Knowledge, Sufism, and the Issue of a Vernacular Literature



This chapter highlights the role played in the construction of vernacular knowledge by a British officer: Richard F. Burton (1821–1890). Besides, a key element in assessing a society and culture was literature. In nineteenth-century Europe, people without literature were considered backward, while those who possessed it could claim civilization. He was also the first to claim there was a Sindhi vernacular literature tied to vernacular Sufism. Burton was the first European to say that Sindh had real literature and that as such its population was not backward. This statement was later confirmed by Ernst Trumpp who was the first to publish a Sufi work in Sindhi, the Shah jo Risalo, to which we shall return. Furthermore, Burton was critical of the older generation of British Orientalists, such as William Jones, and he introduced himself as an ethnographer. Burton identified that the common core of popular religion in Sindh was the cult of the intercessors, be they Muslim saints or Hindu gods. In his writings, Sufism appears to be the dominant discourse, as well as the matrix, that frames a shared popular religion. He cannot help but compare Sindhi and Persian literature stating that vernacular Sindhi literature similarly was mainly comprised of Sufi poetry.


  1. Ali, Mrs. Meer Hassan, Observations on the Mussulmanns of India, revised and edited by William Crooke; reprint of this edition, New Delhi, 1975 (original date of publication 1832).Google Scholar
  2. Burton, Richard F., Sindh and the races that inhabited the Valley of the Indus, London, W. H. Allen, 1851a.Google Scholar
  3. Burton, Richard F., Scinde or the unhappy valley, 2 vols, Richard Bentley, London, 1851b.Google Scholar
  4. Burton, Richard F., Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, London, John Van Voorst, 1852.Google Scholar
  5. Cohn, Bernard S., Colonialism and its forms of knowledge, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  6. Dirks, Nicholas, Castes of mind. Colonialism and the making of modern India, Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  7. Fuller C. J., “Anthropologists and viceroys: Colonial knowledge and policy making in India, 1871–1911”, Modern Asian Studies 50, 1 (2016) pp. 217–258.Google Scholar
  8. Grierson, G. A., The linguistic survey of India. Indo-Aryan family north-western groups. Specimens of Sindhi and Lahnda, Vol. III, Part I, Calcutta, Superintendent Government Press, 1919.Google Scholar
  9. Imperial Gazetteer of India (IGI), New Edition published under the Authority of His Majesty’s Secretary of State for India in Council, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1908.Google Scholar
  10. Isaka, Riho, “Language and dominance: The debates over the Gujarati language in the late nineteenth century”, South Asia, Vol. XXV, n°1, April 2002, pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
  11. Sharif, Jafar, Islam in India or the Qanun-i Islam. The customs of the Musalmans of India, English tr. by G.A. Herklots, Delhi, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1972 (1st ed. 1832).Google Scholar
  12. Thomas, R. Hughes, Memoirs of Sind, vol. I & II, Karachi, Allied Book Company, 1989 (1855).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for South Asian StudiesSchool for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS)/National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)ParisFrance

Personalised recommendations