By Anna Suvrova
The earliest qalandars found their way to the subcontinent from Khurasan. Having pretty well got on the nerves of Baba Farid, Bahaddin Zakariya and the other saints of Punjab, they moved towards Delhi and Bengal, perpetrating scandals in each khnqh which they came across on the way. From Gorakhattri, a small town in the neighbourhood of Peshawar, where there was the ‘trans-shipping point’ of wandering ascetics of various persuasions, they used to make their way along the main highway of the subcontinent extending over one and a half thousand miles, which connected the north-western regions with the capital of the Sultanate. Under the Mughals the highway was called the Imperial Road, whereas under the English it was given the name of the Grand Trunk Road, which later Kipling would call the ‘backbone of the entire Hind’ and the ‘river of life, having no equal in the whole world’.
Along this very ‘river of life’ there came to the capital of the Delhi Sultanate Shah Khizr Rumi, with who begins the story of the Qalandariyya fraternity in South Asia. A native of Anatoliya, Shah Khizr Rumi was a disciple of the semi-legendary long-lived saint ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Makki, whom qalandars traditionally regard as a contemporary and associate of the Prophet. Finding himself in Delhi during the reign of Iltutmish, Khizr Rumi came under the charm of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and took initiation into the Chishtiyya fraternity from him. The great shaikh permitted him to wear the clothes and observe the customs of the qalandars, insisting only that he should refrain from performing ‘unclean’ miracles. In that way we find Khizr Rumi at the source of the new derivative fraternity of Qalandariyya-Chishtiyya, which was especially popular in Jaunpur and other eastern regions of present Uttar Pradesh. Later on, the Jaunpuri branch of Qalandariyya-Chishtiyya became Shi‘a. The fourth successor of Khizr Rumi, namely Qutbuddin b. Sarandaz Jaunpuri (who died in 1518), instituted the dhikr formulae of the order: ‘Ya Hasan is forced between the two thighs, Ya Husain on the navel, Ya Fatima on the right shoulder, Ya ‘Ali on the left shoulder, and Ya Muhammad in his soul’ (Trimingham 1971: 268).
The most widely-known representative of this fraternity is another disciple of Khizr Rumi called Sharafuddin Bu ‘Ali Qalandar (who died in 1324), whose tomb in Panipat became a place of mass pilgrimage. Bu ‘Ali Qalandar became a very authoritative figure in later Sufi tradition when some authors of the sixteenth century, among them Sayyid Murtaza of Murshidabad, the compiler of Yoga Qalandar, traced the Qalandariyya discipline back to Bu ‘Ali of Panipat. As a true qalandar, Bu ‘Ali did not observe the injunctions of shar ‘at, and lived a life devoted to ascetic practices and mortification of the flesh.
Wandering throughout the Islamic world, he spent some time in Konya where, according to information in Akhbr al-akhyar, he became acquainted with Jalaludddin Rumi’s son Sultan Weled, the head of the Mawlawi ţarqa founded by his father. In any case the verses (a few doctrinal poems and a dıwan), ascribed to Bu ‘Ali Qalandar, display a knowledge of Mathnawı and of Rumi’s lyrical poetry. Besides verses Bu ‘Ali, like many other Sufis, used to elaborate upon his mystic experience in letters (maktbat).
In one of them he wrote: Recognition of Beauty is a step leading to the understanding of the Beloved. This made the lover and the Beloved identical. Beloveds were created in the form of human beings in order that they might lead people to the righteous path. Both heaven and hell were born of the beauty of the Lover and none of these were meant for any one but lovers. Heaven was the stage of union; hell was the station of separation and was intended for enemies. (Rizvi 1986: 305)
Even from this short passage it is obvious how vulnerable Bu ‘Ali Qalandar was to the imputation of zandaqa. By asserting that the Beloved (i.e. God) may be personified in a human being, he verges on hulul, which from the point of view of normative Islam, is a heretical concept of personification of the Divine (i.e. eternal) in something mortal and ‘transient’. Hull together with ittihad (union with God) was the most common accusation on the part of the Muslim theologians against Sufis in general and in particular against Mansur Hallaj, although in his discourses and works he avoided this term.
The Chishti mystic Mas‘ud Bakk was pronounced guilty of hulul and executed in 1387; even kinship with Sultan Firoz Shah Tughluq could not save him from death. That is why ‘moderate’ Sufi authors (for example al-Hujwiri, Muhammad Gesudaraz and Ashraf Jahangir Simnani) criticized this dangerous concept in every way possible. Gradually the main fraternities absorbed qalandars. Thus, for example, Hamid Qalandar, compiler of the malf. t Khair ul-maj lis was already a typical Chishti mystic, who had spent the greater part of his life in Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli’s khnqah. The head of the Surkh-Bukhari fraternity, as we will recall, was one of the most widely-known wandering dervishes - Makhdum-i Jahaniyan Jahangasht from Ucch. Although he himself can in no way be reckoned among qalandars on account of the conservation and Puritanism of his views, the Jalaliyya sect of his followers which is under discussion is quite in line with groups of deviant dervishes. The Suhrawardis’ connection with qalandars can be traced back to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the patron saint of Sehwan, whose tomb is one of the most fascinating sanctuaries of the subcontinent. The real name of this wandering poet, dancer and musician was Mir Sayyid ‘Uthman. According to the legend he always dressed himself in red (as did Jalaluddin Surkhposh Bukhari) and hence his nickname L l (Red). Baha’uddin Zakariya supposedly gave the other part of the nickname Shhbaz - royal falcon - to him at the time of his initiation.
During his lifetime Lal Shahbaz Qalandar had quite a shady reputation: Barani mentions how once he presented himself at the court of the governor of Multan intoxicated with hashish and surrounded by be-shar‘dervishes, who committed such outrages that they were unceremoniously thrown out. In the legends of popular Islam, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is depicted as an infernal dancer, in flowing scarlet clothes dancing on burning coals, surrounded by tongues of flame. I have already mentioned that the dargah in Sehwan came into being at the place of a Shivaist sanctuary. In such instances, as the example of Bahraich shows, some functions and attributes of pre-Islamic objects of worship were imparted to the Muslim saints. It is likely that Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s macabre dance (raq¸) was a replica of Shiva’s cosmic dance tn¸ d’ava. It is possible that the cult image of the wandering ascetic took shape under the influence of Shiva N ţaraja, the many-handed sovereign of dance, dancing in a fiery circle.
There are verses and hymns in Persian ascribed to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. The key image of his poetry is the dance of death, the convulsions of a person hanged on the gallows (dar) who is a martyr of Divine love. This image is borrowed from the Sindhi folk poetry of the genre halla¯jiya, which came into being under the influence of Mansur Hallaj’s visit to Sindh in the year 905. The dervishes, nowadays performing ritual dances, or dhammal, in the Sehwan dargah, by the convulsive jerks of their bodies and typical quick movements of their feet, as if they are hardly touching the ground, reproduce both the writhing of the hanged and the gait of those walking on fire.
In general, a visit to Sehwan makes a most powerful impression on a foreigner: inside the dargah reigns a particularly tense, even hysterical, atmosphere, which is added to by saturated with the suffocating odour of bha¯ñg (Indian hemp). The tomb itself, built in 1357 by Firoz Shah Tughluq, is of little interest as far as its archi-tecture is concerned. Apart from that it is difficult to have a close look at it, hidden as it is behind compact rows of stalls and annexes. It was continually in the process of being completed and today it represents a tangled labyrinth of inner courtyards, passages and galleries. One can reach the central courtyard, where the dhammal dance is performed, only through the ‘new’ southern gate, built by Zulfiqar ‘Ali Bhutto. However, going back through it is for some reason not possible. One has to make a fairly long detour, cross the main courtyard and a connected series of small courtyards and pass through large gilded doors, donated by the last Shah of Iran.
The ‘old’ eastern entrance, adorned with dark blue and white tiles and two flanking minarets, leads to the tomb proper. Inside the tomb lamps are placed on high consoles, from which burning hot oil falls in drops into special vessels. The pilgrims, taking the risk of being scalded, dip their fingers in it and smear it on their forehead and lips. The origin of this ritual is connected with the fact that in his lifetime the saint, consumed by the flame of divine love, literally used to drink boiling sesame oil and pour it on his chest. Under the canopy of the cenotaph a big stone is suspended, which seems to be quite heavy and which the saint used to carry on his chest during his lifetime.6 Going round the mazar, the faithful reverentially touch this stone with their hand.
At six thirty in the evening the thunder of the big drums heralds the commencement of the daily dhammal. On weekdays the dervishes and pilgrims dance for only half an hour, apart from on Thursdays when they dance for a whole hour. Men and women sit down on different sides of the courtyard; for the time being they interchange remarks, but in only a few minutes they will be in the grip of wild excitement, turning into a somnambulistic trance. At first the dervishes come to the centre of the courtyard. From time to time they jump high, bending their legs in the air at the knees, while performing lezginka (a lively Caucasian folk dance). They touch down not flat on the whole foot, but on their toes, and then till the next jump they jig at a fast tempo, as if performing a toe dance, with the only difference being that they are barefoot.
The heads and hands of the dancers twitch abruptly in time with the quickening roll of the drums; faces are distorted with the grimace of ecstasy. Gradually the pilgrims sitting around join the dancing dervishes. Men get up and clumsily jump, mark time and go into a spin; often amongst them hı¯j¸as (transvestites) are to be seen who move with affectedly dainty steps. Women, on their knees, rotate their heads in a state of frenzy, and their long, loose, flowing hair cuts the air with a whistling sound. Some of them fall into a deep trance and sit slumped on the ground in a catatonic stupor.
Everywhere one can see crooked hands and legs, mouths wide open, eyes coming out of their sockets, like a living visual aid for a psychiatrist learning his trade. However, with the stroke of the gong this entire frightening dance of death abruptly comes to an end. First to leave are the dervishes, the instigators, and then the pilgrims also collect their belongings, disperse and go home. The woman who was just now rolling on the ground, having gone mad in ecstasy, tucks her hair under her black chaddar in a business-like manner, wraps herself up in a shawl, takes her child in her arms and goes home with modest dignity.
The industry of pilgrimage in Sehwan-i Sharif is organized on a large scale: following in the saint’s footsteps, one has to make payment at each step. Entry to the grotto, where Lal Shahbaz used to meditate, costs ten rupees in all. It costs slightly more to crawl under the felled khabar tree, by the side of which he used to pray in his lifetime, and in the process be cured of all diseases. On separate payment one is allowed to collect medicinal water from the spring where the saint in his time used to drink, and so on and so forth. At the same time the darga¯h every day receives one and a half thousand pilgrims and feeds them free of cost, whereas at the time of ‘urs, celebrated on the 18-20 of Sha‘ban, the number of visitors reaches twenty-five thousand, whose reception requires considerable resources.
Dances on burning coals, walking through fire and other ordeals, accompanied by mutilation, made up the rituals, common for many deviant groups. In the preceding chapter it was mentioned how the followers of Zinda Shah Madar used to perform this rite. Another sect of fiery dancers were the wandering Hyderi dervishes, whose eponym was yet another disciple of Muhammad b. Yunus as-Sawaji, Qutbuddin Hyder from Nishapur (died 1221). Shaikh Nizamuddin Awliya highly praised him as a person who had possessed great spiritual powers and clairvoyance: according to him Qutbuddin Hyder predicted the victory of the Mongols over India.7 As it is told in Faw’id al-fu’d: in that spiritual state he could pick up burning hot iron, and shape it around his neck into a necklace or around his hand into a bracelet; the iron in his hand became like wax. The Hyderis still exist, and their members still wear such necklaces and bracelets, but where is that spiritual state (which the founder possessed)? (Amir Hasan 1992: 100-1)
The Hyderis not only continued to wear these iron accessories, but even used to pass round iron rods through their male organs and because both ends were sealed called them ‘rods of the seal’ (sikh-i muhr) of celibacy. Ibn Battuta who often met Hyderis in his travels wrote that they ‘place iron rings in their hands, necks and ears, and even their male members so that they are unable to indulge in sexual intercourse’ (The Travels of Ibn Battuta 1962: 279-80).
It is quite possible that the Hyderis borrowed this custom from the Hindu Ngsanysıs (Rizvi 1986: 307). From a sect of Indian ascetics Knphat’ (a variety of Nath Yogis) they had learnt to make incisions in ears atthe time of initiation, inserting heavy iron rings in them. Ibn Battutadescribed in details one of his meetings with Hyderis near Amrohain 1342:
There came to me a company of poor brethren who had iron rings on their necks and arms, and whose chief was a coal-black Negro. They belonged to the corporation known as the Haidariya and they spent one night with us. Their chief asked me to supply him with firewood that they might light it for their dance, so I charged the governor of that district, who was ‘Aziz known as al-Khammar to furnish it. He sent about ten loads of it, and after the night prayer they kindled it, and at length, when it was a mass of glowing coals, they began their musical recital and went into that fire, still dancing and rolling about in it. Their chief asked me for a shirt and I gave him one of the finest texture; he put it on and began to roll about in the fire with it on and to beat the fire with the sleeves until it was extinguished and dead. He then brought me the shirt showing not a single trace of burning on it, at which I was greatly astonished. (The Travels of Ibn Battuta 1962, 2: 274-75)
Although many modern researchers tend to perceive the predominant influence of the Indian substratum in the practice of Hyderis and other deviant groups, Ibn Battuta saw in it a similarity with the rituals of the Rifa‘iyya dervishes active in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, in the region between Basra and Wasit, i.e. in the cradle of the Arab Sufism. Ibn Battuta often used to stay in the cloisters of Rifa‘is - he called them Ahmadıby the name of the fraternity’s eponym Ahmad b. ‘Ali ar-Rifa‘i (1106-82) - and knew their rituals well. So Ibn Battuta wrote about Rifa‘i dervishes in Wasit:
They had prepared loads of fire-wood which they kindled into a flame and went into the midst of it dancing; some of them rolled in the fire, and others ate it in their mouths, until finally they extinguished it entirely. This is their regular custom and it is a peculiar characteristic of their corporation of Ahmadi brethren. Some of them will take a large snake and bite its head with their teeth until they bite it clean through. (The Travels of Ibn Battuta 1962, 2: 274)
Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia: