Divide, Rule and Unify:

Religious Dualism and the Dialectics of Human Violence

Dedicated to all the Hindus, Muslims and others who have undergone,
willingly or unwillingly,
the salvific "punishment of Bhairava" in Benares


Sunthar Visuvalingam and Elizabeth-Chalier Visuvalingam

Paper presented to [....],




The Marriage and Cult of Lat Bhairava: What it means to be a Banarasi even Today

The origin myth of Bhairava, the terrifying aspect of Shiva, found in the Puranas attests to the intimate and indissoluble link between Benares and Bhairava. After having emerged from the pillar of fiery light (jyotir-linga) to violently cut off the head of Brahma, the "skull-bearing" (Kapalika) Bhairava had to wander about for twelve years in order to expiate his brahmanicide. Finally he reached Benares where the skull of Brahma, and with it the sin of Brahminicide, fell into a tank appropriately named the "liberation of the skull" (kapalamocana). Yet even after his absolution, the "Black" (Kal) Bhairava remained at Kapalamocana as the "sin-eater" (Papa-bhakshana) to devour the impurities of future pilgrims to the city of final liberation (moksha). Paradoxically, Bhairava, the (ex-) criminal, also reigns as the policing magistrate (Kotwal) in Benares, entrusted with the duty of preserving its sanctity not only by barring its access to sinners but also by punishing those who indulge in sins even within the confines of the holy city. The "punishment of Bhairava" (bhairavi-yatana) burns up the accumulated sins of seekers of liberation and is inflicted on everyone at the moment of death in this "great cremation-ground" (mahashmashana). This punishment was administered at a pillar (lat) whose stump, now called "Lat Bhairo," still stands beside the present Kapalamochana tank where it is worshipped as the phallic representation (linga) of Bhairava. The pillar was the focus of fanatical violence between Hindus and Muslims during the famous "Lat Bhairo riots" of 1809, which eventually evolved by 1811 into a common political agitation directed against the excesses of colonial rule, without however resolving the question of the Lat. In the larger context of the recent revival of Hindu-Muslim claims and clashes over other holy sites in India, Lat Bhairo provides some insights into the manner in which human violence is channeled into and regulated by symbolic archetypes. Like that other holy city par excellence, Jerusalem, which is claimed alike by all the children of Abraham, Banaras lives as that inner space where the forces of modernity continue to re-enact willingly or unwillingly the still unresolved conflicts both between and within the religions traditions of man.

Since Bhairava functioned as Sin-Eater at both the Mahashmashana-Stambha where as Kotwal he executed the ultimate punishment, and also at Kapalamochana where as Kapalin he was freed of the ultimate crime of Brahmanicide, it is perfectly logical that, in the wake of the Muslim occupation of Omkareshvar, the heart of Hindu Kashi, Kapalamochana had come to be (re-) identified with Lat-Bhairo, where the Kapalin remains as executioner, victim and pillar of the world (Sukul, pp. 71-2, 250, 346-8).

Divide, Rule and Unify:
Religious Dualism and the Dialectics of Human Violence

The raising and felling of Bhairava's linga-pole during the Bisket festival is accompanied by a ritual battle between the upper and lower halves of the city of Bhaktapur in Nepal. Cheered on by the riotous population, the hair-raising tug-of-war in order to drag the chariot of Bhairava from the center into their respective halves of the city becomes violent at the least pretext. On the night of April 1985, the Nepali army was stationed in a state of preparedness around the Taumadhi square andas we watched from the loft of the Nyatapole inn facing the Akash Bhairab templethe festival degenerated into a veritable riot with stone-throwing and casualties on both sides while the Gorkha soldiers looked on impassively. A similar north-south conflict during the festival of Siti Nakha in Kathmandu involved deaths on both sides and the regular sacrifice of captured prisoners to the goddess Kali. It was the model for similar battles in villages elsewhere in the Newar kingdom, which must have corresponded to an earlier dualistic tribal organization. The founding legend makes no bones about the Malla king Gunakamadeva, the reputed founder and culture-hero of Kathmandu, having instituted this custom at the behest of Skanda, the god of war, in order to destroy his enemies and to prevent his subjects from revolting (Chalier-Visuvalingam, 1991). The dangerous game was abolished only around 1870 by Jung Bahadur Rana, at least in the capital, when a non-participating onlooker, British Resident Colvin, was struck by a flying stone. Similarly, the regular clashes between rival Hindu sects like the Shaiva Nagas and the Vaishnava Bairagis over the least pretext such as precedence in taking their sacred bath in the Ganga during festivals like the Kumbha Mela, reflect an underlying ritual paradigm that valorizes death as liberation. This dualistic structure was easily extended and adapted to accommodate the more basic religious opposition between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Due to the coincidence of Dashahara and Muharram occurring on the same day in 1821, for example, many were killed at Cuddapah in the Deccan when neither party was willing to give way. Nevertheless, many Hindus participated fully in the Muharram festival, consumed only meat that had been sacrificed according to Islamic rites and even disguised themselves as Muslim ascetics. If any fighting and bloodshed took place between the two communities, the Hindus who had temporarily become fakirs took the part of the Muslims and fought against their own co-religionists (Shurreef, 1863: 122; cf. Pandey, 1990: 131, fn. 34).

Sunni-Shia conflict

Though the cult of Husain, who by virtue of his death became "the bond of reconciliation with God on the Day of Judgement," subsequently spread to the Sunnites, the Muharram processions outside of India are generally observed only by the Shiites. "Not infrequently fights with Sunnites or other adversaries will develop, resulting in casualties and even deaths.... National animosity against the Arabs expresses itself on occasion, but the true villains are Caliph Yazid, who gives the order to kill Husain, and Shammar, or Shimr, who is believed to have struck the fatal blow. The excitement of the audience reaches such a pitch that the spectators not infrequently try to lynch the actors representing the murderers of Husain. Anti-Sunnite feeling is said to be such that no Sunni would be knowingly tolerated among the spectators. The final scenes usually depict the progress of the martyr's severed head to the Court of the Caliph" (Grunebaum, 1951: 87, 90). In India, the Shiite community allowed Christians and even Hindus to enter the ceremonial booths (tabut khanas) and participate in the Muharram festivities; only the Sunni Muslims were denied and, under the English rule, prevented admission. When the tabuts are finally carried to the Muslim cemeteries, "and Sunnis and Shiahs meet face to face before the open graves of Hasan and Husain, the feuds between them, which have been pent up all the year, are often fought out to a bloody end" (Pelly: 1879, pp. xxii-iv). There were frequent clashes especially in Uttar Pradesh, generally occasioned by the public Shi‘a cursing versus Sunni praise of the first three Caliphs, leading to the ban on pubic processions in 1909, which however did not prevent inter-communal violence from re-surfacing in 1935-36 and in 1939. Among the still sensitive spots in Banaras (Jaitpura) are the Doshipura mohalla, especially during the festival of Barawafat celebrated by the Shia who are the majority in this locality, and the Kazi-Sadullapura mohalla during the Muharram (Kumar, 1988: 69). Indeed, the opposing evaluations of Muharram seem to have been read back onto the Prophet himself, for the Sunnis rejoice while the Shias grieve during the innovative Barawafat which paradoxically marks both the birth and the death of Muhammad (Kumar, 1989: 159-63). The Sunni-Shi‘a divide has remained so strong that "when the issue of separation of India and Pakistan came to the fore in the 1940s the Shi‘a were at first reluctant to entrust themselves to a Sunni dominated state of Pakistan and so, in the main, opposed separation and supported the National Congress Party politically" (Momen, 1985: 276-7).

Shia-Sunni reconciliation through Ghazi Miyan

Nevertheless, "the total number of Shi‘a in India and Pakistan is difficult to estimate since they do not exist as a separate identifiable community as in most parts of the Middle East but are intermingled with Sunnis and many practise taqiyya [dissimulation or religious "hypocrisy"] of their beliefs in the presence of the Sunni majority. There are moreover some difficulties of definition in that there appear to be large numbers who participate in the Muharram ceremonies, for example, and who venerate Imam Husayn, but who are otherwise not identifiable as Shi‘is. British censuses that attempted to differentiate Shi‘is from Sunnis in the early 20th century are thought to have grossly underestimated the number of Shi‘a on account of the practice of taqiyya" (Momen, 1985: 277). There are separate Sunni and Shia shrines for the Prophet's family in the vicinity of the Lat and the self-depiction of the vast majority of the Banarasi Muslims, particularly the entire community of weavers, as "Sunni" (Kumar, 1989: 147, 163) should be replaced in this context of dissimulation and a certain fluidity, even vacillation, of religious identity (cf. Freitag, 1989b: 252-3). In India, both Sunnis and Shi'is observe the festival, not in the form of theater but as processions called marsiyah after the elegies composed and recited specifically in honor of Hasan and Husain.Jaffur Shurreef concludes his narration of Karbala and prefaces his very detailed description of Muharram as celebrated around Hyderabad in South India with the quasi-Shi‘a observation that since Husain's martyrdom "the rejoicings at the eed (or festival), have been abolished, and mournings and lamentations established in lieu thereof" (1863: 112). Though he does indicate (p.114), for example, that the Sunnis consider unlawful the practice of violently beating the breast in grief which is regularly practiced by Shi‘a women, and though he approvingly mentions certain groups of fakirs praising the "four virtuous friends"the Caliphs Abu Bakar, Omar, Othman and Alithis Sunni compiler studiously avoids mentioning any Sunni-Shi‘a conflicts. The Shias have extra processions like the wedding and maintain a certain distance, but all the Sunnis of Banaras except the Wahabis celebrate Muharram (Kumar, 1988: 212-22). The dynamics of reintegration under the banner of Islam is reflected in the syncretic version of the Ghazi Miyan ballad which attributes the slaying of Hasan and Husain to the idolatrous Hindus. This is a perfectly logical development, for the Iranian "hagiography" already presupposes that the Sunni victors, particularly Shimr, must necessarily be "infidels" in order to slay the near family of the Prophet (Grunebaum, 1951: 91). The ambivalent complicity of Hindu orthodoxy in propagating the Muslim cult throughout the subcontinent may be judged by its treatment in the Parashurâma-carita, a history of the brahman Peshwar dynasty composed in 1771 by a brahman chronicler: Hasan and Husain, the demoniac sons of Muhammad himself, are slain on the 7th and 10th of Muharram respectively by the Hindus only to receive worship ultimately from the idolators even as far south as the Karnataka and Dravidian lands. In the Mahikavatici Bakhar, an early 17th century historical biography, they even become the slain sons of Alauddin Khilji, who in revenge killed the king of the Yadavas of Devagiri, Ramdevrav, and thus heralded in 1296 the fall of Maharashtra to Muslim domination. The rise of the (Moghul) "barbarians" (mleccha) to political supremacy in India is attributed precisely to the ubiquitous Hindu celebration of the urs (Wagle, 1989: 51-4, 64). Though the festival continued to be the occasion of Shia-Sunni conflict in India, the transposition of the sacrificial marriage to the Ghazi Miyan cycle served, in part, to facilitate and legitimize a common front against the infidel Hindu majority (Schwerin, 1981: 157-160). The Indianized martyr provides the mythicized model for the tradition of warrior Sufis who, as religious auxiliaries legitimizing the Muslim imperial expansion into the western Deccan, constituted the first wave of Islamization resulting in the medieval Sultanate of Bijapur (Eaton, 1978: 19-44). The popularity of Muharram among both Shias and Sunnis has indeed been expanding throughout the last century in Banaras, but since the 1931 Hindu-Muslim riots the Hindus of the sacred city have stopped participating in it (Kumar, 1988: 215-6).

dualistic conflict in Iran

Iranian cities and villages, including the successive Safavid capitals, had likewise been divided into opposing sets of quarters dominated by rival sects (for example, the Hanafites and the Shafi'ites, both of Sunni persuasion), which regularly engaged in violent conflict with the connivance and even encouragement of the rulers, both foreign (for example, the Mongols) and indigenous (particularly Shah Abbas). The opposing ascetic orders of the Sunni Ni'mati and the Shia Haydari, who were doctrinally close to the transgressive Mala'amatiya (Way of Blame), were founded in the late 14th C. in eastern (Kerman) and western (Tabriz) ends respectively of Iran. Even after the advent of the Safavid dynasty in 1502 when the Ni'mati gradually converted to Shiism, they continued to fight the Haydari. All social antagonismsright through the Qajar period and down to our own timeswould inevitably polarize, even if only in symbolic form, under their opposing "sectarian" banners and reach a violent climax during the (tenth of) Muharram. However, the tomb of Sultan Mir Haydar at Tabriz was venerated not only by Shias and Sufis from as far as Ottoman Turkey but even by the Sunni Muslims; and it was Shah Abbas, the (Shia) Safavid ruler (1587-1629), who had the "heretical" shrine demolished no doubt out of fears for his own political security in the face of popular dissent. His active divide-and-rule policy against his own subjects resulted in the spread of the Ni'mati-Haydari polarization from the urban proletariat to the court and the countryside, so much so that Safavid Iran was hopelessly disunited in the face of the Afghan invaders. Thus even the Sunni-Shia divide, notwithstanding the doctrinal differences of their respective theologians, has a marked ritualized character that feeds on and further inflames communal grievances stoked by other social factors (cf. Mirjafari, 1979). This binary pattern within Islam, which corresponds even in many of its details to that of Hindu Nepal, may well derive from archaic (pre-) Aryan institutions, but it conforms all the same to the immanent logic of human violence. The centrality of (Pacali) Bhairava's symbolic role as the royal scapegoat (in Kathmandu) suggests that succeeding rulers had (merely) exploited, and generally within certain self-imposed limits, a pre-existing socio-ritual mechanism meant rather to regulate and provide a convenient safety-valve for the constant and pervasive menace of self-consuming violence otherwise capable of undoing the entire community (Girard: 1977). Under normal conditions in Banaras the celebration of the festivals of Muharram and Barawafat, which have been consistently growing over the recent decades, is characterized rather by intense but sportive competition organized by the various clubs (anjuman) between the neighboring Muslim wards (muhallas) themselves (Kumar, 1989: 158-163). The stubborn persistence of the dualistic mechanism into our own timeswhether contained within integrative (royal) festivals, diverted to further partisan political agendas, distorted by systematic economic exploitation, exacerbated by modern racism, generalized in our age of enlightenment into intense individual competion for climbing the ladder of "success" or perverted into fissiparous outbursts of crime pure and simpleonly proves that the ideology of pacifism urgently needs to be supplemented by adequate techniques for confronting, neutralizing and transmuting the innate violence that nourishes even the most refined disguises assumed by the acquisitive urges of the divided soul.

dualistic conflict around the Lat

Not only did Islamic iconoclasm in the form of "Aurangzeb" leave the aniconic "Ashokan" pillar standing before the idgah when it tore down the surrounding pantheon of Hindu idols. The Muslims' own post-riot memorial which was "signed by 724 persons, 105 of whom were accounted individuals of note" (Robinson, 1877: 119) went further to claim that this pillar of the world was in fact "the structure of Feroze Shah, like the pillar (Laut) at Allahabad, Delhi and other places, and which the Hindoos state to have been erected by their own forefathers. But, be that as it may, it was not an object of their worship entitled to any great veneration like the temples of Bisseysur and Bhyronauth; for no account of this pillar is to be found in any of their orthodox books. The style of worship of the Hindus is this, wherever they find set up (a pillar) they call it, at the incitement of their priests, a place of their worship, and after sometime has elapsed they consider it as a place of worship of the highest sanctity." The same source notes that "for some years the lower classes of Hindoos and Mussulmans have annually celebrated the marriage of the Laut, and have divided the offerings between them" (Robinson, 1877: 113-4). The latter fact was still reluctantly admitted by the legal custodians of the idgah when we interviewed them in 1979 with John Irwin. The low-caste Muslims were primarily from the illiterate weaver (Julaha) community still living in Alaipur (which includes Adampura and Jaipura wards) and who generally congregate at this idgah instead of at the Gyanvapi mosque like their caste-fellows living in Madanpura. Though the weaver community in north India reverenced the flag of Ghazi Miyan to whom they ascribed the comparatively recent conversion of their ancestors, by the early 19th century they were already beginning to abandon such syncretic, "un-Islamic" practices under the growing pressure of Wahabi reformism emanating from the Arabian peninsula. For the down-trodden castes, the stricter observation of the Islamic law and personal code (shariat) provided the means of reasserting their social status in the face of politico-economic domination by the upper classes, both Hindu and Muslim (ashraf). A parallel process of purification was also occuring among the Hindu untouchables like the Chamars who were giving up liquor, meat, (blood-) red vegetables, etc., and demanding the abolition of caste and an end to idol worship. Despite its undisputed age-old sanctity, the now "brahmanized" Lat Bhairo or Mahashmashana Stambha was largely neglected by the Hindu scriptures no doubt because of the stigma of death and impurity associated with it. The growing Hindu-Muslim division was further reinforced by the attempts of the colonial administration to systematically classify and publicly record everything, thus leaving the Muslim weavers little choice but to shed their Hindu names and customs in order to gain an equal standing within the fraternity of Islam (Pandey, 1990: 83-90). The mock conflict between "Kols" and "Bhils" at the fair held on the day before the new moon of Ashwin, fourteen days after Lat Bhairo's marriage, has long since disappeared. Perhaps it was rendered quite unnecessary by the even greater sacrifice of battle for the world-pillar celebrated jointly by Hindus and Muslims under the divide-and-rule British impartiality of the latest district magistrate.

Lat Bhairava, the scapegoat of the Lord of the Universe:
The Hindu-Muslim Riots of 1809 (to 1811)

The "Lat Bhairo riots" of 1809 have played a crucial role in colonial historiography not only because of their gravity and magnitudecomparable, we are told, only to the Kanpur outbreak of 1931but also because they are among the first to be recorded in the colonial period (Pandey, 1990: 29). Though the history of Hindu-Muslim riots goes back into the pre-colonial period (17th century Gujarat, for example), and may be legitimately understood as the continuing legacy of the Islamic conquest of north India, it is noteworthy that there had been no notable outbreak of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims during the previous 100 years in Banaras, which has always remained the Mecca of Hindu orthodoxy (Pandey, 1990: 26, fn. 6). Banaras had been a "mughalizing" city in the early 18th century and reflected cultural patterns that continued to be fostered by the Nawab's court at Awadh. Hence the strong ties established early in the career of the present Bhumihar dynasty a landlord family which had served as tax officials for the Nawab but had become virtually independent by 1750with Muslim lower-caste groups like the weavers. The triumvirate of powerholdersroyal clan, merchant-bankers and Gosains patronized an innovated and grandiose form of the Ram Lila, centered on the symbolic identification of the Maharaja with Lord Rama, which claimed the wholehearted participation of rival landowning and commercial groups like the Rajputs and the Marathas. Even the Muslims joined in celebrating it more as a civic festivity around the unifying figure of the king offered as an aesthetic spectacle in the public arena at Ramnagar and Nati Imli. The British however had replaced Awadh as the national level authority in 1775 and the Resident's power at Banaras steadily increased until they finally took direct control of the city in 1784. The Bhumihars too had enriched themselves and come to power in the Banaras region precisely through British land reforms that had displaced the earlier supremacy of the Rajputs and Marathas. By 1809 the then Maharaja had suffered loss of power and face through his unsuccessful decade-long agitation to free himself from the control of the East India Company. The Muslim kotwal too had already lost the confidence of the Banarasis in 1803 when he had acquiesced to highhanded British attempts to impose a (phatakbandi) tax for recruiting patrols of watchmen. Unlike the ostentatious participation of the Maharaja in the public arena, the British administration held aloof from community life and exercised its authority through local intermediaries, but intruding ever more profoundly into the relations, structure and functioning of the pre-existing communities. Though the social tensions and lines of fissure generated by these far-reaching politico-economic changes are difficult to determine precisely, the rationalizing mentality introduced by the British state had no doubt begun to have an insidious effect on the Banarasi "civic" culture which had for so long united the high and the low, both Hindus and Muslims. The joint participation of Hindus and Muslims in each other's cults and festivals should moreover not obscure the intense ideological struggleeven where peaceful and mutually accommodating between the rival religions on the symbolic level for the heart, mind and soul of India. The Hindus could not remain oblivious of the living visual testimonies to the razing of the religious architecture of their sacred city (c. 1660s) by Aurangzeb who had sought to impose an Islamic city called "Muhammadabad" upon their socio-religious center (Freitag, 1989a; 1989b: 19-52). Having now lost their political supremacy in India, the Muslims, on the other hand, had been willing to submit to Hindu acculturation but certainly not to the extent of surrendering the divergent world-view imbedded into their own ritual practices. The Muslim memorial begins by observing that for 3 years the Muharram coincided with the Hindu festival of Dashahara and for 3 years with Holi; and that trouble had been averted each time by the British authorities restraining the Hindus from celebrating Dashahara till the Muharram was over and from dancing, etc., during Holi (Robinson, 1877: 112-3). The licentious Hindu festival of Holi formerly involved much indiscriminate violence on the ghats and elsewhere and it is therefore not surprising that Sherring (1868: 191-5; cf. Pandey, 1990: 34-6, 80, 129, and Freitag, 1989b: 51) simply attributed the origin of riots to an unfortunate coincidence of the Hindu and Muslim calendars, which brought a mob of Holi revelers into headlong collision with a mourning procession of Muharram. In this climate of accelerated social change and disequilibrium brought about by British rule, all that was needed for the resurgence of the dualistic pattern of violence along redrawn Hindu-Muslim lines was an appropriate symbol that could condense within itself the axial issue that separated Islam from Hinduism.

Robinson (1877) has however given a very detailed report using the memorials written by the Hindus, Muslims, and the British shortly after the Lat Bhairo riots, so called because the pillar was the destructive focus of the three-day carnage between Hindus and Muslims. In 1809, the conflagration was sparked off by a trivial incident: in fulfillment of a vow upon his recovery from illness, a Hindu of the Nagar caste would have tried to replace the mud dwelling of Hanuman on the contested ground between the idgah and the pillar with a stone enclosure. At first the Muslim weavers were content to appeal to the law-officer (qadi) and agreed to let the Hindus to continue with the Bharat Milap before refering the dispute to the court immediately after the Dashahara holidays. When they were over on 20th October, they instead held a mammoth protest meeting, in the excitement of which they polluted the Lat and its surroundings by overturning Hanuman's pedestal, uprooting the adjacent tulsi tree, and beating the pillar itself with shoes. The conjuncture of events around the Lat so faithfully reflects the overlapping disposition of Hindu-Muslim sacred space between the Vishwanath temple and the Aurangzeb mosque, that Robinson's account mistakenly locates the Muslim demonstration around this mosque within the old Vishweshwar enclosure and shifts imperceptibly to the defilement of the pillar which is in fact quite a long way from the religious center of the modern city (cf. Pandey, 1990: 37-9). By daybreak the whole Hindu community had heard of the sacrilege and a crowd began to assemble at the Lat, so much so that the acting British magistrate had to deploy 2 companies of sepoys to protect the Muslim places of worship. Anticipating retaliation by the Hindus, the outnumbered Muslim weavers, who were at the forefront of all these manifestations, then decided to sack the temple of the king of the gods, Vishwanath himself. Had the attempt succeeded, it would have certainly resulted in the utter annihilation of the Muslim community in Benares. The Hindus led by the Rajputs, whose attempts to assemble at the Lat had been thwarted by the district magistrate and the army, fell back and regrouped to bar the route of the Muslims who were advancing with raised standards and crying "Hasan, Husain." Outnumbered and beaten back by the better armed Hindus at Gai Ghat, the 7 or 8 thousand weavers retreated leaving about 80 of their dead (but see note below). To revenge their defeat, the Muslims slaughtered a cow on one of the holiest ghats and mingled its blood with the sacred waters of the Ganga and, according to Heber (1828: 429, 431), the sacred well itself was subjected to the same sacrilege.

Having triggered off this irreversible quid pro quo and now exulting over their short-lived trumph, the weavers simply went into hiding in their quarters. Such was the horror of the sacrilege that the Hindus, even on receiving the news, would not visit the defiled spot and kept milling around the area of the Vishvesvar temple. The Rajputs, who had already been incensed by the report of a Muslim butcher having killed a cow on October 9th when the Hindus were still making offerings to the manes at Kapiladhara, counterattacked only on the following day.

The Rajputs had even begun to demolish the tombs around the Durgah of Fatima, the mother of the Imam Husain, and would have proceeded to do the same to the tomb of Prince Jewan Bukht, held in the highest veneration by the Muslims, had not Mr. Bird checked them in the nick of time. On re-entering the city, the latter saw

However due to the "diplomacy and firmness" of the district magistrate, the rioters were eventually broken up and the city was completely in the power of the large military force by the next day, but not before some fifty Masjids had been destroyed. The subsequent Muslim memorial argued:

The available details on the evolution of the riots rather suggest a cathartic eruption of self-consuming violence that exploited every possible fissure in the social fabric before falling back to more normal modes of self-regulation. It was perhaps symbolically inevitable that the Lat of the "sin-eating" Bhairava, who had always been the scapegoat of Vishvanath, was defiled and dismembered by the Muslims in the name of their own Lord of the Universe. And the irony of divine justice demanded that the Hindus should have proceeded to desecrate and destroy the royal Jama Masjid which had once housed their own Vishweshwara. After all, the Lord of the Universe was ultimately identical with the scapegoat Bhairava on whom he had displaced his own ritual impurity, a necessary part of the sacrificial process of death and rebirth.

Much later in the 1920s and 30s, Hindu and Muslim landlords (zamindar) could still make common cause, for primarily socio-economic reasons, against lower castes like the Ahirs who were trying to improve their caste-status by campaigning for cow-protection and claiming the right to wear the sacred thread (Pandey, 1990: 155-7). The Hindu-Muslim conflict over the Lat thus seems to reflect, at least in part, the social tension between the low-castes of Muslim weavers and butchers, who initiated the agitation, and the higher Hindu castes grouped around the "aristocratic" Rajputs. The "10 sects of Gosains" became involved only at the second stage, whereas the relatively "secular" Rajputswho had once been the real mainstay of the Moghul army and provided some of its best generalsopposed the weavers' action from the start. With the advent of British administration, the Rajputs, who had been the main landed group from the 16th to the 18th centuries had lost their traditional dominance in the region to the triumvirate constituted by the Bhumihar dynasty, the merchant-bankers and the Gosains (Cohn, 1987: 320-42). The District Magistrate, Mr. Bird, notes that

Under these appalling conditions, it was only natural that Islam, particularly the Shia martyrs and the Indianized Ghazi Miyan, should have provided the revolutionary banner for their revolt against an enveloping Hindu order which had acquiesced to the powers of the repressive state. The communal violence of 1849 at Shahabad, for example, was ignited when, precisely during the ritual procession (of tazias) on the tenth of Muharram, impoverished Pathan debtors stopped before the house of their money-lender, 'the most respectable Hindu merchant in the district', in order to plunder his property and to build from the loosened bricks a miniature mosque on his very threshhold (Pandey, 1990: 69-82).

The late 18th and early 19th century, however, witnessed a sharp increase in the demand for their goods and skills and the weavers of Banaras, in particular, were perhaps less affected by the subsequent socio-economic upheavals (Pandey, 1990: 72, 75). More important than the loss of income, for the fiercely independent Julahas, was the preservation of an occupational life-style where weaving and worship, workshop and mosque, were wholly and deliberately identified. The period (of transition?) immediately preceding the riots may have rather seen the reformistic (Wahabi) wave of Islamic self-consciousness temporarily coincide with a heightened self-confidence and assertiveness conferred by recent economic prosperity (cf. Pandey, 1990: 96-107). Their very readiness to resist the encroachment of Hindu idolatry upon their idgah
by defiling the Lat in whose cult they had otherwise been participatingsuggests that in the first place their own pillar never had for them the same sanctity that it had for the Hindus. Whatever be the nature and composition of the hidden tensions which led to the initial desecration of the Lat, it was sparked off by a religious dispute and the resulting conflagration engulfed the whole city and polarized the population along the Hindu-Muslim divide. Hinduism and Islam, after all, embody and consecrate wholly incompatible social ideologies, the one hierarchic and the other egalitarian. The Hindu "memorial" of grievances presented to the British authorities after the riots was in the name of "we, all the Brahmins, Cuttries [Kshatriyas 'aristocrats'], and persons of Byse [Vaishya 'merchant/peasant'] and Sooder [Shudra 'labouring'] castes.... We, every sect of the Hindu persuasion, have emigrated from all parts of the country to this place, for our religion tells us that Casheejee (Benares) is a spot eminent beyond all others for its religious purity and a place of worship and adoration. It is here that according to the Beyds, Poorans and Shastras, the gods have always fixed their residence" (Robinson, 1875: 106). It was believed by the Hindus and Muslims alike that the Lat was and still is slowly sinking into the ground so that, when its top became level with the ground, not only would the Hindu caste-hierarchy collapse but "all nations would be of one caste. The throwing down, therefore, of this pillar was regarded as most ominous and dangerous to Hinduism." Rev. Buyers also recorded a conversation between two brahmin soldiers guarding the prostrate pillar at the height of the riots: "Ah," said one, "we have seen what we never thought to seeSiva's Lat has its head level with the ground. We shall all be of one caste shortly. What will be our religion then?" "I suppose the Christian," answered the other; "for, after all that has passed, I am sure we shall never become Mussulmans" (Sherring, 1868: 192-3; cf. Heber: 430-1). By the law, as then existing, the sentences passed on the offenders should have depended on the fatwa of the Mahommedan law officers, who would however have been obliged to release the Hindu prisoners in order to avoid meting the same punishment to the Muslim detainees. The acting British magistrate, Mr. Bird, hence protested,

That the Government eventually dispensed with the fatwa to have the trials conducted by a special court, only serves to underline the impossibility of any fundamental reconciliation so long as polytheistic Hinduism continues to define itself in terms of a caste-hierarchy which must necessarily exclude or demote the impure Muslim, and so long as monotheistic Islam continues to define itself in terms of an uncompromising iconoclasm which it must necessarily impose on all infidels. The Muslim memorial ends with an appeal:

The Hindu memorial makes counter-claims on the sacred sites of the city and remonstrates that

The Hindu memorial adds for good measure that "the violence sustained at the hands of these short-sighted Musalmans was not once practised under the administration of the Mahommedan Emperor. It has occured under the Government of the English Company renowned for its active goodness" (Robinson, 1875: 111). The idgah here had no particular sanctity but was esteemed by the Muslims only because it marked the former ascendancy of Islam over the religion of the Hindus, whereas the Kapalamochan tank and (what was left of) the Lat was of the highest sanctity to the Hindus. The district magistrate (now Mr. Watson) hence proposed to hand over the whole site to the Hindus as part of an overall policy of separating the two communitiesto prevent future clasheseven at the price of totally excluding one or the other at disputed sites like Vishveshvar. However, Mr. Bird opined that both Hindus and Muslims had suffered so severely that neither would molest the other. "Government adopted his counsels and no alteration whatever was made to the original position of the parties. Permission was given to both alike to repair damages, and according to their respective religious customs each purified their violated altars. The Hindus held high ceremonies, and with prayers and Ganges' water the fragments of the Lat were restored to their original sanctity and reverently buried" (Robinson, 1875: 106). But it was not until June 1810, "when the Hindus reconsecrated their outraged shrines and the veneration paid to the original pillar was transfered to the mutilated relic, that the first riot can be said to have actually concluded" (Robinson, 1875: 102).

violence dissolves Muslim-Hindu divide

Human violence has a logic of its own and even the intervention of the Gosains, which signalled the disastrous "sacralization" of the conflict, was perhaps not a complete derailment of the archaic dualistic pattern around the raising and the felling of the Bisket linga. The brahmins and higher castes had been fasting on the ghats since the evening of the 20th to mourn and protest the sacrileges at the shrines particularly the Lat and the Ganga, which meant that liberation was no longer possible in the desecrated city. When they were finally persuaded by the district magistrate to disperse on the 23rd, the Gosains and other rioters, who had been too busy slaughtering and pillaging to participate in the fast, now took their place on the ghats on the 24th morning. Bird observed that "they collected not like the Brahmins on the 23rd from religious principle, but for the purpose of obtaining concessions" which they could now extort through "the danger to be apprehended from their influence and example" at a time when the public authority naturally looked to the community leaders for support (Robinson, 1875: 103). Having run its quasi-apocalyptic course along the Hindu-Muslim communal divide, the indiscriminate violence thus began to cut across religious barriers and assume political overtones increasingly directed against socio-economic injustices. The police had earlier

But even as "the original disturbances marked only by shocking religious outrages had subsided in June 1810," a singular feud erupted between the military, the chief indigenous instrument of British domination and aggrandizement, and the agents of law-enforcement, namely the police: "The sepoys carried on a guerilla warfare in the streets of the city against the police, and in either body Hindus and Mussulmans were indiscriminately mingled" (Robinson, 1875: 103). The sepoys had not only persistently defied a magisterial order against the carrying of arms in Benaras but also ridiculed the police for their earlier role, thus leading to a long succession of affrays in August and September 1810 (Pandey, 1990: 40). Already during the Lat Bhairo riots, for about 20 days in October and November 1809, the sepoys were not allowed time off to bathe, dress or prepare their food, so as "to prevent them as much as possible from communicating with the people. For this purpose they were provided with mithaie [local sweetmeats] that they might be at all times within the control and observation of their officers" (Pandey, 1990: 48-9). When a reinforcement of British troops arrived on November 21, the authorities withdrew a good many sepoys from the city but still retained, for the same reason, the entire contingent of European officers. The British civil and military officials were indeed quite concerned that, like the Hindu and Muslim police, the Indian sepoys could themselves become infected by the contagious popular violence which could have easily sought a fresh and perhaps more legitimate target, namely the repressive economic order imposed by the colonial administration.

The inevitability of the socio-religious confrontation hence did not precludefrom the very beginninga certain complicity between Hinduism and Islam in the symbolic interpretation of the violence to which the Lat was subjected.

After all, the Muslim lower-castes had connived at the Hindu worship of the world-pillar, participated in celebrating its marriage and even claimed it as their own, so much so that the Banaras myths of Ghazi Miyan reflect as profound an understanding of its function as the Hindu theologem of the "punishment of Bhairava" (bharavi-yatana). For the Hindu mythico-history, on the other hand, the levelling of the Lat was as inevitable as the Kali-Yuga, which would be redeemed only by a "barbarian" (mleccha) messiah (Kalki), a role which was readily fulfilled for certain Indian (especially Bengali) Muslim innovators by the Prophet Muhammad. More than just the tendency of Sunnis and Shias to close ranks within a single community (umma), the Indian cult of Ghazi Miyan represents the symbolic implantation of this egalitarian Islamic ideal within the heart of (not only popular) Hinduism. When following the example of Sikandar Lodi and Aurangzeb, the Wahabite theologian Sayyid Mahmud Hasan proscribed the customary practice of prostration after taking control of the shrine at Bahraich in 1942, he was successfully challenged in court by the leading ulama of the time, including Baba Khalil Das of Banaras. Litigation was pending in 1989 for restoration of a more representative committee but the shrine continued to be managed by reformistic administrators appointed by the UP Waqf Board which was however denied any authority to interfere with the dargah practices (Mahmood, 1989: 39-40). In the months prior to the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1931, the same Vedic scholar cum devotee of Ghazi Miyan, Khalil Das Chaturvedi, had been leading the Tanzim movement in a vigorous campaign for social and religious reform among the Muslims of Banaras (Freitag, 1989: 226-7). Though interrupting this process of syncretic assimilation at the folk level, even the spread of the iconoclastic Wahabi ethoswhich cannot be judged in terms of the mere numbers of its adherents (cf. Kumar, 1989: 162-3 for Banaras) nor be reduced to its Arabian trappingsthus tends in its own way to transform the Indianized symbol into a universal social reality (cf. Roy, 1983: 249-53). The chaotic birthpangs of a new order based on the abolition of the caste-system were already being jointly rehearsed by both Hindus and Muslims during the festivals of Ghazi Miyan and Muharram all over India, and by the Hindus themselves in their own festivals both before and after the arrival of the Muslims. Such festivals could easily be (re-) interpreted as an exteriorization of the (temporary but) necessary abolition of caste-distinctions within closed Tantric circles, as in the esoteric Kaula cults of Bhairava whose leading theoreticians were all brahmins like Abhinavagupta. From the Hindu perspective, the Muslims were merely guilty of "hastening or forcing the end." Faced with the fait accompli however, the Hindu memorial simply translated the event into a re-enactment of a sacrificial embryogony: "it has been ascertained that the Lat notwithstanding all these attempts, did not fall till they sprinkled it with the blood of a cow and her young, which they got from a baugh and dragged, tied by the neck to the spot. On this outrage the chucker [capital] on the Bhyroo Lat jee spun round and tumbled and the Lat burst and fell to the ground. They cast the cow which they had slaughtered into the tank of Kapilmochun which is near the Lat and completely defiled it" (Robinson, p. 109). And like the fallen pole of the Indra festival, the Lat itself is said to have been thrown into the Ganga about half a mile away, whereas the physical probability is that the sandstone largely crumbled under the heat of the fire (Sherring, 1868: 191, 306).


Ibn Ishaq's Life of the Apostle of God already speaks of some of the treasure of the Ka'ba being stolen from a well in the middle of it. It was on the stone of the Ka'aba, created at the same time as heaven and earth, that Abraham would have united with Hagar to conceive Ishmael and it was there that he would have subsequently tethered his camel when he sought to immolate him for Allah (1:190-1, 244-5). The Ka'aba stone, which is repeatedly referred to as a "pillar" in the context of the Prophet's farewell pilgrimage in the year of his death (3:116), is also the Muslim counterpart of the stone that Jacob had earlier set up as a pillar in the Hebrew "House of God" (Beth-El), to mark the site where he had seen the ladder to heaven (1:34-5). The Prophet was himself transported on the Night of Destiny from the sacred Mosque at Mecca to the "distant" (al-aqsa) mosque where he ascended the ladder to "which the dying man looks when death approaches" in order to receive the first revelations of the Koran (17.1; 1:208-10; 2:43-5). Even otherwise, the first intimation of the Koran on Mount Hira by archangel Gabriel to the sleeping Prophet was already likened to an experience of death (1:193-4). The site of the ascension (me'raj), which seems to be a simplified version of the ascent through the seven palaces of the Jewish Heikhalot mysticism (Visuvalingam, 1991), was subsequently identified with (the Al-Aqsa mosque standing before the Dome of the Rock built over) the Stone of the Foundation on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem (1:208-9). On this rock, where Abraham had sought to sacrifice Isaac, had once stood the Jewish Holy of the Holies, a place of symbolic sexual union as represented by the twin cherubim, which were also equated with the palm-tree. The episode where Jacob is maimed by an unnamed assailant who then blesses him with the name "Israel," is itself a symbolical enactment of the animal being immolated at the altar of the Temple so as to be borne to heaven by the "ladder" of the sacrifice (2:84). Muhammed originally chose Jerusalem as the direction of prayer and is even reported, on the authority of (the future second Caliph) Umar, as worshipping before the Kaaba such that it stood between him and Jerusalem (1:207, 218-19). The originally white stone, which had become completely black due to constant fingering by menstruating women, is interpreted by the great Ibn Arabi as (the evil in) the dark luminosity of the heart. The words of Al Hallaj as reported by al-Ghazali: "People make the pilgrimage; I am going on a (spiritual) pilgrimage to my Host; While they offer animals in sacrifice, I offer my heart and blood. Some of them walk in procession around the Temple, without their bodies, For they walk in procession in God, and He has exempted them from the Haram." Hallaj's limbs were amputated before he was hoisted on the cross and finally beheaded not only for proclaiming his identity with Allah but particularly because of his affirmation that the Temple of the Ka'ba itself had to be destroyed (within) as the last remaining "idol" separating the mystic from its Founder (3:112-22, 244-9). This axial "pillar" of the Muslim pilgrimage probably corresponds not only to the black spot that was removed from the heart of the Prophet when, as a mere child, his body was cut open and cleansed with white snow (1:184), but also to the black kid sacrificed to the pole at the culmination of the Nepali festival of Ghazi Miyan. The camels slaughtered during the Hajj in commemoration of Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael, the progenitor of the Arabs, are but substitutes for the pious pilgrims themselves.

For the Shiites, the Hidden Imam (Mahdi), who bears the same name Muhammad (ibn al-Hasan al-Askari) as the Prophet himself, disappeared in 874 A.D. into the Well of the Occultation (Bi'ral al-Ghabya), while imprisoned with his mother, in the cave-cellar of his house-mosque at Samarra (Momen, 1985: 161-71). His messianic re-appearance at the end of time will happen more specifically on the anniversary of Husayn's martyrdom on the tenth (Ashur) of Muharram (1:382-5), the first month of the Arab calendar, whose choice as a Muslim festival was originally modelled on the Yom Kippur, which likewise fell on the tenth day of the first month (Tishri) of the Jewish calendar (3:109-10; Schissel, 1990). Now, the ritual of the scapegoat on Yom Kippur, which symbolically identified the High Priest as both executioner and victim, also explains the splitting of the Jewish Messiah into a martyred ben Joseph and a triumphant ben David. The Zohar (3:100b) moreover assimilates the ten Days of Awe to the stages of a divine wedding consummated on Yom Kippur. The Jewish sacrifice of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:1-10), whose ashes rendered the pure impure and vice versa, was identified by Saint Paul and even more systematically by Thomas Aquinas with (the feminized) Christ on the Cross (2:230-2; 3:47). The transgressive Sabbataian Jews subsequently identified her with the Kabbalistic secret of the Messiah, who had abrogated the law of the Torah. The Koran scrupulously retains this "ridiculous" Mosaic prescription in its second Surah, that of the Cow (2.67-73), to the effect that, in order to allay mutual accusations of murder, an unyoked and unharnessed cow must be sacrificed and its pieces used to hit the corpse of the victim. In the Jewish prototype, an untraced murder is expiated through breaking the neck of a heifer, which is enjoined by the judges upon the elders of the nearest Jewish city, who thereupon washed their hands over the corpse declaring "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Forgive, O Lord, Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, and suffer not innocent blood to remain in the midst of Thy people Israel" (Deuteronomy 21.1-9). Even in mishnaic times the slaughtered cow was symbolically assimilated to a man and, according to one source, the consent of a Bet Din of seventy-one members is necessary for the killing, which would amount to "re-inscribing" a purely criminal act into the properly sacrificial paradigm of the Red Heifer (contrast Patai, 1983). The tenth Act of the classical (pre-Islamic) Sanskrit play, "The Little Clay Cart" (Mrcchakatikâ), successively assimilates the (innocent) brahmin being led to his execution to the Indra pole being carried to the cremation-ground, to the sacrificial goat being led to the Vedic yûpa, to the delivery of a cow (gosava) and his death to the birth of a son. Not only is this "chief person" of the sacred city (of Ujjain), whose body is imprinted all over with the extended hand in blood-red sandal paste, (falsely) accused of having murdered his beloved courtesan for her gold, but his own wifewith whom she is symbolically identifiedprepares to throw herself into the fire just as he is being executed. However, the drums of execution suddenly become the drums of marriage, the blood-red garments of the victim are transformed into the wedding attire of the bride-groom, and the (un)expected reunion with his courtesan-wife at the stake is experienced as a rebirth from the throes of death. The calf "unexpectedly" found within the "barren" cow, which was "to be bound or immolated after" the sacrifice (anûbandhyâ) as an offering to Mitra-Varuna, was identified with the immortal Vedic sacrificer himself. The (premature) extraction of the embryo (of sometimes indeterminate sex) was assimilated to a normal delivery and it was decapitated only to be ritually (re-) united (by means of the brahman) with the golden womb of the dead mother so as to form a single sacrificial entity. "Thus that which is superfluous (atirikta) becomes not superfluous," declares the Satapatha Brahmana. By adding the detail of the calf, the Hindu memorial has simply translated the Muslim "sacrilege" into a brahminicidal "decapitation" of Lat Bhairo himself, into the death and "matricidal" (re-) birth of the sacrificer from the maternal womb within. The present stalemate in India between the outward socio-religious manifestations of the "primordial" and the "final" revelations is best symbolized by the stubborn stump of Lat Bhairo remaining in the middle of the idgah. The toll on the living will however continue at least until Muslims and Hindus willingly join hands in completely levelling not the innocent pillar but the remaining socio-economic inequalities in what may perhaps be called an Islamic fulfillment of Vedic cosmogony.

But what is the relevance of this transgressive embryogony to the larger contemporary question of human violence in an increasingly "secularized" world? The abolition of caste within the radical Tantric fraternities devoted to the cult of Bhairava was not so much the expression of an egalitarian political ideal, it was rather the direct consequence of the transgression of the otherwise binding rules of ritual purity which were also the foundation of the social hierarchy. Whereas the (triumphant) Sunni Caliph was the defender and propagator of the Islamic polity vis-a-vis the infidels, the (martyred) Shia Imam became the sacrificial focus of an ever-belied messianic expectation of the imminent abrogation of the religious law (shariat) that (provisionally) held this community (umma) together (Jambet, 1990). For the Shia, "Ashura is a day of darkness and disorder in the universe. On it, darkness, the symbol of evil and chaos, was created" (Ayoub, 1978: 151-2). Before its gradual reform, the Muharram, in which the Hindus massively participated and which generally culminated in ritualized clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, used to be celebrated as a great carnival where social and religious norms were parodied amidst shared laughter even by the Sunnis themselves (Shurreef, 1863: 123-141). A newspaper report of July 1895 could observe that "Moharram passed of without a disturbance. Firstly, there was never any fear of fighting and disturbance in Banaras; secondly, when it is Hindus who mostly celebrate this festival, what fear can there be?" (cited in Kumar, 1988: 216). Hence, beneath the triangular politics of shifting alliances between Hindus, Sunnis and Shias in India (cf. Freitag, 1989b: 249-79 for Lucknow; Visuvalingam, 1991b for Kashmir) are recognizable the tensions and interplay of the respective principles of hierarchy, egalitarianism and transgression, which continue to operate even beyond and independently of these traditional but once fluid religious identities. The return (raj'a) of the Mahdi, which will be accompanied by the resurrection of Husain and Jesus, will be heralded by the outward manifestations of extreme promiscuity and transgressions of sacred norms, precisely what used to happen even within a religious context in the Islamic festivals of Ghazi Miyan and Muharram, for the Mahdi "will demolish whatever precedes him just as the Prophet demolished the structure of the Time of Ignorance (al-Jâhiliyyathe period before Islam)" (Momen, 1985: 169). The messianic liberty that inspires the Shia movement ìs however not so much a glorification of licence but a perfect interiorization of the maternal figure of the Imam who will simply render (the outward observance of) the law wholly superfluous. All the Imams are said to be not only martyrs on the model of Husain, but were born circumcised, with their umblical cords already severed and even spoke from within their mother's womb!" (Momen, 1985: 22). In the final analysis, it would seem that the Mahdi, who "will come with a new Causejust as Muhammad, at the beginning of Islam, summoned the people to a new Causeand with a new book and a new religious law (Sharî'a), which will be a severe test for the Arabs" (Momen, 1985: 169), is no more than the "historical" hypostatization and religio-political institutionalization of the death and rebirth of the Muslim initiates from the inner womb of a Fatimid gnosis. As the Mother-Creator figure, Fâtima is "not very different from the image of Mary in Roman Catholicism, she is even referred to as ‘virgin’ (batûl)" (Momen, 1985: 236). Such "virginity" is no doubt also the primary significance of the "barennness" of the anûbandhyâ cow and the requirement that the Mosaic heifer must have never been yoked. Fatima represents the Sophia of the Shiite gnosis and would functionally correspond, in the Suhrawardian transposition, to the Avestan Spenta Armaiti (Corbin, 1977: 63-68). The Imams thus share the "maternal" role of the brahmin (= cow): "the Imams are the 'brides' of the Prophet.. And furthermore, since Initiation is nothing but the spiritual birth of the adepts, in speaking of the 'mother of the believers' in the true sense, we should understand that the real and esoteric meaning of this word 'mother' refers to the Imams. Indeed, this spiritual birth is effected through them..." (ibid., p. 67). Bhairava himself was absolved of his brahmanicide only when he re-emerged from the Ganga at Kapalamocana during that precise conjunction when Banaras itself, the "great cremation-ground" (mahashmashana), assumed its full significance as the womb of Hinduism (Chalier-Visuvalingam, 1989: 178-80 on the matsyodarî). The inner violence of this rebirthwhich was outwardly expressed through the punishment of Bhairava, the martyrdom of Husain and even the crucifixion of Christimplied not just a positive valorization of (initiatic) death as liberation. It would suggest that the only way of completely uprooting the innate human propensity to violence is perhaps through an intense struggle (the "greater jihad") culminating in a conscious inner re-enactment of the marriage of Lat Bhairava and Ghazi Miyan, a perfect interiorization that would render wholly unnecessary this endless sacrificial cycle of raising, felling and resurrecting the pillar of all humanity.