Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India
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Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India combines historical data with years of ethnographic fieldwork to investigate women's participation in the culture of Sufi shrines in India and the manner in which this participation both complicates and sustains traditional conceptions of Islamic womanhood. Kelly Pemberton's fieldwork offers an assessment of the contemporary circumstances under which a woman may be recognized as a spiritual authority or guide—despite official denial of such status—and an examination of the discrepancies between the commonly held belief that women cannot perform in the public setting of shrines and her own observations of women doing precisely that. She demonstrates that the existence of multiple models of master and disciple relationships have opened avenues for women to be recognized as spiritual authorities in their own right. Specifically Pemberton explores the work of performance, recitation, and ritual mediation carried out by women connected with Sufi orders through kinship and spiritual ties, and she maps shifting ideas about women's involvement in public ritual events in a variety of contexts, circumstances, and genres of performance. She also highlights the private petitioning of saints, the Prophet, and God performed by poor women of low social standing in Bihar Sharif. These women are often perceived as being exceptionally close to God yet are compelled to operate outside the public sphere of major shrines.



Publié par
Date de parution 19 février 2013
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611172324
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,3150€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Studies in Comparative Religion Frederick M. Denny, Series Editor
Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India


The University of South Carolina Press
© 2010 University of South Carolina
Cloth edition published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2010 Ebook edition published in Columbia, South Carolina, by the University of South Carolina Press, 2013
22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The Library of Congress has cataloged the cloth edition as follows:
Pemberton, Kelly.
Women mystics and sufi shrines in India / Kelly Pemberton.
p. cm. (Studies in comparative religion)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-57003-919-5 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Sufism India Rituals. 2. Sufism India Customs and practices. 3. Women mystics India. 4. Women in Islam India. I. Title.
BP188.8.I4P46 2010
297.4’460820954 dc22
ISBN 978-1-61117-232-4 (ebook)
To Jack, who got me started on this journey, and to the women of the Gudri Shah Chishti and Firdausi silsilas , for showing the Way
Gently, she walks, yet the anklet jingles with her beloved's love;
she looks at herself in the mirror and feels shy.

Embracing the female form,
the entire world throbs.
Excerpt from “She Adorns Herself,” by Parveen Shakir
(translation by Sydra Raza Junaid)
. Contents .
List of Illustrations
Series Editor's Preface
Note on Transliteration

Introduction: Women's Activities and Sufi Shrines Some Perspectives

1 . Perceptions of “Women's Religion” in Colonial India
2 . Piri-Muridi
3 . Singing and Reciting
4 . The Work of Petitioning

Conclusion: Reconsidering Women's Experiences at the Intersection of Discourse and Practice

. Illustrations .
1.1. The dargah complex of Mu'in al-din Chishti
2.1. Women at the shrine of Yahya Maneri in Maner Sharif
2.2. The Sufi Saint School and ‘Usmani chilla
2.3. The chilla gah of Mu'in al-din Chishti
3.1. The dargah complex of Sharaf al-din Maneri
3.2. Women outside the mahfil khana in the dargah of Mu'in al-din Chishti
3.3. View from above the tomb of Mu'in al-din Chishti
4.1. The mausoleum of Sharaf al-din Maneri within the dargah complex
. Series Editor's Preface .
Sufism, the richly diverse mystical-devotional dimension of Islamic religion, is one of the most popular and appealing fields of discourse and practice in both global spirituality and the comparative study of religion. This new book in the Studies in Comparative Religion series is the eighth to address some significant topic pertaining to Sufism, 25 percent of all the titles that have been published in the series since its founding in 1985.
Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India is the substantial and original product of Kelly Pemberton's intensive, multiyear, field-based and historical research. She describes her “central focus” for the study as “how Muslim women's participation in the world of Sufi shrines in North India challenges but also sustains prevalent ideals of Islamic womanhood.” Her richly detailed, theoretically discerning, and multilayered accounts of Muslim women's participation in quite diverse Indian Sufi communities is an important contribution to our understanding of their lives in today's developing social, political, economic and cultural landscapes. These accounts also help us to comprehend more fully how important women's participation in the diverse and complex local contexts of Sufi, as well as general Muslim life, has been in past centuries.
Frederick M. Denny
. Preface .
In the summer of 1994 I traveled to India for the first time as a graduate M.A. student at the University of Washington. The journey came at the end of three years of studying Hindi and Urdu and was intended to improve my Hindi and Urdu speaking skills. During my stint at the Landour Language School in the town of Mussoorie, located at the foothills of the Himalayas, I became aware of the existence of a number of small, locally renowned Sufi shrines, but what intrigued me was the adulation ordinary people I encountered lavished on deceased and living Sufis. While many people described them as true seekers of God, others praised the work living shaikh s did for the most unfortunate members of society, in part through langar khana s, or “free kitchens” established at some shrines to feed the poor. I returned to the States at the end of the summer and scoured the bookshelves of my university's library for more information about shrines and Sufis in South Asia but found surprisingly little on the “lived experiences” of Sufis and the pilgrims who patronized Sufi shrines.
Women and Sufi Shrines in Contemporary India
By the time of my second sojourn in the Subcontinent in the summer of 1996, now as a Ph.D. student at Columbia University, I had decided to investigate the question of contemporary Sufis by looking at a number of shrines in northern and central India. After three months spent traveling in sweltering, dusty government buses from the northwest corner of Rajasthan down through Madhya Pradesh and northeast to Bihar, I had amassed a large body of notes, tape-recorded interviews with Sufi men and women, and experiences I could not have imagined beforehand, but had no clue how to make sense of all this information. After my return to academic life, Professor Jack Hawley suggested, in light of what I had seen and reported to him, that I focus on the question of women's roles in Sufi orders today when I returned to India the following year. The thought of pursuing this topic was daunting.
I had broached the subject of women's participation with most of the Sufis I met that summer, but their responses to “the woman question” were discouraging. While many of them eagerly discussed the subject of female saints 1 who had lived in the distant past most often people brought up the example of the eighth-century saint of Basra, Rabi'a al-’Adawiyya they were reluctant to discuss the place of women in the Sufi communities to which they themselves belonged. Women, I was repeatedly told, had no significant role to play in Sufism today, except as disciples of a pir or shaikh , and women could never become pirs themselves. For some reason I wasn't quite ready to accept these opinions at face value, and what I had seen at three Sufi shrines that summer convinced me that there was a significant gap between what most people said women did at shrines and women's lived experiences. While visiting the town of Ajmer in Rajasthan, I had visited the burial shrine, or dargah , of the thirteenth-century Sufi master Mu'in al-din Chishti and was introduced by a young teenage boy, a servant of the shrine ( khadim ), to a few of the men highly placed in the hierarchy of the shrine's functionaries who claimed descent from the saint. I had been looking for primary sources about the shrine and saint and knew from prior research that the dargah contained a library, of which the nazim dargah , a government-appointed functionary, was in charge. I wasn't able to gain access to the dargah's library or to meet with the nazim dargah , who was out of town at the time. In any case the library was in such a state of disrepair that I would have been unable to use it even if the nazim dargah had consented.
This disappointment proved to be a boon in disguise, since during the course of an interview with two khadim s that day, I was told that on the other side of the dargah there lived a family that had an extensive library, and that they would probably be willing to let me use it. That family was the Gudri Shah Chishtis, an order of Sufis locally considered “newcomers” to the area. The Gudri Shahs were established in the mid-1800s, and settled in Ajmer in the early part of the twentieth century. The former head of the order ( pir, shaikh) had passed away two months previously. A prolific, multilingual, and widely respected scholar, he had amassed an impressive library, of which his son and successor was in charge. My first meeting with the Gudri Shah Chishtis was solemn the pir was out that morning, but I was invited into the women's quarters ( zanankhana ), where I met his sisters, maternal aunt, and mother, who were still mourning their loss. Later that day I did speak with the pir , and was impressed by his efforts in the local community. He had founded a school, aptly named the Sufi Saint School, which provides education and financial aid to local children from disadvantaged backgrounds and seeks to instill in its students a respect for their differences, as Hindu and Muslim children both attend. The school's principal was one of the pir's younger sisters. She, like all of the Gudri Shah women of her generation, was highly educated and worked outside of the home. The Gudri Shah women also played a significant part, the pir told me, in ensuring the smooth functioning of the order, by helping out with the many programs, ritual events, and ceremonies it sponsored annually, although the women did not attend the large public ritual ceremonies. The Gudri Shah Chishtis were open to the idea of my returning to Ajmer to carry out research and assured me that they would help in whatever way possible.
If the atmosphere in Ajmer was warm and welcoming, such was not always the case in Bihar, which I visited almost three months la

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