The Marriage of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan:
Sexuality, Death and Transgression in Hinduism and Islam

[Dedicated to all those who still continue to celebrate
the marriage of Hinduism and Islam in the Indian subcontinent]


Sunthar Visuvalingam
(with the collaboration of Elizabeth Chalier-Visuvalingam)

[#819 West Cuyler Ave., Chicago, IL 60613-2112, USA. Tel. / Fax: (773) 868-1070 (home); mobile: (773) 398-2300]

Expanded version of paper already published in

Islam and the Modern Age

(Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, Lucknow)

and to be appear in reworked and condensed form in a monograph by
Sunthar Visuvalingam (with Elizabeth Chalier-Visuvalingam)

Between Mecca and Banaras:
An Acculturation Model of Hindu-Muslim Relations

Transgressive Sacrality and the Processual Approach to Religious Traditions

The Marriage and Cult of Lat Bhairava: What it means to be a Banarasi even Today

The Marriage (urs) of Ghazi Miyan: Muharram and the Sacrificial Pole (qutb) of (Indian) Islam

Divide, Rule and Unify: Religious Dualism and the Dialectics of Human Violence

Lat Bhairava, the scapegoat of the Lord of the Universe: From the Hindu-Muslim Riots of 1809 to the ‘Gandhian’ Civil Disobedience of 1811

Between Banaras and Mecca: Hierarchy, Egalitarianism and Autonomy

The Felling of the World Pillar: An Islamic Fulfillment of Vedic Cosmogony?

The Marriage of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan:
Sexuality, Death and Transgression in Hinduism and Islam

[Dedicated to all those who still continue to celebrate
the marriage of Hinduism and Islam in the Indian subcontinent]

My heart is capable of every form,
a cloister of the monk, a temple for idols,
a pasture for gazelles, the votary’s Ka’ba,
the tables of the Torah, the Quran.
Love is the creed I hold: Wherever turn
His camels, love is still my creed and faith.
(Ibn al-Arabi, Tarjuman 11.13—5;
cited from Peters 3:98)

Between Mecca and Banaras:
Towards an Acculturation-Model of Muslim-Hindu Relations

brahmanical, Muslim, folkloric and political approaches to syncretism

The Indo-Islamic cult of Ghazi Miyan is representative of a religious syncretism––once prevalent among both Hindus and Muslims––that has become a source of embarrassment to (especially modernists of) both the high traditions. For the Hindus, it is an outrageous travesty of their proverbial tolerance that less enlightened co-religionists could have participated so massively in celebrating a proselytizing Muslim warrior: one whose sole pleasure in life––and in death––was to eradicate the timeworn practices of their ancestors, slaughtering them in the very process of converting them. For the Muslims, it is simply scandalous that those who daily profess the unicity of God (shahadah) could have given themselves up to such idolatrous worship (shirk) under the thin veneer of Islam: to the extent of transforming this zealous iconoclast, the nephew of Mohammed of Ghazni, into so transparent a Hindu idol. On the other hand, and despite the ethnocentrism inherent in the discipline, some Indologists, moved by sympathy for the ‘subjects’ (rather than the mere objects) of their study, have glorified these muffled and rapidly fading testimonies of an earlier symbiosis, in order to argue that Hinduism and Islam could very well accommodate each other at the popular level. Anthropologists among them find it easy to pose as champions of an Indian folk religion that would conform neither to the brahmanical nor to the Koranic models: the ideal hunting ground for leftist Indian intellectuals in search of a ‘subaltern’ (pre-) consciousness that would have resisted domination by both church and state. A Western political historian has gone so far as to adduce Hindu participation in Muharram, and Muslim participation in the Ramlila, in order to assert that ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ as categories did not exist in (the Banaras of) the early nineteenth century! It is even possible for a Muslim historian of religion, proud of his Indian heritage, to oppose such acculturated or ‘Hinduizing’ forms of his faith to an otherwise Meccan-oriented Islam. In this way, secular scholarship, when it does not simply write off such syncretism as a mindless aberration, continues to abet the dichotomy between high and folk religion. The latter may well remain informed by symbolic molds deriving from classical religion, but it is of little relevance, so it would seem, for understanding the self-consciously distinctive projects of either Hinduism or Islam. All the more so because the annual marriage festival of Ghazi Miyan culminated in the breaking not only of caste barriers, but even of religious barriers between Hindus and their Muslim neighbors. Surely, such blatant transgression of the law––the (temporary) dissolution of both shariat and dharma in an atmosphere of general licence and promiscuity––could hardly constitute the true end of Islam nor of Hinduism, nor of any other religious tradition, at least as observed and understood by the majority of its adherents!

critique: syncretism provides a handle on both Hinduism and Islam

What has become, within the cult of Ghazi Miyan, of the violence of that initial confrontation between iconoclastic fervor and the adoration of the gods on earth? Secular scholarship feels no obligation to dispel this genuine bewilderment of both Hindu and Muslim. It was, nevertheless, within the shared sacred space of such syncretic practices, among the common devotees of Ghazi Miyan and Lat Bhairava, that there ignited the unprecedented Hindu-Muslim riots of 1809, which polarized the whole of Banaras along religious lines. Would the Muslim weavers––whom colonial anthropology had already labeled as ‘bigoted’ and even ‘fanatical’ in their faith––have become the purists they are now, if they had not once been staunch devotees of Ghazi Miyan, to whom they still attribute the conversion of their ancestors? The Muslim modernist is unable, or unwilling, to conceptualize the facilitating role of such ‘polytheisizing’ tendencies in the expansion and consolidation of an otherwise uncompromising iconoclasm. Though this is clearly what the Prophet himself did in conserving the pilgrimage rites around the pagan Ka’aba as the most tangible symbol and central pillar of the monotheistic creed. Would the untouchable Doms of Banaras––whose funerary services are indispensable for the salvation of even the purest brahmans––have remained such fervent pilgrims to the tomb of the Muslim martyr at Bahraich, if Islam were indeed so alien an intrusion upon Indian soil? The Hindu modernist is unable, or equally unwilling, to conceive of the ‘eternal order’ (sanatana dharma) itself as the cumulative product of such a continuous process of acculturation that goes back to (pre-) Aryan times. When properly analyzed, especially from a semiotic perspective, the Hindu-Buddhist syncretism that is so generalized among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, rather reveals the manner in which the incorporation of Buddhist values and innovations allowed the brahmanical paradigm to extend and consolidate its hold in areas of the subcontinent that would have otherwise forever remained outside the Vedic symbolic universe (Chalier-Visuvalingam and Visuvalingam 1993). The abstract exercise of comparative religion tends to reify the doctrinal differences between the traditions being compared and, even in the process of attempting to bridge these differences, ends up imposing reductionist categories that often do not do justice to either tradition. This is the inevitable strategy of ‘divide-and-rule’ that the discourse of modernity exercises over religious dialects in a world that has already outgrown their categories. Deciphering the ‘processual’ logic of religious syncretism offers us, by contrast, a vantage point for understanding how the rival religions were able to define a common ground––as expressed through shared sacred space and time––in their struggle to enlist, and eventually ‘colonize’, communities (nominally) adhering to the opposing faith. Syncretism, thus approached, could even provide the empirical and theoretical basis for a reversal of perspective wherein the opposing traditions reveal themselves as overlapping––and not entirely exclusive––possibilities derived from a set of shared assumptions. Though reworked into an overtly sacrificial model within the Hindu worship of divine images, and into proselytizing martyrdom within Islamic iconoclasm, the identification of death and sexual union is a common denominator that unites the two great religions: it is the central theme of the peculiarly Indo-Islamic cult of Ghazi Miyan.

monograph: Between Mecca and Banaras

In a book under preparation––entitled Between Mecca and Banaras: the Marriage of Lat-Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan––I use my paradigm of ‘transgressive sacrality’ (Visuvalingam 1986, 1989, 1993b) to derive, from such syncretic practices, a general model of Hindu-Muslim relations. This endeavor feeds into a ‘processual’ but non-reductive approach to religious traditions in general, and to their differing modes of interaction with the discourse of modernity. While underlining the crucial religious differences and socio-historical processes that provided the immediate context for the Banaras riot of 1809, the study at the same time––and without contradiction––depicts and interprets this ‘War of the Lat’ upon the backdrop of the pre-existing ritualization of human violence, and the accompanying mystical valorization of death, within each tradition considered separately. In reworking three of its sections here, I have restricted my efforts to showing how this model can not only account for the peculiar logic underlying the development of the cult of Ghazi Miyan, but also provide unexpected insights into the symbolic strategies through which Islam has succeeded in imposing and consolidating itself as a world-religion well before it reached the confines of South Asia. More than a mere strategy, it suggests that such incorporation of pagan practices is at the very roots of the monotheistic faith, and perhaps central to its self-definition. Above all, this essay offers fresh conceptual tools for analyzing the intimate relation between the popular and esoteric dimensions of a religious tradition, how they transgress and yet complement––even fulfill––the distinctive project embodied within its orthodox self-representation.

Hinduism and Islam as opposing collective projects: violence

The specificity of a religious tradition would be defined by a reigning idea-value-intention, encoded into its dogmas, institutions and practices, that slowly develops into a tentacular collective project. The egalitarian paradigm of Islamic practice, which insisted in principle on the political sovereignty of the community of believers (umma) as the precondition even for the individualized pursuit of salvation, would in this way have come into conflict with the hierarchic model of Hindu caste-society, which insisted on the primacy of purity and renunciation as the determining criteria in a continual process of ranked acculturation which in principle precluded any exclusively sectarian self-definition of polity. Muslim society in India was certainly stratified into castes, especially at its lower levels: there was often no intermarriage nor commensality. For all their reputed bigotry, the ‘faithful’ (momin) weavers were among the most caste-conscious, and even patronized their own mosques like the one at Lat Bhairava. Admittedly, such inequalities in practice were not simply a deviation imposed by the all-embracing Hindu milieu but had their roots in social institutions that were well entrenched in Persia and even Arabia: the literati and the warriors were superior to the peasants and artisans; some occupations considered vile, like that of the weavers or sweepers, were at the limit of untouchability. "This hierarchical doctrine was reaffirmed in the last great juridical compendium compiled on the orders of the very orthodox Aurangzeb under the name of Al-fatawa al-alamgiriyya" (Gaborieau, 1994:185).

Are the pan-Islamic egalitarian convictions of the Muslim modernist then due to a gross misreading of his tradition or, at best, the reclamation of Meccan values that had fallen into a long Indian slumber under the seductive spell of a pagan but highly civilized culture? If Muslims already constituted a unified community, the pilgrimage to the Kaaba would amount to no more than a ‘mere ritual’ albeit a grandiose one. Likewise, if the egalitarian ideal had already been realized, what need to impose the common submission of the Friday prayer? Rather, the ideal must be understood as working itself out in history not only through, but also within, and even in spite of, its imperfect realizations in the spatio-temporal conditioning of any given community. Muslim dynasties were able to maintain their grip over a predominantly Hindu society only by respecting or at least conceding to its norms. But such adaptive acculturation ran the increasing risk of blissfully succumbing to that Hindu capacity for absorption that earlier invaders had found so irresistible. The religious elite (ulema), particularly those of foreign descent––who depended on Muslim rule for their sustained patronage and socio-political influence––would legitimize such concessions only to the extent that the basic tenets of Islamic doctrine and practice were not irredeemably compromised. Hence the constant oscillation between genuine accommodation and outright rejection––between Akbar and Aurangzeb––that ensured the continued survival and predominance of a distinct Islamic polity in India, and thereby provided the politico-religious context for the further penetration of Indian society, at all levels, by the latent egalitarian thrust of Islam. More significant than Islam’s connivance at the contraband of hierarchical values inevitably smuggled in by native converts, is the extent to which it inspired
––if only by way of violent opposition (as in the case of Sikhism)––(religious currents embodying) the same ideal even within the ranks of Hinduism.

Unlike the secular ideologies of today, however, the socio-religious paradigms simultaneously encode a commitment to certain transcendental and even esoteric aims which address themselves to universal human aspirations. The identification of death and sexual union, especially as revealed in the syncretic cults of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan, is very much a part of this common symbolic core shared by Hinduism and Islam. Ultimately, this equation does not make sense except as the mythico-ritual projection of a lived experience of ‘initiatic death’ that has come to grips with and inwardly transformed those primary, largely unconscious, undifferentiated energies that are channelled into otherwise structured expressions of human sexuality and violence. These scenarios of the sacred thus also reveal the shared concern of containing and productively re-directing an innate human violence. But the differing requirements of an expanding polity (umma) unified around an egalitarian ideal, and of a hierarchic society, based on the opposition of the pure and the impure and strained by regional, inter-caste and sectarian tensions, resulted in a divergence of emphases in the shared sacrificial paradigm. Primarily directed outward through holy war (jihad) in propagating the monotheistic creed which encoded the universalism of Islam, violence, in Hindu society, was instead repressed through the ascetic-brahmanical ideal (ahimsa), only to be ultimately turned back upon itself through (the multiple transpositions of) a Vedic paradigm centered on the identification of killer and victim in an (at least symbolic) act of human sacrifice. The difficulty of subordinating the inherent logic of human violence to even religious constructions of such power and magnitude is revealed in the constant resurgence of a ‘primitive’ dualistic pattern which tends to feed upon and ritualize other sources of (economic, political, clan-based, etc.) tension within both these societies. The New Year festivals of the Newars (Kathmandu Valley) and the Sunni-Shia conflicts of Muharram in, and well beyond, Indo-Pakistan bear testimony to the continuing need for such safety-valves. Even the global conflict on the doctrinal level between Hinduism and Islam has been undermined, distorted and compounded by this dualistic deep-structure, by the fact that neither tradition has been wholly successful in domesticating violence for its own purposes. Without such mechanisms of relative control offered by the domain of the sacred, however, the increasingly global society of today runs an even greater risk of succumbing to a generalization of violence (Girard 1977).

Islamic esoterism and ‘polytheism’

The egalitarian universalism of Islam rests primarily upon its five pillars which have a monotheistic iconoclasm as their legalistic basis, for the polytheistic pantheon serves precisely to legitimize a segmented and even hierarchical model of society (Dumont 1966:260) which can easily slide from relations of ranked interdependence into a hegemonic system of domination. The esoteric values have been especially encoded into the symbolic paradigms that unite the literature and ecstatic practices of the Sufi elite with the popular quasi-polytheistic cult of the marabouts and pirs. Though the tension and oscillation between the two poles is bridged by an implicit sacrificial ideology, which can even become the explicit center of gravity in certain configurations like Shia messianism, this fundamental paradox of monotheism is resolvable only in teleological terms, as favoring a process of interiorization of both the social and the mystical values encoded within a single symbolic framework. It corresponds to the inherent tension between material forms––in the absence of which the symbols remain inaccessible or impotent, and in the presence of which they risk becoming idols––and the structured meanings they serve to convey. More than a grudging concession to the vulgar masses, Islamic ‘polytheism’ was not only rarefied through its insertion within the greater Meccan tradition, but also served to extend and propagate the latter through peaceful syncretizing––as opposed to violent conversion––among (ex-) polytheists deriving from or still adhering to another great tradition like Hinduism. Such an attempt to incorporate local forms of Hindu idolatry into the otherwise exclusive Islamic universe necessarily came into silent or overt conflict with a parallel process whereby such popular cults were being drawn into the independent symbolic universe of high brahmanism. For Hindu polytheism was instead informed by the values of brahmanical hierarchy, that proceeded by gradually purifying even tribal cults of their impure and violent elements while continuing to reinscribe the latter within the symbolic paradigm of the Vedic sacrifice. By countenancing the multiplicity of gods and sacred centers, the brahmanical model of society favored a fragmented decentralized polity, and even a diversity of cultures, held together by a shared mythico-ritual universe dominated by the ideal of purity. At the same time, it was supplemented––and partly neutralized––by a tantric paradigm which explicitly favored the interiorization of image worship within a scheme of individual salvation. Whether it functioned as a strategy of social stratification that took even Muslim ‘castes’ into its non-sectarian politico-economic framework, or as a technique of self-perfection that could enter into a fruitful spiritual symbiosis with certain Sufi orders, Hinduism as a religious process contradicted the Islamic project of a universalizing egalitarian community to whose law all individual aspirations are also subordinated. Whereas the political strength of Islam thus lay in its exclusive but open self-definition as an iconoclastic monotheism, the social strength of Hinduism lay in its inclusive but hierarchical self-definition in terms of an elaborate and elastic mythico-ritual universe whose values were most tangibly embodied in the visible pantheon of the gods on earth. The uneasy compromise of the two opposing models is manifest in the idolatrous Hindu worship of the iconoclast Ghazi Miyan, and the Muslim appropriation of Lat-Bhairava in his non-anthropomorphic form as the world-pillar.

transgressive sacrality in Islam

Any totalizing hermeneutic of a religious tradition has to sooner or later confront the impossibility of deciphering its symbolic universe without coming to grips with the ‘liminality’ that paradoxically pervades the whole system, and even seems to govern its functioning from within. The problem is that many, if not most, instances of liminality––like the anonymous condition of the tribal initiates, status reversals during festivals like Holi, the transgressions of the sacred clown, the ritualized conflicts characteristic of Muharram and the Newar festivals of Bhairava––serve just as much to cement and reinforce as to undermine the social order. Structure, as I use the term here, refers primarily to the binary classification of signs as a function of their opposed values, an organization, reflected in both social institutions and individual motivations, that serves as the matrix for the generation of meaning through varied modes of symbolic behavior and discourse. The distinctive structure of a religious tradition is ultimately based on the specific network of prohibitions and injunctions which determine the positive or negative values attributed to particular objects or acts. The Hindu social strategy of caste-ranking is organized around the opposition of the pure and the impure, whereas the universalizing egalitarian project of Islam has been translated into a law-code that in principle disallows any hierarchy within, or mediation with respect to, the one transcendent god, and any other sacred center that may rival Mecca. If liminality seems to overflow the limited category of events that transgress these normative rules to the extent of pervading, entering into a dialectical relationship with, and even contributing towards the finality of structure, it does so primarily through a shift of perspective from that of social order to that of totalizing meaning. This shift from a psychologizing approach in terms of functions and norms, or a sociologizing approach in terms of conflicts and rules, to a semiotic approach in terms of signification and system, allows the same configuration of signs to be interpreted simultaneously as reinforcing and/or as undermining the structure of the religious tradition. Even in those Abrahamic traditions which accord primacy to political sovereignty over individual salvation, the messianic age remains defined by the universal suspension of the law: the figure of the messiah, despite and because of his centrality to the system of values, is itself surcharged with a transgressive sacrality. More than providing the doctrinal basis for an alternative, rival and hierarchized community within Islam, the quasi-theistic figure of the Shia Imam becomes the messianic focus for a systematic rereading of the Koranic law in the hidden light of a transgressive hermeneutic. Seen in this light, discreet violations of the shariat by Sufis of the lawless variety assume a religious significance far greater than that of an individual technique of self-annihilation grudgingly tolerated by the enveloping Sunni society. Folk religion–– syncretism, in particular––seems to have provided the diverse strands of an otherwise elitist esotericism with a privileged locus for the exteriorization, conservation and propagation of a tabooed dimension that had to necessarily remain hidden within the exoteric forms of their respective traditions. Facilitated by the shared perception of violent death as the consummation of a mystical marriage, the transgressive celebration of Ghazi Miyan’s festival not only transcended the distinction between Sunni and Shia. In the larger context of the growing communalization of Hindu-Muslim relations––questioned and yet abetted in so many ways by the discourse of modernity––it has become all the more urgent to reconsider how this marriage of Ghazi Miyan and Lat Bhairava also dissolved the opposition between Hinduism and Islam.

The Marriage (urs) of Ghazi Miyan and Lat Bhairava:
Death and Cosmogony in Banaras

Most Muslims recognize the centrality of Banaras for Hinduism and the sacredness of the Ganga as an ‘objective’ fact. But what Hindus do not realize is that for the Muslims of Banaras, even while Mecca and Medina remain the nuclei of Islam, Banaras is an important Islamic centre. The older mosques of Banaras, Dhai Kangura, Ganj Shahida, and Abdul Razzak Shah, and the tombs of Lal Khan, Fakr-ud-din, and Ghazi Mian are all seen as testimony to the legitimacy of the Muslim presence and the Muslim share in the city’s culture. Among those that date from Aurangzeb’s time, the Gyanvapi, Lat, and Dharhara mosques are regarded with special pride, and are indeed imposing architectural artifacts (Kumar 1988:75—76; cf. 1989:167).

Cult of Ghazi Miyan

Ghazi Miyan was born into ‘history’ at Ajmer in 1014 as Salar Masud, the nephew of Mahmud of Ghazni, who led the first Muslim invasions of India. Mahmud is particularly renowned, at least among the Hindus, for his destruction and looting of the magnificent temple of Somanath in Gujarat. Disgusted with his uncle, who was moved more by greed than by missionary zeal, Salar Masud set off on his own to eradicate the pagan religion, and to convert the infidels to the true faith. As his desire for martyrdom was as intense as his proselytizing zeal, he headed the Muslim warriors in their numerous incursions into the Gangetic plain, until he was felled in battle in 1033 at the tender age of 19 by the Hindus. When Muslim domination over north India was permanently established towards the end of the 12th century, his tomb at Bahraich (north-eastern Uttar Pradesh) was rediscovered. It became such an important pilgrimage site that, already by the 13th century, the poet Amir Khusru could speak of the whole of Hindustan being embalmed by the fragrance from the perfumed tomb. The ballads, which are sung by low-caste Muslim musicians (dafali) belonging to a fraternity devoted to his cult, make Bahraich itself his birthplace. He was cursed even before his birth to be martyred on his wedding-day. On the fateful day, he has to exchange his marriage garments for armor, and the wedding music becomes martial as he rides out to battle. He annihilates the aggressors; it is only while returning that he is killed by the arrow of a survivor.

In India, poles whose summit is ornamented with an effigy of the head of the martyred hero are taken out in procession; in Nepal, it is the pole itself which receives the blood of kids offered to obtain rain; no doubt that in these rites, it is the saint himself who is represented by the poles through a symbolism which is widespread in the Muslim world (Gaborieau 1975:314).

Sacrifice to 2 Poles at Kuraha

On Saturday afternoon in the Muslim village of Kuraha in Nepal, the pole is carried from the forest, preceded by untouchable Hindu musicians (damai), to be deposed beside the mango tree in whose shade is the replica of the Bahraich tomb. In Kuraha this stone platform (mazar) is housed in a small square building constructed exactly on the model of the Hindu temples of the region. On Sunday morning, the Muslim men attach an oriflamme to the summit of the new pole before raising it against the mango-tree. They then level the pole raised two years ago leaving that of the previous year intact, so that there are always two poles standing permanently against the tree. The three kids to be sacrificed are made to give their consent in the well-known Hindu manner. The two white kids reserved for Allah alone are sacrificed facing Mecca, according to the rules of halal so that the blood flows into the earth. The throat of the third kid, the black one, is slit at the foot of the new pole so as to impregnate the wood with its blood. "Everyone agreed that the blood was destined not for Allah, but to the pole, linga, itself, to which it is offered (carhaunu) like a victim to a Hindu god" (Gaborieau 1975:307).

transgressive marriage-festival

In India, as opposed to Nepal, there is a "massive participation of Hindus in the offerings to the tomb and to the pole, symbols which they could easily assimilate to the material supports of their gods" (Gaborieau 1975:315). William Crooke (1896, 1:207) had already suggested an original sun cult with a cosmogonic marriage, and Gaborieau adds that the pole itself, "in the rites meant to obtain rain, appears as a sort of phallic symbol uniting heaven and earth" (1975:313). Ghazi Miyan, the martyred youth, is not just the lord of rain and the harvests, his tomb dispenses all boons, particularly sons to the childless. It is thus not so much the martyr’s union with Allah that is the popular focus of the Muslim cult, but rather the regenerative forces unleashed by his tragic marriage, which begins to be celebrated in India even 2 to 3 days before the Sunday festival. A bed, a couch and other accessories are sent to the tomb in the belief that Ghazi Miyan annually re-enacts his wedding. He is even said to have been wearing his wedding robes when he was struck down. The men call him ‘the delight of the fiancé’ (gajna dulha) and the women call him ‘Salar the libertine’ (salar chinali). "The women who enter the tomb fall down in a faint believing that the saint has sucked them¼ And the water pressed out from the under-garment (lungi) of the saint is distributed to the faithful as a sign of fertility" (Gaborieau 1975:297). In the Nepali cult at the Muslim village of Kuraha, the exchanges of love songs between the otherwise rigidly segregated sexes on Saturday night invariably develops into promiscuous flirting and even extra-marital unions.

Not only is the distinction of caste momentarily suspended, as in every Hindu festival, but the distinction between Hindus and Muslims ceases momentarily to operate. This licence¼ is associated everywhere in India with the festival of Ghazi Miyan and this since a long time for protests by the orthodox authorities have been noted since the beginning of the fifteenth century (Gaborieau 1975:313).

Despite some persisting rules of the game regarding social distances, the carnival-like atmosphere tends to dissolve all restraints among the revelers.

Dulha-deo and marriage of two pillars

Ghazi Miyan is the Muslim counterpart of the generic Dûlhadeo, ‘the bridegroom deity’, whose cult "is widely spread from the Central Provinces up to the hills which rise above the valley of the Ganges" (Crooke 1926:101). Stone pillars are often associated with the tragic fate of this folk-deity who died on his wedding day. In the Narbada valley, there are two such pillars, the shorter being the affianced bride of the taller bridegroom who was arriving in the marriage procession (barat): they were both transformed into pillars, in their very eagerness, when they first saw each other at the same moment. "In the Mirzapur District Dûlhadeo presides over marriage, being worshipped in the family kitchen at marriages¼ Kharwârs worship him at the house hearth when a newly married pair come home, the goat for sacrifice being fed on rice and pulse, and the worshipper folding his hands says, ‘Take it, Dûlhadeo!’¼ As a rule he abides in a corner of the hearth, and the animal offered to him must be a goat of dark colour" (loc. cit.), usually red. The basic elements of the marriage of Ghazi Miyan at Kuraha––the two poles, the goat, and especially the notion of a tragic death––are thus already present in the sacrifice of the ‘bridegroom deity’ practised by tribal groups at various rungs on the ladder of acculturation towards the norms of classical Hinduism.

Islamization of Hindu folk-cult

Ghazi Miyan’s continuing fame as the ‘messiah of lepers’ (Mahmood 1989:37-38) attracts multitudes of patients especially during the great fair of the wedding. The ancient worship of the sun in order to heal leprosy and skin-diseases in general is based on a symbolic association which finds sanction in Hindu astrological treatises. Represented by a phallic pole planted upon the earthen (termite-) mound within which he lives as the serpent-king, Ghazi Miyan incorporates the same embryogonic symbolism as the solar Martanda-Bhairava in the Deccan where the cow, the Ganga and the mound all signify the maternal womb. He is especially worshipped by the Hindu Doms, among whom some sub-castes identify Ghazi Miyan with Lal Beg, the warrior son of their ancestor Valmiki. They are no doubt continuing with a tenacious tradition which pre-existed the cult of this Muslim ‘Sun of Martyrdom’ (Aftab-i Shahadat), who was buried under a Mahua tree beside a sun-temple so much so that his head is still supposed to rest on the image of the sun. Held sacred by the forest tribes, the Mahua tree is intimately linked to death: an adult may be cremated under it. The Gonds in Bengal even fasten the corpse in an erect posture to its trunk. Like the bamboo, mango, Champa, Bilva and some other trees (Crooke 1926:404—18, esp. 409, 415—16), the Mahua is also an integral element of the ordinary marriage rituals of many castes and tribes, such as the Bâgdi, Kurmi, Munda and Santâl.

Many tribes and castes make bride and bridegroom walk around a post fixed in the centre of the marriage shed, and each group selects their special holy tree for this purpose. Binjhwârs in the Central Provinces plant a trunk of the Mahua tree (Bassia latifolia), with two branches, in the marriage shed.¼ [The Kurmis place two posts,] one longer than the other, to represent the bride and the bridegroom, [in the shed] which represents the hut in which, among the lower castes, consummation immediately follows the marriage rite.¼ The most significant example of a marriage pole is that used by the Bharvâds of Gujarât. This is called Mânik-stambha, ‘a ruby-pillar’, because it gleams with blood. The tree is decorated and the astrologer orders the chief man to cut his little finger and mark the stem with blood. If the astrologer finds that the time is unsuited for the use of human blood, the ear of a black sheep is cut and the stem is smeared with its blood (Crooke 1926:404).

Identified with both bridegroom and bride, the ‘androgynous’ tree is often the surrogate victim that assumes, especially in the case of remarriage, what may aptly be called the latent ‘marital violence’ (Crooke 1926:197—8, 415). Among such tribes undergoing ‘hinduization’, the marriage ritual was in this way already equated to a sacrifice. As a proposal of marriage, Rajputs and other high castes, for example, send to the bridegroom a coconut, a regular substitute for the human head in the worship of the Mother-Goddess (Crooke 1926:410—11). The sun itself is believed to reside at the top of certain trees, and remains symbolically identified with the ‘head’ of the wooden pole made from their trunk. A bachelor from the tumbler caste (Kolhâti), for example, may marry a widow if he first undergoes a ‘sun marriage’ (arka-vivaha) with a Rui tree (Calatropis gigantea; Crooke 1926:198, cf. 410 for the Nîm tree). Killed in his attempt to annihilate the Shaiva sun-cult of the Bhars at Bahraich, Salar Masud paradoxically ended up merely obscuring its pagan character. The proselytizing saint succeeded in eradicating human sacrifice, only by promoting the underlying tribal paradigm in an Islamicized mould focused upon himself as a martyr (Schwerin 1981).

Marriage of Ghazi Miyan in Banaras

But what is the relevance of this ‘popular’ folk-cult, thriving on the fringes of classical brahmanism, to the larger question of Hindu-Muslim relations in the Indian subcontinent? While heading for Bahraich in 1034—35, Salar Masud had dispatched a portion of his army and its retinue under Malik Afzal Alavi to take Varanasi, the sacred city of the Hindus (Sukul 1974: 152—5, 1977:24—26). The invading contingent was thoroughly defeated on the northern outskirts beyond the boundary wall of the city at the site where the Masjid Ganj-i-Shahidan now stands near the Kashi Railway station (the mosque was unearthed only during this construction activity). The Muslim civilians, with their women and children, were permitted to settle down in that area as townsmen. Over the following century, they peacefully served the Hindu kings even as soldiers. After Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the chief general of Muhammad Ghori, had devastated the city in 1194, destroying nearly one thousand temples, the Muslim locality was renamed ‘Salarpur’ or ‘Alavipur / Alaipura’ (which today includes the two wards of Adampura and Jaitpura). The lower-caste Muslims of the area, who are primarily weavers, still celebrate the ‘marriage’ (urs) of Alai Shahid (Alavi, the martyr) and Salar Masud. On the first Sunday of the solar month of Jyestha (falling between 14 and 21 May), they reenact–– like Muslims elsewhere in North India and western Nepal––the annual wedding procession (barat) of Ghazi Miyan’s tragic marriage with Johara Bibi. It moves from the Jaitpura crossing to the domed mausoleum which houses (the replica of) his ‘tomb’ at whose head is a high pillar. The custodians of Muslim tomb-shrines elsewhere in the city generally ‘digress’ into the story of Ghazi Miyan when questioned about the particular saint of their locality (Searle-Chatterjee 1993): the martyred bridegroom provides the very archetype of the pir who shows the way to salvation for the Indian Muslim.

Description of Lat Bhairo

The same Muslims also used to join their lower-caste Hindu neighbors in venerating a pillar that stands in the middle of the large idgah where they congregate for Friday prayers. This Lat Bhairava pillar was almost completely levelled during the ‘unprecedented’ Hindu-Muslim riots of 1809. Today this Hindu icon is a mere stump, 3 feet thick and 7 to 8 feet high, that stands stubbornly but precariously on a slightly elevated stone platform in the midst of the Muslim idgah, where the devout of both faiths continue to pray and offer their respective sacrifices. Entirely encased under protective copper sheeting installed after the riots by the District Magistrate, it is separated from the idgah only by a small enclosing brick wall which can nevertheless be overlooked by Indians of higher stature. Just outside the wall and to the north is the adjoining ‘well of Bharata’ (Bharat kupa), the youngest brother of Lord Rama. Towards the south of this terrace, and 5 or 6 meters below, is a large tank named Kapalamochana, a strong well-built structure with stairs and foundation of solid stone. Many Hindus bathe here for the tank is reputed to cure women of sterility and bathing daily for 40 days can even remove leprosy. There are also some sacred trees: particularly a pippal and a nim tree, whose ‘marriage’ all over India is a Hindu prolongation of the Vedic sacrificial symbolism of (the union of) the asvattha and the sami trees. The shrine is located on the north-eastern part of the present city on the junction of the Grand Trunk Road with the road leading to Sarnath, and is almost a mile west of the confluence of two sacred rivers, the Varana and of course the Ganga. The open praying area of the idgah is bounded on the west by a wall with the niche (mihrab) indicating the orientation (qiblah) of Mecca, so much so that some of the kneeling Muslims in the back rows could easily end up having the Lat between them and the object of their adoration. To the stump of the original Lat, which was once famous among the Hindu population both for its antiquity and for its sanctity, is normally affixed a small mask of Bhairava; almost as if to supervise the work of the cudgel-bearing policeman who are permanently posted in the vicinity to prevent the outbreak of fresh communal tension. For it is here that Kala Bhairava, the divinized magistrate (Kotwal) of Banaras, metes out his (metaphysical) ‘punishment’ to all those who are fortunate enough die in the sacred city.

eradication of human sacrifice: incorporation of Lat in Idgah

Stories still circulating among the Muslims tell of Ghazi Miyan having eradicated the regular human sacrifice at a temple of Somnath that would have existed near the confluence of the Varana and the Ganga. This may refer to a Maharudra temple, probably a Kapalika cult center, which Qutb-ud-din Aibak must have devastated along with the rest of the city. The French lapidary Tavernier saw the pillar in 1665, during the reign of Aurangzeb, within the walled garden––with many sculptures and beautiful architecture––of a mosque. Its shaft, which was 32 to 35 feet high and all of one piece, terminated in a pyramid with a large sphere. The central sepulcher (rauza) of the adjacent Muslim cemetery is made up of ‘Buddhist’ architectural remains. Its old Muslim caretakers spoke to Tavernier of the remains of a king of Bhutan being buried within the central tomb, beliefs which could reflect royal notations originally associated with the stupa. The evidence points to an ‘Ashokan’ pillar, no doubt the one that Hiuen Tsang in 636 A.D. saw standing before a Buddhist stupa. The Hindu texts describing the sacred geography of Banaras refer to a ‘pillar of the great cremation-ground’ (Mahashmashana-stambha) standing at the present location of the Lat. The Kashikhanda (97.64—6), which reflects the post-Islamic adaptations of the mid-14th century, speaks of Maharudra residing with his consort Uma (not in an adjoining temple but) in the pillar itself, near the ‘Lord of the Skull’ (Kapalesha), and refers to the adjacent Kapalamochana. The Kapalikas, who were adepts of the Soma doctrine (now understood as overt sexual rites modelled on Shiva’s union with Uma), generally haunted the cremation-grounds and were adepts of human sacrifice.

purification of Hindu worship: Muslim goat sacrifices during id

The (Maharudra temple around the) Mahashmashana Stambha must have been the haunt of Kapalikas and Pashupatas in the pre-Muslim period. Through a general evolution well attested elsewhere in North India, even in the major Bhairava temples of Banaras and Ujjain, the post-Muslim Lat seems to have been in the religious custody first of the Naths (Jogees), then the Gosains and finally the Brahmins (Chalier-Visuvalingam 1989:159,205—10). This sociological development corresponds to the progressive purification of the Hindu mode of worship from human sacrifice to bloodless vegetarian offerings (cf. Crooke 1926:103—113), leaving it to the Muslims to perform the intermediate goat-sacrifices during their (Baqr) Id celebrations which the ‘brahmanized’ Hindus now find rather distasteful (Kumar 1989:157—8). The Muslim post-riot memorial observed that:

Near the Laut of Eedgah there is a peepul tree, and under this tree the Hindus put some idols and made it a place of their idolatry. When the Musulmans gathered together for the purposes of praying at the Eed, &c., the Brahmins on the spot remove the idols. If there happened to be any which could not be conveniently taken away they were carefully concealed with grass. The faithful on the day of Eed used to perform the sacrifice there and never met with any interruption from the Hindoos (Robinson 1877:114).

Whereas their caste-fellows living in Madanpura resort to the Gyanvapi mosque at the heart of the sacred city, the illiterate weaver (Julaha) community of Alaipur generally congregates at this Lat idgah. Rather than immigrant Muslim weavers who were seduced by Hindu idolatry, they would be Hindu––or strongly ‘hinduized’ Buddhist––castes that continued to worship the pillar even after their conversion en masse to Islam by the hard core of Ghazi Miyan’s original followers (cf. Kumar 1988:50). By leaving the aniconic ‘Ashokan’ pillar standing intact before the idgah when it tore down the surrounding pantheon of Hindu idols, Islamic iconoclasm had reinscribed the continuing Hindu worship within a Mecca-centered framework. Its spectrum of signification could have thus ranged from that of a divinity proper for the devotees of Bhairava to that of a mere victory monument (cf. the qutb minar below) for the uncompromising legalists. The Hindu-Muslim cult of Ghazi Miyan and Lat Bhairava merely confirms that Islamic proselytizing has succeeded through a judicious blend of violent imposition of symbolic (architectural) structures and syncretizing accommodation that operates on the common ground occupied by both religions (cf. Ahmad 1981:12—19).

Feroz Shah / sacred geography of Lat

It was during the reign of Feroz Shah Tughluq that the famous Arahi-Kangra mosque, the Chaukhamba and Gola Ghat mosques, many others in Alavipur, and almost the entire building scheme around the Bakaria Kund were constructed, generally on the site of, and with the materials obtained from, demolished Hindu temples. The Tughluq dynasty patronized the, by now already famous, cult of Ghazi Miyan. Feroz Shah Tughluq made the pilgrimage to Bahraich where he had his hair cut (Schwerin 1981:148—9). At the behest of his mother, who had taken a vow to build a big dargah if her son won the battle of Thatta (1374), the Delhi Sultan even had a marble fort built around the tomb (Mahmood 1989:29—30). The iconoclast’s obsession with pre-Islamic pillars had led him to transplant several ‘Ashokan’ pillars––over great distances––to the compounds of his royal mosques with a spatial orientation that corresponds to what we see today at Lat Bhairava. The Muslims’ own post-riot memorial which was "signed by 724 persons, 105 of whom were accounted individuals of note" (Robinson 1877:119) could claim that this pillar of the world was in fact "the structure of Feroze Shah, like the pillar [¼ ] at Allahabad, Delhi and other places, and which the [Hindus] state to have been erected by their own forefathers. But, be that as it may, it was not an object of their worship entitled to any great veneration like the temples of [Vishveshvara] and [Bhairavanatha]; for no account of this pillar is to be found in any of their orthodox books. The style of worship of the Hindus is this, wherever they find set up (a pillar) they call it, at the incitement of their priests, a place of their worship, and after sometime has elapsed they consider it as a place of worship of the highest sanctity." The same source notes however that "for some years the lower classes of [Hindus] and [Muslims] have annually celebrated the marriage of the [Lat], and have divided the offerings between them" (Robinson 1877:113—4). The latter fact was still reluctantly admitted by the legal custodians of the idgah when we interviewed them in 1979 with John Irwin. Ghazi Miyan’s continuing fame as the ‘messiah of lepers’ (Mahmood 1989:37—38), which attracts multitudes of patients especially during the great fair of the wedding at Bharaich, is reflected in the curative function which is still attributed to the Kapalamocana tank beside the Lat at Banaras. The sphere which had once crowned the pillar was itself probably a sun symbol. Lat Bhairava appears to be the vestige of a more extensive Hindu cult, whose (epi-) center at Bahraich has been simply absorbed into Islam: to the extent that, when asked to explain the pillar’s marriage to the adjacent well, the devotees of Lat Bhairava invariably refer to the marriage of Ghazi Miyan celebrated by their predominantly Muslim neighbors of Alavipura / Salarpura.

‘Marriage’ of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan

An outbreak of communal violence is especially feared during the annual ‘marriage of Lat Bhairo’ with the adjoining well on the full-moon day of Bhadrapada (August-September). The dark fortnight of this eleventh and most dangerous month of the Hindu calendar is known in the vernacular as "the jaws of the god death" (Stevenson 1971:320,326ff.). Kala Bhairava is brought as a large metal mask (mukut = ‘crown’) from within the city to crown the pillar for a day. A systematic comparison with the raising and felling of a pole during Newar New Year festivals––the Indra festival of Kathmandu, celebrated the very same day, and the Bisket festival of Bhaktapur consecrated to Bhairava, who is said to have come from Banaras––reveals the vestige of a pre-Islamic royal cosmogony. Bhairava represents the Hindu king who offers himself at the (transposition of the Vedic sacrificial) stake in what is simultaneously conceived to be a sexual union. Hence the choice of this date––so inauspicious for any Hindu wedding––which marks the beginning of the fortnight reserved for the performance of funerary rituals to propitiate the manes. Some of the most significant finds from the ‘archaeology’ of Lat Bhairo are hence remnants of what had been incorporated by the Muslims into their baroque ‘frieze’ about this martyred warrior (Searle-Chatterjee 1993). A bridegroom discovered that he had been chosen to be the next victim, on the very day of his imminent marriage, at the problematic temple of Somnath near the confluence of the Varana with the Ganga at Rajghat. Responding to the hysterical condition of the victim’s mother, Ghazi Miyan bathed in the Ganga and took his place, but the image started sinking as soon as he placed one foot across the threshold. The Muslim hero nevertheless managed to seize the disappearing head by its tuft and kick it, before dispersing the hair which grew wherever it fell as a type of grass. In a common variant, the martyr removed his own head to avoid seeing and being seduced by the hundreds of naked women sent by the king’s astrologer in order to destroy the power of his purity and thereby render him an easy sacrificial victim. The sohila (ritual songs sung throughout the festival of Ghazi Miyan) which opens the festival and accompanies the procession at Kuraha asks rather enigmatically: "Where has the hair fallen? It has fallen somewhere. Bala Pir [Ghazi Miyan] has departed [in] the dress of a doll" (Gaborieau 1975:300). The allusion is to the custom in Bahraich where (a representation of) the long-haired head of the saint is carried in procession at the tip of a lance (Gaborieau 1975:317 n.23). At Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley, the place of the designated bridegroom-victim was taken, again in response to his mother’s wailing, by an unknown foreign prince, alias Bhairava, whose (symbolic) death becomes the precondition for his marriage to the lusty princess. Nowadays, it is the Lat which is popularly held to be sinking into the ground, and Kala Bhairava, alias Kashi Vishwanath, was decapitated at the Bhaktapur cosmogony when he had almost completely disappeared into the earth on his underground escape-route back to Banaras. The leaves atop the wooden pole beside the Bhaktapur cremation-ground represent the hair of Bhairava, which, like the scattered grass, probably symbolizes the fertilizing rays of the sun. The martyrdom of the Muslim warrior and the punishment of the Hindu god serve as the two poles of a common ideology of self-sacrifice based on the identity of the killer and the victim. Despite the still unresolved tensions between Islam and Hinduism on the social and doctrinal levels, these ‘hybrid’ legends reveal an uncanny understanding of the cults of both Ghazi Miyan and of Lat Bhairo.

cremation, human sacrifice and liberation

Indeed, among the foremost devotees of Ghazi Miyan––who, like Dulha (‘bridegroom’) Deo, is also believed to have been killed by fire on the eve of his wedding (Schwerin 1981:157)––are the untouchable Doms of Banaras who specialize in the ‘human sacrifice’ of the crematory ritual for the entire Hindu community from the furthest reaches of the Indian subcontinent. Colloquial Hindi wisdom still refers to the cremation (ground) as the ‘place of the bride’ (dulhan ka sthan) and as the ‘last marriage’ (akhiri shadi). Though it is the concern for general fertility that dominates the popular perception of these ‘marriage’ festivals in Nepal and even Banaras, the themes of human sacrifice and of ultimate liberation still remain in the background. Funerary rituals and notations are intrinsic to all these festivals because even real death is assimilated to an (internalized) sexual union whereby the flame of consciousness is experienced as ascending from the base of the spinal column to burst through the cranial foramen. The ‘punishment of Bhairava’ undergone by all sinners who are privileged to die in Kashi is modelled on the decapitation of criminals with the phallic Lat assuming the symbolic role of the Vedic sacrificial pole (yupa), which itself stood on the edge of the fiery altar (vedi) that represented the female organ of generation. The primary difference between the sacrificial marriages of the black (Kala) Bhairo and of the saint Ghazi Miyan would appear to be the replacement of criminal execution with that of triumphant martyrdom in holy war (jihad).

death, embryogony, sexual union, decapitation

This death-in-union is, however, only the prelude to the rebirth of the royal sacrificer and, with it, the rejuvenation of the whole kingdom. Hence, the promise of fertility that accompanies the marriages of both Ghazi Miyan and Lat Bhairava. The fecundating powers of Bhairava’s linga are revealed in Banaras 8 days after the celebration of the Lat’s marriage––hence on the 8th of the still inauspicious waning fortnight of Ashwin––as part of ‘the vow for long-living sons’ (Jivatputrika) which must be performed near a pool, in this instance the Kapalamochana tank. The day immediately following is ‘mother’s ninth’ (Matri Navami), which is reserved for the propitiation of deceased women, particularly mothers. "No matter on what actual date a ‘fortunate’ woman died, her Mahâlaya Srâddha is performed on the ninth of the fortnight, and in actual practice this Srâddha for all women, whether lucky or widowed, is performed on this day" (Stevenson 1971:327). For devotees the ‘mother (in the form of a) well’ (kupa janani) is indeed the symbol of the Mother; it recalls the maternal waters of the Rigveda. Since Bhairavashtami, the birthday of Bhairava, is the only other day when the ‘crown’ is again mounted on the pillar––though without any fanfare––Bhairava’s (royal) wedding would appear to be symbolically identical with his very birth. The calendrical determinations reveal the funerary rites––which are especially effective when the Sun is in Virgo––to be themselves modelled on the scenario of the death and ‘matricidal’ rebirth of the sacrificer from the virgin womb of the bride-mother.

marriage of the well in folk-religion

"The tribal deity of the Râikwâr Râjputs of Oudh¼ was pushed into a well to fulfil a prophecy, and has since been deified" (Crooke 1896, 1:195) as the ‘Bliss of Bhairava,’ Bhairavananda. Practically all the elements that are brought together to constitute the Hindu cosmogony based on the royal marriage of Bhairava are in this way easily derived from folk religion (Crooke 1926:63—69, 95—98). In the Punjab, a girl from the water-carrier caste (Dhîmar) used to be married to Bhairava at his shrine at Baodada in Rewâri. Similarly, the boatmen (Mallâh) of Agra used to marry their daughters to the Bhairava worshipped by the grain-parchers (Bharbhunjar) in the Gurgaon district of the same province. In both cases, the girl is said to die soon after (Crooke 1926:246). Wells should be dug on a Sunday and must be ‘married’ before their water is used for drinking or irrigation. Often the Saligrama (anchorite) representing Vishnu is solemnly wedded to the holy basil plant (Tulsi) to infuse its waters with fertilizing power. Similarly, tanks should have a central pole for husband; otherwise the unwedded waters will not be sweet. The rituals are performed like a real marriage ceremony, with the owner impersonating the bridegroom, a kinswoman the wife, and gifts given to brahmins. "Kalars in the Central Provinces, before a wedding procession starts, perform a curious rite known as ‘marrying the well’. The mother or aunt of the bridegroom goes to the well, sits with her legs dangling down inside it, and asks what the bridegroom will give her. He goes round the well seven times, and a piece of Kâns grass is thrown into it at each turn. Afterwards he promises her a present and she returns home. By another account she pretends to be overcome by grief at the bridegroom’s departure, and threatens to throw herself into the well unless he will give her something" (Crooke 1926:64—5). Wells are closely connected with not only marriage and child-birth, but also with rejuvenation. "In the Kaira District an old Rajput accidentally fell into a well and recovered his youthful strength, so that it has now become a place of pilgrimage" (Crooke 1926:65, cf. 69). What then is so specifically ‘Hindu’ about Hinduism, if not the brahmanical purification of the sacrificial paradigm and its (re—) derivation from the Vedic revelation?

androgynous marriage is ultimately internal

For the Indra festival, Hindu texts sometimes prescribe the erection of a second pole, representing Indra’s mother, beside the one representing the king of the gods. Often, as in villages of South India, the single sacrificial stake is made from the wood of the ‘maternal’ Sami tree. For all its social determinations and politico-economic implications, the brahmanical sacrifice is the public dramatization of a lived experience of transgressive sacrality: so too, the wedding ceremony becomes the celebration of an internalized sexual union that is ultimately androgynous. Hence the necessary participation of not only courtesans but also eunuchs in Hindu marriages, including that of Lat Bhairava. "Change of sex is often simulated in marriage rites, when it is not uncommon to dress the bridegroom as a girl, or vice-versa" (Crooke 1926:279 for several examples). Where the marriage is mediated by a sacred tree, like the Mahua and/or the mango, it is identified with the bridegroom or bride or both at the same time (Crooke 1926:415—18). What is more, it remains wholly ambiguous whether the ritual bond––established, for example, by tying the participant’s right hand to the tree––identifies this surrogate (victim) with the partner of opposite sex or with the participant’s own self. For instance, the Munda "bride goes in the bridegroom’s litter to a mango tree¼ and ties a thread around it, the tree being regarded as witness to the marriage" (Crooke 1926:416). The androgynous marriage of the male and female principles corresponds––in the Hindu context––to the fusion of the lateral, solar and lunar, breaths into the neutral median canal which is assimilated to the world-pillar. Are the twin poles commemorating the marriage of Ghazi Miyan at Kuraha necessarily of opposite sex or, for that matter, even of the same sex?

Hindu marriage

Far from being an aberration, Lat Bhairava provides us with the archetypal meaning of any Hindu marriage: the symbolic renactment of the Vedic sacrifice which began with the ascetic phase of the consecration (diksha). "Now, if we are to understand the salient points of a wedding [especially among the Nâgara brahmins] we must grasp the idea that on their wedding day, and for at least three days after, the little bride and bridegroom represent the god Siva and his wife Pârvatî" (Stevenson 1971:68). They become the divine couple when the bride’s friends eventually pour the water in which she has bathed over the big toe of the bridegroom’s right foot after having attempted to pour it over his head (ibid., 69—70). Stevenson suggests that he uses the bride’s soap when he proceeds to bathe in preparation for the marriage procession during which he is adorned with the ‘crown’ (and other mythical attributes) of the ascetic Shiva. Immediately behind the bridegroom’s horse walks his mother clad in two saris, an attire reserved for high ritual like the sraddha and the performance of a great sacrifice. At the bride’s house, as soon as his own mother has been banished from the wedding rites to follow, the girl is brought to the other side of a curtain held before the bridegroom. She is allowed to see only the same right toe on which she promptly makes a red mark. The bride’s mother, who is clad in a red sari which can never be worn again except at another daughter’s marriage, then indulges herself in assaulting her son-in-law by pulling his nose. The treatment of the toe seems to be the equivalent of the sacrificial marriage of the (Bhairava-) linga to (the waters of) the well (cf. below, the Qadir Linga’s practice of wearing on his foot a linga found in well). The bride’s father ends the Madhuparka ritual, performed to honor the bridegroom, with the gift of (at least the price of) a cow, followed by the gift of the bride herself. Among certain brahmins, the final gift must take place at sunset and be completed before the sun has passed more than half-way down the horizon: as if the bridegroom were the setting sun. Even otherwise, if the wedding is by day, the husband asks the wife to look at the sun after having taken with her the seven steps around the sacrificial fire. It is then that the bridegroom’s mother reappears, now herself wearing a sort of crown, in order to present her daughter-in-law with the extra sari she had been wearing. The ritual identity of mother and virgin bride is complete. The wife is considered the left half of the husband’s body, just as Parvati is the left half of the androgynous Shiva (Ardhanarishwara). Having been worshipped as the ascetic couple for three days after the marriage, they divest themselves of their divine identities through a ritual bath which now elevates them to the status of king and queen till the end of the festivities (Stevenson 1971:96—111). As such the bridegroom wields a sword, and even the non-violent brahmin holds it for an hour or so. "No permission from the state is needed for the bridegroom to hold this sword, so agreed is every one that for the time being he is a king" (Stevenson 1971:97, cf. 71—72). Very often the state band is lent for the marriage procession, and the bridegroom was, in fact, already being treated as a ruling chief.

Hindu marriage as funeral

It is the role of the Manikya-Stambha, mentioned above, that introduces the cosmogony of Lat-Bhairava into the Hindu wedding (Stevenson 1971:61—62). Erected along with the marriage booth at the bride’s house, this ‘Ruby-Pillar’ is a twelve-inch piece of wood with two sticks tied cross-wise at its summit to symbolize the four faces of Brahma. The summit also bears a reddened thread, a madana fruit and, to top it all, one of the bride’s ivory bangles. There is no (marriage to) a well, but before it is inserted, a small earthenware pot filled with clarified butter, curds, milk, honey, and sugar, is put into the hole that will bear the post. The androgynous nature of this marriage-post is well brought out by the fact that the madana fruit is subsequently tied to the wrists of both bride and bridegroom. The erection is marked by a Vrddhi Sraddha: the latter is ostensibly to insure the marriage against any ritual pollution (sutaka) caused by the death of a distant relative. The equation of marriage––and other Hindu sacraments––to death was already suggested by the performance of such ‘auspicious’ variants of the funerary ritual, in this case the ‘Golden Shraddha’ (hiranya-shraddha). Just as Hindu cremation is assimilated to a wedding, the couple’s leave-taking from the bride’s parental home is marked by "a rite which must bear a close resemblance to the farewell a satî took of her home when going to mount the funeral pyre. The happy bride (like the heart-broken widow) goes to the gate of the compound and stand there holding a plate of a mixture of turmeric and alum, red in color.¼ she dips her hands in the red mixture and imprints them on the wall. The bridegroom marks the wall with a print of his red hands exactly under hers, and among certain Brâhmans red auspicious marks are made on the bride’s dress as the young couple get into the cart, and the boy’s scarf is tied to the girl’s sârî" (Stevenson 1971:99). The bride’s mother worships the right wheel of the cart, which is sprinkled with red turmeric. A coconut is then "thrust under the wheel in such a way that the first revolution must crush it" (Stevenson 1971:100). The broken pieces of the coconut are given to the bride to keep in her sari: already during the original marriage procession the bridegroom, his forehead bearing the red auspicious mark, had brought in his hand a coconut also marked with red (and a four-anna piece). The cart which now bears the married couple is thus assimilated to the womb, just like the wheel to which (the substituted head of) the husband has been sacrificed. When the wedding booth is taken down at the end of the month, the Ruby-Pillar is still left standing until the rain falls on it at the beginning of the monsoon. It is then kept inside the house and flung into the river when its flood-waters are sufficiently high. Since the ‘pillar’ represents Brahma, its felling must amount to a brahmanicide.


So central is this paradigm of sacrificial marriage that it underlies the plot-structure of that most ‘secular’ of classical Sanskrit plays, ‘The Little Clay Cart’ (Mrcchakatika), which owes nothing to Islam. The (innocent) brahmin being led to his execution, in the tenth Act, is successively assimilated to the Indra pole being carried to the cremation-ground, to the sacrificial goat being led to the Vedic yupa, and to the delivery of a cow (gosava); his death is equated to the birth of a son. Not only is this "chief person" of the sacred city (of Ujjain), whose body is imprinted all over with the extended hand in blood-red sandal paste, (falsely) accused of having murdered his beloved courtesan for her gold, but his own wife––with whom she is symbolically identified––prepares to throw herself into the fire just as he is being executed. However, the drums of execution suddenly become the drums of marriage, the blood-red garments of the victim are transformed into the wedding attire of the bride-groom, and the (un)expected reunion with his courtesan-wife at the stake is experienced as a rebirth from the throes of death. From a ritual perspective, the ‘king’ is only the sacrificer par excellence. Leprosy, which many wells and tanks have the power to cure, is itself the most tangible symbol of the evil and impurity with which the consecrated (dikshita) sacrificer was burdened as he regressed into the maternal womb. Indeed, during the imperial Horse Sacrifice (Ashvamedha), it was by discharging this evil onto his alter ego, a deformed human scapegoat, with traits of a leper, that the Vedic sacrificer emerged, like a new-born child, from a pool of water. Thereafter, the whole community absolved itself of its sins by bathing in the same ‘amniotic’ waters of the god Varuna.

Matsyodarî and origin-myth of brahmanicide Bhairava

Bhairava too was absolved of his brahmanicide only when he re-emerged from the Kapalamocana pool renowned for its ability to cure leprosy. This transgressive Tantric divinity is the mythical transposition of (not just the victim substituted for) the consecrated Vedic sacrificer. After having emerged from the pillar of fiery light (jyotir-linga) to violently cut off the head of Brahma, the ‘skull-bearing’ (Kapalika) Bhairava had to wander about for twelve years in order to expiate this most heinous of crimes. Finally he reached Banaras where the skull of Brahma, and with it the sin of brahmanicide, fell into a tank appropriately named the ‘liberation of the skull’ (kapalamocana). Yet even after his absolution, the ‘Black’ (Kala) Bhairava remained at Kapalamocana as the ‘sin-eater’ (Papa-bhakshana) to devour the impurities of future pilgrims to the city of final liberation (moksha). Paradoxically, Bhairava, the (ex-) criminal, also reigns as the policing magistrate (Kotwal) in Banaras, entrusted with the duty of preserving its sanctity not only by barring its access to sinners but also by punishing those who indulge in sins even within the confines of the holy city. The ‘punishment of Bhairava’ (bhairavi-yatana) burns up the accumulated sins of seekers of liberation and is inflicted on everyone at the moment of death in this ‘great cremation-ground’ or mahashmashana (Chalier-Visuvalingam 1986:241-60). This punishment was administered at the pillar (lat) whose stump, now called ‘Lat Bhairo’, still stands beside the present Kapalamochana tank where it is worshipped as the phallic representation (linga) of Bhairava. His cosmogonic marriage to the well derives from ideas already inherent in the regular temple worship of the linga which stands in a yoni and drains off through a ‘vaginal’ aperture called the ‘cow’s mouth’ (go-mukh). During the monsoon, if no rain has fallen by the end of the bright half of the month of Shravana, the brahmin priests resort to the expedient of ‘flooding Shiva’: pots of water are poured over the linga while the ‘cow’s mouth’ is blocked up so that the inner sanctum is flooded (Stevenson 1971:313). Bhairava bathed at Kapalamocana during that precise ‘fish-womb’ (matsyodari) conjunction when, due to an exceptionally heavy monsoon, the ‘menstruating’ Ganga flowed backwards and surrounded the city center with its flood waters. Transformed into a primordial mound (or clod of earth), Banaras, the ‘great cremation-ground’, had assumed its full significance as the very womb of Hinduism (Chalier-Visuvalingam 1989:178-80).

embryogonic significance of Banaras

The present Kala Bhairava temple would have been (according to Sukul 1977:203—4) the site of a pre-Muslim linga to Lord Bhairava with an adjacent ‘well of Bhairava’, which is precisely the configuration now duplicated at the Lat. It is physically impossible to transport the Lat to be immersed in the motherly well. There is, however, the practice in Rajasthan of keeping images of Bhairava in stepped wells, and the folklore of Banaras abounds in lingas being hidden in sacred wells. Between the modern Vishvanath temple and Aurangzeb’s mosque, which is itself a Muslim transformation of the earlier 16th century Vishveshvar temple, stands the Gyan Vapi well. "In the beginning" long before the descent of the Ganges when there was no other water on earth, it was dug out by Shiva himself with his trident in order to cool the linga of Vishveshvar with its water. According to legend, the linga was preserved from Aurangzeb’s desecration only by being thrown into the deep waters of the well. The royal inscription of the Queen of Indore, who sponsored the construction of the present Vishvanath temple, makes no mention of her having established a different linga. In their post-riot memorial of November 25, 1809 the Muslims charge that some Hindus had corrupted the Superintendent (Mutwali) of the Vishveshvar mosque. The Hindus began to worship the well and share their offerings with the Mutwali pretending that Vishveshvar had concealed himself in the well. Hindus likewise "worship with the utmost faith a stone fountain" in a mosque compound in the Daranagar quarter, and "so also was the [Lat] of Feroze Shah converted by them into the [Lat of Bhairava] and the lower order of Hindus worshipped it" (Robinson 1877:113—4). The position of the motherly Bharata Kupa beside the Lat on the idgah indeed replicates the situation of the well of liquid wisdom between the Vishvanath temple and the Gyan Vapi mosque. The Manikarnikeshwara linga, which stands underground at the bottom of a deep shaft, could at one time be reached by a tunnel originating on the cremation (Manikarnika) ghat. In the Puranas, this ‘Lord of Manikarnika’ is mysteriously said to be in the middle of the Manikarnika tank (kund) itself (Eck 1982:246). It is this ‘well of the Jewelled Ear-ring’ beside the cremation ghat that has the greatest cosmogonic significance in Kashi for, at the beginning of time, the city itself floated upon its primordial waters (Eck 1982:238—251). After all, the true form of Kashi is not only the Shiva linga, no different from the pillar of light from which Bhairava was born, but also the Goddess Cita (‘funeral pyre’ = ‘Consciousness’). It is precisely in the context of (transgressive) sexual union that Abhinavagupta, the great brahmin philosopher-mystic of eleventh century Kashmir––who was reputed, and believed himself, to be Bhairava-incarnate––equates the supreme form of the trident and of the linga-in-the-yoni (the vagina) to the perfected human body itself.

Not only does the Puranic origin-myth of Bhairava, the terrifying aspect of Shiva, thus attest to the intimate and indissoluble link between Banaras and Bhairava (Chalier-Visuvalingam 1989:160ff). It clearly reveals––at least to those who are prepared to relentlessly follow the trail of the divinized brahmanicide––that at the heart of classical Hinduism is a transgressive inner experience of death and sexuality, that was simply reborn to be christened as the Muslim Ghazi Miyan.

Muharram and the Sacrificial Pole (qutb) of Islam:
Bhairava’s Pilgrimage to Mecca

Then God said to Adam: "I have sent down for you that which must be circumambulated just as my Throne is circumambulated." Adam then set out on foot for the House (at Mecca) from the Land of India (Zamakshari, d. 1144 C.E., The Unveiler of the Realities). When (presently) Adam went on pilgrimage (to Mecca), he placed the Black Stone on (the mountain there called) Abu Qubays, where it gave light to the inhabitants of Mecca on dark nights, just as the moon gives light (on clear nights). About four years before Islam the Quraysh brought it down from Abu Qubays, but meanwhile it had become black because of menstruating women and polluted persons mounting up to it and rubbing it with their hands. Adam made the pilgrimage to Mecca forty times (Ibn Sa‘d, The Great Classes 1.11—12; both citations are from Peters 3:112).

Introduction: Islamic (and Jewish) character of cosmic pillar

Our readers may by now be convinced that Ghazi Miyan had merely succeeded in propagating the cult of Bhairava under an Islamic guise: ample testimony to the posthumous triumph of a subjugated Hindu idolatry! "In the Punjab, again, Bhairon is much respected by low-caste Musalmâns because he is the chief minister of the great Musalmân saint, Sakhi Sarwar, whose tomb is at Nigâha in Dera Ghâzi Khân District" (Crooke 1926:98). Is it so surprising then that Muslim modernists simply reject Ghazi Miyan, and the cult of pirs which he exemplifies, as an un-Islamic aberration? "A girl is annually married at the shrine of Lâl Shâhbâz of Sind, and¼ another Musalmân worthy, Badru-d-din, is honoured by a ‘sacred’ marriage every year" (Crooke 1926:247). Indeed, the celebration of the death anniversary of any Muslim saint is technically designated by the Arabic term urs which originally signifies ‘marriage’ so much so that the union of the soul with God has become, in both popular religion and esoteric literature, a sexual union that is consummated only in death. Even the appropriation of the axis mundi is not an innovation (bidat) of Indian Islam: in some of the Shiite Traditions, "the link between God and the Imams is visualized as being a pillar of light descending from heaven upon the Imam," which only serves to identify his station even further with the ‘pole’ (qutb), the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil) of (Sunnite) Sufism (Momen 1985:149,208-9; cf. Hodgson 1955:178-82). The ‘marriage of Ghazi Miyan’ is––at the same time and without contradiction––an Indian transposition of the Iranian cycle of Muharram, where the mourning over the death of the martyred Husain (and Hasan) is also celebrated as a (mystical) marriage (of their children). These elaborations may be ultimately traced to the assimilation of the Kaaba stone itself to a pillar and, beyond that, to Jacob’s ‘ladder’ which is already charged with sacrificial notations within the Jewish tradition. The ritual procedure of digging any well began with the worship of a clod of earth representing Khwaja Khidr after which the brahmins were fed (Crooke 1926:62–3). "According to the Sikandarnâma, Khwâjâ Khizr was a saint of Islam, who presided over the well of immortality¼ . The fish is his vehicle, and hence its image is painted over the doors of both Hindus and Muhammadans, while it became the family crest of the late royal house of Oudh. Among Muhammadans a prayer is said to Khwâjâ Khizr at the first shaving of a boy, and a little boat is launched in a river or tank in his honour" (Crooke 1896, 1:47). In Islamic lore, Khidr is the repository of the most esoteric doctrines of the Abrahamic tradition. He has taken the place of the Vedic deity, Varuna, to become "the Hindu god water, the patron deity of boatmen" (Crooke 1896, 1:48). In the final analysis, (the marriage of) Lat Bhairava (to the well) at Banaras may well prove to be the real pillar of the monotheistic faith!

Islamic character of Ghazi Miyan’s marriage: Mecca and Medina

To begin with, the participation of the Hindus is an individual affair: at the strictly ritual level, the marriage of Ghazi Miyan remains as specifically Muslim as the marriage of Lat Bhairo is Hindu. The cult of the saint, who is present in the tomb and the pole, though always troublesome for the purists, is ancient and extensive in the Islamic world outside of India. The prayer (namaaz) immediately preceding this revelry, the sacrifice of the first two kids the following day, and the prayer (du’a) accompanying the offering of the first-fruits, are wholly Islamic (Gaborieau 1975:313—4). The entire Muslim community, to the exclusion of the Hindus, participates with strict equality in the sacrifice and the following communal feast (Gaborieau 1975:309,316). Most significant of all is the repeated identification by the sohila of the city of Ghazi Miyan’s tomb to Mecca and Medina (Gaborieau 1975:300,306). Such were the material difficulties that in Akbar’s reign, the ulema even declared that the hajj to Mecca was no longer obligatory for Indian Muslims (Shackle 1965:159—60). By promoting such pan-Indian and even local shrines as spiritual substitutes, the Sufis were perhaps not so much relativizing the Meccan pilgrimage (Ahmad 1981:17) as implanting this central pillar of the Islamic universe within the immediate horizon of the pilgrims, the majority of whom were often Hindus.

Pancho Pir

The conversion of low-caste Hindus was generally not a self-conscious, sudden and total change of belief, but a gradual and still continuing process of Islamic acculturation in which the syncretizing adhesion to the dargah of pirs like Ghazi Miyan acted as a catalyst (Eaton 1978:173, 296, 309—13). The Momins or weavers, the largest group of Muslim converts in Bijapur district and among the most orthodox, were reported in 1884 to have been converted to Sunnism by Bandanawaz Gisudaraz and Hashim Pir Alawi, whose dargahs they still frequent. They were just one among 21 Muslim ‘castes’ of Hindu origin at various stages of Islamization––uneven from one group to another––as measured by variables such as purity of Urdu speech, practice of circumcision, marriage and funerary rites, avoidance of beef, dress, attachment to Hindu deities and festivals, etc. The figure of Ghazi Miyan had long since been incorporated into the Panchpiriya sect, which was followed by the mass of the peasantry in eastern Uttar Pradesh. By the end of the 19th century, Ghazi Miyan was reckoned to be the foremost among the (variable collection of) Five Saints (Panch Pir) which included both Muslim and Hindu figures like Bhairava and Kali (Schwerin 1981:151—3). "It has often been remarked that the five Pândavas have strangely passed out of national worship.¼ The five Pîrs may have originally been the five Pându brothers, whose worship has, in course of time, become degraded, been annexed by the lower Musalmâns, and again taken over by their menial Hindu brethren" (Crooke 1896, 1:206). The 1901 census still recorded 53 castes who declared the Panch Pir to be their principal object of worship and 44 of these were described as being wholly or partly Hindu. At the turn of the century the annual festival of Ghazi Miyan at Bahraich regularly drew an assembly of over 100,000 people and the followers of the Panch Pir around 1920 were estimated to still number about 13.5 million. Among the Indian Muslims, however, there are also enumerations composed wholly of five Muslim saints, with or without Ghazi Miyan. The Pandava quintet had embodied the (subsequent caste-) hierarchy of priest, warrior and settler deriving from the Vedic ideology of three social functions. Idolized by the Indians, Ghazi Miyan typifies the foothold––more, the firm implantation––within the (not only popular) landscape of Hinduism of the universalizing egalitarianism of Islam.

tenth of Muharram

"The most eminent of the Pîrs are, of course, the Panj Pir, or five original saints of Islam. They were––the Prophet Muhammad, ’Ali, his cousin-german and adopted son, Fâtima, the daughter of the Prophet and wife of ’Ali, and their sons, Hasan and Husain, whose tragical fate is commemorated with such ardent sympathy at the annual festival of Muharram" (Crooke 1896, 1:202). The tenth of Muharram remained a day of celebration for the Ummayyads and subsequently for the Sunnites even after the martyrdom of Husain at Karbala, when it became a day of mourning for the Shiites (Peters 3:109—10). Like Banaras for the Hindus, "the rebuilt grave has remained to this day the devotional center for pilgrims from all over the Shi’a world. Those that are buried by the sanctuary will surely enter Paradise. Many aged Shi’i settle in Karbala or ask in their will to have their bodies transported to the holy city. For centuries endless caravans of the dead have been coming to Karbala from Persia and India, transforming the town into one vast burial-ground" (Grunebaum 1951:87,90). Though the cult of Husain, who by virtue of his death became "the bond of reconciliation with God on the Day of Judgement," subsequently spread to the Sunnites, the Muharram processions outside of India are generally observed only by the Shiites.

Ghazi as exemplifying Sunni-Shia fusion vis-a-vis Hindu paganism

Not infrequently fights with Sunnites or other adversaries will develop, resulting in casualties and even deaths¼ National animosity against the Arabs expresses itself on occasion, but the true villains are Caliph Yazid, who gives the order to kill Husain, and Shammar, or Shimr, who is believed to have struck the fatal blow. The excitement of the audience reaches such a pitch that the spectators not infrequently try to lynch the actors representing the murderers of Husain. Anti-Sunnite feeling is said to be such that no Sunni would be knowingly tolerated among the spectators. The final scenes usually depict the progress of the martyr’s severed head to the Court of the Caliph (Grunebaum 1951:87, 90).

One syncretic version of the Ghazi Miyan ballad serves instead as an Indianized founding legend for this ten day festival of Muharram: it is Hasan and Husain, the grandsons of the Prophet, who are themselves born at Bahraich of their mother Fatima al-Zahra, only to be killed there on the day of their marriage with Johara Bibi. Husain’s death on the 10th of Muharram is no longer due to the Sunni butchery at Karbala in 680, but rather to the attack on Bahraich by Sahal Deo Bhar, the infidel Hindu king of the Ghazi Miyan cycle. Though Muharram continued to be the occasion of Shia-Sunni conflict, the transposition of the sacrificial marriage to the Ghazi Miyan cycle served, in part, to facilitate and legitimize a common front against the infidel Hindu majority (Schwerin 1981:157-160). In India, the Shias often camouflage their sectarian affiliation through the practice of ‘religious hypocrisy’ (taqiyya), while the Sunnis––which includes all the Banarasi weavers––also celebrate Muharram as their own festival. Ghazi Miyan, the Indianized martyr, thus provided the mythicized model for religious auxiliaries such as those who, by legitimizing the imperial expansion of the Delhi Sultanate into the western Deccan, constituted the first wave (c. 1296-1347) of Islamization that resulted in the medieval Bahmani Sultanate, which in turn laid the socio-religious foundations for the successor kingdom of Bijapur (Eaton 1978:19—44).

Hindu celebration of Muharram

We are, however, still left with the problem that in a given locality–– including Banaras––the majority of the Muharram participants were often Hindus: to the extent that Hindus observing the Muharram vows would even take the side of the Muslims against their own co-religionists if any fighting broke out! (Shurreef 1863:122). "In many towns the maintenance of these Muhammadan festivals [like Muharram and the pilgrimages to tombs] mainly depends on the assistance of the Hindus, and it is only recently that the unfortunate concurrence of these exhibitions with special Hindu holidays has, it may be hoped only temporarily, interrupted the tolerant and kindly intercourse between the followers of the rival creeds" (Crooke 1896, 1:202). The ambivalent complicity of Hindu orthodoxy in propagating the Muslim cult throughout the subcontinent may be judged by its treatment in the Parashurama-carita, a history of the brahman Peshwar dynasty composed in 1771 by a brahman chronicler: Hasan and Husain, the demoniac sons of Muhammad himself, are slain on the 7th and 10th of Muharram respectively by the Hindus only to receive worship ultimately from the idolators even as far south as the Karnataka and Dravidian lands. In the Mahikavatici Bakhar, an early 17th century historical biography, they even become the slain sons of Alauddin Khilji, who in revenge killed the king of the Yadavas of Devagiri, Ramdevrav, and thus heralded in 1296 the fall of Maharashtra to Muslim domination. The rise of the (Moghul) ‘barbarians’ (mleccha) to political supremacy in India is attributed precisely to the ubiquitous Hindu celebration of the urs of Muharram (Wagle 1989:51—4, 64). The Indian cult of Ghazi Miyan is, first of all, a marriage of Hindu cosmogony (Benares) and Shia eschatology (Karbala).

marriage of Kassim and Fatima

For the essential theme of Lat Bhairava’s fatal marriage was already being celebrated in Iran well before the martyrdom of Islam on Indian soil. Whereas the 5th or the 7th of Muharram, depending on the place, celebrates the marriage processions of Qassim, son of Hasan, with Fatima (or Sakina), the favorite daughter of his uncle Husain, the remaining days are consecrated to the commemoration of their death and to their funerals. The contrast between marriage and death is underlined in all the songs of lamentation and constitutes the very essence of the festival. The Persian theater simply equates them: "O Hussein, walk at the wedding of your dear Qassem, and see how the blood has indeed replaced the henna on the hands and feet of your young." "In the plain of anguish, the tomb will serve as the nuptial bed and the shroud will be the marriage robe." The death of Ali Akbar, Husain’s eldest son, on the preceding day is likewise assimilated to a nuptial union though there is no question of a real marriage (Pelly 1879, 1:287—303). The act representing Qassim’s martyrdom even comprises a scene where his well-decorated marriage-couch is juxtaposed to a similar bed covered with black to signify his elder brother’s misfortune (Pelly 1879, 2:9). Qassim is dressed for the wedding in Ali Akbar’s (otherwise unused) bridegroom’s costume while Fatima, the bride, is asked to mount Ali Akbar’s horse (Humayuni 1979:13—14, 16). Fatima, regretting that her bridal chamber is not a graveyard, laments that her only wedding music are the drums of war; Hussein later wraps a shroud around Qassim’s wedding costume just before he takes leave of his bride and rides out to battle without consummating the marriage (Humayuni 1979:14—15). Ghazi Miyan, the Muslim bridegroom, needed little by way of ‘dowry’ from Hinduism to legitimize his immortal marriage to Johara Bibi.

marriage of Hasan and Husain

Through the sexual mediation of their children, a mystic ‘marriage’ is perhaps implied between Hasan and Husain themselves, which would also explain the permanent presence of two (‘elder’ and ‘younger’) poles and the sacrifice of two kids in the Ghazi Miyan festival. Husain is reluctant to allow Qassim to join the jihad for the repeated reason that "he is the living memory of my brother Hassan, an unwed boy in the flower of his youth¼ " (Humayuni 1979: 12,13). On the other hand, Fatima, reluctant to mount the horse of her martyred younger brother, instead mounts Husain’s own horse (Zuljanah) now draped in black, which then bears her to the bridal chamber (Humayuni 1979:14). Characteristic of Hasan and Husain respectively, the green and red banners, which are fastened to the upright lance or bamboo pole representing Ghazi Miyan at Bahraich (Schwerin 1981:150), recall the twin (banner-) snakes fluttering from the Bhairava-pole at the Bisket festival which were likewise slaughtered within the context of sexual union (Chalier-Visuvalingam 1989:184—5). The dynasty of "the Fatimids (969—1171) had Husain’s head transferred to Cairo; the Mosque of the Hasanain (literally: the two Hasan––that is, Hasan and his brother Husain) was erected over the relic and still preserves a reputation of especial sanctity" (Grunebaum 1951:89). In the same vein, the Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, was the grandson of not only Husain but also of Hasan through the latter’s daughter, Fatima, thus reuniting in himself the two lines of descent from Fatima and Ali (Momen 1985:37). In the vicinity of Lat-Bhairava are (now separate) Shia and Sunni complexes comprising the ‘tombs’ (rauza) of the Imams Hasan and Husain along with that of their mother Fatima. It is most significant that Johara (Zohra or even Zahra), the Indian name of their common wife––whom they thus share with Ghazi Miyan––is just a variant of the epithet "the Radiant or the Resplendent" that permanently characterizes their mother Fatima (al-Zahra), the daughter of the Prophet himself.

Ghazi Miyan as Indian role-model for Muslim briedegroom

Ghazi Miyan thus provided a role-model for the Indian Muslim, even quite independently of the politico-religious notations that pit him against the infidel Hindus. This is confirmed by the all-night narration of his legend–– against a backdrop of painted representations of his (battles and) martyrdom–– in the presence of the puttee during a normal marriage ceremony (Shurreef 1863:66). Decked in a piece of red cloth and stuck into an earthen pot of unboiled rice, the puttee is a branch of a pomegranate tree which is bent in the modest manner of the bride. The next morning the puttee is carried on the shoulder of the bridegroom to the water’s edge and set adrift after the offering of prayers to Salar Masud. The fatal implications of such a marriage have been immortalized for Indians, regardless of religious affiliation, in the tragic romance of Anarkali, the lowly slave-girl at the Moghul court, and Salim, the future emperor Jahangir. To nip their ardent passion in the bud, Akbar had the irresistible beauty walled in alive within a mausoleum at Lahore which still houses a tombstone that reads "the infatuated [majnûn: ‘mad’], Salim, son of Akbar." Like Johara Bibi, Anarkali (literally, "pomegranate shoot") was Hindu. This mysterious epitaph, along with ritual manipulation of the puttee during the marriage, would seem to suggest that the bridegroom was in some sense assimilated to a woman, symbolically one with the bride.

The Iranian ‘passion play’ depicting the tribulations of the ‘virgin’ Fatima, who laments the Prophet’s death while grinding barley on a mill-stone, dwells at length on Ali’s attempt to procure blood-red pomegranate juice to quench her thirst. This is the prelude to her prophecies of the martyrdom of her children and to her own death (Pelly 1879: 110—32). The ritual relevance of this symbolic complex to the Indian Muharram is evident: in some of the ceremonial enclosures, a large female doll is depicted grinding wheat or rice on a hand-mill placed before her (Shurreef 1863:121, 368). Moreover, marriages are never celebrated during Muharram. Even the indispensable nose-ring, which married women must wear until their death or widowhood, is removed only during this festival of mourning (Ali 1832, 1:103; Crooke 1896, 2:45). Little wonder then that "married women are not allowed to show their faces to their husbands during the ten days of the first [Muharram] after marriage, at which time they are kept apart from one another" (Shurreef 1863:123); which may well be compared to the Hindu prohibition of marriages during the dark ‘funerary’ fortnight of Bhadrapada, when Lat Bhairava’s own marriage is celebrated. Whether Shia or Sunni, the Muslim bridegroom is symbolically assimilated to the fallen warrior, even as Ghazi Miyan’s martyrdom has been transformed into his wedding-day.

pagan pre-history of Muharram in Iran

Far from proving the Islamic credentials of Ghazi Miyan, do not these compelling continuities only demonstrate––so my modern Muslim interlocutors may well object––the pagan character of Muharram itself? Celebrated in the Middle East since at least 962 A.D., the complex scenario of Muharram had likewise allowed a resurgence, in the Islamic guise of the martyrdom of Husain, of the pre-Aryan cult of Tammuz (-Adonis-Attis) and Ishtar (Grunebaum 1951:89; Schissel 1990). The Iranian passion-plays may have even found receptive ground in the (pre-) Zoroastrian mourning cult for Siyavush which had survived in Transoxiana into the 10th C. (yarshater 1979). The blood-red pomegranate played an important role in these agrarian festivals of sacrifice and regeneration, as reflected so clearly in the red and green symbolic of Husain and Hasan respectively. Is then Shia ‘sectarianism’ simply the inevitable reappropriation by a pagan polytheism––whether Indian, Iranian or Arab––of the house and mantle of the Prophet himself? Certainly no more than the Christian veneration of saints and martyrs, which did not hesitate to eradicate the native religions of the Americas, would be the resurgence of idolatry within Judaism! The triumphant Ali I of Bijapur, for example, not only directed his Shia zeal against his Sunni Deccani subjects; his armies destroyed two to three hundred Hindu temples in the erstwhile empire of Vijayanagar. The monarch himself was said to have smashed four to five thousand Hindu images and replaced two temples with ashura-khanas for the celebration of Muharram (Eaton 1978:68). The Shia claims upon Islam, like the Catholic insistence on a New Testament, is perhaps not so much a surrender to paganism but rather the resurrection of a gnostic dimension that is central, though troublesome, to the Abrahamic tradition. Instead of tarrying at Karbala, the best way to discover the dark light of truth would be to proceed immediately, with the caravan of pilgrims, to the very pillar of Islam.

Bhairava’s pilgrimage to Mecca

Not content with appropriating the proselytizing figure of Ghazi Miyan for its own ends, Hindu folklore, has been sacrilegious enough to project its own sacrificial paradigm––duly inverted––far beyond Muharram and Karbala, onto Mecca itself, the iconoclastic heart of Islam. Malkhan, alias Mallana, who is identified with the solar (Martanda-) Bhairava, and is worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims in the Deccan, is said to be Kala Bhairava himself, or even Kashi Vishvanath, from Banaras (Sontheimer 1989:326; Chalier-Visuvalingam 1989:191-5; Visuvalingam 1989: 451-2). In the disguise of a fakir, he persuades the otherwise vegetarian Muslim ‘devotees (bhaktas) of Shiva’ at Mecca to successfully restore water to their dry well by slaughtering and consuming a black cow. At the end of twelve years, the well is not only filled with water but the gold needed for Mallana’s marriage also erupts beside the well. When Mallana steals the gold and plunges into the watery womb of mother Ganga, the pursuing ‘Shiva bhaktas’ cut off her outstretched hand. As the characteristic sign of the cremated Hindu widow (Sati), and representing the Shiite quintet of Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, Hasan and Husain, the outstretched hand is worshipped by both Hindu and Muslim Panchpriyas throughout North India. Such hybrid legends probably derive from the syncretizing interaction of antinomian Shaiva and Sufi currents, like those attested between Lingayats and ‘dervishes’ in the latter period of the Bijapur kingdom. "In his physical attributes Bhairava the forest wanderer bears a marked resemblance to the wild mazhdubs and qalandar pirs of the non-institutional Sufi tradition. Siva-Bhairava is also the one Hindu god who walks the earth in wholly human form, and this makes him all the more suitable as a parallel figure to the Muslim pir" (Bayly 1989:139). One of the foremost disciples of the ‘mad’ (majdhub) Sufi saint, Amin al-Din, was Qadir Linga, who miraculously recovered a number of lingas from a deep well. On this account, he was allowed to wear the linga on his left foot, a practice still continued by the descendants of this community of Lingayats (Eaton 1978: 249-50, 276). After the devastation wreaked by the Shia Ali Shah I, this climate of syncretism was encouraged under the liberal Sunni reign of his nephew and successor, Ibrahim II (1580-1627), who reinstated in 1614 the annual fair and Hindu worship of Khanderao (Khandoba) or Mallari (Eaton 1978:99), all considered forms of Bhairava.

Rufaee, Mudarea, Mullung: sacrifice of (black) cow

In the Muslim garb of Malkhan, Bhairava had instigated at Mecca a cow-sacrifice that was already a regular practice among Indian fakirs. The Rufaee or Goorz-mar order, who originate from Syed Ahmad Kabir, cured the sick and removed temporal afflictions through the all-purpose stereotyped formula of immolating a young two-year old heifer supplied by the patron (Ali 1832, 2:315; Shurreef 1863:193 and note). The animal, sacrificed in Muslim style, was roasted over an open-air charcoal fire to the accompaniment of a dirge sung by these chillubdars in the memory of their departed saint and founder. When everyone present had partaken of the beef, the ascetics concluded the feast by dancing around, and eventually upon, the fire in the name of the One God and his final Prophet, to be joined in the final moments by the entire assembly. Similarly, Muslims, often joined by their Hindu neighbors, indulged playfully in a simulacre of ‘self-immolation’ over the bonfires (allawa) of Muharram, all the while crying dulha! dulha! (‘bridegroom! bridegroom!’; Shurreef 1863:113). Such fire-walking is also practised by the Tubqateea or Mudareea, in commemoration of their founder, Shah-Buddi-ud-Din alias the (ever-) ‘living’ Zinda Shah Mudar from Syria, whose shrine at Makhanpur was the object of pilgrimage, drawing nearly a million people to his urs (Shurreef 1863: 158—59, 193). "Women can never, with safety to themselves, enter the mausoleum containing his ashes; they are immediately seized with violent pains, as if their whole body was immersed in flames" (Ali 1832, 2:321). Such ascetics, always clad entirely in black, still wander around begging with one end of a chain attached to one of their ankles. They do not hesitate to shower shopkeepers with obscene abuse until they are given alms. Some raised a black banner, actually sacrificed a black cow (gay lutana) in the name of Shah Buddi-ud-Din, especially on the day of his commemoration, and distributed it among the fakirs. The dafalis, who sing the ballads of Ghazi Miyan to the accompaniment of their small hand-drums, are none other than these Mudarea. The tantric component––and even origins––of such traditions reveals itself, for example, in the sub-order of Mullung fakirs, followers of Jummun Juttee (Jati?), himself a disciple of Zinda Shah. Often characterized by matted hair and ash-besmeared bodies, these Muharram fakirs very much resembled the Shaiva Gosains. The Indian Muharram was, in fact, the occasion when many of these diverse strands––many from the Middle East––were brought together by transgressive Hindu and Muslim fakirs.


The positive Muslim contribution to such hybrid folklore is revealed in its faithfulness to some of the more obscure elements of Meccan tradition. Ibn Ishaq’s Life of the Apostle of God already speaks of some of the treasure of the Ka’ba being stolen from a well in the middle of it. This probably refers to Hagar’s well, situated near the Feet of Abraham, whose sacred water is eagerly drunk by the Muslim pilgrims and especially offered to sick people on the point of death. The spring arose when Ishmael kicked the ground while his mother Hagar was frantically seeking water to quench his thirst. She dug it out into a well of sorts and immediately purified herself and the baby by bathing in it (Shurreef 1863:44). It was on the stone of the Ka’ba, created at the same time as heaven and earth, that Abraham would have united with Hagar to conceive Ishmael and it was there that he would have subsequently tethered his camel when he sought to immolate him for Allah (Peters 1:190-1, 244-5). The Ka’ba stone, which is repeatedly referred to as a ‘pillar’ in the context of the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage in the year of his death (Peters 3:116), is also the Muslim counterpart of the stone that Jacob had earlier set up as a pillar in the Hebrew ‘House of God’ (Beth-El), to mark the site where he had seen the ladder to heaven (Peters 1:34-5). The Prophet was himself transported on the Night of Destiny from the sacred Mosque at Mecca to the ‘distant’ (al-aqsa) mosque where he ascended the ladder to "which the dying man looks when death approaches" in order to receive the first revelations of the Koran (17.1; Peters 1:208-10; 2:43-5). Even otherwise, the first intimation of the Koran on Mount Hira by archangel Gabriel to the sleeping Prophet was already likened to an experience of death (Peters 1:193-4).


The site of the ascension (me’raj), which seems to be a simplified version of the ascent through the seven palaces of the Jewish Heikhalot mysticism, was subsequently identified with (the Al-Aqsa mosque standing before the Dome of the Rock built over) the Stone of the Foundation on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem (Peters 1:208-9). On this rock, where Abraham had sought to sacrifice Isaac, had once stood the Jewish Holy of the Holies, a place of symbolic union as represented by the twin cherubim of uncertain sex, which were also equated with the palm-tree. The episode where Jacob is maimed by an unnamed assailant who then blesses him with the name ‘Israel’, is itself a symbolical enactment of the animal being immolated at the altar of the Temple so as to be borne to heaven by the ‘ladder’ of the sacrifice (Peters 2:84). Muhammad originally chose Jerusalem as the direction of prayer and is even reported, on the authority of (the future second Caliph) Omar, as worshipping before the Ka’ba such that it stood between him and Jerusalem (Peters 1:207, 218-19; Ali 1832:158-9). The originally white stone, which had become completely black due to constant fingering by menstruating women, is interpreted by the great Ibn Arabi as (the evil in) the dark luminosity of the heart. The words of Al Hallaj as reported by al-Ghazali: "People make the pilgrimage; I am going on a (spiritual) pilgrimage to my Host; While they offer animals in sacrifice, I offer my heart and blood. Some of them walk in procession around the Temple, without their bodies, For they walk in procession in God, and He has exempted them from the Haram." Hallaj’s limbs were amputated before he was hoisted on the cross and finally beheaded not only for proclaiming his identity with Allah but particularly because of his affirmation that the Temple of the Ka’ba itself had to be destroyed (within) as the last remaining ‘idol’ separating the mystic from its Founder (Peters 3:112-22, 244-9). In almost all Islamic folk-literature, including and especially the Indian, al-Hallaj has become the supreme symbol of the true lover of God who gave up his life at "the gallows, the bridal bed where he was finally united with the Beloved with whom he so ardently identified" (Asani 1988:90; cf. Schimmel 1962). The axial ‘pillar’ of the Muslim pilgrimage probably corresponds not only to the black spot that was removed from the heart of the Prophet when, as a mere child, his body was cut open and cleansed with white snow (Peters 1:184), but also to the black kid sacrificed to the pole at the culmination of the Nepali festival of Ghazi Miyan. A syncretizing Bengali version of the prophetic genealogy assimilates this quasi-shamanistic ordeal to a purificatory punishment imposed by Allah on his exemplary Messenger for having struck an intransigent goat in anger (Roy 1983:101). The camels slaughtered during the Hajj in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice of Ishmael, the progenitor of the Arabs, are but substitutes for the pious pilgrims themselves (cf. the opening citation from ibn Arabi).

We have retraced the itinerary of Ghazi Miyan back to a Mecca that Hindu pilgrims could reclaim, justifiably, as the ‘Banaras of the West’. The Islamic tradition itself––perhaps keenly aware of its own sacrificial foundations–– insists that the first person to worship at the Kaaba was not Abraham, the Ur-monotheist, but Adam, ‘the primordial man’ who came from India.

The Felling of the World Pillar:
An Islamic Fulfillment of Vedic Cosmogony?

These are the laws and the rules which you must carefully observe in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving to you to possess, as long as you live on earth. You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshipped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the image of their gods, obliterating their name from that site (Deuteronomy 12:1-3).

Kaaba as unifying symbol: Indo-Islamic obsession with Hindu pillars

The violent conversion of Hindu temples into mosques was simply an extension of the original strategy of transforming (the idolatrous Arab pilgrimage cult around) the pagan Ka’ba into the unifying sacrificial symbol of a triumphant and uncompromising monotheism (Peters 1:233; 3:64-7). When the pre-Islamic tribes of the Quraysh were forming alliances for battle simply over the privilege of lifting the black stone into place in order to complete their joint renovation of the Ka’ba, it was the (future) Prophet who ordained that all the tribes should equally participate by taking hold of the ends of a cloak to lift it into position so that he could establish it with his own hands (Peters 1:191). Even then some of the first Muslims, as exemplified by Omar, refused to worship the Ka’ba and did so only on the Prophet’s insistence and example, and with full knowledge that they were kissing a mere stone (Peters 3:120). Arabic inscriptions on the new entrance porch (Alai Darwaza) built by Alauddin Khilji to the mosque of the Qutb Minar at Delhi liken the latter to a second Ka’ba (Baitu’l mamur). Another Hindu nagari inscription on the right hand jamb of the main entrance door calls the Minar by the Hindu term stambha. Qutb-ud-din Aibak laid the foundation of this ‘pillar of light’ (from qutb and manara) in 1192 "both as tower of victory to celebrate the defeat of the Rajputs in battle, and as a minaret for the priest’s call-to-prayer at the adjoining Victory Mosque (Quwwatu-l-Islam), built on the site of a Hindu temple dedicated to Visnu" (Irwin 1987:136). Though the mosque was dedicated in 1199 A.D., the Qutb was completed only after his death in 1211 A.D. by his successor Iltutmish. Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316) had started building a second and even larger Minar at the mosque but it was never completed beyond the basement storey. Before the Islamic Qutb stands the equally famous 4th century Iron Pillar which had itself stood on a mound facing a Vishnu temple. Fifteen years after Firoz Shah Tughluq ascended the throne in 1351 A.D., the Qutb was severely damaged by lightning and the Sultan repaired it by increasing its height and adding a new cupola, which also fell to the ground after the earthquake of 1803. By the end of his reign in 1388, he had pillar shafts brought to Delhi from Topra in the Ambala district of present day Haryana and from Mirath in Uttar Pradesh; a third pillar bearing Ashokan inscriptions had been re-erected within the compound of his mosque at Hissar, 150 miles to the west of Delhi. The Topra pillar was erected immediately before his royal Jami Masjid in the fort at his capital, thus corresponding to the location of the ‘flag-pole’ (dhvaja stambha) in the compound of the Hindu temple. Akbar himself was keenly interested in the Allahabad (pre-) Ashokan pillar which he enclosed within his own fort, and unsuccessfully attempted to transport an ancient pillar to his capital at Fatehpur Sikri before he eventually had his pillar-throne (diwani-khas) constructed there in stone. His Hindu mother and his awareness of the cosmogonic significance of the Indian pillar-cult notwithstanding, Feroze Shah, the iconoclastic Sultan, would have had sound Islamic justification for (re-) erecting a(n even Ashokan) pillar at the idgah at Banaras, so long as the monument was not treated as a divinity in itself.

ideological struggle for pillar

The joint participation of Hindus and Muslims in each other’s cults and festivals should not obscure the intense ideological struggle––even where peaceful and mutually accommodating––between the rival religions on the symbolic level for the heart, mind and soul of India. The Hindus could not remain oblivious to the living visual testimonies of the systematic razing of their religious architecture (c. 1660s) by Aurangzeb who had sought unsuccessfully to impose an Islamic city called ‘Muhammadabad’ upon their socio-religious center. Having now lost their political supremacy in India, the Muslims, on the other hand, were not willing to submit to Hindu acculturation, at least not to the extent of surrendering the divergent world-view encoded into their own ritual practices. Having served to inscribe its continuing Hindu worship in the direction of Mecca, the Lat could now just as well serve to gradually reintegrate the lower classes of Muslims within the symbolic universe of Hinduism. Well before the arrival of British power, the decline of Islamic states like Bijapur were attributed by the Muslim orthodoxy to laxity in religious observances and, as a general rule, have coincided with reformist (even anti-Sufi) measures directed against syncretism and ultimately against (the symbols and institutions of) the Hindus themselves. Though the weaver community in north India reverenced the flag of Ghazi Miyan to whom they ascribed the comparatively recent conversion of their ancestors, by the early 19th century they were already beginning to abandon such syncretic, ‘un-Islamic’ practices under the growing pressure of Wahhabi reformism emanating from the Arabian peninsula. For the down-trodden castes, the stricter observation of the Islamic law and personal code (shariat) provided the means of reasserting their social status in the face of politico-economic domination by the upper classes, both Hindu and Muslim (ashraf). A parallel process of purification was also occurring among the Hindu untouchables like the Chamars, who were giving up liquor, meat, (blood-) red vegetables, etc., and demanding the abolition of caste and an end to idol worship. Despite its undisputed age-old sanctity, the now ‘brahmanized’ Lat Bhairo or Mahashmashana Stambha was largely neglected by the Hindu scriptures, no doubt because of the stigma of death and impurity associated with it. The growing Hindu-Muslim division at the turn of the 19th century was further reinforced by the attempts of the colonial administration to systematically classify and publicly record everything, thus leaving the Muslim weavers little choice but to shed their Hindu names and customs in order to gain an equal standing within the fraternity of Islam. Partly a reaction to the derogatory connotations of their appellation as ‘Julaha’ by others, the weavers now call themselves ‘Ansari’ meaning ‘Helpers’ (of the Prophet at Medina), thus crowning the tendency of Indian Muslims to see themselves as immigrants with a separate ‘biological’ ethnicity rather than as native converts (Kumar 1988:49—57, 1989:153; cf. Roy 1983:19—57, 249—53). Though such developments may be understood as already internal to the growth of an ‘Islamic consciousness’ and not necessarily the product of politico-economic rivalry with non-Muslims (Mines 1981), it is nonetheless true that they set the social preconditions for religious conflict, especially when they are reflected in a shifting attitude to shared sacred spaces and symbols. The increasingly Meccan orientation of an otherwise Indianized Islam found its symbolic charter in the mihrab at the mosque of Aurangzeb, which had already served to firmly inscribe the continuing worship of the Lat in the direction of the Ka’ba. The resulting religious tug-of-war between the opposing symbolic universes to take complete ideological possession of the pillar climaxed––quite predictably and violently––in its (almost complete) levelling by the Muslims.

evolution of dispute over the Lat

Even before the imposition of British rule in the late 18th century, socio-political dominance had returned to the Hindus. The religio-cultural authority of the Maharajas of Banaras was expressed in the public arena especially through the grandiose celebration of the Ramlila. Hindu-Muslim conflict again reared its ugly head through a series of escalating symbolic encroachments especially on the shared sacred space around the Lat. Though, cow-slaughter, the equivalent of killing a brahmin, was banned from the holiest parts of the city, a Muslim butcher had been seen slaughtering a cow during the dark fortnight of Bhadra when the Hindus were still propitiating the manes. Idolatry had begun to lay more permanent claims on the disputed ground of the idgah; during the Ramlila, images of Rama and Lakshmana were even placed in the pulpit of the Imambarrah. So much so that in October 1809 the weavers took matters into their own hand and defiled the Lat by pelting it with leather shoes, and so on. Though worshipped primarily by the lower castes of Hindus, the ‘pillar of the great cremation ground’ was indeed quite central to the symbolic significance of the sacred city and this sacrilege had occurred precisely when the Hindus "were seeking justice for the slaughter of a cow" (Hindu memorial, cited in Robinson 1877:108). Anticipating retaliation, the Muslim weavers, who were at the forefront of all these manifestations, then decided to take preemptive action by sacking the temple of the king of the gods, Vishwanath himself, the supreme consecration of the Hindu order. For the local dispute between Hindu and Muslim low-castes, who had been as much united as separated by the pillar, was already becoming a full-scale confrontation between Hinduism and Islam. The Hindus fell back and regrouped to bar the route of the Muslims who were advancing in a Muharrram-like procession with raised standards and crying "Hasan, Husain!". Outnumbered and beaten back by the better armed Hindus, the 7 or 8 thousand retreating Muslim weavers, to revenge their defeat, slaughtered a cow on one of the holiest ghats, and mingled its blood with the sacred waters of the Ganga: the sacred well itself was subjected to the same sacrilege.

The attack on the Bisheshwar had now been made and foiled, and the Mahommedan army, returning as it happened by another route to that taken by the crowds rushing to Bisheshwar arrived at the Lat––and found it defenceless. They at once proceeded to mischief. A cow was dragged out from a neigbouring house and killed at the foot of the pillar. Its blood was taken into every corner, till all the sacred place was splashed with it, and then the carcass was flung, with shouts of exultation, into the holy tank of Bhairo. Firewood was heaped round the Lat and lighted to destroy no doubt the metal appendages of the pillar; and finally amidst cries of triumph, the Lat itself was overthrown, shattering in its fall into many pieces! (Robinson 1875:98-99).

sinking of Lat: abolition of caste-order

The ‘pillar of the world’ that had stood from time immemorial in the holy city had a fundamental socio-religious meaning for the ‘eternal order’ (sanatana dharma) of Hinduism: it was also the pillar of the caste-hierarchy which Islamic egalitarianism could hardly endorse. It was believed by the Hindus and Muslims alike that the Lat was, and still is, slowly sinking into the ground so that, when its top became level with the ground, not only would the Hindu caste-hierarchy collapse but "all nations would be of one caste. The throwing down, therefore, of this pillar was regarded as most ominous and dangerous to Hinduism." Rev. Buyers also recorded a conversation between two brahmin soldiers guarding the prostrate pillar at the height of the riots: "Ah," said one, "we have seen what we never thought to see––Siva’s Lat has its head level with the ground. We shall all be of one caste shortly. What will be our religion then?" "I suppose the Christian," answered the other; "for, after all that has passed, I am sure we shall never become Mussulmans" (Sherring 1868:192-3; cf. Heber 1828:430-1). While the weavers––all Sunni now, and probably already so then––with their cries of "Hasan! Husain!" reenacted the apocalyptic scenario of Muharram, the Hindus in the official (Persian) version of their memorial explicitly likened their own mourning over [morning after?] the felling of the pillar to that of the last day (Robinson 1875:109; cf. Freitag 1989b:40 fn.61). Whatever may have been the nature, extent and composition of the hidden social tensions released by the riots, they fed into a primarily religious conflict which implied, invoked and vehicled––regardless of the subjective perceptions of the parties involved––a commitment to (hierarchical) social order or (egalitarian) messianic aspirations that were already encoded into the opposing religious traditions.

Hindu-Muslim complicity in felling of Lât

The Indra pole of Vedic cosmogony––so faithfully retained in the New Year festivals in Nepal, where the wooden pole is more often identified with Bhairava––was raised and felled by the Hindus themselves. The inevitability of the socio-religious confrontation hence did not preclude––from the very beginning––a certain complicity between Hinduism and Islam in the symbolic interpretation of the violence to which the Lat was subjected. After all, the Muslim lower-castes had connived at the Hindu worship of the world-pillar, participated in celebrating its marriage, and even claimed it as their own, so much so that the Banaras myths of Ghazi Miyan reflect as profound an understanding of its function as the Hindu theologem of the ‘punishment of Bhairava’ (bhairavi-yatana). For the Hindu mythico-history, on the other hand, the levelling of the Lat was as inevitable as the Kali-Yuga, which would be redeemed only by a ‘barbarian’ (mleccha) messiah (Kalki), a role which was readily fulfilled for certain Indian (especially Bengali) Muslim innovators by the Prophet Muhammad. More than just the tendency of Sunnis and Shias to close ranks within a single community (umma), the Indian cult of Ghazi Miyan represents the symbolic implantation of this egalitarian Islamic ideal within the heart of (not only popular) Hinduism. When following the example of Sikandar Lodi and Aurangzeb, the Wahabite theologian Sayyid Mahmud Hasan, after taking control of the shrine at Bahraich in 1942, proscribed the customary practice of prostration, he was successfully challenged in court by the leading ulama of the time, including Baba Khalil Das of Banaras. Litigation was pending in 1989 for restoration of a more representative committee but the shrine continued to be managed by reformistic administrators appointed by the UP Waqf Board, which was however denied any authority to interfere with the dargah practices (Mahmood 1989:39-40). In the months prior to the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1931, the same Vedic scholar cum devotee of Ghazi Miyan, Khalil Das Chaturvedi, had been leading the Tanzim movement in a vigorous campaign for social and religious reform among the Muslims of Banaras (Freitag 1989a:226-7). Though interrupting the process of syncretic assimilation at the folk level, even the spread of the iconoclastic Wahhabi ethos––which cannot be judged in terms of the mere numbers of its adherents (cf. Kumar 1989:162-3 for Banaras) nor be reduced to its Arabian trappings–– thus tends in its own way to transform the Indianized symbol into a universal social reality (cf. Roy 1983:249-53). The continuing stalemate between the outward socio-religious manifestations of the ‘primordial’ and the ‘final’ revelations is best symbolized by the stubborn stump of Lat Bhairo remaining in the middle of the idgah. The toll on the living, however, may well continue until Muslims and Hindus willingly join hands in completely levelling––not the innocent pillar but––the remaining socio-economic inequalities in what could most aptly be called ‘an Islamic fulfillment of Vedic cosmogony’.

(re-) interpretation of sacrilege as cow-sacrifice

The chaotic birthpangs of a new order based on the abolition of the caste-system were already being jointly rehearsed by both Hindus and Muslims during the festivals of Ghazi Miyan and Muharram all over India, and by the Hindus themselves in their own festivals both before and after the arrival of the Muslims. Such festivals could easily be (re-) interpreted as an exteriorization of the (temporary but) necessary abolition of caste-distinctions within closed Tantric circles, as in the esoteric Kaula cults of Bhairava whose leading theoreticians were all brahmins like Abhinavagupta. From the Hindu perspective, the Muslims were merely guilty of ‘hastening’ or ‘forcing the end.’ Faced with the fait accompli however, the Hindu memorial simply translated the event into a re-enactment of a sacrificial embryogony: "it has been ascertained that the Lat notwithstanding all these attempts, did not fall till they sprinkled it with the blood of a cow and her young, which they got from a [garden] and dragged, tied by the neck to the spot. On this outrage the [capital] on the [Bhairo] Lat jee spun round and tumbled and the Lat burst and fell to the ground. They cast the cow which they had slaughtered into the tank of [Kapalamochana] which is near the Lat and completely defiled it" (Robinson p.109). And like the fallen pole of the Indra festival, the Lat itself is said to have been thrown into the Ganga about half a mile away, whereas the physical probability is that the sandstone largely crumbled under the heat of the fire (Sherring 1868:191,306). By adding the detail of the calf, the Muslim ‘sacrilege’ was simply transformed into a brahmanicidal ‘decapitation’ of Lat Bhairo himself, into the death and ‘matricidal’ (re-) birth of the brahmanical sacrificer from the maternal womb within.

anubandhya cow

"Every woman who possesses a cow and a calf takes them in procession through the streets" during the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth (full moon day)––the day of Lat Bhairava’s marriage––of the bright half of Bhadrapada, when the women observe the Gotrata, a terribly severe fast (Stevenson 1971:324). During the previous month of Shravan, a similar worship of cow and calf, identified respectively with Parvati and Shiva, is based on the story of the ‘unbewitting’ slaughter and resurrection of the calf. Stevenson (1971: 312—13) saw the cow and calf, of same color, worshipped while tied to a Nim tree, and a red-colored thread was placed on the head of the calf-Shiva to represent the auspicious sari of a young girl. But why a blood-red sari on the head of the ‘androgynous’ Shiva? The ‘pure shradda’ on the eleventh day of the Hindu funeral rites is always preceded by the marriage of a bull and heifer, after which the male calf is let loose while the heifer is given to a brahmin (Stevenson 1971:174—77). A similar marriage (Nilotsarga) is performed during the (out-of-season) shradda offered simply in order to hasten the birth of a son: the heifer, which is given to the officiating brahmin, is named ‘the-one-married-in-the-presence-of-the-sun’ (Stevenson 1971:124—25). To ensure the safe passage of his soul, a dying man already had to give to a brahmin a cow adorned with gold and wearing a sari or at least a piece torn from a woman’s dress: it must be accompanied by its calf (Stevenson 1971:141, 194). In the Vedic custom, "a second cow was led with the funeral, killed, and its members laid on those of the dead" (Crooke 1926:94). Rich families may even "arrange for a cow to be milked over the exact spot where the body was burnt for thirteen days" (Stevenson 1971:153), almost as if the corpse, already assimilated to Shiva, had been reborn as a calf. Though cow-slaughter became a heinous crime in classical brahmanism, the transgressive symbolism of cow sacrifice remains central to the Hindu myth and ritual. In the Vedic prototype, the calf ‘unexpectedly’ found within the ‘barren’ cow, which was ‘to be bound or immolated after’ the sacrifice (anubandhya) as an offering to Mitra-Varuna, was identified with the immortal sacrificer himself. The (premature) extraction of the embryo (of sometimes indeterminate sex) was assimilated to a normal delivery, and it was decapitated only to be ritually (re-) united (by means of the brahman) with the golden womb of the dead mother so as to form a single sacrificial entity. "Thus that which is superfluous (atirikta) becomes not superfluous," declares the Satapatha Brahmana.

Mahdi, Jewish messiah, Yom Kippur, Red Heifer

The Muslim ‘Shiva bhaktas’ of Mecca had pursued Malkhan-Bhairava all the way to Banaras––so it would seem––only to be tricked by the brahmanicide god into ‘literally’ participating in the agonistic re-enactment of an archaic cow sacrifice that was not only Vedic but also authentically Abrahamic. The Twelver Shia belief, recorded in Lucknow (Ali 1832:135), that the Mahdi continues his annual visit incognito to the Kaaba on the day of the great sacrifice (baqr id), suggests that Islamic messianism is itself a transposition of the same sacrificial paradigm. For the Twelvers, the Hidden Imam (Mahdi), who bears the same name Muhammad (ibn al-Hasan al-Askari) as the Prophet himself, disappeared in 874 A.D. into the Well of the Occultation (Bi’ral al-Ghabya), while imprisoned with his mother, in the cave-cellar of his house-mosque at Samarra (Momen 1985:161-71). His messianic re-appearance at the end of time will happen more specifically on the anniversary of Husain’s martyrdom on the tenth (Ashur) of Muharram (Peters 1:382-5), the first month of the Arab calendar, whose choice as a Muslim festival was originally modelled on the Yom Kippur, which likewise fell on the tenth day of the first month (Tishri) of the Jewish calendar (Peters 3:109-10; Schissel 1990). Now, the ritual of the scapegoat on Yom Kippur, which symbolically identified the High Priest as both executioner and victim, also explains the splitting of the Jewish Messiah into a martyred ben Joseph and a triumphant ben David. The Zohar (Peters 3:100b) moreover assimilates the ten Days of Awe to the stages of a divine wedding consummated on Yom Kippur. The Jewish sacrifice of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:1-10), whose ashes rendered the pure impure and vice versa, was identified by Saint Paul and even more systematically by Thomas Aquinas with (the feminized) Christ on the Cross (Peters 2:230-2; 3:47). The transgressive Sabbataian Jews subsequently identified her with the Kabbalistic secret of the Messiah, who had abrogated the law of the Torah. The Koran scrupulously retains this ‘ridiculous’ Mosaic prescription in its second Surah, that of the Cow (2.67-73), to the effect that, in order to allay mutual accusations of murder, an unyoked and unharnessed cow must be sacrificed and its pieces used to hit the corpse of the victim. In the Jewish prototype, an untraced murder is expiated through breaking the neck of a heifer, which is enjoined by the judges upon the elders of the nearest Jewish city, who thereupon washed their hands over the corpse declaring "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Forgive, O Lord, Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, and suffer not innocent blood to remain in the midst of Thy people Israel" (Deuteronomy 21.1-9). Even in mishnaic times the slaughtered cow was symbolically assimilated to a man and, according to one source, the consent of a Bet Din of seventy-one members is necessary for the killing, which would amount to ‘re-inscribing’ a purely criminal act into the properly sacrificial paradigm of the Red Heifer (contrast Patai 1983). From this perspective, the Muslims who unwittingly ‘decapitated’ the Lat had simply assumed––like the Hindu king Sahal Deo Bhar, the Sunni Caliph Yazid or Judas Iscariot (and the Jewish High Priest) before him––the hated but indispensable role of the sacred executioner (Maccoby 1982).

transgressive messiah

But what is the relevance of this transgressive embryogony to the larger contemporary question of human violence in an increasingly ‘secularized’ world? The abolition of caste within the radical Tantric fraternities devoted to the cult of Bhairava was not so much the expression of an egalitarian political ideal. It was rather the direct consequence of the transgression of the otherwise binding rules of ritual purity which were also the foundation of the social hierarchy. The representation of the final ‘messiah’ (the Kalki avatara), as a horseman, or even in the form of a riderless horse, is itself a transposition of the triumphant horse of the imperial Ashvamedha sacrifice. It is likewise the impurity of the consecrated Vedic sacrificer (dikshita), represented by the sacrificed horse, that finds expression in the ‘barbarian’ identity of Kalki. The chief queen had to actually copulate with the dead horse in a symbolically incestuous context. Whereas the (triumphant) Sunni Caliph was the defender and propagator of the Islamic polity vis-a-vis the infidels, the (martyred) Shia Imam became the sacrificial focus of an ever-belied messianic expectation of the imminent abrogation of the religious law (shariat) that (provisionally) held this community (umma) together (Jambet 1990). It was the day of Ali’s death, on the 17th of Ramadan, that was chosen at the Ismaili stronghold of Alamut for proclaiming the Festival of the Resurrection (qiyama), celebrated by the violation of the obligatory fast, the drinking of wine and other such licence (Hodgson 1955:148-59). The Nizari Ismaili preachers in India converted entire castes of Hindus by identifying the tenth incarnation of Vishnu with Ali, the first Shia martyr. The Prophet, as law-giver, and his daughter Fatima were rather identified with the god Brahma and his daughter Sarasvati (Asani 1987:33; Malisson 1992: *), whose relationship in Hindu mythology was always defined by incest. In this way, a transgressive understanding of Islam was promoted among the ‘Muhammadan Hindus’ as the fulfillment of not only the Judaeo-Christian but also the Vedic tradition.

Shia and Sunni as two poles of Islamic problematic of TS

Traditions, many held in common by both Sunnis and Shias, however not only underline the intimate bond between the Prophet and his son-in-law Ali, the first Imam, but go so far as to identify them within a single principle (Momen 1985:11-22). On the one hand, the Sunnis too venerate the House of the Prophet, espouse many of the claims of Ali, and tolerated the perpetuation of transgressive Sufi lineages so long as they maintained a certain discretion and did not challenge the established socio-religious order. On the other hand, the Shias subscribe to the basic tenets of Islam and their practice of taqqiya may be traced back to Ali himself, who is depicted repeatedly foregoing his claims to the Caliphate and refraining from pressing his dissent in order to preserve the larger consensus within the community. Irreducible to a mere ‘sectarian’ conflict, the Sunni-Shia polarization is thus the major ideological configuration assumed by a distinctively Islamic problematic of transgressive sacrality: a problematic that is perhaps constitutive of the historical dynamism of the Abrahamic tradition from its very origins.

transgressive celebration of Muharram

For the Shia, "Ashura is a day of darkness and disorder in the universe. On it, darkness, the symbol of evil and chaos, was created" (Ayoub 1978: 151—2). Before its gradual reform, the Muharram, in which the Hindus massively participated, used to be celebrated as a great carnival where social and religious norms were parodied amidst shared laughter even by the Sunnis themselves (Shurreef 1863:123-141). The ‘pilgrim fool’ and the ‘pilgrim idiot’ would parody the solemn ritual of the Hajj while the devil’s chaplains, namely ‘cursed priest’ and ‘irreligious priest’, would go around proffering sermons on the virtues of drunkenness, gambling, adultery and usury. In a typical Konkan village, Hindus and Sunnis would join each other in celebrating Muharram with alcohol supplied even by the women (Saiyid 1981:124-5). This license was apparently provided by the stock character of the Drunkard who would repeat verses from the Koran in praise of wine while several Muharram fakirs would sit around for days trying to refute him. The village idiot was dressed up as a long-tailed monkey (langur) to take the prime initiative in violating norms of sexual segregation and creating an atmosphere of general promiscuity (Saiyid 1981:132,137). The Drunkard, who was even depicted wearing a brahmanical sacred thread made of leather, recalls the ‘great brahmin’ clown of the Sanskrit drama, who reveals a fondness for wine and is constantly assimilated to a wanton monkey. Beyond the influence of popular religion, the Indian transformation of Muharram reveals the active collaboration of ascetic orders on an esoteric level, and with roots going deep into the Hindu classical tradition. A newspaper report of July 1895 could observe that "Muharram passed of without a disturbance. Firstly, there was never any fear of fighting and disturbance in Banaras; secondly, when it is Hindus who mostly celebrate this festival, what fear can there be?" (cited in Kumar 1988:216). Hence, beneath the triangular politics of shifting alliances between Hindus, Sunnis and Shias in India are recognizable the tensions and interplay of the respective principles of hierarchy, egalitarianism and transgression, which continue to operate even beyond, and independently, of these traditional but once fluid religious identities. The return (raj’a) of the Mahdi, accompanied by the resurrection of Husain and Jesus, will be heralded by the outward manifestations of extreme promiscuity and transgressions of sacred norms, precisely what used to happen even within a religious context in the Islamic festivals of Ghazi Miyan and Muharram, for the Mahdi "will demolish whatever precedes him just as the Prophet demolished the structure of the Time of Ignorance (al-Jahiliyya––the period before Islam)" (Momen 1985:169). While, on the one hand, the conservative streak of Wahhabi iconoclasm already inherent in Islam would reduce the Ka’ba stone to a mere unifying symbol, the radical Shi’ism of the Carmathians, on the other hand, had already sought in 930 C.E. to eliminate the symbol altogether and thereby render the Meccan pilgrimage itself wholly superfluous (Jambet 1990:18-23).

Imam as hypostasis of initiatic birth

The messianic liberty that inspires the Shia movement is however not so much a glorification of licence but a perfect interiorization of the Christ-like figure of the Imam who will simply render (the outward observance of) the law forever superfluous (Hodgson 1955:163-80). All the Imams are said to be not only martyrs on the model of Husain, but were born circumcised, with their umbilical cords already severed and even spoke from within their mother’s womb! (Momen 1985:23). In the final analysis, it would seem that the Mahdi, who "will come with a new Cause––just as Muhammad, at the beginning of Islam, summoned the people to a new Cause––and with a new book and a new religious law (Shari’a), which will be a severe test for the Arabs" (Momen 1985:169), is no more than the ‘historical’ hypostatization and religio-political institutionalization of the death and resurrection of the Muslim initiates from the inner womb of a Fatimid gnosis. As the Mother-Creator figure, Fatima is "not very different from the image of Mary in Roman Catholicism, she is even referred to as ‘virgin’ (batul)" (Momen 1985:236). Such ‘virginity’ is no doubt also the primary significance of the ‘barrenness’ of the anubandhya cow and of the requirement that the Mosaic heifer must have never been yoked. Fatima represents the Sophia of the Shiite gnosis and would functionally correspond, in the Suhrawardian transposition, to the Avestan Spenta Armaiti (Corbin 1977:63-68). The Imams thus share the ‘maternal’ role of the brahmin (= cow): "the Imams are the ‘brides’ of the Prophet¼ And furthermore, since Initiation is nothing but the spiritual birth of the adepts, in speaking of the ‘mother of the believers’ in the true sense, we should understand that the real and esoteric meaning of this word ‘mother’ refers to the Imams. Indeed, this spiritual birth is effected through them¼ " (ibid., p.67). Sakina, the alternate name for Husain’s daughter, Fatima, clearly identifies her with the Shekhinah. The incestuous symbolism is intrinsic to the marriage of the Jewish Matronit who is simultaneously bride, sister, daughter and mother (Scholem 1985:171): "a marriage with a maternal sophia whose mystic virginity is perpetually renewed. Thus the sophia truly assumes here the form of the virgin bride and mother" (Scholem 1985:155). The birth is ultimately that of the adept himself from the radiant, ever unadulterated, womb of (his own) Consciousness.

initiatic birth: uprooting of violence

Bhairava too was absolved of his brahmanicide only when he re-emerged from the Ganga at Kapalamocana during that precise conjunction when Banaras, the ‘great cremation-ground’, assumed its full significance as the fiery womb of the Goddess Cita, the universal Consciousness. The inner violence of this rebirth––which was outwardly expressed through the punishment of Bhairava, the martyrdom of Husain, and even the crucifixion of Christ––implied not just a positive valorization of (initiatic) death as liberation. It would suggest that the only way of completely uprooting the innate human propensity to violence is perhaps through an intense struggle (the ‘greater jihad’) culminating in a conscious inner re-enactment of the marriage of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan, a perfect interiorization that would render wholly unnecessary this endless sacrificial cycle of raising, felling and resurrecting the pillar of all humanity.

Endnotes to The Marriage of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan


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Death and Sexuality in Hinduism and Islam:
The Marriage of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan

1) Lat Bhairo and Ghazi Miyan reveal the identification of death with sexual union to be common to both Hinduism and Islam, and serve as a useful starting point for a systematic and global exercise in comparative religion.

2) Brahmanicide Bhairava, policeman-magistrate of Banaras administers (metaphysical) punishment at the Lat (pillar) to everyone who dies in this sacred city of the Hindus. (Stump of) pillar stands in middle of idgah where both Hindus and Muslims worship.

3) Annual marriage of pillar and well coincides with beginning of season of funerary rituals. Bhairava’s head is brought in bridegroom-procession from within city to crown the pillar. Recurrent motif of linga in well (Gyânvâpî, Manikarnikâ), for entire city floated on cosmic waters of creation.

4) Royal marriage is symbolically identified with criminal execution and (re-)birth of the (sacrificer-) devotees. Death is assimilated to (internalized) sexual union whereby (the flame of) consciousness ascends the spinal column to escape through the skull (cf. yûpa). Muslims used to participate in marriage and share the offerings with the Hindus.

5) Muslims celebrate similar marriage of martyred Ghazi Miyan to Johara Bibi where head is carried on a pole and kids are sacrificed to obtain rain. Killed by infidel Hindus on wedding day, his tomb at Bahraich is replicated elsewhere in (North) India & identified with Mecca.

6) But two white kids are sacrificed facing Mecca with two poles at Muslim village of Kuraha (Nepal); third black kid is sacrificed in "Hindu" manner to pole itself. Criminal execution is replaced by martyrdom in holy war (jihad). Role model for Muslim bridegrooms.

7) Emphasis on fertility aspect with massive participation of Hindus: caste distinctions and even barriers between Muslims and Hindus are broken down in atmosphere of sexual promiscuity. Islamization of Shaiva sun cult at Bahraich, which may have involved human sacrifice.

8) Muharram as mourning for (Hasan and) Husain martyred in 680 at Karbala, burial ground for Shias. Marriage of Kassim and Fatima on 5th or 7th day with constant assimilation of death to marriage. Transposition to Ghazi Miyan cycle reflects tendency of Shias and Sunnis to close ranks around an egalitarian Islamic ideal vis-a-vis the Hindus.

9) Death anniversary of any Muslim saint is designated as "marriage" (urs) so much so that union of soul with God has become, in both popular religion and esoteric literature, a sexual union consummated only in death. Hybrid legends reveal martyrdom of Muslim warrior and Hindu god to be the two poles of a common ideology of self-sacrifice based on identity of killer and victim.

10) Obsession of Muslim rulers like Firoz Shah with pillars goes back to symbolic significance of Kaaba at Mecca. The "perfect man" of (Sunni) Sufis was called the "pole" (qutb) and the link between the Shia Imams and God was visualized as pillar of light. Abraham united with Hagar on Kaaba stone to conceive Ishmael and subsequently tethered his camel there when he sought to immolate him for Allah. Repeatedly referred to as "pillar" in the context of the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage in the year of his death.

11) Al-Hallaj’s execution (compared to animal sacrifice) for claiming to be God becomes universal symbol of mystical marriage. Kaaba, which represents (the evil in) the dark luminosity of the heart (Ibn Arabi), corresponds not only to black spot removed from (future) Prophet’s heart but also to black kid sacrificed to pole at Ghazi Miyan festival.

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