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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Texts, Tombs and Memory: The Migration, Settlement and Formation of a Learned Muslim Community in Fifteenth-Century Gujarat

  • Author(s): Balachandran, Jyoti Gulati
  • Advisor(s): Subrahmanyam, Sanjay
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the processes through which a regional community of learned Muslim men - religious scholars, teachers, spiritual masters and others involved in the transmission of religious knowledge - emerged in the central plains of eastern Gujarat in the fifteenth century, a period marked by the formation and expansion of the Gujarat sultanate (c. 1407-1572). Many members of this community shared a history of migration into Gujarat from the southern Arabian Peninsula, north Africa, Iran, Central Asia and the neighboring territories of the Indian subcontinent. I analyze two key aspects related to the making of a community of learned Muslim men in the fifteenth century - the production of a variety of texts in Persian and Arabic by learned Muslims and the construction of tomb shrines sponsored by the sultans of Gujarat. The texts memorialized the lives of many of the Muslim spiritual figures (sufi shaykhs) who migrated and settled in Gujarat in the early part of the fifteenth century while the royal interest in and sponsporship of tomb shrines of pious, charismatic Muslim men like Shaykh Ahmad Khattū (d. 1445) in Sarkhej, Sayyid Burhān al-Dīn `Abdullāh (d. 1453) in Vatwa and Sayyid Sirāj al-Dīn Muhammad (d. 1475) in Rasūlābād contributed to the creation of a Muslim sacred geography in eastern Gujarat. Through a re-reading of contemporary and near-contemporary court-chronicles produced in the region and a tapping of hitherto under-investigated sufi literature in Persian and Arabic, I show how textual narratives and tomb shrines were important elements that tied the memory of many fifteenth-century migrant learned Muslims to their specific regional context in Gujarat for posterity. In turn, the region acquired part of its distinctive identity through the memorialization of these learned figures. The dissertation attempts to bring attention to several crucial political, social and cultural processes that shaped the region of Gujarat in the late medieval and early modern period, and seeks to highlight the importance of integrating sufi texts to our understanding of these processes.

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