Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance

Hymns of the Satpanth Ismāʿili Muslim Saint, Pir Shams

By Tazim R. Kassam

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series, McGill Studies in the History of Religions, A Series Devoted to International Scholarship
Paperback : 9780791425923, 424 pages, August 1995
Hardcover : 9780791425916, 424 pages, August 1995

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Table of contents




Chronology of Events (C.E.)

Part I

Ginans: A Wonderful Tradition

Satpanth Isma'ilism in the Context of Isma'ili Studies: Marginal Territory

Rethinking the Emergence and Significance of Satpanth Isma'ilism

Pir Shams: Problems of Historical Identity

Conclusion: Recovering History and Tradition


Part II

Translator's Preface

Introduction to the Anthology


Translations of Mahan Ismaili Santa Pir Shams Racit Ginanono Sangraha (An Anthology of Ginans composed by the Great Isma'ili Saint, Pir Shams)

Appendix A. Incipits

Appendix B. Translation of "A Short Life-History of Our Twenty-Third Pir—Hadrat Pir Shams al-Din Sabzawari" in the Anthology

Appendix C. Notes on Names and Epithets in the Anthology



This is a survey of the Ismaili Muslim traditions and a translation of many Santpanth Ismaili Ginans (hymns.)


Coursing though cultures and time, tuneful verse has given moving expression to the human longing for the divine. As poetry strung on sweet melodies, hymns bear testimony to the religious life of the devout, and to the inspiring teachings of minstrels and saints. Such is the ginan tradition of the Satpanth Isma'ilis, Indian successors of the Fatand Nizari Isma'ili sect of the Shi'ah Muslims. Traditionally recited during daily ritual prayers, ginans have been revered for generations among the Satpanth Isma'ilis as sacred compositions.

This work offers for the first time an extensive translation of hymns attributed to the Isma'ili saint-composer, Pir Shams (ca. 13th century), who is at once one of the most pivotal and yet most enigmatic figures of this literary tradition. It also presents a cogent historical reconstruction of the beginnings of Satpanth Isma'ilism--a phase of Isma'ili history that has spanned over eight centuries.

Tazim R. Kassam is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and Religion at Middlebury College.


"It is rare to find South Asian poetry translated into English in a fashion that gives an impression of the poetic power of the original. I think the author is particularly gifted in her ability to translate in this manner." — Sheila McDonough

"Absolutely wonderful hymns! They reveal something of the quality of the traditions as nothing else can. Their power as community memory and boundary markers through sacred sound is lovingly and expertly communicated in this book." — Frederick M. Denny