Inclusive: Special Article: Vol. 1, Issue 15 - July, 2019

Islam in Local Context: An Ethnographic Study of Ghaus-e-Bangala Shrine (India)

Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad Ansari and Dr. Atiqua Tajdar


Abstract: In India, and many other parts of the world, a long and complex debate has persisted regarding the nature of Islam. The debate is mainly centered on making a distinction between Islam as it appears in the form of text and Islam as practiced in the local context, also known as lived Islam. The paper attempts to locate the discourse surrounding the validity of the two forms of Islam. The site chosen for the fieldwork is the shrine of Ghaus-e-Bangala, located in the town of Raniganj in West Bengal, India. It is a descriptive account of the shrine and the rituals associated with it.

The shrine is an emblem of religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. On the occasion of annual urs (death anniversary), Muslims as well as non-Muslims from various parts of the country come to the tomb. The rituals associated with the dargah (tomb of holy man) forms a symbolic representation of their idea about Islam. In Raniganj, Muslims are divided into two major sects: Barelvis, those who follow the Sufi form of Islam, and Deobandis, a reformist sect. For the believers of sufism, Islam is what they practice. In Raniganj, and in many other parts of the world, sufism within Islam and those who follow it have come under intense criticism by the proponents of various reform movements within Islam. The reform movement among the Muslims of Raniganj is a recent phenomenon, mainly correlated with the widening urban experiences of the Muslims with the outside world. The two forms of Islam seem to be in constant conflict.

In South Asia, in general, and India, in particular, religion forms the fundamental basis for identity construction. Followers of all the major world religions live in India. Muslims, the followers of Islam as they are called, form the second largest religious community of the country. As opposed to other religions which originated in India, Islam came to India from outside. It has its existence in the country for almost thirteen hundred years. Islam, always and everywhere, like other world religions, exists in local, cultural, historical and geographical contexts. Islam as it exists in India is deeply rooted in the local traditions of the country. “Indian Islam represents a mosaic of demotic, superstitious and syncretic beliefs”.1 An understanding of the religious system of Muslims in India entirely based on texts and scriptures may lead to an ambiguous interpretation. The context in which they practice Islam should also be taken into consideration. Ahmad identified three levels of understanding the religious system of Muslims in India.Msup>2 The first level corresponds to the beliefs and practices as mentioned in the text, the Holy Quran. The second level consists of “beliefs and values of a more limited spread…not derived from the Islamic scriptural literature…sometimes may even be opposed or antithetical to the latter”.3 The third level corresponds to the pragmatic or practical religion which “contains a large number of non-philosophical elements”.4

At broader level, Islam is understood to be divided into local or folk and textual or official Islam. The two seems to be diametrically placed. The present study deals with the former, i.e. local Islam. Eickelman writes, “the study of a world religion in local contexts implies what from some perspective is obvious- any religion’s ideology and practice are elaborated, understood and subsequently reproduced in particular places and at particular moments. Even external truths are necessarily revealed in a specific language and setting”.5 He continues, “the main challenge for the study of Islam in local contexts is to describe and analyse how the universalistic principles of Islam have been realised in various social and historical contexts without representing Islam as a seamless essence on the one hand or as a plastic congeries of beliefs and practices on the other”.6 With this background, the present study makes an attempt to understand how the universalistic principles of Islam are practiced locally. The shrine of Ghaus-e-Bangala was chosen as the site for fieldwork. The data on which the present research is based includes secondary sources in the form of books and articles, biographical information, ethnographic observations of ritual performance and pilgrimage practices, and interviews. The data related to the shrine and its rituals was collected during the annual urs (death anniversary) celebration of the saint in the year 2009. In order to understand the changing contour of idea about what Islam is and how those follow Sufism and those who are opposed to it make a social construction of each other, many short visits were made to the town between 2009 to 2018.

The Setting: Raniganj is a small town in the Paschim Bardhaman district of West Bengal. Paschim Bardhaman is a predominantly urban industrial district which was formed in 2017 after bifurcating the erstwhile Bardhaman district. The other is Purba Bardhaman district. The history of the town is synonymous with the history of coal mining in India. The area is famous for being the birthplace of coal-mining in India. In 1774 A. D., first coal mining operation in the country was started in this region by S. G. Heatly and J. Sumner.

Map 1: Map Showing the Location of Raniganj Town.

Administratively, Paschim Bardhaman district is divided into two sub-divisions: Asansol Sadar and Durgapur whereas Purba Bardhaman district is divided into four sub-divisions: Kalna, Katwa, Burdawn (North), Burdwan (South) (see map 2 below). The two districts differ from each other. Purba Bardhaman, which is the eastern division of the erstwhile Bardhaman district, is a wide alluvial plain enclosed by the river Ajay in the north, the Bhagirathi in the east and Damodar in the south. The area is mainly agricultural in character and at places the land is cultivated extensively. The natural conditions make the region very fertile for rice production. Whereas Paschim Bardhaman, which is the western division of the erstwhile Bardhaman district, is a predominantly industrial region dotted with various medium and heavy industries. Raniganj is centrally located in Paschim Bardhaman district.

Map 2: Showing the different natural conditions of the eastern and western division of the

erstwhile Burdwan district.

History of the Shrine: The shrine of Syed Shamsuddin Andarabi, popularly known as Ghaus-e-Bangala, is revered by people of all faiths. He is also addressed as “Baba”, “Sarkar”, and “Ala Hazrat”. The shrine is the symbol of communal harmony. The shrine, and the pir, is considered as the jewel of the town. Syed Shamsuddin Andarabi was the eldest son of Syed Fakruddin, who is famous as Bade Pir (great saint). He belongs to the Andarabi silsila (spiritual lineage). The name is derived from the place called Andarab, where it originated, located in the southern part of the present day Baghlan district in Afghanistan. From Andarab, it spread to various places such as Kashmir, Punjab, Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal, Nepal, Tibet, etc. The details of the earliest sufis of the silsila are very sketchy and so it is very difficult to identify the chronological events related to its spread. So, the present discussion will be centered on the life of Bade Pir and afterwards. However, it is reported that one of their earliest ancestors came to Kashmir as early as in 781 hijri (1379 A.D).7 Bade Pir was born in Kashmir. When his family moved to Delhi, he came to village Maael (present day Muzaffarpur district) in Bihar. He travelled to various parts of the country and also made journeys to Nepal and Lhasa (Tibet) for spreading Islam. In Nepal, his miracles led many to embrace the faith. He stayed in Patna for a long time. He finally made Calcutta (Kolkata) his permanent residence. He died in 1296 hijri (1878 A.D) and is buried at Kolkata. Annual urs is also held at his dargah in Kolkata.

Bade Pir was married to Hazrat Syeda Sakina, daughter of Mir Inayat Hussain. On 12 Rajab, 1268 hijri (May 2 nd, 1852 A.D), Syed Shamsuddin Andarabi was born at Azimabad, Patna. From childhood, he possessed extraordinary learning capacities. By the age of fifteen, he started Dars-e-Quran (teaching of Quran). He was well versed with the Persian language and usually preferred Persian instead of Urdu for conversation. His activities were mainly centered on places like Maael, Meenapur, Madhaul, Mahua, Jalalpur and Hasina (all are in present day state of Bihar). When his popularity grew far and wide, on the request of Fazal Haque Sarkar, a prominent Muslim of Raniganj, he decided to leave for Raniganj. When his companions came to know about his decision, many of them objected. Syed Shamsuddin made his first visit to Raniganj probably in the year 1296 hijri.8 Miracles performed by him in Raniganj drew many followers, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, to his fold. His preachings focused on the value of love, communal harmony and human relationship. He died in the year 1901. From this year, annual urs is celebrated in Raniganj in his remembrance.

Pilgrims and Pilgrimage: Pilgrimage to religious sites is an important feature of many of the world’s major religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Barber defines pilgrimage as “a journey resulting from religious causes, externally to a holy site, and internally for spiritual purposes and internal understanding”.9 In Islam, pilgrimage to Kabah in Mecca, called hajj, is one of the pillars of Islam (al-arkan al-khamsa). The performance of hajj is incumbent upon every Muslim once in his lifetime if they can afford it and are physically able. Other than hajj, Muslims also perform ziyarat (visit to a holy place). Ziyarat is the only type of Islamic pilgrimage that corresponds to the pilgrimage found in other religions. Whereas hajj is fard (obligatory), ziyarat is considered mustahabb (meritorious). Although some may consider the visit to the tomb of a saint un-Islamic, the fact remains that they continue to attract people from faraway places. “Saints’ tombs are a characteristic feature of the landscape in most Muslim countries, where, whether associated with mosques or isolated, they are popular centres of visitation. The orthodox divines have spoken frequently and vigorously against this practice of visitation, but the consensus of the community has almost everywhere proved stronger than the condemnation of the theologians and the common folk still visit the tombs of saints to pray, to leave ex-votos, to seek blessing (baraka) and the intercession of the holy persons buried there”.10

Ziyarat to the dargah of a Sufi has long been a tradition in the history of Islam. Dargah is a Sufi Islamic shrine built over the grave of a revered religious figure, a Sufi or dervish. Most of the scholarly work carried out by social scientists has focused upon the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, i.e. hajj, because of its importance as God ordained religious duty. Inspite of the fact that dargahs of Sufis attract millions of people from all over the world, the study of ziyarat remains a neglected field of study. The danger such kind of neglect poses is that it creates a monolithic image of Islam “contrary to the vibrant cultural variety of Islamic societies in the world”.11 Commenting upon the importance of non-hajj pilgrimage, Bhardwaj notes, “the study of ziyarat, as part of the dynamic tradition of Islamic religious circulation, is necessary to understand Islam’s variegated cultural manifestations.12

The dargah of Ghaus-e-Bangala in Raniganj is a major centre of ziyarat to which people from various parts of the country come during the annual urs. Ziyarat to the dargah is considered necessary for the attainment of salvation. It is a common notion among the Muslims that one is able to perform hajj only when God wills it. However, the same kind of explanation is propounded for the performance of ziyarat. Interaction with the pilgrims made it clear that it is the saint (Ghaus-e-Bangala), and not the pilgrim, who gives them commands and capability to perform ziyarat. “Baba jisko chahtein hain wahi aa paata hai. Nahin to bahut se aise log bhi hain jo yahan (Raniganj) rahkar bhi nahin aa paate. Baba ka bulawa aata hai to aana hi padta hai” (it is the saint who decides whom he wants to come otherwise many people are not able to come inspite of the fact that they live in Raniganj. When the saint summons, I have to come-Personal Interview). For the zahirin (one who performs ziyarat), coming to the dargah of a Sufi is a liberating experience. The baraka (blessings of the saint) purifies their souls and removes their sins. For the devotees, all saints, whether of lesser or greater prominence, should be held in great esteem and regular visits should be made to their shrines for attaining salvation. It is a part of the same process as that of hajj. When asked do you visit any other shrine, one respondent said, “haan, jahan baba bulaate hain wahan jaata hoon. Ajmer, Nizamuddin, Haji Ali sab jagah jaate hain” (yes, wherever the saint summons, I go. Ajmer, Nizamuddin, Haji Ali13 and everywhere- Personal Interview).

Figure 1: Devotees coming from faraway places for offering chadar on the shrine.

Figure 2: Local devotees from Raniganj.

The Ritual: An academic debate persists within religious studies over the primacy of religion or ritual. At a more general level, ritual is a form of human action that have material traces, whereas religion is a more abstract, symbolic system consisting of beliefs, myths, and doctrines. Geertz defines religion as “a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic”.14 Rituals provide an explicit symbolic meaning to implicit abstract religious beliefs in a way that can be easily understood by the masses. A stated by Wallace, “ritual is religion in action; it is the cutting edge of the tool…It is the ritual that accomplishes what religion sets out to do”.15 It is through the enactment of rituals that people realize their religion. According to Warms, “rituals are prescribed, stylized, stereotyped ways of performing a religious action”.16

Every shrine or dargah attracts people from different places. The number of people visiting a dargah varies from day to day. It is usually on Thursday and Friday that most of the people make a visit to the dargah of Ghaus-e-Bangala. Most of them happen to be local residents. But the most important event associated with the shrine is the annual urs (death anniversary) on which people not only from different parts of the country but from various other countries as well participate. Approximately 1 lakh people visit the shrine on annual urs. The date of urs is decided by Bengali calendar and not Islamic. The year in which the fieldwork was done (2009), it fell on February 16 of the Gregorian calendar. Before the urs starts formally, another important ritual takes place which is again determined by the Bengali calendar. It is called the ritual of ghusl or gusul (ritual bath). It was observed on 13 th February, 2009. The day was Friday. After offering the Friday prayer, the devotees started gathering for the ritual. Most of them had come from faraway places like Calcutta (Kolkata), Ranchi, Jamshedpur, etc. The ritual of ghusl started around 2:30 in the afternoon. The ritual of ghusl is one of the most celebrated rituals. Literally it means washing the grave of the saint. Islamic funeral rites dictate that the dead body should be washed in the prescribed manner before burial. The purpose is to physically cleanse the body. The grave (an elevated marble structure) is washed with the water from the hauz (water tank) situated in the shrine complex.

The ritual is mainly for the murids (disciples) who have taken bayat (oath of allegiance) either from the current gadde-nashi17 or from the earlier gadde-nashins. They all stand in parallel queue starting from the main entrance of the dargah to the hauz located in the outer compound of the dargah. Every murid carries a matka (earthen pot) along with them. They hold the matka with both the hands on their shoulders. Gadde-nashin leads the procession from the main entrance to the hauz where he first fills his matka and then the murids follow. Gadde-nashin himself does not carry the matka. After filling their respective matkas, they make a round of the hauz in a clockwise manner and complete one circle and then follow the same route and enter the main gate of the dargah. When the gadde-nashin returns from the hauz, people put money in his hand. They usually put Rs. 10, 20, or 50, according to their wish. When all the murids had entered the main gate then other devotees follow. All the murids and gadde-nashin are bare footed. The ghusl ritual is meant only for the murids and only men can participate.

After entering the main entrance which opens in the inner compound of the dargah, the procession it finally enters the sanctum sanctorum (grave of the saint) through another gate. When all the murids and gadde-nashin had entered the sanctum sanctorum, the gates are closed. The devotees have to wait in the inner compound of the dargah. They are not allowed to observe the ritual bath. The grave of the saint is covered with marble stones which is covered with chadars (clothes meant for covering the grave) of various colours. Verses from the Quran or some du’a (supplication) are usually written on it. All the chadars are removed and gadde-nashin first pours the water from the matka over the grave. The murids follow him and wash the grave and the floor with the water which they were carrying. As they wash the grave (giving ghusl to the saint), the water flows out in the compound where devotees keep waiting for collecting the water. Since the water flows on a plain surface and does not accumulate anywhere, the only way to collect it is either by bringing their hands together and making it look like cup shape or by soaking the water in the clothes (handkerchief, dupatta, etc.) and then wring out the water in bottle or some other pots. Because the water flows on the floor on which people walk, it turns black in colour by mixing with the dust of the floor. However, for the devotees, the colour of the water is insignificant. For them its importance lies in the fact this water has been used for the ghusl of the saint. Everyone fights to collect as much water as possible.

There are various beliefs widespread among the devotees concerning the benefits of this water. They say that it is more of a medicine rather than simple water. Shrines are usually famous for possessing particular magical and curative powers. The shrine’s magicality is grounded in heterodox beliefs regarding the divine powers of the saints, who are thought to be able to intercede for the living in their search for personal boons (worldly success, fertility, health) by granting them saintly baraka (divine blessing). The water of the ghusl is believed to possess curative power. People use it in case of stomach ache, problems related to digestive system, pregnancy related ailments, etc. The curative and magical power of the water was very aptly described by a devotee when he said that “jab koi doctor kaam nahi aata hai, yeh paani kaam aata hai. Yeh paani ek challenge hai science ke liye” (when a doctor fails, the water cures. It is a challenge to modern science- Personal Interview).

When the ghusl is over, a white sheet is laid over the grave. During the ghusl, there is no chadar over the grave. During this period, the saint is not purdah-nashin but be-purdah18 (without purdah). After putting the white sheet over the grave, the doors are opened for the public. When the gates are opened, everybody wants to enter first so that he/she can collect the water which was still lying on the floor around the grave. This is their prime objective. From now, devotees can visit the shrine and pay their homage to the saint. Devotees pray and do sajda (prostration) before the pir. The pir is lying buried with his head in the north direction. Devotees prostrate at the feet of the pir. It is this act of prostration which is particularly criticized by the reformist Islam. When devotees leave, they keep their face towards the grave and move backward. One should not turn his back towards the pir. It is considered improper.

Various kind of chadhawa19 (offerings) is made on the shrine. Rose water, itr (perfume), khurma (locally made sweet of flour and sugar) shirni (a kind of sweet) is offered on the shrine. People sprinkle only a part of the rose water and itr and carry the remaining quantity along with them. Similarly, only a part of the khurma and shirni are offered. The people themselves do not make the offerings. They hand over the things to be offered (rose water, itr, sweet, etc.) to the attendants standing near the grave. The attendants after offering a part of the material object return the remaining part to the devotees. After making the offerings, the remaining quantity of the things offered are believed to become a sacred thing, with some spiritual power in it. Therefore, disrespect to it is considered a sin. For example, if someone is offered the chadhawa, he should accept it. If anybody declines the offer, they are reminded “mazar ka hai”, which means that it is a chadhawa and should not be refused. The rose water is also used as a medicine, particularly in stomach related ailments. Devotees also lit incense sticks and put in the stands near the saint. The ashes of the incense stick are also considered possessing spiritual blessedness of the saint. Many devotees carry ashes for using as anti-septic or for curing skin related problems.

Another important ritual associated with the dargah is that of sandal. The ritual involves applying the sandalwood paste on the grave of the saint.20 It is performed on the third day after the ritual bath. In the year 2009 (in which fieldwork was done), it was observed on February 16th. The white chadar laid over the grave on the day of ghusl will be there till the night of sandal. The ritual is popularly known as “sandal ki raat” (the night of sandal). It is from this day, the urs formally starts. Sandal ceremony is not open for all. Only the selected members of the mazar committee, as it is locally called, and few volunteers are allowed. These volunteers are called razakars (volunteers). These razakars assist the devotees during the sandal ceremony. The ritual usually starts by the midnight and continue till dawn. At about 12:30 A.M., the volunteers ask the devotees to vacate the compound. It is noteworthy to mention that women are allowed to stay there and watch the ritual. The gadde-nashin applies the sandalwood paste on the forehead of the women. When the gates are closed, people outside it just roam around the mazar and try to find some places where they can rest. Some of them get busy in shopping. The shops remain open throughout the night.

For attending the sandal night, people come from far away places. Those coming from outside the town usually arrive by the evening whereas the locals of the town come in the night. People usually come in groups. The strength of these groups may vary from 4-5 persons to 50-60 persons. Larger groups are mostly from outside the town. They arrive with chartered buses. Banners inscribed with words like “Urs Ghaus-e-Bangala” are hanged on these buses.

The first three chadars on the grave is offered by the descendants of the pir. Offering of each chadar is indicated by an explosion (by firing crackers). So, three chadars and three explosions. People outside the gate eagerly wait for the explosions to be heard. The assembled people keep raising slogans in the praise of their Lord and the pir. “Naara-e-Taqbir-Allah-hu-Akbar”21 and “Ghaus ka daaman nahi chodenge” are commonly pronounced. On hearing the first explosion

Figure 3: People outside the dargah on the night of sandal.

(around 3:00 A.M), the people become jubilant and a kind of celebratory milieu can be seen. At 3:20 A.M., the second explosion was heard. People became more jubilant and started gathering around the entrance. Sloganeering became louder. At 3:35 A.M., the third explosion was heard. Devotees were now ready to enter the gate and waiting for it to be opened. The gates were finally opened at 4:30 A.M. From now, devotees can offer chadar on the grave of the saint. The urs usually continues for about 6-7 days.

The Conflict: The practice of veneration of the graves of Sufis has remained an integral part of Islam from its very beginning and so its critiques. However, this conflict has become sharpened in more recent years under the influence of various reform movements within Islam. Reformist Islam considers grave worship as biddat (innovation) and a major sin as it leads to shirq (associating someone with God). They consider Sufism as a later development when Islam came into contact with the pantheistic and animistic traditions of the world. However, for the followers of Sufism, visitation to the graves of holy men is an integral part of the Islamic tradition which can lead to fana22 (annihilation), the ultimate goal of human existence. For the followers of Sufism, the germs of Sufism were present in the original Islam from the time of Prophet Muhammad and both Quran and Hadith contain numerous references which indicate a deeper true nature of Islam which only later blossomed into a mystical dimension. The following verses of Quran itself indicates its mystical aspects

“To Allah belong the East and the West, whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah’s countenance. For Allah is All-Embracing, All Knowing” (2:115); and “He is the First and the Last, the Evident and the Hidden” (57:3). Another verse cherished by Sufis and his followers is: “We are nearer to him (man) than his jugular vein” (50:16).23 They also expound the integrity of Sufism with Islam through various hadith. One of the most famous hadith qudsi24 is: “I was a hidden treasure, and I wished to be known, so I created the world”.25 For the Sufis, these verses and hadith authenticate Islamic mysticism.

Muslims of the town are divided in terms of their sectarian affiliation. They are divided between the Deoband and Barelvi school of thought. This is the division around which mainly the Muslims of South Asia are divided. Both belong to the Sunni Islam. The two movements are named after the name of the place from which it originated. Both of these originated in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Although there are number of doctrinal differences regarding the world view of Islam and its application, the most talked and hotly contested debate is of the issue of worshipping the dargahs (tombs) of holy saints by the Barelvis. Dargahs are revered by Muslim communities throughout the world and are often attributed to be instrumental in the spread of Islam in the world. These dargahs are most numerous in the South Asian region. However, with the spread of reformist sects within Islam, the practice of visit to dargahs has come under serious attack. Deobandi movement is one of the most important and influential movements within Islam. The movement was started in 1866 A. D. in Deoband, India. It is a reform movement aimed at spiritual purification of the Muslim faith. It considers praying to saints and making pilgrimages to tombs as innovation which has no place in the Islamic monotheism, preached by Muhammad. Tabligh Jamaat is an offshoot of the Deobandi movement started in the early 20 th century in opposition to the Hindu reform movement. The movement mainly aims at Islamic spiritual reformation and works towards bringing Muslims of all socio-economic strata closer to the practices of Prophet Muhammad. Tabligh is a way of spreading the message of Islam as contained in the Holy Quran and the Hadith. It mainly works at the grass root level and emphasizes a personal communication for spreading the faith. It uses the method of dawah26 for preaching the faith. In Raniganj, the followers of Barelvi sect predominate. They do not allow the mosques to be used for preaching the Deobandi version of Islam. Deobandis preach through only three mosques. The mosque of Qassab mohalla acts as the markaz of the movement.27 If any jamaat comes from outside, it will stay in this mosque. Two more mosques (mosques of Jama Masjid Lane and Charbi mohalla) also welcome the jamaats. Jamaats are not allowed to preach through other mosques.

This reform movement within Islam has a class dimension as well. It is the more wealthy and educated class of the Muslims who are the proponents and followers of the reformist Islam. One respondent explained, “I belong to jamaat (Deoband). All the educated class of Muslims in Raniganj follow the Deoband school and as you go down the hierarchy majority of them are of Barelvi school of thought. Most of the people in Raniganj are involved in shirq (associating God with other humans) and biddat (innovation). People worship the grave of which Islam does not give permission. God is omnipresent, but these people (Barelvis) want to solve their problems with the help of pirs thinking them as possessing intercessionary powers. Both males and females go to the tomb of Ghaus-e-Bangala.” Similar tendency has been noted by Vasanthi Raman in her study of weavers of Banaras. “It is generally among the well-to-do Momin Ansaris that there is a discernible thrust towards the practice of a more purist, scriptural Islam and a stricter adherence to the Quran, the Shariat and the Hadith”.28 Followers of reformist Islam (or Deobandi) accuse the Barelvis of being illiterate (in a religious sense) and ignorant. The pace of Islamisation is greater among the well off Muslims of Raniganj as compared to the lowly placed, illiterate Muslims. However, for those who believe in the saints and dargahs, visiting to dargahs do not constitute biddat. It is the way for attaining salvation.

Conclusion: Popular or local Islam has played a fundamental role in the spread of Islam in the subcontinent. Whereas most of the discussions on pilgrimage in Islam focus on the obligatory hajj, the study of ziyarat is still limited. Shrines, wherever they exist, are an integral part of the daily life of people. Whereas hajj represents the universal aspect of Islam, visitations to the tombs of holy men is an emblem of the regional, local aspect of Islam. They perform certain functions for the believers. Despite reformist movements targeting the shrine practices as un-Islamic, the continued vitality of Sufism in India is evident.



  1. Aziz Ahmad, An Intellectual History of Islam in India, University of Edinburgh Press, Edinburgh, 1969.
  2. Imtiaz Ahmad (ed.), Ritual and Religion Among Muslims in India, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 1981.
  3. Ibid., p. 13
  4. Ibid., p. 13
  5. Dale F. Eickelman, A Study of Islam in Local Contexts in Ricahrd C. Martin. ed. Contributions to Asian Studies, Vol. 17, 1982, pp. 1-16.
  6. Ibid., pp. 1-2
  7. Shahid Hussain Azimabadi, Uswa-e-Husna: Ghaus-e-Bangala, Beauty Art Press, Asansol, 1997.
  8. Ibid., p. 96
  9. R. Barber, Pilgrimage, The Boydell Press, London, 1993.
  10. Arthur Jeffery, Islam: Muhammad and His Religion, MacMillan Publishing Company, USA, 1958.
  11. Surinder Bhardwaj: Non-Hajj Pilgrimage in Islam: A Neglected Dimension of Religious Circulation in Journal of Cultural Geography, Vol. 17. No.2, 1998, pp. 69-87.
  12. Ibid., p. 70
  13. Both Ajmer (Rajasthan) and Nizamuddin (Delhi) are the major centres of pilgrimage in India for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Haji Ali is a famous sufi shrine located in Mumbai, India.
  14. Clifford Geertz,. The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, New York, 1973.
  15. A. F. C. Wallace, Culture and Personality, Random Books, New York, 1966.
  16. Richard Warms, James Garber and Jon McGee (eds.), Sacred Realms: Essays in Religion, Belief, and Society, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004.
  17. Gadde nashin or sajjada nashin is the term usually used for those who represent the spiritual heir to the pir. By virtue of being a descendant from the saint, they are supposed to possess the spiritual power of the saint.
  18. During the course of the fieldwork, the researcher realised that nobody is using the word death for the saint. The researcher was reminded by many that the pir has not died but become purdah-nashin or, in their own words, “who purdah kar gaye” (he has put himself behind purdah). The idea implicit in the notion of purdah-nashin is that altough the pir has died in the physical sense of the death of the body but his essence is still alive. The pir is believed to be alive beyond the grave. So, on the day of ghusl only gadde-nashin and the murids are allowed.
  19. In Hinduism, the term prashad is commonly used for offerings. The terms are synonymous.
  20. The ritual of applying sandalwood paste on the graves of Sufi’s is common throughout the Indian subcontinent.
  21. Naara means “shout out loud” and the word taqbir is the Arabic name for the phrase “Allah-hu-Akbar.” So when someone says “naara-e-taqbir,” they are literally saying shout out the phrase “Allah-hu-Akbar.”
  22. The concept of fana is one of the central tenets of Sufism. It represents the stage when the individual come to lose his own identity and gets merged with the identity of God.
  23. All the verses quoted in the text have been taken from The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary, Abdullah Yususf Ali, Farid Book Depot Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 1998.
  24. Hadith qudsi are those hadith (sayings) in which it is believed that God himself speaks through the mouth of the Prophet. However, these sayings are distinct from the Quranic revelations.
  25. William Stoddart and R. A. Nicholson, Sufism: The Mystical Doctrines and the Idea of Personality , Adam Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2009.
  26. Dawah is a form of preaching the Islamic faith to both Muslims and non-Muslims. It involves interacting with the people and inviting them to learn and follow the faith as practiced by the Prophet.
  27. Markaz is the center through which the activities of the jamaats are coordinated. The markaz organizes the group of volunteers (jamaats) which travel to different places to remind and invite people to the Islamic faith.
  28. Vasanthi Raman, The Warp and the Weft: Community and Gender Identity among Banaras Weavers, Routledge, New Delhi, 2010.


Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad Ansari
Asst. Professor, Department of Sciology,
Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi

Dr. Atiqua Tajdar
Department of Geography,
Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi