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Rahul Govind

By Shahid Amin
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2015, pp. 352, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 8 August 2016

Shahid Amin’s Conquest and Community: The After-life of Warrior Saint Ghazi Miyan is an ambitious exercise in history writing that combines a range of sources, textual and ethnographic. It is also self-consciously a critique of the existing practice of the historian’s craft, insisting, by way of introduction, that the political realities of the day require ‘new ways’ to write and imagine history. More concretely, Amin’s work examines the figure of Ghazi Miyan, who exists in contemporary popular memory in the Bhairach region. The fascinating paradox that forms the impetus for his ‘historical’ investigation is the fact that Ghazi Miyan, described as Mahmud of Ghazni’s nephew across this material, does not seem to have in fact existed; contemporary chronicles of Mahmud of Ghazni make no mention of him. It is Amin’s argument that a study of the figure of Ghazi Miyan and the veneration accorded to him, across centuries, is a sign of the historical ‘displacement’ of the figure of Mahmud of Ghazni as a foreign conquerormarauder. However, Ghazi Miyan is no ‘rosary fondling Sufi’ (p. 6). The crucial intervention that Amin makes is to study the way in which the figure of Ghazi Miyan has been altered across textual and folk imagination so as to address the more granular, mundane everyday needs and anxieties such as childbearing. Thus, it is not as though ‘conquest’ is simply erased or forgotten, but it is ‘refashioned’ to suit the everyday, and it is in terms of such creative refashioning that we can understand the nature of popular veneration or the contemporary ‘syncretism’ of the Ghazi Miyan cult as a historical process. To simply ignore conquest, Amin argues, would be to cede completely the narratives and facts of conquest to majoritarian writings. The main evidence that Amin mobilizes for his argument includes Abdur Rahman Chisthi’s Mirat-i-Masudi, the hagiography of Ghazi Miyan written in the early 17th century, textual material from the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as his own field work in the 1990s among the balladeers singing songs of Ghazi Miyan in the Bhairach region. Abdur Rahman Chisthi was a prolific writer, but Amin’s interest does not lie in interpreting the Mirat in the light of his oeuvre. Focussing exclusively on this Mirat (for there were other Mirats penned by Chisthi), or rather on certain segments, Amin narrates its plot, which tells the story of ...

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