Ginans explain ayats on nearness of the Divine

And indeed We have created man
And We know what his soul whispers to him,
And We are nearer to him than [his] jugular vein” (Q 50:16).

“God said: I could not be contained in the heavens and the earth but can be contained in the heart of a true believer.”
Hadith of Prophet Muhammad

Ginans are a vast collection comprising 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 gyan, meaning contemplative knowledge, Ginans refer to the poetic compositions authored by Ismaili Pirs, who came to the Indian subcontinent in the eleventh century to teach the Ismaili interpretation of Islam. The literature is also shared by the Imamshahi community in Gujarat, who are believed to have split off from the Nizari Ismailis in the sixteenth century.

At the time that Pirs worked in the subcontinent, the field of devotional poetry was flourishing, with figures such as Narasimha Maeta (15th century), Mirabai (1498-1557), Narhari (17th century), Kabir (1440-1518), Guru Nanak (1469-1539), among others. A tradition of mystical poetry was also developing among the Sufis. Pirs were highly sensitive to the cultural and intellectual environment in which they were working just as during Fatimid times, the da’is explained Ismaili doctrines using Neo-Platonic language, while during the Persian period (Alamut and post-Alamut), they used Sufi terminology. Thus, the Pirs used the subcontinent’s many languages, folk songs, myths, and traditional music to articulate core concepts of Islam and the Ismaili interpretation.

Ginans served as  “secondary scriptures that mediate between the community of the faithful and the Qur’an. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah stated: “If there were amongst you individuals who had read the Qur’an and are well-versed with the ginans, I would be able to point out to you each verse of the ginans from the Qur’an” (cited in “Nizari Ismaili Engagements with the Qur’an).
(More on Ginans )

To explain the ayats about nearness of the Divine, Pirs and their descendants – Sayyids – composed several Ginans including:

In his compositions, Pir Sadardin said:
Sab ghat saami maaro bharpur bethaa,
tame gaafal dur ma dekho, ek jiyo jire bhaire
 (v 1).

My Lord resides in every heart,
don’t deem Him far o you mindless one, O brother! He is the only One.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin, Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan)

Sakhi maari aatam naa odhaar ke alag ma jaajore,
evo saroop mindariyo saar tiyaa tame biraajo re

O my friend! O saviour of my soul! Do not be separated from me,
come and sit in my heart which is a beautiful and exalted place.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin, Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan)

Sayyid Imam Shah, in his composition Hetesun milo maaraa munivaro, explained:
Paak to saheb ji nu naam chhe, tene jampiye saas usaas,
dur ma dekho dil maahe vase

jem champaa phool maahe vaas (v 4).

The Lord’s name is holy, remember it in every breath,
do not consider Him far, he dwells in the heart
just as fragrance exists in the flower champaa.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin, Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan)

Plumeria (champaa). Image: Wikipedia

Eji rome rome maaro Shah vase ane antar nahi ek til,
evo jaani ne bhagataaki kijiye, Shah partak bethaa dil
 (v 5).

Believers, Within every hair of my body, my Lord resides and He is not far by even a distance of one grain of sesame,
perform your worship while thinking of Him thus, the Lord is always present and seated in your heart.
(tr. Ali Asani)

Pir Imamdin, in verse 2 of his composition Aapnu aap pichhaano, instructs:
panj vaarantaa man varjine liyo
dil illala sun laavo

Renounce selfishness by warding off the five passions (anger, greed, pride, lust, attachment to the illusionary world), fix your heart on “Except God”
[as in la ilaha illa’llah “There is no god except God”].
(tr. Ali Asani)

Sayyida Imam Begum, in her composition Hardam karo abhias, says:
damo dam maaraa saamine srevjo
saami maaro chhe tamaare paas, karine dekhoji
 (v 1).

Remember my Lord in every breath,
my Lord is very near to you.

Tamaaro saami tame manhe emaj bethi ji
jiyun hae phoolo maahe vaas
 ( v 3).

Your Lord is in you
as the fragrance is in the flower.

Ajampiyaa jaap bhaai ghat bhitaarji
sohi ghat hoeshe ujaash 
(v 7).

The heart in which there is silent remembrance
that heart will be enlightened.
(tr. M & Z Kamaluddin, Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan)

Pir Shams explains:
Hum dil khalak Allah sohi vase ji,
jene kaayam kudarat chalaai ebi Allah
 (v 1).

In our hearts, resides Allah the Creator; the same Lord Allah who establishes
and sustains the everlasting nature and creation. He is indeed the Lord.

In his composition Saloko Moto, he teaches:
satgur kahere: dil mahe deval pujiye, ane dil maahe dev duvaar
dil maahe saayaa aape vase, ane dil maahe aape didaar.

Worship the Lord in the heart, and in the heart is the abode of the Lord.
In your heart the Lord resides, and in the heart He bestows His Vision.

Image: Wikipedia

The way to personal fulfillment, to individual reconciliation with the Universe that is about us, is comparatively easy for anyone who firmly and sincerely believes, as I do, that Divine Grace has given man in his own heart the possibilities of illumination and of union with Reality.”⁣
Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, The Memoirs of Aga Khan, Cassell & Co. Ltd., p 334

Mawlana Hazar Imam speaking at the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Aga Khan Museum and their park. Photo: AKDN / Gary Otte

As the poet Rumi has written: “The light that lights the eye is also the light of the heart… but the light that lights the heart is the Light of God.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam

Further reading:
Pirs composed Ginans to teach Ismaili doctrines
Ginan composers were acquainted with an already well-developed set of Ismaili beliefs
Ginan themes include laments of the soul, supplications, and ethics

Ali Asani, Hymns of Wisdom, Claremont McKenna College (1:09:46)
Ali Asani, The Ginans – Awakening the Soul Through Wisdom (1:14:14)
Ali Asani, “Nizari Ismaili Engagements with the Qur’an: the Khojas of South Asia,” published in Communities of the Qur’an, Edited by Emran El-Badawi and Paula Sanders, Oneworld Academic, 2019
Shafique N. Virani, “Symphony of Gnosis,” published in Reason and Inspiration in Islam Ed. Todd Lawson, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2005 (p 502-521)
Tazim Kassam, Songs of Wisdom and Circle of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Isma’ili Muslim Saint, Pir Shams, State University of New York Press, 1995

Contributed by Nimira Dewji. Nimira is an invited writer who 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 the unhoused, and at a women’s shelter. She can be reached at

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