Ginans are a vast collection of several hundred poetic compositions 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. Derived from the Sanskrit jnana, meaning contemplative knowledge, Ginans were authored by Ismaili Pirs, who came to the Indian subcontinent as early as the eleventh century to teach the message of Revelation to non-Arabic speaking people.
Through the poetic medium of Ginans composed in several Indic languages, Pirs provided guidance on a variety of doctrinal, ethical, and mystical themes for the community while also serving to explain the inner (batin) meaning of the Qur’an to the external (zahir) aspects.
The themes of Ginans are diverse ranging from laments of the soul as it proceeds on a spiritual quest, to ethical precepts concerning proper business practice. A Ginan may contain more than one theme that are blended together; however, the corpus comprises some major motifs. A number of Ginans were composed to commemorate specific occasions such as the birth of Prophet Muhammad.
In his composition Sat swarg khuliya, Pir Sadr al-Din says:
Jire bhaai re saat sarag naa kaani khuliyaa chhe dwaar
jis din Nabi Muhamed janamiyaa … v 1
Dear brothers, the doors to the seven heavens were opened
on the day Prophet Muhammed was born.
Sayyid Imam Shah says in his composition titled Satveni Moti:
Nabi Muhammad is joog maahe aavyaa
tis-thi chand-roona marag paayaa.
Prophet Muhammad came to the world
Because of him the moonlit path has been found.
(tr Shafique N. Virani)
Pir Hasan Kabirdin, in his 500-verse Anant Akhado says:
Aashaajee Nabi chaale nur-j varse
rakheesar-ne seer chhaay jee
aagal sahu feerastaa chaale hoyshe te husheeyaare … v 398
There are showers of Noor where Nabi walks,
and believers have his protection over them,
and that light will envelope the heads(minds) of devotees
many angels will prevail (over their heads-minds) and consequently the devotees will be intelligent.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin)
The Ginan Unch thi aayo by Pir Shams is a lament of the soul’s fate in the material world, and a plea for the intercession of Prophet Muhammad:
Eji Unch thi aayo bande nich kiyun dhiaave,
chaar din rahennaa bande jutth kiyun kamaave;
isare june bande kiaa fal paave … …
bharame mat bhulo bhaai nami chaalo marannaa,
safaaet rasulki safaaet paekambar ki,
jutth sun ddarannaa bhaai jutth sun ddarannaa;
bharame mat bhulore, bhaai nami chaalo marannaa … v1
O brother! You have come from high (an exalted place, then why incline towards the low?
You will live for only four days then why earn the falsity?
What will you gain by this sin?
Do not forget in the illusion of this world; be humble because you will have to die.
(On the Day of Judgement) Prophet Muhammad will intercede.
Fear the falsity and do not forget in the illusion of this world.
Be humble because you will have to die.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin)
Pir Sadr al-Din also explains in his composition Yara Shafayat Muhammad that Prophet will intercede on the Day of Judgement and the believer will earn an abode in Heaven:
Yaaraa shafayat Muhammad karshe
moman bahesht lahandaa…v 1
O friend! Prophet Muhammad will intercede
and believers will attain Paradise.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin, Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan)
Pir Sadr al-Din teaches in his composition Alaf nirala:
Eji Bujore bhaai chhatra konn tannaan
chhatra Mahamad Mustafaa tannaa ji… v 10
Through whom is the care and protection?
Know, O Brothers! The care and protection is through Nabi Muhammad Mustafa (the Chosen).
Annemarie Schimel notes:
“Since the name is part, and a very important part indeed, of a thing or person, it carries baraka, blessing power, with it, and when someone is endowed with special power or occupies a particularly lofty rank, his name too can work in a mysterious way on people who are given the same name … ” (And Muhammad is His Messenger p 117).
Yunus Emre’s invocation written ca. 1300 says:
“Please pray for us on Doomsday –
Your name is beautiful, you are beautiful, Muhammad!…”
(Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger, p 117)
Sayyid Saleh composed:
Ye mithaa naam Muhammad ka suno maaraa munivaraa …..v 1
O brother! Listen to the sweet name of Muhammad.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin Ginan Central University of Saskatchewan)
Ali S. Asani, Ecstasy and Enlightenment, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2002
Azim Nanji, The Nizari Isma’ili Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, Caravan Books, New York, 1978
Nimira is an invited writer at Ismailimail, although she has contributed several articles in the past (view previous articles). She also has her own blog – Nimirasblog – where she writes short articles on Ismaili history and Muslim civilisations. When not researching and writing, Nimira volunteers at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and at a women’s shelter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.