How Islamicate culture will die?


Islam will kill Islamicate culture in Pakistan unless Islam is neutered (we can always hope).

I enjoyed IndThing’s comments on the Marathas, there is no doubt if the Mughals were “Hindu”, the Bharat contingent would be adulating them.

We did some Persian events this weekend (one Baha’i one non-Bahá’í). I remarked to Vidhi the paucity of Persian culture, Persians do Western food and fashion as a sign of their high culture.

The stupidity of course is that if Persians looked East to India, they would discover so many Persianate elements (Salwar, biryani) that they could supplement the gaps.

Middle Eastern food and fashion is distinctly inferior to South Asian (I’m half half so I’m a fair judge). I was deeply offended when a Pakistani Lahori friend claimed on Instagram, Arabic food was his favourite cuisine.

As I was joking to Vidhi, “Pakistani culture is the best, Pakistani fashion is the best, Pakistani food is the best” at which she smiled and said what about “Pakistani women.” I quipped back that since she was 99.8% genetically Pakistani I could very well claim that Pakistani women were the best too ?


I read a quote that China is a civilisation masquerading as a nation. In many ways that could be applied to India, which has exceptionally firm boundaries. Oceans to the South, Himalayas to the North, Hindu Kush in the West and the Arakan mountains to the East .

I see Pakistan and Pakistani culture as the Islamicate expression of that civilisation (and for me the High culture that binds the region). Of course not everyone shares my opinions or prejudices but what is happening to Pakistan is that Islam is suffocating that cultural complex. As Pakistanis become more Muslim, they are becoming a poor man’s Arab as per the TV presenter’s quip..

45 thoughts on “How Islamicate culture will die?”

  1. Kathak has changed significantly in the last 100 years. It was basically dead and was revived during the Indian independence movement. Also, it is a dance of the western UP region, which evolved from the Ras Leela, and most dances are renditions of Radha-Kishan or other stories of Hindu gods.

    Its just possible that Pakistanis do not relate to this culture. The Muslims of Sindh and Punjab as well as Pashtuns have their own dances and story telling traditions.

    1. Yes, that too. These dances were all patronized by royal houses, many of which were disestablished, at least temporarily by British India.

      1. Bharathanatyam was not revived; it used to be the preserve of Devadasis i.e. women dedicated to a temple to perform dances there , apart from that they were also well informed on matters of tradition. During the height of local political power , devadasis were a respected lot. Over a course of time, there social status fell down and began to be looked upon as prostitutes and kept women for feudal grandees.

        In the Great temple in Thanjavur built by Cholas , there are records of 400 devadasis attached to the temple and many of them well provided for at state expense.

        In the 20th century it was not so much a revival as much as re branding it fit for middle class girls . vaguely like Jazz going from Blacks to mainstream. Devadasis were abolished in the last destructive act of British colonial government, over the protests of some well-known devadasi women and some orthodox brahmins. Abolition of devadasis is a great cultural loss .

        1. The same thing happened in the north where tawaifs were labeled “nautch girls”. Genres like thumri were made appropriate for ” respectable” women by separating music from dance and reinterpreting the erotic lyrics in a spiritual bhakti manner.

        2. It would have taken you one minute to check your statements.

          happened after independence, “Muthulakshmi Reddi proposed the bill to the Madras Legislative Council as early as 1930 but was passed on only during the Premiership of O. P. Ramaswamy Reddiyar (a.k.a. Omandur Reddy]]’s Congress led government on 9 October 1947”

          By this time, Bharatha Natyam has fully recovered from the devadasi cloister.

          By 1947, virtually most of the dance has moved from temples which had stopped supporting Devadasis and the dance since 1900s. The exit of prostitutes from being dedicated to most temples started in 1910s [Immoral Traffic: Prostitution in India. (2006)] at least in TN.

        1. Coming to think of it, that might be a narrowl perspective. The drive to move the dance from the devadasis to modern world (not supported by temples, and no “prostitute” connotations) was driven by social reformers from 1900s to 1930s.

          The booklet on BharathaNatyam by music academy says:

          “That is when (~1931) E. Krishna Iyer, the secretary of the Music Academy, took steps to showcase what South Indian classical dance really stood for.

          The first of these took place on March 15, 1931, featuring Rajalakshmi and Jeevaratnam, the daughters of Tiruvalaputtur Kalyani and therefore billed as Kalyani Daughters. This performance was at Gana Mandir, Thambu Chetty Street, a portion of what is now known as Rama Rau Buildings and named after Dr. U. Rama Rau, founder president of the Music Academy. The attendance was small, largely because people feared witnessing dance.

          By January 3, 1932, when Mylapore Gowri was presented [a concert] as part of the December Music Festival at a pandal behind Ripon Buildings, the crowd was more. It increased further successively on January 1, 1933, when the Kalyani Daughters performed again and on August 26 the same year when Balasaraswathi was featured.

          By the time Varalakshmi and her sister Saranayaki danced on December 28, 1933, once again behind the Ripon Buildings, the crowd was huge. Billed as the granddaughters of Kumbakonam Gowri, they were part of a larger troupe of cousins, the others being Bhanumati, Sulochana and Pattu. It was universally agreed that Varalakshmi was the best of the lot. She later paired with Bhanumati and was repeatedly featured at the Academy on December 31, 1934 and in 1936 as evinced from the surviving brochure. Somewhere during this journey to present the art to the public, the dance rechristened itself as Bharata Natyam. This was probably in 1932 when we first see this term being used to refer to what was earlier termed variously as Nautch/Sadir/Dasi Attam.

          Much later, the Music Academy would take credit for coining Bharata Natyam as would others but a resolution to name dance this way does not survive in the Academy archives. Suffice it to say that by the time Varalakshmi and Bhanumati danced on December 27, 1936, it was firmly termed a Programme of Bharata Natyam.

          Where did this happen? Those were years when the Congress Party organised a Khadi and Swadeshi Exhibition and put up a music festival to attract crowds. In 1936, the Music Academy was the official partner for entertainment and held its programmes on General Patters Road, of all places, on the site where the Congress Party headquarters Satyamurti Bhawan now stands. ”

          Note that almost all of the above were daughters of Devadasis. {In India, having daughters named as daughters of mothers (no father mentioned, is often an indication of devadasi birth. Madurai Shanmugavadivu subbalakshmi is the most famous example} Thus, there was a push to move the children of Devadasis away from temples and prostitution, and into dance for nearly 15 years. All of which culminated in “Madras abolition of Devadasi act” 1947.

          Above, we have someone pining for the loss of the Devadasi system!

          1. Give the dog a bad name and hang it was the attitude behind the Abolition Act. Calling devadasis as prostitutes was a feudal prejudice and it has been carried out in law. If there is prostitution by anyone , deal with it under relevant laws. To abolish an ancient institution on moralistic grounds like prostitution is counter productive – as if that is the end of prostitution. A better alternative would have been to make Devadasi into a government service with government salaries , open to all castes (with reservations) and whose remit would have been temple oriented culture including dance, music, etc.
            If an institution is to be abolished for corruption all the educational institutes, administrative machinery, legislature , etc would have to be closed down.

            This is no pining ; it is pointing out and debunking the colonial moralistic postures in 20th century.

          2. Interestingly, the British have not yet banned the Catholic Church for being an institution promoting pedophilia.

    2. You paint everything with broad strokes. Kathak and Bharatha Natyam are alive and doing well in India.

      Before 1900s, the patronage centers of Classical music and Dances were kings. By early 1900s, the big cities became centers of economy, away from kingdoms. So, the residents of the cities such as Bhatkonde in Bombay (Re: Hindusthani ClassicAL), and Rukmini Devi in Madras (re: sathir), AND various people in Andhra who moved Kudhipudi from the older, Vijayanagara derived versions to more modern. All of this has a history; For example, the BharathaNatyam of 1800s was trapped in Devadasi tradition, but the ban on devadasis by 1920 madras presidency left the people and the dance struggling. Subsequently, the twentieth century disassociation of dance from economic employment and making it a noble hobby or passion of women who could afford to have it so: this displays the strained relationship between class inequalities, views; political and social, on female participation in organizational revenue model.

      The unfortunate way of thinking of the duality India: Pakistan, makes you forget about the revolution that ahs happened in the world over the last two centuries, in the change from imperial king and priestly temple based culture, to a city-based culture. Kathak has not fallen out of favor in India; that and Bharathanatyam are two different dances for different peoples.

  2. “Middle Eastern food and fashion is distinctly inferior to South Asian (I’m half half so I’m a fair judge).”

    Persian food is seriously overrated. I hate when I see Iranians boasting about how “diverse” their food is, and how it’s the “best”. It’s so boring and lifeless. Has no competition to the food of South Asia or East Asia. The only thing I somewhat like are the kebabs, but Iranians put way too much rice, and the meat is often overcooked.

    (speaking as a half Persian)

    1. Concur re Persian food. It is terribly overrated. I live in N London with a relatively high density of Iranians and get these Persian restaurant flyers with fancy names like Iran Zamin (which sports the old shir-o khorshid flag, as opposed to the IRI one) or Behesht-e Barin etc all the time. Most of the food is really nothing to write home about. Way worse than the Lebanese or Turkish eat-outs that dot Edgware Road. For all my Irandoosti, Iranian food is way down in the Middle Eastern food pecking order in my honest opinion.

      PS: Many Iranians around N London now. The other day some old Iranian uncle started chatting with my dad in Farsi in Hampstead Heath. My dad didn’t know how to respond, but the Irani uncle’s wife pulled him away. The “khodemooni” thingy is so funny to watch!

      1. Lolz I also live in the area (I’m in Woodside Park). I got takeaways from Iranzamin a few times, and I thought it was quite good. Behesht-e Barin is terrible and with very bad service (very common in Iranian restaurants, unfortunately). It seems like most new shops opening on the same road as Behesht-e Barin are Iranian shops. The area is becoming very Iranian, which I find awesome because I remember being a teenager and hating how every ethnicity had their own neighbourhood except Iranians. Across the street from Behesht-e Barin is Durum, which I really love – you don’t get Iranian joints like that. I agree, and I think the Kurdish/Turkish and Lebanese food feels so much fresher than Iranian food, and not as heavy.

        The best Iranian restaurant in London is this place called “Sufi” in Shepards Bush. It’s not as famous as Lavash, and most Iranians seem to have never heard of it, but I would suggest you pay the place a visit if you want really good Iranian food. I mostly find Iranian food boring, but that place is amazing.

        1. Belgrave is amazing – admittedly the owner is a friend but it really does great food. Her brother is the chef and even Vidhi (who is rather selective when it comes to Persian food, her favourite dish is kashk-e-bademjoon) liked the place.

          It’s really trying to push Persian cuisine as Haute Cuisine; since most Persian dishes should never really be double digits.

          1. Yes apparently it’s an entirely different cuisine, “Shomali”; lots of fish.

            The best Turkish food is from GaziAntep (the Syrian border) and I imagine “kebabs” are a Mashreqi thing that wormed it’s way into Persian cuisine.

            too much meat for me!

    2. I actually do love Persian food.

      However what has happened to it is that it hasn’t reached “elite status.” So when Persians host functions (and want to show they have spent money) they will serve alcohol and Western food.

      Mughlai food has a sumptuousness and grandeur that makes it hold its own throughout the world.

      What I find amusing about our fellow Persians is that they seem to forget there is an Iran East of the Dashts or that the grandeur of our Iranian/Turanian civilisation can be found there.

      They always assume/pretend South Asia is the most exotic place ever.

      If they start to reabsorb various Islamicate cultural forms, they would push back against their own colonisation by French/Latinate culture.

      1. A lot of Iranian food can be nice, but I just believe it’s massively overrated. Most cuisines in Asia/Middle East are better and with more variety imo.

        I think there’s also the possibility Iranians are just generally not good at cooking. It is something I have noticed. I remember even reading when the Shah married the Egyptian princess Fawzia Fuad, she complained that the food in Tehran was terrible and even the palace cooks couldn’t cook well.

        1. Little surprised by the dings on Persian food. I love Persian food for its simplicity and my favorite place never fails to deliver. I am talking about the usual rice and kabob fare with sometimes a kashko badamjaan to whet the appetite. The way simple basmati rice is served cooked with butter and a touch of saffron – I wish Indian (or even Pakistani) restaurants claiming to serve Moghlai biryanis learned how to cook rice from them.

  3. Kathak and Hindustani classical music are very much part of indo-islamic culture. They would not exist in their current form without the Muslim influence. Wajid Ali Shah in particular was one of the pioneers of kathak. There are organizations like the All Pakistan Music Conference in Lahore that are keeping the tradition alive though it is very much a niche interest.
    Hindustani classical music has of course suffered in Pakistan since partition because it is associated in people’s minds with India and Hinduism. General Zia’s islamization also did a number on all performing arts in Pakistan. But efforts are being made to revive these parts of our heritage.

      1. I am a big fan of Indo-Islamic culture. I would have to be considering that I have learned Hindustani classical music and am doing a Master’s in Ethnomusicology. What I am against are attempts to Hinduize the tradition and claim that Muslim culture did not have anything to do with it. I also don’t appreciate condescending comments about “neutering” Islam. We have to be much more nuanced when we talk about “Islam”. Whose Islam? Which interpretation? There is the Islam of the Sufi saints who developed qawaali (which in turn influenced Hindustani classical music) and then there is political Islam. They are two very different things.

          1. Which “Islam”?

            Unfortunately for you, you have no power to decide how Muslims perceive or deal with Islam. That choice is up to us. You are of course entitled to your bigoted and unsubtle views. Imagine if I said the same sentence about another religion. People here would be up in arms.

          2. The Islam that holds Hazrat Aasia hostage. I don’t see nuances or distinctions there.

            Show me an equivalent to our Pakistan Joan of Arc and I’ll trash that religion.

          3. Your lack of ability to see nuance is your problem not mine. It just shows you are bad at argumentation.

            I could say that any religion that gives divine sanction to a caste system should be “destroyed”. That is just as absurd as your comment about Islam. You are entitled to your islamophobia but I find it disgusting. It doesn’t reflect well on a presumably rational, educated person.

          4. Hazrat Asia is held in the name of *all* Islam; there is no nuance there.

            Liberalstanis are cowards nothing more.

            In fact you feed my Islamophobia by refusing to understand its Justitiable basis..

          5. There is no justification for arguing that a religion (any religion) should be “destroyed”. This is simply bigotry. I am done engaging with people who hold such reprehensible views.

          6. You can be against the way Pakistan applies its blasphemy laws without advocating for the destruction of a religion. This is a completely unjustified and bigoted statement. Islam is an important part of the identity of even cultural Muslims. How would you like it if someone constantly attacked a core part of your identity?

            I’m done arguing with you on this subject. I find your lack of basic respect appalling.

          7. “There is no justification for arguing that a religion (any religion) should be “destroyed”. This is simply bigotry. I am done engaging with people who hold such reprehensible views.”

            Kabir have you read the Koran before in translation? It explicitly says to make war on idol worship until it is no more. Many Muslim invaders used these lines to justify destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples.

            Also the Koran’s views on homosexuality are directly opposed to your own personal beliefs.

            How do you pick and choose?

          8. Karan,

            One doesn’t need to agree with every aspect of orthodox Islam to recognize that advocating for an entire religion to be destroyed is an incredibly offensive and bigoted statement. It would be bigoted no matter which religion it was applied to. I don’t know why this concept is so difficult for you guys. I’m not asking anyone to believe in Islam just to show some basic human respect for the faith of millions of people.

  4. Once went to an Afghan restaurant in Seattle and loved it. The menu had a tidbit of history on the country and mentioned the Rig Vedic rivers in the original Sanskrit pronunciations.

  5. Can Iranians take spice? My Iranian friend finds mild spice strong for him. Maybe it’s easier to look west regarding cuisine for them.

  6. Re: food – Babu’s Pak restaurant used to have good food – Jerry and George (Castanzza) told me.

    Re: music

    Just to refer on previously mentioned traumas…

    There is no record that first Aryans forcefully entered SA. They had supreme weapons which could not be matched by 2000BC Hindustani villagers. However, they did not have intentions to use it and unnecessary make future enemies to themselves. They tried to conquer minds and hearts of the locals. Usually, they hided weapons and sent bends to play music in front of villages. Curious villagers were coming to see and hear the music and the connection was established. No trauma. Otherwise, they would need to fight numerous local villages, the resistance would be growing and probably get more organised, there would be huge and endless battles where their weapons would not be useful anymore. They made themselves new settlers and it is not strange that now 16% (according to Russian geneticist) of Indians carry their genes. The similar thing was on the way to SA. Local rulers were meeting them and recognising their (weapon) superiority preserving the local power structure. In this way Aryans built the first world empire stretching from Danube to India which, due to logistic reasons, after some time contracted to Mesopotamia, Babylon and Assyrian kingdom.

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