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Abstract

This dissertation centers on the Sufi devotional tradition of Sidis, Indians of East African ancestry, in western India. It is the product of ethnographic field research conducted in Gujarat and Mumbai from 2016 to 2019 and archival research conducted at the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology in Haryana in 2017. The dissertation identifies the “Sidi Sufi devotional tradition” as Muslim Sidis’ veneration of three African Rifai Sufis (Bava Gor, Bava Habash, and Mai Misra) and African Muslim elites of the Gujarat Sultanate as ancestor-saints, along with other individuals associated with them, who are entombed or otherwise enshrined throughout Gujarat and Mumbai. The dissertation also considers devotional relationships cultivated with the Sidi ancestor-saints at a memorial shrine of Bava Gor in Mumbai, constructed and patronized primarily by Parsi Zoroastrians, within the scope of the Sidi Sufi devotional tradition. The first book-length exposition in English on the Sidi Sufi tradition, the dissertation’s primary contributions to the field of South Asian Studies include its representation of the oral corpus of Sidi devotional songs called jikar or jikrī, composed in Hindi-Urdu, Deccani, Gujarati, and Swahili, as a genre of vernacular Indian Sufi poetry, and its demonstration of the enrooting of this tradition in the ideological framework and material culture of Hindu goddess worship and of Sufi devotional and healing practices in India. The dissertation contributes to the fields of Islamic Studies, Indian Ocean Studies, Africana Studies, Ethnomusicology, and Women’s Studies with its multidisciplinary approach to analyzing the devotional songs and rituals of Sidis, an Indian Muslim community defined by its East African heritage and by its positionality as inheritors and brokers of ritual relationships with its Sidi ancestor-saints, especially the woman saint Mai Misra, in Gujarat. The dissertation analyzes primary and secondary source texts, Sidi oral histories, the lyrics of Sidi devotional songs, and the structure and materiality of Sidi veneratory rituals to unpack the various layers surrounding the identity of Mai Misra. The primary aims of the dissertation are to shed light on Mai Misra as a historical figure, and to approach the devotional songs, rituals, and oral histories of the Sidi Sufi tradition as a lens through which to study the history of the African diaspora in Gujarat. This history includes the acculturation of Africans and their descendants to the religious cultures of the region, including the veneration of Sufi saints and Hindu practices of lineage deity worship, as well as the social organization of dispersed Africans into a Muslim “caste” (jamāt) of African ancestry protected and perpetuated by its devotional relationship with African Rifai Sufi saints entombed in Gujarat.

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