Windows of Pilgrimage: Announcement Posters of Religious Ceremonies

  • Place it was found : Nizamuddin shrine, Delhi
  • Place of event : Nizamuddin shrine, Delhi
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Windows of Pilgrimage: Announcement Posters of Religious Ceremonies

Yousuf Saeed, New Delhi

The walls in and around a Sufi shrine such as that of Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi, are always plastered with colourful notices and posters (ishtehars) about Sufi ceremonies and Urs celebrations not only being held in this shrine but also in far away shrines and Sufi centres. While one poster talks about an event in Siddhartha Nagar (UP), another one invites you to a local gathering in Mehrauli (Delhi). One can also see notices announcing events of multi-faith dialogue (sarva dharm sammelan), or "conferences" incorporating various Sufi sects. There are posters of Bareilly (UP), Seelampuri (east Delhi) and even far away Karnataka (Chittagoppa, Bidar). But the most fascinating is an information sticker from Karachi, Pakistan, inviting Indian pilgrims to a conference on Sufism! Interestingly, whatever event or ideology they cater to, almost all the posters use very similar array of colours, decorative designs and visual patterns. The inclusion of names (and sometimes, portrait photos) of religious dignitaries, orators and other important participants in bold letters is very essential in these posters. Even local politicians, who in their personal lives may have little religious inclination, too feature in the list of participants. Often, the event or the poster publication is sponsored by a rich businessman who may also be the devotee of that sect or religious scholar.

Even if no one traveled from Delhi to Karachi after watching the announcement, the posters and stickers at least make cross-cultural connection between regions and countries, or creating a sense of the ummah (or Muslim community), which is not based on a puritanical or sanitized notion of Arabicized Islam, but a diverse and colourful network of Sufi-related events. One can also get a calendar in the market that gives the dates of the urs of the most of important saints of south Asia. These calendars come with Hindu, Christian and Hijri dates. But of course, one can also find here notices about events related to other ideologies such as the Wahhabis and Salafis, who are a bit antagonistic to the Sufi shrine culture. One such event advertised is a congregation or ijtema of the Dawat-e Islami taking place in Okhla (south east Delhi). By the way, this entire diversity of events could be found (mostly in Delhi and other nearby locations) within a period of a few months, suggesting a high traffic of knowledge as well as pilgrims/participants in these events. While some circuits of these posters may be promoting orthodox or reformist ideologies, many of the Sufi-based events are still involving events like mushairas (Urdu poetry soirees) which hold competitions of poetry renditions based on a particular theme or rhyme-scheme which all poets have to use. Thus, while the orthodox sects maybe helping in a process of acculturation (by replacing material culture with an austere piety), the Sufi-shrine based events try to maintain the rich cultural traditions of creativity and literature. The audiences of such events are also appreciative of poetry and music tradition, and especially attend them by reading the details of the event from the posters.