Context: Some research showed that other sources spell Qalander and Jhuley Lal differently than informant JL, a former federal senator from Pakistan, did. This may be because of translation to the romanized alphabet, but the different spellings are Qalandar and Jhulelal. Regardless, Qalander is a Sufi, likely referring to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, who lived in the 12th century and was buried in Sindh, which JL notes is his former country. Below, JL relays his knowledge of Qalander and his annual tradition of dancing.
Main Piece: Transcript:
JL: One of the Sufis, his past name is “Qalander”, who is a very popular sufi. He also has an annual event, and his event is also marked by dancing… Even though he is a Muslim Sufi, most of his followers are Hindus because they believe that this Sufi is a reincarnation of a Hindu god… called Jhuley Lal. The word Jhuley means in the local language “the rocking” like dancing… and Lal actually is the red color. He used to wear red dresses always and he always used to dance going around in circles. And that is why people go in his tradition, and they all dance and most of them also wear red clothes. So you have a Muslim Sufi who is a reincarnation of a Hindu god. And there were people in millions even coming from across the border who are Hindus, and of course you also have Muslims. It is also in my former country, it is in the province of Sindh… His shrine is in a city, where you have the annual event where people will go and dance…
JL: So what happens is when the region was locked by terrorists for a time, who were hardcore islamists, they wanted to put a stop to this dancing, as you can understand you have man and woman rocking together at the shrine. Maybe 10 to 15 years back, the terrorists had actually planted a bomb in the shrine… and the bomb exploded and about 150 people died. And they thought that by doing that they would put a stop to all these followers coming to the shrine… And the tradition was that every morning at 4am they would ring the bell. And right after that explosion which probably took place at night, on the dot at 4am the caretaker of the shrine rang the bell and people came back to the courtyards and started dancing and nobody was afraid, so the tradition continued.
I continued to ask JL about the strength of the belief in Sufism (for more, see Sufism: Festivals). He told me that, for the Sufist’s belief, so long as you were dancing and following the tradition of the Sufi, nothing bad would happen to you. The tradition of Jhuley Lal was so strong that not even a murderous bombing would stop the followers from dressing in red and dancing in the courtyard.
Thoughts: Sufism is a firm belief system whose followers believe in devoutly in the hope that it will bring them good fortune. Even through death and tragedy, their devotion to Sufism did not waver, and I think that makes Sufism and its festivals powerful traditions. There’s certainly something to be said here about Sufis as role models for a population. The community of Sufists believe in these Sufis because of their positive qualities, and they practice traditions like dancing in red dresses so that they can imitate those positive qualities and find good fortune.