Ginans: composed in various languages, recorded in Khojki script to preserve them

The term ‘ginan’ is derived from the Sanskrit jnana, meaning contemplative knowledge. Ginans are a vast collection consisting of several hundred Ginans which have been a central part of the religious life of the Nizari Ismaili community of the Indian Subcontinent that today resides in many countries around the world. The Nizari Ismailis of the Indian Subcontinent used the term to designate a special type of poetic composition: a composition whose authorship is attributed to Ismaili Pirs and Sayyids, or preachers, who came to the region as early as the eleventh century to teach the Ismaili interpretation of Islam. The Pirs used the Subcontinent’s many languages, folk songs, myths, and traditional music to compose Ginans to explain the principles of Ismailism to the non-Arabic speaking peoples of the region. Ginans were composed in six languages: Punjabi,Multani (Saraiki), Sindhi, Kachhi. Hindustani/Hindi, and Gujarati. Through the poetic medium of Ginans, the Pirs provided guidance on a variety of doctrinal, ethical, and mystical themes for the community.

Like most Indian devotional poetry, Ginans are meant to be sung; each Ginan has its own raga or musical mode. Ginans represent an important part of the broader collection of Ismaili devotional literature that includes works in Arabic, Persian, and even Burunshaki, a language of the northern areas of Pakistan. Ginanic literature is also shared by the Imamshai community in Gujarat, India, who are believed to have split off from the Ismailis in the sixteenth century.

Khojki manuscript in the collection of The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Khojki manuscript in the collection of The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Historians agree that the Ginans were first transmitted as an oral tradition. It is not known whether at least some manuscripts may have existed simultaneously — the earliest copy identified so far is dated 1736. The manuscripts were all written in a special script, Khojki, which was known only to members of the community.

Originating in the province of Sindh, Khojki belongs to the category of clipped scripts, which employ alphabets and vowel systems similar to other Indian mercantile scripts. According to Ismaili tradition, Pir Sadr al-Din devised the Khojki script as a means for preserving the community’s sacred literature. The Institute of Ismaili Studies has one of the largest collections of Khojki manuscripts.

On page 308  of this colourful manuscript is the Shahada inscribed in Arabic within a decorative circle, surrounded by invocations to Allah, Prophet Muhammad, Imam ‘Ali, Bibi Fatima, Hazrat Hasan and Imam Husayn.On page 309 is the prayer Nad-i ‘Ali, addressed to Imam ‘Ali. Also depicted is Dhulfiqar, Imam ‘Ali’s legendary two-pointed sword. The text in Arabic script, which is somewhat damaged, reads “Ya Allah, Ya ‘Ali, La Fata illa ‘Ali la sayf…” and “Nad-i ‘Aliyyan.”*

Ali S. Asani. Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia. I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd, New York. 2002
* Khojki Manuscripts, The Institute of Ismaili Studies 

Research by Nimira Dewji

The Pir Series:

Ginans: Rendition & Expression:

Qasidas: Rendition & Expression:

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One thought

  1. Tasleemaat,   The Ginan related Khojki mss could be found in the Peer Mohammadshah Library of Ahmedabad. Azkaa at-Tahayyaat wa Akmal ul-Tasleemaat, Mazoon ud-Da’wat il-Alaviyah, Hatim Zakiyuddin.

    Wa May Yu’til Hikmata faqad Utiyaa Khayran Kaseeran


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