Tag Archives: Expression

The legend of Sindh: Jai Jhulelal

Jhulelal
Jhulelal

‘Beyond Hindu and Muslim’:

Rethinking Iconographic Models and Symbolic Expressions in Sindh, A Case of the Tradition of Rama Pir1

By Sohail Bawani

Images, signs and symbols have always been significant intermediaries between the world and its representation before individuals. These images, signs and symbols portray more than just graphical facts, figures and forms; they are a means towards construction of human perception of ‘reality’: the ‘meaningfulness’ of the material world through the same (Lichty 2003: 1). Similarly, iconography, particularly portraying religious images, had played an important role in understanding and describing human interpretations about things beyond human imaginations, for example the matter of the creation of the universe.

The valley of the Indus River, since the time of its civilization’s peak and through local inhabitants and arrival of Muslims, including the Sufi saints, has been rich in its symbolic expressions and materials related to ‘image writing’; more specifically, within the context of the interaction between ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Islam’ in the Indian subcontinent (Khan 2004: 30). Moreover, not much has been written through the iconographic perspective about the cultural heritage in shape of sacred symbols among the various religious traditions in Sindh today.

Continue reading The legend of Sindh: Jai Jhulelal

Inquilab zindabad!

By:Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

How is Bhagat Singh more Indian than Pakistani?

Revolutionaries never die; definitely not until what they strived for is achieved. They can also reincarnate when liberation is threatened by incarceration. The cause they fought for can wake up again, the struggle they gave birth to can be born again, the noise they generated can resonate again, the slogans they chanted can reverberate again – if recent events are anything to go by, Lahore should echo with “Inquilab zindabad!” again.

Bhagat Singh’s revolution could reawaken 81 years after the British hanged him in Lahore. The indirect skirmishes between the Tehreek Hurmat-e-Rasool (THK) led fundamentalists and the Dilkash Lahore Committee, over renaming Fawwara Chowk (or Shadman Chowk) back to its pre-partition name of ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’, is a throwback to the clash between suppression and freedom that the man gave his life for. Apparently dying for the sake of the independence of this country and its people isn’t reason enough for the square – where he was hanged on 23 March, 1931, aged 23 – to be named after the freedom fighter himself. It is a pity that people and groups, who now have the luxury to openly express themselves – something that they didn’t have back then –, choose their expression to oppose tributes to those very personalities that made this freedom possible, owing to their religious identity.

Continue reading Inquilab zindabad!

YouTube ban restricts rights of Pakistanis: Human rights organisation

KARACHI: Condemning hate speech on the internet in general and the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” in particular, the Bytes for All (B4A) Pakistan said it believes that banning “channels of communication [YouTube], limiting access to information platforms and steps to curtail free expression only serve to pave the way for politics-based control systems that curb the voices of individuals.”

The B4A, a human rights organisation with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies, commented on the recent ban imposed on video sharing website YouTube as per the order of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

The organisation stressed that the film should not be allowed to form the basis of systematic censorship and filtering of internet in the country.

It further stated that the blanket ban restricted the rights of Pakistani citizens, who wish to use the platform for counter-argument, expression and other educational and developmental purposes.

“This extreme step ignores the alternative, more conservative actions that were available to the government, including the issuing of a take-down notice to YouTube for the removal of specific content in Pakistan,” the B4A remarked.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune

ANALYSIS: Sindh — fox guarding the henhouse — By Mohammad Ali Mahar

Sindhis overwhelmingly voted for the PPP, mainly due to the fear that supporting smaller groups would be tantamount to bringing their oppressor, namely the MQM, back to power

The English language expression of a fox guarding a henhouse could not have been better illustrated than through the Liyari operation and the incidents of May 22 in Karachi.

Throughout the 65 years of the country’s existence, Sindh has suffered incessantly but never as severely and as brutally as during the last four years of the government elected chiefly through the Sindhi vote. Granted, there have been times of suppression and repression during successive military regimes, latest of which being General Musharraf’s misrule. However, the military regimes cannot be blamed as much — for theirs was a clear-cut and naked repression and not disguised in the garb of democracy — as is the case this time around.

Sometimes, the Sindhi feels that he is being punished by the divine power for bringing into power a gang of men and women well known for their misdeeds than any good they may have done in their lives. That there was no other choice for Sindhis at that time is something completely overlooked by the chastising powers.

Sindhis overwhelmingly voted for the PPP, mainly due to the fear that supporting smaller groups would, they thought, be tantamount to bringing their oppressor, namely the MQM, back to power. Having endured long years of repression at the hands of the MQM and Musharraf’s marionettes in Sindh during his quasi-military rule and losing their beloved leader, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Sindhis thought that the return of the PPP to power would mean an end to their suffering. What they did not know at that time and have learned the hard way is that by voting the PPP to power, they got exactly what they wanted to avoid in the first place. The situation as it is right now is such that half of Sindh is being governed by the MQM and the other half by someone named Owais Tappi — nobody knows who exactly this gentleman is. There being many stories surrounding Mr Tappi’s persona and his alleged mysterious relationship to Mr Zardari.

Then there is a third force — the Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Running the internal affairs of Sindh from the Centre through such a man of questionable credentials as Malik is the biggest insult to the Sindhi voter’s trust. That a man the former Home Minister of Sindh, Zulfiqar Mirza, publicly accused of facilitating and abetting the criminals belonging to the MQM, remains responsible for the affairs of Sindh, raises a number of questions regarding the party leadership, especially Mr Zardari’s sincerity regarding maintenance of peace in Sindh and his lack of sensitivity to Sindhi sentiment. Why, when other ministers keep changing on trivial excuses, the demand to remove Malik from the affairs of Sindh falls on deaf ears despite the colossal damage he has done to the party in Sindh? An example has been made of Babar Awan, who at times proved to be more loyal to the king than the king himself, but fell from grace when he refused to testify in favour of Mr. Gilani. Why then a person who, a PPP jiyala asks, caused the death of tens of people in Liyari and wiped the PPP from the walls and streets of its strongest fort as well as hearts of its inhabitants, is still there?

It is said that the leadership of the ruling party has business interests to share with Malik and therefore they cannot afford to alienate him, but can he not be given some other, maybe a better job to do, and leave Sindh alone? Why do the boundaries of his ministry end at Sindh and not include Punjab, where he belongs and where life is tougher for the PPP supporters than elsewhere in the country? Why is he protecting a particular linguistic terrorist group, when even the security agencies acknowledge the party’s foreign connection? The bigger question is who/what is the power behind Malik and the MQM seeing to it that they continue to do whatever they are doing with impunity? Do they really share the same paymaster, as it is widely perceived?

As though his actions are not deadly enough for the party, the wounds that Malik inflicts through his insensible remarks — an example being his statements at the time of the Liyari operation and the incident of May 22 — have ensured that Mr Zardari’s party is going to have a hard time in the next elections, at least in Sindh.

From the Liyari operation and the incident of May 22, 2012, when naked terrorism was let loose on the peaceful rally of the unarmed sons and daughters of the soil, one thing has emerged clearly that the PPP has lost all hopes of winning the next elections, especially in Sindh. It looks like all they want is to complete this term at any cost, even at the cost of Sindhi lives.

Unleashing Malik on Sindh brings to one’s mind another English proverb of letting the bull in the china shop. All that the Bhuttos built painfully over the years, Malik has destroyed in four years and made sure that when the next elections come, the PPP is seen nowhere in the province.

Continue reading ANALYSIS: Sindh — fox guarding the henhouse — By Mohammad Ali Mahar

Concern about new bid to censor the Internet: HRCP, FIDH

By Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson

Lahore, March 13: On the occasion of the international day of action against Internet censorship, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have expressed deep concern over an attempt by the Ministry of Information Technology in Pakistan to further restrict freedom of expression, creativity and peaceful thought on the Internet, by projecting an extensive filtering system that will, if implemented, allow authorities to block up to 50 million “undesirable” URLs at the national level.

The National ICT R&D Fund of the Ministry of Information Technology released in February a call inviting academia/research institutions, companies, organizations to submit, by 16 March 2012, a proposal for the set-up of a filtering system. The call claims that Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered, so that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and backbone providers in the country need a high-performance system to block millions of URLs containing “undesirable” content as notified by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

Censorship is already very tight in Pakistan; 13,000 websites considered guilty of publishing adult and blasphemous content have already been blocked. On 14 November 2011, authorities requested mobile operators to censor the content of SMS and ban 1,600 words and expressions. Over the last summer, operators received the order to submit lists of Internet users trying to escape censorship, which corresponds to a system of surveillance”, said Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson.

Continue reading Concern about new bid to censor the Internet: HRCP, FIDH

On censorship in Pakistan – Welcome to 1984

Welcome to 1984

By Irfan Husain

OVER the years, despite repeated bouts of military dictatorship, Pakistan has remained a relatively open society. Even with spooks running around unchecked, people have expressed themselves pretty openly, both privately and publicly.

In large measure, this has been due to the incompetence of our bureaucracy. Few cops and spies are very enthusiastic about surveillance duties. More often than not, they file their poorly written reports that go unread, and pile up in some dusty government archives, never to see the light of day.

But all this is about to change. According to an international tender floated by this government, it is aiming to acquire technology that will enable it not just to block websites at will, but to read our emails and monitor all Internet traffic.

Continue reading On censorship in Pakistan – Welcome to 1984

Jonathan Kay: The Pakistan problem

Jonathan Kay: The Pakistan problem isn’t just the government. It’s the people

By Jonathan Kay

Since the Taliban resurgence began gaining force in 2005, a common refrain in the West has been that Pakistan must “do more” to rein in the jihadis who are drawing support from bases in the borderlands of Balochistan and Waziristan. American officials have made countless visits to Pakistan to deliver variations on this message — with nothing to show for it.

Earlier this year, the BBC disclosed a secret NATO report, based on 27,000 interrogations with captured Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees, concluding that jihadis operating in Afghanistan continue to receive support and instruction from Pakistani military handlers. One interrogated al-Qaeda detainee quoted in the report declared: “Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can’t [expletive] on a tree in Kunar without them watching.”

The usual Sunday-Morning-talk-show explanation for this is that Pakistan is hedging its strategic bets: Pakistani military leaders doubt the United States military can tame Afghanistan before American combat forces’ scheduled exit in 2013. And rather than see the country degenerate into absolute chaos (as occurred in the early 1990s, in the wake of the Soviet departure), Pakistani military leaders want to be in position to turn Afghanistan into a semi-orderly Pashtun-dominated client state that provides Islamabad with “strategic depth” against India. And the only way for them to do this is to co-opt the Taliban.

Continue reading Jonathan Kay: The Pakistan problem

Support Hamza Kashgari

In Defense of Hamza Kashgari

By Omar Baddar

…… “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” — Article 19 of the UN Declaration for Human Rights

To read more about Hamza Kashgari» Arab American Institute

 http://www.aaiusa.org/blog/entry/in-defense-of-hamza-kashgari/

Is Democracy as We Know It on Its Way Out?

By Frank Viviano

A decade ago, only paranoid alarmists would have posed that question.

 Today, it may be an expression of cold, brutal realism.

Is Western democracy coming apart at the seams? A decade ago, only paranoid alarmists would have posed that question.

 Today, it may be an expression of cold, brutal realism.

On both sides of the Atlantic — from the fires that raged in large stretches of London, to the political chicanery that brought the U.S. economy to its knees in early August — the institutional framework that came to define modern democracy in the 19th century is in deep trouble.

The principal organs of financial oversight and management are in tatters. Ferociously xenophobic political movements, an entire constellation of Tea Parties, now play important roles in nearly every European nation, as well as the United States.

Faith in elected leaders and legislatures, the central and defining institutions of democracy, has never been lower.

According to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of the U.S. public expressing trust in the federal government has fallen from just under 80 per cent in the late 1960s to barely 20 per cent today. 

….

Read more → AlterNet

Gaddafi: Running on Crazy

by Mona Eltahawy, Columnist for Al Masry Al Youm, Al Arab

NEW YORK – If Tunisia kicked down the door of the Arab imagination by showing it was possible to topple a dictator, Egypt drew a blueprint of non-violence for the house of revolution that detailed how to demolish a stubbornly entrenched dictator; and now in Libya a mad man is trying to burn down the entire house rather than face eviction.

For 42 years, Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s antics have blinded too many to a brutality they finally see on full display as he desperately tries to quash the most serious uprising against his rule. If too many chose to not see, Libyans have known all too well.

Half the struggle for Libyans has surely been getting the world to move beyond Gadhafi the Clown, a role he seems to have uninhibitedly embraced. Who hasn’t been distracted by the eclectic wardrobe, the Kalashnikov-armed female bodyguards, and the tents he would pitch at home and abroad for talks with officials.

A source of embarrassment for Libyans, Gadhafi has never been a joke: disappearances, a police state, zero freedom of expression and poverty for at least a third of the population of country tremendously wealthy thanks to oil.

For years, Gadhafi squandered that wealth on causes and radical violence abroad that he chose because they epitomized the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” school of diplomacy. In 2003, just as the U.S. became mired in Iraq and its non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Gadhafi realized no one was scared of him anymore and voluntarily gave up his weapons of mass destruction programs.

When the world has paid attention to his crimes it has invariably been to those against non-Libyans such as the mid-air bombings of a French airliner over Niger and of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Once he compensated families who lost relatives in those attacks, Gadhafi became persona grata and money and business deals came in, along with high-level dignitaries. …

Read more : Huffingtonpost

UNESCO’s Director-General condemns murder of Pakistani journalist Abdul Hameed Hayatan in Baluchistan

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has called on authorities to investigate the murder of Pakistani journalist Abdul Hameed Hayatan, whose body was found with gunshot wounds on 18 November outside of Turbat, in western Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

“I condemn the murder of Abdul Hameed Hayatan,” said Ms Bokova. “An act of violence on a journalist is not only a crime against the individual victim. It also represents an attack on freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of democratic society. I call on the authorities in Pakistan to spare no effort in investigating this murder and bringing the culprits to justice.”

Known also as Lala Hameed Baloch, Hameed, 25, was found dead in a canal alongside his friend Hamid Ismail after they disappeared from their home town of Gwadar, in Baluchistan’s west, on October 25, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). Hameed reported for the Urdu-language Daily Intikhab, and worked as a stringer for several other news outlets.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) notes that Hameed’s murder brings to 11 the total number of reported deaths of media workers in Pakistan this year. Four of these deaths have been in Baluchistan. …

Read more : UNESCO

Rama Pir Sufi Saint of Sindh and Hind

 

Rama Pir Mandar

– Riaz Sohail, Karachi, Sindh

To read the report in Urdu, please click the following link;

or click the following link;

Courtesy: BBC urdu

http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/pakistan/story/2008/10/081010_rama_pir_mandar_rh.shtml


– — – – – – –  – – – – –  — – –

‘Beyond Hindu and Muslim’:

Rethinking Iconographic Models and Symbolic Expressions in Sindh, A Case of the Tradition of Rama Pir

By Sohail Bawani

Images, signs and symbols have always been significant intermediaries between the world and its representation before individuals. These images, signs and symbols portray more than just graphical facts, figures and forms; they are a means towards construction of human perception of ‘reality’: the ‘meaningfulness’ of the material world through the same (Lichty 2003: 1). Similarly, iconography, particularly portraying religious images, had played an important role in understanding and describing human interpretations about things beyond human imaginations, for example the matter of the creation of the universe.

The valley of the Indus River, since the time of its civilization’s peak and through local inhabitants and arrival of Muslims, including the Sufi saints, has been rich in its symbolic expressions and materials related to ‘image writing’; more specifically, within the context of the interaction between ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Islam’ in the Indian subcontinent (Khan 2004: 30). Moreover, not much has been written through the iconographic perspective about the cultural heritage in shape of sacred symbols among the various religious traditions in Sindh today.

With this perspective in mind, this paper is an attempt to explore the visual culture related to a devotional worship through a temple called Rama Pir or Ramdev Pir mandir, situated in Tando Allahyar, Sindh. The first part of this paper briefly describes different aspects of iconographic legends and symbols concurrently ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ in nature related to the famous charismatic figures in Sindh at present. This will be important in contextualizing the above visual culture in the broader context of religious traditions in Sindh. Moreover, the second part will take the tradition of Rama Pir, a Rajput prince-deity, as a case for depicting ‘syncretic’ (‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’) iconographic figure and symbol system. The third part will lead towards the main problem, by arguing as to what extent is it feasible to identify symbols and icons as ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ by taking the tradition of Rama Pir again as a case. Lastly, this paper will conclude by synthesizing the above part to draw some general principles on the same argument.

‘Neither Hindus nor Muslims’: Iconographic Legends and related Symbolic Expressions in Sindh, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Uderolal in Perspective

Richard Burton, in his famous account on Sindh has mentioned some Pirs revered by both Hindus and Muslims, in the portion in which he discusses tasawwuf, Sufism in Sindh (1975: 326). Among those Pirs he mentions Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Sheikh Tahir containing both identities, i.e. as a Muslim Pir and also as a Hindu saint: Lal Shahbaz Qalandar as Raja Bharatri and Uderolal as Sheikh Tahir (ibid.). It is interesting to note from this observation regarding the names that perhaps it accentuated the perception of a community about a charismatic figure; which could be Muslim or Hindu.

It has been said that before the advent of Lal Shahbaz there was a Shivaite temple located in Sehwan in Sindh, where the shrine of this saint is situated. It might be an ancient pilgrimage center of the Hindus before the erection of the dargah (Boivin 2003: 7). Besides, a saint named Bharatri, an icon of ascetism in Indic traditions said to have been there before the arrival of the famous saint of Sehwan (Boivin 2003: 19); perhaps later became the appellation for Lal Shahbaz by the Hindus. On the other hand, it seems that association of Raja Bharatri, already a known character for Hindus, continued to exist in the form of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar later, as a Muslim Sufi saint. We may observe the impact of these parallel identities even after the demise of the saint-pir. For instance, a Hindu originated man called Lal Das came to Sehwan from Kashmir to pay homage to Qalandar and never went back (Boivin 2003: 13). A dargah of Lal Das was also erected after his death, who was buried rather than cremated. A small population of Hindus frequently visits this ‘Hindu’ shrine (Boivin 2005a: 316). Today, one of the most important rituals performed at the time of the urs (anniversary of a Muslims saint) of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is the mehndi; an important element for the bride and groom in Indian weddings even in present times. It may come as a surprise that the mehndi ritual is performed by the Thakurs, local Hindu inhabitants, even before the proceedings of the sajjada nashins commence (Boivin 2003: 18-19).

The Indus has been worshipped since the earliest times in the form of water and light by local dwellers. Uderolal has been invoked as the incarnation of the river-god of the Indus and known under various names such as Khwaja Khizr, Darya Shah, Dulah Lal, Amarlal, Zinda Pir and others (Dawani 2002: 63-64). Popular poster art, available at local bazaars and temples represents Uderolal sitting on a fish with his white beard and mustache, resembling that of a Muslim Sufi saint floating on the River Indus. This iconographic description resonates with the continuation of the ‘river-cult’ in the Muslim era in the form of Sheikh Tahir and Khwaja Khizr; perhaps by those proselytes who still venerated Hindu sacred spaces even after becoming Muslims. This fact can be understood by the architectural structure of the shrine of Uderolal; situated in Hala, near the Uderolal railway station, Sindh. This shrine-complex was built under the supervision of the Mughals having Kashmiri and Persian importation of design (Dawani 2002: 67). This shrine-complex has both a temple and a mausoleum. A wooden Samadhi has been erected in memory of the river-saint including his image in the temple, however, no idol can be found. An oil lamp burns there regularly (Dawani 2002: 68). After this observation, one may ask, which structure is older, the mausoleum or the temple? We may propose tentatively the ‘Mughalization’ of the ‘cult’ of Uderolal after the advent of the Muslims. The restoration of the place into a gigantic structure indicates that the Mughals perhaps attempted to appropriate the spiritual heritage within the Muslim context: continuing the tradition of river-worship by associating a similar figure called Khizr, a wali2 related to the river and a famous symbol among the Sufis; who used to guide their disciples, those not having any formal relationship with a Sufi master, but on their way towards unification with the divine in various Sufi tariqahs.

The Tradition of Rama Pir in Sindh

Rama Pir is popularly known under the name of Ramdev Pir in the Indian subcontinent. In Sindh he is also known as Ramlo Pir; lo with Rama is an expletive rhythmic Sindhi suffix (Boivin 1998b: 28), and Pir, a Persian derivative to denote a saintly figure. Apart from these names, he is also venerated as Baba Ramdev and Ram Shah, probably referring more towards Muslim appellations such as Baba and Shah. It is not far away that at Runicha-Ramdeora, where the main shrine of this saint is located in Pokran, Rajasthan, in India, some Muslim votaries suspect him to be a Muslim saint; whose dargah, later on taken away by the Hindus, was transformed into a temple (Khan 1997: 64).

Present hagiographical accounts depict Ramdev as a Kshatriya Rajput deity-saint and an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu-Krishna; who miraculously appeared in a cradle where his elder brother Viramdev was sleeping. His father Maharaja Ajmalji (King of Pokran) secured him through a sacred boon conferred by the Lord Krishna. The child was held in awe as he used to perform miracles since an early age. As the legend goes, he killed a demon called Bhero, who used to slaughter and eat the people of that area.

Khan suspects that the present form of the tradition is a transformed version due to many reasons and now turned merely into a ‘bhakti cult’ and a pilgrimage center in Rajasthan; which is a heterogeneous tradition from ‘mainstream Hinduism’ (1997: 62). However, she classifies Ramdev Pir as a guru or a spiritual leader of the ‘cult’ rather than the founder of the ‘sect’; and possibly connected with the Nizari Ismaili dawa: a highly organized proselytizing campaign of the Ismailis to propagate Islam that recognizes the right of authority of the Imams as their sole guide3 (Khan 1997: 60-96). The Ismailis are one of the important facets of Islam related to Shiite ideologies. An alleged Ismaili Pir called Pir Shams was actually responsible for initiating this tradition by proselytizing a lineage of Tanwar Rajput in which Ramdev Pir was an important figure, as the devotional hymns related to Meghwars, the traditional followers of Ramdev, have shown (Khan 1997: 68, 82-82) (Mallison). Ramdev, as a result, happened to be an alleged ‘forgotten’ saint of the Ismailis, who went back to ‘Hinduism’ later on; since Ismaili dawa perhaps could not be able to hold its vigor on the propagating reigns.

It seems that the tradition related to Ramdev Pir in Sindh is a recent phenomenon, not before the twentieth century if we are to consider Aitken’s (1986: 182) remarks on the worship of Ramdev Pir (Bawani 2006: 27). Before Aitken (1986) we are unable to trace any source informing us about this deity-saint. However, according to a popular legend, the tradition of Rama Pir in Sindh starts with his journey towards a place called Umerkot; a desert area of Tharparkar in Sindh, situated in modern day Pakistan. It is believed that he visited this place for his wedding with a Sodha princesses called Netal Devi; Sodhas are a famous tribe that ruled Umerkot around the twelfth century (Chanuriya 2005: 91-102). Historical sources do not conjure up any event like this, though they show strong martial relations between the ruling tribes of Sindh and Rajasthan (Allana 1995: 68) (Butt 2003: 94).

Currently, for the Hindus in Sindh, who are mostly the so called ‘untouchables’, the temple of Rama Pir in Tando Allahyar is one of the third largest pilgrimage centers. It is situated in the midst of the main bazaar near the railway station of Tando Allayar, approximately 20 kilometers from Hyderabad in Sindh, Pakistan. Every year at the time of the annual fair held in the first week of September, this sacred space attracts thousands of devotees who pay homage and visit in fulfillment of their vows. For the votaries, Rama Pir is a savior deity; who also cures every kind of ailment if called upon from the heart. For the staunch bhakt or devotee he is said to appear mysteriously when his followers are faced with a terrible situation.

He has been worshipped as a hero-saint and for the ‘low caste’ Hindu communities as a caste demolisher. More particularly so, due to the suppression of the upper caste Hindu and Muslim feudal, borne by the low caste which forms a considerable number of peasantry and field labour force in various parts of Sindh.

Iconography and Symbolic Expressions

The first impression of the figure of Ramdev is an idol installed in the mandir of Tando Allahyar, which appears more like a Muslim saint riding a white horse. Popular iconography presents him with his beard and mustache like that of a Sufi with a two-sided conical banner in his hand. Traditionally, idol worship is strictly prohibited. It may possibly be related to the nirgun principle: a concept of immaculate god in Indic tradition; or perceived as a Muslim concept of unity of ‘being’. It is however, in recent times that the popular icon of Ramdev Pir has been introduced in Sindh. Before, as some of the devotees suggest, it was only a lamp that was regularly kept burning inside the main areas of the worship.

One of the important symbols related to the tradition of Rama Pir in Sindh is the constantly maintained oil lamp inside the mandir. It is believed that the temple situated in Tando Allahyar was erected when an upper caste Khatri, after the fulfillment of his vow for a child, took this lamp from Runicha; where the main center of pilgrimage of Ramdev Pir is located. Lamps have been kept in all major shrines of the Sufis in Sindh as a sacred object. One is also kept in the shrine of Uderolal already discussed. Moreover, light itself is a popular element in various sacred traditions.

One will feel amazed to observe the building of the temple, which is again close to a structure of a shrine than a temple. Usually, temples of the Hindus have cone-shaped roofs with many of the icons and carved images installed on the walls and on the pillars. However, at the mandir of Rama Pir, arches or mehrabs can be observed from the front view of the temple. Mehrab is thought to be a common characteristic associated with the structural designs of the sacred spaces of the Muslims. Moreover, the use of Hala and ceramic tiles has given this sacred site a traditional Sindhi feel.

Another prominent symbol of the tradition is the foot-print (qadam) and the banner (dhaja). The foot-print is generally painted or woven in the speared-flag mostly accompanied with a crescent and a star. This flag or banner has been carried by the devotees in atonement of a vow. In the context of the Indic tradition, this foot-mark is supposed to be of the Alakh, the formless god of the Jogis (ascetics) or it belonged to Vishnu (The Nirgun Lord), (Khan 1997: 106-107). A similar foot-mark is also common among the Muslims, for instance, the sacred qadam sharif or qadam rasul can be found in Jerusalem that has been ascribed to the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh); whereas, an impression of his cousin’s foot namely Ali, the first Imam of the Shias, can be observed in the sanctuary dedicated to him near Hyderabad Deccan in India (Schimmel 1994: 3). Moreover, related to the speared-banner is the main alam or banner installed in front of the temple. It has been raised in veneration of Rama Pir at the time of the annual festival where all the devotees take part in the sacred flag ceremony. In the Shiite tradition, one may find a similar vocabulary of alam and a flag with palm and fingers on the top, referring to the numeral five for the Panjetan Paak: the five key figures among the Shias namely, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Hazrat Ali, Bibi Fatima, Imam Hasan and Imam Husain.

An Approach towards Rethinking Iconographic Models and Symbolic Expressions in Sindh: A Case of the Tradition of Rama Pir

The decisive principal thought behind the above discussion has continually focused: interaction between ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Islam’ on different levels; from sharing symbolic expressions to charismatic figures. Experts have tried to understand this phenomenon through different approaches and many theories had been proposed for the same. For instance, this interaction has recently been understood anew by the concept of ‘liminality’4 by Dominique Sila-Khan (2004) in the context of South Asia. The word ‘liminal’ emanates from ‘limen’ – Latin in origin – to mean a ‘boundary’ or a ‘threshold’. However, in the context of South Asia, she has used this concept to articulate the state of shared religious practices among the Hindus and Muslims; for example, rituals, formulas, literature, legends and even religious figures…a state of ‘religious identity’ that is ‘in-between’ and is difficult to draw a margin on to call something or someone a ‘Hindu’ or a ‘Muslim’. With this remark, we can argue the approach in which iconographies and symbol system has been interpreted. For example, what is the criterion that qualifies Ramdev Pir as a Muslim saint? His beard and mustache, which seems ‘Islamic’? Or does the title of Pir makes him eligible? More precisely, we may argue, if iconographic models or symbolic expressions are ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ in nature?

It will be significant to observe these ‘objects’ (signs, symbols and images) when they became ‘sacred objects’, i.e. a phenomenological approach towards them. In other words, these signs, symbols and images are more ‘cultural’ than ‘religious’. For example, the symbol of the foot-print associated with the tradition of Ramdev Pir and the Muslims is first a natural object, a stone. The use of stone is as ancient as human societies for conveying abstract meanings. Stones have been taken as signs of power and sometimes as eternal strength, perhaps due to the hardness and perpetuity (Schimmel 1994: 1). Moreover, in the Indus Valley, stones are prominent objects of worship related to the mother goddess in the form of rings (Jairazbhoy 1994: 9). The famous practice of worshipping lingum, an important symbol in the Shivaite tradition, is also associated with the stone (Jairazbhoy 1994: 12-13).

Similarly, flags or banners are supposed to be the developed form of rod or wand – which is again a symbol that is derived from the tree – widely used to satisfy superstitions and magical practices in primitive societies. Besides, it has also been thought to increases human power and used as a sign of guidance (Schimmel 1994: 29-30). However, a Peepal tree (ficus religiosa) has been a sacred object depicted in a seal found in the excavations conducted in Mohenjodaro, Sindh. The mother goddess can be seen sitting in its shade (Jairazbhoy 1994: 8). In Sindh, a Sufi master called Pir Jhandewaro (Pir of the flag’) has also been named after the flag (Schimmel 1994: 30).

The same can be said for the architectural design of the sacred spaces that are so-called ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’. Both derive their architectural heritage from neighboring cultures and civilizations. For instance, architecture associated with the Muslim societies is mostly influenced by the Christians, like the Copts or Mozarabs, Jews or the Armenians; who sometimes acted as material and cultural contact agents between Muslims and themselves, by means of commerce (Irwin 1997: 214). Similarly, temple structures in Indic traditions evolved out of the Stupas5, known in India since the first century BC, but possibly were more ancient than the suggested era of their identification. The Stupas were designed to be ‘seen as the image of the cosmos’, again symbolizes a universal phenomenon of encompassing transcendent ‘reality’ through a corporeal object.

We may now conclude that ‘objects’ remain the same but the ‘vision’ or creative imagination have made them abstract and appropriate for the respective ‘religions’, or sacred traditions which are at the core of every religion. And, every religion or sacred tradition internalizes the eternal ‘existential quest’ of human beings; personal search for some questions that transcends reason: to whom I belong? Who is the creator of this universe and how it works? They become ‘meaningful’ through various religious visions by materialization of the same through cultural items. Since, ‘…vision is implicit in culture’ but it is encapsulated into social and cultural practices; similarly, symbolic expressions and images are encoded values of the religious visions, more or less common in every human culture but they vary in their meanings.

Courtesy: http://www.nuktaartmag.com/Nukta/GeneralContent/View/110