Tag Archives: Qalandar

Article: Relations between Sehwan Sharif and the Indus in Sindh. Genealogy of a separation, by Delage and Ortis

In a journal issue dealing with the relations between cities and rivers in South Asia (2014, republished in 2016), Rémy Delage and Delphine Ortis published an article (in French) dealing with the case study of Sehwan Sharif and the Indus:

Relations between Sehwan Sharif and the Indus in Sind. Genealogy of a separation.” pp. 67-90.

“Up to the nineteenth century, the Indus made the fortune of the small town of Sehwan Sharif, located in central Sindh, in southern Pakistan. Today, the river is no longer the characterizing feature of this locality. This contribution traces the history of the fluctuating relationship between the town and the river up to the present day, where any direct references to the Indus in the local society have vanished. It is therefore a narrative of detachment, both physical and economical as well as ritual, which is considered here. We address specifically how the cult of the Indus, through its divine manifestation Udero Lāl, changed with the departure of the Hindu Sindhi community to India. Through the relationship to the holy figure which currently dominates in Sehwan, the Sufi saint La`l Shahbāz Qalandar, we will also show how the latter has come to encompass the deity of the river.”

Book launch in Karachi, AFK, 28 October 2011

The Express Tribune, Karachi, 30 October 2011

The book by Michel Boivin, Artefacts of Devotion. A Sufi Repertoire of the Qalandariyya in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, Pakistan, was launched on 28th of October 2011 at the Alliance Française de Karachi (AFK). Read the book description from the official website of OUP in Karachi: Continue reading Book launch in Karachi, AFK, 28 October 2011

Book review: Mystiques et Vagabonds en Islam. Portraits de Trois Soufis Qalandar

Alexandre Papas, Mystiques et vagabonds en islam. Portraits de trois soufis qalandar, Paris, Editions du Cerf, 2010, 338 p.

The book by Alexandre Papas, a specialist of Sufism and a historian of Central Asia, is a poetic peregrination in the universe of the Qalandars of the Oriental Turkish world (from Xinjiang to the Bosphorus), from the middle of the 17th century until the middle of the 18th century. It arouses as much the emotion as the reflection on this mystic lifestyle, so far largely unknown.

Right from the start, the author questions the relevance of writing the history of the Qalandariyya’s path, considering the heterogeneity of its principles and practices (p. 13). He suggests following instead the journeys of three Qalandars as attested in their writings, inviting us to familiarise ourselves with the enjoyments and sorrows of their lifestyle, characterized by wandering, poverty and provocation. Based on their own writings (poetry, journey story and Sufi treatise), the author thus draws contextualized portraits of Mashrab the Drinker (1640-1711), Zalîlî the Vile (1676-1753) and Nidâ’î the Boisterous (1688-1760), three mystics who follow each other in time and space. The book closes with two appendices describing the Qalandar of Xinjiang at the turn of the century. These stand for yet another aspect of these mystics, accentuating, if it was really necessary, their irreducibility. However, the material presented in the first appendix enables to draw analogies between ancestor cult and mystic practice, an aspect which remains regrettably ignored in most studies on Sufism.

Despite his unusual approach, the author does not give up any idea of studying history. He tries to grasp the steppes of Asia through the mirror which these three Qalandars hold out to him and which reflects, on one hand, the effects of their practice of wandering, of provocation and of poverty on their society and, on the other hand, the life of the people. It is regrettable that the central hypothesis of the study, the idea of a resurgence of the Qalandar’s movement as an answer to a changing society in Central Asia and at an important turning point of its history is not supported by much evidence. Is this hypothesis only the result of the author’s analysis of the qalandari writings presented here or is it also based on other data, not set out in this book?

This book is an important contribution to the knowledge of a mystic path relatively unknown so far. It gives for the first time access to data concerning Central Asia in a western language. The second remarkable achievement of the book is its demonstration of how Islam is perceived by us, as clearly defined and limited categories “rarely find its reality in history” (p. 263). Indeed, during more than a century, the most opposite paths – Qalandariyya and Naqshbandiyya – were inseparable in the Central Asia Sufi practice. This book concerns all those interested in Sufism and the important historical data that the author provides will certainly help drawing a comparative approach between the Qalandariyya of Central Asia and of South Asia.

By Delphine Ortis

More about Alexandre Papas

With Thomas Welsford et Thierry Zarcone, Central Asian Pilgrims. Hajj Routes and Pious Visits between Central Asia and the Hijaz, Berlin, Klaus Schwarz-IFEAC (under press).

With Lisa Ross, Les saints, la vie, la mort. Essai sur l’islam des Ouïghours au Xinjiang (forthcoming).

Voyage au pays des Salars (Tibet oriental, début du XXIe siècle), Paris, Cartouche, 2011.

Soufisme et politique entre Chine, Tibet et Turkestan. Etude sur les Khwajas Naqshbandis du Turkestan oriental,Jean Maisonneuve, Paris, 2005.


Interview with Ahmet Karamustafa, 2010

Ahmet Karamustafa is Professor of History and Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He has written on various aspects of the social and intellectual history of pre-modern Islam and worked especially on Qalandars and other “deviant” Sufi movements.

During his visit to Paris in May 2010, Delphine Ortis, a MIFS member, interviewed him on his intellectual trajectory as well as his vision of the Qalandariyya, and the differentiation he makes between Sufism and the cult of saints.

Could you first tell us about your educational and professional training, and how you came to work in the field of “deviant” dervish groups and Sufism? What kind of research methodology did you develop?

I did my master’s thesis at the institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal on a subject that led me eventually to the dervishes. In the study of Turkish history, the views of a particular historian, Mehmet Fuad Köprülü, had become very prevalent. He was among the first to ask the question of continuity between pre-Islamic or not yet Islamised Turks. He had peculiar views about this continuity. He saw the deviant or antinomian dervishes as survivals of shamans within an Islamic garb. In order to test this view, I worked on the hagiography of a famous 13th century Sufi master, Hacı Bektaş. After my MA thesis, I decided to work on an early 16th century text in Ottoman Turkish because I wanted to gather more information about the dervishes. My analysis led me to write a more comprehensive though short history of these dervishes from the late 12th century through the 15th century. The thesis put forward in my PhD was drastically opposed to that of Köprülü. We don’t really understand these dervishes if we cast them simply as “survivals” or as superficially Islamized types; rather we should take their religiosity and their Islam seriously and attempt to come up with an explanation. I tried to find in any kind of historical sources all available references to what I called ‘dervish piety’. I sifted texts and synthesised the information I discovered in the light of what I knew about the historical context. I don’t think any single explanation will hold across the board.

What do you consider to be the most striking attribute of the Qalandari path vis-à-vis other currents of piety and other deviant dervish groups?

To my mind the most important trait of the Qalandars was their persistent cultural and social ‘iconoclasticism’ and ‘unconventionalism’. They were persistent in their criticism of respectable mystics and Sufis. The temperament that prevailed was that of the happy, merry and carefree. The Qalandars had liberated themselves from social custom, which pressed down on people. They were libertine in their ways and happy and content about that. They would do anything to set themselves apart from respectable people.

Why do you use the term ‘anarchistic’ that usually belongs to the domain of politics, to characterise a movement of piety?

I use the term anarchism primarily because I wanted my readers to feel the very clear sense of criticism and of standing against established authority that I saw in dervish piety. And this critical stance is what defines them more than any other characteristic. To be ‘anarchistic’ is clearly something that really matters to Qalandars. They are actually persistently needling the authorities. That’s their function. Their agenda is that of reminding people that they have to see through the ways in which power and authority works in society.

Could you determine some reasons why the Qalandari movement was essentially developed in the Persian cultural sphere?

I really don’t know. But let me mention another factor. I think the Qalandari movement, like ‘dervish piety’ in general, is noticeably more prominent in places and times where the prevalent Islamic religious culture was that of the Hanafi-school. This legal school provides a more open space, has a more permissive attitude towards overtly antisocial or unconventional behaviour. Now, from the 13th century onwards the Persian cultural sphere is dominated by the Hanafis. So, this is one possible explanation. But there are others which have to do with the local colouring and local flavour of ‘Sufisms’ in the different regions.

Are you able to observe significant differences between the Qalandars of the Turkish world and those of South Asia?

Indeed, I believe there are significant differences, even probably back in the 13th century. But I don’t have enough evidence concerning the early centuries of Qalandari history to give you a satisfying answer. I believe things changed drastically after the 15th century with the formation of the large scale empires. And within that context, the subsequent history of the Qalandars is one in which they quite clearly continue to react to the prevalent Sufis. But they would not deal with the same Sufis; I mean the South-Asian Qalandars were dealing with Chishtis in particular, some Suhrawardis and some Naqshbandis later on. So I would say that, yes, definitely there are differences between South Asian and Anatolian Qalandars, but they have to do with the fact that they are essentially evolving in rather different cultural domains, and with the different political circumstances of the early modern era.

In your research on dervish masters, could you discern a particular link between ‘Ali or the family of the Prophet and the Qalandar, as I think is the case for La’l Shahbâz Qalandar?

Such a link is the case for all the dervishes that I am familiar with. That is not particular to La’l Shahbâz Qalandar, I would say. It is quite clear that the shaping of ‘dervish piety’ in general is clearly enveloped in a very special attachment to the family of the Prophet. Now, later on in Islamic history we have a tendency to associate this particular link only with the Shi’is. What we tend to forget is that especially until the 15th century, there is a lot of investment on the part of many Muslims into precisely this kind of attachment to what they consider to be the ‘fountain head’, the spring, the source of sanctity and sacredness in Islam. But certainly with the dervishes it is a clear move in their own minds and in the minds of their audiences to demonstrate their credentials as the true practitioners of Islam; to demonstrate that their close connection to the family of the Prophet is something that they are very clear about. This is one of the puzzles of the study of dervish piety. I still wouldn’t see this as necessarily peculiar to the Qalandaris.

Two ideas you develop echo in particular with my ethnological work. Could you explain the idea of islamization, with regard to the interaction between Islam and local society?

Generally my sense is that, as historians, we really should be extremely close observers of the local scene in order to really understand the ways in which people see themselves as Muslims or are seen by others as Muslims. But as historians, we have serious limitations in doing that. We could still be much more focused on local forms of life and on local forms of piety. The problem is that there are very few historical studies along this line. A new publication of collected essays in seven volumes was just published, called ‘A People’s History of Christianity’ (Horsley, Richard A., ed., 2005 Christian Origins. A People’s History of Christianity, Minneapolis: Fortress Press). This is a history of Christianity written not from the perspective of the church or from that of the authorities, nor of the theologians or the elites, but as we can see that history through the eyes of the people. We don’t have anything like that for Islam. With my research I contributed some things to such a project, but popular piety of the local type is really what needs our attention. What I mean by that is a sort of ethnographical history, we definitely need that focus.

Secondly, you insist on the distinction between Sufism and the cult of the saints at the beginning of Islam. Could you explain this idea, with regard to the origins of the cult of the saints?

On the one hand, we have a special mode of piety, a special form of religiosity, that developed among the urban middle class, an internalized form of piety that insisted on the need to explore within ourselves. But this can’t be a popular form of religiosity.

On the other hand, we begin to see what we call the cult of saints, just like in Christianity. These are popular cults that have nothing to do with Sufism. A local warrior or learned scholar dies, is buried, and then becomes the symbol of a particular village or town. And they all become automatically saints or a member of the family of the Prophet, whatever the reasons that led to sanctity. And sanctity is not confined to Sufism. So the idea is basically that these are developing as two separate phenomena: one is Sufism, the other is the cult of saints. But both flow into one another in a spectacular way, especially from the 5th Islamic century onwards. Eventually, many of the popular saints attempted to be or simply were Sufis. Analytically these are separate developments but they become completely interlinked with one another. And Sufism benefits greatly from this linkage.


Sufism: The Formative Period. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

God’s Unruly Friends: Dervish Groups in the Islamic Later Middle Period, 1200-1550. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994. Paperback reprint: Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

Vahidi’s Menakib-i Hvoca-i Cihan ve Netice-I Can: Critical Edition and Historical Analysis. Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures, 17; Turkish Sources, 15. Cambridge, Mass.: The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University, 1993.

Assistant Editor, The History of Cartography, Volume 2, Book 1, Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies. General editors J. B. Harley and David Woodward. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992 (awarded the R. R. Hawkins Award for Best Scholarly Book [1992] by the Association of American Publishers).

“Sufism,” in Voices of Islam, ed. Vincent J. Cornell. Praeger, 2007.

“Sufism,” in The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 5. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans and Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2007.

“Origins of Anatolian Sufism.” In Sufism and Sufis in Ottoman Society: Sources, Doctrine, Rituals, Turuq, Architecture, Literature and Fine Arts, Modernism, 67-95. Edited by Ahmet Yasar Ocak. Ankara: Turkish Historical Society, 2005.

“Early Sufism in Eastern Anatolia.” In Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi, 175-98. Ed-ited by Leonard Lewisohn. London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1994.

“Antinomian Dervish as Model Saint.” In Modes de transmission de la culture religieuse en Is-lam, 241-60. Edited by Hassan Elboudrari. Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1993.


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.

The Diwân-e Qalandar, introduced and translated by Mojan Membrado

Very little is known about the origin of the Diwân-e qalandar attributed to Sufi Saint La’l Shahbâz Qalandar who died in 1274 in Sehwan Sharif, in Sindh. The edition we used was compiled by Illahi Bakhsh and published at Sukkur in 1998. Unfortunately, the editor does not say a word on how this poetry came to him. He mentions that he was helped by scholars and mystics in translating Persian poetry into Sindhi language. He was mainly supported by the “gâdî nashîn of Sehwan of Sehwan Sharif”, Sayed Sadiq Ali Shah Sabzwari1.

The book appears to be a collection of poems stemming from popular oral tradition. It informs us on some features of the faith that prevailed in the context where it was collected. We chose to study an excerpt in order to identify some of these features.

The first poem of Diwân-e Qalandar is comprised of 26 pages (pp. 2-28) in the tarji’band style. Tarji’band is a poetic style in which all the sections of a poem are related to each other by the same couplet which appears systematically at the end of each section. This couplet – called tarji’ (in Arabic) or bargardân (in Persian) – is:

Heydariyam, qalandaram, mastam / bandeh-ye Mortezâ ‘Ali hastam”: “I am a Heydari, I am a Qalandar, I am intoxicated/ I am submissive to Mortezâ ‘Ali” (passim).

Heydari means “relating to Heydar”, “a follower of Heydar”. Heydar (“lion” in Arabic) is one of the nicknames of Ali. Mortezâ (“adequate”, “desirable”) in the second distich is another of his nicknames. Broadly speaking, Heydari refers to those who venerate Ali; but in its specific sense it is a reference to the Heydari order of dervishes2. This couplet is recited in sama’ gatherings (prayer assemblies accompanied with music, song and dance).

From a literary point of view the poem presents a myriad of spelling errors and inconsistencies in the poetry rhythm. As to its structure, it contains 40 sections. Each section is composed of four distiches and ends with the tarji’ couplet as mentioned before. In the first section the author says that since he has felt Ali’s love he has become a Qalandar and a Heydari (kamar andar qalandari bastam / az del-e pâk Heydari hastam). In the second section Ali is recognized as a vali (a friend of God and His representative)3 and in the third section as a theophany, mazhar allâh – the manifestation of God in the human body.

Asad allâh ham yad allâh ast / Vali allâh, mazhar allah ast / Hojjat allâh qodrat allâh ast / Bi nazir ou zât-e allâh ast”: “He is the God’s lion, God’s hand / God’s friend and representative, God’s manifestation / He is the proof of God and God’s power / There is nothing similar to him, he is God’s essence” (p. 2).

Considering Ali as the essence of God is an affirmation which transforms this poem to a highly antinomian text; as, for all Muslims God’s, essence is unique and imperceptible, nothing could be compared to it.

However, as shown in sections 4 and 5, those who scan this poem are indeed Muslims: in section 4 there are multiple references to the verses of the Koran and in section 5 a reference to the prophet of Islam who according to the author, approves of what is said in this poem about the status of Ali.

Section 6 refers to Noseyr (or Nosayr), a figure well-known to all “extremist” Shi’i orders. As we know, Noseyri is the name of a Shi’i order which is established in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, also known as Alawis. But the reference made to Noseyr and his followers (Noseyri) is not necessarily understood in relation to this order. According to a myth widespread in certain Shi’i communities, Noseyr was a slave of Ali and recognized the latter as God. As, according to Islamic belief, regarding a human being as God is heresy, Ali killed him. Then he remembered the promise he had made to Noseyr’s old mother who had asked him to protect his son and bring him back to her alive, so Ali restored Noseyr back to life. Once Noseyr was raised from his death, he told Ali: “if I had any doubt about your divinity, now that you brought me back to life I am more than sure that you are God”. Ali killed him again and this scenario repeated seven times. Then God ordered Ali to let Noseyr be: “I am the creator of the universe and I am God for all the creation, but I give permission to Noseyr and his followers to recognize you as God”4. In this poem we read “man Ali dânam, Ali gooyam / chon Noseyri keh bandeh-ye ouyam”: “I know Ali, I call Ali / like a Noseyri I am Ali’s slave” (p.6). Moreover in section 34 the name Noseyri is given to the faith described in the poem. “Chon Noseyri keh nâm dâram man / Ali vali allâh âshkâram man”: “As my name is Noseyri / the fact that Ali is a vali of God is obvious to me (or: As a Noseyri that I am / I claim obviously that Ali is the vali of God)” (p. 24).

Sections 7 and 8 are dedicated to Ali. In section 9 we read “Sarvar-e harkeh Mortezâ bâshad / Peyrov-e din-e Mostafâ bâshad”: “whoever takes Ali for his lord / Is a follower of the religion of the Prophet” (p. 6); and in the section 12 it is said that whoever is not a follower of Heydar (Heydari) is a non-believer, “Gheyr-e Heydari ham agar dâni / kâfari o yahûdi o nasrâni”: “If you believe in anything else but Heydar / You are a non-believer, a Jew, a Christian” (p. 8). We see here that in the author’s view any belief other than in Ali is considered useless.

Pages 10 to 20 (sections 13-28) are a praise to the ‘Fourteen Immaculate’ -Mohammad, Ali, Fâtemeh and their descendants the Shi’i imams. This part testifies the Duodeciman Shi’i feature of the author’s faith. In section 21, relating to Imam Kâzem, the seventh imam for duociman Shi’ies, there is a sudden aggressiveness. The author insults the enemies of this imam. It might be intended for the Shi’ites who do not recognize Kâzem as the seventh imam, e.g. the ismailians. “Doshman-e oust kâfar-e motlaq / beshno khâreji sag o ahmaq”: “His [Kâzem’s] enemy is an absolute non-believer / Listen you outsider!, you dog, you imbecile” (p. 14).

Some military features and a warrior spirit are observed in sections 30, 31 (pp. 20-21). “[…] Tabar-e Heydarist dar datam / Qâtel-e ân jami’ man hastam […]”: “I am bearing a Heydari axe / I am the killer of them all [all the enemies]”. The aggressiveness toward enemies mentioned in section 21 recurs in section 33, where the outsiders are addressed as dogs, idiots and imbeciles. Section 35 (p. 24) curses ibn Moljam (The assassin of Ali), ibn Ziyâd (the Governor of Kufa and one of the leaders of the army of Yazid during the battle of Karbala where Hosayn the third imam was martyred), ibn Khattâb (‘Omar, the second Caliph), Shemr (The assassin of Hoseyn).

Some parts of the poem are expressed enigmatically, using numbers instead of names. For example, in section 36 we read: “Yek sad o si o yek monâfeq dân / Si sad o dah ou movâfeq dân / shesh sad o shast o yek motâbeq dân / Yek sad o bist o haft fâseq dân”: “Consider the 131 as a hypocrite / Recognize 310 as an allies / 631 is adopted / 127 should be considered sinful” (p. 24). These numbers might be the names converted by the abjad5 system.

The identity of the author is acknowledged in the sections 38 and 40. “[…] manam Shahbâz bandeh-ye dargâhash […]”: “I am Shahbâz the slave of his threshold” (section 38, p. 26); “[…] manam ‘Othmân Marvandi bandeh-ye dargâhash […]”: “I am Othmân Marvandi², the slave of his threshold” (section 40, p. 28). However, comparing the literary quality of this text to some other poems attributed to Othman Marvandi6, one can conclude whether this text is his or not, and whether it has been distorted by oral transmission.

The study of this kind of dervish popular literature is nevertheless interesting because it informs us about a form of dervish piety and perhaps also be the manner in which Marvandi’s ideas were understood among popular layers of society.

  1. Dîwân-e qalandar, ed. by Illahi Bakhsh, Sukkur, p. VI. []
  2. This is more than a supposition, as we will see further (section 30, p. 20), the author affirms bearing a “Heydari axe” (tabar-e Heydari). Axe is an element of dervishes panoply. On Heydari order, see among others Mehmed Fuad Köprülü, Abdülbaki  Gölpinarli and Ahmet Yashar Ocak. []
  3. For more details on the meaning and the impact of this codified status in shi’ism see Amir-Moezzi, “Notes à propos de la Walâya Imamite (Aspects de l’Imâmologie Duodécimaine, X).” Journal of American Oriental Society, 2002, 122(4), 722-741. []
  4. For the full version of this story see Hâjj Ne’matollâh Jeyhûnâbâdi, Shâhnâmeh-ye Haqiqat, Tehran, 1984. []
  5. The Abjad numerals are a decimal numeral system in which the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet are assigned numerical values. The Abjad numbers are used to assign numerical values to Arabic words for purposes of numerology. For example the word “Allâh” ا has a numeric value of 66 (1+30+30+5). []
  6. Sheykh Othmân Marvandi (d. 1274) known as “La’l Shahbâz Qalandar” is a Muslim mystic of the Indian subcontinent. His other nicknames are “Seyf al-lesân”, “Shams al-din”, “Makhdoom”, “Mahdi” and more but he generally used “Othmân” or “Shahbâz” as his pen name. According to some sources he was a Qâderi dervish. Other sources designate him as the founder of the Qalandari Shahbâzi order (See for example: ‘Affân Saljouq, Bâ la’l Shahbâz beraqsim, Heydarâbâd: Khâneh-ye Farhang-e Iran). []

Book review: Five days and nights in Sehwan by Jürgen Wasim Frembgen

Jürgen Wasim Frembgen, Am Schrein des roten Sufi. Fünf Tage und Nächte auf Pilgerfahrt in Pakistan, Arles, Frauenfeld, Waldgut Verlag, 2008, 165 p.

The book by J. W. Frembgen, ethnologist Curator of the East State Museum of Ethnology in Munich, is a travel journal about five days and nights spent in Sehwan pilgrimage in 2002. Served by an excellent knowledge of Islam in Pakistan – since 1981 – and by the acuity of his observations, Frembgen’s book is a pleasant and colourful story, well done and well written. The bravura that retains the reader’s attention are the humorous stories of travelling by train from Lahore, and numerous portraits of the protagonists he met: pîrs, malangs, dancers, beggars, professional photographers, pilgrims from all persuasion, Shiite, Sunni, Hindu. The attention to material culture in general and to the “daily life” outside the usual daily life that is the pilgrimage is remarkable in its detail: the exhaustion of the pilgrim, how to drink a cup of tea, sleep under tent of pilgrims or how to urinate against a wall, close combat during the visit of the tomb or in shopping streets, spitting red betel brown or chewing tobacco, the movement of hashish or opium, showers at hairdressers. A real pedagogical concern led Frembgen to insert here and there some hagiographic stories or an explanation for the lay reader – for whom the book is basically designed. Therefore he explains how hagiographic stories circulate, the presence of many Hindus in the melâ, the liturgical rhythms of melâs, dances and trances practiced.

Some claims unfairly generalize the Indo-Pakistani Islam case to Islam in general, for example by taking shots at Kipling’s or Guenon’s styles on the materialistic West facing Mystical East (= India? The Islam?) – an opposition that the strong tensions within Pakistani Islam which is highlighted at the very end of the book itself. Frembgen seems more relevant when he said that the devotees of Sehwan are neither Islamic nor secular Muslims, and probably nothing that clearly corresponds to the inadequate categories of sociologists of religion. The book has also, inevitably, the look of a very “West Germany” German, very attentive to the ecology and highlights what is most interesting for him. He focuses on the “body” in the pilgrimage sometimes at the expense of proper spiritual aspects on which the book is ultimately more allusive. But incorporated religion is indeed the major characteristic of all pilgrimages.

One will enjoy reading a lively and successful book designed in the tradition of a certain German ethnographic culture that is carefully and thoroughly descriptive, and a long growing culture of the Wanderer that is renewed by globalization and which has been recently illustrated by the travel writings of an another well-known author, Wolfgang Büscher. Immersed into another world, Schrein Am roten Sufi can benefit a wide audience, not only to those who love Sehwan.

Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen (INALCO, Paris)

Other publications

Journey to God. Sufis and Dervishes in Islam, OUP, Karachi, 2009.

The Friends of God – Sufi Saints in Islam. Popular Poster Art from Pakistan, OUP, Karachi, 2006.

“Divine Madness and Cultural Otherness: Diwânas and Faqîrs in Northern Pakistan”, South Asia Research, 26: 235-248, 2006.

“From Dervish to Saint: Constructing Charisma in Contemporary Pakistani Sufism”, The Muslim World, 94/2: 245-257, 2004.

“Religious Folk Arts as an Expression of Identity: Muslim Tombstones in the Gangar Mountains of Pakistan”, in Muqarnas XV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, Gülru Necipoglu (ed.), Leiden: E.J. Brill, 200-210, 1998.

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.