Avindha or Govinda? Competing narrative claims in the tradition of an Indian holy man

By Professor Dušan Deák, Department of Comparative Religion, Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Monday, April 28, 2014
2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
UCLA 10383 Bunche Hall



Entrance to the dargah of Shekh Mahammad in Shrigonda  

(dist. Ahmadnagar_ Maharashtra_India). The writing above the gate says

that it is a temple of the saint.  (Photo: Dusan Deak, Jan. 2014)


About the Lecture

Indian holy men have been researched from many angles. This paper discusses how the traditions associated with a Muslim Maharashtrian holy man, who has become an iconic figure within the mainstream regional bhakti cult, are variously interpreted by his descendants, followers and researchers. By comparing and analyzing competing narratives, practices and social claims that historically developed around Mahammadbaba from Shrigonda, the paper argues that the complex articulations of Baba’s personality and teachings do not fit into the communal and simplifying classifications of India’s holy figures associated with Indian modernity. Further, such categories become problematic for his own descendants when they find it necessary to understand their ancestor according to these classifications. It also argues that the processes of recording the tradition substantially participate in its change and to considerable extent also in its invention.


Avindha means literally the one with imperforated ears, i.e. in Marathi parlance of 17th-19th century a Muslim. Govinda is one of the names of god Krishna.


About the Speaker

Dr. Dušan Deák is Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Religion at Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Pune (India). He works on social history of South Asian religious communities, particularly those of the Deccan and its Marathi-speaking areas.  Among his research interests are social and religious traditions and developments that pertain to the presence of Muslims in rural areas of Maharashtra, and to their saints and their followers, from the perspectives of history from below, memory studies, and anthropology of religion. He has published widely in Slovak and English.


  •  Indian saints between the past and present: Searching for Hindus and Muslims in South Asia; UCM Trnava, 2010, in Slovak;
  • “Maharashtra Saints and the Sufi Tradition: Eknath, Chand Bodhle and Datta Sampradaya“ In: Deccan Studies, III/2, 2005, pp. 22 – 47.
  • “Contextualizing the past: Saint and ‘his’ environment.” Asian and African Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2008, pp. 290-313.
  • “Spirituality in the Post-communist Religious Marketplace: Indian-inspired New Religious Movements in Slovakia and Their Conceptual Framework” In:  Subcultures and New Religious Movements in Russia and East-Central Europe, edited by George McKay, Christopher Williams, Michael Goddard, Neil Foxlee and Egidija Ramanauskaitė, Bern: Peter Lang, 2009, pp. 305-338.
  • “Śahādat or Śahā Datta? Locating the Mysterious Fakir in the Marathi Texts”, In: Hermann, D., Speziale, F., (eds): Muslim cultures in the Indo-Iranian World during the Modern Epoch, Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, pp. 501-532.
  • “Making Sufism popular. A few notes on the case from the Marathi Deccan”, In: Deccan Studies (July-December), 11/2, 2013, pp. 5-24;
  • “Bidar in the Marathi World: Saints, Kings, and Powers across the Centuries“, In Deák, D. – Jasper, D., eds., (2014),“Rethinking Western India. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, forthcoming;
  •  Deák, D. – Jasper, D., eds., (2014): Rethinking Western India. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, forthcoming.


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