Thursday, March 30, 2006

Divinity and Dastans



While ostensibly the Dastan-e-Amir Hamza purports to be an account of the triumph of Islamic armies over infidels and worshippers of other Gods, in its essence it is a highly secular narrative. Very rarely does it engage in what can be called proselytisation. This is vastly different from encouraging enemies to renege from their faith and their side and join the Islamic side.

Here is the greatest of the false Gods Laqa, driven from country to country by the indefeasible Islamic warriors, yet charismatic enough to make those who shelter him bow in submission to him. Here is one such vassal writing to those below him-

“It is a sign of the Almighty’s benevolence that despite being harassed by his subjects he does not punish them and instead says that they are all my creatures and I created them in a moment of intoxication therefore they have turned rebellious and degenerate and now their fate cannot be changed and the Almighty is helpless. They repent and plead to be forgiven but the Almighty refuses their repentance. And his subjects say that now that the Almighty does not accept our apologies we may as well enjoy our independence and do as we see fit.” (p28 TH 1

In the Dastani worldview the good and the bad are evenly matched, infinitely. When an evil sorcerer dies, a new one rises to replace him. When someone on the righteous side is killed, another one is quickly found to replace him. It is as if they can keep replenishing their numbers infinitely and the good and the bad will remain evenly matched no matter who emerges victorious. When Hamza and his cohorts capture one Tilism, they are faced with another. Laqa will keep finding vassals, they will keep fighting and thus it is that Dastans can go on endlessly.

They never need end, all depends on the listeners and the performer. Amar, Hamza’s chief trickster, is captured several times over by Afrasiyab, the Emperor of the sorcerers in the first volume of the Tilism-e-Hoshruba itself. Each time though he effects his escape, either through his own ingenuity or because of Afrasiyab’s credulity. It is in Amar’s nature to trick people and he will always do so, it is Afrasiyab’s lot to be tricked and he will continue to do so.

On one such occasion Afrasiyab has managed to trap Amar in a Tilism and he is brought, starving and humiliated, before Afrasiyab. Before he arrives Afrasiyab says,

“If I did not have to inquire something from him, I would have starved him to death in that jungle. As long as the Tilism-e-Hoshruba remains, my life remains and until I remain alive the Tilism that I have cast will not be broken by any save myself and the Aiyyars will never be freed.” (p437 TH 1)

However, when Amar is brought before Afrasiyab he manages to convince him, of all things, that he Amar is the confidant of the God Laqa whom Afrasiyab submits to. Here is Amar’s rationale.

“Afrasiyab said, what I want to ask you is this. Who dropped you across the magic-river and how did you return from the Almighty at the Koh-e-Aqiq to the Tilism? Hearing this talk Amar broke into a guffaw and said O Emperor, this is hardly worth concealing. I am a beloved subject of my God and when I was determined to come this side I started praying to my God who sent a houri from paradise and she seated me on her shoulders and brought me across to this side.

Afrasiyab asks who is your God. Hearing this Amar laughs loudly and said I have already mentioned several times that I am an Angel of Zamurrad Shah Bakhtari meaning the Divine Laqa and God has sent me into this Tilism as the messenger of death and yet you ask who your God is. That one is our only God, there is none to rival him today and nobody can share anything with him. To tell the truth I worship only that one God and submit to him, I do not care for the other 175 Gods. What would you know of the secrets and confidences that I share with my God. What I will say now is that the Almighty was very put out at [your] worshipping Samri and Jamshed and he commanded me to go and kill the worshippers of other Gods. Outwardly he says kind things but he is not happy with you people. He is happy with those who consider him alone as the singular Almighty because [as] God says the Gods who are dead, their divinity is also dead.

Consider this O King of Sorcerers, I am merely a speck of a few grams whereas you weigh a thousand quintals. How can we be matched yet is it not because of God Almighty’s displeasure that I overcome you.” [p439]

In the passage quoted above Amar is transposing the usual arguments for monotheism that the partisans of Islam had upheld for centuries, into Laqa’s mouth. Laqa himself is a false God in the Tilism and is repeatedly humiliated by Amar. Yet, the terms on which he is presented could be turned around, on a slightly subversive reading, to apply to the monotheistic God of the Muslims itself. Further, the readers know that it is not the false God Laqa who abets Amar in his confrontation with Afrasiyab but the true God of the Muslims. The irony is therefore doubled for the informed listener. Further, taking potshots at the false Gods in this garb and in this manner could all too easily have been a surrogate for questioning the dominant and prevalent conception of divinity and Godhood in the wider society itself.

What was so far couched in a confusion of identities comes dangerously close to blasphemy as Amar’s wisecracks at Laqa, the sole and overpressed God, could apply wholesale to the one and true God.

“When the fairy reached the mid-river it dived inside and I saw a stream of blood flowing and I started drowning in it. At that moment a boat appeared and Khudawand Laqa was riding in it, he pulled me out of that Nallah and hauling me into the boat began to take me across. I found such a stink and noxious smell coming out of Khudawand that my mind was benumbed and I fainted. When I came to I found myself on this side. Afrasiyab asked why was there a stink emanating from Khudawand. Amar said the reason for the stink is that Khudawand does not wash himself sometimes for ten days after shitting. And he never ever cleans his mouth, his teeth are mouldy and when he talks it seems as if it is not his mouth opening but the door of the toilet bowl that is ajar. The reason for this is that he does not get a minute off from his work for the subjects. Having to kill someone, to give birth to another, making someone rich, throwing someone to poverty and so on and so forth. You tell me how and when can he wash himself and clean his mouth and face. “ [p439}

By now Amar, who had reached Afrasiyab’s presence cowering with apprehension only two pages before is in such a flow of trickery that he seems to be fully warmed up to prime Afrasiyab and the latter too seems ripe for priming.

“Afrasiyab responded you have uttered obscene remarks regarding his Almighty’s august presence but you spoke the truth. For where we, his subjects, are so preoccupied with managing just one Tilism that we find no time to wash ourselves etc then the Almighty, who has to look after the whole universe, has to kill, give birth and provide for so many people then how would the Almighty find even a minute to spare.

While Afrasiyab was still saying these things when one of his maids spoke up saying O Emeperor, whose words are you being taken in by. He is deceitful, just ask him where is a Nala in the magic-river. Afrasiyab got very upset at the maid and said, idiot what do you know that you poke your feet in such exalted matters, doesn’t blood flow into the magic-river, it is that which he refers to as the bloody Nallah.” [p439]

Having convinced himself about Amar’s truthfulness, thus paving the way for his own perdition, Afrasiyab then wants to know why Khudawand Laqa and his chief Devil are outwardly so inimical to him.

“Amar said the reason for that is that once Khudawand had leisure for an hour or so. In that leisure the Almighty thought let me do something so that a Devil/satan is born in my divinity. Since the Almighty was engaged in purposeless repose he began to indulge in the forbidden deed and Devil was born. When he had given birth to him and he began to lead the subjects astray, at that time Khudawand thought let me produce someone to oppress the devil too and he should be such a man who would be insolent towards me and should have the status of my father so having spent a lakh years to that end he created me and made me his father. It is for that reason that I shave Khudawand’s beard and beat up the Devil.” (p439)

True to his nature Bakhtayarak, the Satan-Devil created by the false God Laqa frequently takes potshots when things go wrong for Laqa. On one such occasion when Sawar Qudrat, a great sorcerer who had come to assist Laqa against Hamza is killed Bakhtayarak asks him,

“Bakhtayarak said, o Almighty what is this fate you have cast. Laqa broke into a huge laughter and said who can appreciate our divination see we have visited our benevolence upon him and despatched Sawar Qudrat to heaven where he is enjoying himself. Hearing this all the people in the gathering started saying no doubt you are the God of ever shining light, you are the almighty and may do as you please. Everyone else was saying these things while Bakhtayrak was quitely saying damnation upon the liars. While this talk was going on the cloud that had appeared on the horizon came near and Toofan Feel Dandan {toofan with elephant’s teeth}who had been sent by Afrasiyab arrived there…Bakhtayarak passed water around Laqa and gave it to Toofan to drink and said remember this favour that drinking this water will increase your age by ten years everyday and you will remain cool. Toofan said of course my body is already cold. Bakhtarak again whispered to himself whichever bastard comes here is a liar.” [p484]

After a battle the sorcerers reassemble and Qahhar announces his intention to do the Muslims under.

“Qahhar said o Almighty you are all powerful, you have given me a humble and dirty subject such powers that I will now slay all the Muslims. Hamza has the power of the Ism-e-Azam [a chant that keeps him safe from all magic] if he escapes then he will killed anyway and if he remains alive then he will find it difficult to survive the bereavement of his helpers and friends. Bakhtayarak said all that is correct but the problem is that firstly the Muslims are not in the habit of dying and secondly the Almighty’s grandson Iraj is in their camp and his son in law Qasim too. What if the Almighty therefore feels pity for them and overturns the fate. Laqa replied that this time I am determined that they all be killed and this time I will not change my divination.” [Tilism-e-Hoshruba, p 486]

Satan being satan has no lack of knowledge. It is in fact the clarity of his vision and the depth of his intellect that makes him a fit enough candidate to try and take on God. Here too Bakhtarak being wise is fully aware of the righteousness of the Islamic side and the emptiness of Laqa’s divinity. He has been humiliated and punished several times by Amar, whom he regards as a guide and preceptor and addresses him with the Sufi term Murshid. It is well known to all that he is secretly on the Muslims’ side, yet he must go on being the Devil of the false God. That is his nature and his lot and he cannot escape it.


At one point in the Tilism-e-Hoshruba Laqa succeeds in capturing several leading commanders of the Islamic army. They are all under a spell so they participate willingly in everything that Laqa bids them to do. But just as caste rules determine dining and intercourse in this land, the same rules apparently apply for wining too. Of course conventionally Muslims are not supposed to drink, not so however in the Tilism.

“Bakhtayarak whispered into Laqa’s ears, right now the Islamic commanders are under a spell and at the moment they will drink our wine despite the fact that we are kafirs to them. But when they come to and lest like the others Paikan [who has cast the magical spell on them] too is killed then these people will destroy us because they will say that non-believers and Kafirs have corrupted us by making us drink [their] wine. It would be best therefore if you say to one of these people that we have heard that the Islamic side makes great wine, why don’t you go and buy some and offer it with your own hands to your brethren. Laqa liked the idea and repeated what Bakhtayrak had advised him to Faramarz. Faramarz got up and went to the Islamic camp, seeing the Prince the watchman did not obstruct him because he said the Prince will beat me up if I stop him and I will not be able to raise my hands on him. Seeing the Prince he went to the tavern and brought forth canisters of wine and started serving everyone with drinks.” [TH, p827].

By far the most agreeable resolution to chhua-chhoot, as far as drinking is considered. Banned it may be but forbidden it is not.

{All quotes are from Tilism-e Hoshruba Vol. 1, Khuda Bakhsh Public Library Patna, 1988}

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