Syncretistic and tolerant Hindu-Muslim culture

Pankaj Mishra in The National:

ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 27 11.45 India is one of the world’s oldest civilisations; but as a nation-state it is relatively very new, and its nationalism can still appear weak and unresolved, as became freshly clear in August, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party expelled its veteran leader Jaswant Singh. Singh had dared to praise, in a new book about the partition of India, the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Indian nationalists, of both the hardline Hindu and soft-secular kind, see Jinnah as the Muslim fanatic primarily responsible for the vivisection of their “Mother India” in 1947. But Singh chose to blame the partition on allegedly power-hungry Hindu freedom fighters, rather than Jinnah, who he claimed had stood for a united India.

Explaining his motivations, Singh referred back to his origins in Sindh (the province famous for its syncretistic and tolerant Hindu-Muslim culture) and suggested that he could only mourn the subsequent division of pluralist communities on the basis of abstract and singular religious identities. “In Jaisalmer,” he said, “Muslims don’t eat beef, Rajputs don’t eat pork.” Singh went on to speak wistfully of a famous shrine in Indian Sindh that is revered by both Muslims and Hindus.

Singh is not being a romantic. Hindus and Muslims commonly worship at each other’s sites across the subcontinent. One of my most intense childhood memories is of being immersed, by my Hindu Brahmin parents, into the great crowd at the dargah (shrine) of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. I felt a similar sense of wonder earlier this year at another dargah in Pakistan, standing amid ecstatic dancers at a spring festival in Lahore that celebrates the friendship, apparently homoerotic, of a Muslim and a Brahmin boy in the 16th century.

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