Tag Archives: Sehwan Sharif

Two new articles on Sufism in Sindh and India

Claveyrolas, M. et Delage, R., eds (2016) Territoires du religieux dans les mondes indiens. Parcourir, mettre en scène, franchir. Editions de l’EHESS (coll. Purusartha 34), Paris, 339 p.

In this book dealing with religions and its territories in South Asia and beyond, two articles (French language) focus on Sindh and Sindhis. The first one is about Sufism in Sehwan Sharif (by Rémy Delage) and the second  one about Sindhi Hindus settled in India (by Michel Boivin): Continue reading Two new articles on Sufism in Sindh and India

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

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). []

A photo exhibition by Omar Kasmani, Paris, CEIAS-EHESS

The red between black and white

Special photo exhibition, EHESS, main hall

15 September-15 October 2010

MIFS, All rights reserved

Omar Kasmani, a PhD student in Social Anthropology at Freie Universität (Berlin), is also an artist and photographer. We are very thankful to him that he accepted to contribute while featuring a photo exhibition: “The reMIFS, All rights reservedd between black and white” (see posters).

He chose images capturing the various aspects of Sehwan Sharif in Sindh, including people (faqîrs, ascetics, women and eunuchs), events (`urs, muharram), as well as ritual practices (dhammâl, charagi, ghusl) and ceremonies (nawchandi, rajabi). Around 30 photographs, mixing coloured images with black and white photos, were displayed in the main hall of the EHESS during the conference and for several weeks afterwards.

The artist’s statement is:

“My work questions the ‘black and white’ images of the ‘practising’ Muslim. Devoid of nuances, it is often imagined in contrasting tropes of uncritical submission to, or outright rejection of, religious tradition. Practices at the shrine of the ‘red’ saint in southern Pakistan highlight an inventive vocabulary of negotiation between local devotion and translocal agency giving rise to new forms of religiosity. Far from constructions of a fixed, homogenous and universal Islam, referred to invariably in the singular, with the capital I, my encounters in Sehwan sharif reveal the dynamic, heterogenous and plural capacities of ‘lived islams’.”

Some of the photos displayed at the exhibition can be consulted on the author’s website.


MA dissertation: Interdisciplinarity and Research in Social Sciences

Sohail Bawani, Integrating Interdisciplinarity in research and teaching/learning at higher educational level in Pakistan: exploring the case of Sehwan Interdisciplinary Project (SIP), MA thesis in Sociology, University of Karachi , 20 July 2010.

“This qualitative case study seeks to explore ways of integrating interdisciplinarity at the higher educational level in Pakistan, with special reference to illustrate viable moves for policy and practices in the area of research and teaching/learning. With this aim, this research provides an indepth analysis of the Sehwan Interdisciplinary Project (SIP) as a case in action of integrating interdisciplinarity to draw key empirical insights for theory and practice in Pakistani academia.

The research focuses on examining the meaning, nature, processes and challenges of integrating interdisciplinarity in the Sehwan Interdisciplinary Project (SIP) through its team members. The research finds that interdisciplinarity is an evolving process than a fixed construct: from its multi/pluridisciplinary phase to its full-grown interdisciplinary stage. The nature of  interdisciplinarity within the SIP is a sort of disciplinary enrichment. In this case, each discipline explores and extracts from plurality of disciplinary sources to address the research problematic. In this regard, SIP had gone through a number of processes, procedures and related challenges to integrate such dynamics at the level of meaning and nature into the Project.

Lastly, while analyzing the following recommendations from SIP team members, the research provides useful insights for integrating interdisciplinarity at the higher educational level in Pakistan: (a) rethinking the conception of knowledge in the Pakistani academia; (b) seeking national interdisciplinary research initiatives, knowledge production and dissemination practices; (c) harnessing interdisciplinary research in social sciences by seeking cross cultural/institutional collaborations; (d) developing intradisciplinary/departmental synergies through creating new objects of inquiries; and (e) institutionalizing interdisciplinarity at macro and micro levels in higher education.”

Keywords: knowledge process, interdisciplinarity, multi/pluridisciplinary, integration, procedures, challenges, social sciences, teaching/learning, research, higher education, policy and practice

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.

PhD thesis: Material Culture from Southern Pakistan

Annabelle Collinet, Through Ceramics: Sindh and Islam. Material Culture from Southern Pakistan, 2nd-12th centuries AH/ 8th-18th centuries AD. PhD thesis in Archaeology, University of Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne, 22 MArch 2010.

“This dissertation introduces an unpublished material on ceramics, coming from the archaeological researches of the MAFS (The French Archaeological Mission in Sindh) directed by Monique Kervran from 1989 to 2002. The ceramics studied were found during the excavations of the Sehwan Sharif fortress in Central Sindh, the excavations of the port establishments of Lahori Bandar and Ratto Kot, and during the surveys of 23 sites in the Indus delta. This material led to drawing a first chronological sequence of ceramics from Sindh, from the early Islamic period (8th century) to the Moghol era. Besides this chronological view the study of this ceramic material also deals with the technologies of the ceramic wares, and the questions of their production, distribution and commercial exchanges. Ceramics from Sindh of the Islamic period are characterized by the combinations of common red wares with painted red wares, stamped and moulded red wares ; by grey and black wares and by glazed wares. These types are inherited from very ancient regional traditions, belong to the Indian cultural area and lastly, belong to the specific ceramic culture of Islam with the use of glazed wares.”

Keywords: Sindh, ceramic, ceramology, archaeology, excavations, surveys, Sehwan Sharif, Lahori Bandar, India, Islamic period.