Of whirling Sufis and dhamaal

While the northern region of Pakistan is famous for its mountains and meadows, the province of Sindh is known for its beautifully constructed Sufi Shrines. People from all over the world travel to these shrines to either pay respect to the saints or to experience the intriguing culture. Either way, visiting the shrines of Sindh is a must if you are the sort who is interested in history and culture.

One of the most popular memorials in Sindh is the shrine of Lal Shabaz Qalandar, a 13th century Islamic mystic, scholar, and Sufi saint. A contemporary of Rumi, he was respected by both Muslims and Hindus in the region since he preached religious tolerance between the faiths. Qalandar travelled around the Muslim world and finally settled in Sindh. His shrine has been built in the place where he was buried in Sehwan.

Though the shrine was originally built in 1356 CE, its complex was expanded in 1639. Over the years, the tomb was continuously worked on and upgraded. The dome of Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine is at the height of 110 feet, while its outer surface is gilded with gold-plated tiles from the United Arab Emirates. The shrine’s main door is gold-plated and was donated by the last Shah of Iran.

Today, the shrine is thronged by malangs and qalanders who are supporters of the Sufi teachings of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. One of the traditions include the ‘dhamaal’ that is held every Thursday at the shrine premises.

The dhamaal

According to legend, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar performed a dance called “dhamaal” which is similar to the whirling derveshes of the Rumi sect. The idea behind the dance is to go into a trance where the mind, body and soul are solely focused on the thoughts of the creator. Hence, dhamaal is considered to be a dance form that leads to spiritual healing.

Every Thursday, the followers of the sufi school of thought gather at Sehwan and perform this invigorating dance. Dhamaal is usually led by the beating of a drum (naghara) and ringing of bells, as pilgrims raise their hands, start to skip steps standing at one place and gradually work into a trance as the beats get faster.

This dance is performed by both men and women and often leads to a state of ecstacy where women can be seen throwing their heads back and forth. According to some followers of Qalander, dhamaal is the only way to get rid of a jinn that has infected a human body

Children, men, and women of all ages participate in this healing dance form and can often be seen crying as pure ecstasy hits them.