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The heart of a Gopi: Raihana Tyabji’s bhakti devotionalism as self-representation?

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-05-15, 10:49 authored by Siobhan Lambert-Hurley
Raihana Tyabji is best known to history, not for her writing or even her singing, but as a devotee of Gandhi. Yet in 1924 this at least nominally Muslim woman composed a small book of bhakti devotionalism that has continued to garner popular interest right into the twenty-first century. She gave it the evocative title, The Heart of a Gopi, on the basis that what had been revealed to her was the very 'soul', the inner self, of the gopi and, through that, an understanding of Lord Krishna himself. Considered in this paper then is the question of how far this piece of bhakti devotionalism may be read as a kind of personal narrative, an evocation of the self. Does the referencing of an established narrative tradition give the author's feelings and experiences, especially as a Muslim woman devoted to Krishna at a time of increasing religious rigidity and growing communal strife, a kind of validity not achievable otherwise? And, if so, how do we separate out the author's 'self' from the literary conventions – in this case, the gopi tradition – that structure the story? In the tradition of Islamic life writing, can the gap between the miraculous and the mundane be breached in order to understand the mystical experience charted here as a kind of autobiography? Even from the rationalist's perspective, should not the life of the imagination still be considered part of the life?



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies


LAMBERT-HURLEY, S., 2013. The heart of a Gopi: Raihana Tyabji’s bhakti devotionalism as self-representation? Modern Asian Studies, 48 (3), pp.569-595.


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This article was published in the journal, Modern Asian Studies [© Cambridge University Press] and the definitive version is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0026749X12000704






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