By: Nazia Memon
Every Sevestani (Sehwani) eagerly counts days the whole year to the 18th of Shahban (the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar) to celebrate annual Urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalander.
I have witnessed the fusion of the feelings, a combination of mixed emotions, during the Urs period as we received relatives and guests coming to the city to celebrate the Urs. We felt so excited and happy to have them who used to come from long distances to participate in the three-day ceremonies and dhamaal. I had seen people cheering up and weeping at the same time.
Urs of Qalander Lal Shahbaz attracts over half a million pilgrims, mainly from Sindh and Punjab, who flock into Sewhan. On each morning of the three-day feast, the narrow lanes of Sewhan are packed to capacity as thousands and thousands of pilgrims, fakirs and worshippers make their way to the shrine to commune with the Sufi saint “Qalander”, offer tributes and ask for their wishes.
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a patron saint (a person whose support or protection is solicited) of Sindhis, was born in the twelfth century in 1177 in Marwand, now Afghanistan. He showed from his infancy signs of a deep spiritual nature. It is said that even when very young he had developed occult powers. He knew Quran by heart at the age of seven, and at twenty he was initiated into the Qalandar order.
The call of the Spirit came to this man who was destined to be the mystic light.
He had three other friends: Baba Farid Shakar Ganj of Pakpattan [1174-1266] Jalaluddin Bukhari of Uch- Bahawalpur [1196-1294] and Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan [1170-1267]. They are known to the Sufis as the four great friends, the great pioneers of 13th century Sufi movement.
Sufism is a mystical form of Islam that has been practised in Pakistan for centuries.
It is said that when four friends arrived at Sewhan Sharif after a long spiritual journey together, Lal Shahbaz Qalander had decided to live rest of his life in Sewhan and other three friends left him there and went on the quest of their own journey.
Tale of Mysticism: On this Urs of Lal Qalander Shahbaz I thought to tell you a few of those stories which are rarely known to the world but very much close to every Sehwanis heart.
Tradition is resonant with the voice of miracles but here I’m going to tell you a few of those miraculous stories I have heard from my grandparents.
1- When Lal Qalander Shahbaz decided to live in Sewhan, the incumbent fakirs in Sewhan sent him a bowl of milk filled to the brim indicating that the place was already full of faqirs and there is no room for one more. He returned the bowl floating a single flower on the top suggesting by this reply that there was ample room for him, as he would remain among them floating as a flower.
When I asked one of my parents why it is said to go Bodla Bahar first and then go to the shrine of Lal Qalander Shahbaz, I have been told that there is a long story behind it.
2-Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar had two disciples, Boodla Bahaar and Sachal Sarmast. Legend have it that Boodla Bahaar had a very long beard with which he used to clean up the place of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar asked Sachal Sarmast and Bodla Bahar to preach inside the city and their duty was to go stand in every nook and corner and say “Ali Haq” (Imam-Ali (A.S.) ibn-e-Abi-Talib (A.S.) is the ultimate Truth).
One day the king of the “fort” (now Ulta Qila) ordered his soldiers to bring him the man (Boodla Bahaar) who says “Ali Haq”. Once Boodla Bahaar was arrested he was presented to the king, he asked Boodla Bahaar stop saying “Ali Haq” Boodla Bahaar answered “Ali Haq” and I will not stop. King got angry and asked his soldiers to kill Boodla Bahaar and make mince of his meat and then distribute it and throw it away.
There is a saying that when Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar used to call Boodla Bahaar he replied “Aya Sarkar” (I am coming my Lord!). When Boodla Bahaar didn’t return for a long time Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar inquired and found out what happened to him. He called “Boodla Bahaar” and whereever the meat of Boodla Bahaar was it replied “Aya Sarkar” (Coming My Lord!) and the meat gathered and turned back into a living Boodla Bahaar.
Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar sent him again to preach these people and the same thing happened again.
Hence after the third time he gave his “Mutahir” (A strong baseball bat type stick) to Boodla Bahaar and told him to turn it upside down while looking at the Fort and as Boodla Bahaar turned it, the whole fort was turned upside down (this is clear from the fort’s remains). Later on, someone asked Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar why didn’t he do it himself, Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar replied ‘I was holding on to the earth as if I haven’t stopped it, the whole earth would have turned upside down.’
3- Lal Shahbaz Qalander is said to have been challenged on the way by a famous ascetic to bathe in a tub of burning oil. He went through it and received no injury or burning marks on his body. Thus, he had earned the title of “Lal” as the ascetic said to him “Thou are indeed the Lal of Lal”.
It means Lal Shahbaz Qalander was a pure Sufi soul tested by the fire.
Many people say that he was called “Lal” after his usual red attire and “Shahbaz” to denote a noble and divine spirit and “Qalander” as he was a wandering holy man.
On this Urs, streets are crowded with Qalander’s devotees and pilgrims, this Urs isn’t any different from the previous years although on 16 February 2017, suicide bombing took place inside the shrine, where pilgrims were performing a Sufi ritual after the evening prayers. At least 90 people were killed and over 300 injured.
The next morning, the shrine’s caretaker continued the daily tradition of ringing the shrine’s bell at 3:30 am, and said that he would not be intimidated by terrorists.
The shrine’s dhamaal or meditative dance ceremony resumed in the evening following the attack. Dozens men and women performed this hypnotic ritual beating drums, waving their arms and swirling as they danced. A few days later, several leading Pakistani artists and performers took part in a dhamaal at the shrine as a defiant response to radical Islamists.
The fused and fluent culture of Lal Shahbaz Qalander’s tomb embraces worship, spiritualism, poetry, and quite prominently, music in the form of Dhamaal.
Worshippers believe that they stand by the values of harmony, tolerance and love.
Jhulelal is in the hearts of people, sound of the drum and the beat of the feet will never stop.
Story first published: 16th May 2017