Tag Archives: ritual

International Conference, 11-12 November 2011

Pilgrimages and Sanctuaries: Art, Music and Rituals

11-12 November 2011

Organized by The Centro Incontri Umani Ascona, Swizterland

T. Zarcone, CNRS – GSRL / EPHE, Paris
P. Khosronejad, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, Scotland
A. Hobart, University College, London

With the participation of
The “Groupe Sociétés Religions Laïcité” (GSRL)
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Ecole Pratique des hautes Etudes (EPHE) – Université de la Sorbonne
and of
The Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews


Thursday 10 November 2011

19:00 Registration

19:30 Dinner

Friday 11 November 2011

9:30 Opening: Angela HOBART (London University College / director of the Centro Incontri Umani)

9:45 Introducing the topic of the conference: Pedram KHOSRONEJAD (St Andrews University) and Thierry ZARCONE (CNRS – GSRL / EPHE, Paris)

Session 1: Musique, Songs and Nature

Chair: Angela Hobart

10:00 Razia SULTANOVA (Central Asian Forum, University of Cambridge, UK), Devotional chanting in Uzbek and Kazakh Pilgrimages: (Shahimardan, Bukhara, Turkestan)

Pilgrimages in Central Asia accompanied by devotional chanting have not yet been the subject of sustained scholarly attention, but they occur on a regular basis and are significant for the study of religions. Pilgrimage destinations in Central Asia are distinguished by various forms of performance, and the choice of chanting and narration relates to the different Sufi orders: Qadiriya in Shahimardan in Ferghana Valley, Naqshbandiya in Bukhara and Yasaviya in Turkestan. When, for example, you arrive in the mountainous region of Shahimardan in Ferghana Valley, you are surrounded by people singing and praying, performing suras from the Holy Quran as well as blessings and various Sufi ghazals. In Bukhara around the tomb of Naqshbandi, and in Turkestan in the region of the Khanaqa of Ahmad Yasavi, these chants build an essential part of devotional rituals. How are they performed? What is their origin? Who are their performers? These and other similar questions are examined in my paper.

10:35 Saskia KERSENBOOM (Amsterdam University, The Netherlands), Lady of Great Bliss

In the hills of Northern Hungary pilgrims have for centuries travelled to sacred places where mother earth opens up miraculous stones, hills, rock-caves and, especially, healing water from divine wells. The focal point of their devotion are the female representations, whether they be in the ancient Maria, the newly founded temple for Buddhist Tara, or the nubile girls in UNESCO World Heritage Holloko village. All are to be found within the range of 20 km around the pilgrim site of Szentkut and its Holy Well. This presentation compares and analyses the performative strategies in the arts of storytelling, song and mimetic action that enable believers to turn their devotion into a sensuous, invigorating experience of the divine.

11:10 Morning Coffee

11:40 Richard BLURTON (Dept of Asia, British Museum, London), Pilgrimage to Banggajang: lake-dwelling goddesses and their devotees in the eastern Himalayas

This paper discusses the previously unrecorded pilgrimage to a group of high altitude lakes located in the hills above the Se-La. This pass at 13,000 feet separates western Arunachal Pradesh from Tawang District and the onward route to Tsona in south-eastern Tibet. The lakes are imagined as the residences of the goddesses Dorje Phagmo and Palden Lhamo, while the surrounding landscape is impregnated with divine and cosmic presence – all of which is pointed out to pilgrims as they make the pilgrimage circuit. In this, the Banggajang pilgrimage fits into the same type as the much more substantial landscape pilgrimage that has been recorded to the east, at Tsa-ri, by Toni Huber.

The pilgrimage to Banggajang has both a historic and a present manifestation, and both elements will for the first time – and with some trepidation – be placed in an overview of the well-known Tibetan notion of mountain and lake veneration and the accommodation of this activity within a Buddhist world-view. There is some evidence that the pilgrimage acted not only as a spiritual activity but also as an economic and indeed a cultural activity, and this will be presented.

12:15 Charles RAMBLE (Oriental Institute, University of Oxford), ‘Objets trouvés’: The transformation of nature into art in Tibetan pilgrimages

Pilgrimage is one of the most widespread and popular activities among Tibetan Buddhists and followers of the Bön religion. Although a few pilgrimages are centred on man-made shrines such as the „cathedral‟ (Jokhang) of Lhasa, the majority entail arduous journeys to uninhabited mountain wildernesses. The trails and sacred sites at these locations are festooned with coloured flags printed with prayers, as well as white ceremonial scarves and sacred formulae sometimes carved into rocks, but the natural environment is otherwise hardly transformed; except, that is, in the imagination of the pilgrims. In the abundant „guidebook‟ literature associated with each pilgrimage route, topographic features are sacralized by being re-envisioned as a wide range of ritual items, animals, divinities and even social interactions. While this „denaturalised‟ landscape is sometimes transferred to painted scrolls, the true richness of the imagery is reserved for pilgrims who see these objects in situ, through the prism of prescribed religious vision.

12:40- 1:15 Questions and discussion

13:30 Lunch Break

Session 2: Sacred Artefacts

Chair: Pedram Khosronejad

15:00 Michel BOIVIN (CNRS – CEIAS / EHESS, Paris), Building a local culture in a Sufi centre: the kishti and other artefacts in Sehwan Sharif (Pakistan)

Sufism in the Indian Subcontinent is usually introduced through Imperial centres like Nizamuddin in Delhi or Muinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. The art and culture thus produced are therefore closely attached to imperial power, be it the Delhi Sultanate or the Moghul Empire. My contention, however, is that innovative clues can be adduced as evidence of regional and local approaches. My lecture focuses on the Sufi centre of Sehwan Sharif (Pakistan) where the Sufi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (d. 1274) is buried. It will study a number of artefacts, usually represented as the Sufi‟s relics, as material goods embodied in a number of narratives. The artefacts are also ritual tools which reflect negotiations between different categories of local people such as sayyids and non-sayyids, Sunnis and Shias, Muslims and Hindus, men, women, khadras etc. Briefly, the study of the artefacts informs us on how a local ‟system‟ is working.

15:35 Alexandre PAPAS (CNRS – CETOBAC / EHESS, Paris), Steles, relics and photographs in the Muslim shrines of Northwest China (Qinghai, Gansu)

In the provinces of Qinghai and Gansu (more precisely: Xunhua Salar Autonomous County and Jishishan Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar Autonomous County) live several Muslim minorities, namely Hui, Salar, Dongxiang, Bonan and Kargan Tibetan. Whether Chinese, Turkic, Mongolian or Tibetan speakers, they all venerate saints and perform pilgrimage on their shrines. Based on fieldwork conducted in 2010, this presentation introduces the main features of Islam and Sufism in the area. In a second step, I will focus on the specific shrines in which Qâdirî and Naqshbandî saints are buried, and where several material features appear repeatedly: 1) the granite steles composed in Chinese, which provide basic information to visitors; 2) the relics jealously preserved by the shrine custodians and shown at exceptional occasions; 3) the photographs taken by pilgrims and used as souvenirs of pious visits and mystical rituals. These three material aspects of Sufi holy places tend to multiply the narratives associated with pilgrimage, reconstructing the religious memory of Muslim minorities in north-west China.

16:10 Afternoon Tea

16:40 Sanjay GARG (SAARC Cultural Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka), Pilgrims’ memorabilia in the social landscape of India

India is a land of diverse religious faiths and practices. It is the place of origin of four religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism – and a congenial abode for almost all the religions of the world, be it the oldest, such as Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, or one of the newest, like Baha‟ism. The shrines of these religions dot the cultural landscape of the country, and from antiquity these have served as pilgrimage centres for devotees. One of the traditions associated with pilgrimage in India is the carrying back of blessings of the sacred site in some tangible form. These range from holy prasād (eatables offered by a devotee at a shrine and generally returned after being blessed), sacred water and holy ash from incense, to charms, amulets, statuettes and jewellery. This tradition could be studied from a functionalist point of view, in which the memorializing of the pilgrimage and sharing of the divine blessings with one‟s kith and kin appear to be the prime objects of the pilgrim; or from a philosophical standpoint, in which the pilgrim seeks to associate himself permanently with the sacred site.

This paper will explore this tradition of „pilgrims‟ memorabilia‟ in the cross-cultural and inter-religious settings of India by focusing on the religious tokens commonly known as Rāmtankās (lit. „Money of Lord Rama‟). Previously confined to Hinduism, the prevalence of these religious tokens amongst the Hindu pilgrims has prompted Islamic, Sikh and other religious communities to devise their own. These tokens have provided not only a convenient and affordable medium of expression for the popular art and religious beliefs of the masses of India, but they have also served variously as objects of worship, talismans and mementoes, or indeed as a combination of all three. Finally, the paper will also attempt to address issues such as the motivations and expectations of the practitioners of this tradition, as well as the influence of their social background in their choice of memorabilia.

17:15 Thierry ZARCONE (CNRS – GSRL / EPHE, Paris), Flags and ritual banners at shrines in Asian Islam (Central Asia, Xinjiang, India)

This presentation will examine the role played by banners or flags (tugh/tughaläm), major sacred artefacts in saint veneration and tomb cults in Turkic Islam. In particular it will consider the offering of banners, a notable ritual executed at the saints‟ tombs in Eastern Turkestan/Xinjiang (China) and, in a different manner, in India. My approach is both historical and anthropological. I will first show that the use of banners during pilgrimages at saint tombs in Central Asia has shamanic, Buddhist and Islamic origins. These three traditions have mingled over time and gave birth to a very syncretic practice. Also worthy of mention is the frequent identification, as shown in the written sources in Persian and Oriental Turkish, of the word „mazar‟, for the tombs of saints, with the word „tughaläm‟, a banner – a sign that the banner is a central element in the saint cult and gives him its legitimacy. One of the most compelling proofs of this, is that the Chinese administration of Xinjiang, when aiming to eradicate saint‟s cults and pilgrimage before and after 1049, forbade the banners at these places – a proscription that remains to this day. After this historical introduction, I will report on the rituals of the offering of banners that are performed nowadays at shrines in Xinjiang, along with the aesthetic and artistic dimensions of these artefacts..

17:50 -18:30 Speakers’s panel – Questions and discussion

19:30 Dinner

Saturday 12 November 2011

Session 3: Images and Representation

Chair: Thierry Zarcone

9:30 Hümeyra ULUDAG (Istanbul University, Turkey), Shrines and the culture of pilgrimages in the Ottoman visual material

Shrines, which are the centres of popular pietism in Ottoman society, comprise one of the most significant dynamics of social life. These sacred locations, which substantially guide religious, social and psychological lives of people, are observed in Ottoman miniatures. This paper will concentrate on certain dimensions of the shrines that are reflected in the Ottoman visual materials, such as their architecture and setting, and the culture of pilgrimage and rituals. The way this topic is studied in visual terms and the modes of representation and the motifs in the miniatures will be also discussed.

10:05 Pedram KHOSRONEJAD (University of St Andrews), Curtains of heaven: celestial and devotional mural paintings of Iranian pilgrimage

In this talk the author will present and analyze the creation and function of mural paintings of saint shrines in Iran since the Safavide period (1501–1736). The main emphasis will be on the relationship between such devotional depictions and the veneration of saints in Shiite Iran. This talk will be completed by a case study of mural paintings of shrines of saints which are located in and around Lahijan in the north of Iran.

10:40 Morning Coffee

11:00 Isabelle CHARLEUX (CNRS – GSRL / EPHE, Paris), Sacred souvenirs of 19th-20th century Mongol pilgrimages to Wutaishan (China)

Mount Wutaishan was an important centre of religious shopping for Mongol pilgrims, who purchased there various kinds of objects, from rosaries, statuettes, good-luck tokens and mass-produced prints and maps up to expensive icons. Back home, these „relics‟ of the holy shrine served to maintain a physical connection with the charisma of the site. This presentation will examine three kinds of sacred souvenirs – maps, prints of Shakyamuni‟s footprints and thangkas – to question their different functions and uses, and the lasting influence they had on Mongol Buddhist art.

11:35 Speakers’s panel – Questions and discussion

12:10 Conclusion: Pierre-Jean LUIZARD (CNRS – GSRL / EPHE, Paris)

12:30 Closing: Angela HOBART; Pedram KHOSRONEJAD; Thierry ZARCONE

13:00 Lunch Break

All are welcome

For all inquiries, please contact: secretary@ciu-ascona.org

Workshop: Ritual and Nationalism in Sindh

International workshop

Ritual and Nationalism in Sindh

26 May 2011, Heidelberg University

Internationales Wissenschaftsforum Heidelberg, Hauptstraße 242

Convened by Jürgen Schaflechner with SFB 619 “Ritual Dynamik


Thursday 26 May 2011

9.00 – 10.00: Oscar Verkaaig, University of Amsterdam, Authenticating ethnic identity: pilgrimage and sacrifice in post-colonial Sindhi politics

10.00-11.00: Rémy Delage, Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi, Muharram processions and ritual geography in central Sindh

11.15-12.15: Omar Kasmani, Frei Unviersity, Berlin, Riting out of line: amongst fakirs on the borderlands

13.30-14.30: Hasan Ali, SOAS, London,  The ritual and iconography of the Sabzwari Muharram ceremonies in Sehwan Sharif

14.30-15.30: Michel Boivin, CEIAS/EHESS, Paris, Articulating Sindhi culture and Sufi belonging through rituals

16.00-16.45: Jürgen Schaflechner, SAI, Heidelberg, Screening of the documentary film Agney Tirth Hinglaj. A pilgrimage in Baluchistan

Interview with Richard K. Wolf, 2009

Richard K. Wolf is Professor of Ethnomusicology at Harvard University. While working first on the Kotas of South India, he did fieldwork on Shia and Sufi rituals in Pakistan. Dr Frédérique Pagani, a MIFS member, interviewed him in May 2009 about his fieldwork in Sindh, including his methodology.

How did you come to study Sufism?

I started out studying ritual drumming. I looked at all the different contexts in which drumming was important. I didn’t start out with the intention of doing something Sufi at all. There was a close connection between Sufi and Shia things in a kind of a popular realm even though rather strict Shias don’t necessarily like to be associated with Sufism; still, we found a Shia family for example that was in charge of a Sufi shrine in Punjab, and I guess this is not all that uncommon.

You talk about a kind of porosity of religious boundaries between Shia and Sunni in Sindh which was very interesting. What was your understanding of this situation in Sindh?

Among Sindhis, my impression was that Shias and Sunnis both practice Muharram in the same places and engage in some of the same kind of activities. In some processions, at least, both populations would be together; Shias would also be musicians and so the kinds of distinctions between the two groups, which is more pronounced in most urban areas and outside of Sindh, did not seem to be so pronounced even in the relatively urban area of Hyderabad.

You said that when you cannot attend a musical event, you ask the people to do a demonstration, can you explain in a more detailed way the way you work with the musicians? Perhaps if you take a precise example…

For example, the drummers who played on my video tape of Madho Lal Hussain, I took their names and addresses at the event because I couldn’t talk with them there. And then, I tracked them down later and had them come to my apartment in Lahore. There I had a longer discussion with them about what they were doing there and their relationship with the dancers; I asked them to play their versions of the different rhythms I had been studying.

In Lahore the best place to record and interview was at my home; there, other people would not come and interrupt us, give their own opinions, and things like that. But sometimes I was forced to discuss these things in crowded places where there were a lot of interlopers and distractions. It was sometimes difficult to find a place where drummers could demonstrate because it’s so loud. The drumming would alert people and they would wonder why it was going on.

Has it also something to do with the fact that, you’re explaining in your paper on Madho Lal that there are appropriate ways to do music and inappropriate ways. Is it sometimes inappropriate to do music in front of you? Is it disrespectful? For example if it’s a musical religious event and if it’s detached from the context, has it something which sounds a bit disrespectful?

No. Not in that way. It’s not disrespectful. There are a number of different kinds of issues. So like among the Kotas, if you play funeral music when it’s not a funeral, then you don’t play any of this stuff, loud instruments, outdoors except for maybe some celebratory and not particularly marked occasion; but it’s OK if you go at distance, away from the village. Because otherwise people think that there is a funeral and they start feeling bad and so people would come and say, “Don’t do that.”

As for Muharram performance, if a group of musicians agree to go out to an open field and play the different rhythms, it usually doesn’t matter. But in urban contexts it could matter. In one Karachi neighborhood, as I discussed in my Muharram drumming article in the Yearbook for Traditional Music, a community that supported Muharram drumming was under pressure to curtail this activity and a number of related rituals such as carrying the taziyah. Their processions and drumming during Muharram were sort of tolerated; but reformers didn’t really think that’s a proper way to observe Islam. So members of this community were under pressure not to go outside and perform for me even though it was still the general period of Muharram (but not the first ten days). They did it indoors for me. Sometimes playing out of immediate context can be a sensitive issue, but it’s not a matter of musicians lacking respect for the context of the music exactly.

You give the concept of emotion a fundamental place in your paper on Muharram drumming and in several other publications. Can you detail a bit more the relation between emotion and music?

Well I got interested in that mainly because of funerals. Many people have been interested in why there are celebrations even on occasions of mourning. I was particularly interested in how we deal with the combination of different emotions that are associated with occasions like this – and the fact that musical pieces or styles can be associated with some components that have explicit emotional connotations.

In your paper on Madho Lal Hussain, you speak of the `urs as a “highly heterogeneous event”. Can you explain the notion of heterogeneity in relation to the rituals and the way you try to deal with this?

I think it’s very hard to talk as if you are dealing with a single culture when you’re looking at a very complex event. So many things are going on at once. But it turns out that there are usually some themes that people hold in common. They might deal with them differently. We can’t just say: “This is so heterogeneous, there is nothing at all in common and we have no grounding whatsoever.” People experience the same kinds of events over and over and develop certain expectations that are based on that experience. They’re also exposed to certain kinds of poetry in the respective languages that brings up so called Sufi themes… So it’s inevitable that there is going to a certain amount of common knowledge.

That means that you really need to be used to the event…

Ideally yes. It’s pretty hard to get used to the events themselves, but the picture starts to look more cohesive when you put together general observations with the points that participants make repeatedly during interviews.

Can you explain for instance how you worked on precise events?

I usually heard that something was coming up and I would decide I would go; I didn’t necessarily have time to prepare…

Yes, for example, you record, you try to analyze this, you show it to the participants…

Yes, that’s what I try to do. I would record interviews. Back in 1996, I would go over the recordings carefully with my Urdu teacher, and listen for where our discussions were ambiguous; there was often an issue to be explored at such places in the interview. So in general just working through the materials in multiple ways is very helpful. Often I found out about interesting places to research from these interviews with drummers. I would ask them to tell me stories of what happened when they were playing or about the pieces. Then I would want to go and see them in those contexts.

More on Richard K. Wolf

Richard K. Wolf has written about classical, folk and tribal musical traditions in South India as well as on musical traditions associated with Shi’ism and Sufism in North India and Pakistan.

(ed.) Theorizing the Local: Music, Practice, and Experience in South Asia and Beyond,

Oxford University Press, New York, 2009.

The Black Cow’s Footprint: Time, Space, and Music in the Lives of the Kotas of South India, Permanent Black, 2005 and University of Illinois Press, 2006.