Tag Archives: Sehwan Sharif

Sindh – Entering another Realm- Mast Qalandar!

sehwa-sharif-festivalPakistan’s Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy

By Nicholas Schmidle
I stopped taking notes, closed my eyes and began nodding my head. As the drummer built toward a feverish peak, I drifted unconsciously closer to him. Before long, I found myself standing in the middle of the circle, dancing beside the man with the exuberant earlobes.

“Mast Qalandar!” someone called out. The voice came from right behind me, but it sounded distant. Anything but the drumbeat and the effervescence surging through my body seemed remote. From the corner of my eye, I noticed photographer Aaron Huey high-stepping his way into the circle. He passed his camera to Kristin. In moments, his head was swirling as he whipped his long hair around in circles.

“Mast Qalandar!” another voice screamed.

If only for a few minutes, it didn’t matter whether I was a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist. I had entered another realm. I couldn’t deny the ecstasy of Qalandar. And in that moment, I understood why pilgrims braved great distances and the heat and the crowds just to come to the shrine. While spun into a trance, I even forgot about the danger, the phone calls, the reports of my disappearance and the police escort.

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Sindh: The Sehwan Sharif festival

sehwa-sharif-festival.jpg The greatest party on earth?

By Declan Walsh

(Women dance outside the ‘golden gate’ at the central Shrine of the Sehwan Sharif festival. Around 1 million people attend the three day event that combines partying and prayer to mark the death of the Sufi mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalander, who died 755 years ago. Photograph Declan Walsh.)

Pakistan’s tourism ministry designated 2007 as “Destination Pakistan”, the year when tourists were urged to discover the country’s sights and delights. Their timing couldn’t have been worse. A military ruler clinging to power, al-Qaida fanatics hiding in the mountains, suicide bombings booming across the cities – in 2007, Pakistan has become a byword for peril and turmoil.

But there is another Pakistan, one the majority of its 165 million people are more familiar with. It is the thrusting software entrepreneurs and brash new television stations. It is the kite flyers and partygoers and the strangers who insist you sit for a cup of tea. And it is Sehwan Sharif.

A sleepy town on the Indus river, Sehwan Sharif is on the heroin smuggling route that runs through Sindh from Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea. In summer it is a sauna – stepping from my air-conditioned car last month, the heat carried a five-knuckle wallop.

I joined about 1 million people who come to Sehwan Sharif for three days every year, to mark the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, an ancient Sufi mystic. It is one of south Asia’s greatest parties.

A giant, infectious drumbeat fills the night air. Red-clad women spin like dervishes and old men dance like teenagers. Men kiss the railings of the shrine; some burst into tears. A conga line of worshippers pushes into a glittering shrine at the heart of festival. The soft aroma of hashish and cooked bread wafts through the tiny alleyways; old men with watery eyes suck on clay pipes; barefoot families doze on the rooftops.

A million people – it’s enough to give an embassy security officer a heart attack. Yet I’ve rarely felt so secure. Impromptu singing sessions erupt by the roadside. People offer strangers a bed, a meal, or a drag from their joint. Smiles and handshakes are everywhere. Qalandar, a sort of medieval hippy, would have approved. Wandering through this area almost 800 years ago, he preached tolerance between Hindus and Muslims and peace to all men. Legend had it that he could transform himself into a falcon.

One night I met Muhammad Fiaz, a burly bus driver from Gujrat with glitter on his cheeks. He had taken his annual holiday to come and sit at the feet of a pir, or holy man. He brushed off any talk of politics. “Musharraf and his lot are one thing,” he said. “This is entirely another”.

Thursday October 4, 2007

Courtesy: The Guardian

Source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,,2183119,00.html