Before any Ismāʿīlī starts dismissing Daś āvatār (daśāvatāra) or دس اوتار , and saying that it is not approved by the Ismāʿīlī Imām, it should be known that Daś āvatār was presented by the first Aga Khan, Ḥasan ‘Alī Shāh himself in the Bombay High Court as evidence of his authority over the Khojas and the Khoja community property. These court papers are preserved at the official website of the Bombay High Court and can be retrieved for any Ismāʿīlī brother or sister to see, read and decide for themselves. All links are provided below.
1. Aga Khan approved Das Avatar and presented it in Bombay High Court
It was in 1866, that a group of Khojas filed a suit against Aga Khan, claiming that the Khojas had been Sunni Muslims from the very beginning and the Aga Khan had no authority over them or over the Khoja community property. The case, commonly referred to as the Aga Khan Case, was heard by Sir Joseph Arnould. The hearing lasted several weeks, and included testimony from Aga Khan I himself. He set forth the argument that Dasavatār was an Ismāʿīlī text that facilitated the conversion of the Khojas, and in doing so, confirmed a theological link between the Khojas and the Aga Khan.
After reviewing the history of the community, Justice Arnould gave a definitive and detailed judgement against the plaintiffs and in favor of Aga Khan.
Official court record from Bombay High Court website:
Purchase link for “The Aga Khan Case”:
2. Das Avatar in the old Ismaili Dua (prayer)
Khoja Ismāʿīlīs living in India and Africa recited in their du’ā the names of all the major and minor incarnations of Vishnu, the names of characters from the Hindu scriptures and epic tales. Here is a link for to that du’ā used in the 1950s:
3. The Das Avatar Ginan
The recitation of a ginān called Daś āvatār (daśāvatāra) by an upstanding congregation, once a month on chāndrāt, used to be a ritual strictly observed in all the Ismāʿīlī Jam’ātkhānas of the world. The book of “Das Avatar” in Gujrati and English, published by the religious institutions of the Aga Khan, was sold throughout the world. Here are the links to both the gināns:
a. Dasavatār of Sayed Imām Shāh http://ismaili.net/heritage/node/30598
b. Dasavatār of Pīr Sadardin http://ismaili.net/heritage/node/30588
4. Recitation of Das Avatar over Deceased Ismailis
Until the 1960s, the verses from “Das Avatar” were invariably recited during the final moments of a dying Ismaili and thereafter at funeral ceremonies. The verses of “Das Avatar” communicate that listening to this ginān rewards the listener with eternal salvation. This fact is also proven from the Bombay High Court documents when Justice Arnould noted that both parties agreed that Dasavatar was “invariably read over khojas who are at the point of death” and therefore concluded it was the text of “religious observance” among Khojas. He then states the following:
“When the book is read in the jamatkhana of the khojas, it is the tenth chapter (as appears in the evidence) which is along now-a-Justice Arnould, Bombay High Court Reports, 358—360
days seriously attended to. When that chapter is commenced, the congregation of the people rises and remains standing till it is concluded, making profound reverences whenever the reader pronounces the name of the ‘Most Holy Ali’ (Mowla Motizir Ali).”
Also, in Enthoven’s entry on “Kojah” in 1921 he explains that:
“A curious custom followed on the approach of death is that of samarchanta or the sprinkling of holy water to the reading of Das-Avatar.”“Koja” in The Tribes and Castes of Bombay Vol. 2, ed. Reginald E. Enthoven (Bombay: Government Central Press, 1921),
5. Ismaili preachers teaching Das Avatar
5. Ismāʿīlī missionaries have taught Daś āvatār (daśāvatāra) through many sermons in Jam’ātkhānas across the world. One such speech by Al-Waez Rai Abū Aly in Toronto Jam’ātkhāna on Das Avatar is below:
6. The Das Avatar Thesis by Dr. Gulshan Khakee
Dr. Gulshan Khakee – one of the Ismāʿīlī pioneers of Ginanic research, who graduated in teacher training in Nairobi where she taught at the Aga Khan Girls School and at the Kenya High School . She did her M.A. at Trinity College in Dublin – Ireland and her PhD at Harvard in 1972.wrote her PhD thesis “The `Das Avatara’ of Satpanthi Ismailis and Imam Shahis of Indo-Pakistan” which was submitted in 1972 to Harvard University. She writes in the introduction to her thesis that:
“The Nizārī Ismāʿīlī satpanthis of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent are the followers of the Aga Khan, whom they consider to be the Imam, because of his direct lineal descent from Ali (the son-in-law and cousin of the prophet Muḥammad whom they regard as the tenth incarnatlon of the Hindu God Vishnu. The doctrine that Ali is the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, and. therefore the Imām (thus superimosing a Shīʿa Ismāʿīlī form of ’Islām on a Vaishnava Hindu substructure), seems to have been taught to the Satpanthis in the work entitled Dasavatara, literarly meaning the Ten Incarnations. It is this work, Dasavatara, or rather, the last portion of it, the Dasamo Avatar (or the Tenth Incarnation) that I have chosen as the text of my study.”
Her thesis can be downloaded from:
The overwhelming evidence above establishes the blasphemous Ismāʿīlī belief that ʿAlī Radeyallāhu ′Anhu was the tenth incarnation of the Hindu Lord Vishu. This belief has not only been preached by the Ismāʿīlī missionaries, but has been presented by Aga Khan himself in the Bombay High Court. This not only puts Ismāʿīlīsm at a distance from mainstream ’Islām, but establishes a close link between Ismāʿīlīsm and Hinduism – of which Ismāʿīlīsm is a more closely a sect of.