Transnationalism and Regional Cults, a paper by Pnina Werbner

Transnationalism and Regional Cults:

The Dialectics of Sufism in the Plurivocal Muslim World

 

Pnina Werbner

Keele University

May 2009

 

You can download the whole paper at the bottom of this page.

 

Introduction: the Problem of Comparison in Sufi Orders

I have been thinking for some time about the possibility of comparing Sufi orders, conceived of as focused, central place organizations, as they exist in different parts of the Muslim world. The challenge is, as I see it, how to formulate a set of analytical concepts to create a theoretical approach that encompasses Sufi ritual and religious movement, and which can be applied to Sufi practice in geographically distant geographical locations, from North Africa in the West to Pakistan and Indonesia in the East. I stress practice as against Sufi cosmology or poetry, since my aim is to understand the sociological and economic dimensions of Sufi orders.

Of course, it cannot be taken for granted in advance that comparison is a valid project. Superficially, even in a single locality, there is an enormously wide range of types and styles of Sufi shrines and saints, from major shrines of great antiquity, managed by descendants of the original saintly founder and guardians of his tomb, to minor saints with a highly localised clientele (see Troll 1989; Werbner and Basu 1998). The question is: if even in a single locality, shrines differ markedly, how much more so if we try to compare, for example, Sufi orders in Pakistan and Indonesia? In the following discussion, I highlight key analytical terms that I believe are crucial for a comparative account of Sufi orders.

One problem in the project of comparison I am proposing has to do with language. In parts of the Muslim world there appears to be a reluctance to use the analytic armoury of concepts developed elsewhere. Hence, Indonesian scholars, for example, prefer to use vernacular concepts to describe the ritual and organisational practices of Sufi orders, and this then leads a description of these cults that seems to imply that they are quite different from Sufi orders and cult practices in Pakistan, for example, or Morocco. One challenge, then, in the project of comparison is to begin to disentangle the meanings of vernacular terms in order to be able to explore if comparison is, firstly, possible and second, where difference lies. I began this project when I undertook a reanalysis of research on Sufi orders in Indonesia, which seemed to expose many unacknowledged areas of possible comparison between Indonesia, Pakistani and North African Sufi orders and the cults they generate (Werbner 2008). While it had been recognised in Indonesian studies that the ideas of Sufi theosophy were shared with the rest of the Muslim world, rituals practices seemed quite different. My reanalysis highlighted aspects of the cults that were described but left untheorised by south-east Asian scholars.

Key Terms

Broadly speaking, charting the differences and similarities between Sufi orders as embodied traditions requires attention beyond mystical-philosophical and ethical ideas, to the ritual performances and religious organisational patterns that shape Sufi orders and cults in widely separated locations. We need, in other words, to seek to understand comparatively four interrelated symbolic complexes: first, the sacred division of labour – the ritual roles that perpetuate and reproduce the cult; second, the sacred exchanges between places and persons, often across great distances; third, the sacred region, its catchment area and the sanctified central places that shape it; and fourth, the sacred indexical events – the rituals – that co-ordinate and revitalise organisational and symbolic unities and enable managerial and logistical planning and decision-making. Comparison requires that we examine the way in which these four dimensions of ritual sanctification and performance are linked, and are embedded in a particular symbolic logic and local environment.

I begin with an example from my own research. The Sufi cult I studied in Pakistan (P. Werbner 2003), was in many senses remarkably similar organisationally to other, non-Muslim regional cults and pilgrimage systems elsewhere (for examples, see R. Werbner 1977).  It also fitted the model of Sufi order cults analysed by Trimingham (1971), which was mainly based on his extensive knowledge of Sufi orders in the Middle East and Africa.

During his lifetime, Zindapir, founder of the Sufi order of the saint I studied, established a lodge that extended globally: to Britain and Europe, the Middle East and even South Africa. Emerging as a saint during the 1940s, in the dying days of Empire, Zindapir began his career as an army tailor contractor for the seventh Baluch regiment, and his cult membership expanded through the recruitment of state employees, in this case soldiers and army personnel. These in turn recruited members of their families and, when they retired to civilian life, their co-villagers or townsmen. The cult expanded further as these soldiers went to work as labour migrants in the Gulf or Britain. Disciples were also recruited from among the stream of supplicants coming to the lodge to seek blessings and remedies for their afflictions from the saint, and from among casual visitors curious to see the saint and lodge itself, a place renown for its beauty. Some disciples joined the cult after meeting Zindapir or his vicegerents on the annual Hajj to Mecca. Such recruitment chains form network clusters whose members share either occupational or geographical proximity (or both).

Zindapir’s disciples met regularly to perform zikr at the lodge branches of the order, located throughout Pakistan. They gathered at the central lodge of Zindapir weekly, monthly, and in most cases, annually, at the ‘urs, the three-day ritual festival commemorating the mystical ‘marriage’ of a deceased saint with God. Some pilgrims arrived for the festival as individuals, but most came in convoys of trucks and buses from established branches, travelling in some cases for over 24 hours. The sacred exchange at the cult centre was extensive: the groups arrived bearing with them sacrificial offerings of grain, butter and animals. They returned bearing gifts from the saint – gowns or caps, and in some instances, the sacred soil of the lodge itself. During their three-day stay at the ‘urs, all the participants were fed and nurtured by the saint himself. The hundreds of beasts sacrificed, the hundreds of thousands of baked chappatis and nans, the enormous cauldrons of sweet and pilau rice distributed during the ‘urs, feed some 30,000 people over three days, a major logistical challenge. But the saint also feeds pilgrims to the lodge throughout the year, in what may be conceived of as a form of perpetual sacrifice. The lodge itself has been built with voluntary labour in the name of God, usually in the weeks preceding the annual ‘urs. The crowds depart following the final du‘a, the supplicatory prayer enunciated by the saint himself on behalf of the whole community.

This annual celebration at a saint’s lodge or shrine is known in South Asia as the ‘urs. In North Africa it is known as mawlid. It commemorates the death/rebirth of a saint, the moment of his unification or marriage with Allah. The ‘urs is the organisational hub of sufi saints’ cults. The festival gathers together individual supplicants and pilgrims alongside organised groups of devotees and disciples who visit the festival annually and cultivate a special relationship to the saint and the Sufi tariqa or order he founded. These groups or congregations often travel great distances to attend the annual ritual. They frequently come from different linguistic, ethnic and even religious groups. Although the celebration marks the high point of the year, it cannot be understood apart from the more enduring links that constitute the organisation of the order.

[…]

You can download and read the whole paper here: WERBNER Paris Transnationalism and Regional Cults

PhD thesis: Inventories of historic towns in Sindh

Anila Naeem, Recognising historic significance using inventories: a case of historic towns in Sindh, Pakistan, Joint Center for Urban Design – Oxford Brook, 16 November 2009.

“This research deals with two connected problems in the context of Sindh, the south-eastern parts of Pakistan: the lack of adequate and flexible methods for assessing urbanized historic traditions, and the lack of knowledge and understanding for these. Addressing both issues, the research aims at developing methods for assessing historic built form traditions in the region, using its historic towns as case studies. This research derives its frame of reference by combining methods of historical urban geography and urban morphology, with principles of urban area conservation, to study the historic urban traditions in Sindh, and identify their value of significance as not only important historic sources, but also as economic and environmental assets of the region.

The defined objectives of research are achieved through investigations at two levels – regional and town. The regional level work develops a historicogeographic map of Sindh identifying the significance historic urban centers and presents their typo-morphological analysis. The town scale research develops a method for systematic documentation and inventory of historic places, and presents a method for analysis and evaluation to reinstate their significance and guide the development of effective policies and proposals for a possible revival of historic urban centers. The process of research involves a literature review on the history and background of the region and its case study towns. It further builds research data through inductive field research to develop a comprehensive documentation of the case study town. The outcomes of the research indicate a rich and unique urban fabric that represents socio-economic, political and cultural developments of the region. In addition, it represents a historic urban environment shaped through local building traditions and materials that developed in response to the climatic and environmental conditions in the region. The present state of affairs, as evident from the research outcomes, points towards an urgent need for conservation initiatives to ensure the survival of this historic built fabric into the future.

Historic towns of Sindh have never been surveyed or documented methodically in order to build inventories of historic places. The absence of effective implementation tools added by threatening development pressures, jeopardize survival of the historic built environments. There is thus an urgent need to identify and document the existing historic fabric and develop viable policies for their preservation; ensuring economic sustainability for the communities involved and allowing management of natural and environmental resources to achieve a balanced growth and development in the region.”

Keywords: inventory, documentation, historic urban centers, Sindh, Shikarpoor, Pakistan, conservation policy guidelines

 

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

 

More infos

http://www.manoharbooks.com

Preprint version

http://gtarabout.free.fr/pdf/Preprint_Introduction_Territory.pdf

 

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)

References

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.

 

Three panjrâs of Udero Lâl, translated by Charu P. Gidwani

Uderolal and the panjrâs

 

 

A representation of Uderolal on a booklet

 

 

 

Uderolâl, also known as Jhulelal, is God to some Sindhi-Hindu believers. Legend has it that Uderolâl was born as saviour of the people of Thatta in Sindh. The people here felt helpless when faced with the atrocities of the Muslim ruler Mirkshah who forced them to follow Islam. They offered prayers at the banks of river Sindhu (Indus). Uderolâl was an answer to their prayers. For the Sindhi-Hindus in India, He has become an important mark of identity; especially because they were forced to leave Sindh due to the Partition of India. Sindh is now in Pakistan. Jhulelal offers a distinct mark of identity to the community in India.

The panjrâs of Jhulelal are prayers sung to the glory of Jhulelal. It is the panjrâs that add to the liveliness of the bairanas, a festive occasion to offer prayers and thanksgiving to Jhulelal. The crowd gathered for the occasion, colourfully dressed, sing loudly the panjrâs to the beat of musical instruments. Of these the dhol, a kind of drum, is the most important. Another important instrument is the earthen pot, which is turned upside down and tapped rhythmically. Devotees accompany the music with their claps. As the force of the music and singing catches on devotees also start dancing.

About the translator

Charu P. Gidwani holds a PhD from Pune University, May 2004, Depiction of Childhood in the Works of Rabindranath Tagore. She is the daughter of a Sindhi linguist and lexicographer, Dr Parso J. Gidwani. She has inherited her love for Sindh and Sindhi from him. She teaches English Literature at RKT College, affiliated to the Mumbai University.

1. O my Jhulelal Sain

Mounted on a blue* horse, my Lal Sain
Riding a pallo* fish, my Lal Sain
Makes every Sindhi prosper, my Lal Sain
Makes us carry offerings* every year, my Lal Sain
Makes us keep bairanas*, fulfils all our wishes, my
Lal Sain
He is the true glory of Sindhunagar*, my Lal Sain
Ferries* everyone across, my Lal Sain
Fulfils hopes of devotees, my Lal Sain
At your feet, all bow their heads,
My Lal Sain, O my Lal Sain

Source: Anonymous panjra, Jhulelal Ji Mahima, second edition, April 2008, edited by Kavi Bharat (Bhagat) Bhatya, p. 14.

Glossary

blue: blue colour is the colour of gods, it represents divinity in the Hindu religion.

pallo: a kind of a fish that belongs to the clupa ilisha genre. Legend has it that Jhulelal, referred here as ‘Lal Sain’, had this fish for his vehicle. A special feature of this fish is that it swims against the current.

offerings: offerings to Jhulelal are made in pots, these are then immersed in a river or flowing water, after the bairana is
over.

bairana: it is an occasion to worship, offer prays, offer thanks to Jhulelal. One of the most important times of bairana is conducted is on Cheti Chand, the time, in March, marking the birth of Jhulelal. This is also the Sindhi New
Year.

Sindhunagar: This is the proposed name for Ulhasnagar, a place of British horse-stables converted to a camp for Sindhi
refugees. Literally, ‘Sindhunagar’ means ‘settlement of Sindhis’.

ferries everyone across: in Hinduism very often life is compared to an ocean. Faith in God, and God alone, can carry a human being safely across this ocean of life. To put it simply, faith in God makes life smooth.

2. O Lal keep my honour safe Jhulelan

This anonymous panjrâ is a favourite of Sufi singers in and around Sindh. Famous Sufi singers in Sindh, Punjab and  even Bangladesh have sung it.

Lal keep my honour safe* Jhulelalan*,
O thou of Sindhdi*, of Sewan*, of Sakhar*,
Hail Mast Qalandar*, we’ve Dulhe* in our hearts
Four lamps always burn at your shrine,
The fifth one I have come to light O Jhulelalan,
O thou of Sindhdi, of Sewan, of Sakhar…
You bless mothers with children,
You safeguard fortunes of young girls*,
O thou of Sindhdi, of Sewan, of Sakhar…
All who have lit the flame of Dulhe,
You fill their coffers Jhulelalan,
O thou of Sindhdi, of Sewan, of Sakhar…
O Peer* of Peers come to the centre of the ocean,
In the name of the Lord ferry my boat across
Jhulelalan,
O thou of Sindhdi, of Sewan, of Sakhar…

Sources: Jai Jhulelal Beda I Paar (Collection of stories, songs, prayers of Jhulelal), Ahemadabad; Ke Saahitun Sajanan Saan: Sain Dr Rochaldas Sahibun Ji Satsangi Rihaan (Some Conversations with Dr Rochaldas), by Shri H.M. Damodar, 1991.

Glossary

 

A representation of Jhulelal

 

 

‘Keep my honour safe’: is reference to the fact that the devotee has surrendered to God. Here the devotee pleads with God to keep his name, respect, dignity in society intact. That is all what the devotee seeks of God in humility.

Jhulelalan: the ‘an’ ending is the suffix used to show endearment.

Sindhdi: the ‘di’ suffix is one showing endearment. Literally, Sindhdi, means Sindh. Sewan, Sakhar: places in Sindh. Mast Qalandar: refers to Qalandar Lal Shahbaaz, a peer. History gives different versions of him. According to Dr Rochaldas, a well-known saint from Sindh, Shahbaaz Qalandar even met Jhulelal. Shahbaaz Qalandar, fond of excursions, breathed his last at Sehwan, where a shrine is built in his name. Because his name as well as Jhulelal’s name has ‘Lal’, today, many consider both names referring to one person. This song is a fine example of how the Sindhi mind is not rigidly fanatic about one religion. Here Jhulelal -a Hindu God- is seen as one with Mast Qalandar -a Muslim Peer.

Dulhe: another name of Jhulelal.

You safeguard fortunes of young girls: this is a subtle way of praying to Jhulelal that he bless young girls with good husbands. A girl’s getting married to a worthy boy was seen as all that was needed for her well-being. This concept of a girl’s good life has not changed much even today.

Peer: a peer is believed to be close to the Almighty. Peers are known to have shown miracles to save their followers from trouble. There have been many peers in Sindh. It is not unusual to hear of Sindhi Hindu families in India also knowing and believing a peer. Even today festivities are held related to one peer or the other which are attended in huge numbers by both Hindus and Muslims. Singing of folk devotional songs throughout the night are a special feature of these fairs. These fairs are held in Sindh (Pakistan) and also in Kutch (India) even today.

3. Panjrâ by Ram Panjwani

Ram Panjwani was a Sindhi writer (1911-1987). He has written many plays, novels, essays mainly on social issues. His most important contribution to the Sindhi community lies in the fact that he reintroduced Uderolâl to Sindhi-Hindus in India, especially in Ulhasnagar, after the Partition.

Jhule Jhule Jhule Jhulelal
Lal Sain Uderolal
We, humble, full of vices,
Dulaah*, at your door sell ourselves*
Our state is not hidden from you
Please keep us well
Satguru* Sain* you fulfil our hopes
Babal* Sain you ferry us across the ocean of life
I am naked*, O pall-giver*
Saviour of the helpless
Jhule Jhule Jhule Jhulelal Sain

Source: Bharatiya Sindhu Sabha, Mumbai, Volume VI, Oct-Nov 2000, “Sindhi of the Millenium: Bhagat Kanwar Ram”, Editor and Publisher: Mohan Motwani, 5, Sai Parsad, Shivaji Park, Mumbai 400028.

Glossary

Dulaah: a term for Jhulelal.

sell-ourselves: the idea here is that the devotee is worth nothing at the doorstep of God.

Satguru: ‘guru’ refers to teacher. ‘Sat’ refers to truth or the ultimate reality. Satguru here refers to Jhulelal.

Babal: endearing form of Baba. Baba is a term of reverence used to address any old man. Grandchildren usually address their grandfather as Baba.

Sain: term of address showing respect.

‘I am naked’: this line suggests complete surrender of the devotee to God. The devotee has nothing to hide from God. Pall-giver: God as giving the protective cover of the pall, covering the devotee’s nakedness to protect his honour.

Society, Culture and Territory

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