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Karachi

February 3, 2011

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The way of the mystic

The way of the mystic
Karachi
The Goethe-Institut was the venue of a movie highlighting the tradition of the Dervishes and Sufis in the Sub-Continent Wednesday evening.
Titled “The Red Sufi”, the movie, produced by Martin Weinhart, traces the train journey of Dr Wasim Frembgen, an anthropologist at the University of Munich in Germany from Lahore to Sehwan Sharif, the site of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine.
A departure from the conventional form of religiosity, the movie depicts the mystics approach to The Almighty and their endeavour to feel at one with God. The movie begins in Lahore amid the observance of rites and rituals of the saint’s followers in the most uninhibited of manner. There are the whirling Dervishes with long, flowing robes, unkempt hair, and whirling and gyrating to the beat of drums played with all the gusto the drummers could muster. Unconventional as it may sound, there are women going into the whirling trances and ecstacy too alongside men. All this while the dancers have their eyes fixed and arms outstretched heavenward as if in supplication to The Almighty. The movie shows the
producer attending a concert at one
of the shrines in Lahore where the lyrics sung to classical music tunes music centre around the glory
of God.
The movie highlights the quaint bazaars of Lahore just as one had been transported back into time into the Eleventh or twelfth centuries. It also shows sections of the Shia community participating in the rituals.
Then the train departs on its journey to its destination, Sehwan Sharif in Sindh, to the tomb of the most venerated mystic saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar where the religious slogans reverberate through the air every now and then. Here too all the rites and rituals pivot around dancing Derveshes and full-throated hymns in praise of The Almighty.
However, there also are scenes in the movie which some could find squeamish. For instance there’s a scene featuring eunuchs dancing away. Dr Frembgen talks to them and asks them as to what brought them there.
In their somewhat raven-throated masculine voices, contrasting with their totally feminine attire, these denizens of the genetic third world reply that they come there because no matter how difficult, how impossible, when they come over to the shrine and pray for a favour, it is invariably granted.
This is supposed to speak for the spirituality of the movement and also bring home the fact that the
intermediate gender are as human as anyone of us and it is cruelty
to treat them as lower forms of
creation.
What is revealing about the movie is that so many highly educated people are devotees of the saint. Two of those featured were highly qualified surgeons.
Introducing the movie, Dr Frembgen said that he was fascinated by the living expressions of the Sufi tradition in Pakistan.
“We should pay due attention to the religiosity of the local traditions”, he said.
Dr Frembgen said that attendance at the shrines in the recent past had declined because of the security situation, the bombings and the growing militancy.
The screening of the movie was followed by an enlivening question-answer session which reflected all shade of opinion, from opposition to the content of the movie, to endorsement, and philosophical analysis.
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