Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.


By: Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali
The word girbhavali has two letters, garbh (uterus) and vaali (vaanni) means narratives of the uterus or embryology, relating to gestation, uterus, fetus etc. In other words, it is a science of development of an embryo from fertilization of the ovum to the fetus stage.

Girbhavali is a treatise (granth) attributed to Pir Sadruddin (1300-1416) (1). It has two published versions, Girbhavali Nani (Embryology, small) or GBV and Girbhavali Shastr Likhi’yate’ (Scriptural treatise of embryology) or GBVS. Both are masterpiece composed in prose having great force of expression. (2) The ginans contain exhaustible source of intellectual and spiritual reflection, providing rise to ever-proliferating interpretations.

We will deal here the GBV. It seems that Pir Sadruddin intended to exhort artifice of divine creation in cosmos and human body, he composed GBV, in which he retained old prevalent traditional trend and faculty of the Hindus and designed five imaginary interrogations of the goddess Parvati to the Divine Lord (Ishavar Sami) on cosmology, cosmogony, embryology, physiological deliberations and human anatomy.
It is generally viewed that the versions of GBV and GBVS are polyglot, inexplicable, indecipherable and rustic due to constitute oldest layers of the Sanskrit vocabularies (3).

The speculation for Girbhavali being polyglot is fairly not justifiable. One can observe that the ginans/granths are now freely translated, which also contain these dialects, but why not for GBV and GBVS? The main reason is not rustic vocabularies, but the transcriptional errors rendering stodgy in translation.

The scrutiny of the ginans suggests that the transcription of the ginans was in operation in the period of the Pirs, but its individual copying began almost in16th century. This is by virtue of the fact that the missionary Juma Bhagat (1868-1935) surprised the court in Bombay to its extreme during the Haji Bibi Case on August 5 1908 by producing two rare oldest manuscripts of the ginan. One manuscript dated 1565 A.D., and another 1576 A.D. In 1982, I have mentioned in my monograph, Authenticity of Buj Nirinjan when I was quite naïve and unaware of the worth and importance of the old manuscripts that a certain Devdas Khetta left a manuscript in 1902 in Ahmadabad, India, which contained Anant Akhado of Pir Hasan Kabiruddin. There is a note: “I visited Jerruk, Sind in 1838 when I was 27 years old, where I saw a wooden box of late Kamadia Bhimu in possession of Alarakhia Sumar. It contains Das Avatar of Pir Sadruddin and other granth of 1574 Samvat (1518 A.D.). One another manuscript belonged to Khoja Bhimji Pindidas, dated 1594 Samvat (1538 A.D.). A personal diary of Remu Moloo of Nagpur, India was accessed, having 231 pages. Its 1st to 90 pages contained ginans, while other pages were reserved for the account of his ancestors. It however contained two dates, 1608 Samvat (1552 A.D.) and 1613 Samvat (1557 A.D.).

It is probable that the transcribing practice must have been confined to few persons working with the Pirs and their written copies would have been placed in the prayer halls for reading and memorizing. When the split of Imam Shahi sect reached to its final nook, it seems that the copying the ginans would have been begun both from oral and fragment of texts in the 16th century.

Earlier, there existed no any institution or group to collect and transcribe this wonderful tradition orderly. The first such group however emerged was the Akhund stock in Jerruk, Sind who mostly migrated from Bhuj, Kutchh in 18th century. They collected and transcribed ginanic copies and sold in Indian regions in plausible rate, the only means of their bread and butter. Later, most of them migrated towards Zanzibar and Uganda.

In those days, a certain Alauddin Ghulam Hussain (d. 1914) was working in the Oriental Printing Press in Bombay since 1864. Later, he also started his profession to transcribe the Ismaili literature in Khojki character since 1867. Later, he also established his own printing press in 1880. Alauddin Ghulam Hussain and his son continued publishing ginans and farmans in letho print. These books however were costly that the average Ismailis could not afford. For instance, a book of 100 ginans was sold in Rs. 3.50 and the booklet of Dua in Rs. 0.75. This was the main reason that he received orders from Varas Ibrahim Ismail (d. 1897) of Junagadh every year to print the book of dua and the ginans for making free distribution in the Ismailis.

Then, Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj (1842-1930) appeared in literary forum. His inestimable services was peerless in the field of the publication of the ginans. He unearthed voluminous manuscripts in India. In 1901, Bhagat Karimbhai Mohan Vertej, Visram Virji, Bhagat Remu and few other were hired to make manual copies of the ginans at the rate of 4 annas per 1000 words, but it seems that these copies were not examined or verified by no means.

The process of manual copying ceaselessly continued for about three years (1901-1903), and a host of these copies spread mostly in India and East Africa. When its demand enhanced, Laljibhai Devraj started lithographic print to make more copies of the manual texts. He visited Germany in 1903 and succeeded to prepare the Khojaki types and fonts. Soon after his return, he launched Khojaki typography and established Khoja Sindhi Printing Press on June 27, 1903. He continued to publish ginans for 17 years. When he noticed adverse reactions from the community members mostly from East Africa, he made his declaration in the Ismaili Satpanth Prakash (Bombay, April 12, 1918), appealing to bring to his knowledge the oversights and shortcomings in the published ginans, so as to make it flawless in next editions (4). He however rectified whatever was apprised, but what about those manual copies prepared by the scribblers during three years (1901-1903) which had been circulated to great range in India and East Africa? The scholars must take into account that these flawed, scrawled and immethodical copies prepared at random bear transcriptional errors are included in the domain of the old manuscripts!! These are absolutely not old manuscripts (5).

Harking back, the GBV, GBVS, and other granth, the scribes needed to count with the help of pen from one to thousand for claiming 4 annas. During manual counting, it is probable that few dots of ink would have touched the paper and these were not removed with rubber or other means. These dots are visible in many manual copies.

There must be one dot on a word, but appended more than one, such as Khand became Khandang, Akhand as Akhanand, etc. (6).

It is a thoughtful, rather a grave enigmatic consideration: how to reconstitute? We don’t know how long the published ginans would be reckoned standard editions? This write-up however takes no sides in this debate. This is however by virtue of the fact that it was also apprehended inaccuracy in Devraj’s edition by the missionaries and scholars of the Recreation Club Institute. Neither we replace nor sort out original words. In case, we endeavor a little bit, it will be branded interpolation. Thereupon, we cannot modify any word, but show its original form into bracket. The paraphrase or tampering, if any, void of concrete reason is never acceptable. None should start his own religious franchise in this context.

Once any modification is done, it no more remains being words of the Pirs. If the ginans are studied with a proper bent of mind, one would find heap of untold treasure of knowledge and wisdom. Its purity therefore, must be guarded.

It was the mandate of the Recreation Club Institute (1921-1944) to revise editions of Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj, but it was never executed at least certain amount of scholastic attention, even by the Ismailia Associations for India and Africa (1944-1986) and then the Tariqah Boards. The Institute of the Ismaili Studies, London has amassed major manuscripts, but it has neither yet been catalogued nor revision of Devraj’s edition. According to Ismaili Hymns from South Asia (London, 1992, p. 17), “The Devraj edition long remained standard, until the changes in the direction of the community necessitated its revision.”

I have heard from late missionary Alibhai Nanji (1893-1978) in about 1971-2 that he and some other missionaries of the Recreation Club Institute asked Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah at Bombay in 1934 that it was difficult to decipher Girbhavali and as a result they have replaced about 40 to 50 words by another words to decode and avoid several layers of its meaning. The Imam declined their proposed interpolation or cognate substitutions and said, “Don’t modify words. Do you want that your status may be like Uthman? You come and ask me!” These missionaries hardly meet together in Bombay because of their sermons in different quarters for the forthcoming Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah in 1936, and consequently this sublime plan could not be materialized.

I have gone through many old manuscripts and write-ups relating to the GBV and GBVS. The earliest literary attempt seems to have been launched by Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj, who simply analyzed in ten pages. It seems that he was not convinced in his brief venture, and that is why he did not publish it in his periodical, Ismaili Sitaro (1908) or Khoja Mitr (1910). The early literary attempt was published in the Nizari Magazine (Bombay, Dec., 1928, January to April, 1929) by Missionary Nur Muhammed Hasham under the head of Aatam Gnaan, but he referred to few portions of the GBVS. Bhagat Kara Ruda (18812-1931) was well-versed in Indian vernaculars and excellently summarized its interpretation. I have inspected his Gujrati illegible and incomplete manuscript of 169 pages. It will be however helpful to certain amount in my study of GBVS. Missionary Murad Ali Juma (1878-1966), also known as Bapu Missionary, the father-in-law of Missionary Rai Abu Aly Alybhai Aziz (1921-2008) had delivered his lecture on GBVS to his students. Its audio-cassettes are well-recorded, but his effort was half-baked and inexplicable.
Let me remark that this is an ideal time to say that my relation with late missionary Abu Alu A. Aziz was cemented as a son and father due to our close family link via my mother-in-law, who is now 97 years old. During his last visit in Karachi, I gained very important points on the Girbhavali from him.

The approach of certain petty writers appears to have based purely on their own whims. All these available materials at disposal, however have not touched the scientific notions.

Science and scientific observations and findings cannot be generally acceptable as criteria for the genuineness of the doctrine of the ginans, although at this point in time there are many significant instances to be cited for the concordance between science and the ginans on certain questions. However, the mystically tinged ginans are the sacred hymns and treatises, notably a spiritual guidance, and neither a book of science nor a mine of cryptic notes on scientific facts. In brief, the Ismailis believe the ginans specifically a noble tool of guidance exhorted by the Pirs/Sayeds, whereas the science is a human endeavor, which alters their theories from time to time seems to be in support of it or not.

Early Mission of Pir Sadruddin

It is necessary to have a cursory glance at first on the early historical background of the mission of Pir Sadruddin in Indian sub-continent when Pir Shams (d. 1356), Pir Nasiruddin (d. 1362) and Pir Saheb al-Sin (d. 1373) were active in proselytization in other regions of India. Before it, the following two holy farmans of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah are worthy to focus in mind:-

“Pir Sadruddin had shown you real faith, not indicated all of a sudden. First, he exhorted Hinduism, then combined track of Satpanth with their religion and thereafter, this faith was promulgated” (Zanzibar, 13th July, 1899) and

“Pir Sadruddin was all alone and promulgated one hundred thousand murids” (Bombay, 22nd March, 1923)

Pir Sadruddin came India in 1361 and posed and draped as a Hindu priest. He studied Hinduism, their traditions, tendencies, aptitude and social customs. He was a linguist and mastered local languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujrati etc., and immersed in Indian customs. While studying the ginans/granths, it explicitly denotes that Pir Sadruddin had deeply studied the Rig-Veda, Ayur-Veda, Sam-Aveda, Athar-Veda, Upanishads, Smriti, Puranas etc. He was also well known interpreter of the Koran and Hadith. He was a great preacher, dialectician and well steeped in astronomy, astrology and physiology. He was the first Gujrat and Sindhi poet. He is the only Pir who is referred to 21 times by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. His name also appeared twice as Pir Sadardin, also twice with an epithet of Bar Gur in our old Dua. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Pir Sadruddin indeed towered in history like an Everest with no Alps around. (7)

According to the Arab proverb, “Speak to men to the amount of their faculty” (Tukkalli man nasa ala qadr uqulihim). Likewise, Pir Sadruddin mixed up with the Hindus in their temples and exhorted them simply the Hinduism. When he gained confidence and reliance, he propounded on legitimate grounds and manipulated his Hindu disciples vividly the advent of Islam was predicted in their scriptures, notably Athar-Veda, Upanishads etc., and remarkably imparted that the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, for whom they were waiting had manifested in Salmal Deep (Arabia) as a Naklank (Ali), who was then in the dress of Shri Salam Shah (Islam Shah), residing in Irak Khand (Iran). It appears explicitly that his Hindu disciples took deep interest. He imparted them thereupon Satpanth doctrine, but did not applied the term “Ismailism.” On that time, he composed few bhajan (hymns) or ginans in which he identified himself as Gur Soho’dev, Harichandra and Satgur Bharhma. The GBV was one of the compositions of those times, which contains no Arabic or Persian words, but only Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujrati and other Indian vernaculars. It is to be added that Pir Sadruddin’s 218 varying ginans were published in 1952 by the Ismailia Association for India, in which 27 ginans contained name of the composer as Soho’dev, and these would have been also composed during the first stage of his proselytization.

During the early stage, the number of the followers in the Satpanth were about one hundred thousand, and then augmented to millions in second to fourth stages. Pir Sadruddin was alone in his mission, which he spread widely in Sind, Kutchh, Kathiawar, Gujrat etc., and then he appointed 12 well trained persons to look after the mission works.

Summing up the peculiar missionary method of Pir Sadruddin, Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi writes in The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Karachi, 1977, pp. 41-2) that, “There are several instances on record where an Ismaili missionary (Pir Sadruddin) posed as a Brahmin or Hindu priest and instead of flatly contradicting the doctrine of the faith, he sought to subvert, he confessed its basic assumptions and introduced some of Ismaili beliefs in a disguised form and thus slowly and gradually paved the way of a mass conversion. Lake of total adherence has never worried the Ismailis, because they are fully confident that the convert will ultimately accept the faith fully. This kind of conversion is achieved in a peculiar manner. At the outset, the appeal is not on the basis of dogma or beliefs, but an attempt is made to convince the potential convert of the spiritual greatness of some persons. In the early days, the missionary himself was a man of exemplary character. Very often Ali was depicted as an incarnation of Vishnu among the Vaishnavities.

In short, after some personal loyalty has been created, the disciple was taken through various stages into full-fledged belief in the teaching of Ismaili Islam.” W. Ivanow also writes in his Collectanea (Leiden, 1948, p. 34) that, “The Pirs apparently found it impossible to uproot the ancestral outlook of their Hindu converts, based on the belief in immortality of the soul, and rebirth in accordance with the Karma theory.” He also comments, “Either by intuition or sound and clever reasoning, the Nizari Ismaili missionaries devised…method depending on two principles. One was their bold tactics in separating the meaning and spirit of Islam from its hard Arabic shell. The other was their concentration of efforts on a few definite castes.” (ibid. p. 21)

Thereupon, the new converts were brought into Satpanth from one to four stages (7).

Pir Sadruddin consciously safeguarded his followers’ Islamic root and identity on the fourth stage. Eventually, the boundaries between the Muslims and Hindus were well-defined in the ginans. He formed a symbolical bridge between Islam and Hinduism analogically – a landmark characteristic of his noble mission, which took him about 35 years (1361-1396).

In the second stage of mission, Pir Sadruddin sorted out and imparted the disciples the common analogies in their philosophical ideas and laid massive value upon the inner aspects, and put aside their external formalism. Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi writes in History of Sufism in India (New Delhi, 1978, 1st vol., p. 109) that, “The Ismaili missionaries were enthusiastic, who unhestingly modified their esoteric system to suit their converts.” This stage offered the disciples to pick up the refined teachings linked in the Satpanthi essence with no hard Arabic shell.

Various ginans were composed in the second stage of mission, in which Pir Sadruddin incorporated his name as Sohodev and Pir Sadruddin. In this stage, the Gibhavali Shastr Likiyate’ (GBVS) seems to have been composed, in which the Pir had appended his name, Sadardin for 9 times.

Be noted cautiously that the GBV was composed in the first stage of mission, while GBVS belongs to the second stage. It is however curious that the former granth was branded in the Devraj edition as Nani, and the later as the Motti, which is utterly inappropriate. In the ending lines of the GBV and GBVS, only the name Girbhavali is mentioned without addition of Nani or Motti. In 1991-2, I have examined an oldest manuscript in possession of a certain Mamu Bhagat in Jerruk, in which the present GBV and GBVS were given the heading of only Girbhavali.

Writing on the mission of Pir Sadruddin, Ali Ahmed Brahe says in his History of Tombstones (Hyderabad, 1987, pp. 133-4) that, “Anyone who embraced Ismaili dawa was free to practice his traditional cult and even retain his previous names, castes, identity with the additional declaration of faith in Imam and veneration for Pirs and descendants of Ali. By adoption of such liberal attitude a great many powerful tribes, such as Langah, Soomras and Lohamnas, were attracted to the Ismaili Satpanth.”

There are numerous significant examples of the concordance betwixt Science and the Ginan on certain questions. The Ginan exclusively is a hub of sacred religious hymns. It is neither a treatise of science nor a mine of cryptic notes on scientific discoveries. Science is a human ceaseless ongoing endeavor, which is altered from time to time, whereas what the Ginan refers scientifically, if any, it is the outcome of the insight of the composers and the science will have to admit despite being facilitated with latest apparatus.

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