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Reading Global Islam Through Messianic Renewal in Dasavatar

Publication Type  Article
Year of Publication  2007
Date Published  12/2007
Authors  Purohit, Teena
Original Publication  Sikh Formations
Publisher  Routledge

18 pages


In the Aga Khan Case of 1866, the Bombay High Court’s redefinition of a caste group of
khojas as ‘Ismaili’ resulted in the institution of a uniform religious identity that undermined
the pluralistic character of Islamic practices in South Asia. The colonial court’s
monolithic understanding of khoja identity as ‘Ismaili’ has continued to influence the
community’s self-understanding to the present day. In this paper, I question this dominant
narrative in which khojas were identified as ‘Ismaili’. I argue that the early modern
Gujarati poem of the gina¯n genre, Dasavata¯r, became essential to the making of Ismaili
Muslim identity in the nineteenth century. I read the Dasavata¯r gina¯n as a conduit of
khojas’ religious beliefs to produce an alternative history of Ismaili community formation.
This discussion of Dasavata¯r explores the workings of global Islam in microcosm.
It shows that the ‘borrowings’ which transpire within the Indo-Islamic ecumene cannot be
conceptualized through notions of ‘sect’ or as an addendum to a Middle East-centered
Islamic grand narrative, which is how the Ismailis continue to be described in authoritative

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