Ginans are a vast collection consisting of several hundred Ginans, composed by Pirs and Sayyids, which have been a central part of the religious life of the Nizari Ismaili community of the Indian Subcontinent now residing in many parts of the world. Ginans were composed in local vernaculars to teach the message of the Qur’an and the Isma’ili interpretation to non-Arabic speaking peoples.
The earliest Pir to have preached in the subcontinent is Satgur Nur (or Nur Satgur), who lived between the end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth century. Pir Satgur Nur came to Jampu-dvipa from Sahetar-dvipa via the city of Bhildi and proceeded to Patan in Gujarat, where he was based. Jampu-dvipa in ancient Indian geography referred to India; Sahetar-dvipa was identified with many places, one of them being Persia where the Nizari Ismaili Imams were residing. Pir Satgur Nur succeeded in converting most of the residents of Patan which came to be known as Pirna Patan, the ‘City of the Pir.’
Ginan sources indicate that Pir Hasan Kabir al-Din’s brother Taj al-Din was invested as Pir by the Imam of the time. However, as a result of the discontent among the descendants of Pir Kabir al-Din as well as the jama’at, Imam Mustansir billah III (Gharib Mirza) suspended the appointment of Pirs and sent a book of guidance instead, the Pandiyat-i-Jawanmardi.
Some manuscripts indicate that Pir Dadu was appointed by Imam Abu Dharr Ali and sent to Sind to stop the conversion of Isma’ilis to Sunnism and to settle the unrest occurring in the region.
Subsequently, the work of the da’wa continued locally by a line of Sayyids, generally regarded as the descendants of Pir Hasan Kabir al-Din. One branch came to be known as the “Kadiawala” Sayyids because of their association with the town of Kadi in Cutch before they came to Sind. These include Kabir Shah, Nur Shah, and Fath Ali Shah. There are no Ginans of the first two, but Ginans of Sayyid Fath Ali Shah have been preserved. In one of his Ginans, he refers to the Imam of the time as Abu Hasan Ali Shah residing in Shahri Babak, Iran (Ginan: Nar Nakalank keree vaat koik jaane re – “Very few people understand the concept of the pure Master‘).
Sayyid Gulmalishah, or Pir Gulmalishah as he is named in the Ginans, also lived in the village of Kera in the late eighteenth century. He was esteemed by Hindus and seems to have had close relationships with Yogis in the region. One of the Ginans he composed is Mala khajina bahotaja bhariya (‘Of goods and treasures You have piled an abundance.Of it, nothing Is yours’), which urges the faithful to forsake attachment to the material world and to contemplate on the Divine.
He was succeeded by Sayyid Muhammad Shah (d. 1813), one of Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s sons. He is reputed to have been a charismatic preacher and an author of numerous Ginans including Ada thaki ek suna nipaya (‘Primordially as brought forth the Void. From the Void Was brought forth the Word’).
*Azim Nanji, The Nizari Isma’ili Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, Caravan Books, New York, 1978
Aziz Esmail, A Scent of Sandalwood, Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics, Curzon Press, 2002
Ginans: A Tradition of Religious Poetry, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Compiled by Nimira Dewji