Book review: The wandering Sufis by Kumkum Srivastava

Kumkum Srivastava, The Wandering Sufis. Qalandars and Their Path, Bhopal-New Delhi: Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya-Aryan Books International, 2009, xviii-267 p.

Despite its flashy comics-style cover design, this book is a scholarly piece. Composed of six chapters and two appendices, Srivastava’s monograph deals with Qalandars in general and Delhi region’s Qalandari shrines in particular.

The first chapter (“Sufism: Concept, Nature and Origin”) presents an overview on the tasawwuf based on classical works by Gardet, Anawati, Nicholson, Schimmel, etc. Given the already existing literature on this topic, the section does not seem very useful and could have been replaced by one focusing on Indian Sufism. The second chapter (“Sufi orders”) presents again, apparently, a general introduction to turûq. In fact, Srivastava’s description is deeply influenced by the Indian context: for instance, the classification of orders in bashara (ba shar‘) and beshara (bî shar‘) sects, or the concept of piri-muridi are typically Indian and not necessarily relevant to other Islamic areas. Yet, the author rightly insists on the importance of silsila, khanqâh, and the worship of saints as key features. The third chapter (“Antinomian cults with specific reference to the Qalandars and the Qalandariya path”) is well-documented and provides the reader with various names and practices of Qalandari groups and leaders, especially but not exclusively in medieval India. The relations of the Qalandars with other religious orders are also mentioned.

The second part of the book is definitely more original as it focuses on two Qalandari dargahs, located in Delhi region, which have not been studied in detail. Chapter 4 (“The shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Abu Bakr Tusi Haydari Qalandari, the Matkey Shah of Purana Qila, Mathura Road, Delhi”) details not only the architecture, organization, and history of the sacred site, but also the biography of the thirteenth century Iranian saint Abu Bakr Tusi. Chapter 5 (“The shrine of Hazrat Sharfuddin Bu Ali Shah Qalandar of Panipat (Haryana), one of the two-and-a-half Qalandars”) describes the mausoleum of the famous medieval saint Bu Ali Shah. A large part of the section is devoted to the life and sayings of the great Qalandari poet. The reader will find numerous anecdotes and quotations. Worth noting also are the illustrations in these two chapters. On the basis of the two case studies, the book’s last section discusses at length the “Organization and practices of the shrines”. Among the main features that both dargahs share is important to emphasize: 1) the different roles of the khuddâm; 2) the qawwâlî performances; 3) the variety of rituals.

At the end of her book, Kumkum Srivastava offers two valuable appendices: the Urdu text and English translation of Qalandari poetry and prose, and of qawwâlî songs. To sum up, this monograph represents a valiant effort at providing an introduction to the Qalandariyya Sufi path. This is not so frequent in India’s Islamic studies.

Alexandre Papas (CNRS, Paris)

Other recent publications on Sufism in South Asia

Samina Quraeshi, Sacred Spaces. A Journey with the Sufis of the Indus, Peabody Museum Press, Harvard, 2010.

Raziuddin Aquil, Sufism,Culture, and Politics: Afghans and Islam in Medieval North India, OUP, USA, 2009.

Thierry V. Zarcone, Sufi Pilgrims from Central Asia and India in Jerusalem, Kyoto, Kyoto University, 2009.

Robert Rozehnal, Islamic Sufism Unbound Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2007.

Nile Green, Indian Sufism Since the Seventeenth Century. Saints, Books and Empires in the Muslim Deccan, Routledge, UK, 2006.


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