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Days of the mystic

August 03, 2011


Held every year on the 18, 19 and 20 of Shabaan, the annual Urs of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is no less a kaleidoscope of colours and characters. – Anahita Hashmani/

At a distance of 285 km from Karachi, lies a rural town named Sehwan Sharif. Famous for the shrine of Saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Sehwan is one of the liveliest towns in the province of Sindh during the Islamic month of Shaaban.

Known to have achieved a high rank as a Dervesh (devotee) of the Qalandar order of Sufis, Syed Muhammad Usman of Marand was given the title of Lal (the colour he chose for his life-long apparel) Shahbaz (symbolising his height of devotion to the flight of a falcon) Qalandar (identifying the order of Sufism he belonged to).

Held every year on the 18, 19 and 20 of Shabaan, the annual Urs of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is no less a kaleidoscope of colours and characters. Walking around in the courtyard of the shrine is an experience in itself. To the uninitiated, it’s like stepping into another world, where mysticism rules. From the malangs dancing to the beat of the large dhols to devotees holding the firm belief that the lord above will have mercy on them and grant their wishes, it’s a place where faith in the unseen reigns supreme.

The mureed (followers) of Shahbaz Qalandar will tell you of the miracles he performed, stories that have been carried down through generations.  Be it the existence of a warm water spring at the spot of his worship place in Manghopir to the water well that sprung up when he tapped the spot with a stick to the bread he baked that fed hundreds of starving people. These are just some of the tales, many more will be shared by the attendees, each never failing to amaze you.

The golden gates of the mazar. – Anahita Hashmani/

At the Urs, there is a vibrant aura throughout the town, with the beat of the dhol resonating in every nook and corner. There is a spectrum of colours spread throughout, stalls displaying chaddars (spread sheets of different colors with Quranic inscriptions in gold and silver), jewellery kiosks carrying necklaces and bracelets made of threads and beads, and stalls carrying mounds of dry fruits and a mix of chuwara (dried dates) and misri (sugar crystals). Attendees of the Urs handout small packets of dry fruits and chuwara/misri, as well as sukhri (pack of goodies) to people. Then there is the  jewellery worn as a symbolic gesture of belonging and being part of the festive celebration. Devotees also make goat and cow sacrifices for the lunger and niaz which is used for feeding thousands of people everyday.

Within the walls of the shrine, crowds of devotees rush in as if part of a race, to reach the tomb to lay down chaddars and offerings. There are three doorways to the shrine where the main tomb is located. Lined with the closed façade of the shrine, are chambers made for people, allowing them to recite Quran and pray for the forgiveness of the saint’s soul and also for themselves and their loved ones. One of the doorways leads to a closed courtyard where devotees light joss sticks and diyas, while the other two lead to courtyards opening into different sides of the town. Each courtyard area including where the lamps are placed, encompass tombs of the closest devotees to Shahbaz Qalandar or even his fellows. Many devotees believe, that praying through the saint would help them achieve their goals and prayers comparatively sooner. They symbolise their mannat by tying red threads to the fenced gates. Beyond these fenced gates lie the gold plated gates of which one side was donated by the ruler of Iran, and the other donated by Zulfiqar Bhutto. The courtyards of the shrine are flooded with dancing malangs, devotees and people who come to witness the event.

As night falls, Sehwan comes to life as the Qawals and Sufi singers at the mazar begin their performance. From street singers to famous performers, all put in an extra hard effort to please the saint and the devotees and the mehfil-e-samaa lasts till the wee hours of the morning.

The accompanying media gallery can be viewed here