Sufi Authorship of Malabar. New Dimensions of Writing and Composing Poetry, Sufi Texts and Comics

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016

10 Pages, Grade: A



Concept of authorship varies from writers to writers, from texts to texts, from cultures to cultures, from localities to localities, from genres to genres, from styles to styles and from literatures to literatures. Sufism has a distinct character with respect to its literary creations such as the composition of the Sufi poetry, performance of the Sufi songs, staging of the Sufi dramas and spontaneous and automatic writing of the Sufi texts, through the new notion of the Sufi authorship emerges. Different regions of Indian have been influenced by Sufi orders, which spanned from Kashmir to Kerala. Malabar is one of the regions which has a cultural baggage of Sufism, which produced lots of Sufi masters and their disciples, through them literary creations were profusely prevailed all over the region. Examining the texts and other kinds of literatures of Malabar, especially the Mappila literature, suggests a new mode of authorship, which questions and challenges its corresponding literatures of the elite authors of the time. Mappila writers have tremendously contributed to the emergence of Sufi authorship of Malabar, who interrupted the dominance of upper class, linear and singular modes of writing, which were highly Romantic in nature. Problems arises while it is dealt with fundamentals of the notion of the being of author such as who can be called an author, what are the criterion of becoming an author.

What is to be known as a Sufi author?. The author need not be a Sufi; he could be either Sufi or a simple author. Does the content of the text determines its Sufi character?. Rather than upholding the individual and singular authorship of the Romantic era, Sufi authors were supposedly collaborative, shared, hybrid and collective in their writings. Furthermore, Sufi authorship spans different literary genre, ranging from compositions to illustrations. Complexities of dealing with Sufi authorship emanate from its rootedness with divinity, spirituality and mysticism, with their ambiguous point of origin. Creativity of Sufi authors can be contested with regard to the different of phases of mysticism, from its normalcy to the higher category of mystical reality. Creative genius and mysticism are closely related with each other, for the mysticism helps the genius to produce highly creative works.

Sufi poetry is, primarily, prose in verse which narrates the narratives of the Sufi masters, provides instructions for the followers of Sufi order (Tariqa), praises the saintly masters (auliya) for their mystical deeds (Karamat), borrows the lessons from the Prophetic tradition, and rework it with a poetic imagination. In this regard, Malabar has produced new styles and forms of Sufi poetry, which are entire distinct from the existing Sufi poetry. Maalas, Paattus, and Qissas are the new forms of creating texts with spiritual contents in the new poetic expression. This tradition of poetry has come to existence in pre-colonial period, and still it has hold in the modern time. Politics of authorship and composing this kind of pomes was apparent while we read them along with their authors‟ Sufi background. Each author has written their works for praising their Sufi master, and produced poems in a manner which can be recited continuously without having a tinge of boredom, thus ascribing Sufi authors into certain Sufi orders. Hybrid nature of these poems, which mix up both Arabic and Malayalam together, makes question of the authorship more complex, because of authors‟ command in both languages. Another version of politics can be traced in visual texts also, which try to inculcate the ideas into the minds of children, for images become more important than the text.

Mala: New mode of Sufi poetry

Mala is a new tradition of poetry which turned to be the part of customary folk songs of the Mappila community of Malabar. This poetry has been written borrowing from historical accounts collected from books of Tabaqat and Tareeq. This kind of poetry stands different from other Sufi poetry because it is prose in the verse, which is the history bound by poetic rythms and styles. Authors of these poems were effectively influenced by their Tariqa and Sufi Master, and the poems reflect this influence. These songs and hyms were composed in praise of indigenous Aulyas and Martyrs, but in tune with the Malappattu of Muhiyuddeen, Rifai and Badr Shahid. Recitation of these Malas was specific to particular need. At times, the Malas were chanted to ward off diseases. For E.g. Manjakula was recited to ward off small fox, to cure insanity and for protection from thieves1. There is a shere paradox in publishing these works. Publishing houses of Kerala, had stringent policies regarding publication of the religious texts. Publishers‟ ideology was purely against this kind of Sufi works, which diminishes the value of the texts, but on the contrary, they increasingly published them and exploited them for monetary benefits.

Among other traditions of the poetry of Malabar such as Padappatu (War poems), Qissapattuu (poems of stories), Kalliyanapattu, (Marriage poems) Madhpattu (praising poems) and Kathupattu (letter poems)2, Malapattu is distinguished by its Sufi thrust. Popular Malas like Muhyuddeen Mala, Nafeesath Mala, Safala Mala and Rifa Mala are being contested in terms of theri authorship, for their authorship, for some, is single and individual, shared and collaborative, and unknown and anonymous. Muhyddeen mala was written by Qazi Muhammad of Calicut, who had a dream of Sheik Abdul Qadir Jeelani, later on coming days he prepared himself to invoke Jeelani, through his elaborative search of the life narratives, while he has been given with strange and unattended life events of the Sheikh, then he had written them down with intention of the extolling his Sufi Master. This collection of poems is said to be the individual work of Qazi Muhammad.

Safala Mala was written by Shujayi Moidu moulavi, with the help of his friends who were well versed in Arabic. This enabled him mixing up pure arabic words into his poetry. This mala onveyed ideological messages to the community when the Mappila community was in a spiritual crisis3. This work is an instance of shared and collaboratve authorship.Rifai Mala, its author anonymous. Shcolars acribes it to the invoked Sufi, but as matter of fact, its author is uknown. Rituals performance on the basis of this particular poem, bear witness to its miraculous nature, which enables its follower to reach the mystical ecstacy. All malas are recited dialy by Mappila community who profusely contributes to spread the message of their Sheik across the region. Rather than being a publishable work, these poems are supposed to be popularized for its recitation and orally shared nature. All over the time, authors of these poems have been of no importance because the poems are primarily meant for the spiritual enlightenment of the Mappilas.

Language, content, style

Language of Malas is Arabic Malayalam, which is written in Arabic script, but read as Malayalam. This hybird nature of the poems requires serious attention because it could highten the intesity of spirituality which emerges from using arabic contents. This hybridity of language demands author to be familiar with both languages. Contents of these poems are highly spiritual, which include the miraculous life events of the Sheikh, praising of their lineage, invoking the sheikh through various supplication in malayalam and Arabic. Common feature found in all Malas is that they share similar styles and rythms. For instance, Muhyuddeen Mala and Rifai Mala end in yennoovar, and other malas ends cheyyane, rabbana,and -nthe. This informs us about the bororwing of styles and rythm from each other. Muhyuddeen Mala, the first in the series of Malas, has become the point of reference for the Mala which came later with respect to the style and rythm. So the Mala is to be considered as Mixed bilingual, contents taken up from the unfamiliar historical events. This mixture of hisotrical narrative and poems, suggests another aspect of the authorship and the literary genre, because this creates an ambiguity regarding what is the producer of Malas to be called; Is he poet-historian, or else?. One important question arises here is that; What determines the authorship and the genre of a particular work, and How does content of the work affect this determination?.

Interlinguality, Interauthoriality and Intertextuality of Mala

Arbic and Malayalam are two languages, which have origin in two different language families; Semitic and Dravidian. Coming together of both suggests the strong relation established through the „Interlinguality‟. This interlinguality emanates from the work‟s intertextual nature, and thus culminates in interauthorial aspect of the Mala poetry. As Michael Frischkopfe in his essay 'Authorship in Sufi Poetry', explained that Sufi text as interauthorial and intertextual entity:

These two networks (interauthor, intertext) thus appear as dual aspects of one phenomenon. What the Sufi sees from his perspective as an interauthor the literary critic views from his perspective as intertext4.

Here in the case of Malappattu, these aspects are by-product of interlingual Mala text. As Vladimir Zoric in his “Radiating Nests: Metalingual Tropes” discusses the interlingual nature of the poetic discourse he rightly pointed out that:

“While scrutinizing languages for shared or opposed meanings, the poet also makes radical differentiations among them: through intentional code switching, lexical and syntactic units of different languages are combined and adhere to one another within the concrete chain of the poetic discourse5.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Sufi Authorship of Malabar. New Dimensions of Writing and Composing Poetry, Sufi Texts and Comics
Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi  (Department of Humanities and Social Science)
PhD, Religion and Literature
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Malabar, Mappila, Sufi Authorship, Riyaz Yamish, Chenganakkattil, IIT Delhi, Majzub Sufi
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Muhamed Riyaz Chenganakkattil (Author), 2016, Sufi Authorship of Malabar. New Dimensions of Writing and Composing Poetry, Sufi Texts and Comics, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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