Lal Shahbaz Qalandar: The Red Sufi of Sehwan

Posted on August 16, 2009
Filed Under >Umair Ghani, Culture & Heritage, History, Music, People, Society, Travel
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Umair Ghani

“Mast O Mast Qalandar Teri Haan Mein Teri Haan”, Abida Parveen’s deep drone filled the air as special train to Sehwan crawled into Railway station like a lazy dragon. Motley crowd of devotees, malangs and dervishes hung from compartments, windows and train top. Loud chants “Dam Mast Qalandar”, “Ali Maula“ and “Bolo Lal Qalandar“ rocked the platform.

People waved red flags and ran along the train. Thousands thronged dusty streets of sacred city of Sehwan to attend the annual Urs of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (currently underway). Cramped on a berth, I witnessed this unprecedented gathering of pilgrims from the compartment window. Tears of devotion faded my vision. Scenes blurred but I could hear this happening all around me in grand glory.

The medley of performances – from Abida Parveen, Junoon, Nur Jahan, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - above demonstrate the special place that Lal Shahbaz has in our spiritual heritage.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was born as Syed Shah Hussein, later named as Usman by his father. His date of birth is shrouded in mystery but careful speculation reveals that it was 1187 AD, although some biographers claim it to be 1177 AD. He was born into an Uzbek tribe who was direct decedents of Imam Jafar Sadiq and belonged to Ismaili faith.

Hazrat Usman Marvandi had a free spirit. He wandered far and wide in his quest for Divine unity. People called him “Shahbaz” [Falcon] due to his free divine spirit and adventurous quest. He joined Qalandariya order at the age of 20. Qalandariya is a unique branch of Sufism which is attained through unprecedented spiritual training and self negation.

He met Sharf ud Din Boo Ali Qalandar who advised him to travel to Sindh and stay there. Sehwan, in those days was considered a strategic point from where areas around upper and lower Indus could be easily accessed. Besides, it always remained a significant city in the history of Sindh. As advised by Hazrat Boo Ali Qalandar, Lal Shahbaz decided to settle in Sehwan and lived there for six years till his death.

18th Shaban marks three day celebrations of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s annual Urs. Devotees from all over Pakistan arrive in Sehwan. Narrow streets and mud and brick houses are flooded with zestful tourists and pilgrims. Sehwan suddenly becomes nosiy and dirty. Some five hundred thousand pilgrims visit Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar from 18th to 20th Shaban every year.

People, people everywhere! Dancing, mourning, chanting, shouting and crying. Every house in Sehwan is on rent. Streets clog with sewerage water. Nobody sleeps. A party carrying embroided chaddars to Lal Shahbaz’s shrine. Another group mourning and wailing. A few streets ahead some devoted followers carrying candles and Mehndi as offering, clad in colorful attire, dancing in unbound joy and ecstatic pleasure. A group of women carrying lamps and scented wood. But all have to line up and wait outside the shrine which is engulfed by a sea of mourner’s processions. A deep thud of mourning hands strikes bare chests in every nock and corner of dimly lit streets around the shrine.

Zanjir zani and matam continues inside the vast compound. Blood oozes and spills carelessly on the marble floor as sharp blades of angled knives mark deep cuts in flesh of matmi procession. Jubilation is taken over by gore. Shock and awe prevail. Most of the pilgrims are not prepared for this but the sight is gruesome. Wailing continues, matam and zanjir zani gather pace. Blood spills, people faint due to loss of blood and fatigue.

First aid camps are jam packed. One procession of mourners leaves and another arrives. Saga continues recklessly for three days and three nights. A few streets away from this sight, Sehwan celebrates in more moderate manner. Musicians and artists from various cities gather outside a dusty pavilion near Kafi Lal Das [a devotee of Lal Shahbaz Qalendar who initiated lighting up of Chiragh at the shrine and thus became known as Saien Lal Das Chiraghi Waley].

Papu Saien Dholia with his sungat arrives and the audience is spellbound. No artist of ordinary merit dares walk in that narrow and congested street of Kafi Lal Das.

I sit on a high point outside Sehwan and watch the city stretched before my eyes. Rising sun bathes the shrine in pure and pious light.

Red flags on rooftops flutter as wind blows across the dusty panorama. Golden doom of awesome shrine stands majestically amid tiny houses and narrow streets of Sehwan. A sacred hush prevails.

I experience a moment of frayed sanity and wait for something to change inside. Nothing changes or maybe I can not judge it at the moment. I trace my way back to the city with tired steps of an abandoned sage. Sound of mourning becomes louder and louder.

Umair Ghani is a photographer and writer. All photographs except one are by the author himself. Special thanks to legendary Dhol  artiste Papu Saien for his early morning photos outside Sehwan City. As of August 11, 2009, 757th urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is going on in Sehwan.

26 Comments on “Lal Shahbaz Qalandar: The Red Sufi of Sehwan”

  1. ASAD says:
    August 16th, 2009 2:23 pm

    Great piece.

    I wish I was in that train with you going to Sehwan.

    By the way, love the four video selections.

  2. Zecchetti says:
    August 16th, 2009 6:51 pm

    Is there any authenticity from the Quran and sunnah for having these festivals?

  3. Farooq says:
    August 16th, 2009 7:08 pm

    No Zecchetti, there is not.
    Nor is there “any authenticity” for using the internet or web from the Quran. For your own aaqbat, maybe you should stop using it :-)

  4. Farooq says:
    August 16th, 2009 7:11 pm

    Everyone. Note how a post that does not use the word ‘religion’ even once but is about music and heritage, is about to be highjacked by the religious police and ahl-e-zia-ul-haq.

  5. Zecchetti says:
    August 16th, 2009 7:27 pm

    @ Farooq,

    But this is a “religious” festival is it not? Therefore it ought to have justification in our sources of religion, the Quran and sunnah.

    From the sunnah we see that there are only 2 days of annual celebration which are the 2 eids: al fitr and al adha.

    The internet is not a religious act of worship so that argument doesn’t hold, my friend. We need to protect our deen from concoctions.

  6. Farooq says:
    August 16th, 2009 7:51 pm

    Let it be, dear Zecchetti. This is about travel to a major cultural event. The post is not about religion, its not telling people what to believe or not. It is no where asking you to do anything or not do anything. It is not saying what is right or what is not. It is not assuming that the writer knows what sunnah says or not says. It is just describing a major cultural event that is part of our identity.

    Go and fight those who are trying to give sermons. Trying to tell people what is right or wrong. Trying to speak on behalf of God. That is the type of people we need ‘protection’ from. May Allah protect me from charlatans who use His name in vain to advance their agendas of hate. Ameen!

  7. Gardezi says:
    August 17th, 2009 12:17 am

    Excellent writing.
    Love the selection of the four songs. Very different singers, very different audiences, but same inspiration. This is the type of thing that makes us one nation!

  8. Sajjad Junaidi says:
    August 17th, 2009 3:47 am

    Farooq, usually the saying goes where were you when we needed you, but mate you were right there at the right time to put Zeechetti on his/her spot. Very well said.

    Umair, very nice post.

  9. Manto says:
    August 17th, 2009 4:22 am


    Why don’t you concentrate on yourself and let people practice their religion however they want? Even if we accept your point of view about whether or not this is “correct” – the only conclusion to draw is YOU should not attend.

    There is one “concoction” current corrupting our deen more than anything else – and people like you ignore that constantly while harping about festivals that have been around for centuries and do no harm to anyone.

  10. August 17th, 2009 7:08 am

    Pretty Interesting !!!

  11. Hina says:
    August 17th, 2009 10:02 am

    This article is very timely. I am still swooning from the version of Mast Qalandar that famed Pakistani singer Tarannum Naz preformed at the Pakistan Independence day Festival yesterday evening in Northern Virgina. Even my 8 year old went into trance like situation or the right word to use it ‘Vajid’.
    For these who may have seen Tarannum sahiba perform the same song may still be in awe as to how she ends the song in a prolonged dhamal…. simply exquisite. It was certainly the highlight of the event.

  12. MQ says:
    August 17th, 2009 10:55 am

    Once, when briefly based in Larkana, I had an occasion to visit Shahbaz Qalandar

  13. Asad Imran says:
    August 17th, 2009 4:05 pm

    Na Taj-o-Takht Mein, Na Lashkar-o-Sipah Mein Hai;
    Jo Baat Mard-e-Qalandar ki Bargah Mein Hay

  14. Faraz says:
    August 17th, 2009 8:44 pm

    I hate to be one of those to take the discussion off-topic, but Zechetti has an important point. The only thing worse than not practicing Islam, is practicing something else and claiming it to be Islam, as these festivals often do. We need to be really careful about biddat/innovation. If you want to understand what I am talking about please consult a scholar or find a reliable source on the web.

  15. wasiq zaidi says:
    August 24th, 2009 2:28 am

    lal shabaz qalandar ke chadar…

  16. Muhammad says:
    September 8th, 2009 12:55 am

    With this all bad name to Islam, we need more people like Shahbaz Qalandar, who can guide people to the true path of Islam.

    Today Islam had ended up being compulsive, corrupt, non-tolerant, violent. If you look at the life of Muhammad, you will see none of this characteristics. Unlike the time of Muhammad when Islam meant peace, in today’s life both shias and sunnis have made Islam a religion of terrorism and distraction. Every day we hear Muslims killing Muslims.

    This Islam has been politicized and changed. Islam was religion of peace and prosperity and we need people like Shahbaz Qalandar who can bring back the lost glory of Islam.

  17. September 12th, 2009 3:34 am

    Good article!
    I like to enjoy original version of “Dam Mast Qalandar” any time. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar a great person, could motivate Islam religion to the right path. We should proud of him.

  18. January 17th, 2010 1:07 pm

    the shamful acts which are performed by the visitors and pilgrims over here made me surprised that how the ignorant people bring infamy to islam and holy people like shahbaz qalandar. the govt and concerned authorities must take notice and punish all those who commit such heanous acts.

  19. Ali Haideri says:
    February 17th, 2010 11:46 am

    What a stupid piece of bullshit. I am Alhamdulilla a Shia Muslim but I don’t believe in such ridiculous atrocities on the image of our beloved Islamic faith. That guy you people are praising is laying dead for hundreds of years. He can’t provide you any benefit or harm. This is totally shirk and I feel very sorry for the shameful acts and beliefs of our people. He’s a Sayyed doesn’t mean he’s like anyone from Ahl-beit(AS) nauzubilla. A fatiha on his shrine is the only best thing we can do instead of dancing or mourning and regarding him as someone divine and godly. Allah hum subb ko in shirk waley kamo’n sey duur rehney toufeed ataa farmaye…. AMEEN

  20. June 11th, 2010 6:21 am

    beautiful artical i m planning to visit sehwan shareef on my trip to visit pakistan this year. Lal Shehbaz Qalander was a real wali ullah we shud all respect him and i dont understand why people always spread there negative thinking everywhere on net if u dont belive in such things then please stay out of it. people are now fedup with ur lecturebazi of telling everyone what the real islam is. let everyone practice their religion with freedom.

  21. June 16th, 2010 1:42 am

    i am a big fan of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar R.A
    To read more about Lal Shahbaz Qalandar please visit

  22. Atif says:
    June 18th, 2010 3:37 am

    We should keep our beliefs and perception of religion in our pockets while going public. Religion and belief is everyone’s personal affair. These sufis and saints taught harmony, peace and love. The only thing we should be condemning these days is those terrorists killing innocent people. One thing is for sure no one can force any belief onto anyone. These sufis taught and preached love and that’s what attracts millions of pilgrims each year to their tombs.

  23. September 8th, 2010 6:36 am

    Ya Ali madad sir I request you to plz send me the pictures of tomb of Shahbaaz Qlandar R.A. I needed these pictures immidiatly my contact no. is 03009704847

  24. sanam says:
    December 14th, 2010 7:03 am


    THIS WEB SITE IS GREAT AND I REALLY APPRECIATE .and those people who says that this is stupidity i can only say to him that plz bhai soch k bolo ,and plz must go only ones and then tell me if you see any shirk.JANAB kahan ap religion ki bat kartey ho ye ishk ki nagri hai
    Mola khush rakhey Ali k chahney walon ko

  25. December 28th, 2010 6:01 am

    Imam Ali -ul – Haq [Syed + Sufi + Martyre + Walli] along with his companians came to Sialkot [Now should be called Imam Kot] and fought against the forces of evil. He succedded and have raised the flag of Islam. In my opinion his darjat are more than Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. He is shaheed and still alive according to Quran. “That those who are killed in the way of Islam are alive but you people do not understand”. May Allah raises his Darajaat.

    Yes, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is also the real sufi and saint but we should only pray at his tomb fatiha and May God bless his soul [which reached high above and our Prophet PBUH saw his soul in the form of a falcon on the seventh heaven striving for the love of Allah Subhan Wa Tallah.

    He was syed and true muslim and led his life while worshiping and doing work for the path of Allah. Hu. Jal Jallahu.

    We should all respect and be moderate in his tomb rather than doing wrong things.

  26. Rupa Abdi says:
    October 9th, 2011 6:16 pm

    In my yearning for Ranjha (Beloved) I have become Him
    Do not call me Heer anymore, call me Ranjha,
    for I have become the One that I seek

    - Bullhe Shah (another great Sufi from the Indus region)

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)