Home » folk

River Indus: Flow of life – Part II

By Raza Rumi:

From ancient Vedic times to stories told by Sufi saints, the Indus continues to play a central role in the legends and folklore associated with the region. Even today, the shrine of Uderolal, a composite Hindu-Muslim place of worship and the cult of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar are rooted and nurtured by the Indus and its magic. Not long ago, both Hindus and Muslims believed that the flow of Indus was determined by the saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is also referred to as Jhule Lal, or the god of waters. Some Hindus also referred to him as Raja Bharati.

The Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 brought with it a new shape to the politics and cultures of the Indus region

Current beliefs and practices still reflect continuity with the past. Sehwan Sharif, where the tomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s is situated was the site of a Shiva centre. It is said that the name Sehwanistan has been derived from Sivistan, city of Shiva. Moreover, there is a striking similarity between the dressing of contemporary faqirs and Shivite yogis as both dress in ‘torn clothes with matted hair.’

The Mohanas (fisherfolk) have been displaced and driven towards alternative livelihoods

Article Box

Article Box

As noted above, Uderolal is a curious tomb: Muslims believe that a saint named Shaikh Tahir is buried here; while the Hindus consider this place to be the shrine Jhulelal or Uderolal. In common parlance, he is also known as Zindapir (Living Saint). Uderolal is one of the places where the Indus is still worshipped by Hindus and Muslims. It is also worshipped in another part of Sindh, near the town of Sukkur.

Shrines of Sufi saints are situated along the riverside in Sindh. It is believed that 125,000 holy men are buried ‘in the yellow sandstone necropolis at Thatta’ alone, writes Samina Quraesihi in her book on Sufism. All year round, a great number of people continue to visit the tombs as a way to show their respect and receive blessings. Just like Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Khwaja Khizr is also referred to as Zindapir and ‘ pani ka badshah‘ (Water King). The devotees still believe that he lives under the water and the river flows the way that he commands. As recently as the late nineteenth century, Hindus and Muslims also worshipped side-by-side at the Zindapir’s shrine in Sukkur. Moreover, many of the saints have said to have caused miracles in the region through their powers over the Indus.

Mangroves are vanishing and the boat-communities are struggling for their survival

Such meta-religious beliefs and practices can also be understood with reference to Shah Abdul Latif’s Risalo. This is a sacred Sindhi book put together by Latif. It is given equal reverence by both Hindus and Muslims, and contains excerpts from the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Persian poetry and Sindhi folklore. It does not focus on any one form of authority and includes doctrines from various sects in Islam. On the whole it represents the similarity in spiritual beliefs related to Hinduism and Islam as practiced in the region. Moreover, it is still a symbol of this peaceful co-existence between the followers of the two religions. […]

River Indus: Flow of life – Part I

By Raza Rumi:

Along its 1,800-mile course, the Indus joins cultures from the steppes of Central Asia to the arid plains of the South Asian subcontinent. It affects patterns of thought and behavior, shapes expressions of culture and provides inspiration for art. The hopes and aspirations of its people are reflected in stories and elaborate myths, transmitted through the consciousness of successive generations by bards and story-tellers. It is important to mention that the Indus Valley Civilization originated in the fertile plains of the Indus River, in the third and fourth millennium BC. This civilization, or the Harappan Culture, was coeval with the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and is recognized as the third major civilization in the history of humankind. Mohanas, the boat-people of the Indus valley, still live along its banks, near the shrine of Khwaja Khizr and elsewhere. They traverse the mighty river on boats which have remained essentially similar in design to those depicted in the art of the Indus Valley Civilization thousands of years ago.

To the Sindhis, it is known as “Purali”: the capricious river whose floods can make and destroy civilizations

Alice Albinia in her excellent book Empires of the Indus: the Story of a River reminds us how the Indian subcontinent derives its very name from the great river. The ancient Sanskrit language referred to the Indus as “Sindhu”. Later, the Persians entitled it the “Hindu” and through the subsequent eras, it finally came to be known as India. Albinia has painstakingly researched how the Indus region excited the imagination of Europeans from early antiquity. The lure of the Indian subcontinent had reached the West even in the time of Alexander the Great, and ever since then, exotic tales of this enchanting land have spurred on the ambitions of many a great conqueror.

Sohni meets her tragic end in the Indus which up till recently had been a facilitator in her love-story, but suddenly becomes the ultimate obstacle in allowing it to continue

The multitudes of peoples who live along the banks of the Indus know it by a number of names. To the Sindhis, it is known as “Purali”: the capricious river whose floods can make and destroy civilizations. Further up the course of the river, the Pashtuns refer to it as the ‘Nilab’ (blue water), ‘Sher Darya’ (Lion River) and ‘Abbasin’ (father of Rivers). The mountain people of Baltistan know it as ‘Gemtsuh’ (the Great Flood), or ‘Tsuh-Fo’ (the Male River). […]

Folklore sans frontiers

I was part of a delegation from Pakistan that was driving to Chandigarh to attend the SAARC folklore festival organized by Punjab’s legendary writer Ajeet Caur

Sub-Continent’s Berlin Wall

I am posting Shivani Mohan's article where I have been quoted with reference to the recent folklore festival held under the aegis of SAARC. Another piece on the folk performances can be accessed here. This fortnight saw the 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So liberating and decisive, when a vast multitude of people chose to see sense and forget trifles that generally incense mankind, when the similarities between two peoples became more important than the differences; when cultural affinity conquered meaningless rivalry

November 22nd, 2009|Arts & Culture, Guest Writer|0 Comments