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Backgrounder: The Qalandar's magnetism

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Sehwan: A man helps his injured wife at a hospital after a blast at the Qalandar shrine here on Thursday.—AFP
Sehwan: A man helps his injured wife at a hospital after a blast at the Qalandar shrine here on Thursday.—AFP

Sindh's centuries-old bond with Sufis and Sufism is no secret. And among the great mystics that draw devotees from across the province — and indeed across the country — is Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, whose shrine was savagely bombed on Thursday evening.

Amongst the many holy men whose final abodes lie in Sindh — Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Bhit Shah and Sachal Sarmast in Daraza, Khairpur — the Qalandar’s shrine in Sehwan is an essential part of the province’s spiritual history.

The subcontinent has been influenced by a variety of Sufi mystical orders, or silsilas, over the centuries. The major schools include the Chishtiya, the Qadriya and the Suhrwardia. These mystical orders have branches and sub-branches across the subcontinent, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the west to Bengal in the east, and have played an essential role in bringing Islam to this vast landmass during the nearly thousand years of Muslim rule.

Yet amongst the Sufi masters, very few have been crowned with the title of Qalandar — an honorific denoting a highly gifted spiritual position. In the subcontinent, the two most famous Qalandars are Bu Ali Shah of Panipat, and Lal Shahbaz, the Qalandar of Sehwan.

Lal Shahbaz is of course a title; the saint’s proper name is stated to be Syed Usman Marwandi. As his name indicates, he is said to be a descendant of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), from the lineage of Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, the sixth Imam.

There are numerous versions describing the Qalandar’s arrival in Sindh. Some say he arrived with other divines of his age, such as Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria Suhrwardy (whose mausoleum is in Multan) and Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar (whose dargah is located in Pakpattan, Punjab). Scholars of history would be better placed to judge the accuracy of these claims, but it is generally believed the Qalandar came to Sindh sometime in the late 12th or early 13th century ACE.

Perhaps the most famous quatrain associated with Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is: Haydarium Qalandarum Mastum, in which the Qalandar declares his love and devotion for Hazrat Ali. The quatrain has been used in qawwalis and nauhas (elegies) and signifies the deep affection the Qalandar had for the household of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Interestingly though, some scholars have attributed these verses to Bu Ali Shah Qalandar. Perhaps it is of little use to get into a debate of where the words originated from; what is important is the sentiment behind them.

Another ritual associated with the Qalandar is the dhammal, or ecstatic Sufi dance. Sadly, this was the ritual reportedly under way on Thursday evening when the bomber struck.

As some experts have noted, dhammal may have originated in the Farsi phrase deh meel, or ‘ten mile’, and in its original form was not a ‘dance’ at all, but may have been the Qalandar’s tribute to the sufferings of the martyrs and prisoners of Karbala.

The Qalandar’s urs, or death anniversary, is observed every year in the Islamic month of Shaaban. Like at many other Sufi dargahs and khanqahs across the country, the Qalandar’s tomb is a place where the formal and the non-formal; the orthodox and the heterodox; the worldly and the spiritual meet. People of different sects and religions converge upon the mausoleum, some out of curiosity, some to escape the humdrum troubles of everyday life, others out of pure devotion to the Qalandar. Indeed when passing by Sehwan, especially at night, from the highway the golden dome of the Qalandar’s tomb offers an ethereal sight to the traveller, as if reality lies beyond.

Most importantly, the dargah of the Qalandar offers a place for reflection; a space that accepts without asking questions about sect, language and political affiliation. Perhaps it is this unity and spirit of acceptance that makes sites such as Sehwan targets for barbarous violence.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017


Comments (14) Closed



Sachin Feb 17, 2017 08:18am

Love Sufism -from India.

Ravindra Sharma Feb 17, 2017 09:14am

Dhamal is a Pali word means enjoy to such an extant in which you lost your sense of life and death what to talk of your body . Pali language was the language of sub continent during Gautam Buddha and Mauryan Empire and there after till the 10th century in eastern India . All rock inscriptions of Emperor Ahoka was engraved in Pali language including in Afghanistan which was inscripted in Pali but the script was Kharosti i.e. Witten in right to left like Urdu , Farsi and Arabic .

Papa Feb 17, 2017 09:39am

The nearest hospital is 75 km away. Bad roads the next biggest hospital is 250 km away. You can see the problem. Who has taken responsibility. Why not a word on it.

Kamran saleem Feb 17, 2017 11:06am

The most cowardly act to target the innocent people at a shrine. May God bless the people of Pakistan.

Feroz Feb 17, 2017 11:31am

All these Sufi shrines being attacked in Pakistan must be saved because they are the standing edifice to the plurality and composite culture that distinguished South Asia from every other region.

Hussain Feb 17, 2017 01:38pm

Sufism unites people of all races, religions and regions. Its Unity in diversity.

Real Indian Feb 17, 2017 02:02pm

I feel very sad for Victims died @Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. I'm Indian and yes I strongly criticize Pakistan on variety of issues but such coward attacks should be condemned by every sensible human being. Such attacks can never stop peace loving people from visiting Lal Shahbaz Kalandar Shrine! Sufism gives message of peace and even I and many Hindus visit Sufi Shrines in India. I personally go to Haji Ali and Mahim Dargah in Mumbai and once visited Ajmer Sharif. Someone only learns and get values of Peace, Tolerance, Love and Respect after visiting these Shrines..! I do not have words for those short mindsets who did this and Feel Pain for innocents who lost their lives! May peace prevail!

Ahmed Feb 17, 2017 02:14pm

Bravo Dawn! A Wonderful Piece

Frankenstein Feb 17, 2017 02:30pm

Islam spread across subcontinent because of these saints. Their Dargahs, Astanas and Hujras were open for ever human. They have spread Islam through love and message of love. Extremists and anti-Islam lot are hell bent to distort true spirit of Islam. I dont want to spread hatred but unfortunately there are people among us who share the same views as practiced by these extremists

Khalid Hussain Bughio Feb 17, 2017 02:55pm

Spectacular words and good knowledge.

skumar Feb 17, 2017 03:30pm

In our college day get togethers for inter-cultural events we used to sing the dama dam mast kalandar song bcos our sindhi friend taught us . We did not know the background but vaguely we know its sufism based and was in praise of jhulelal or some sort of god . Is it associated with this sufi shrine ?

SKK Feb 18, 2017 04:20am

Brilliant piece of writing,May Almighty save our people and traditions in the sub continent as a whole.

Abbas Feb 18, 2017 03:06pm

Ali Ali .... Pakistan army zindabad. Pakistani people zindabad . Pakistan paindabad. We are brave people and will fight for our independence and respect.

P K THAKUR Feb 19, 2017 05:41am

@Papa Rampant corruption in civil department and over expenditure in defence is effective infrastructural work in Indian subcontinent in general and Pakistan in particular. Lack of natural resources can be compensated by manufacturing sector . However due to these terrorist act this sector is badly damaged in Pakistan.