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The Kāmaḍ of Rajasthan — Priests of a Forgotten Tradition

Abstract

In Rajasthan, one of the north-western states of India, whoever has heard of the Kāmaḍ (or Kāmaḍiyā) would define them as wandering minstrels or jugglers, singing hymns in praise of Bābā Rāmdeo, a famous saint from Mārwāṛ, whose footprints they worship. Most people could not say much more about this community of religious singers who, since Independence, have been listed among the “scheduled castes”. In any case, everybody seems to be aware of their connection with Rāmdeo, a famous folk deity, also popular in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, now venerated by devotees of all castes and creeds, but mostly by Hindus, as an avatār of Vishnu-Krishna.

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1 Gahlot S. S. and Dhar Banshī, Castes and Tribes of Rajasthan. (Jodhpur, 1989), p. 194.

2 Russell R. V. and Lāl R. B. Hīrā, The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India. (London, 1916, reprinted New Delhi, 1993), i, p. 371.

3 See Binford M. R., “Mixing in the color of Ram of Ranuja”, in Smith B. L. (ed.), Hinduism: New Essays in History of Religions (Leiden, 1976), p. 123 n. 13.

4 Ibid.

5 Personal communication by Mr. Komal Kothari, Jodhpur.

6 Binford, op. cit. p. 126.

7 Ibid.

8 Russell-Hīrā Lāi, op. cit., p. 371.

9 Bhanawat M., “Kamad aur unka teratall natya”, in Shodh Patrikā (Udaipur, 1963), iii, varsh 15, p. 183.

10 From our personal field notes.

11 See Gokuldas, Alakh upasnā (Dumāṛā, 1986), pp. 910.

12 Russell-Hīrā Lāl;, op. cit.

13 In a village called Jaiṭgaṛh (near Pisāngan-Pushkar) we observed such a grave in which the present Kāmaḍ's grandfather had been buried.

14 See for instance Bhanawat M.. “Kuṇḍā panth evam undriyā panth”, in Ajubā Rajasthān. (Udaipur, 1986), pp. 3237. Other information was obtained from field research.

15 The sacred vigils held by members of the Bīshnoī and Jasnāthī sects in Rajasthan were originally termed “jama” as well. (More will be said further about both traditions, and their link with the Rāmdeo cult.) The word “jāgraṇ” has been sometimes added to it or has replaced it altogether, since it sounds “more Hindu”.

16 We will give more details on the jamā-jāgraṇ of the Kāmaḍ at the end of this paper.

17 Binford, op. cit. p. 124.

18 Advertised by the local newspapers, it was held at Bargāo, on August 11th 1991.

19 Mainly, Gokuldās, Meghvansh jati ke rasm rivāz (Dumāṛā, 1950 and Ibid., 1982). Meghvansh itihās (DumāǤā, 1982).

20 See Gokuldās, 1982, p . 8. O u r informants gave us sometimes a different list of those four “gaddis”; in all the lists Samsāṇi and Harchandāṇi appear, but Rāmdevāṇi is omitted by Gokuldās — who writes instead “Rāmnivāṇi” and connects it with Ramdās, the founder of the “Rāmsnehi sampradāy” — while some Kāmaḍ replaced Mallāṇi by “Jalāṇi”; according to them this gaddi was founded by a saint called “Jālansī Pīr” who is particularly worshipped by the Regar.

21 We follow here a scheme which results from our field research, as well as from the explanation given to us by the Pīr of Bichūn whom we mention below.

22 See for example Gokuldās, 1950, p. 8.

23 Hollister J. N., The Shi'a of India (London, 1953; reprinted Delhi, 1979), p. 333.

24 See my article, “L'origine ismaélienne du culte hindou de Ramdeo Pir”, in Revue de I'histoires des religions, CCX-i (Paris, 1993), pp. 2747. Although Shams Pīr from Multan is always referred to, in legends, as “Shams Tabriz”, we found in Rajasthan Muslim Sayyids who claimed to be his direct descendants and quoted correctly the name of their ancestor and murshid as “Shams Sabzwārī”. About Shams Pīr's former residence in Sabzawār, in Iran, see Hollister, Ibid.

25 See for example Hedayetullan M., Kabir, the Apostle of Hindu-Muslim Unity, (Delhi, 1977; reprinted Delhi, 1989), p. 45, writing: “the Sufi who made the most valuable contribution towards the interaction between Hindus and the Muslims was an Ismā'īlī missionary, named Pīr Sadr-ud-din …”. Nevertheless, most authors, even when they are fully aware of the difference, tend to ascribe a minor role to Ismā'īlism about which they have only a vague knowledge, except of course those specialized in Ismā'īlī studies, and they are very few.

26 Mallison F., “Hinduism as seen by the Nizari Isma'ili missionaries of Western India: the evidence of the Ginan”, in Sontheimer G. D. and Kulke H. (ed.), Hinduism reconsidered (Delhi, 1991), p. 93.

27 Ibid. For a more detailed history of Ismā'īlism see Hollister, op. cit. pp. 195–412, Daftary F., The Ismā'īlīs: their History and Doctrines (Cambridge and Delhi, 1990), Munshiram Manoharlal and Nanji A., The Nizari Isma'ili Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (New York, 1978).

28 Ibid.

29 On this particular point, see Daftary, op. cit., pp. 395, 412, 452–5, 460–2, 480, 503; in particular, page 453: “…after the fall of Alamut, Nizarism became increasingly infused in Persia with Sufi teachings and terminology, for which the ground had been prepared during the Alamut period. At the same time, Sufi shaykhs and thinkers who relied on the batini ta'wil like the Isma'ilis, had begun to use ideas which were more widely ascribed to the Isma'ilis. As a part of this coalescence, the Nizari Isma'ilis began to adopt Sufi ways of life even externally”. The Sufi terminology commonly used in Rāmdeo tradition is obviously due to the above mentioned phenomenon (Pir, dargāh etc.); this might be the reason why, in many other cases of so-called “syncretism”, Sufi influence has always been contemplated while the impact of Ismā'īlism on such phenomenons has never been taken into account.

30 Mallison, op. cit., pp. 94–5.

31 On “taqiyya”, see Daftary, op. cit., pp. 411–12. On the persecution of Ismā'īlīs in the subcontinent, see for example Hollister, op. cit., pp. 349–50, 355.

32 Personal communication by Mrs Zawahir Moir.

33 In particular Swāmī Gokuldās, author of several books on the Meghwāl community.

34 From our field research, but see also Gokuldās, 1982, op. cit. pp. 151162.

35 From an interview with the Pīr of Bīchūn.

36 Gokuldās, 1982, op. cit. p. 159.

37 Ibid.

38 From our field notes, see also Gokuldās, 1982, op. cit. pp. 151162.

39 In August 1990, when we met him with his grandfather at Dūdū for the melā, Narender Dās, the young Pīr was only twelve years old. Gokuldās, 1982, op. cit. pp. 174175 mentions the whole lineage of Pīr from Khiwan's time.

40 The melā takes place each year in Ashwin, the first and second days following the new moon (Asoj sudi ekam-dūj); the first night is devoted to the sacred vigil (jamā) and the fair itself is held on the following day.

41 Quoted from Sarantal K., History of the Khaljis — A.D. 1290–1320 (Delhi, 1979; reprinted 1980), p. 277.

42 See for example Daftary, op. cit. p. 461.

43 Quoted from Bishnoi S., Bābā Rāmdeo, itihās evam sahitya (Jodhpur, 1989), p. 420.

44 For more details, see Khan D. S. op. cit., and also Bābā Rāmdeo, dieu des parias: traditions religieuses et culturelles dans une communauté d'intouchables au Rajasthan, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Paris, 07, 1993.

45 If worshipping images is, of course, strictly prohibited in all Muslim sects, the cult of relics seem to have been flourishing since the very dawn of Islam; among these, were footprints said to have been left by the Prophet Muḥammad (hence the word qadam rasul or “the Prophet's foot mark”) and among the Shī'as ‘Alī's footprints; on the latter, see Hollister, op. cit. p. 50; and for the use of relics during the Muḥarram festival in India, Ibid. p. 178. The single sacred footprint worshipped by Muslims might have looked familiar to the Hindus and the Jains who, as the Buddhists had done before, venerated similar objects; in their current worship, however, the pair of footprints or feet carved in relief on a stone is more frequent than an isolated foot mark.

46 The junjālā and Karel footprints look exactly like similar objects found in some Muhammadan shrines in India; for example, the junjālā relic resembles the qadam sharif kept in a small shrine inside the Jāma Masjid in Delhi, while the Kaṛel footprint seems to be a replica of the similar relic which can be observed near the grave of a saint named Jalāl al-Dīn in the suburb of Jaipur. Interestingly enough, the priests of the three temples, at Junjālā, Kaṛel and jaitgaṛh are called “ek pao ke pujārī” (the priests of one single sacred foot).

47 Let us recall here that dargāh, (a Persian word) originally meaning “royal court”, does not refer only to a mausoleum or tombstone, but also to any Muslim shrine sheltering relics.

48 Muslim Sayyids, in all probability, ex-Ismā'īlīs who have reverted to the Sunnī faith, claim to be the legitimate custodians of the shrine, as direct descendants of Pīr Shams. Among the names of their ancestors (as mentioned by them during our field work) there are indeed a few names found in the list of the Nizārī Pīr, such as Nasir-al-Din, Hassan Kabir-al-Din, Taj-al-Din …Taj-al-Din is regarded as the main one and they show his rauzā (tomb) at Fathepur (Shekhāwāṭī). Although it is not proved that this Taj-al-Din is the same as the Ismā'īlī missionary who was supposed to be one of Sadr-al-Din's sons, it might be of some interest to mention here that one hymn ascribed to him is given in Shackle C. and Moir Z., Isma‘ili Hymns from South Asia — an Introduction to the Ginans. (London, 1992), pp. 74176. The Sayyids of Junjālā, at present settled in the near-by village of Kucherā, claim to possess a document signed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, confirming them in their role; if this document is genuine, it means that at that time (end of the seventeenth, beginning of the eighteenth centuries) the Sayyids could be no longer suspected of being Ismā'īlī heretics and that the shrine of Junjālā had become a “pan-Muslim” place of worship; the Gusāīn Nāth who seem related to them (at least one case of intermarriage has been reported) might have been also ex-Ismā'īlīs who, instead, reverted to Hinduism. If the present Sayyid of Kucherā has “lost” the Junjālā shrine, his brother, settled at Fathepur (Shekhāwāṭī) is still the custodian of the above mentioned Rauzā (dargāh) where the tombstone of his ancestor Taj-al-Din is located. According to oral tradition (the reference has still to be found in historical records) it was during the reign of Maharaja Man Singh ofjodhpur (1803–43) that the argument started between Hindus and Muslims, and that the ruler of Mārwāṛ eventually entrusted the custody of the disputed shrine to Hindus.

49 The Gusāīn-Nāth tell an interesting variant of the pan-Hindu myth of Bali-Trivikrama; in their version Vishnu is named “Gusāīnjī” and the three strides are made successively at Mecca, in Uttar Khand and at Junjālā… In this local variant we seem to have a sort of hidden metaphor about the secret sect originating in the Muslim Arab world and spreading in Hindustan.

50 In the sant poetry “Gusāīnjī” is sometimes mentioned as a synonym of the formless God. On Trivikrama being called “Tribovana Shām” and referring as well to God as to the deified missionary Satgur Nur, see Mallison, op. cit., p. 101, n. 35 and below note 51.

51 On Satgur Nur, see Hollister, op. cit. pp. 351–2, linking with his tradition Rāmdeo Tanwar: “in the same way in which Nur Satagur had succeeded in converting Gujarat about the year A.D. 1200, one of his successors named Ramde, who was a Tuwar Rajput, spread the Ismaāili faith in Cutch and Kathiawar”. For the missionary Pir Satgur Nur, also see Nanji, op. cit. pp. 51–2. Finally let us note that Enthoven R. E., Folklore of Gujarat (1914 reprinted Delhi, 1989), p. 97, also suspected the Ismā'īlī origin of Rāmdeo: “He is evidently, as his name suggests (Hindvā Pir), one of the first Khojā missionaries who practised teaching more Hindu than Musulman in order to secure a following among the Hindus”.

52 From a personal communication by Mrs Zawahir Moir.

53 On the original Pīr of the Nizārī sect, see Nanji, op. cit., passim and Hollister, op. cit., pp. 339–63. It is interesting to note that the Meghwāl of Gujarat worship a “Matang Rishi” as their guru; see Bahadur K. P., (Delhi, 1981), pp. 1920, 158159. Among the Meghwāl of Rajasthan, Shams was similarly given the title “Rishi” and is sometimes mentioned by our informants as “Samik Rishi”; see Gokuldās, 1950, op. cit., p. 8, mentioning the gaddi of Samīk Rishi in Multān. In Hindu mythology, Samika, a muni, was the father of Sringi, who cursed King Parikshit; see Vettam Mani, Puranic Encyclopaedia (Delhi, 1989), p. 680.

54 From our field notes and a personal communication from Mr. Ratan Das Kamad, Oriental Research Institute, Udaipur.

55 According to Nainsi M. in Bhatti N. S. (ed.), Mārwāṛ rā parganā rī vigat (Jodhpur, 1968), ii, p. 291 — a seventeenth-century text.

56 Ibid., p. 349.

57 According to an inscription found at the entrance of the shrine, Ganga Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner, caused this “old temple” to be repaired in Samvat 1988 (A.D. 1931). The same Maharaja is said to have replaced the old grave of Gogā Deo/Guggā Pīr — another ambiguous folk-deity of Northern India — at Gogāmeḍī (near Ganganagar) by a similar structure in marble.

58 In a few devotional songs, as well as in Nainsi, op. cit., ii, p. 349; Mukām refers to the main pilgrimage centre and shrine of the Bishnoi sect where the grave of their guru Jambhā is located; like Rāmdeo's tomb, it is a mazār in the Muslim style, covered by a cloth. In Arabic, muqām means “residence, stopping place”, but in the Rajasthani usage it has also come to refer to a kabristān (cemetery). It might be a popular development similar to that of the word dargāh (royal court) currently referring to tombs of Muhammadan saints, or to any shrine in which the “invisible” presence of the Prophet or a Muhammadan Pīr is felt.

59 This is the version known to all devotees of Rāmdeo, whatever their caste or origin.

60 Personal communication from Mr Komal Kothari; also known to some of our informants.

61 For example, see Bishnoi, op. tit., p. 534, reproducing the manuscript “Bāt Raṇsī Tanwar rī” kept at the Anupam Sanscrit Library, Bikaner, n. 213.

62 Ṣadr al-Dīn's “system” has been mentioned by a number of authors who describe the so-called “syncretistic beliefs” in which Hindu and Muslim elements overlap; see for example, Hedayetullah, op. cit., p. 45, quoting Arnold T. W., The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (London, 1896; reprinted Lahore, 1961 and 1965), pp. 278279. The problem of “syncretism” has certainly not been properly understood, as far as the interaction between Hinduism and Islam is concerned, and would deserve a subtler analysis.

63 Hollister, op. cit., p. 357. On this particular point, see also Nanji, op. tit. pp. 110–13 giving more details on the Das avatār theory of the IsmĐ'īlīs, and Shackle-Moir, op. cit. p. 23.

64 See Hollister, op. cit. p. 357.

65 Ibid., p. 356.

66 For this legend, see Bishnoi, op. cit. p. 536, and H. and Munshi D. P., Report Mardum Shumari, Census of Marwar 1891, iii (Jodhpur, 1895), p. 529.

67 The original name is obviously that of the “gaddi”; despite the fact that Shams Pīr's and Rāmdeo's tradition was mainly connected with the untouchables, it would be interesting to consider its links with the local power in the fourteenth century in Rajasthan. Because of the then widespread Tantric sects, participation of low caste and untouchable followers in the rituals might not have been an obstacle for some Rajput rulers, while the sect was a thorough heresy to the Muslim sultans. Let us add that because of its flavour of secrecy and, again, the absence of caste barriers, the Nizārī rituals were mistaken for Shaktic ceremonies. Curiously enough the latter are now practised by Rāmdeo's followers as Nizārī dharm; on this subject see Khan D. S.Deux rites tantriques dans une communauté d'intouchables au Rajasthan” in Revue de I'histoire des religions, CCXI4/1994, pp. 443462.

68 A few details on these gaddi and their lineage of Pīr are given in Gokuldās, 1982, op. cit., passim.

69 According to oral tradition the ruler of Nimāz was cured of some illness after he had the vision of a mysterious sādhu blessing him; some people told him that the saint, as described by him, could only be Rāmdeo himself; the Thakur did not go himself to Pandītjī-kī-ḍhāṇī, but had gold coins and jewels sent for the erection of a shrine, at the spot where Harjī Bhāṭṭī had established his gaddi; it is not said whether or not he became (secretly) a follower of the “sect”, but at any rate he ordered his descendants to bury him after his death and to build a grave in the Muslim style on the spot; this tombstone, located inside the property of the present Thakur, is still an object of worship, but its identity has been recently concealed: it is said to be the grave of some Muslim Pīr…

70 On the cult of the “Panch Pīr”, see for example Crooke W., The Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India (1893, reprinted Delhi, 1978), pp. 202206 and Rose H. A., A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province (1919, reprinted Delhi, 1990), i, pp. 195, 572573 and Coccari D. M., “The Bir Babas of Banaras and the deified dead”, in Hiltebeitel A. (ed.), Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees — Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism (Delhi, 1990), pp. 254256.

71 Many devotional songs to Ramdeo start with these words “Khamā, khamā, Nikalank avatāra …” and one of the sacred mantras evoking the deity is “Oham soham nikalank deo nizār …”.

72 From Bishnoi, op. cit., p. 312.

73 Ibid. p. 238; these kinds of bhajam are known as Āgam pramān and generally bear the signature (chhāp) of Rāmdeo himself; Kalki's marriage with the pariah girl comes as the fulfilment of a promise made by God himself to a poor but righteous Meghwāl family in the Satya yuga; her legend is told in a song called Meghṛī Purān, generally ascribed to Harjī Bhāṭṭī; see Ibid., pp. 412–14. Bishnoi, not being aware of the Ismā'īlī connections of Rāmdeo's tradition, gives an erroneous interpretation, transforming the virgin Meghṛī into a Brahmin girl; actually, Meghṛī is but the embodiment of the Meghwāl community (referred to as “Megh” in Nizārī literature), as converted to the “true path” (Sat panth), that is to say to the Ismā'īlī faith. Meghṛī must reincarnate from age to age, till in the Kali yuga she can eventually marry the Lord himself; this marriage symbolizes the mystic union of the Nizārī community with God; a typical ginānic theme; compare with the verses ascribed to Pīr Mira Sayyid Khan, in Shackle/Moir, op. cit., p. 98: “In the four ages I have wandered in countless forms, but no marriage has taken place. Have the wedding performed, o my Master, Be gracious, o miraculous Lord”.ī

74 See Daftary, op. cit., p. 412.

75 For the Imāmshāhī sect of Pirānā, see Ivanow W., “The sect of Imam Shah in Gujarat”, in Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, XII (1936), pp. 1970. Like the Rajasthani Pīr of the Rāmdeo tradition, the custodians of the Imāmshāhī shrines don the ochre turban, typical of Hindu ascetics.

76 Apart from the chaubis pramān of Rāmdeo and a few other religious songs printed in small booklets mainly available during the fair at Ramdeorā, a better and more reliable work in this field has been done by Bishnoi, op. cit. During our field work we have recorded and transcribed other versions of the same bhajan — which we intend to have published later, together with songs of the Bishnoīs and the Jasnāthā as examples of the oral literature of some “forgotten branches” of the Ismā'īlīs in Rajasthan.

77 Binford and Bishnoi, op. cit. do not seem to be aware of the Khojā Nizārī tradition of Gujarat and Sindh. The same can be said of all the authors who have written about the folk religion of Rajasthan.

78 For an anthology of the ginānic literature, see Shackle/Moir, op. cit. Nanji and Mallison seem to share the opinion that the “syncretic” trends (that is to say overlapping of Hindu and Muslim words and themes) of the sant poetry were “imitated” by the Nizārīs.

79 Quoted from Shackle/Moir, op. cit., p. 88.

80 Bishnoi, op. cit., pp. 223–4 gives an erroneous interpretation of this theme, ascribing to it a Tantric-Shaktic significance; but in doing so he probably follows the same “popular” development which transformed the Ismā'īlī ritual of “pāval” (consecrated water) into a tantric ceremony, while preserving its original name “Nizā dharm”.

81 Bishnoi, op. cit., p. 218.

82 Shackle/Moir, op. cit., p. 70.

83 For the use of these terms among the Khojās, Ibid., p. 163. Before their initiation into the kuṇḍā panth (dasā panth) ritual, Meghwāl are called “nugrā” and, in some cases, are not even allowed to partake of the sacred offerings from the Rāmdeo temples. Although this term means simply “without a guru”, it has evidently here a more specific meaning.

84 For the Nizārī “pāval” ritual, see Collectanea, ed. Ivanow W. (Leiden, 1948), i, pp. 3637. For this precious information, and for much else, I am indebted to Mrs Zawahir Moir, London.

85 This is what we intend to do in two separate articles now in preparation.

86 Shackle/Moir, op. cit., p. 148.

87 Thus, the title “Rishi”, when applied to Muslim religious figures, might be indicative of their Ismā'īlī Nizārī origin; the famous Muslim Kashmiri saint Nūr al-Dīn-Nand Rishi (note here also the characteristic double appellation) is considered to be a Sufi, and he is the founder of the so called “Rishi movement”; according to local tradition, his father was a Hindu but he was converted to Islam by a mysterious Muhammadan saint named “Yasman Rishi”. It would be worth investigating more deeply into the matter and considering the possibility of an initial Ismā'īlī influence on Nūr al-Dīn Rishi's family; see Bamzai P. N. K., A History of Kashmir (Delhi, 1962), pp. 488489.

88 Personal communication from Mrs F. Mallison, to whom I am indebted for calling to my attention the interesting article of Rajyaguru N., “Mahapanthanum navum parimana apanara khoja santo”, in Urmi nava-racana, VII (Rajkot, 1986), pp. 301303. See also Mallison, “Les chants Garabi de Pir Shams”, in F. Mallison (ed.), Littératures médievales de l'Inde du Nord: contributions de Charlotte Vaudeville et de ses élèves (Paris, 1991), p. 134; I give here the English translation of the French original: “However it is known that their ginans as well as their Pirs (of the Nizārī Ismā'īlī tradition) have been adopted by some Hindu communities, as the Tantric ‘Mahāmārgk’ or ‘Mahapanthic’, or even by Krishnaite reformers of the Swami Narayan sect (many followers of which are ex-Nizārī Khojā).”

89 See Hollister, op. cit., p. 400.

90 He is the autḥor of some above-mentioned books on the Meghwāl community and on Rāmdeo tradition.

91 In the fifties, he is said to have gathered a maximum number of Meghwāl at Pushkar, during the Kartik Purnimā fair, and to have them swear on a big stone cow placed in front of Rāmdeo shrine, that they would never again use its flesh. For this information I am indebted to Mohan Lāl Paṇḍā, priest of the Pushkar Rāmdeo temple. For other such “reforms”, see Gokuldās, 1950, op. cit., passim.

92 The ban extended to the Pokaran-Didwāṇā areas, where the terātālī dance was particularly famous. For this particular dance, see Bapnā Sh., Rajasthān ke lok nritya (Udaipur, 1989), pp. 120122.

93 As a result of the competition for status and “power” between Kāmaḍ and Meghwāl (most Pīr holding a gaddī being recruited among the latter), the Kāmaḍ tend nowadays to deny the authority of their Mahant; if one adds to this fact the rivalry which simultaneously exists among Pīr themselves, it is easy to understand how the whole hierarchical network of gaddī could gradually collapse.

94 Founded in July 1990, its seat is located at Bhīlwāṛā (Rajasthan).

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