Tag Archives: India

Fellowships: Popular Images and Media in Muslim Religious Spheres

Short-term Fellowships of

“The Cluster of Excellence – Asia and Europe in a Global Context”,

Transcultural Image Database Project “Satellite of Networks”

The Circulation of Popular Images and Media in Muslim Religious Spheres


“In the summer of 2010, Tasveerghar invited proposals for short term fellowships from scholars, researchers and practitioners of popular arts and culture for multi-disciplinary and multi-media projects of research and documentation on the topic of popular visual cultures and practices in and around Muslim shrines and public spaces, with an emphasis on the transcultural flows as emerging in the globalised contemporary popular arts and media.

Muslim public spheres in India/South Asia exhibit a wide array of image practices such as calendar and poster art, devotional framed pictures, portrait photography with artificial backdrops, illustrated covers of religious chapbooks and magazines, besides innovative wall murals and printed notices, all of them incorporating popular icons of Mecca, Medina, local Sufi shrines, saints, Shia symbols, and Arabic calligraphy. Besides these, one also finds religious narratives in popular recorded media such as audiocassettes, video CDs/DVDs, and now the cell-phone software. Much of this popular visuality and ephemera circulate around institutions such as Sufi shrines or mosques in south Asia, although these may not be limited to only one shrine area or a city. One may also find inter regional connections between shrines of different towns and villages through the passage of these media to wider areas.

Although much of these mass duplicated images and media may have their origins in the traditional religious performative practices of the pre-modern era, the impact of new technology and media, especially derived from outside their local spaces, has altered the way religious devotion is practiced today. One could highlight this with an example about the mobility and transformation of Muslim shrines, saint portraits and relics through images and media on the Indian subcontinent (although by no means do we wish to limit the regional focus to India but explore transnational and transcultural flows!). Usually a Sufi shrine holds the original grave or relic of a specific saint that cannot be replicated anywhere else (unlike a Hindu deity whose idol or replica shrine can be recreated in other locations too). Thus the visit to a particular Sufi shrine has its unique value for a pilgrim for its originality. But the mass duplicated images of the same can easily be made and have been in circulation for a long time, making a shrine or relic mobile beyond its original location. There are evidences of hand drawn illustrations of Sufi shrines and saint portraits being made available before the onset of print in India. The printing industry, especially of colour posters and other types of images made the mass produced images of Sufi shrines even more accessible and popular. The photography has added newer dimension to this visual culture where an odd photo of a saint is used again and again to make drawings and even idols, such as in the case Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Through this multi-disciplinary project we wish to go a few steps further from the nexus of photography, painting, and printed posters, to study the newer practices of the use of “original” images for the creation of new mediated material such as collage posters, videos, animation and even Internet-based presentations that seek newer generation of devotees and their popular piety. A typical example of this would be the production of popular devotional videos about Sufi shrines that are basically music videos with a performer/Qawwal singing a new song seeking the saint’s blessing, dramatically videographed in a studio or staged settings, interspersed with the vérité shots of the actual shrine – the two of which can sometimes be very different in style and quality. There can be several such examples from the contemporary popular culture of Muslims in India. Thus, we invite you to be a part of a larger project by contributing with your specific research about a shrine, institution or public space that is witnessing the production of popular images and media and getting altered through transcultural impact.”

More infos here: http://www.tasveerghar.net

PhD thesis: A Hindu Cult in South India and its Diaspora

Pierre-Yves Trouillet, A Social and Cultural Geography of Tamil Hinduism. The Cult of Murugan in South India and in the Diaspora, PhD thesis in Geography, University of Bordeaux III, 13 December 2010.

“Murugan is one of the gods of the Hindu pantheon, whose religious figure has been present in the South of India for at least two thousand years. Its worship is strongly associated with the cultural identity of Tamil Nadu (the « Tamil country » in the South of India), the cardinal points of which are marked by the presence of its six largest pilgrimage centres. This symbolic and geographic interaction between the temples of Murugan, the territory and the religious circulations dates back at least to the Middle Ages. It is to be found today at the local level too, either of a village or an urban area; it is to be found at the international scale of the diaspora as well, which is reinventing the geography of worship by giving it a transnational configuration. For all cases under study, the survey shows that in relation to the other gods of the Hindu pantheon, the definition of this Hindu deity has endowed it with particular symbolic characteristics, which trigger and direct human actions that are printed in the geographic space, such as the construction of temples or the devotional pilgrimages towards its sacred places. Thus the situation of its temple on the hill that overlooks the Mailam village (Tamil Nadu) depends as much on Murugan’s thousand-year-old association with peaks as on its position in relation to the places of worship of other deities. This happens to be the case in a local geography where deities, social groups and the relating spaces are both classified and classifying. In Mauritius, the famous processions for Murugan and the over representation of its temples suggest a context of assertion of the Tamil community against the Hindu majority originating from the North. It also confirms the degree of significance of the places and circulations associated to this worship, to the point of producing territorial acts.”

Keywords: India, Tamil Nadu, Mauritius, Hinduism, temple, place, circulation, territory, scale, pantheon, caste, ethnicity, diaspora, Murugan

Book review: The wandering Sufis by Kumkum Srivastava

Kumkum Srivastava, The Wandering Sufis. Qalandars and Their Path, Bhopal-New Delhi: Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya-Aryan Books International, 2009, xviii-267 p.

Despite its flashy comics-style cover design, this book is a scholarly piece. Composed of six chapters and two appendices, Srivastava’s monograph deals with Qalandars in general and Delhi region’s Qalandari shrines in particular.

The first chapter (“Sufism: Concept, Nature and Origin”) presents an overview on the tasawwuf based on classical works by Gardet, Anawati, Nicholson, Schimmel, etc. Given the already existing literature on this topic, the section does not seem very useful and could have been replaced by one focusing on Indian Sufism. The second chapter (“Sufi orders”) presents again, apparently, a general introduction to turûq. In fact, Srivastava’s description is deeply influenced by the Indian context: for instance, the classification of orders in bashara (ba shar‘) and beshara (bî shar‘) sects, or the concept of piri-muridi are typically Indian and not necessarily relevant to other Islamic areas. Yet, the author rightly insists on the importance of silsila, khanqâh, and the worship of saints as key features. The third chapter (“Antinomian cults with specific reference to the Qalandars and the Qalandariya path”) is well-documented and provides the reader with various names and practices of Qalandari groups and leaders, especially but not exclusively in medieval India. The relations of the Qalandars with other religious orders are also mentioned.

The second part of the book is definitely more original as it focuses on two Qalandari dargahs, located in Delhi region, which have not been studied in detail. Chapter 4 (“The shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Abu Bakr Tusi Haydari Qalandari, the Matkey Shah of Purana Qila, Mathura Road, Delhi”) details not only the architecture, organization, and history of the sacred site, but also the biography of the thirteenth century Iranian saint Abu Bakr Tusi. Chapter 5 (“The shrine of Hazrat Sharfuddin Bu Ali Shah Qalandar of Panipat (Haryana), one of the two-and-a-half Qalandars”) describes the mausoleum of the famous medieval saint Bu Ali Shah. A large part of the section is devoted to the life and sayings of the great Qalandari poet. The reader will find numerous anecdotes and quotations. Worth noting also are the illustrations in these two chapters. On the basis of the two case studies, the book’s last section discusses at length the “Organization and practices of the shrines”. Among the main features that both dargahs share is important to emphasize: 1) the different roles of the khuddâm; 2) the qawwâlî performances; 3) the variety of rituals.

At the end of her book, Kumkum Srivastava offers two valuable appendices: the Urdu text and English translation of Qalandari poetry and prose, and of qawwâlî songs. To sum up, this monograph represents a valiant effort at providing an introduction to the Qalandariyya Sufi path. This is not so frequent in India’s Islamic studies.

Alexandre Papas (CNRS, Paris)

Other recent publications on Sufism in South Asia

Samina Quraeshi, Sacred Spaces. A Journey with the Sufis of the Indus, Peabody Museum Press, Harvard, 2010.

Raziuddin Aquil, Sufism,Culture, and Politics: Afghans and Islam in Medieval North India, OUP, USA, 2009.

Thierry V. Zarcone, Sufi Pilgrims from Central Asia and India in Jerusalem, Kyoto, Kyoto University, 2009.

Robert Rozehnal, Islamic Sufism Unbound Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2007.

Nile Green, Indian Sufism Since the Seventeenth Century. Saints, Books and Empires in the Muslim Deccan, Routledge, UK, 2006.

Book: Sultans, Traders, and Pilgrims in Gujarat

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

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

Michel Boivin


More infos



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

International conference

Shrines, Pilgrimages and Wanderers in Muslim South Asia

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

Convenors: Michel Boivin & Rémy Delage


Thursday, 23 September 2010

9h-9h30: Welcoming of the participants

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

Session 1: Figures of wandering ascetics through history

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

Chair: Catherine Servan Schreiber (CNRS-CEIAS)

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

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

10h40-11h: Discussion and debate

11h-11h30: Coffee break

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

11h50-12h30: Discussion and debate

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

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

Chair: Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye (EPHE)

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

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

14h40-15h: Discussion and debate

15h-15h30: Tea break

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

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

16h10-16h30: Discussion and debate

18h: Cocktail and exhibition


Friday, 24 September 2010

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

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

Chair: Thierry Zarcone (CNRS-GSRL)

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

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

10h10-10h30: Discussion and debate

10h30-11h: Coffee break

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

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

12h-12h30: Discussion and debate

Session 4: Pilgrimage politics and Sufi shrines policies

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

Chair: Alka Patel (University of California, Irvine)

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

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

14h40-15h: Discussion and debate

15h-15h30: Tea break

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

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

16h10-16h30: Discussion and debate

Keynote address

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

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

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

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

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