Tag Archives: India

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 Given the already existing literature on this topic, the section does not seem very useful and could have been replaced by one focusing on Indian Sufism.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.

Book: Sultans, Traders, and Pilgrims in Gujarat

Samira Sheikh, Forging a Region: Sultans, Traders, and Pilgrims in Gujarat 1200-1500, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2010, 265 p.

As a historian of Medieval India, Samira Sheikh publishes a slightly revised version of the Ph. D. she prepared at Oxford University some years ago. The book is most useful since it provides both a broad synthesis of the formative period of Gujarati identity, as well as a very comprehensive analysis of the interaction between the different strata which gave birth to the pre-modern state, namely the Sultanate. Moreover, the issues addressed by Sheikh obviously concern a large part of North India. For example, she gives valuable arguments regarding the processes of formation of groups like the Rajputs. Last but not the least, Sheikh is well aware of the most recent trends in the history of India, in other words the post-colonial studies, and she is thus able to provide a balanced understanding on how pre-modern Gujarat provided the essential features on which modern Gujarat was to be built.

Michel Boivin


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International conference, 23-24 September 2010, CEIAS-EHESS

International conference

Shrines, Pilgrimages and Wanderers in Muslim South Asia

Venue: CEIAS, EHESS, 54 Boulevard Raspail, 75006, Paris

Convenors: Michel Boivin & Rémy Delage


Thursday, 23 September 2010

9h-9h30: Welcoming of the participants

9h30-10h: Welcome address by Blandine Ripert, Director of CEIAS, EHESS-CNRS, and introduction by Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS-MIFS) and Rémy Delage (CNRS-CEIAS-CSH-MIFS)

Session 1: Figures of wandering ascetics through history

During the first session, three contributors propose to analyze how the qalandari figure has been formed over time, using a large corpus of vernacular written sources mainly in Persian language, and how this movement relates to other mystical branches of South Asian Islam.

Chair: Catherine Servan Schreiber (CNRS-CEIAS)

10h-10h20: Alexandre Papas (CNRS-CETOBA), Vagrancy and pilgrimage according to the Sufi Qalandari path

10h20-10h40: Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS-MIFS), Qalandar-s and Qalandarî-s: Antinomianism as a changing concept in the Indus Valley

10h40-11h: Discussion and debate

11h-11h30: Coffee break

11h30-11h50: Mojan Membrado (INALCO), Is there a connection between the Qalandars and the Ahl-e Haqq order?

11h50-12h30: Discussion and debate

Session 2: The saints’ charisma and conflicting representations of sainthood

The four papers reflect the multiple meanings of rituals that are performed in and around Sufi shrines, and which ultimately reflect the continuing success of these pilgrimages. The tension between the expression of emotions and the involvement of institutions in mediating that expression is measured in different ways.

Chair: Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye (EPHE)

14h-14h20: Delphine Ortis (EHESS-MIFS), How discourses construct figures of ‘normalised holiness’

14h20-14h40: Omar Kasmani (Free University of Berlin-MIFS), Rearranging Gender: The question of spiritual authority amongst two women intercessors of Sehwan Sharif

14h40-15h: Discussion and debate

15h-15h30: Tea break

15h30-15h50: Mikko Viitamäki (University of Helsinki & Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE), Paris), Entertaining and ecstatic. Poetics and emotions in musical gatherings of a Sufi shrine

15h50-16h10: Ute Falasch (Humboldt University, Berlin), Managing a shrine inhabited by a living saint- the dargâh of “Zinda” Shâh Madâr

16h10-16h30: Discussion and debate

18h: Cocktail and exhibition


Friday, 24 September 2010

Session 3: Pilgrimages, the city and the making of ritual spaces

The question is here about how localities, towns or cities have been structured over time by the ritual activity generated by pilgrimages but also by various actors or social groups competing for exerting social power and religious authority locally.

Chair: Thierry Zarcone (CNRS-GSRL)

9h30-9h50: Rémy Delage (CNRS-CSH-MIFS), A sociological reading of ritual processions: the case study of Sehwan Sharif in Central Sindh (Pakistan)

9h50-10h10: Yves Ubelmann (DAFA-MIFS), The shrine of La`l Shahbâz Qalandar and its urban surrounding: politics, urbanism and religion

10h10-10h30: Discussion and debate

10h30-11h: Coffee break

11h-11h20: Muhammad Mubeen (CEIAS-EHESS), The shrine and the Chishtis of Pakpattan (Pakistan): A historical analysis

11h20-12h: Jürgen Schaflechner (SAI, Heidelberg University), Moving through meaning: The pilgrimage of Hing Laj Devi in Pakistan, followed by the screening of a 17mn documentary film “Agneyatirtha Hinglaj”

12h-12h30: Discussion and debate

Session 4: Pilgrimage politics and Sufi shrines policies

Pilgrimages can be envisaged as “places” of politics in that they articulate on the one hand social and ritual activity, and on the other, competing discourses, secular and religious, tinged with different ideologies, and matrix of issues of power and domination.

Chair: Alka Patel (University of California, Irvine)

14h-14h20: Kashif Sherwani (CEIAS-EHESS), Maududi on Shrines and Sufism or the building of a new Islamic orthodoxy

14h20-14h40: Alix Philippon (University of Provence), An ambiguous and contentious politicization of Sufi shrines and pilgrimages in Pakistan

14h40-15h: Discussion and debate

15h-15h30: Tea break

15h30-15h50: Mauro Valdinoci (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy), Dead saints or living souls? Contested pilgrimages to Sufi shrines in Hyderabad (India)

15h50-16h10: Uzma Rehman (University of Copenhaguen), Spiritual power and ‘Threshold’ identities: the mazars of Saiyid Pir Waris Shah and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai

16h10-16h30: Discussion and debate

Keynote address

16h30-17h: Pnina Werbner (Keele University, UK), Transnationalism and regional cults: the dialectics of Sufism in the plurivocal Muslim world

PhD thesis: Indo-Islamic Societies through Arabic and Persian inscriptions

Johanna Blayac, Genesis and history of the first Indo-Muslim and Indo-Islamic Societies through Arabic and Persian inscriptions (7th-14th centuries), PhD thesis in History, EPHE, Paris, 16 December 2009.

“Islamic inscriptions of the Indian subcontinent, that were collected and published since the end of the 18th century, have not been studied with a global problematic until now. The first two-hundred and ninety-six Arabic and Persian known inscriptions from the region (7th-14th centuries) are put together here, – listed, (re)edited, and analysed, to study the formation and history of the first Indo-Muslim and Indo-Islamic societies, through the multiple aspects of epigraphic sources, both textual or philological and material. This thesis thus begins by showing the various political, social and economic processes operating during the different phases of Muslim and Islamic penetration and implantation in the different regions of the Indian subcontinent through the chrono-geographic  distribution of the inscriptions. It subsequently studies, by region and then by dynasty during the Delhi sultanate period, the composition and the representations of the Indo-Muslim elites, merchants, religious men, statesmen and soldiers, from the very texts of the inscriptions and the names and duties they provide. At last, it considers the first regional architectural remains, greatly composite, and the epigraphic programmes of the main monuments ordered by the sultans of Delhi, as “architectural” discourses, and thus reflects of the articulations and “tension” between the Islamic phraseology and the social, political and religious contexts.”

Keywords: Medieval India, Islamic epigraphy/inscriptions, Islamic conquest, Muslim settlement, Delhi sultanate, Indian Ocean, Sind, Gujarat, Kerala, Indo-Islamic societies, composite cultures.


Book: Territory, Soil and Society in South Asia

Daniela Berti & Gilles Tarabout (dir.), 2009, Territory, Soil and Society in South Asia, New Delhi, Manohar, 379 p.

A pluridisciplinary team of researchers has raised the question of territory in this book, which is the revised and English version of a previous publication in Italian. Beginning with the study of territorial representations in the Vedic texts to end up with a contribution about the mobilization of territorial categories by the Hindu nationalists during political processions, the authors have also taken into account in their theoretical framework the territory as a divine or spiritual jurisdiction, that is to say, a territory where the power and authority of various social groups exert on. Given the few studies on the notion of territory as both a cognitive category and a category of analysis of social change, it is certain that this book will not go unnoticed in the landscape of publications on Indian society.

Rémy Delage


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Preprint version



PhD thesis: The Islamic monuments of Ahmedabad

Sara Keller, The Islamic monuments of the walled city of Ahmedabad, India (15-18th century): an archeological study. PhD thesis in Building Archaeology, University of Paris IV Sorbonne, France; and Otto-Friedrich Universität Bamberg, Germany, 16 October 2009.

“Unlike many medieval and modern royal urban foundations in the Indian subcontinent, the city of Ahmedabad survived till now as the politic and economic heart of Gujarat. Today, the historical Islamic monuments are the sole witnesses of the splendor of a city which used to controlled the trade ways linking Delhi and central India with the arabic countries and the eastern African coast. Our archeological study not only identified the vast corpus of Islamic monuments still existing of the walled city of Ahmedabad, it also permitted a detailed analysis of the sites and buildings, bringing informations concerning the evolution of architectural forms and technics over more than four centuries. Those researches brought new lights on the urban history of Ahmedabad and the history of Gujarat, as well as on the importance of the “Gujarati style” within the Indian architecture and the architecture of the islamic world. The study finally could show the survival, in Gujarat, of feudal systems deeply rooted in the local culture till the end of the 16th century, and the transition to a modern type of administration spread in India by the Mughal empire.”

Keywords: India, architecture, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Islam, mosque, mausoleum, madrasa, Sultanate, Mughal, minaret, sufi, art, jain, brahmanical, indic, urban structures, city, monuments, water, tank, measurement, proportion, vastu, ornementation, arche, technique, pietra dura.


Book review: L’ascète et le bouffon by Christiane Tortel

Christiane Tortel, L’ascète et le bouffon. Qalandars, vrais et faux renonçants en islam ou l’Orient indianisé, Arles, Actes Sud, 2009.

The publication of an academic book on the qalandars is a true event. Despite the existence of a book by Ahmed Karamustafa (1994), another one by Katherine Ewing (1977) and masterful papers by Simon Digby (1984), the article of the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam gives evidence of the scarcity of academic works on the topic. Christiane Tortel is a freelance specialist of Persian literature who is a recognized translator of referent treatises of Sufism (1998). Christiane Tortel, an expert in the collection of rare manuscripts, is also well acquainted with fieldwork since she has visited numerous shrines and temples in different parts of Asia.

This 439 pages book is a very ambitious work, in a previous version, a Ph. D. defended at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études in Sorbonne University. After an introduction, the first part is devoted to “Asceticism, transgression and quackery. The pariah and the jester” (pp. 25-228). The second part is devoted to “Unpublished texts: presentation and translation” (pp. 229-305). Beyond the notes, bibliography and index, one will appreciate wonderful pictures discovered in various libraries of Europe and Asia.

The main thesis proposed by the author is that the role played by India in Islamic and Christian worlds has been under evaluated. The main basis of this misunderstanding is that since Antiquity, the historians always classified the Indians among the Africans since they were seen as Blacks. The author uses the figure of the qalandar to track the way by which Indian characteristics have penetrated Islam and Christianity. The problem is that this policy implies the use of innumerable references written in innumerable languages over many centuries. The consequence is the details makes one lose the thread of the demonstration implemented by the author. The argument would have been more convincing if it had been more tightly focused on the figure of the qalandar, and possibly the main transmitters of this figure, the gypsies.

The second part provides very useful data. The author also gives useful summaries of the relations between the Qalandariyya and “institutionalized” tarîqas like the Sohrawardiyyas or the Chishtiyyas, especially in South Asia. Last but not least, Christiane Tortel provides us the French translation of unpublished manuscripts. They include treatises of the Faqr-nâma genre, like Risâla-yi tawba attributed to Abû’l-Hasan Kharaqânî (d. 1033), or the Risâla-yi qalandarî, translated into French from an anonymous Persian manuscript she has found in Tashkent. Another remarkable piece is a rare example of scholarly literature of the qalandarî type, the Qalandar-nâme composed by Abû Bakr Qalandar Rûmî (d. 1321) from Crimea. Although the conclusion of this huge work is contained in a single page, where the author restates that Qalandariyya is a late extension of Indian renunciation, this book ultimately provides a useful basis for further study of the topic of qalandar, as the author states herself (p. 188).

Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS,EHESS, Paris)


Paroles d’un soufi. Abû’l-Hasan Kharaqânî 352-425/960-1033, présentation, traduction du persan et notes par Christiane Tortel, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1998.

A. T. Karamustafa, God’s Unruly Friends: Dervish Groups in the Islamic Later Middle Period, 1200-1550, Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press, 1994.

S. Digby, “Qalandars and related groups: elements of social deviance in the religious life of the Delhi Sultanate”, in Y. Friedman, Islam in Asia, Jerusalem, The Magnes Press, 1984, pp. 60-108.

K. P. Ewing, Arguing Sainthood. Modernity, Psychoanalysis, and Islam, Durham and London, Duke sUniversity Press, 1977.


Book: South Asian Sufism

Soren Lassen and Hugh Van Skyhaw (ed.), 2008, Sufi Traditions and New Departures. Recent Scholarship on Continuity and Change in South Asian Sufism, Islamabad, Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, 215 p.

This book is the first one to be published on Sufism by the TIAC in Islamabad. The book gathers nine contributions mostly written by German scholars and other scholars working, or who have worked, in Germany. Noteworthy is a posthumous paper of Annemarie Schimmel she has delivered in 2002 on Muslim culture in the Deccan, which is also available through a CD. Sufi traditions are scrutinized in several provinces of the Indian subcontinent, like Rajasthan, Bengal, Punjab and others. Moreover, the be shar paths of Sufism are the topic of three contributions. A first one by Fateh Muhammad Malik is devoted to the Malâmatiyya in Punjab. A second one by Ute Falash deals with the Madariyya in India. Finally Jürgen Wasim Frembgen’s paper focuses on an enraptured saint of Udaipur. In conclusion, the book mirrors well both the diversity of academic approaches to South Asian Sufism, and the variety of the Sufi expressions in this area.

Michel Boivin

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