Muslims performing Hindu Arts

A Muslim girl decided to learn Bharathanatyam, the Hindu classical dance form. She came first in the dance competition in the recently held Kerala School festival. Now they are being shunned by the local mosque for this.

The local mosque committee at Valluvambram, however, is not impressed by Rubiya’s feats, says her father, a clerk with a travel agency. “If she had won prizes in ‘oppana’ and ‘mappila pattu’ [traditional Muslim art forms], she would have been flooded with gifts by now. The mahallu leaders would never openly admit that it is her dance that makes them treat us as virtual outcasts,” says Mr Alavikutty.
“God is one. When I pay ritualistic obeisance through mudras [hand signs], I am imploring not just the Hindu gods but the supreme creator, which we call by different names,” she says. It is the Hindu worship content in the classical dances that her family says has driven a chasm between her and conservative elements in the community. [Muslim girl dances social divide]

Rubiya is not the only one who had to face such issues. Kalamandalam Hyderali , a Muslim was one of the best Kathakali singers in Kerala. Kathakali is usually performed in temples and once a temple wall was demolished and a stage was constructed in such a manner that he could sing from outside the temple. He too faced problems with fundamentalists on both sides, but his talent was strong enough to survive such pettiness.
Now Shamcera, a Muslim woman in Kerala, is teaching Kalaripayattu, an ancient Hindu martial art form of Kerala.

Kalari Payattu combines both physical and spiritual discipline and is claimed to be one of the oldest martial art forms existing in the world. The training involves severe physical fitness exercises. The practitioners are also trained to use weapons like swords, shields and “Urumi” a metre-long flexible sword. Shamcera belongs to the conservative Muslim community and is just one among the many women who are now trained in martial arts. Religious restrictions did not deter her in pursuing her mission. [A Malayalee Muslim martial arts teacher trains women, children in Manjur]

12 thoughts on “Muslims performing Hindu Arts

  1. JK,
    Seems the extremity goes with recent times. One of my classmates (a muslim girl) learned and competed in classical dance and did not face any of these problems. Presently, she is teaching dance in a local high school and doing well.
    And about Hyderali, I had the good fortune to see him perform live. My God, that voice.

  2. It seems quite interesting to see you put the word “Hindu” before “Arts”. “Martial Arts” etc. Never heard of Kung Fu or Karate as “Buddhist” martial art, it was always called Chinese. The music/art forms performed by Christians of the west weren’t described as “Christian” perhaps except “Gospel” music.
    Such perceptions, even though it looks like a small thing, makes the people from other communities to stay away from the traditional arts of their own country. It will make them feel like they are aliens in their own country.
    It is quite obvious that these arts were performed by Hindus because the majority in the country were Hindus. But ultimately these are art forms of India. So there is nothing wrong in practising these arts. Because these art forms belong to us also – the Indians who believe in other religions. Perhaps there can be an attempt to change the lyrics of the songs used for classical dance or Carnatic music, IF the peformer has a problem with it.
    Myself, being a basic student of Carnatic music never felt any religious problem. Practising the carnatic music hasn’t changed my Christian faith even 1% and suppose when I sing about Ganapathi I do see and sing about Ganapathi, I don’t see Jesus Christ instead. 🙂 And that gives me a vision that the true spirituality has no religious borders.
    You might also want to look at

  3. Jo,
    Kalari is practiced in a special training area and the diety is located in a seven tiered platform in the south-west corner.Flowers, incense and water is given to the deity every day. Before each person starts practicing they pray to the deity. Not only is the Kalari a temple of learning, it is also a temple of religious worship with a cult and ritual of its own. I doubt if Karate and Kung Fu practitioners even think about Buddha before knocking someone down.
    Similarly Kathakali and Bharathanatyam have lot of Hindu rituals associated with it. They perform stories from Hindu mythology. Now you can see people from other communites performing these art forms, but still it is still a trickle. How many Hindus or Christians perform Oppana or Mappilapaatu? There might be a few here and there, but still they are known as Muslim artforms. There are people like Yesudas who pray in temples, but does that make them Indian temples or Hindu temples?
    The second point you raise is that of adoption or synthesis of arts and your personal experience.
    When Kalamandalam Hyderali was singing all those songs, there were fundamentalists on both sides who were opposed to it, people who felt very insecure about their Gods. He ignored them and performed his art. Original Hindu music is based on the Sama Veda and the most famous proponents of it, of the Drupad style, are the Dagar Brothers. These people do not have any problems singing praises of Gods of other religions and it is indeed great.
    PS: I have your Harivarasanam on my iTunes and listen to it regularly 🙂

  4. I agree with Praveen that the extremism is a part of recent times, but even at that it’s not always the case.
    There are several examples throughout the ages of non Hindus practicing “Hindu” arts.
    Waheeda Rehman, the actress, is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. Leela Samson is Jewish. I know Parsis, who are trained in Indian classical music, who sing to Saraswati, and several Muslim women, who are learning Kathak, even if it involves telling stories about Krishna.

  5. Thanks for the response. So we can call it traditional Hindu art forms, and we can call “oppana” and “maargam kali” as traditional Indian Muslim art forms and “Maargam kali” as traditional Indian Christian art forms. All of them are basically “Indian” art forms, believe. What do you think?
    Also the cultural exchange of these art forms is happening on one side. I mean, Muslims and Christians learning Hindu art forms. But I never heard its happening vice versa.

  6. Yes, all of them are Indian art forms.
    You are right about the observation that there are almost no Hindus learning art forms of other religions, atleast not to the level of being noticed.

  7. we need people like this who are ready n come out to embrace the best of the indian culture. i have a muslim friend who has learnt bharatanatyam n other dances and yoga as well and is also teaching these to others. she doesnt have any problems so far. and yes, this is all basically indian culture.. belongs to all..

  8. I don’t know why you guys have problem with accepting the fact that Kathakali and Bharatanatyam (and much more) are hindu art forms. Why you want to be generaize it as “Indian” art forms? If that is the case then just generalize everything as “human” art forms. If you plagiarize (as in case of Margam kali – and you call it original? ), atleast have some decency to acknowledge its origin.

  9. It is factually incorrect to present ‘Kalarippayattu’ as a Hindu art form. There has been some hindu elements incited into the rituals at a later period. As history tells, kalarippayattu was developed by Budhist monks of Kerala. Note also that the greatest proponents of kalarippayattu was from the ezhava cast, who are believed to have been followers of Budhism and were considered low cast by cast Hindus. Also at every point in the history of Kalarippayattu we see people belonging to all religions and casts practicing it. Vadakkan paattu refers to Jonakas who were disciples of Aromal Chekavar. The pattu about thacholi othenan, features Mayin kutty who is a Muslim martial art expert. At a later point in time we see people like Kayamkulam Kochunni, Ayyan kali etc. who were well versed in kalari. Kalarippayattu has been a secular martial art of Kerala for long. No amount of white washing can make it a Hindu only art form. Temple arts like Koothu, Mohiniattom have been practiced only by certain casts among Hindus. People from other casts started practicing these only recently. So do people from other religions. So what is so great about it?

  10. Arun,
    Can you give me your reference which tells that “kalarippayattu was developed by Budhist monks of Kerala”
    In all my history books, I could not find anything which mentions this. The earliest date known for Kalari is 13th century AD. At that time Buddhism and Jainism were not prominent in Kerala. So I suspect your theory.
    Also you say “Also at every point in the history of Kalarippayattu we see people belonging to all religions and casts practicing it.”
    If so how come we don’t seen influence of other religions in Kalari even today. In hindustani music we can see the influence of Muslims, but miraculously Kalari still retains Hindu traditions.
    Again, please give your references.

  11. Scene-1-
    I go back some ten years in time.Venue is Kerala Kalamandalam. The occasion is a 3-day seminar on Mohiniyaattam.At some point in the discussions I just happened to mention a very personal view of mine concerning the male dancers who did “Mohiniyaattam”.I said I found it quite strange at times even repulsive to behold these mohanans on stage.( Dont take me qwrong I love those men of Andhrapradesh who dress up as women while dancing on stage. They are absolutely masculine once they are off stage). After that particular session I was literally accosted by a certain gentleman . He accused me of being “an orthodox high-class Hindu”.(To this day I dont know what he meant by high-class).Apparently this gentleman was a Muslim Mohiniyaattam dancer, a Mohiniyaattam teacher too at that! And he had reached the conclusion that all my words were veiled daggers pointed at him, a Muslim , while I was totally ignorant of his very existence.He sounded as though he was eager to be hounded down by the society.
    Scene 2-
    Just last week.She is only 19. Butthe girl was confidence personified.She gave the first aalaapana of Naatta raaga… and then she started her concert…naathha en rabbe . The audience was visibly disconcerted as she sang ibileessin duniyaavil… set to panthuvaraali. her swaragathies were all perfect. “They begin by saying that music has no religion, but they cant help beginning their concert with a Rabbe !”,mumbled the man sitting next to me.He tried to look innocent as I tried to burn him with my glare.”Some people would have lapped it all up had it been Krishna mukundaa muraare…”I tried to mumble back.
    By the way,Hyderali mash was the best that a dancer could ever ask for as her support and inspiration.

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