|Painting by Shahzia Sikander|
"In the interaction between Muslim, Hindu, and Christian traditions in South India, there was a borrowing of symbols and ideas, a frequently shared vocabulary, and an interweaving of motifs within a common sacred landscape. At the center of this interaction is the imagery associated with the ammans or goddesses of the region.
The most important figures within the religious landscape to all South Indians are "divinities of blood and power." In the Hindu tradition these are warrior goddesses (locally known as ammans) and warrior gods, both of whom are representations of "activated divine power." In the Muslim tradition, this power is represented by the Sufi warrior pîr, who is perceived in virtually the same terms as the blood-taking goddesses. Known under various names, such as Kali or Kaliamma, Durga or Mariamma, these goddesses have "an extra endowment" of Shakti, the female energy of the gods, and are associated with Siva.
The figure of the Muslim warrior pir, saint martyr, or shahîd was easily accepted into this tradition, associated as he was with the world of the forest, which in Hinduism is the world of Siva. The martial pir was not a divisive being in South Indian society. On the contrary, he was a figure of universal power with deep roots in the world of the Tamil goddess cults and power divinities. The dargâhs or shrines of Sufi saints were thus revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Tota Kuramma was a Muslim woman who after her death became an amman.
The result is that Muslim and Hindu conceptions of sacred power are virtually identical. In the case of the warrior goddess, her power is Shakti, "the dynamic, awesome, and sacred power which is the goddess Durga-Kali." The power of the pir, on the other hand, is his barakat. The merging of these two concepts in South India is demonstrated, for example, in the biography of a Tamil pir, where the word used to describe his power is not barakat but Shakti.
There have been Muslims who, from within their awareness of the Divine Feminine Shakti within Islam, have found in their hearts a response to Her manifestations in India."
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