In the forest of sand : history, devotion, and memory in South Asian Muslim poetry
The Māppiḷa Muslims of the south Indian state of Kerala have lived on the subcontinent since before the tenth century C. E. Formed by intermarriage with Muslim traders as well as conversions, their history is rich, complex, and unique. Their creative song literature known as Māppiḷa pāṭṭŭ distinguishes them further. Composed at least as early as 1607 C. E., Māppiḷa pāṭṭŭ, with its linguistic mix of Arabic and Malayalam and its poetic integration of Islamic and Indic themes and literary forms, exemplifies the ambiguity and complexity inherent in language, literature, and religion. This thesis is a study of Māppiḷa pāṭṭŭ consisting of two principal areas of investigation: a translation/textual analysis of a selection of songs, and a historical contextualization. The songs are grouped based on four themes: devotion to spiritual figures, political and community issues, songs of intense imaginative color, and songs with domestic orientations. I look at other literary traditions that may have influenced the creation of these songs at the beginning of each chapter. The idea of origins is not something that I am exploring; instead, I find possibilities of influence and meaning that overlap and interweave. Depending on the time period of the work, the historical context, and internal references different aspects of the songs and possible influences have been emphasized. There are no answers in these poems about origins or genesis, instead this study identifies multiple strands of influence—literary works and historical contexts—that influenced the form and content of these songs. Further, it is a study of debates and discussions on various issues within the Māppiḷa community from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. My study broadly aims to illustrate the complex and multifaceted heritage of the community and its literature, discover the voices of Māppiḷa Muslims expressed in the vibrant Arabi-Malayalam songs, and demonstrate the complexity and diversity of views within the community. The literature further offers alternate viewpoints on historical events, contributes to Indian literary histories, complicates literary and religious boundaries, and contributes to the body of literature that argues for Islam as a religion of accommodation.