Tag Archives: Sehwan Sharif

Interview with Kishwar Rizvi, 2010

Kishwar Rizvi is Assistant Professor of Islamic Art History and Islamic Architecture at Yale University. She has recently completed a book: The Safavid Dynastic Shrine: History, religion and architecture in early modern Iran (London: British Institute for Persian Studies, I. B. Tauris, 2010). Dr Rizvi co-edited with Sandy Isenstadt another book, Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and politics in the twentieth century (University of Washington Press, 2008). During her visit to Paris in December 2009, Annabelle Collinet (Louvre Museum), interviewed her about her work and projects.

Can you tell us first about your background and how did you come to work on this field?

I am an architect and art historian, with an interest in issues of religion, gender and nationalism in the art and architecture. My primary research areas are Iran and Pakistan, with current projects in the United Arab Emirates. My research moves between the early modern period of the ‘great’ empires of 16th and 17th Turkey, Iran, and India, to contemporary cultures of the modern Middle East and South Asia.

I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and came to the United States for Bachelors, Masters, and eventually PhD degrees. During these times, I practiced also as an artist and an architect. Although my recent scholarship has focused on Iran, I have been documenting and photographing architectural sites in Sindh, Pakistan, for many years. Of particular interest to me are shrines and funerary architecture, as found in Makli, Sehwan, and Bhit Shah.

What was your first fieldwork experience?

I have conducted fieldwork in Iran since 1994. My focus has been on Sufi and Shi`i shrines for the 16th and 17th centuries, that is, the Safavid period. My first project in Iran was the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, the ideologue of the Iranian revolution. I was interested in the manner in which historical form, such as the tradition shrine type, merged with modern concerns of nationalism and popular culture. I did research for my PhD dissertation on the shrine of the Sufi Shaykh, Safi al-din Ishaq Ardabili, the founder of the Safaviyya order.

What sort of research methodology did you develop at that time?

The primary focus of my research have been the shrines of Shaykh Safi al-din Ishaq in Ardabil (northwest Iran), Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad, and that of his sister, Fatima Masuma in Qum. In my methodology, I depend on close historical analysis of chronicles from the 16th and 17th centuries, illustrated manuscripts, literary texts, as well as European travelogues. I am particularly interested in asking how architecture, as a functional space, also performs as a symbolic site for the enactment of the rituals of piety and imperial ideology. Combining the formal with the phenomenal, one may reach a better understanding of the religious and cultural contexts of a period, in this case, Safavid Iran. I also study, as comparanda, religious and imperial representations in Ottoman Turkey and Mughal India.

As a native of Karachi, you have visited very often the Sufi shrines of Sindh in Southern Pakistan. What did you find particularly appealing about Sehwan Sharif?

I am particularly interested in shrines such as that of Sehwan, because of the access they allow for women. Such is not the case in other spaces, such as mosques, in most Muslim countries. Sehwan also holds a very special place for me on a personal, as well as professional, level. I have visited it since I was a child, and have always been fascinated by the dynamism of the site – as a place of both communal and religious activities. In fact, much of my academic research has been driven by questions first formed in Sehwan; for example, how does one study an architectural monument that is constantly changing and evolving, in form and meaning? What is the role of Sufism in contemporary Pakistani society, and how does the shrine institution augment that role? What are the particularities of Sehwan’s ‘ecstatic’ tradition of Sufism, and how do they affect the way in which the shrine is used and understood? How can we describe the phenomenal qualities of the space? What medium would best capture that dynamism – text, music, photography – and what can the architectural historian contribute to that understanding?

In sum your experience of Sehwan Sharif played an important role in your trajectory. Can you elaborate more about the relationships existing between gender and architecture at the mausoleum of La`l Shahbâz Qalandar? What were the major conclusions of your study at Sehwan?

The shrine of La`l Shahbâz Qalandar maintains what would be considered the ishrâqî tradition of Sufism and, as the rituals and ceremonial evinces, an ‘ecstatic’ mode. By that I mean that the weekly dhammâl in the courtyard (the beating of the ritual drums, qawwâlî, and dancing) creates a space that is phenomenal and also illusionary. In my research I was intrigued by how women’s bodies inhabit the shrine, and how their particular designation (for example, ‘young girl’, ‘prostitute’, ‘transvestite’ and so on) could be codified through architecture and ritual. One of the insights was that the shrine is gendered space, and yet the idea of gender becomes unstable through the complex social and spatial negotiations that take place in it. Indeed, the rituals and dance within ‘powerful’ spaces such as the courtyard and tomb enclosure alter and subvert the male/female dichotomy.

Since your childhood you visited Sehwan. What major changes did you notice in terms of urban architecture?

This is a difficult question, and one that my sociologist and urban historian colleagues can answer better. However, I did see that the shrine is much cleaner and under closer management. My first impression was that the institution has become more commercial and tourism has increased, but I suspect that has always been a factor for popular pilgrimage sites such as this.

How did your experience of Sehwan contributed to your understanding of other sites, ie the mausoleum of Khomeini and others?

There are multiple ways in which the experience at Sehwan continues to inform my research, both in the context of sixteenth-century shrines in Iran and contemporary religious architecture elsewhere in the Middle East and South Asia. It teaches us to think more deeply about spaces for women in Islamic society, the political and ideological power of religion, and, perhaps most interestingly, the phenomenological experience of architecture through rituals of devotion.

More on Kishwar Rizvi

“Image of Man, Vision of the Divine: Illustrated Assembly of Lovers manuscripts in 16th-century Iran,” lecture at the workshop, “Troubling Images: Some Cross-cultural reflections,” sponsored by the Religious Studies department at Yale University, May 2010.

“Sites of Pilgrimage and Objects of Devotion,” chapter on the great shrines at Ardabil, Qum and Mashhad, for Shah ‘Abbas: The Remaking of Iran, edited by Sheila Canby, (London: British Museum

Press), publication accompanying exhibition at the British Museum, 2009.

“Locating Architecture, Gender and Ritual at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan,” on the panel “Boundaries of Sacred Space: How “Public” and “Private” Come into Being,” at the biannual conference of the American Council for Southern Asian Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, lecture, March 2007.

“Religious Icon and National Symbol: The Tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran,” Muqarnas: Journal of Islamic Art and Architecture, vol. 20, 2003.

 

MA dissertation: De-centering Devotion in Sehwan Sharif

Omar F. Kasmani, De-centering Devotion: The Complex Subject of Sehwan Sharif, MA thesis in Anthropology, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, 27 September 2009.

“Anthropological studies on ritual in South Asia have tended to emphasize an all-pervasiveness of the sacred so much so, it is alleged, that the non-sacred is rendered nonexistent. As a consequence, the “devotee” is imagined as a homogenous subject constituted under a unitary desire for submissive devotion. Complicating essentialist portrayals of the South Asian subject, the aim of this research is to situate multiple desires including devotion amongst shrine-goers at Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan.

The central framework of this study is informed by Ewing’s idea of “multiple subjective modalities”. Data from the field has been co-constructed in the researcher’s interaction with subjects in and around the shrine. By speaking of personal narratives, conflicts and motivations, the four primary and several secondary informants have illustrated a shared nexus of desires and subject positions; finding themselves at the forefront of various ideological battles, shrine-goers dexterously hold, respond to, associate with, and shift between, a number of subject positions.

The evidence for polyvocal subjects at the shrine of La`l Shahbâz Qalandar as documented in this research makes a case for a more complex exploration of ritual practitioners’ desires. In other words, by situating, at the level of the individual, an intersection of conflicting desires, it is argued, that shrine-goers operate, and in fact oscillate between, “multiple subjective modalities”.”

Keywords: subject/subjectivity, devotion, desire, Sehwan, shrine, shrine-goers

Workshop on Sehwan, 27 January 2009, CEIAS-EHESS

Plurality of sources and interdisciplinary approach:

A case study of Sehwan Sharif in Sindh

Maison de l’Asie, Grand Salon (1st floor), 22 avenue du Président Wilson, 75016 Paris

 

As part of activity of the research team “History and Sufism in the Indus Valley” (CEIAS), led by Michel Boivin, a workshop will be held on 27 January 2009 at the EHESS in Paris. Several members of this team will focus on how to integrate the plurality of sources in comparison with the interdisciplinary approach of a Sufi pilgrimage, that of Sehwan Sharif located in the region of Sindh in Southern Pakistan. Beginning on the work of the French Archaeological Mission in Sindh (1989-2002), different sets of research materials will be presented by the speakers: epigraphical sources, colonial archives, cartographic representations, vernacular sources, etc. If the primary objective of this workshop is to make an inventory of sources and materials collected, and eventually to compose a typology by disciplines, it also aims at multiplying angles of approach to a specific site, between local history and regional history. At the end of the day, a brief account of the field mission in October 2008 will be presented and commented, as well as various parallel projects around issues of data management and sharing (archiving and cataloging, GIS, website).

Programme

9h30: Opening remarks by Michel Boivin, CNRS

Morning session

Chair: Véronique Bouiller (CNRS)

10h-10h30: Monique Kervran (CNRS), The archaeology of Sindh and Sehwan Sharif: the work of the French Archaeological Mission in Sindh

10h30-11h: Annabelle Collinet (Louvre Museum), Sehwan Sharif through the study of ceramics: 2nd-8th until 11th-17th centuries

Coffee break

11h15-11h45: Claude Markovits (CNRS), Sindh through colonial archives

11h45-12h15: Reza Dehghan (University of Aix-Marseille), Sindh and commercial trade between India and Baghdad

Afternoon session

Archives at the Mukhtyarkar office in Sehwan

Chair: Christophe Z. Guilmoto (IRD)

14h-14h30: Johanna Blayac (EPHE), Epigraphy and architecture in Sehwan and southern Sindh

14h30-15h00: Rémy Delage (CNRS), Sehwan Sharif and Sindh represented cartographically

Tea break

15h-15h50: Michel Boivin (CNRS), La’l Shahbâz Qalandar through vernacular sources; Annabelle Collinet (Louvre Museum): Commentary on the Qalandar’s begging bowl (kishtî)

15h50-16h20: Frédérique Pagani (Paris X-Nanterre), Studying the Sindhis in India

16h20-17h: Michel Boivin (CNRS) and Rémy Delage (CNRS), Brief account of the field mission in 2008, Parallel projects and Mission in Sehwan Sharif 2009

 

Interview with Monik Kervran, 2008

Monik Kervran, a researcher at CNRS, headed the French Archaeological Mission in Sindh (MAFS) between 1989 and 2002. We interviewed her in October 2008 to reconstruct the scientific itinerary that led her from the Persian Gulf to the Indus Valley and the region of Sindh, specifically the site of Sehwan Sharif.

On the excavation site, Sehwan Sharif

Can you describe us the steps that led you to open new sites of excavation in the Indus Valley?

In the 1970s the Persian Gulf opened up to scientific expeditions from the West, including archaeologists, iranologists and islamologists. At that time, the scientific challenge was to deepen our knowledge of commercial activities between the Arab and Iranian coast. Trade with Asia, India and China, was also a field to be studied, in particular the period from antiquity to the Islamization of the Indian subcontinent. When I did excavation in Bahrain and Oman, I was intrigued by the strong presence of a very special sort of ceramic, which is red and strongly micaceous. Following this discovery, I decided to find the export ports of this ceramic, which led me on the side of the Indus Valley.

The common thread running through your scientific route is the presence of these red glazed tiles, so you wanted to discover its origins.

Yes indeed. During a private trip in Sindh in 1987 or 1988, I was quickly fascinated by the presence of red glazed tiles in the oldest ports that we could find, that of Barbariké/Daybul now called Banbhore. We dated it between 400-300 BC and 950-1000 AD.

Is it there that you opened the first excavation site of the MAFS?

No, not at all. In fact, after negotiations between France and the Government of Sindh for the opening of an archaeological excavation site, an agreement was reached and the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs was ready to finance the project. But in 1989, when we arrived in Pakistan to begin the excavation, the new Director of Antiquities in Karachi did not agree that we work in Banbhore, ostensibly for security reasons. We finally started our excavation work at Ratto Kot (see map), an outpost of Banbhore located fifteen kilometers downstream. Between 1989 and 1995, the MAFS was principally interested in this outpost and then in a second port, the Juna Shah Bandar or Lahori Bandar, mentioned in written sources from the 10th century. During this mission, six ports were discovered in the lower Indus Valley, but only some of them were excavated.

What have you learned from this first campaign of the MAFS?

The excavation of these two ports has helped us to highlight the mechanism with which ships were cleared for entry into Sindh. Such a device was also described by a source dating from the 16th century. But this system met its match when faced with more important invaders, for instance the Arab armies who conquered Daybul and Sindh in 711 or the Portuguese invasions of the 16th century. Having no reference study, we had problems dating the ancient and medieval ceramics. So we had to find a new site in order to have a stratigraphic reference, necessary for the calibration and timing of our samples found in the Indus Valley. After an initial refusal by the authorities (1994) to open an excavation site in the city of Hyderabad, again for security problems, we obtained the necessary permits for the site of Sehwan Sharif.

Why did you particularly choose the site of Sehwan Sharif?

Firstly, this city, which had suffered the invasion of Alexander in 325 BC and of British troops in the 1840s, had the advantage of having a tell overlooking the city and separated from it by a ditch. The site had never been excavated and archaeological layers were clearly visible. The first sounding, from the top of the tell up to the initial layer, that is more than twenty meters sounding, delivered vital information. Seven phases of cultural occupation of the city were made clear and were easily interpretable, from the 4th century BC until the 16th century AD. Finally, we were able to draw up the necessary stratigraphic reference for dating the sites discovered in the Indus delta. This has also delivered a number of clues allowing a better understanding of the history of the city and the region. For instance, we found confirmed that in the 13th century, when the city fell under the thumb of the Delhi Sultans, the tell became essentially a garrison and local people occupied the southern part of the fortress. The stratigraphic reference from Sehwan Sharif between 1996 and 2002 allowed us to put forward many other hypothesis for historical research. The opening of another site in the town of Sehwan itself would have enabled us to look for signs of more ancient urbanization.

More on Monik Kervran

Monique Kervran (2005), “Pakistan. Mission Archéologique Française au Sud-Sind”, Archéologies. 20 ans de recherches françaises dans le monde, MAE, Maisonneuve et Larose/ADPF-ERC, pp. 595-598.

Monique Kervran (1996), “Le port multiple des bouches de l’Indus: Barbariké, Dêb, Daybul, Lâhorî Bandar, Diul Sinde”, Res Orientales, VIII, pp. 45-92.

Monique Kervran (1993) “Vanishing medieval cities of the northwest Indus delta”, Pakistan Archaeology, 28, pp. 3-54.

Monique Kervran (1992), “The fortress of Ratto Kot at the mouth of the Banbhore River (Indus delta, Sindh, Pakistan)”, Pakistan Archaeology, 27, pp. 143-170.