Tag Archives: tradition

One bride for five brothers

Grooms’ sex-rota in one-room shack

By EMILY NASH

A YOUNG mum told last night how she has five husbands — who are all BROTHERS. Rajo Verma, 21, lives in a one-room shack with all five, sleeping with a different one each night on a rota. The housewife has no idea which one is the father of her toddler son. She said: “Initially it felt a bit awkward. But I don’t favour one over the other.” Husband Guddu, 21 — the first to make her his bride — insisted: “We all have sex with her but I’m not jealous. We’re one big happy family.” The couple got hitched in an arranged Hindu marriage four years ago and he remains her only official spouse.

But the custom in their village is she had to take as husbands his brothers Bajju, 32, Sant Ram, 28, Gopal, 26, and Dinesh — who married her last year when he turned 18.

Eldest brother Bajju said: “I consider her my wife and sleep with her like my brothers.” Rajo cooks, cleans and looks after 18-month-old Jay while her hubbies go out to work in Dehradun, northern India.

She said of the ancient tradition, called polyandry: “My mother was also married to three brothers so when I got wed I knew I had to accept all of them as my husbands.

Continue reading One bride for five brothers

Tradition of nonviolence originated along the banks of the Sindhu (Indus) River

Tradition of nonviolence originated along the banks of the Sindhu/Sindh (Indus) River. The American Institute of Sindhulogy (AIS) is dedicated to spreading the lessons of the ancient Sindhu-Saraswati River Civilization and its message of nonviolence. ….

Read more » American Institute of Sindhulogy

More » Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky supports American Institute of Sindhulogy’s Nonviolence Initiative

ISI’s classic blunder in Siachen Conflict (1984)?

By: Tausif Kamal

1984 Siachen was another debacle by Pakistan Army. Shouldn’t our COAS and GOC Siachen should be held accountable and resign? Of course don’t count our shameless generals to resign in the long tradition of our Army. They did not resign upon loosing wars or even loosing half of the country. Did they resign when the GHQ was attacked, or Mehran base or Kargil or 1965 or surrendering of whole battalions to Talibans, other fiascos. Most probably they got more bonuses and DHA plots and promotions …

Courtesy: Pakistani e-lists/ e-groups, April 9, 2012.

The forces of darkness will not give up easily but neither will we.

Bilawal Vows to Defend Minorities on Bhatti Anniversary

Karachi: The Chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that the party will continue to stand by Pakistan’s religious minorities and support them against bigotry in the tradition of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

In a statement marking the first anniversary of the assassination of PPP leader Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of the Christian community, the PPP Chairperson paid tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti’s dedication to Pakistani democracy and the ideal of a more tolerant and inclusive Pakistan. …

Read more » Pak Tea House

http://networkedblogs.com/uFt3H

Veena Malik open to stripping for Hollywood

Dubai: Pakistani actress Veena Malik has said that if she was in Hollywood, she would have to work according to the ‘culture’ there, even if it means going nude.

The dark haired beauty, famous for her Lollywood and Bollywood roles and outspoken views on fighting Pakistani Muslim traditions, is caught up in a scandalous affair posing naked on the front cover of India’s FHM magazine.

“… In Pakistan I work within the culture and in India or Bollywood I do the same,” Gulf News quoted her as saying.

“When I’m in Hollywood I would do what is expected of me within their industry. I’m an entertainer after all,” she said.

The controversial actress, who has been engaged twice in the past, called herself a romantic and said that some day, she would like to be a wife too.

“I really believe in love and marriage. I’m a real romantic and I want to be a wife some day but it has to be with the right person,” she said.

“I know someone will come along eventually. I believe that if you look for something you will eventually find it,” she added. ANI

Courtesy: ZeeNews

Pakistan’s military rejects Pentagon findings, denies coup plot

By Tom Hussain

The war of words between the Pakistani prime minister and army chief follows claims by an American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, that Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, had in May asked him to seek White House support against a planned military coup.

Continue reading Pakistan’s military rejects Pentagon findings, denies coup plot

BAAGHI: Sindh fights back in Shikarpur

BAAGHI: Pakistan fights back in Shikarpur —Marvi Sirmed

Shikarpur was to the old Sindh what Karachi is today to Pakistan. Having trade links with Central Asia, from Qandahar to Uzbekistan to Moscow, Shikarpur was the gateway of Sindh to the world

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan saw yet another moment of national shame right on the day of Eid-ul-Azha when four Hindus, including three doctors, were brutally killed in broad daylight. Conflicting media messages and false claims about the motive are but an ugly attempt to justify the crime. According to the story given out to the media, the murders took place after a boy from the Hindu community sexually assaulted a girl from the Muslim Bhayo tribe. Bhayo is the third most influential tribes of Shikarpur after the Jatois and Mahars in Chak town of Shikarpur. Hindus make around 6,000 out of the total 40,000 people in Chak town and are the predominant contributors to Sindh’s economy through trade and other professions. In the local politics of the area, the Hindu community has never been as muted as it is now, after the advent of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), working openly through their unmarked offices and representatives since at least a decade.

One was appalled listening to the people of the town about the immunity with which the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) operates in Shikarpur in cahoots with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan-Fazl (JUI-F) and with the support of local tribal chiefs and state machinery, especially the police. The accused Bhayo tribe has its members in not only the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (the main accused Babul Khan Bhayo is district head of the PPP), but also in pro-Taliban  Ulema-e-Pakistan-Fazl (JUI-F) and proscribed militant extremist organisation, the SSP.

According to the details gathered from the local communities, a young girl from Bhayo community went to see her Hindu friend on Diwali night. The girl was seen entering the autaq (sitting area used by males), which was unusual in the local culture. Discovering the boy and the girl together, community elders (Hindus) reportedly beat the boy and sent the girl back to her home. The event triggered the ‘honour’ of the Bhayo tribe. What made things worse was the boy’s religion. The Bhayos felt doubly humiliated.

The Bhayo members of the  Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan-Fazl (JUI-F) started threatening the entire Hindu community since that day. The community requested the police for security after which the police established a small picket near the Hindu neighbourhood. But two hours before the incident, policemen vanished from the scene only to come back half an hour after the ambush. Just when the police pretended to start searching for the culprits, SSP and JUI-F workers gathered around the police station and amid the slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great) and Jihad Fi Sabilillah (war in the cause of God), they intimidated the police staff and asked to close the case. Resultantly, the FIR could only be registered around 36 hours after the crime. The victims’ family does not agree with the facts described in the state-registered complaint.

Noteworthy is the fact that the victims were not even remotely related to the Hindu boy accused by the Bhayo tribes of being ‘karo’ (accused boy). According to a much-criticised tradition, when an unmarried couple is caught together, they are murdered after the Panchayat is informed. The accused girl (kari) is usually murdered before or with the accused boy (karo). According to the tribal code, karo can only be the one directly involved in the ‘illicit’ relations with the kari. In this case, even the principles of this tradition (unapproved by educated Sindhis), karo-kari (honour killing), were not followed. It is a case of simple and direct targeting of the Hindu community, which remains an endangered one after the religious extremists were installed in the area for running the madrassas.

Madrassa tradition in Shikarpur is almost 40 years old, which is the age of the oldest madrassa here. According to the locals, Pashto speaking Niazis from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjabis from south Punjab were brought in over a decade ago. Totally alien to the local culture and traditions, they tried to impose strict Islamic code, which initially did not work. But after more than a decade, an entire generation has been out of these madrassas in the social life of Shikarpur. When I spoke to over a dozen people from the local Muslim community, I found them extremely opposed to and fearful of the Islamisation being brought to Sindh, which they saw as a part of the larger design of ruining the Sindhi culture.

The fact that the common people still value local pluralistic culture is evident from the fact that over the last few days, people — mainly Muslims — are coming out in the streets every day in almost 500-600 villages and towns of rural Sindh against this incident. It was heartening to know that not only thousands (6,000 according to a conservative estimate by a member of the local Press Club) of Muslims participated in the funeral of their four fellow citizens; hundreds of them have taken upon themselves to ensure the security of the frightened Hindu community. They stay day and night at the entrance of the Hindu neighbourhood. These common people, one Hindu resident of the area said, are not only from the influential Mahar and Jatoi communities but also some Bhayos are seen among them.

When asked how the pro-Taliban Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan-Fazl (JUI-F) guys got such an influence in an otherwise sufi and secular culture of this city, the people proudly said that the fact that these extremists need political backing, support of the tribal influentials and police machinery, is enough evidence of their weakness. Had they had a popular support, they would not have needed any of these tactics. A local rights’ activist (Muslim), who is a key organiser of a protest rally today (Monday) at 12 noon in Hyderabad, wanted me to tell the world that Pakistanis would fight extremism till the last drop of their blood.

This is Pakistan! Those in the charge of things must realise that the people of Pakistan are committed to their pluralistic values ingrained in their sufi culture. Any effort to dismantle plural and secular social base would be met with fierce resistance. The ones who believe that we, the ‘liberal fascists’, are few in number and are irrelevant, should see how this battle is being fought by a common citizen in Sindh, original home to a wonderful Hindu community who made Shikarpur mercantile hub of Sindh before the Talpurs came in. Shikarpur was to the old Sindh what Karachi is today to Pakistan. Having trade links with Central Asia, from Qandahar to Uzbekistan to Moscow, Shikarpur was the gateway of Sindh to the world. And in Shikarpur, it was our Hindu trader community that started the system of payments through cheques. Home to poets like Sheikh Ayaz, this city has produced seers and litterateurs alongside professionals of the highest quality. Today Shikarpur is determined to fight extremism more than ever.

Continue reading BAAGHI: Sindh fights back in Shikarpur

The Ottoman empire’s secular history undermines sharia claims

A new paper shows 18th- and 19th-century Ottoman rulers decriminalised homosexuality and promoted women’s education

by Tehmina Kazi

Hardline Muslim groups often portray the Ottoman empire as a magic template for a global caliphate. This is then used as a springboard for grandiose arguments that paint a caliphate as viable, and deem it as the only credible model of governance for the future. These arguments are based on a belief that the empire adhered to a single interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) for over 600 years, and – crucially – that its success was contingent on this.

But a paper by Ishtiaq Hussain, published by Faith Matters on Saturday displays a very different picture. Ottoman sultans, or caliphs, in the 18th and 19th centuries launched secular schools and promoted the education of women. The period of reformation known as the Tanzimat saw customary and religious laws being replaced in favour of secular European ones. More surprisingly, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1858 (long before many western states took their cue, and over a century before the American Psychiatric Association declassified it as a mental illness in 1973). Contrary to the claims of hardline groups, religious authorities approved many of these measures.

In terms of broader social change, the Ottomans made strong attempts to integrate non-Muslim communities. On the cultural front, it is well known that a minority of people claim that Islam frowns upon artistic expression. However, the last sultan/caliph, Abdulmecid Efendi (1922-1924) has numerous paintings on display in Istanbul’s new museum of modern art; many others were also keen musicians and played a variety of musical instruments. It is therefore clear that the sultan/caliphs enunciated a progressive vision for a secular Muslim society, many years before al-Qaida and similar groups came into existence.

Continue reading The Ottoman empire’s secular history undermines sharia claims

Drivers of social change & mass awareness

by Waseem Altaf

The social media is now impacting the political scene in Pakistan too. The press conference of Zulfiqar Mirza and the recent speech of Altaf Hussain are thoroughly being discussed on the social media. Earlier the murder of Governor Salaman Taseer turned Facebook into a battleground between his supporters and opponents

Earlier civilizations relied on the oral tradition to pass on advice and knowledge from one generation to the next. The human development took a giant leap when man developed writing systems around 3200 BC. Human experience could now be preserved to be transmitted to posterity in a more organized and systematic manner. However handwritten material was restricted to a privileged class with tremendous influence of the clergy on the content. …

Read more → ViewPoint

A political revolution

By Rasul Bakhsh Rais

The passage of the 18th Amendment has set into motion, a remarkable, though slow, political revolution in restructuring Pakistan’s polity. This is far more momentous than restoring the parliamentary character of the constitution, or even granting provincial autonomy. The word autonomy cannot capture the true letter and spirit of the new federalism that is unfolding before us. Rather, it is about remodelling Pakistan’s political system according to a new principle of distribution of power, with the provinces as new centres of authority, power and resources.

Thinking of provinces as new centres of power and laying something down into the constitution to make them powerful, runs counter to both, the colonial tradition of supervising political evolution, and the centralised state and nation-building strategy followed for the past six decades. It goes to the credit of political parties and their leadership that they have realised that the old ways of governing Pakistan have failed and they needed to give a greater part of the power and resources of the centre, which had grown arrogant, paternalistic and insensitive to the provinces.

This structural change in the political order has created new conditions in which some groups and sections are bound to lose, while others will make gains. Who loses and who gains is an issue that will greatly impact the ongoing process of shifting power to the provinces, as the old, deeply entrenched political and bureaucratic groups fight to the last to save their little turfs and fiefdoms. In our case, the federal bureaucracy is the loser, as it cannot hope to rule the provinces under the guise of national integration, solidarity and security anymore. It will take a great deal of internal reflection on the part of the federal bureaucracy, as well as time, to adjust to the power shift. …

Read more : The Express Tribune

Pakistan remains a military-dominated rentier state

Failed state or Weimar Republic?

Pakistan remains a military-dominated rentier state, still committed to American and Gulf Arab alliances

By Omar Ali

A friend recently wrote to me that Pakistan reminded him of the Weimar republic; an anarchic and poorly managed democracy with some real freedoms and an explosion of artistic creativity, but also with a dangerous fascist ideology attracting more and more adherents as people tire of economic hardship and social disorder and yearn for a savior. Others (much more numerous than the single friend who suggested the Weimar comparison) insist that Pakistan is a failed state. So which is it? Is Pakistan the Weimar republic of the day or is it a failed state?

Continue reading Pakistan remains a military-dominated rentier state

Robert Fisk: The crimewave that shames the world

It’s one of the last great taboos: the murder of at least 20,000 women a year in the name of ‘honour’. Nor is the problem confined to the Middle East: the contagion is spreading rapidly.

It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the “honour” of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe. ….

Read more : The Independent.co.uk

Civilian and military atrocities on Baloch people

A Page from the Past – By Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Who was an active member of the Balochistan Resistance in the 70s. He recently returned to Pakistan after a 10-year long exile in Afghanistan.

In keeping with the Pakistani tradition of camouflaging history a vital chunk of the country’s past has been shrouded in mystery for over 20 years. This was the period of 1973-1977, when the Baloch rose in revolt against a state that had relentlessly oppressed them for decades and military operations against the Baloch people were at their peak. …

Read more : Baloch Voice

Sindh demonstrates traditional religious harmony

Sunnis as well as Hindus in Sindh, as they have done for centuries, joined the Shia minority in their mourning processions.. the same has held true for Hindu and traditional Sindhi festivals. Centuries old reports observe how entire cities participated in celebrations such as Holi and Ddiyaarii.. one 17th century observer noted that Thatto was closed for days for Holi celebrations.

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Sindh demonstrates traditional religious harmony

By Jan Khaskheli, Karachi

People in Sindh have again shown sectarian harmony, a tradition set by their elders hundreds of years ago, taking out Muharram processions together. In all big and small cities and towns of rural Sindh, including Hyderabad, Sukkur and Khairpur, processions have been staged peacefully through marked routes.

People are keeping a close eye on any attempt to create sectarianism in the holy month of Muharram. They say that there is no visible security threat in their areas during the Ashura processions and Majalis. It is an old tradition that people of each sect visit major mosques of their villages and towns for Eid prayers while on the occasion of Ashura they gather at Imambargahs.

There are many Imambargahs in Hyderabad, Khairpur and small towns like Hala New, Matiari and Sehwan. Some of them are as old as 150 years, and hundreds of people from neighbouring areas come there to attend Majalis and take part processions, and take Niaz (food).

In Sehwan, the shrine of Qalandar Lal Shabaz is one of the most attractive places for visitors. It is on this shrine that processions from all neighbouring towns converge on Muharram 8 travel to join a big procession through fixed routes. As far as security is concerned, people say it is the government that makes such arrangements, otherwise people join the processions without any fear.

People give credit of this to Sufi saints, who played a key role in the region in teaching them to avoid spreading hatred rather and to promote peace and love. …

Read more : The News

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


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‘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