“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears” Rumi
I had seen the Sufis in Istanbul many years ago. Then, I read about the dervishes and the sema dance, I watched documentaries, so the subject wasn’t new. But what we saw at the Lal Temple in Sehwan, Pakistan blew our minds away.
Before entering Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, we took off our shoes and left them with a boy who handed back a number.
We found ourselves in a beautiful mosque with a large courtyard covered with marble. We’d be watching the Sufi ritual called Dhamaal (or Dhmaal). The vast hall was divided in two by a path in the middle, separating women from men. There was another space behind the men where more women sat. A group of men were seated next to a few large drums lined up next to the middle path.
The musicians began drumming, and the atmosphere became hectic. The men got up and started dancing humbly. It wasn’t just a dance, but a dance-like trance.
We sat behind the drums, so the scene was right in front of us. Two other men went forward and began playing the trumpets, adding new nuances to the music. The tunes coming from the drums and trumpets gradually increased in intensity. The rhythms and sounds became wild, irresistible and energetic, driving the men crazy, speeding up the trance’s craziness.
As if they’d go mad at any moment. Everybody in the group of men fell into a trance at one point. The women behind us were already rolling on the floor in wild ecstasy, others were screaming and dancing. Female excitement differed from the male one somehow, but I couldn’t define exactly how.
We were warned not to photograph women, so I tried to memorise their faces, emotions, and movements. It seemed that the two halves of the hall radiated different energies, but both male and frantic female emotions were increasingly saturating the atmosphere! Later, on the way out, I’d see a man lying unconscious, exhausted on the floor.
When I thought it couldn’t get any crazier, a small group of men wearing red robes appeared between the drums and the dancers. They welcomed the musicians, gave them their blessings, and then began the whirling dance called Dhamaal, the night’s main event. Through Dhamaal one achieves union with God, transformation, complete surrender, and melting into the Divine. Dhmaal is the same whirling dance that is called sema in other countries. In Turkey, for example, dervishes perform the same whirling movements, but they wear white robes and long skirts.
The Lal temple’s dervishes were dressed in red robes, and their movements were more like an actual dance, not just whirling. The faces of some of them were pretty creepy, especially the one dancing just above me.
The excitement seemed to have passed the thin red line, the boundary beyond which one feels strange vibrations and a different state of mind and matter. Although I am trying to write about it, I think there’s no way to describe it truthfully. It can only be felt. To fully experience this event, you shouldn’t be religious. However, you need to be open, understanding, aware and willing to accept new feelings and strange thoughts. We have witnessed Ihsan-the perfect worship that is in the heart of the Sufi mysticism – worshipping Allah as if you had seen Him.
After we left the shrine, we stopped in a small street food restaurant. There were large wooden platforms on which we climbed and sat cross-legged. Two boys served us food, but we couldn’t start with the meals in front of us. We had a hard time finding words to talk about what we had just seen and felt.
Naturally, the conversation turned to Rumi (Mevlana Jellleddin Rumi), the most famous Sufi poet. The Rumi’s love story with the wandering Shams Tabrizi is well known. Rumi’s “religion of love” caused him some trouble with the official Islam in the 13th century, but he was never persecuted.
On the other hand, his lover, Shams Tabrizi, was persecuted and hated. People loved Rumi, and today they continue to do so because of his “religion of love”. Many poets and artists of those times have been forgotten, but not Rumi. The proof was that we were sitting on these wooden platforms, talking about him – a man who lived seven centuries ago.
“Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved” by Jonathan Star. This author has assembled selections of Rumi’s verse in a treasury that spans the poet’s life and includes his most celebrated and poignant work.
At the Lal Temple in Sehwan Dhamaal is performed every Thursday night. You can experience Dhmaal also in Lahore.
“Explanations make many things clear, But love is only clear in silence” Rumi
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Sehwan can be easily reached by train. Two trains stop each day at Sehwan railway station: the Bolan Mail runs between Karachi and Quetta, and the Khushal Khan Khattak Express runs between Karachi and Peshawar.
We had our own transportation and a local guide, and maybe that would be the best way to travel to the city and the shrine itself.
I organise and lead small groups to Pakistan twice a year. If you’re interested in joining a group from Europe, please drop me a line. I will provide more information, such as dates, programmes, and other details.
Most probably you would need a visa for Pakistan. Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior introduced the Single-entry Tourist eVisa for citizens of 175 countries. This eVisa has a validity of 3 months and allows travellers to enter the country for tourist purposes and it enables them to stay in Pakistan for up to 30 days. You can check out the procedure here.
You can also use the VisaHQ world service. They will provide full assistance in applying and obtaining the needed visa. Check directly the requirements for the Pakistani visa here.
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