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. Continue reading Interview with Ahmet Karamustafa, 2010

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). []