Published in Aman Ki Asha , in TheNews on December 14, 2011. http://amankiasha.com/detail_news.asp?id=584
Ilmana Fasih recounts some examples of the ‘Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb’ and centuries’ old, peaceful coexistence beyond religious divides
An otherwise sane looking person I met at a party recently started to spew venom laced with conspiracy theories about “Hindu Muslim animosity”. To top it all, he tried to use my own life to justify his views, insisting that my going
to live in Pakistan after marrying a Pakistani was proof of the natural divide. He refused to accept my views that a peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths is possible or that my going to Pakistan from India was not based on religious reasons.
His hate-filled thoughts kept me sleepless for hours that night. But talking over the phone to my mother in Delhi later, I was cheered up by her mention of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb. Our conversation triggered off thoughts about this beautiful, fluid culture that refuses to be boxed up and compartmentalised.
The name Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb is as beautiful as its spirit. It refers to the centuries’ old, peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent. Not only did the two faiths borrow cultural practices from each other, but they also exchanged each other’s vocabularies. So much so that now one is hardly able to find any difference between spoken Urdu and spoken Hindi.
The Nawabs of Awadh in north India in the 1700s are considered the pioneers of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb. At least, the term was coined in their times. But on ground it existed well before that era.
The starkest example of this syncretic culture is the Purana Hanuman Mandir in Lucknow, which is crowned by an Islamic symbol, a crescent. According to legend, the temple was built by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan to honour the wish of his mother, who had dreamt of building a temple. The tradition of honouring the Nawab’s gesture still continues when the Muslims in the area put up stalls of water during the Bada Mangal festival at the temple, and Hindus manage sabeels (stalls) of sherbet and water during Muharram in reverence for Imam Hussain.
Not far from Lucknow, the rulers of the Hindu holy city of Kashi (also known as Benaras or Varanasi) observed the Azadari (the mourning) during Muharram, wearing black on Ashura. Ustad Bismillah Khan, the renowned Shehnai maestro, began his career as a shehnai player in Vishwanath temple, Kashi. In fact, many of the musicians, Hindu and Muslim, who play in the temples, fast during Ramazan and also observe Vrat during the Hindu Navratras.
Even today, Muslim artisans in Kashi/Varanasi who make Taziyas for Muharram also make effigies of Ravan for Dussehra, a friend tells me. Hindus too participate in Muharram processions and make Taziyas in many cities, notably Lucknow.
Similarly a Sindhi friend talks of the centuries-old peace and harmony between the Hindus and Muslims of Sindh. Adherents of both faiths revere and pray together at the shrine of Jhuley Lal, she says. The shrine walls are inscribed
with Arabic verses as well as Hindu names of Gods. An age-old common greeting of Sindhi Hindus and Muslims is “Jhulelal Bera-Hee-Paar”.
Karachi’s 150-year old cremation ground for Hindus has a Muslim caretaker, although there are many Hindus in the city. This caretaker is responsible for cleaning the statues and lighting the lamps in the temple, and takes care of the urns that contain the ashes of the dead after cremation, until their loved ones immerse the ashes in water.
Cultural practices in Sindh are a fusion of the two cultures. If the Hindus, fervently use Allah as the reference to God, the Muslims touch the feet of their elderly as traditions borrowed from each other’s cultures.
The contribution of Sufi poetry towards this peaceful coexistence, from Kabirdas and Amir Khusro, to Bulleh Shah on the other side, is well known.
Beyond faith, at the cultural level, the Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb has seen some beautiful creations like the Ghazal style of singing and the classical dance form Kathak.
Kathak’s journey from ancient times to its present form merits a walk-through. The word “katha” comes from “katha” or story telling. It has its roots in ancient times, when storytellers narrated epics or mythological stories like Shakuntala, and the Mahabharata through dance forms in temples. However with the arrival of Mughals, the dance, enticed to come to the courts, developed into a more Persianised form. The Kathak dancers adopted the whirling
from the dervishes to the ‘chakkars’. The rhythm of the footsteps found harmony with the beat of the tabla recently discovered by Amir Khusro. The female Kathakaars (storytellers) abandoned the sari of ancient times for the angarkha and churidar pyjama. The language of narration also transformed from Sanskrit to Brij Bhasha and then Urdu.
There may be more examples of such coexistence and development in other regions of the subcontinent too.
Those who propagate conspiracy theories and narrate stories of hate and disharmony need to know that even with the physical separation between India and Pakistan, the spirit of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb lives on. The lack of communication between the two countries, particularly after the 1965 and 1971 wars, has not managed to dampen the natural instincts of sharing these cultures.
Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammed, the renowned Qawwals from Pakistan continue to sing Bhajans which their gharana has been singing for the last 300 years. On the other side are Wadali brothers who sing Bulleh Shah Kaafis and Naats with the same devotion. Despite all odds, Sheema Kermani and her students in Pakistan have continued to keep the dance forms, not only of Kathak, but also Bharatnatyam and Odissi, alive and known in Pakistan.
The recent collaboration between Zeb and Haniya from Pakistan and Shantanu and Siwanand Kirkire of India yielded the soft melody “Kaho kya khayal hai” in a beautiful blend of Dari and Hindi. I could not help relate it to the Zehaal-e-Miskeen composition by Amir Khusro which was a beautiful fusion of Persian and Brij Bhasha.
And now another peacenik in the form of Shahvar Ali Khan makes a music video titled ‘No Saazish No Jang’ (No Conspiracy, No War). It is heartening to see the visuals, and hear the voices of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Bapu Mahatama Gandhi together in the backdrop.
It is not possible to list all collaborations between the two countries and across religious divides, particularly in fields of films, music, health (the most significant being the Heart to Heart initiative by Rotary and Aman ki Asha). But all these initiatives testify to the desire for peace, not hate.
As for me, convinced that each of these efforts towards peaceful coexistence is based on foundations going back centuries, I slide into my bed, comforted by the faith that peace, not hate, will ultimately prevail.
It’s just a matter of time.
Dr Ilmana Fasih is an Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. Her blog is Blind to Bounds https://thinkloud65.wordpress.com/