Sindhi Dhammal is a poetry of mind, body and soul

Dr Boivin, said that the French had been interested in the Indus Valley civilization for a long time
Sindh Through History and Representations, Dhammal and French contribution to Sindhi Studies
Dhammal is poetry of mind, body and soul’ – by QAM
KARACHI: The dhammal – an ecstatic dance performed at Sufi shrines in Sindh and Punjab – is an act of submission on the part of the devotee towards the saint through which different national and religious identities tend to dissolve as the seeker experiences an out-of-body feeling.

This was said by Sohail Amir Ali of the University of Karachi during his presentation entitled ‘Ethnological reflections on the performance of dhammal at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.’ He was speaking at the launch of the book Sindh Through History and Representations: French Contributions to Sindhi Studies at the Alliance Francaise here on Wednesday.

Preceding the talk on dhammal, Dr Michel Boivin, who has edited the book, and Dr Remy Delage spoke on different aspects of the French contribution towards Sindhi studies.

Mr Amir Ali said that with specific reference to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (born Syed Uthman Marwandi), the dhammal is a ritual which was supposedly performed by the 12th century dervish himself. He said it bore similarities to the Sheedi dhammal as well as the practices of the Yogis, the chhej of the followers of Uderolal, also know as Jhulelal, a Hindu river deity, and rituals performed by Ismaili Pir Shams.

He said it was a common belief among devotees that women who performed the dhammal would gain an insight into ilm-ul-ghaib, or knowledge of the unseen, while the dhammal was also believed to exorcise evil spirits. ‘The whirling movement in dhammal is linked to the movement of fakirs and Qalandars while dhammal has also influenced popular music.’

Sohail Amir Ali added that during the dhammal, the soul, meanings and gestures all blended into one, adding that the aura of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan also had an impact on people’s feelings. ‘Dhammal is poetry of the body, mind and soul.’ He added that it was less formal when compared to other Sufi practices such as dhikr, Qawwali and Sama.

Speaking earlier, Dr Boivin, who is currently a research fellow at the Centre for South Asian Studies and teaches modern history of South Asia at the University of Savoie (Chambery), said that the French had been interested in the Indus Valley civilization for a long time.

Specifically, it was in the twenties of the 20th century that French historians began their work in the region, including research at the ancient Mehrgarh site in Balochistan. He added that the French began to publish books on the Indus Valley in the 1940s and fifties.

But it was not until the mid nineties when French scholar Professor Dr Monik Kervran, who is said to have done groundbreaking work in Persepolis as well as Bahrain, started to focus on Sehwan. He said currently, Sehwan is the centre of studies for French historians and a long-term interdisciplinary study of the area is being planned.

Dr Remy Delage of the National Centre of Scientific Research in Paris said that Sehwan was located at the confluence of many influences.

Sindh Through History and Representations compiles the papers of nine French scholars prepared for a workshop held in Lyon, France, which was a part of the French Association for the Study of the Arab and Muslim World’s annual meeting. The topics covered include Sindh’s history, literature, architecture and anthropology.

Thursday, 16 Oct, 2008

Courtesy and Thanks: Dawn

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