal.

The next day before the executioners sword, near the Jama Masjid, he declared smiling to heaven:

May I be sacrificed for You.
Come, come, for in whatever guise
You come, I recognize You.


        There was a commotion
        and I opened my eyes
        from the dream of non-existence.
        I saw that the night
        of sedition still remained,
        and so I went back to sleep.

Legend then claims his picked up his severed head recited the kalmia several times and mocked the emperor as he approached the Jama Masjid.

sarmad tomb res

A Sufi saint?

Nathan Katz suggests Sarmad’s religious identity may have been commandeered ex post facto by the official Islam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, where he is buried.

This acute observation is made by Nathan Katz which agrees with my observations of Indian psychology living in that wonderful country. Hindus will happily pray at a Sufi saints shrine and assimilate other religions. Sarmad has been claimed by Radha Soami Satsang, to which Sarmad scholar Ezekiel belongs, among others.

As some pass pilgrimage manuals, taskaras or hagiographies, collections of quatrains, they feel a distaste for tourism

His tomb is described this way “Outside: a confusion of shoppers, beggars, biryani stalls and goats. Inside: stillness. Sandwiched between the imposing Jama Masjid and the chaotic Meena Bazaar, the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed in Old Delhi boasts of no dome or marble. The cramped courtyard gets its homely character from a giant neem tree and a Mughal-era well. The dargah is flanked by Imran’s chai (tea) shack, the Sonic CD store, Raza Bookshop, the Qutubkhana Sarmadi stall that sells pamphlets, perfumes and amulets, the one-room office of Al Makkah Tours & Travels, and Rahat Open Surgery, an open-air clinic where a hakeem claims to cure diseases like cancer and diabetes by bloodletting. “

“A sufi would not walk around naked. Don’t talk lies!” is one. Perhaps we are seeing the past through the eyes of modern, in some cases Fundamentalist Islam. Of course many a New Age Mystic has yet to see India, or if they do they may have not ventured far from a tour.

Or perhaps should we view Sarmad more cynically, like his descendant Pir Syed Mohommad Sarmadi.

“A hugely fat Sufi with a mountainous turban, an Elephantine girth and a great ruff of double chins”listed by historian William Dalrymple to be like those “Sufi” villagers who offer “spiritual surgeries” with little grasp of cures or Sufism. Sitting cross legged below Arabic calligraphy, this modern Sarmadi “will wave his peacock feather fan and blow over the petitioner, recite a bit of Quran, write out a charm or a sacred number, and place it in an amulet.” taking about two minutes and taking two minutes. There is a queue from ten to five PM (City of Djinns-A year in Delhi: p283, 284).

Or is there a deeper message?

To the believer, Sarmad is an example of humbly bowing ones head to his head to both mosque or temple. Of burning with a love of the divine that.

Syeda Hameed in Faith and Tolerance quotes Sarmad:

‘A true lover of God is misled both by religion and lack there of.’
The moth burns itself 
it does not choose between burning candles
 whether it is in the mosque or the temple.

The idea of true religion means not distinguishing between a mosque or a temple, a church or a gurudwara. If you are a moth, then your end is fanna and if this is the understanding, then Faith and Tolerance just as easily becomes our creed.”

Nathan Katz study attempts to understand the Sufi mentioning mentioning Aldrous Huxley there is one extra-linguistic (“ineffable”) experience metaphysical/experiential essence which is subsequently interpreted according to the doctrines of the world’s various religions. Or as Agehananda Bharati, explained all religions are reducible to a “numerical oneness”, expressed by non-dualist thought of Advaita Hinduism, that is expressed in monotheism such has the Jewish and Islamic creed that God is one.

“And somewhere in the midst of this debate we encounter Sarmad, who wandered from synagogue to masjid to ashram, claimed by each group as one of their own, and claimed by modem followers of certain mystical traditions to have transcended all such categorization. ” (Nathan Katz).

Perhaps Sarmad made love with life. God is the only God, there is no one between you and God. There is no mediator, God is immediately available. Just all that is needed is a little madness and a lot of meditation.
Was his love for Abhay Chand a manifestation of God that is around and through all things? Was he saying God is in us, and in a lover?Kabbalist’s, Christian mystics and Sufis express the love of God, Jesus or Allah as intense passionate love or intoxication. (While this does not mean they all broke traditional morals).

But like a moth to a flame, he seems to have rushed himself to execution.

“Who is the lover, beloved, idol and idol-maker but You?
Who is the beloved of the Kaaba, the temple and the mosque?

Come to the garden and see the unity in the array of colours.
In all of this, who is the lover, the beloved, the flower and the thorn?”

I can here my Christian parents describing him a religious oddball, that’s India for you!



[1]Introduction to Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad, Lahore, Marghoob Agency, 1920, pp. iv-v, quoted by Rai, Sarmad, His Life and Rubais, p. 25


The Identity of a Mystic: The Case of Sa’id Sarmad, a Jewish-Yogi-Sufi Courtier of the Mughals, Nathan Katz, Numen, Vol. 47, Fasc. 2 (2000), pp. 142-160

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Agehananda Bharati, The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of ModernMysticism, Santa Barbara, CA, Ross-Erikson, 1972

B.A. Hashimi, “Sarmad, His Life and Quatrains,” Islamic Culture (1933): 663-672, p. 666

David Shea and AnthonyTroyer, The Dabistan or School of Manners, 3 vols., Paris, Oriental Translation Fund,1843

Urdu Taskara

Ezekiel, Isaac, A., Sarmad (Jewish Saint of India), 4th ed. Punjab, India : Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1988

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Dalrymple,W., 2004, City of Djinns-A year in Delhi, Penguin Books, India (originally 1993, Harper Collins, London).