Stewart, Tony K.: Popular Sufi Narratives and the Parameters of the Bengali Imaginaire, in Dorpmüller, Sabine et al. (Hrsg.): Religion and Aesthetic Experience: Drama—Sermons—Literature, Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing, 2018 (Heidelberg Studies on Transculturality, Band 4), S. 173–195. https://doi.org/10.17885/heiup.416.c5919

Identifier (Buch)

ISBN 978-3-947732-02-9 (Softcover)
ISBN 978-3-947732-01-2 (Hardcover)
ISBN 978-3-947732-03-6 (PDF)




Tony K. Stewart

Popular Sufi Narratives and the Parameters of the Bengali Imaginaire

Abstract A number of Bangla tales dedicated to the fictional or mythic holy men (pīrs) and women (bibīs) in the Muslim community have circulated widely over the last five centuries alongside the tales of their historical counterparts. They are still printed and told today, and performed regularly in public, especially in the Sunderbans, the mangrove swamps in the southern reaches of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Among them are figures such as the itinerant veterinarian Mānik Pīr, the tamer of tigers Baḍakhān Gājī and his female counterpart Bonbibī, and the matron of cholera Olābibī. Because of the way they defy the strictly demarcated categories that have come to define Hindu and Muslim in the last two centuries, Orientalist scholars, conservative Muslim factions, linguists, and literary historians have until recently rejected or ignored altogether this group of stories as purely entertaining with no religious, linguistic, or literary merit. I argue that not only are these fictions religious, they also create an important space within the limiting strictures of Islamic theology, history, and law that allows people to exercise their imagination to investigate alternative worlds. These texts simultaneously offer a critique of religion and society through their parodies, rather than articulating doctrine or theology. Because they are fictions, any approach to their religiosity must use hermeneutic strategies suited to the literary world in which they operate. But the imagination exercised in these tales is not unlimited, rather the parameters of the discursive arena in which they operate—the imaginaire—can be defined by two types of presuppositions and two types of intertextuality, which in turn allows us more clearly to understand the work of these important texts. The example of the tale of Bonbibī will be used to illustrate this.