The Indus is one of the oldest and longest rivers in Asia. Though it originated in the Tibetan Plateau in China, much of it flows across Pakistan. Various religions and cultures have thrived here: Animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. Each of these religions were indigenised.
Historically, the strand of Sufism which emerged on the banks of Indus (especially in Punjab and all the way across Sindh), consciously eschewed religious orthodoxy and, at times, even rebelled against it.
The poetry and music that emerged from Sufi circles along the river is therefore largely a result of the theological, political and social tensions between Sufis and the orthodox ulema and clerics.
JAIPUR: Not many people know but Narhar Dargah, also known as Sharif Hazrat Hajib Shakarbar Dargah has been celebrating Janmashtami for the past 300-400 years.
“Its very hard to say the exact time and reason from when this festival is celebrated in the dargah but this marks an important event for national and communal unity. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs stay together and organiZe the event.” says dargah secretary Usman Ali Pathan.
“Thousands of Hindus come here and offer coconuts and flowers to the shrine and stay together. The idea behind organiZing this festival is to increase the love and unity among different religions in the country,” added Pathan. Devotees visiting the Dargah are surprised by such an event and the way it is smoothly organised and run from almost 400 years.
LAHORE: During recent travels, I happened upon the shrine of renowned Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir of the Qadariyyah Sufi order in Lahore.
The goal of human life, according to Sufis, is to realise the divinity within; irrespective of cast, creed and religion. Harminder Sahib, in this sense, is more of a cultural hub for the people of Punjab; it is a place where self-actualisation is promoted. It is also marked as a Gurdawar — literally meaning Lord’s door or the door of the Guru.
When AS Dileep Kumar decided to shed the faith he was born into and adopt a new one, the reasons were several.
“Sometime before we started on our journey on the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to show him my younger sister’s horoscope because my mother wanted to get her married. This was around the same time when I was keen to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and said, ‘This chap is very interesting.” He suggested the names: “Abdul Rahman” and “Abdul Rahim” and said that either name would be good for me. I instantly loved the name “Rahman.” It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name.”
The tomb of the Sufi saint Daud Bandagi Kirmani is a typical Mughal construction with an octagonal base and a round bulbous white dome. The shrine is covered by a protective wall and there are several other graves in this courtyard, some of his descendants and others of rich people from the city who paid or vied to be buried close to the saint, hoping to achieve salvation through their proximity.
The shrine is located in the centre of this city of Shergarh, a historical city located about 100 kilometers south of Lahore. The city as well is protected by a fort like wall. Whereas such walls of larger cities in India were razed down by the British after 1857, they remained untouched in smaller cities. The entire city was celebrating the annual 3 day celebration of the urs of the saint. All streets and roads in here had been converted into a makeshift bazaar. Smell of freshly prepared samosa lingered in the air. Some were selling eatables to those who did not want to partake in the langaar at the shrine. Most of the shops were selling religious paraphernalia – sacred threads, bangles, rings with special stones, items one is likely to encounter outside major Hindu temples. In fact to an unacquainted visitor this might as well be the threshold of a Hindu temple. The only difference would be the posters. All the posters here represented iconic Muslim saints like Daud Bandagi, Baba Farid, and Shahbaz Qalandar, while posters outside Hindu temples sell Hindu images. Women, men, children, old and young, all throng to the shrine for these festivities.
The Sufi and Bhakti tradition in Pakistan and India are two such trends from within Islam and Hinduism respectively, that are focused more on the unity of humanity as a whole, overcoming sectarian divides.
The saints from these traditions had massive appeal among people of different religions and they were away from the centers of power, unlike the clergy. We have seen rich traditions of people like Kabir, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta, Shankar Dev, Lal Dedh, clearly from within the Hindu tradition, while Nizamuddin Auliya, Moinuddin Chishti, Tajuddin Baba Auliya Ajan Pir, Nooruddin Noorani (also known as Nund Rishi) coming from a clear Sufi tradition and Satya Pir, Ramdev Baba Pir, having a mixed lineage, where Bhakti and Sufi themselves are deeply intertwined.
Sant Guru Nanak did try a conscious mixing of the two major religions of India. He traveled up to Makkah to learn the wisdom of Islam and went to Kashi to unravel the spiritual moral aspects of Hinduism. His first follower was Mardan; and Miyan Mir was the one who was respectfully invited to lay the foundations of the Golden Temple of the holy Sikh Shrine. Guru Granth Sahib has an inclusive approach to religious wisdom. No wonder people referred to him as, ‘Baba Nanak Sant Fakir, Hindu ka Guru Musalman ka Pir’ (Saint Nanak is a saint for Hindus and a pir for Muslims).
MITHI: A small town where both Hindus and Muslims have lived together since the creation of Pakistan enjoys cooperation and harmony.
“I am a Hindu from Sindh, but throughout my life I have lived with Muslims and this is why during Ramazan, we fast along with them; and when it is Muharram, us Hindu boys lead the procession because this is the culture which Sufism has given us” one Hindu resident said
It is a town where Muslims, out of respect for Hindus, do not slaughter cows; and where Hindus, out of respect for Muslim rites, have never organised any marriage ceremonies or celebrations during the month of Muharram. Not only that, the Hindus of Mithi also happily participate in providing food and drinks for Muslims during Ramazan, and both groups exchange sweets on Eid and Diwali. The crime rate in Mithi is at two per cent and never has anyone witnessed any incident of religious intolerance.
Thousands of Sufi shrines, big and small, dot the landscape in rural Pakistan. Each shrine has its own history and associated legends. But the shrine that stands against the dusty green hillocks in Dhoke Sahi Village is unique, both in terms of its past and present. Like other shrines, thousands of devotees have come to celebrate the saint’s union with his beloved God. But what is unusual is that the saint, for whom these devotees have gathered, is a woman.
This mausoleum is called home by women abandoned by their families. These women have dedicated their days to the service of Mai Sahiba. The older caretakers at the shrine guide women in both spiritual and worldly matters. On most days, women share their family troubles and receive prayers and blessings from Mai Hameeda and Mai Rashida, the caretakers.
This shrine, like others, receives millions of rupees in donations each year, which are spent on its upkeep and to finance the langar that feeds visitors. “Once, we received a letter and a donation of a few hundred thousand rupees from India. A Hindu man who had been her devotee before partition left the money with his son and asked to have it sent here for a well to be dug. Since we already had a well and an electric motor with it, we used it to install a biogas plant,” said Rashida.
The Sufi path involves going through specific stages under the guidance of a spiritual master. Mai Sahiba went through these stages over a course of many years under the guidance of Hazrat Babu Ghulam Sarwar in Lahore and eventually returned to the village to give religious education to people in the village. She also used her position as a figure of religious authority to help women with domestic issues. “It was usual for her to call a woman’s husband and lecture him on mistreating his wife. No one dared to disobey Mai Sahiba”
MAHARASHTRA: In 1893, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, then a 37-year-old journalist, took a momentous step to popularise the worship of Ganesh, using it as a powerful tool in the battle against the British Raj,. But even before that, a pandal on the city’s Laxmi Road used the Ganesh festival to foster communal harmony. A rhapsodic moment in 1887 led two Hindus and two Muslims to set up the ‘Guruji Talim Mandal’, the oldest Ganesh pandal in the city and, perhaps, in Maharashtra.
“Guruji Talim was a training ground for young wrestlers, including many Muslims. Bhiku Shinde and Nanasaheb Khasgiwale, along with their Muslim friends, the Nalbandh brothers, Hasham and Rustam, decided to install a Ganesha and started celebrating the festival even before Tilak’s Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav,” says Pravin Pardeshi, president, Guruji Talim Mandal, adding with a measure of pride that “there may be richer Ganpati pandals, but ours was built on the edifice of communal harmony.”
“At the time of its inception, members of the Muslim community actively participated in the rituals of Guruji Talim. Now, only Muslims with a memory of its history congregate here. In our riot-stricken times, I feel such examples should be widely propagated so as to forge stronger community bonds,” said Aaqil Madani, who has been visiting the pandal with his father since his school days.
AJMER: The khadims of the Dargah of Khwaja Garib Nawaz Chishti lent a helping hand to reconstruct an age-old Shiva temple, barely 400 metres from the main shrine in Ajmer. On the left of the main Nizam Gate, tucked in a corner, lay the ruins of a centuries-old temple of Shri Pipaleshwar Mahadev till last year. However, now a magnificent temple stands at the site, built by the labor of both Hindus and Muslims.
“It was unanimously decided that since we are here for the service of the Khwaja, it would only be right on our part to pitch in for the construction of the temple,” says Sayeed Ibrahim Fakre, former member of state minority commission. The khadims along with some minority organisations generously contributed to rebuild the temple.
Calendars, posters and street murals in India reveal much about the power of colourful images to entertain, inform, devote and inspire on a daily basis. Although Hindu religious posters remain a dominant sight in India’s public sphere, Islamic and secular themes are not far behind. Hindu images depicting gods and goddesses (such as Lakshmi, Ganesha and Saraswati), their attributes and myths and continue to utilise narratives handed down from ancient times.
None of the Indian museums or art galleries took them seriously enough to acquire or preserve them. However, some sociologists, art historians and private collectors have focused attention on them. Enthusiasts and scholars have already highlighted the development of Indian popular art with Hindu themes. But Islamic poster art is still relatively unexplored. What is most special about Indian Islamic posters is the ‘localisation’ of Islam and its practices in ways that probably cannot be found elsewhere in the Islamic world. For instance, if we were to highlight the locations of Sufi dargahs on a map, the Subcontinent would be densely dotted with these shrines, which date back to the 12th century.
KARACHI: A night full of bhajans, sufi songs and qawwalis is what the Karachi-based Hindu NGO Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust (PHSWT) has planned for the New Year eve while carrying forward the message of peace, promoting interfaith harmony and dialogue for a peaceful coexistence.
Such functions in Pakistan would help create awareness about Hindu community and provided cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between different communities, he said. “That’s what we aim through our bhajan and qawwali night on New Year.”
MADHYA PRADESH: Madhya Pradesh exhibits a diversity of cultures and the bond that exists between people of different faiths. One such example comes from the mausoleum of Sultan-e-Malva, situated in Raisen district , about 55 kilometers from Bhopal. It attracts devotees belonging to different faiths, not only from the state but also from different parts of the country and from across the world. Sultan-e-Malwa was the maternal nephew of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Muhammad Zakir, a shop owner near the Darhah told ANI, “People of different religions, be it Hindus or Muslims come here. All the devotees are guests of baba and thus they are our guests too. We serve them. They buy flowers, holy chadars and prasad from us.”
Tantric practices became prevalent across an extraordinary spectrum of sectarian boundaries in South Asia and beyond, ﬂourishing with Saivism, Buddhism, and Vaisnavism and ﬁnding a place in both Jainism and the Brahmanical smarta traditions as well. If one leaves aside monolithic Orientalist characterizations, it would seem evident that in South Asia, Islam constituted no less likely a ground for the assimilation of Tantric yoga. In important ways, a suitable foundation was already in place: Suﬁ traditions, after all, embraced elaborate spiritual disciplines that, like those of Tantric yoga, required esoteric initiation and presupposed a mystical physiology as the locus for meditations involving syllabic formulas,visualization, and controlled respiration. Islamic adaptations of indigenous yogic disciplines are indeed by no means unique to Bengal: Suﬁ silsilahs and Ismaºilis in South Asia attest multiple examples of experi-mentation, and as Carl Ernst shows, Arabic and Persian translations of the lost Sanskrit Amrtakunda circulated in Suﬁ circles as far aﬁeld as Istanbul. In the presence of the enormous variety of dhikr techniques available inlate medieval Islam, it was apparently not uncommon for Suﬁs to “obtain multiple initiations into the practices of several Suﬁ orders, though the primary orientation would remain in a single order.”The variable and extendable nature of the elements of Suﬁ meditational praxis, the potential for the individual Shaykh to innovate, and the probable Islamization of yogi communities in Bengal, discussed subsequently, suggest historical circumstances in which the development of Islamic forms of Tantric yoga should be of little surprise.
by Yoginder Sikand from Pakistan Christian Post, Oct. 31, 2005
`Shah Hussain! Shahadat Paye O Jo Maran Mitran De Age (Shah Hussain! He [alone] attains martyrdom who dies at the feet of his beloved)
Sufism has had a long and rich history in the Indian sub-continent. It is perhaps in Punjab, more than in any other part of this vast land, that Sufism has struck the deepest roots, producing many great exponents and exercising a pervasive influence on the minds of the common people. To this very day, the innumerable Sufis of this region are held in the highest esteem by millions of Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits and Hindus of the province and beyond.
Shah Hussain is one such mystic who is still fondly remembered by millions of ordinary Punjabis four centuries after his death. He was born in Lahore in 1539 A.D. into a family of the Dhatha Rajput tribe. This tribe had recently converted to Islam, hence the epithet “Shah” attached to his name. Even as a child Hussain showed a marked preference for red clothes, which explains why he was also called Lal (Persian for “red”) Hussain. Hussain`s strong mystical inclinations were apparent very early in his life. In childhood itself he managed to memorize the entire Qur`an under the guidance of his teacher, Shaikh Abu Bakr. Then, at the age of ten he was initiated into the Oadiriyah Sufi order by the renowned saint Bahlul Shah Daryai of Chiniot. For the next twenty-six years he lived under the strict supervision of his Pir (spiritual master), faithfully following all the rites and practices of orthodox Islam, and leading a life of great austerity.
Renunciation Sufi Muslim Devotee at the Mela Charagan (Lamp Festival) Celebration of Madho Lal Hussain
At the age of thirty-six an incident occurred that was to completely change Hussain`s life. One day while at a madrasa studying a tafsir (commentary) on the Our`an under the tutelage of Shaikh Sadullah of Lahore, he came across the Qur`anic verse: “The life of this world is nothing but a game and a sport.” He asked the Shaikh to explain the verse and was told that it meant that the world should be shunned. Hussain refused to accept this interpretation and asserted, instead, that the words of the verse must be taken literally. He told his teacher that, in accordance with his understanding of this verse, he would spend the rest of his life in enjoyment. It was during this period of his life that Hussain met Madho, a Brahmin lad. The two men became so closely associated that in the popular mind the saint is most commonly known as Madho Lal Hussain, as if the two had been fused into one. The intensely close relationship that blossomed between them has been the subject of much speculation and controversy, starting in their very lifetime. John Subhan, an expert on Indian Sufism, writes that their contemporaries saw this intimate connection between a Hindu boy and a Muslim faqir of “questionable character” as “a disgrace”, though he himself sees this
“irresistible attraction” between the two men in terms of “fervent love”. Like wise, the Punjabi historian Shafi Aquil speaks of the relationship between Madho and Hussayn as one of “boundless love” and for this employs language generally used to describe male-female relationships. Thus, he writes, “Shah Hussayn was in love with Madho and Madho himself, too, desired him” (Madho se Shah Hussayn ko pyar tho aur khud Madho bhi unko chahte the). He goes on to add that, “Under no condition could Shah Hussayn bear to be separated from Madho”.
BIRBHUM: Traditional musicians in West Bengal, known as the Bauls continue to spread the message of communal harmony through their devotional hymns. Their membership is usually made up of Hindu bhaktis and Sufi Muslims. Since time immemorial, they have been educating people and addressing various social issues.
The Bauls who can be seen performing in trains, buses, on streets, in villages have in the past undertaken the mammoth task of spreading awareness about deadly diseases like AIDS and cancer through their songs and musical street plays.
“We educate people through our music. We, the Bauls, sing songs that have an element of devotion, an element of love, a message of belongingness,” said Gopal Das Baul, a Baul musician.