Home Today How colonialism eroded Pakistan’s historical past of spiritual fluidity

How colonialism eroded Pakistan’s historical past of spiritual fluidity

Contained in the courtyard of a home within the village of Ram Thaman, close to Lahore in Pakistan, an viewers has gathered.

Subsequent to a wood cot, seven or eight younger males are dancing in a circle, holding sticks that they sometimes beat collectively. Others – largely males and one transgender particular person – take part, dancing passionately to the beats of those sticks.

Ladies watch from the rooftops of neighbouring homes as, with every passing second, the gang grows.

Over the cot is unfold a “chaddar” – a bit of inexperienced material edged with gold embroidery – onto which the spectators have scattered lots of of rupees as a present to the younger males who’re dancing.

It’s a part of the festivities that happen on the shrine of Ram Thaman, a Sixteenth-century Hindu saint, positioned within the village of the identical title, in the course of the annual competition of Vaisakhi.

Vaisakhi, which has each Hindu and Sikh mythological roots, is widely known within the month of April to mark the start of the harvest season.

For 3 days, the village, which is positioned completely throughout the compound of an historical Hindu temple, is remodeled from a sleepy hamlet right into a bustling metropolis of makeshift tents as hundreds of pilgrims arrive from throughout the nation and celebrations escape within the streets and alleyways.

The village of Ram Thaman lies completely throughout the compound of an historical Hindu temple. It’s remodeled on April 13 right into a bustling tent metropolis when hundreds of pilgrims arrive to have a good time Vaisakhi [Haroon Khalid/Al Jazeera]

Competition with a distinction

On the spin-off celebration within the courtyard, the cash scattered by revellers has now been eliminated and the fabric has been taken to the primary shrine the place it’s positioned inside a marble pavilion, on prime of a triangle-shaped marble stone that incorporates the final stays of the saint.

The group of younger male dancers have introduced the fabric to the shrine as their providing to the saint. All of them crowd into the small room.

“We introduced this chaddar from Kasur,” explains Ghulam Ali, who’s in his early 20s. “We wished to supply it to the saint.”

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” he provides. “Paying homage to completely different shrines, providing chaddar, performing with my group and gathering any cash that individuals give us.”

The scene is much like lots of of different festivals at Hindu shrines throughout South Asia, however there may be one elementary distinction right here in Pakistan. The vast majority of the devotees who come to the shrine of Ram Thaman, together with Ali, aren’t Hindus – however Muslims.

A gaggle of younger males, together with Ghulam Ali, carry out a dance in honour of the Hindu saint ultimately 12 months’s Vaisakhi competition at Ram Thaman, Pakistan [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

‘We see the world in oppositions – Hindu, Muslim’

Pakistan is dwelling to lots of of shrines, lots of which have an extended historical past. Most of those are Sufi – a practice in Islam that focuses on mysticism – however some, like Ram Thaman, are Hindu. Some shrines are visited by hundreds of individuals; others entice hundreds of thousands of devotees throughout festivals.

“Pilgrimage to Sufi shrines is a crucial a part of the non secular expertise,” explains Raza Rumi, a coverage analyst, journalist and writer of a number of books, together with Delhi by Coronary heart, and Identification, Religion and Battle.

“A go to to a Sufi shrine offers a lived expertise to the devotees versus an intellectualised or ritualised understanding of faith. The pilgrimage to Sufi shrines is a multi-layered journey for the devotee. On the one hand, it denotes the trouble and assets which are invested within the bodily journey in the direction of worship. At one other degree, it’s a seek for communion socialisation, and referring to the bigger group of dargah (shrine) goer.”

The Vaisakhi competition at Ram Thaman is like some other Sufi competition however as a substitute of being at a Sufi shrine, it’s on the smadh (a sacred area constructed over the burial floor of the ashes of a distinguished non secular determine) of a Hindu saint.

A dance efficiency by transgender individuals ultimately 12 months’s Vaisakh competition at Ram Thaman [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

Subsequent to the constructing containing the sacred area is a Hindu temple, devoted to the goddess Kali. Adjoining to those two buildings are the stays of a giant, sacred pool. There are a number of different smaller temples inside this bigger advanced, scattered all around the village.

This Hindu shrine is one in every of a number of non-Sufi shrines in Pakistan. Different examples are Udero Lal and Sadhu Bela, each in Sindh, the Pakistani province that’s dwelling to the overwhelming majority of the nation’s Hindus.

“The shrine stands out for us as a result of we see the world in binaries, in oppositions – Hindu, Muslim,” says Ali Usman Qasmi, a historian who works on the Lahore College of Administration Sciences (LUMS).

“That is our downside. This can be a query for us, how can we categorise this custom? This can be a downside of modernity, maybe not for the individuals who come to this shrine. It appears as if of their worldview there is no such thing as a obvious contradiction.”

For a lot of, the pilgrimage to Ram Thaman is a key a part of the bigger circuit of Sufi shrines.

The smadh of Sixteenth century Hindu saint Ram Thaman [Haroon Khalid/Al Jazeera]

‘Sanitising’ the shrines

“Pre-colonial identities have been fuzzy, unclear,” says Qasmi. “Individuals used to barter with a number of identities and actions. So there was no contradiction in a Hindu visiting a Muslim shrine or vice versa. The Hindu/Muslim, as we perceive them as we speak, was but to be crystallised. Issues started to alter with the colonial state, with the arrival of modernity.

“Modernity doesn’t like this fuzziness. Identities wanted to be listed, clearly outlined. They needed to be determinable. Individuals have been pigeonholed in keeping with the preconceived notions of the officers of the colonial state.

“After Partition, the Pakistani state inherited the deep insecurities of a post-colonial state,” he continues. “Utilizing the logic of modernism, the Pakistani state proper at its inception sought a modernist, reformist, liberal and progressive Islam. It appeared down upon this shrine tradition, which it noticed as a superstitious, anti-modern phenomenon. Via the Auqaf division, the state wished to ‘sanitise’ the traditions at these varied Sufi shrines.”

The shrine of Ram Thaman [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

Auqaf refers to authorities departments that have been created to supervise the administration of historic shrines and mosques.

“The Auqaf division was strongly influenced by the writings of Javed Iqbal,” says Qasmi, referring to the son of poet and thinker Allama Iqbal who was additionally a thinker in his personal proper and served because the chief justice of Lahore Excessive Courtroom.

“Javed Iqbal in his writings was very essential of the assorted traditions at Sufi shrines. He known as them ‘Hindu influences’, corruption of a pure Sufi custom. This logic knowledgeable the founding of Auqaf that now controls all Sufi shrines in Pakistan. Via its management, it promoted Islam, which was Sunni, Deobandi, permitting for a sure lodging of the Barelvi custom as effectively,” he provides, referring to 2 sub-sects of Sunni Islam.

Ram Thaman is overtaken by pilgrims in April [Haroon Khalid/Al Jazeera]

To advertise a “normative” Islamic custom – centred across the providing of day by day prayers – mosques have been constructed at these Sufi shrines beneath the management of the division.

“There are a number of shades throughout the Sufi tradition,” says Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro, an anthropologist working with the Pakistan Institute of Improvement Economics in Islamabad, Pakistan. “There are completely different faculties of thought and completely different philosophical debates. Broadly talking there generally is a division between orthodox and heterodox [aspects not conforming to the orthodox] type. It’s the heterodox kinds inside Sufism that don’t observe typical rituals. They draw followers and devotees from throughout completely different religions and sects. So, you’d have Hindus and Sikhs as effectively, visiting their shrines. These heterodox kinds, such because the ‘Malamati’ [Muslim mystic] custom, have their very own rituals, for instance round music, singing and garments.”

Rumi factors out that, traditionally, Sufi shrines supplied their devotees with an escape from the dogmatism of rituals, which is why numerous non secular communities may work together there.

Due to its syncretic traditions, a Sufi shrine was traditionally not a Muslim-specific place however somewhat a sacred area open to all non secular teams – the shrine of Ram Thaman being a primary instance.

A policeman stands guard on the Knowledge Darbar Sufi shrine in Lahore, which was focused by suicide bombers in 2010, killing 42 individuals and injuring at the least 175. It was attacked once more in 2019 [File: Mohsin Raza/Reuters]

Separation from a ‘Hindu-India’

Qasmi factors out that the nearer a shrine is geographically to the centre of political energy in a big metropolis, the extra probably it’s to have been “sanitised”.

He offers the instance of the shrine of Knowledge Darbar, an enormous advanced within the coronary heart of Lahore. There, within the Nineteen Eighties, Pakistan’s then-President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq constructed an enormous mosque subsequent to the shrine. The four-star navy normal who got here to energy in a coup and dominated for greater than 10 years promoted a extra narrowly outlined model of Islam which affected legal guidelines, the tutorial system and public areas, amongst different issues, as a method to garner political legitimacy.

There’s a lengthy historical past of defiance of normative gender roles at Sufi shrines. Men and women have traditionally intermingled in these areas, whereas the transgender group has been welcomed. Nevertheless, as these shrines have change into extra doctrinaire because the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, many have disallowed the on-site mixing of women and men.

A person adorns the marble partitions of the Knowledge Darbar Sufi shrine with roses after a suicide bombing there in July 2010 [File: Adrees Latif/Reuters]

The Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sewhan Sharif, positioned 300km (186 miles) from town of Karachi, lies removed from the gaze of spiritual authorities. Right here, women and men are allowed to worship collectively.

One other a part of the adoption of stricter Muslim practices was the elimination of Hindu influences from not simply the Sufi shrines however from all facets of spiritual, social and public life within the nation.

“There was a compelled amnesia on the a part of the state, a deliberate erasure, which was organised and brutal,” says Qasmi. “The Hindu previous was systematically eliminated.”

Whereas the Auqaf stripped Sufi shrines of their Hindu influences, lots of of Hindu temples and shrines throughout the nation fell into neglect, leading to squatters shifting in or the buildings being demolished – whereas others have been intentionally destroyed by mobs.

In December 1992, after a Hindu-nationalist mob introduced down the Sixteenth century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India, hundreds of Hindu temples across Pakistan, most of which had been deserted on the time of the 1947 Partition, have been attacked in retaliation. The Neela Gumbad Valmiki Mandir, in Lahore – one of many two functioning Hindu temples within the metropolis – was burned down, whereas Sitla Mandir, additionally in Lahore and which had been serving because the residing quarters for Partition refugees from the opposite facet of the border, was additionally attacked. As these assaults on historic buildings unfolded, authorities officers quietly appeared on.

“Separation from a ‘Hindu India’ is defined because the raison d’être of a Muslim-Pakistan,” says Anam Zakaria, an oral historian primarily based in Toronto, Canada, who’s the writer of a number of books, together with Footprints of Partition and Between the Nice Divide.

A view of the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also called the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, after it was closed to most people following a suicide blast in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh province, February 17, 2017 [File: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

“Yearly, hundreds of thousands of Pakistani college students study concerning the ‘Hindu different’ by means of our academic curriculum. The ‘Hindu’ is the perennial enemy and it’s crucial to retain the purity of faith, and of nationhood from it. It’s by means of this reflection, and contradiction of the ‘Hindu different’, that the self is created in Pakistan. Sadly, the scenario will not be a lot completely different in India, the place the ‘Muslim different’ defines the ‘Hindu Indian’ identification.”

On the opposite facet of the Partition divide, “India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP) has emerged as a hegemon in Indian politics since 2014 and aggressively carried out its ideology that revolves across the thought of Hindutva,” says Delhi-based writer and journalist Sameer Arshad Khatlani.

“Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the originator of the time period, described Hindutva as the standard of being a Hindu ethnically, culturally, and politically. For Savarkar, a Hindu was somebody who thought of India as her/his/their motherland, ancestral land, and holy land. Therefore, as per Hindutva, India is the Hindu land because the religion originated right here. Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism, in keeping with this definition, additionally qualify as variants of Hinduism since they, too, emerged in India. The Muslim ‘otherisation’, vilification, and disenfranchisement, which is actively promoted through social media, conventional media, and thru laws, needs to be seen on this context.”

Whereas there is no such thing as a doubt that the Partition and the following hostility between India and Pakistan performed a serious position within the hardening of the Hindu-Muslim identities, the British colonial state laid the inspiration for this course of, says Qasmi.

A lady prays on the gates of the Knowledge Darbar shrine on Might 10, 2013, in Lahore [File: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]

The colonial census studies, for instance, compelled individuals to decide on only one faith as a substitute of reflecting the fluidity of their non secular beliefs. The colonial training system, too, performed its half, whereas dividing historical past into separate, impenetrable classes of “Hindu period” and “Muslim period” in Indian historical past, establishing the narrative of Muslims as “foreigners” on the Indian subcontinent and Hindus as “Indigenous”.

With the Partition drastically decreasing the inhabitants of the Hindu group in Pakistan and the work of the Auqaf division at shrines, traces of those pre-colonial, pre-modern, fluid traditions started to vanish.

Nevertheless, as this labelling of identities was a top-down effort, it was way more prevalent in city centres. Thus, in the course of the colonial period and after, the custom of Muslims revering a Hindu shrine, has continued to some extent in additional distant, rural areas.

Ghulam Hussain got here from East Punjab to Ram Thuman as a younger boy after Partition. His household took up residence within the temple of Kali and have protected it ever since [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

Partition refugees

Iqbal Qaiser is a historian from town of Kasur who has labored extensively on the documentation of deserted, non-Muslim non secular areas in Pakistan. He’s the writer of a number of books, together with Historic Sikh Shrines in Pakistan and a Punjabi e book on historic Jain temples within the nation.

“Many of those deserted sacred areas, gurdwaras, temples and smadhs throughout Pakistan have been taken over by refugees of Partition,” he says. “Individuals divided these huge complexes into a number of residential quarters and began residing there. The federal government, as a substitute of defending these historic and non secular locations, typically turned a blind eye in the direction of these locations.

“Even if you happen to ignore the historic and non secular significance of those shrines, the financial values of those properties now run into billions of rupees. After all, you can not blame the refugees for taking on these shrines. Having misplaced all the things on the opposite facet, they’d no choice. It was the federal government’s job to facilitate them and discover a mechanism to guard these historic locations. However nothing occurred. For lots of refugees, there was no emotional or sacred reference to the areas they occupied. They have been new to those geographies and therefore didn’t absolutely perceive the significance of those locations within the context of their villages, cities or cities.”

In some locations, nonetheless, refugees did work to protect outdated, conventional practices. Now an outdated man in his 80s, Ghulam Hussain was a younger boy when he and his household moved from East Punjab following Partition to the village of Ram Thaman and took over one in every of these deserted buildings. They took up residence within the temple of Kali subsequent to the smadh. Photos of the goddess hung from the highest of the area of interest within the interior sanctum of the temple. The remainder of the rooms, together with the courtyard, have been transformed into the household’s residential area.

Ladies come collectively to have a good time Vaisakhi at Ram Thaman [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

Tons of of different households additionally converged on this village when escaping the riots throughout Partition. They took over deserted homes, temples, gurdwaras and different sacred areas that have been as soon as occupied by the Hindus, Sikhs and Jains who used to dwell on this village earlier than the Partition however migrated to East Punjab in India after 1947.

Sitting contained in the small room of the smadh with all the opposite devotees now gone, a pink material with gold embroidery tied round his brow, Hussain explains the historical past of his household. His son, Abid Hussain, in his 50s, is sitting subsequent to him.

“Our household comes from a village in Ferozepur district (now a part of India). After Partition, our household settled right here. We moved into that adjoining constructing, the place there’s a temple devoted to the Hindu deity, Kali. We watched as different migrants from Ferozepur and Amritsar took over completely different elements of the advanced. Nevertheless, our household was decided to protect the sanctity of this shrine. We locked up this room to ensure nobody took over this area. Generally we might open the lock, sweep the ground and alter the chaddar on the smadh. After which yearly, on the event of Vaisakhi, we might open the shrine and pay our homage.”

Pilgrims to the shrine of the Sixteenth-century saint, Ram Thaman, collect final 12 months for the annual celebration of Vaisakhi [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

Vaisakhi had been an enormous occasion on the shrine of Ram Thaman, lengthy earlier than the partition of British India.

“It was most likely one of many largest Vaisakhi festivals in Punjab,” says Qaiser. “The competition was so necessary that it discovered its manner into our Punjabi folks literature. We don’t actually know why Vaisakhi turned such an enormous affair at this shrine. This occurs generally. Totally different shrines, temples, change into related to a selected custom or a competition.

“We all know, for instance, the gurdwara of Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal additionally turned related to Vaisakhi and so did the Sufi shrine of Sakhi Sarwar. Vaisakhi is the celebration of harvest, of agriculture, which is such an integral a part of on a regular basis lives in Punjab. Due to this fact, Punjabis of all religions used to participate within the celebration of Vaisakhi.”

As a toddler, Hussain witnessed these festivities. “My grandfather was a devotee of Ram Thaman earlier than Partition,” he says. “My household had a powerful reference to this shrine. We had been to this place many instances earlier than Partition. After the creation of Pakistan, this was the one place we knew right here (in Pakistan), so we got here and settled right here.

“Earlier than Partition, Vaisakhi was an enormous competition,” he recollects. “There was kabaddi [a popular team sport from Punjab], theatre, music, dance, stalls. It was understood that there was no level in in search of somebody who was misplaced in the course of the competition. So, earlier than arriving right here we used to repair a spot, the place we have been supposed to satisfy in case somebody acquired misplaced.”

The Panja Sahib Gurdwara in Hassan Abdal turned intently related to Vaisakhi, the celebration of harvest which is an integral a part of life in Punjab, as did the Sufi shrine of Sakhi Sarwar [Caren Firouz/Reuters]

An area to have a good time

Somewhat additional away within the village of Ram Thaman, contained in the slim alleys of the village that emerged as new partitions have been constructed round this huge advanced after the Partition, dividing buildings into smaller buildings, Munawar Bibi, a lady in her late 70s, is sitting on a cot on the open door of her home. “The competition as we speak is nothing in comparison with what it was once,” she says. “I keep in mind we used to replenish for days on meals and water and lock our houses from the within, in the course of the event of the competition. There was hardly anyplace to stroll on the streets.”

Muneer Ahmad is a Muslim who involves have a good time Vaisakhi on the shrine of Ram Thaman every year. He performs a daredevil motorcycle present. ‘We neglect our worries and have a good time,’ he says [Maryam Altaf/Al Jazeera]

One other celebrant on the Ram Thaman competition, Muneer Ahmad, a Muslim who performs a daredevil motorcycle present on the competition, says: “I do know that this isn’t our competition. However this competition offers area for the local people to neglect about their worries and have a good time. In a time the place safety threats have sapped the life out of bigger non secular festivals, these small village occasions are the one actual festivals which are left. There’s nothing un-Islamic about celebrating and having enjoyable now, is there?”

Earlier than Partition, there was nothing uncommon a couple of Muslim household celebrating at a Hindu shrine. And for a lot of equivalent to Hussain, Partition didn’t rupture the fluid non secular identification they’d inherited.

On account of his efforts and that of his household, the competition of Vaisakhi at Ram Thaman is among the final remnants of this syncretic identification.

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