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Ginans (Urdu: گنان‎, Gujarati: ગિનાન; derived from Sanskrit: ज्ञान jñana, meaning "knowledge") are devotional hymns or poems recited by Shia Ismaili Muslims.

It was originally an oral rendition mostly by Pirs, first among whom to come to South Asia was Pir Satgurnoor in the 12th century. Ginans are composed in many languages of South Asia, especially Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi and many more. They are based on Verses from the Quran. Like Ginans, Qaseedas are recited in Arabic, Persian or Tajik by Ismailis in Central Asia, Iran and Syria. Ismailis from the subcontinent recite these as well as Arabic and Persian qusidas which are recited before or after the prayer in the Jamatkhana. Ginan Central[1] is a web portal developed at the University of Saskatchewan Library to safeguard ginans and promote research and education.

Ginans are devotional hymns recited by the Nizari Ismaili communities in South Asia. The recitation of ginans is not restricted to just Nizari Ismailis evidenced by the recitation of ginans by many established non-Nizari Ismaili singers such as Abida Parveen who recited the ginan Ya Ali Khub Majalis in the presence of the 49th present and living Imam of the Nizari Ismailis, His Highness Prince Aga Khan IV,[2] the accessibility to view current transcripts and translations of ginans, and the academic literature written on ginans which is made accessible to the larger public.

Although ginans can be recited, studied, and listened to by non-Nizari Ismailis, ginans hold a special role in the cultural practice and rituals of Nizari Ismailis, specifically the community of Khojas, a caste of South Asians of whom the majority now identify as Nizari Ismaili. The Khojas, contextualized by the history of these Ismaili Pirs and Sayyids, came to follow the Satpanthi tradition; Satpanthi means the “true path”.


Ginan attributed to Pir Shams from Mahan.

Recited in Jamatkhanas throughout the world, ginans were preached by Ismaili Pirs and Sayyids in the South Asian region. The ginans are a unique as literature because while they were meant to spread the Ismaili doctrine and basic theological principles to South Asians, they incorporated local elements of the region which inadvertently included what we now label as Hindu references. Perhaps the clearest connection to ginans and what we now conceive of as Hindu tradition is the theme of Kalki which is the tenth incarnation of Vishnu (Dasa Avatara). In ginan literature, the first Shia Imam, Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, is likened to this tenth incarnation which is re-labeled as Nakalanki. It is because of these pluralistic elements in the ginans that Khojas identified neither as Hindu nor as Muslim which lead to complications as the modern conception of religion created rigid boundaries of these religious identities.

Ismailis view ginans as a means through which to understand the message of the Qur’an and get closer to the essence of the Divine light. Therefore, even though Ginans are often an outwardly practice of the faith (zahir), they provide the vessel through which the inner meaning of the faith (batin) can be understood.

Some ginans are also written in the style of the virahini; that is in the perspective of a woman who is waiting with desire to be meet and be united with her Beloved who is a metaphor for God.

There are many important figures in the tradition of Ginans. These include Pir Shams, Pir Sadr al-Din, Pir Hasan al- Kabir Din, Nur Muhammad Shah, Imam Begum Shah, etc. These individuals wrote and actively contributed to the Ginan tradition.

While the message and text of Ginans remains important, important academic has been done to demonstrate that just as the text, theological importance, and ritualistic practice is important to ginans, the musicality and performance level of ginans as a rite in Jamatkhanas is significant as well.

Example translation of a GinanEdit

Sahebaji tun more man bhave: Verses I-VIII

My lord,

My heart is fond of you.

I think of no-one else.

None else pleases my heart.

My lord,

My heart is fond of you.

So readily, my lord,

You give me

Whatever I ask of you.

You indulge me

In so many ways,

My lord.

In all four ages,

I went about,

Looking hard.

I found none

To match you, my lord.

My lord, my heart

Is fond of you.

Come, come,

My maiden friends,

Let us go

To view the groom.

He's the one, the beloved

I've attained.

He comes to my home,

The beloved,

He but for whom

A minute is hard to pass.

How should we call him

Unhappy -

He whose lord

Is one such as this?

How should we find fault

With the merciful?

What's written

In our karma

Is what we shall have.

Ram and Raheman

Are but one Deity.

Of this mystery,

The fool is quite unaware.

Says Saiyad Mohamadshah:

I am bonded to you,

My lord.

Leaving you,

At what other door

Am I to knock?

My lord,

My heart is fond of you.

I think of no-one else.

None else pleases my heart.

My lord,

My heart is fond of you.[3]

Some famous Ginan singers includeEdit


  1. ^ "Ginan Central: A Portal to the Ismaili Muslim Community's Ginanic Literature".
  2. ^ kandjee (20 January 2009). "YA ALI KHUB MIJALIS - GOLDEN JUBILEE PROGRAM" – via YouTube.
  3. ^ Retrieved from the Institute of Ismaili Studies Website; Originally Published in: Esmail, Aziz. A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics. (London: Curzon in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2002), 128-9.
  • Esmail, Aziz (2002), A scent of sandalwood : Indo-Ismaili religious lyrics (Ginans), Richmond, Surrey UK: Curzon, ISBN 0-7007-1768-4
  • Asani, Ali Sultaan Ali (2002), Ecstasy and enlightenment : the Ismaili devotional literature of South Asia, London: I B Tauris, ISBN 1-86064-828-2
  • Asani, Ali, 2009. Satpanthi Ismaili Songs to Hazrat Ali and the Imams; Islam in South Asia in Practice. Princeton Readings in Religions. Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • Daftary, and Daftary, Farhad. A Modern History of the Ismailis : Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community. Ismaili Heritage Series ; 13. London: I. B. Tauris, 2011.
  • Kassam, Kassam, Kutub, Landolt, Hermann, Sheikh, Samira, and Institute of Ismaili Studies. An Anthology of Ismaili Literature : A Shi'i Vision of Islam. London: I. B. Tauris, 2008.
  • Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islam in South Asia in Practice. Princeton Readings in Religions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Further referencesEdit

  • Esmail, Aziz. Scent of Sandalwood. Routledge.
  • Gillani, Karim, Qureshi, Regula B., and Waugh, Earle. Sound and Recitation of Khoja Ismaili Ginans: Tradition and Transformation, 2012, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
  • Kassam, Tazim R. Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance : Hymns of the Satpanth Ismāʻīlī Muslim Saint, Pīr Shams. McGill Studies in the History of Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.
  • Shackle, C., Moir, Zawahir, and University of London. School of Oriental African Studies. Ismaili Hymns from South Asia : An Introduction to the Ginans. SOAS South Asian Texts ; No. 3. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1992.

External linksEdit