DADU: The atmosphere is unusually charged with emotions as hundreds of devotees sway in hypnotic trance to the captivating beat of Naghara (drums) to perform dhamal, a devotional dance, in an expression of love and respect for their saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, on Tuesday.
Dervishes clad in long robes, wearing beads, bracelets and coloured headbands twirl faster and faster to the music of bells, gongs, cymbals and horns until, with a final deafening scream they run wildly through the doors of the shrine to the courtyard beyond.
It was the first day of the three-day 770th urs celebrations of the saint in Sehwan Sharif, but what made the occasion more special this year was the fact that it was being celebrated after about two years hiatus due to a variety of reasons, Covid restrictions being one the major reasons.
The small and dusty town, located to the north-west of Hyderabad, was jolted awake with the noise of thousands of devotees as they made their way to the shrine. The administration estimates at least 2.5 million people from all over Pakistan will attend the urs this year.
For many, the dance is not just a means to express one’s love and reverence for the saint but also a way to thank him for one’s wishes that come true. “I have vowed to Lal Shahbaz if my son comes back, I will come here to perform the dhamal,” said Ms Farzana, one of the devotees.
Her son vanished without a trace two years ago and she believed if she kept praying for the saint’s intercession, her son would surely come back one day. “I have been coming here for the past 20 months, asking Qalandar that I may get to see my son again,” she said.
Hussain Bux, a dhamal participant, said: “Sindh is a place where Hindus, Christians and people of other religions used to live together in peace. Muslims must stand up to extremists and show them that there were also people who cared about their heritage and traditions, such as visiting shrines,” he said.
Saima Rind, 54, said that she took part in dhamal almost every day as she lived in Sehwan. When she heard about the bomb blast on Feb 16, 2017, she was shaken like everybody else but it did not deter her from visiting to the shrine. “The shrine is supposed to be a place where anybody could go any time without any fear. Terrorist attacks can’t stop people like me to visit the shrine,” she said.
Ghulam Rasool Shahani said the basic reason he persisted with his ritualistic visits to the shrine was to “…reclaim the space, which has been taken over by these extremist forces all over Pakistan, especially in Sindh, which used to be a land of peace and love”.
Abdul Rahim, a devotee who rushed to the shrine after he heard the explosion and witnessed the scene, said he performed dhamal as usually after evening prayers even on that fateful day five years ago.
Najaf Hussain, 50, said the devotees would never quit dhamal. “I may rather die than quit dhamal,” he said and wished that he would have been there and died in the blast.
Sultana Baloch said that she had regularly been coming for a month to perform the dhamal and would be doing the devotional dance till the fulfillment of her wish. “I have prayed for a son as I have seven daughters. I hope Lal Shahbaz will listen to my supplications and my wishes will come true soon,” she said.
At least 90 people were killed and over 300 injured when a suicide bomber struck in the midst of devotees busy in dhamal at the shrine’s courtyard.
Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2022