Performing Shahbaz Qalandar: The Marketization of Public Religion in Pakistan

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Amen JAFFER, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
This paper will explore recent transformations in the largest Sufi festival of Pakistan – the annual death anniversary celebration of the Sufi saint, Shahbaz Qalandar. Characterized by a breakdown in traditional forms of religious authority and the creative synthesis of a number of sacred and secular aesthetic traditions, the festival is at the forefront of an increasingly popular public expression of devotion and religiosity. Importantly, this fluid religiosity has yet to be systematically articulated in a system of belief but is primarily expressed through performance. In this paper, I explore the contours of this emerging religiosity by examining the performative practices and authority structure of a Qalandar celebration, called Shaam-e-Qalandar, in Lahore. My contention is that this emerging public religiosity highlights some of the new trends in the public sacred life of Pakistan. These include the increasing visibility of conspicuous consumption, market forces and secular performative genres in Sufi celebrations that are reflected in the aesthetics, style and form of performance. They are also characterized by a shift in the distribution of power and authority in the organization and patronage of these sacred celebrations. Thus along with new aesthetic forms that take inspiration from diverse sources, such as Pakistani films, wedding celebrations, pop concerts as well as 'traditional' Qalandar practices, the Shaam-e-Qalandar allows market actors, such as small business-owners, to assume important public roles in religious life through sponsoring such events. Shaam-e-Qalandar therefore represents a new form of public religion that is shaped, on the one hand, by the display of wealth and status and on the other by Sufi practices of ecstatic devotion.