Hindu nationalists are known for Islamophobia. But Adityanath’s religious order shares a history with Islam



Some Hindu nationalists in India are noted for their admiration for Nazism, along with their hatred for Muslims that can at times reach genocidal proportions.

Recently, sections of Hindu nationalists have found another hero in the form of President Donald Trump, whose racist and bigoted rhetoric has resonated with many of them.

Trump’s travel ban on citizens from five Muslim-majority countries entering the US was enthusiastically supported by the Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who called for similar measures to tackle terrorism in India.

Adityanath is the spiritual leader of the Nath community of Gorakhpur, a city in north east of Uttar Pradesh, which represents the ascetic Saiva sectarian movement (sampradaya) dating back to the 13th century.

Traditionally, however, the Nath Yogi movement has resisted the application of fixed religious identities of Hindu or Muslim, and the tradition “blurred the borders in a dialogical process where they combined elements from both traditions,” as noted by social anthropologist Véronique Bouillier.

In fact, the collection of vernacular poetry attributed to Guru Gorakhnath, the founder of the movement, contains several multi-religious references resisting modern religious categorisation.

A well-known passage, as pointed out by the American scholar Marrewa Karwoski, states:

The Hindu meditates in the temple,
the Muslim in the Mosque.
The Yogi meditates on the supreme goal,
where there is neither temple nor mosque.

The Nath sampradaya has a long ecumenical history with Islam. The greatest Sufi poet of Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, expressed unconditional love and admiration for the Nath Yogis in his poetry.

Looking at the Nath Yogi tradition from the Sufi perspective of Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry puts it in contrasts with the modernist Hindutva rhetoric of Adityanath.

Yogis and Sufism

The holiest site of the Nath Yogi tradition is located in Hinglaj in Balochistan. The traditional route of the annual pilgrimage on foot to Balochistan is the settlement of Mount Ganjo, a hill in District Hyderabad.

It is said that Shah Abdul Latif had spent around three years in the company of the wandering ascetics. His travels with the Yogis left a deep impression on him and the theme of Yogis as perfect practitioners of spiritual life feature prominently in his Risalo, a large collection of Sindhi lyrical poetry considered to be the greatest classic of Sindhi literature.

A translation of the Risalo was published in English this year by the British scholar Christopher Shackle and I have used his translations in this article.

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