Piro and the Gulabdasis: Gender, Sect, and Society in Punjab

ISBN : 9780199468188

Anshu Malhotra
408 ページ
138 x 216 mm

The middle decades of the nineteenth century in Punjab were a time of the disintegrating Sikh empire and an emerging colonial one. Situating her study in this turbulent time, Anshu Malhotra delves into the tumultuous life of a hitherto unknown woman, Piro, and her little-known sect, the Gulabdasis. Piro's forceful autobiographical narrative knits a fanciful tale of abduction and redemption, while also claiming agency over her life. Piro's is the extraordinary voice of a low-caste Muslim and a former prostitute, who reinvents her life as an acolyte in a heterodox sect. Malhotra argues for the relevance of such a voice for our cultural anchoring and empowering politics. Piro's remarkable poetry deploys bhakti imaginary in exceptional ways, demonstrating how it enriched the lives of women and low castes. Malhotra's work is also a pioneering study of the afterlife of Piro and the Gulabdasis, highlighting the cultural scripts that inform the stories that we tell and the templates that renew the tales we fabricate.


List of Figures vii
List of Abbreviations ix
Note on Transliteration and Diacritical Marks xi
Acknowledgements xiii
Self, Sect, and Society: An Introduction xvii

Part I
1 Guru Gulabdas: A Savant Monist or a Deviant Maverick? 3

Part II
2 A 'Life-Story' in an Autobiographical Fragment 55
3 Agonistic Religiosity, Gendered Self, and a Conversion Narrative 92
4 A Low-Caste Muslim Prostitute and Bhakti Religiosity: Cultural Imaginary and the Ability to Imagine Otherwise 123
5 Miracles and Women Bhaktas: Understanding Piro's Agency 172

Part III
6 Caste in the Colonial Public Sphere: The Conundrum of Sant Ditta Ram/Giani Ditt Singh 201
7 Theatre of the Past: Re-presenting the Past in Different Genres 237
8 Fantasticating Fables, Sacralizing Spaces, and Remaking Rituals: The Gulabdasis at a Contemporary Moment 279

Conclusion 324
Bibliography 330
Index 349
About the author 358


Anshu Malhotra teaches at the Department of History, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Delhi, India. She has written extensively on gender issues over the past two decades. She is also the author of Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab (2002). Her other previous publications include the edited volumes Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance, and Autobiography in South Asia (2015) with Siobhan Lambert-Hurley and Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice (2012) with Farina Mir.