Generations of people across South Asia and beyond have known and sung “Damadam Mast Qalandar”. This spiritual ditty-cum-folk song has sent people in a trance even as the young have foot-tapped to this pop number. Nothing can compare with its other-worldliness.
And yet, last week’s (February 16) terror attack on Qalandar’s shrine at Sehwan, Sindh, Pakistan, where he lies buried, in which a suicide bomber exploded himself to kill 88 people and injure 250, did raise the expected anger, alarm, concern and protest.
What is to blame for this? Is it the inertia of those who follow Sufism? Or is it the fear of annoying the orthodox among the established orders of Islam for whom Sufism is seen as ‘impure’ and an ‘aberration’? The silence, and even oblique support to such acts in sections of the media is a matter of concern.
"Damadam mast Qalandar" is a Sufi cry of rebellion against these established orders from where Salafism and Wahabism have emanated to preach hatred and violence that has bedeviled the world in the form of terrorism.
Qalandar and Sehwan are the anti-thesis of established faiths’ forms and are different as they harbor the disorderly and the wanderer. They stand for love and piety.
This is part of the Sufi cult that came to South Asia from Turkey and Central Asia. It gave Indian touch to Islam, indigenizing it. It gained acceptance around the same time, India was having its own Bhakti movement, preaching the same love and piety. Among the notables of the Bhakti movement, as is well known, were Mirabai in Rajasthan, Narsi Mehta in Gujarat, Shree Chaitanya Mahaprbhu in Bengal and Sant Tukaram in Maharashtra.
Together, the two have given South Asia the spirit of mutual tolerance, no matter what the rulers did or did not, and the composite culture that has no other peer anywhere in the world.
From time to time, it has been threatened in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The attack at Sehwan is the latest in Pakistan that has witnessed attacks on Muslim Shias and Ahmedis who were declared non-Muslims and non-Muslim Hindu and Christian shrines and people.
Suleman Akhtar, a Pakistani writing from the safety of Sweden, says: “Sehwan is everything that a lot of contemporary Pakistan is not. It is inclusive and it does not impose religion. Sehwan is one of those cultural, geographical, and social spaces that stand on the peripheries of time and history, and defy everything that is official, resist the order of the day.
“When a Hindu sajjada nasheen family of the shrine performs the mehndi at the beginning of Lal Shahbaz's urs, one cannot tell if the Partition ever happened. When transgenders take part in dhamal and become part of the crowd without any mockery, one cannot tell that this is the same society where so much stigma is associated with deviant sexuality and gender.”
The attack at Sehwan had come when ‘dhammal’ the traditional song and dance ritual was on. The silver line is that as soon as the blood-soaked shrine was cleaned, the devotees resumed ‘dhammal’.
Note : This is a plea for peace and mutual tolerance. The writer claims no expertise on the complex subject.
[ Mahendra Ved is NST’s New Delhi correspondent, is the president of the Commonwealth Journalists Association 2016-2018 and a consultant with ‘Power Politics’ monthly magazine. He can be reached via email@example.com ]