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Abstract

Cultures in India, like cultures in other parts of the world, continue to surprise by their topsy-turvey existence in time, space and practices. The Nijamuddin Dargah in Delhi is one such example of composite cultures. To illustrate it further the Bhakti movements, a wave of the Nirgun/Sagun saint traditions in Indian medieval histories of literary cultures, is an appropriate example which represents a strong case of pilgrimages, alternative pilgrimages and pilgrims without pilgrimages. The poetry of the Alvars, Kabir, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Tulsidas, Nanak, Raidas, Surdas, Mirabai, Dadu Dayal, Malukdas, Kamal, Sunderdas, Raskhan, Dhruvdas, Namdev, Lal Ded, Avvayyar and Akkamahadevi are great subversive traditions of change. These traditions of poetry, songs and music, challenge any fixed notion of the sacred and unbending idea of pilgrimage. Kabir, for example chose Maghar, a common town, which he preferred to Kashi, a holy town known for its sacredness, for spending last days of his life. In addition, Kabir’s ulatbansis, literally meaning upside-down language in the tradition of Nath pantha and Buddhist ultibani, belong to the category of absurd poetry that convey meaning by nonsense verse to interrogate conventional structures of devotion, pilgrims and pilgrimages. Ulatbansi takes the reader to a pathless journey of restlessness, to recognising blind faith in familiarity and to arrive at probing the boundaries. The absurdity in ulatbansis ridicules the farcical nature of the trail of pilgrimage. In Kabir’s words: ‘Hermit, that yogi is my guru/who can untie this song. /A tree stands without root,/without flowers bears fruit,/…praises sung without tongue, /…the true teacher reveals. / Seek the bird’s, the fish’s path. / Kabir says, both are hard…The being beyond boundaries/and beyond beyond.’ (Hess and Singh, 2002: 154-5). This poetic genre unfolds layers of contradictions contained in the order of behavioural society and institutional hierarchies, in a universe to which all belong equally. The poet critiques hegemony of rituals through ulatbansi, also known as sanddhabhasha which belongs neither to one’s day nor to one’s night.

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