Literary Reading: Suddh-Buddh and Other Key Terms in Ginan “Bindrare Vann Manhe Sukh Charere Gavantri”

Key Terms: Suddh, Buddh, Chande, Suraj and Satpanth Suddho Kari Jano

I. The Tale of the Lion, the Cow and the Calf

Pir [1] Sadr al-Din’s ginan  Eji Bindrare Vann Manhe Sukh Charere Gavantri [2] is a good example of a narrative appealing to the rural folk. For the narrative, in lilting verse, is made picturesque and moving, touching the very core of feelings of the listeners. The tale is very simple and has a moral.

The tale goes like this:

In the woods called Bindra, a cow is pasturing peacefully. Suddenly, she is confronted by a lion who wants to devour her. She requests him to stay a while and have patience because she still has to feed her calf. She promises the lion that as soon as she has given milk to the young one, she would come back to the lion. She is granted this request and hurries to her young calf, who is asleep. The mother wakes up her young one and tells her to have the milk because she has to fulfil her promise to the lion.

The calf, however, refuses to suckle the milk and prepares to go with her to the lion. In fact, the calf runs ahead of the cow. The lion is surprised to see the cow following the calf. Instead of the promised one, now the lion sees two of them coming to him. Then the calf implores the lion to devour her first before feeding on her mother. The lion is so impressed and moved that he tells them to go free and pasture without fear as he offers to be their protector. In fact, he ‘adopts’ the cow as his sister and the calf as his niece.

The Lion offers to be the protector of the Cow and her Calf. Photo composed by Nurin Merchant, Ottawa

In the story the lion becomes the protector of the cow and her calf after the cow fulfils her promise to the lion. Illustration by Nurin Merchant, Ottawa.

The moral in this tale shows the importance of obedience to rightful authority, the need to keep one’s promise and the readiness to sacrifice. This tale and the moral teachings may be understood by anyone who listens to the ginan with some attention. It is likely that this moral was also imbibed by the rural folk who had been brought into the satpanth (True Religion) in the time of Pir Sadr al-Din. Apart from this moving tale and the teachings, there are some points which need further reflection for the more perceptive and reflective minds. These arise from the question raised by the lion soon after the calf has begged him to devour her first (verse 11), the reply given to this question (verse 12), and what Pir Sadr al-Din says in the last stanza of the Ginan (verse 15).

In stanza eleven, the lion asks:

Etlire suddh buddh kone tamne didhi,
kene te tamne boddhiya……11

Translation:

Who has made you so conscious and wise?
Who has given you this understanding?

The response to this is in the next stanza. It is not stated whether this is from the cow or the calf or both but the response goes like this:

“Etlire suddh buddh chande suraj didhi,
Pir Sadardine boddhiya……12

Translation:

The moon and the sun have given (us) this consciousness and wisdom,
Pir Sadr al-Din has taught (us).

It is after this reply that the lion offers to make the cow his sister, the calf his niece and be their protector. They are also allowed to pasture freely in the rich pastureland which happens to be the domain of the lion.

The final stanza of the ginan goes like this:

Bhane Pir Sadardin tum suno momanbhai
Apno Satpanth Suddho kari jano……15

Translation:

Pir Sadr al-Din teaches, O momin brothers listen,
learn about our satpanth with true understanding.

From the three verses of the ginan quoted above, let us focus on the following key words to reflect on the theme of this article. These key words are: suddh, buddh, chande, suraj and the phrase satpanth suddho kari jano. Even though these words are treated separately for ease of understanding, they are to be inter-related within the context of the ginan.

II. What is Suddh Buddh?

The word suddh has been translated above simply as conscious. The immediate question that may arise is: ‘conscious of what?’ Consciousness is the inseparable essence of the soul. The soul is closely connected with one’s intellect or ‘aql which is part of the Universal Intellect. Each individual soul is spiritually related to the Universal Soul even though it is apparently separated from the former. Pir Hasan Kabir al-Din says in Anant Akhado [3]:

Aashaji nana mota sarve jeeve tamara
ane sarve jeeve tamara kahieji

Translation:

“O Lord, all the small and great souls are yours,
and yours as we say are all the souls.

The soul, because of this separation, longs to reunite with the Universal Soul. However, the intellect, which should help in this process, often is too engrossed in worldly activities to be constantly aware of its essential function. The guidance given by the murshid-e-kamil (the Perfect Spiritual Master) is needed to make one conscious of the soul and its destiny.

The word buddh is invariably associated with the word suddh. On its own, it means understanding or wisdom. Often suddh is used together with or joined to buddh as suddh-buddh. The literal meaning of this would be presence of mind or awareness of understanding. In the context of the ginan, however, this would be associated with having the understanding or wisdom of being spiritually aware.

The need for reflection on the teachings of the ginans or teachings of the Pir is emphasised in a verse of Pir Shams al-Din’s ginan whose first verse begins Eji Mala Lije Manmanthi [4], when he says:

Eji suddh buddh to pamiye,
ane gur ginano vichar;
Je jeeve kol paadshe,
te paamshe pahele paar.

Translation:

He will become (spiritually) aware or wise,
who reflects on the ginans of the
guru (the teacher, Pir);
And he who fulfils his promise or oath of allegiance,
will achieve salvation.

In Pir Shams al-Din’s ginan, it is the teachings of the guru that enables one, after some reflection, to acquire suddh buddh; whereas in the ginan by Pir Sadr al-Din, the cow and the calf acquire their suddh buddh from chande and suraj and the teachings of the Pir.

III. Why Chande Suraj?

In connection with chande suraj (that is the moon and the sun), the Holy Qur’an says:

By the Sun and its (glorious) radiance!
By the Moon as she follows it!
By the Day when it unfolds (the Sun’s) glory!
By the Night as it conceals it!
(Sura Shams, Chapter 91, Verses 1-4)

and

Among His signs are the Night and the Day,
And the sun and the moon… (41:37)

The moon and the sun are two of the signs or manifestations (ayat) of Allah. The former relies on the latter for its light (nur) as  the light from the moon is the reflection of the light of the sun.

In the context of the ginan, the similie of chanda and suraj were used to represent the Pir (chanda) who had come to guide the people on behalf of his Spiritual Master, the Imam (suraj). The Pir was given this high position because of his knowledge as well as exalted spiritual status. The Pir represented the Imam in places where the Imam could not be physically present and gave guidance to the followers (murids) of the Imam and also initiate new converts into the satpanth. It may also be noted that in the literature of the Alamut period, the moon referred to the hujja (proof of the Imam) and the sun to the Imam.

Chanda and Suraj - in the context of the Ginan represent the Pir and the Imam

Chanda and Suraj - in the context of the Ginan represent the Pir and the Imam

It does not matter whether we treat the animals in the ginan  as they are, or as creatures with anthropomorphic qualities for the purpose of  indoctrination. The reply given to the lion by the cow and the calf that the moon and sun have given them this spiritual wisdom, would be valid in each context and confirm Allah’s all-encompassing concern for His entire creation. The animals are guided by natural instincts and human beings because of their higher intellectual and spiritual status are guided on the right path by the Spiritual Master, the Imam. This is the cardinal teachings of the satpanth, as expressed in the ginanic literature.

IV. Satpanth Suddho kari jano

It is for this reason that Pir Sadr al-Din reminds the believers in the final verse of the ginan to be absolutely clear (suddho) about satpanth (the True Religion) which can lead the adept through a process of intellectual and spiritual initiation, to the truth of the haqaiq. This can be attained through a genuine perception of the teachings of the Imam.


[1] The designation of Pir is used for the chief representative of the Holy Imam who came to the Indo-Pak subcontinent to preach and act as a link between the Jamat and the Imam.

[2] In Ginan-e-Shariff, Part I, 105 Ginans, page 52, Ismailia Association for India, Mumbai, 1978.

[3] Anant Akhado by Pir Hasan Kabirdin, Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Karachi. 1978.

[4] Collection  of Ginans composed by the great Ismaili Saint Pir Shams, Ginan No. 60, pages 64-5.

_____________________

Adapted from Some References to Aspects of Intellect Expressed in Ginanic Literature by Sadrudin K. Hassam, Ilm magazine, Volume 12, Number 1 (July 1989) published by the Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom.

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12 thoughts on “Literary Reading: Suddh-Buddh and Other Key Terms in Ginan “Bindrare Vann Manhe Sukh Charere Gavantri”

  1. I was wondering if we can eloborate on the metaphors of a cow, calf and the lion. Also what is the concept of a cow grazing peacefully in “Bindravan”. Since it is not logically possible for a lion to make a conversation with a cow, what is the whole conversation’s significance?

    • 1. My answer to the first question as regards the elaboration of the metaphors is as follows. Metaphors may have more than one interpretation. The lion could be representing the spiritual master or in this case the Imam’s appointed Pir, the cow may be a metaphor for a mother or a parent who has arrived in the Vrindavan ( pronounced Bindrare Van in the ginan), a holy place of pilgrimage in Mathura, India, where Krishna spent his boyhood with the cowherds. The calf represents the child, who already has great spiritual understanding which her mother was unaware of because she implores the lion to devour her first before the mother. The master of the woods, the lion, the spiritual master decided to give protection [spiritual] to both.

      Note that Zawahir has a slightly different interpretation of the same metaphors. This shows that one cannot be hard and fast about understanding or interpreting the metaphors. In verses 4 and 5, the four stages ‘hincholes’ may possibly referring to the four levels in religious understanding: shariat, tariqat, haqiqat and marifat.

      2. The answer to the second question is, ‘ logically of course the lion cannot make conversation with a cow’. The use of conversations in fables whether Greek, Islamic, Indian or ginanic is only a literary poetic device to hold the attention of the listener to educate him or her in an entertaining way on the moral, philosophical or religious guidance or teachings to be conveyed to the listener.

      3. In short, the answer to the third question is that if one already has conviction in the truth of satpanth then it is one’s duty to be a good example so that they may also be prepared to follow the same path.

      Thank you

      Sadruddin Hassam

  2. About the Conference on the Study of Ginans in October.

    What sort of cost is involved? As for me, I shall have to travel from the Midlands first, perhaps stop in London before getting to the venue, all that will add to the basic cost. I shall have to consider my small pocket! Please let me know. I refer to the information given by Dr Kurwa.

    • Here are some details and contacts for this conference:

      Description:
      Ginan Conference on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th October 2009.

      Venue:
      Holiday Inn London Brentford Lock, High Street, Brentford Middlesex TW8 8JZ

      Expected Presentation and Research Papers by:
      Moti Venti and its meaning – Zawahir Moir
      Launch of Ginan Database and website – Zahir Virani
      Collection of Ginans – Pyarali Jiwa

      Background:
      The Ginan Study group during its short existence has been involved in four International Conferences. The first conference was organised by Mr A Rahmatoullah of the Society of Ismaili Studies with co-sponsorship of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne) and the North Gujarat University (Patan) at the French Riviera in April 2002; followed by the second in collaboration with and at the location of the University of Saurastra Rajkot India in November 2004; and the third entitled ‘Devotional Expressions of South Asian Muslims’ organised by The Institute of Ismaili Studies at the Ismaili Centre London in November 2006; and the last conference was held in London in June 2007 when the Association for the Study of Ginans was formally established.

      For more information, please contact studyofginans@ginans.org
      or Pyarali Jiwa on 44-(0)20 8656 6802

  3. The adaptation in your website of Sadrudin Hassam’s original article in Ilm is a very good example of the way you are trying to reach your readers in a very practical and informative way.

    Do you know about the Association of Study of Ginans started by Pyarali Jiwa in London? There is going to be a conference in October, 2009. I hope you can participate.

    Editor’s Note: See the following announcement about a forthcoming conference on Ginans to be held in London, UK.

    Association for the Study of Ginans

    The Association for the Study of Ginans is pleased to inform you that the next Ginan Conference will be held at the Holiday Inn, Brentford, London on the weekend of 24-25th October 2009. The event follows the very successful 2-day conference held in June 2007 at London. Further details regarding programme, location, transport, accommodation, and entry cards will be sent at a later date. Please book your diaries for this important conference.

    With best regards

    Islamshah Rahemtulla
    Pyarali Jiwa
    studyofginans@ginans.org

    Association for the Study of Ginans
    Françoise Mallison -Chairperson
    Zawahir Moir -Vice Chairperson
    Tazim R Kassam – Academic Research
    Pyarali Jiwa -Treasurer
    Islamshah Rahemtulla – Secretary
    Laila Aziz
    Michel Boivin
    Balvant S Jani
    Aziz Kurwa
    Dominique Sila-Khan

  4. Ya Ali Madad,

    A fine exploration and a very convincing presentation – we have very rich literature. May (Mawla) bless you and your family members with Barakah. Amen.

  5. Ya Ali Madad,

    Thank you so much for this wonderful format in which you have adapted and published Sadrudin K. Hassam’s (original) article explaining the meaning and the philosophy of a ginan.

    Our youth will thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the effort you have put in

    Please keep up the good work.

    May Hazar Imam shower His choicest blessings on you and your family. Amen

  6. Ya Ali Madad,

    Good job, keep it up. May (Mawla) bless you with good health, happiness and peace of mind. Amen.

  7. Ya Ali Madad

    Well done, Good work. It would be nice if you could write some thing about Lailat ul Qadr too.

    Best Regards

    Abbas

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