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The World of Prannath

Manan Ahmed Asif

Edited by Vasudha Dalmia and Munis D. Faruqui
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 391, Rs. 1095.00


In 1674, Mahamat Prannath (1618–1694 CE) and his followers sought to find an audience with the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1619–1707) in the imperial capital of Delhi. Mahamat Prannath had recently split from other disciples of his sampradaya of Guru Devchandra over the question of succession and the audience with the Mughal badshâh was meant to resolve this difference, as was customary in such cases, in those times. Leaving Gujarat must have been hard for Prannath. He was born in Jamnagar and he had spent his adulthood living and travelling in Junagadh, Ahmadabad, Diu, Thatta, Muscat, Aden. The regions of Sind, Gujarat and Aden shared networks of traders, merchants, mendicants and scholars living in port-cities and capitals. The religious orders present—Nizari Ismailis, Catholics, Jains, Vaishnavite and Krishanavite sants, Sufis or Sunnis—were just as diverse as political power in this intimate circuit with the Mughal, the Portuguese, the Gujarati and Sindhi Rajas. This world of Mahamat Prannath is laid out in concise yet sensitive detail in Brendan LaRocque’s essay ‘Mahamat Prannath and the Pranami Movement: Hinduism and Islam in a Seventeenth-Century Mercantile Sect’ contained in Religious Interactions in Mughal India edited by Vasudha Dalmia and Munis D. Faruqui (2014). Reading this excellent, timely and important volume is an odd sensation when, in India there are the ‘re-conversions’ (ghar-wapsi) and the ‘re-naming’ (of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi); in Pakistan, there are the targeted killings of Christians and Shi’a. Our contemporatry understanding of religious interactions is dominated by exquisitely drawn boundaries over rituals, sensibilities and texts with exclusive claims to truth. Faruqui and Dalmia have produced a compendium of the most current and sophisticated scholarship from the US, UK and EU that, in broad terms, helps us articulate what we do not remember and, hence, cannot understand. The essays are divided under the themes ‘Of Intersections’ and ‘Of Proximity and Distance’. The opening essay by Eva Orthman locates the efforts of Humâyûn as the individual who creates a Mughal ecumene where the yogic and sufic texts offer equal opportunities to imagine a divinely sanctioned, astrally visible polity. There are two critcal essays engaging with the high politics of the Mughal court—focusing on the intellectual practices of the Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh. Munis Faruqui examines Dara Shukoh’s Sirr-i Akbar (1657) and the influences from Vedantic philosophy to argue for a gnostic reading of the Qur’an that would reveal both the ...

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