Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Shrine of "Lal Shahbaz Qalandar" in Sehwan, Sind - - A Saint Equally Adored By Hindus And Muslims: Embraced the Qalandar Order of Sufism At Twenty

The mosque that is built in the hearts of the saints
Is the place of worship for all, for God dwells there
(Jalaluddin Rumi)

The original name of ‘Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’ was Syed Muhammad Usman who was born in 1177 AD in Marwand, Iran. His father, Syed Ibrahim Kabiruddin, was a righteous and devout dervish, and his mother was a superior princess. His intimates migrated from Iraq and settled down in Meshed, from where they again migrated to Marwand. During the Medieval era, Meshed and other cities of that region were prominent centres of knowledge, culture and civilization.

In very young age as a teen age boy, Shahbaz Qalandar proved strong religious leanings. He learnt the Holy Quran by heart just at age of seven, and at twenty embraced the Qalandar order of Sufism. ‘Qalandar’ is a type of dervish who is usually dressed in beggars’ clothes, likes poverty and sternness and has no permanent home. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar roamed throughout Middle East and came to Sind from Baghdad via Dasht-i-Makran. In 1263, he arrived in Multan, which at that time was at the height of beauty and splendour. The people of Multan insisted him to stay but he continued his journey southward and ultimately settled down in Sehwan, then a famous centre of learning and popular place of worship for Hindus, in the southern part of Sindh, where he lived in the trunk of a tree on the border of the town. He stayed at Sehwan for six years and during this period he spread the light of Islam, providing direction to thousands of people.

Sehwan is perhaps the town with the oldest continuous existence in Sind. It rises on the top of a conical hill, and nearby lie the ruins of a huge fort supposed to have been founded by Alexander (the Great). Some coins of Alexander’s time are reported to have been found here. Sehwan was the capital of a Buddhist ruler who was brother of Chandragupta II, the third of the Guptan empire in the 4th century AD. From the time of Arab incursion in 712, Sehwan was very important in the history of Sind since it commanded the route from the Upper to the Lower Indus, through which all intruders from either north or south had to pass. And control of the fort was vital to the success of every battle.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is an tremendously popular patron saint cherished and adored alike by Hindus and Muslims of Sind. He was a great missionary, mystic, scholar, philologist and poet. Several books in Persian and Arabic on philology and poetry are attributed to him. He was called ‘Lal’ (red) because of his red dress, ‘Shahbaz’ (falcon) due to his noble and divine spirit that soared like a falcon higher and higher in the limitless heavens and ‘Qalandar’ since he belonged to Qalandria order of Sufism and was saintly, exalted and intoxicated with love for eternal being of God. The legend goes that the present fakirs in Sewhan sent him a bowl of milk filled to the edge indicating that there was no room for anything more. But surprisingly, he returned the bowl with a beautiful flower floating on the top. This legend spread far and wide by the time of his death in 1274, after living a good span for 97 years.

The shrine around his tomb, built in 1356, gives a stunning look with its Sindhi kashi tiles, mirror work and two gold-plated doors - one donated by the late Shah of Iran, the other by the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The inner chamber is about 100 yards square with the silver canopied grave in the middle. On one side of the marble floor is a row of about 12 inch high folding wooden stands on which are set copies of Quran for devotees to read. On the other side, beside a bundle of burning “Agarbattis” (joss sticks), are rows of “Diyas” (small oil lamps) lighted by Hindu devotees. The Hindus regarded him as the personification of Bhartihari, the saintly brother of King Vikramaditya, who is believed to have worshipped Shiva at the venue where Lal Shahbaz's shrine is situated with all its splendour and beauty.

Thousands of followers gather around the tomb daily; while every Thursday their number increases and multiplies. Especially at the time of his ‘Urs’ (death anniversary) being a carnival, as well as, a religious event and celebrated every year on the 18th day of Shaában (Eight month of Islamic/lunar calendar), Sehwan springs to life and becomes the centre of attraction of more than half a million pilgrims from all over Pakistan. On each morning of the three days feast, the narrow lanes of Sewhan are packed to capacity as thousands and thousands of pilgrims, fakirs and followers make their way to the shrine to communicate with the saint, offer their tributes and make a wish. Most of the people present wreath and a green chadar (a cloth sheet used to cover a tomb) with Quraánic message in silver or gold threads. Buzzing of verses, singing and dancing in praise of the saint continues till late at night. A devotional dance known as ‘Dhamal’, being a frenzied and blissful whirl of the head and body is a special custom that is performed at the rhythmic beat of the ‘Dhole’ (a big barrel-shaped drum), some of them being of gigantic sized and placed in the courtyard of the shrine. Bells, gongs, cymbals and horns make a thunderous din, and the dervishes, clad in long robes, beads, bracelets and colored head-bands spin faster and faster in a hypnotic trance, until with a final deafening scream they run wildly through the doors of the shrine to the courtyard beyond.

Special dance of 'Dhamal' is shown here in the clip below:

Not only the people gather from all over Pakistan but also the tourists and the foreigners are captivated at this mesmerizing scene and desire to enjoy it again and again. Such were the persons who really touched the highest spiritual experience. Through their transcendence, their relation to God is such that in them the Divine personality seems to reflect itself and through them is revealed to his followers, and the grace of God is dispensed to those who invoke God in his name.

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