Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sufi enchantment - Lal Shahbaz Qalandar

MYSTIC: The Sufi enchantment
By Rina Saeed Khan, Dawn, January 17, 2008

Saints such as Shahbaz Qalandar preached love and tolerance. They had a transforming influence over the lives of the people they touched, which is why his shrine still attracts thousands of devotees each year

There is something magical about Shahbaz Qalandar's shrine located in Sehwan Sharif, around two hours drive from Hyderabad. Legend has it that no prayer offered at the shrine goes unheard.

When you enter the shrine from the main bazaar, you are immediately taken to another world. There are malangs with long hair and beards, beautiful gypsies from the desert, bemused foreigners in jeans and locals wearing ajrak. The rich and the poor, the young and the old rub shoulders at the shrine.

Coming here, one realises that Islam was spread in this part of the world by enlightened saints such as Shahbaz Qalandar, who preached love and tolerance. They had a transforming influence over the lives of the people they came into contact with — that explains why Shahbaz Qalandar's shrine still attracts hundreds of thousands of devotees each year, almost 800 years after his death.

Hindus still flock to his shrine to offer their prayers. They believe he is the incarnation of one of their gods. In fact, his shrine is visited not only by Muslims and Hindus but also Christians, Sikhs and even Parsis!

Sehwan itself is an important town of Sindh — located between the Kirthar Mountains that separate Sindh from Balochistan and the River Indus. Many saints came and settled here following Shahbaz Qalandar, whose shrine was completed in 1356. During Shahbaz Qalandar's urs (or death anniversary), celebrated every year on the 18th of Shaban, more than a half a million people from all over the country visit Sehwan Sharif.

Shahbaz Qalandar was born into a high-ranking family who were direct descendents of Imam Jaffer Sadiq, the sixth Imam. He travelled from Azarbaijan to Balochistan and then settled down in Sehwan towards the end of his life when he had attained the level of a ‘Qalandar’. This is one of the most evolved states in Sufism, when a person can find unity with God while still alive in this worldly dimension. They say that there were only two other Qalandars in this world — Hazrat Bo Ali of Panipat and Hazrat Rabia of Basra.

The golden domed shrine of Shahbaz Qalandar with its blue tile work is reminiscent of the shrines of the Prophet's family in Iraq and Iran. The shrine seems to have a palpable energy emitting from its centre, where the saint is buried.

Marble steps take you into a large circular room which has the coffin placed inside a metal cage. The cage is opened on special days and visitors are allowed inside to pray right next to the grave. Outside is a large marble courtyard where the dhammal takes place each evening. The people dance facing the shrine to the beat of the drums and some go into ecstasy. They say that those suffering from any disease or ailment are cured by dancing.

Women also participate in the dhammal. This is indeed a special place where tolerance and love permeate the heady atmosphere of the shrine.

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