Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dervishes of Lahore
Text and photography by Umair Ghani
Paintings by Mehmood Butt

"We are the flute, our music is all Yours; Your wind invisible sweeps through the world!"

Lovers of the Truth, they call themselves. They deny all notions of duality and the individual self and seek Divine unity, “main nahin, sab Tu " [I’m nobody, all is You!], cries Shah Hussein. They wear black, red and green, and abstain from animal food. They whirl around the streets of Old Lahore chanting names of Allah and slogans of freedom from the worldly desire. “Dam mast qalandar, jholay lal, shah jamal, beray par”, Yasuo Osakabe writes these words to me from another world and I sit back and wonder, how silently the voice of dervishes echoes across the continents. Malangs rock!

Malangs and dervishes are unique characters. Dramatic personalities, seemingly under some deep spiritual trance, they move away from everyday existence of desire and greed. Living in the shadows of their very own personal beliefs, they disappear from the scene as soon as the Sufi festivals end, only to be seen again after a long lapse till the next festival begins. Ishq, they claim, is the foundation of their faith. It’s a stairway, a bridge, a vehicle that never fails to take one to the desired destination. “Ishq pakka, manzil pakki”, shouts Ghulam Rasool qalandar.

There are two types of Malangs (or perhaps: two extremes). The one extreme is firmly based on Muslim culture. This is the traditional stance, in many respects. The other extreme is universal in practice and outlook. This is a type of dervishes that has traditionally flourished in India and Pakistan. The first extreme has staunch faith in Quran and Sunnah. They are physically clean, offer prayers and other religious practices regularly. They are well versed in Sufi literature and teachings. The other extreme is more inclined to the psychedelic side of religious customs. Though the repeatedly chant religious slogans, but hardly care to wash themselves. They are covered in rags, dirt and stench. Wear few clothes, chains and locks to show their abstinence from worldly needs. They smoke Charas, drink Bhang to get into a trance which they can’t attain through meditation. I asked Mahila Saien Malang about his devastated state. “I’m happy”, he said, “You can’t understand. How can you know when you have never been through all this”. Evasive reply, I thought at first, but it wasn’t. Mahila Saien Malang along with Baba Berg Ali took a long drag and rolled his eyes. He transformed into a non entity, ignorant of everything that happened around him. Even loud beatings of Dhols couldn’t get him out of his self initiated trance.

Mystic Tradition of these malangs and dervishes involves diverse beliefs and practices dedicated to Divine Love and Unity. The Truth they seek is believed to originate in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, but some Dervishes claim that it pre-dates Islam and adopted Islam as a suitable vehicle. Some believe that all this was essentially the result of Islam evolving in a more mystic direction. Louis Massignon claims that it is from the Qur’an, constantly recited, meditated, and experienced, that Sufism, dervishes and other religious orders proceeded. Dr S Radhakrishnan asserts that mystics are akin to Advaita Vedanta [Hindu philosophy of identity of the self and the Whole], “it believes in the non dual Absolute of God and looks upon the world as reflection of God, Who is conceived as Light.” According to him the force of Islamic Mysticism was toned down in India, molded by Hindu practices and beliefs. But malangs at Sufi Shrines are infatuated with Ishq:

Do not call philosophy religionand do not call the ignorant wise.

The involvement of other religions’ customs [dominantly of Hinduism] in Islamic Sufism is evident from the practices of Malangs at shrines in Punjab and Sindh. The dance, worshipping the fire, taking hash, charas with smoke, drinking bhang and other toxic shrubs is very much a gift of religious customs in the subcontinent. “Man is a Qalandar”, a dervish whirls a bowl of green whisky and murids shout “Allah…”, “A man must live away from luxury. His heart is the house of God. He must never go astray in wake of desire and comfort”. “Ya Ali..!” they shout again, all at once, and take soothing sips from the bowl one by one. “Dam mastt qalandar! Jholay Lal!”

Shrines of the Sufis, their disciples and murids are drenched in color. Fire burns, aroma of scented wood fills the air. Qawwali music floats with the wind. Narrow and mysterious streets of Old Lahore are crowded with malangs and dervishes. Dhamal [religious dance] with dholis involves everyone. Masses flock these events to bury their misfortunes in prayers, dance and religious music. They hope to seek solace from the burden of sins. Seekers of the Truth come from various parts of the globe. Papu Saien and Gunga Saien thrill them with ecstatic Dhol beats. Mahela Saien Malang,Baba Berg Ali and many others offer charas filled cigarettes and bowls of green whisky. These dervishes talk peace and listen to the woes of suffering from people who come to seek solace to them. Human misery is never ending. But these shrines are the places where one can forget pains for a while. These dervishes are a ray of trust and assurance. A momentary escape from fear and sadness that surround every soul. A flicker of hope and a vague shadow of relief. A glimpse into the world beyond the self. A psychedelic look of relief into a world beyond reality.
“Bitter cruelty transforms me into a pearl, O Spirit!”
Diwan E Shamas


Elena said...

So rich and so inspiring. The culture, the colors, and the words I read and now dance in my head. Thank you for sharing.
In Spirit from Toronto.


Ali said...

Couldn't add anymore than what is said. The voices, the sounds, the colors, the universe, all spin as one.

मनुदीप यदुवंशी said...

I will be glad to know about the sufi personalities and will be thank full if you can send me the details related to most of the sufi fakeers you may have through email. My email id is thanks for the beautiful gift.

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