Muslim Festivals in India and Other Essays

Item Code: NAC432
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Garcin De Tassy
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 0195643143
Pages: 207
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 Inch X 5.5 Inch
Weight 230 gm
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Famous nineteenth-century French Indologist, Garcin de Tassy’s Memoire sur des particularities de la religion, Musulmane dons!’ Inde, d’après les ouvrages Hindoustani is an early but pioneering work on syncretism in Indian Islam in the earlier century.

Originally written in French and translated here for the first time into English by M. Waseem, the Memoire presents a graphic account of the Indian Muslim festivals in nineteenth-century India based on contemporary accounts, as observed by the participants themselves. The majority of these were Hindus who added their practices to these supposedly Islamic events. De Tassy reveals how Muslims in India have adopted certain religious practices not found in other Muslim countries, which have no sanction in the Quran, and which often contradict Islamic scriptures.

Besides Tassy’s celebrated work, this volume also contains his reviews of the classic Observations on the Musulmauns of India, and Ja’far Sharif’s work on Muslim customs, Qanoon-e-Islam.

‘The translation from French into English by Professor M Waseem, is lucid and free flowing. The comprehensive introduction puts the information contained in the book in scholarly perspective and brings out its contemporary relevance. The appendix on the Sufi mystical order [and the] imaginatively prepared index speak of the meticulous care that has gone into the conception and translation of the book.’
— India Perspectives

M. Waseem (1935—2001) was Professor in the Department of English, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.


What follows, is a translation of Garcin de Tassy’s Memoire sur des particularities de la religion musulmane dans I’Inde, d’après les ouvrages hindoustani (Paris, 1831) coupled with his reviews of Mrs Hassan Ali’s Observations on the Musulmauns of India, etc., (1932) and Ja’far Sharif’s Qanoon-i Islam, etc. (1832)—reviews which appeared respectively in Nouveau journal asiatique (June, 1832) and the Journal des savants, of August and September, 1833. He also wrote a Notice sur les fetes des Hindous, d’après les ouvrages hindoustani (Nouveau journal asiatique, February and March 1834), where he suggested that the four pieces should be treated as a whole. However, I have dropped the Notice, which does not fit the pattern I had in mind. Very sketchy, repetitive if not monotonous, it is a catalogue of Hindu festivals classified according to the lunar months and is based largely on the first volume of Hindee and Hindoostani Selections by Tarini Charan Mitr and W. Price of Calcutta. Significantly, the most interesting parts in the Notice are quotations from the Urdu books de Tassy has used in the Memoir.

For those interested in the contemporary Indian background and an explanation of the names and terms in de Tassy’s text, I have added an Introduction and an Appendix on Indian saints. De Tassy’s spelling of non-European words has been modernized but the original spelling may be found in the Index. I have converted into Roman script the words and sentences de Tassy gave in the Perso-Arabic script. Similarly, in the interest of readability, I have modified de Tassy’s use of italics, and the repetition, in the Perso-Arabic script, of certain words which had already been given by him in transliterated form.

Thanks are due to the British Library, Print and Drawing Section for the permission to reproduce the painting entitled ‘An offering to the Ganges’.

I am indebted to Professor Nazir Ahmad of Aligarh, Professor Shoeb Azmi, Professor Mujeeb Rizvi, and Mr Shahabuddin Ansari of the Jamia Milha, whom I consulted on several occasions for their help; while Ahmed Ali’s excellent translation, Al Qur’an (Oxford University Press, 1987) is the source of the phrases from the Holy Book.

Thanks are due to Dr K R. Bedar of the Khuda Bukhsh Khan Library, Patna, for providing me with a copy of the Memoir and other related material, and to Anne Renard, daughter of my friends in Versailles, for getting me promptly a copy of de Tassy’s review of Ja’far’s book from the Bibliotheque Nationale.

I am grateful to Professor Sunanda Datta of Calcutta for the information she gave me on the dress of the women in the painting, ‘An Offering to the Ganges’. I must also record my gratitude to the Trustees of the Charles Wallace Foundation, London, and La Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, for their hospitality for a different project; a visit to these cities helped me in making slight but very significant changes in the Introduction and the Appendix. I am also grateful to Mr Vasant Sathe, Chairman, Indian Council of Cultural Relations and Professor Bashiruddin Ahmed, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia for the travel grant.

I am really grateful to Dr J. M. Lafont, who not only provided me with the necessary material but also initiated me into the art of translating scholarly works; to Dr Narayani Gupta for suggesting that this translation was worth publishing, and to my publishers for agreeing with her.

Incalculable and inexpressible, however, is my debt to my daughters, Saba and Saleha, and their mother, Adiba, to whom I dedicate my contribution to this book.


GARCIN DE TASSY’s Memoir is an early but pioneering work on syncretism in Indian Islam, a subject which is quite popular with western researchers. If one goes by the number of editions published, it has been, with his translation of Fariduddin Attar’s Mantaqut tair, the best received of de Tassy’s books.1 A sequel to an earlier piece on the doctrines and duties of Muslims, according to the Quran, Doctrine et devoirs de In religion musulmane, tires textuellement du Coran, suivis de I’eucologe musulman traduit tie I’arabe, published in Paris, 1826 the Memoir is an attempt to show how Muslims in India have adopted certain religious practices not found in other Muslim countries, which have no sanction in the Quran, and which are often in contravention of the Muslim scripture. At the same time, de Tassy traces certain words and ceremonies to non-Muslim western sources; f or example, the origin of the Hindustani word, nau (boat) and the custom of setting afloat in rivers small boats with lamps in memory of Khwaja Khizr.

However, we now know that what was Hindu could be Muslim, what was Muslim could be Hindu, or that it could be both or neither. For instance, the spiritual exercise of breath control (hubs-dam) one of the most important features of Indian Sufism could be either imported or indigenous; so could be chillam’kusa, hanging upside down in a dark place for forty days in order to meditate. Whatever its origin, it was practised by Fariduddin Ganjshakar, as well, as by devotees in Bahra’ich and as Schimmel reports, ‘it is still today sometimes performed by dervishes who may use the hat rack of a Pakistani train to hang from’ (p. 132). Millions of Hindus visit Bahra’ich, the site of the oldest Muslim shrine in India, to celebrate the preparation of the marriage of Salar Mas’ud, who died fighting the Kafirs. As de Tassy has shown, a Hindu Teli (oil man) brought a father-in-law’s marriage gift for the hero, who was slain on the day of his wedding with a Muslim lady Zubra Bibi, who is supposed to be buried by his side (Schimmel, p. 135). Irreverent practices, exhibitionism, curious and funny feats, crowds of women, and the use of intoxicating drinks were common. It has also been suggested that the shrine was originally a sun temple. However it may be, the festivals described by de Tassy have now assumed greater social and political importance and much larger mass appeal. New pirs rise and fall and old ceremonies have acquired new significance. The twelfth of Rabi’ul Auwwal was observed in India as Bara wafat (literally, death on the twelfth) as a death anniversary (greatly perplexing de Tassy) with very solemn and private prayers.2 Now the Birth of the Prophet (Id Milad-un Nabi) is celebrated as a public festival, and the Central Government has grudgingly included it in the calendar of public holidays. Streets are now lighted and decorated and processions taken out—one of these processions led (in 1992) to riots in the otherwise communally peaceful city of Madras. The veneration for the Prophet’s footprint could be traced to a Meccan tradition as well as to the influence of the worship of the footprint of Buddha and Vishnu. However, a reader’s assertion in a letter to the Editor (The Times of India, 13 October 1992) that there are three footprints of Vishnu, one each in Bodh Gaya and Shukla Teerth, and the third one in the Ka’ba, would not have surprised many readers.

The secular King of Oudh, Asafuddaulah, would never miss the annual celebrations at Bahra’ich, and the equally secular Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru, would grant darshan to millions of pilgrims in Allahabad during the Kumbha mela, leading, incidentally, once to a stampede, which left hundreds dead. When Haji flyas, King of Bengal, marched to Bahra’ich under the pretence of seeking a cure for leprosy, there was panic in Firoz Shah. Tughlaq’s Delhi; it was feared that the Bengali might attack Delhi on the plea of offering prayers at the tomb of Nizamuddin Awliya. One can imagine the apprehensions of the leaders of the National Front when the Congress Party decided to hold its first post-election meeting (in 1992) in the temple city of Tirupati. Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.

De Tassy’s basic argument and most of his facts are irrefutable, but a few errors need to be corrected, some gaps to be filled and many entries re-arranged in order to do justice to the pioneering work, which has been mentioned in every work on popular Islam in India.

In support of his argument de Tassy depended almost entirely on whatever the Indian Muslims themselves had written on their festivals. Since most of these books were commissioned by Fort William College, which was controlled by alien masters, the writers were, however, either unable or unwilling to tell the whole truth. Secondly, de Tassy did not have sufficient contact with Indians while writing this Memoir, to be able to check his sources. Hence, there are unfortunate errors, lack of understanding of various religious Orders, of the kinds of saints and of the class structure of Indian Muslims.


Introduction 3
1. Muslim Festivals Preliminary Observations Part One: Lunar Fetes; Solar Fetes 28
Part Two: Saints Without any Special Fetes
2. Customs of the Musulmauns: 123
An Essay on Mrs Meer Hassan Ali’s Observations on the Musulmauns of India
3. Islamic Practices: 143
Reflections on Ja’far Sharif’s Qanoon-e Islam
Appendix 171
Select Bibliography 187
Index 189
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