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COLLECTIONUnpublished articles
TITLEBahá'í Bhajans: An example of the Bahá'í Use of Hindu Symbols
AUTHOR 1William Garlington
TITLE_PARENTOccasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Bahá'í Studies
ABSTRACTThe appearance of Bahá'í bhajans is indicative of both the approaches taken by the Indian Bahá'í community towards Hindu villagers during the mass teaching period, and perhaps of a broader pattern of cross cultural exchange and adaptation.
NOTES See also the author's The Bahá'í Faith in India: A Developmental Stage Approach and Biographical Letter from a Hindu Villager.

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TAGSHinduism; Interfaith dialogue; India;
TAGS_ID3103; 3361; 3307;

In the early 1960s Bahá'í missionary work in India took a new and calculated tactical turn. Before this time proselytization efforts had been primarily directed towards the urban and relatively well-educated elements of society. Moreover, membership in the Bahá'í community was predicated upon a believer's ability to demonstrate adequate knowledge of the Faith's central beliefs, laws and administrative structure. But since this approach had yielded very few converts over a period of close to one hundred years, in 1960 the National Spiritual Assembly of India1 in consultation with Hand of the Cause, Dr. Rahmatu'llah Muhajir2 decided that there was need for a different approach, both in terms of logistics and membership requirements. The focal point of missionary activity was now to be the rural villages of India, and a Bahá'í (at least initially) would be defined solely by declared belief in the station of the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892). The initial area of contact was to be rural Malwa, a region that surrounds the central Indian cities of Ujjain and Indore.

The first village in central India to experience the new mass teaching approach was Kweitiopani located approximately forty-five miles from Indore. Mrs. Shirin Boman Meherabani, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, visited this small community of tribal Bhils on several occasions over a three week period in late 1960. When she invited those who felt they believed in Bahá'u'lláh to sign declaration cards (mainly thumb prints) 75% of the village of 200 did so. A similar event occurred in January, 1961, when a special Bahá'í conference was held in village Sangimanda in Shahjapur district. Dr. Muhajir was present at this conference, and after his presentation over 200 scheduled caste Hindus3 declared their belief.

The events in Kweitiopani and Sangimanda ignited a series of village conversions. Word had quickly spread of the new casteless religion, and as a result there was a call from nearby villages for Bahá'í missionaries to visit and share their message. In response the National Spiritual Assembly purchased several jeeps and organized teaching tours throughout the rural districts of Malwa. Mrs. Meherabani and her son-in-law, Mr. K. H. Vajdi, were the spearheads of the new campaign which within the year brought thousands of new names (primarily from the scheduled castes) to the Bahá'í membership roles. In other areas of India similar rural campaigns were organized with the result that over the next few years national membership figures mushroomed. Whereas prior to the mass teaching campaigns the Bahá'í community in India had numbered less than one thousand individuals, by 1964 the figure was over 100,000. The large increases continued throughout the decade so that by 1973 the Bahá'í population of India was reported at close to 400,000.4

In the process of taking the Bahá'í claims to the rural areas of India there was a deliberate attempt made by missionaries to use certain Hindu symbols and concepts as means for both delivering and developing their message. Since the Bahá'í Faith accepts Hinduism as a legitimately revealed religion, identifying it with the personage of Krishna, this policy was not a radical departure from fundamental principles,5 but historically the Bahá'í community in India had been more closely allied with Islamic (and in Bombay, Zoroastrian) cultural elites, and therefore in terms of language, theology and cultural symbols an Islamic (and sometimes Parsi) identification was clearly evident. In the 1960s there was a definite shift in orientation. Many Bahá'í missionaries were now instructed in at least the essentials of Hindu belief and practice, and as declarations grew, and a number of indigenous Hindu converts were added to the missionary enterprise, the breadth and depth of Hindu symbolic identification with the Bahá'í message increased.

One vehicle which provided a means whereby Bahá'í teachings could be made more comprehensible within the Hindu tradition, and one which developed spontaneously during the mass teaching period, was the bhajan. A bhajan is a rhythmic devotional song that has long been popular among bhakti sects in India. Even today many wandering bards perform such songs in towns and villages, recounting in the process the glorious deeds of numerous gods, saints and heroes. When a bhajan is performed in a group setting one of the devotees stands and sings the various verses while the entire assemblage joins in unison to sing the words of the refrain. As numerous Bahá'í bhajans were created during this period, the remainder of the present paper will take a closer look at some of the symbols they contained.

Perhaps the most prevalent and significant Hindu concept/symbol found in many of the Bahá'í bhajans of this period is that of avatar. Avatar literally means descent, and in many Hindu theological/philosophical works, especially those related to the bhakti sects based on the worship of Krishna and Rama, refers specifically to the incarnation of Vishnu. There are different systemizations of this concept, but one of the most common recounts nine incarnations of Vishnu, the last three of which include Rama, Krishna and the Buddha. In all cases the primary purpose of an avatar is the combating of evil and the restoration of righteousness. It is thus foundational to this view of the sacred/profane relationship that the former periodically inserts itself into the affairs of the latter so as to bring about a return of justice.

In the Bahá'í bhajans the avatar concept/symbol becomes the Hindu equivalent of the Bahá'í concept/symbol of prophet (or manifestation) and is used interchangeably with them despite the fact that in the Bahá'í writings the idea of God's incarnation is rejected.6 Nevertheless, the fact that there are references in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh which indicate a very close identification between God and his manifestation7 has made the use of the avatar symbol less problematic than it might appear to be on the surface. In fact as early as 1920 there is evidence that Bahá'ís in India were not adverse to identifying Bahá'u'lláh within the avatar tradition.8

When used within the context of Bahá'í bhajans the avatar symbol finds three primary and related expressions: 1) references to previous Indian avatars; 2) identity references between different avatars and Bahá'u'lláh 3) references to the eschatological kalkin avatar;

As noted above, the Bahá'í Faith recognizes Krishna as a legitimate Manifestation of God. This is also true of the Buddha. It should not be surprising, therefore, that their legitimization is continually reaffirmed in the bhajans, although there is a significant difference in presentation between them. In the bhajans known to this author, the image of the Buddha is virtually left undeveloped. Where he is found it is primarily in passages that identify him with other avatar figures, particularly Bahá'u'lláh. Thus we find: "Here is Muhammad; here is Christ; here are Krishna and Buddha,"9 and again: "He is Christ, He is Buddha, He is called Muhammad."10 This lack of development certainly fits in with popular Hindu understandings of the Buddha who does not receive much attention in Hindu mythology. On the other hand, the image of Krishna is much better developed. Not only does he appear within the identification motif cited above, he is often cited by himself and in reference to various divine powers for which he is most famous. For example, one song proclaims: "Having placed Krishna in your heart you worshiped him in that temple" (the divine love motif).11 , while another says when referring to Bahá'u'lláh that: "He manifested the righteousness of Krishna" (the righteousness motif).12 Moreover, as will be seen shortly, several bhajans also make use of a number of Krishna related symbols and concepts.

Another Hindu avatar figure who made his way into the bhajans was Rama, and his use raises some interesting questions regarding the development of Bahá'í mythology/theology not only in India but world wide. As with the Buddha and Krishna, the figure of Rama, so prevalent in the legends and lore of popular Hinduism, receives no mention in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Moreover, as far as this author is aware, he does not appear in the writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, nor was he referred to as a Manifestation of God by Shoghi Effendi. While it is possible that Rama received some status by pre-mass teaching missionaries, it would seem likely that it was during the mass teaching period that he came to the fore and for the reason of his close connection in the popular mind with the figure of Krishna. While one of the avatars may take precedence over the other in terms of individual worship and religious allegiance (depending on regional and local traditions), many Hindus would see them as virtually one and the same and thus the use of the avatar symbol virtually implies Rama's sanctity. This connection is seen in the following bhajan lines: "He (Bahá'u'lláh) brought the holy promise of Rama; He brought the justice of Krishna."13

If reference to Rama as avatar/manifestation was a natural outgrowth of the mass teaching experience, it may well have been given sanction by Ruhiyyih Khanum during her trip to India in 1964, for although she could not make official pronouncements on Bahá'í doctrine, her weight as a Hand of the Cause would have certainly been seen as a justification, if not an endorsement. In this regard, she is reported to have stated the following during one of her speeches in Gwalior:

We Bahá'ís are taught by Bahá'u'lláh that in this world there is a process which is taking place - something which had a beginning and which has an end. Bahá'u'lláh said that thousands and thousands of years ago, long before Krishna came into the world, long before Rama came into the world, long before Buddha came into the world, we already had prophets who came to educate human beings...Now what is it that we believe Bahá'u'lláh has come into this world to do? Is it just to teach us to be good people, to say nice things to each other, to say our prayers and believe in a life after death? It is much more than that. Bahá'u'lláh said to the people of the world, "You are all children and we were all very patient with you, we Fathers, we Prophets, we Krishnas, we Ramas, We Buddhas, we Christs, we Moses, we were all very patient with you. We were your fathers and you were the children, but this is a different kind of day."14

What is significant here is that Rama is placed besides other prophetic figures, all of whom are officially considered manifestations of God in the Bahá'í Faith, and such a contextual reference would almost have certainly been understood by many in the audience as a legitimization. Although the overall theme of acceptable prophetic motifs is beyond the scope of this paper, it might well be that in this regard there was a precedence set in India during the mid-1960s which may possibly have had (and will have) implications for Bahá'í missionary endeavors in other parts of the world.

While the avatar references to Indian religious figures in the Bahá'í bhajans are numerous, certain songs focus on the Vaishnavite eschatological figure, the kalkin avatar and, more specifically, his identification with Bahá'u'lláh. In the classification system of Hindu avatars mentioned above, one finds reference to a future or tenth avatar of Vishnu whose incarnation will mark the end of the current age and usher in an era of righteousness. Mention of this figure has been made in several of the Puranas,15 and while over the centuries Hindu pandits have not generally given kalkin an important place within the overall tradition, at the end of the 19th century Sir Monier-Williams noted that "some of the degraded classes of India comfort themselves in their present abject condition by looking to Kalki as their future deliverer and the restorer of their social position."16 and in the 1960s A.L. Basham claimed that many simple Hindus took the future avatar very seriously.17 He is often depicted as appearing on a white horse with sword in hand with which he will destroy wicked kings and brahmans and thereby establish Vishnu's everlasting sovereignty on earth.18

As much of the initial missionary activity in Malwa took place among the lower tribes and castes, it would make sense that the message of eschatological hope associated with the kalkin avatar would be recognized by Bahá'í teachers as a meaningful way to spread their message among this segment of the social hierarchy. Also, the eschatological universalism inherent in Bahá'í prophetic claims allows for an easy symbolic association. Both of these themes can be found in the following verses of a popular Bahá'í bhajan:

Arise O children of India, the kalkin avatar has come; Vishnu's avatar has come with the name Bahá'u'lláh Nowhere in the entire world can the influence of religion be seen. The wicked have obtained everything; the truthful have lost all. According to the Gita the time of Vishnu's avatar has come...Arise!19
As one can see, the lines of this bhajan depict Bahá'u'lláh solely within a Vaishnavite eschatological paradigm. He is specifically identified with the kalkin avatar and the devotees of Vishnu are called upon to arise and support his religion. Moreover, and this leads us to our next category of symbolic identification found in the bhajans, the source of reference is a Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita.

Emerging as it did from an Islamic cultural background, it is not surprising that the Bahá'í Faith should have included as an important stream in its religious world view the significance of a book in relationship to legitimate revelation. Thus in the Faith's scriptures we can find numerous references to the legitimacy of the Torah (Judaism), the Gospels (Christianity), and the Qur'an (Islam). Moreover, both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh are considered revealers of sacred verses. When it comes to Hinduism, however, it is not as easy to select a specific text or group of related texts that can be said to represent the tradition as a whole. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and the great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana just to mention four major strains of religious texts, cover wide periods of time and contain a vast array of different theological/philosophical views. Yet it would appear from a perusal of Bahá'í teaching literature in general,20 not to mention the bhajans, that when it comes to Hinduism it is the Bhagavad Gita that has come to be given supreme status in this regard. This is made clearly evident in the following bhajan verse:

"How can I cause awareness of the Gita's prophecies? How can I spread the knowledge of the Bible's stories? In the Qur'an it says, 'show the light to the world.' The essence of all these I call the path of Bahá'í."21

Here the Gita is situated in a context that places it at the same level of legitimization as the Bible and the Qur'an. Indeed such a paradigm can be seen to be the parallel equivalent of the avatar identifications mentioned above. Hence one is led to conclude that the Bhagavad Gita is considered the supreme text because it is identified, if not as the book of the avatar Krishna, then at least as the text most significantly related to him. Why this is the case is an important avenue of investigation as it helps reveal a more detailed understanding of the Bahá'í approach to Hinduism as well as the specific expressions of this understanding as found in the bhajans.

Perhaps one reason that Indian Bahá'ís gave significance to the Bhagavad Gita was the fact that Shoghi Effendi speaks of the Gita in his own history of the Faith, God Passes By.22 Another factor which must also be considered is the status the Gita had achieved in non-Hindu circles during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here reference is made not only to the work of Indologists but also to men of letters and social reformers. Gandhi in particular was significant in this regard, as he often referred to the text as the Bible of Hinduism. But just as important from a Bahá'í perspective were a number of correlations that could be drawn between certain passages in the Gita and specific Bahá'í doctrines. These passages highlighted what might be termed the revelatory/authoritative, prophetic, devotional and egalitarian elements of the Bahá'í message. The revelatory/authoritative theme in the Gita refers to those specific passages where Krishna reveals himself to the prince Arjuna as Vishnu incarnate, the prophetic theme to passages related to the cyclical fulfillment of righteousness, the devotional theme to verses exalting devotion to Vishnu, and the egalitarian theme to passages softening caste and other social divisions. As all of these fit well with central Bahá'í religious beliefs, it is not difficult to understand why the Gita might have been given textual prominence by Bahá'í leaders, missionaries and teachers. Such prominence, however, required that certain passages in the Gita, which did not blend well with Bahá'í doctrine be either ignored or reinterpreted, specifically those related to the varnashramadharma paradigm with its emphasis on reincarnation. Again the Bahá'í bhajans become a useful tool in this regard as there is no mention of these aspects of the Gita's message found in their verses. Whenever the notion of return is mentioned, it is inevitably in terms of the return of Vishnu's avatar from age to age and not in relation to the individual soul's return to the physical dimension. Thus the singer cries:

"Foolish people have not realized that Vishnu has returned and taken a new abode. The Eternal has once again manifested itself.23
A question of concern for many Bahá'í missionaries working in the rural areas of Malwa, and one which Bahá'í bhajans went some way towards alleviating, was the problem of a potential Bahá'í/Islamic identification, especially as regards the language of the Bahá'í Faith's scriptures. Given the often violent antagonism that has periodically reared its head over the centuries between Muslim and Hindu communities in the subcontinent, this concern was a legitimate one. Indeed, as the activities of the Arya Samaj in rural Malwa in the early and mid 1960s indicate, there was an active campaign by certain conservative Hindu organizations to assert this identification. At that time Arya Samajists would often visit villages where Bahá'í missionaries had made their presentations and tell villagers that the Bahá'í Faith was really a form of Islam in disguise. Accusations were made that Bahá'u'lláh was an Islamic prophet and that Hindu villagers would eventually be forced to eat the holy mother cow.24 The situation became serious enough that reference was made to it in a National Spiritual Assembly letter dated December 10, 1963 which stated among other things that several Bahá'í teachers were "touring the erupting area at a great personal hazard."25

One of the main problems in this regard, of course, is that the title Bahá'u'lláh is itself indicative of an Islamic identification. Consequently one of the fundamental linguistic changes apparent in many of the bhajans created during this time was the substitution of the Sanskritic term Bhagavan for the Arabic Allah. Bhagavan is related to the words bhajan and bhakti in that they are all derived from the same Sanskrit root bhaj (to partake of, as in participation in a religious rite). An early Vedic god, Bhaga was probably so named because of a connection to such rites, and by the medieval period Bhagavan had become to mean Supreme Being and was often associated with devotional movements connected with Rama and Krishna. In Malwa villages, therefore, Bhagavan would not only be used to refer to God per se (Allah) but to his avatars as well. This dual usage was reflected in one bhajan where at one point we hear the line: "Bhagavan has said that he will return in every age to restore righteousness" and then later: "We must spread the news of Bhagavan Baha."26 Bahá'u'lláh thus becomes Bhagavan Baha, a title no doubt much more congenial to the Hindu villager's ear and perhaps more befitting of the kalkin avatar:

"Oh sing the praises of Bhagavan Baha, Oh sing the peace message of Bhagavan Baha, Oh manifest today the shelter of Bhagavan Baha."27
Although many of the verses of numerous Bahá'í bhajans are oriented towards translating non-Hindu symbols/concepts into comparable Hindu symbols/concepts, there are also examples, though admittedly less frequent and usually undeveloped, where relatively free expression is given to the use of indigenous religious imagery. Thus one can find verses which speak of such native cultural fundamentals as holy spots, hero-figures and literary metaphors. More often than not these images are related to Krishna, and although they may be incorporated into one of the major themes noted above (avatar or scriptural identification) their use often implies other theological references. A good example is the appearance in one verse of Radha (Krishna's primary consort): "Radha and Arjuna knew that the Lord had taken a new form."28 What is interesting here is that there is a conflation of two figures who represent two different aspects of the Krishna legend. Arjuna is the prince in the Bhagavad Gita to whom Krishna reveals himself as Vishnu incarnate, and his figure is consequently identified with the divine power motif of the legend. Radha, on the other hand, is traditionally not part of this motif. Her figure elicits more erotic images related to Krishna's dalliance with the gopis (cowherds' wives and daughters) of Braj and therefore suggests the divine lover motif. In addition, as many Krishna oriented sects see Radha as the feminine manifestation of Krishna, her figure often symbolizes divine androgyny. Thus her appearance with Arjuna in the bhajan verse, although completely out of context, may well indicate the first stage of what could well become a more developed theme in future bhajans.29

Other examples of the use of traditional symbols related to Krishna in Bahá'í bhajans include:

1) "The temple of the heart, the abode of the name Baha, is Benares, Mathura - all the holy pilgrimage spots."30

2) "Cause all men to sing the name of Bhagavan Baha the embodiment of Krishna lila."31

3) "Baha thy love and majesty are boundless Whoever comes into thy shelter, his boat crosses the shore Look at the rumbling clouds, the flashing lightning, the falling rain. See the koyal singing with a sweet voice the raga of love."32

In the first passage the reference to holy pilgrimage spots centers on the Indian cities of Benares and Mathura (the former being associated by many Hindus as the sacred city and the latter being the birthplace of Krishna), while in the second passage there is mention of lila, or the notion of the cosmos as Krishna's divine game. But it is in the third passage that we can see a more developed use of Hindu symbols, as several powerful images identified with specific Krishna-centered poetic motifs are brought together.In much traditional Vaishnavite devotional poetry related to Krishna the boat is understood as the vehicle of salvation, and Krishna is the boatman who can safely navigate that vessel across the stormy waters of existence. For example, the sixteenth century poet/saint of the Vallabhasampraday,33 Surdas, wrote:
I have heard people say that you have brought many across I want to board the boat, but I can't pay the boatman Take me across, O great king, Lord of Braj.34
Thus the bhajan verse begins with reference to a well-known Vaishnavite salvation motif. The next lines, however, switch to another popular poetic design, namely, the thunderstorm motif. The thunderstorm with its billowing clouds and flashes of lightning portends the coming of the rainy season, the season most acutely associated in Vaishnavite mythology with more erotic expressions of divine love. And the koyal, or black cuckoo, is the symbol par excellence of the heart's calling for Krishna. Hence the fifteenth century female poet Mirabai sings:
O Dark One (Krishna) today is a colorful festival In the rumbling masses of black rain clouds lightning flashes Frog, peacock, papila bird speak, the koyal is calling Mira's lord is clever, her strength is in his feet.35

And the Bahá'í bhajan verse finally ends with mention of the classical Indian musical form of melody, the raga.


While the appearance of Bahá'í bhajans is instructive as to the nature of certain approaches taken by the Indian Bahá'í community towards Hindu villagers during the mass teaching period, the songs may also be indicative of a broader pattern of cross cultural exchange and adaptation between foreign conversion movements and Hindu society and culture in general. Although a complete analysis of this phenomenon is well beyond the scope of the present paper, it might be helpful to conclude with a brief contextualization of Bahá'í bhajans by looking at them in the light of certain findings related to Islamic conversions in Mughal Bengal.

In his work The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204-1760 Richard Eaton signifies three analytically distinct steps in the process of Islamization: inclusion, identification and displacement. In the first stages of the conversion process (inclusion) Islamic Superhuman agencies became accepted in local Bengali cosmologies alongside already existent divinities.36 Eventually Islamic agencies mingled with their Bengali counterparts (identification), and only later did they completely replace them. Thus in the 16th century we find Allah identified with Gosal (Skt:Master), Fatima with Jagat-janani (Skt:Mother of the World) and nabi with avatar.37 By the 19th century, however, indigenous beliefs, practices and concepts had been all but eliminated from the Bengali Islamic universe. In a similar vein, Asim Roy concluded in The Islamic Syncretic Tradition in Bengal that there was a conscious effort made by Bengali Muslim cultural mediators to disseminate Islam in a more locally familiar form. This syncretic tradition "...continued to dominate the religious cultural perception of the Bengali masses until the emergence of vigorous, even militant Islamic revivalist and purificatory movements in Bengal, as elsewhere within and without India, since the beginning of the 19th century."38

Although there is currently both a lack of data as regards the extent to which the Bahá'í bhajans have been employed, and a minimal time frame in which to thoroughly evaluate that use, the mere existence of the songs would seem to indicate that to some degree Bahá'í cultural mediators have adopted a similar approach to that taken by earlier Bengali Muslims. If such is the case, it would not be unjustified to see Bahá'í bhajans as representing an inclusion/identification stage of the proselytization process. Of course, what patterns may emerge in the future remain to be seen, but whether such a syncretic approach will be allowed to flourish, or will in time be phased out, will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which will be the extent to which Bahá'í leadership views its own revelation as primarily culturally inclusive in nature (as opposed to triumphalist) when it comes to symbolic representation of its essential beliefs and concepts.


N.B. This paper elaborates themes first broached in an article in World Order Magazine in the 1970s, but it is extensively revised for this Web publication, with much new information and analysis.

1 The chief Bahá'í administrative body in India composed of nine members elected by convention delegates annually.

2 The Hands of the Cause are a select group of appointed believers whose main function is to help propagate and protect the Bahá'í Faith on the international level. Hands were appointed by both the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh, and his great-grandson, Shoghi Effendi. Dr.Muhajir was appointed by Shoghi Effendi in 1957. See Iran Muhajir, Dr. Muhajir: Hand of the Cause, Knight of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London, 1992). For the history of the Bahá'í faith in India see: William Garlington, The Bahá'í Faith in India: A Developmental Stage Approach," Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Bahá'í Studies vol. 1, no. 2 (June, 1997); William Garlington, "The Bahá'í Faith in Malwa," in Religion in South Asia, ed. by G. A. Oddie, (Manohar, New Delhi, 1977); and William Garlington, "Bahá'í Conversions in Malwa, Central India," in From Iran East and West, ed. by Juan R. Cole and Moojan Momen (Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1984).

3 The term scheduled caste refers to those castes which, because of the social disabilities they faced, were put on the government schedule to receive special consideration in terms of college and university entrance and government employment. Many such castes belong to the traditional categories of unclean or untouchable. For another example of a scheduled caste religious movement, see Saurabh Dube, Caste and sect in village life: Satnamis of Chhatisgarh, 1900-1950 Shimla : Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1993.

4 Figures provided by the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India (1973)

5 The Parsi agent in Tehran, Manakji Sahib, told Bahá'u'lláh about the Hindu conception of a cycle of avatars, and paraphrased for him the Bhagavad-Gita verse "Though myself unborn, undying, the lord of creatures, I fashion nature, which is mine, and I come into being through my own magic. Whenever sacred duty decays and chaos prevails, then, I create myself, Arjuna. To protect men of virtue and destroy men who do evil, to set the standard of sacred duty, I appear in age after age" (Bhagavad-Gita, trans. Barbara Stoler Miller [New York: Bantam, 1988], p. 50). In response, Bahá'u'lláh did not reject the Hindu examples but rather referred generally to the schema of progressive revelation he had put forward in his Book of Certitude; this appears to be an oblique acknowledgement of the Hindu avatars as manifestations of God; see Bahá'u'lláh, "Lawh-i Mubarak dar javab-i `Aridih-'i Jinab-i Abu'l-Fada'il-i Gulpaygani," in Ma'idih-'i Asmani, ed. `Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari (Tehran: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 129 B.E./1972-73), 7:148-173, esp. pp. 149 ff. (pers. comm. from Juan Cole). Bahá'u'lláh's son, Abdu'l-Bahá, called Krishna a "prophet:" `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969), p. 35. His great-grandson, Shoghi Effendi maintained that Krishna was, in Bahá'í terminology, a Manifestation of God.

6 "Know thou of a certainty that the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and reveal it unto men." (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1971, p.49)

7 "Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: 'I am God,' He verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto." (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.54)

8 At the First All-India Bahá'í Conference held in Bombay in 1920 a Mr. Ayer gave a lecture in which Bahá'u'lláh was identified within the avatar tradition.(See K.K. Bhargava, "Echoes of First All-India Bahá'í Conference," Star of the West, vol. XII, #13, Nov, 1921, Chicago.)

9 From the bhajan Cry Out the Name of the Beloved

10 From the bhajan The Manifestation of the Name Baha

11 From the bhajan The Image of Baha.

12 From the bhajan Cry Out the Name of the Beloved

13 From the bhajan Cry Out the Name of the Beloved

14 Violette Nakhjavani, Amatu'l-Baha Visits India, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, New Delhi, nd., pp. 138-139.

15 For example, Vishnupurana IV, 24, 98-101.

16 Sir Monier-Williams, Hinduism, London, 1897, p. 108.

17 A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India, Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1967, p. 309.

18 Benjamin Walker, The Hindu World, Vol. I, Frederick Praeger, New York, 1968, p. 512.

19 From the bhajan The Kalkin Avatar.

20 For example, one of the most popular introductory books on the Bahá'í Faith published in India, Hooshmand Fatheazam's The New Garden, has a section on Krishna. For each of the main points presented there, a quotation from the Bhagavad Gita is used as support.

21 From the bhajan The Call of Bahá'í

22 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1965, p. 95.

23 From the bhajan The Kalkin Avatar

24 This was reported to me by Mr. K. H. Vajdi, one of the leading Bahá'í missionaries in Malwa.

25 "Teaching Report of the National Spiritual Asembly of the Bahá'ís of India," December 10, 1963, p. 1-2.

26 From the bhajan Raise the Fanfare

27 From the bhajan The Shelter of Baha

28 From the bhajan The Kalkin Avatar

29 I am of course speculating here, but the appearance of Radha would seem to indicate the introduction of a certain degree of feminization into the bhajans which contrasts to the more masculine themes of prophetic revelation and duty- bound righteousness. Moreover, the lack of contextualization at the present for Radha's use probably indicates more of an unconscious seepage of more complex Sanskritized themes into the mainstream Bahá'í/Hindu symbolic paradigm. If this seepage continues it may well evolve into a conscious thematic mode. This of course would require some counterpart within traditional Bahá'í symbology. As Bahá'u'lláh has a series of tablets related to his visionary encounter with the houri (maid of heaven) there would seem potential for such future linkage.

30 From the bhajan The Manifestation of the Name Baha

31 From the bhajan The Manifestation of the Name Baha

32 From the bhajan Baha, Thy Love

33 The Vallabhasampraday is a Vaishnavite community based on the teachings of Vallabhacarya (1479-1531)

34 S.M. Pandey and N. H. Zide, The Poems of Surdas (unpublished) poem #7.

35 Mirabai ki Padavali, ed. by Acarya Parasurama Caturvedi, Prayag, 1970, p. 142.

36 Richard Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier: 1204-1760, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1993, p.269.

37 Eaton, Rise of Islam pp. 276 & 288.

38 Asim Roy, The Islamic Syncretic Tradition in Bengal, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1983, p. 251.

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