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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The People of India - Deena and his Nephew Husseini

The People of India series was researched and written by School Without Walls student, Cal Berer.   Cal was an intern at the Freer|Sackler Archives from January 2011-June 20011 where he was then sponsored by the State Department to learn Hindi while spending the summer in India.

Deena and his Nephew Husseini
    Of all the stereotypical occupations in 19th century India, Deena and Husseini surely occupied one of the most well known.  They were snake charmers.  At that time, bands of wandering charmers would form makeshift tribes, and move throughout the subcontinent, “going from place to place during the hot and cold months of the year, and remaining in one spot during the rainy season.”  The tribe Deena and Husseini belonged to was Sunni Muslim, and, after Mecca and Medina, they believed the most important place in the world was Mukunpore, in Kanpur, the burial site of a venerable Fakir named Madar Shah.  Shah was said to have lived for 596 years, and each year there is an enormous festival around his tomb, celebrating his life and deeds.  Pilgrims from all around the world visit to pay their respects to the deceased saint.  When they weren’t praying, Deena, Husseini, and the rest of their fellows would perform on the street, handling, charming, catching, and taming snakes, as well as juggling, dancing, and singing.  These and most other snake charmers were considered “great liars”, and shunned by their fellow Muslims, both for the meanness of their profession and because the ritual of snake charming has its precedent in aboriginal snake worship, an practice considered heathenous by devout Muslims.  Despite their ostracism from the rest of society, Indian literature and folklore is replete with stories of snake charmers, and, according to POI, “interesting anecdotes of the astonishing feats of these snake charmers will be found in nearly every narrative of travels in India."

To see all text and images of the Deena and his Nephew Husseini as they are represented in the People of India, go to our catalog in the Collections Search Center

The People of India series will be published once a month highlighting the various tribes as they're covered in the People of India. 

Cal Berer, Intern

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