The Qalandar’s Calling

Last month, Tasneem Abbasi, my mother’s friend from Sehwan invited the qawwals Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad to the shrine of the great Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. It appeared that many were invited with a guest list of over 70.

As the evening’s performance extended into the early hours of the morning, a few chosen ones were able to witness the opening and cleaning of the shrine. The dastar, the main piece on the shrine head, is made and changed every day at 4:00 am. Certain families dedicated to this ritual still practice what their forefathers and ancestors performed to this day.

The decorative act of the shrine being cleaned and then ornamented has religious and devotional connotations and is also a duty which is followed like clockwork. The door opens with only the workers allowed to enter the shrine space. Women are not allowed inside the shrine area before it is cleaned and opened at 4:30 am. Male bystanders appear to be viewing the cleansing ritual from the periphery as the shrine is beautified. For me, it was as if standing witness to a rare and intense moment.