By Sadruddin K. Hassam
Spread in various countries around the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis have their own innumerable ways for celebrating important religious occasions according to their various cultural, social and religious traditions and backgrounds. One very important occasion in the annual calendar of the Ismailis is the Salgirah, or the birthday of their spiritual leader (Imam). His Highness the Aga Khan is their present Imam, and Ismailis around the world will be marking his 85th Salgirah on Monday December 13, 2021. He is now in his 65th year of Imamat, and is the oldest Imam in Ismaili history. His grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, was the longest serving Imam in Ismaili history. He reigned for 71 years (August 1885 – July 1957) before he passed away on July 11, 1957 at the age of 79.
According to all Shia Muslims, the Institution of Imamat was vouchsafed by the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) through Divine Will at the famous historical incident at Ghadir-e-Khumm. The prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.), thus became the first Imam upon the Prophet’s physical departure from this earth. The simile of the Divine institution of Imamat is as that of a rope that stretches out (uninterrupted) for ever. Hazrat Ali initiated the period of Imamat and was thus its fountain-head. For the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, the Imamat has continued uninterrupted since the time of Hazrat Ali and Prince Karim Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary successor in this continuum.
The following Hadith (sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad are also important to note in the context of the permanency of the Institution of Imamat:
“If the world were to remain without an Imam for one moment, the whole world with everything in it would perish instantaneously.”
“Just as the stars are the source of safety for the denizens of heaven, my Ahl al-Bayt (people of the house) are the sources of safety for my people.”
Thus unlike birthdays of countries, national leaders and of individuals, family members and friends the celebration of the Imam’s birthday for the Ismaili community far outshines that of the birthday of any other leader , hero or loved one. The Salgirah celebrations are a reminder of the Living Evidence of Allah’s Mercy and Bounty upon the entire Ismaili Jamat (community) who look to the Imam for their material and spiritual advancement and happiness. The Imam’s teachings (referred to as Ta’lim) further enable his followers to attain proximity to Allah through the Noor (light) that the Imam possesses.
The Ginan Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano composed by the Ismaili Pir, Sadr al-Din, exhorts the Ismailis to gain the spiritual recognition of the Noor and the Imam of the time. The Ginan has attained a very special status because it is primarily recited during the festivities marking the Salgirah of the Imam. The appropriateness of reciting “Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano” during the Salgirah will become apparent as we try to understand the ginan and its underlying spiritual teachings.
THE KEY FEATURES OF THE GINAN
This ginan by Pir Sadr al-Din is composed of eight verses and a warani (or refrain) of five lines meant to be repeated at the end of each stanza.
The first six verses of the ginan have two lines each.
The seventh has five lines giving an uninterrupted picturesque description of the elaborate ritual preparation for a sacred wedding ceremony. This is the high point of the narrative which the previous verses have led to.
The eighth verse has three lines which conclude the ginan.
Each line of the ginan, including the first two lines of the warani, ends with the rhyming words ending in ….ji , for example payaji, deshji, vadhavoji etc. These endings in ….ji provide smooth elision with the following lines during the recitation of the ginan. The third, fourth and fifth lines of the refrain end with the rhyming words mookije, tariji-ye and kije respectively. These help to conclude the warani neatly before commencing the next verse.
All the verses of the ginan proper begins with the word Eji which could be translated as ‘O brother.’ But since ginans are meant to invoke the mind to be aware of the soul, Eji could be a ginanic abbreviation for ‘Ejeeve’, meaning ‘O soul!’ Eji also serves the poetic function of commencing the recitation of each verse of the ginan with appropriate raga.
The ginan is in Gujarati poetic language, except for the Hindi expressions hamaraji and kiyajane….hamaraji in verse eight.
The literal translation of the ginan, even though very helpful, will not enable us to understand the underlying spiritual teachings. So it is necessary to try to explain and interpret certain key words, the imagery and the symbolic expressions in order to understand the real teachings couched in the apparent words. In this connection it may be appropriate to quote the 48th Ismaili Imam’s advice to his followers that he gave in Zanzibar on July 30, 1899:
“The Quran-e-Shariff was revealed among the Arab people 1300 years ago. You must read with proper understanding the ginans that the Pirs gave you more than 700 years ago. The ginans have four kinds of meanings which you should study to understand properly.” 
In a proper recitation of this ginan all the words, the imagery and the symbolic expressions blend beautifully. This beauty unfortunately is difficult to recreate in this prosaic explanation. But one hopes that this analytic examination of the ginan will heighten our appreciation during its recitation and will not detract the affectionate feelings and the ineffable sublime sentiments inherent in the poetic version of the ginan. To understand the usefulness of the Ginan in its own historical milieu before we examine its relevance today it might be helpful to get an overview about the composer and his Dawah activities in the Indian Sub-continent (see link provided below for a brief introduction about Pir Sadr al-Din and his missionary work in the Indian Sub-continent).
TRANSLITERATION, GLOSSARY OF KEY TERMS, TRANSLATION AND EXPLANATION OF THE GINAN
(The numbers within squared brackets denote corresponding footnotes which appear at the end of the reading – we recommend that you read them)
Eji Dhan dhan aajano dadalore ame Aiivar payaji,
Jooga joog-na kasamal paapaj tariyaji…..1
Glossary of verse
Eji – Oh brother!
dhan, dhan – blessed, blessed
aajano dadalore – indeed is the day
ame payajj – true recognition
Imam-i-Zaman – Imam of the Time or Age
Alivar – Lord Ali (note: all Imams are generally referred to as Ali who is the first Imam of all Shia Muslims. In essence all Imams are the same, bearing the same Noor)
Paap jooga joogna-na– sins of the past
kasamal – ignorance
tariaji – pardoned
Transliteration of Refrain
Hetano melavdo aapana Satagur-sun kije-ji,
Man-no melavado aapana baar-gursun kije-ji
Dhutaro sansaar parle chhodi mookije,
Thagaro sansaar Shahne naame tariji-ye,
Ene sansaare bhala sukaram kaam kije.
Glossary of Refrain:
hetano melavado kije-ji – Meet with affection
aapna Satguru-sun – our True Teacher
man-no melavado kije-ji – Make meeting of minds
aapana Baar-gurusun  – by heeding to his teachings (meaning Pir Sadr al-Din)
parle chhodi mookije – let us leave aside
dhutaro – delusory
sansaar – phenomenol world
Shah-ne naame – in the name of the Shah (Imam)
tariji-ye – gain salvation
thagaro sansaar – transient world
ene sansaare – in this world
bhala sukaram kam kije – perform righteous deeds
Oh brother! Blessed, blessed indeed is the day, we have come to the (true) recognition of the Imam or Lord Ali;
The sins of the past committed because of wrong understanding or ignorance are pardoned.
Translation of Refrain:
Meet with affection our True Teacher – that is Shahpir or Imam-i-Zaman
Make meeting of minds with our Pir Sadr al-Din (by heeding to his teachings)
Let us leave aside the delusory phenomenal world
In the name of the Imam let us gain salvation from the deceitful or transient world.
In this world perform righteous deeds.
In this first stanza of the ginan and the warani (refrain) Pir Sadr al-Din sets the theme by saying that blessed indeed is the day as we have the true recognition of the Imam, and any sins committed in the past because of wrong understanding or ignorance are forgiven. The Pir advises us to maintain an affectionate spiritual relationship with the Shahpir (Imam) and not to engross ourselves entirely to the delusory and transient phenomenal world. He asks us to perform righteous deeds, and gain salvation with the Imam’s assistance.
Eji Almot ghadh patan delam deshaji,
Tiyan avatariya Shah maankha veshji …. 2
ghadh – fortress
patan – capital
delam desh – Daylaman region
tyan – there
avatariya – (the Shah was) born
maankha veshji – in human form
The seat of Imamat resided in the fortress of Alamut, the capital of Daylaman region;
There the Shah was born in human form
See verse three, next
Eji Uncha uncha parabat visami chhe ghataji,
Tiyan chadi jo-un Noor Satgur-ni vaataji ….3
uncha uncha – The high
parabat – mountain
vasami – difficult
ghat – mountain pass
chadi – go up, climb
jo-un vaatji – await
The high mountain has difficult mountain-pass;
There I go up and await the Noor of Satguru (Imam).
Explanation of Verses two and three
Please note that the refrain that we explained earlier as part of verse one is important in the context of the explanation that is being provided for all the remaining verses. The refrain as we noted earlier is recited in all the verses of the ginan.
Historically, the second verse refers to the Alamut Period (from 488 A.H./ 1095 A.C. to 655 A.H./1256 A.C.) of Ismaili history when the Imams had their headquarters at Alamut. As this period of our history precedes the time of Pir Sadr al-Din, the ginan has to be understood in its spiritual context.
The term Ghad in here could mean the inner strength of faith, patan would be the mind or soul, delam the heart and avatariya might be referring to the manifestation of Noor in the living and present Imam. The second verse is a very good example of the use of language in the exoteric and the teachings in the esoteric.
In verse three, the Pir talks about the high mountains and difficult passes. The journey of spiritual elevation is difficult but the Pir observes that one should persevere and come to the summit, and then humbly await in earnest for Noorani Didar . One may strive and keep on striving, but the Noorani Didar is entirely upon Allah’s grace.
Eji Uncha uncha tarovar paan vina hinaji,
Tem bhula bhame maanakha jeevada, gur ginan-na hinaji…4
uncha uncha – tall (as can be)
tarovar – a tree
hinaji – looks desolate
paan vina – without leaves
tem – likewise
maankha jeevada – human beings
bhula – gone astray
hina – without
gur ginan-na – (haqiqati) knowledge imparted by the teacher (the Imam)
bhmae – grope about
However tall a tree may be, it looks desolate without leaves.
Likewise human beings who have gone astray without haqiqati knowledge grope about
However learned or advanced people may be in worldly or spiritual matters but without the true understanding or haqiqati knowledge given by the Teacher, Imam-i-Zaman, they are liable to lose direction and grope about. In this particular period, the Bhakti  movement was fairly active in Northern India and a number of spiritual masters were competing for adherents. Pir Sadr al-Din is probably gently forewarning the followers not to be cajoled by the fake masters who will not be able to help them achieve true salvation.
Eji Chovata-de chovata-de aapano Sami Rajo aaveji,
aavi kari jumalaji-ma mali kari bethaji…. 5
chovatade chovatade – four crossroads
aapno – our
Sami Rajo – Imam
aavi kari – having come
mali kari – graciously met
jumalaji – the Jamat (murids or followers)
bethaji – he sits down
ma – among them (i.e the murids)
In open spaces at the four crossroads our Imam comes
Having come and having graciously met the jamat, He sits down among them
From the spiritual void comes our Imam and unites the multiplicity of human knowledge and creates certitude of True Knowledge. The word bethaji symbolises this certitude. Spiritually the presence of Imam’s Noor is there when the jamat meets for prayers.
Eji Shamali bajare aapano Sami Rajo dithaji,
Sona-ne singasane aapano Sami Rajo bethaji ….6
shamali – decorated
bajare – gathering place
dithaji – I saw
Sami Rajo – my Imam
Sami Rajo bethaji – the Imam sat
sona-ne singasane – on a golden throne
In a beautifully decorated gathering place I saw my Imam;
He sat on a golden throne
Having attained spiritual elevation, the Pir had the Noorani didar (ditha) and he experienced the barakah in the spiritual presence. This awareness leads to the mumin’s desire for spiritual union. Hence the symbolic preparation in the following verse for spiritual initiation.
Eji Aale kanshe nile vanse chori chitravoji,
Chori chitravi Shah-na lagan lakhavoji,
Lagan lakhavi Shah-na thar bharavoji,
Thar bharavi Shahne motide vadhavoji,
Parane aapano parthami Rajo vishav kunvari-ji….7
aale kanshe – plants for making colours
nile vanse – (from) bamboo like plants
chori chitravoji – wedding arbour
chori chitravi – having decorated the wedding arbour
lakahvoji – set a date
Shah-na lagan – (for) the Lord’s wedding
lagan lakhavi – having set the wedding date
thad bharavo – tray of offerings
motide – with pearls
vadhavoji – shower
parthami Rajo – our First Supreme Lord
parane – weds
vishav kunvariji – the earth in its pristine, unspoiled state
With plants for making colour and green bamboo-like plants decorate an arbour (for a sacred wedding ceremony) by placing layers of seven vessels on top of another at the four corners;
Having decorated the wedding arbour, set a date for the Lord’s wedding
Having set the wedding date prepare a tray of offerings
Having prepared a tray of offerings, shower pearls (on the path) to welcome
Our Lord who is going to wed the earth that is in pristine condition (untouched natural state)
This is a symbolic preparation for the spiritual union  which a mu’min craves for through the guidance and blessings of the Imam of the time.
Writes Azim Nanji (p.104):
“The metaphor of bride and groom is a common one in Hindu mystical poetry and stands for the soul of the ‘seeker’ and the ‘sought’ respectively. It is therefore noteworthy that after the initial meeting, a marriage is arranged, symbolising the union of the souls, and that the marriage is prefaced by elaborate preparations as if an initiation ritual of some kind was being prepared.”
Eji Bhane Pir Sadardin ame vanajara-ji,
Joi joi vohro vira vanaj hamara-ji,
Pashu jeevada kiya jane vanaj hamara-ji….8
bhane – teaches
ame – we are (Pir refers to himself)
vanajara – travelling salesman
joi joi – examine carefully
vanaj hamara-ji – what we have to offer
vohro – before you purchase
vira  – brother
pashu jeevada – humans with animal-like instincts or nature
kiya jane vanaj hamara-ji – will fail to understand what we have to offer
So Pir Sadr al-Din teaches that we are (referring to himself) a travelling salesman
Examine carefully what we have to offer before you purchase O ! brother
Those who have animal-like instincts will fail to understand what we have to offer
What Pir Sadr al-Din is trying to convey in this verse is that he is a traveller in the business (vanajara) of giving guidance on spiritual matters and the mu’min brothers (vira) should heed carefully on what he has to offer. But alas! those who are engrossed only in worldly matters, and are only concerned with instinctive needs due to their lower intelligence and are neither interested in the spiritual message nor have kept their minds receptive for the same will not appreciate what he has to teach.
The spiritual teachings that Pir Sadr al-Din has conveyed in the ginan Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano should be as valid today as it was in his milieu. The current Imam has emphasised to the Ismailis the need for a balance between the material and the spiritual aspects of their lives. He has reminded his followers about the transient nature of life in this world and the eternal reality of the hereafter, the preparation for which should begin in this life. There is no need to be completely mesmerized by the temporal phenomena at the cost of the eternal reality.
Should these thoughts come to our minds during the recitation of this ginan, then the medium is providing the message. On this occasion of Salgirah we should resolve to heed the guidnace given by Pir Sadr al-Din and our beloved lmam-e-Zaman.
Date article first posted on Simerg: December 2009.
Date updated: December 9, 2021.
Editor’s note: Please listen to numerous renditions of the ginan by clicking Ginan Recitals (usask.ca.
1. Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq whose Imamat was from c. 118 A.H./736 A.C. to 148 A.H./765 A.C. discerned the four different aspects of the Holy Qu’ran thus: expression, for the common people; allusion, for the privileged or elite; touches of grace (lata’if) for the saints; and finally the ‘realities’ for the Prophets. Mystical Dimensions of Islam by Annemarie Schimmel, The University of North Carolina Press. Third Printing April 1978, p. 41.
2. In the older Khojki and Gujarati printed ginan books the word Harivar is used.
3. In the older books chaar joogna instead of jooga joogna. This refers to the four yugas: kriia, freta, dvapara and kali yuga of the ancient Hindu religion which were cosmic cycles of our creation. For detailed explanation see Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization by Heinrich Zimmer pp 11-19.
4. kasamal is derived from ka-samaj meaning ‘wrong understanding’ or ‘ignorance’.
5. Barguru is another title of Pir Sadr al-Din which is an attribute to his leading 120 million souls to salvation.
6. Delam referring to the region of Daylaman in Northern Iran also refers to the realm of the imam which is paradise. The Order of Assassins by Marshall G.S. Hodgson. AMS Press, 1980, p. 169.
7. One may strive and keep on striving but the Noorani didar is entirely dependent upon Allah’s grace.
8. Bhakti was a Hindu devotional religious orientation closely incorporating an attitude of faith, love and devotional attachment to a personal deity (mainly Vishnu or Krishna). The devotees, called Bhakta or Bhagat, are completely immersed in the Divinity and are totally dependent on it.
9. According to the Hindu ideals of marriage, the husband is indeed the representative of divine power. Schimmel opus cit. p. 435. “In the western part of Muslim India, however – from Sind to Kashmir – the poets followed the Hindu tradition, which describes the soul as the longing girl, a faithful wife or a loving bride….the ginan sacred songs of the Ismaili community of Indo-Pakistan – also depict the soul as a loving female.” p.434. Hence the craving for the symbolic wedding and spiritual union.
10. Unlike the other ‘salesman’ Pir Sadr al-Din does not employ ‘glib sales talk’ to gain adherents. His teaching is directed towards their reasoning faculties in order to discern the true from the false. Adoption of satpanth, without any compulsion is left entirely to their volition.
11. For the semantic transformation of the Sanskrit term vira in the Hindu, Jainand Tantric contexts see pp. 74, 210 and 588 respectively in Philosophies of India by Heinrich Zimmer, ed. Joseph Campbell, Routledge & K.egan Paul, London, 1951. In the ginanic context, the term vira or virabhai could be referring to the mu’min brother who had adopted the satpanth. One of the qualities of a mu’min is to have control over nafs-i-ammara, the lower or animal instincts. To address the adherents, the Pirs used very respectful terms that were current in the milieu. They were, however, careful to transform the meaning of these tems to reflect the teachings of the satpanth. This trend was begun nearly two centuries earlier by Pir Satgoor Noor who addressed the adherents as Rooda Muniver Bhaiji. This expression is so respectful that in English it would sound awkwardly contrived if one tried to translate it.
12. pashu literally means ‘the dark-witted animal of the herd’ p. 588 Zimmer opus. cit. Here it may be compared to ka’l-an’am in the verse of the Holy Qur’an 7:178 part of which is quoted “…they are as cattle, nay, they are in worse errors; these are the heedless ones.” See also Schimmel opus cit. p 282.
Credits: This reading is adapted from Sadruddin K. Hassam’s article “Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano – An Explanation and an Interpretation” published in Ilm magazine, London, UK, Volume 11, Number 3 & 4, December 1987 – March 1988, pages 8 – 16.