Accepted Paper:

Dreaming Baba, Restituting Memory: Popular Sufi Shrines in Contemporary East Punjab  


Yogesh Snehi (Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD))

Paper short abstract:

Why and how does popular memory reconfigures itself in the form of dreams? Taking a clue from veneration at popular Sufi shrines, this paper underlines the role played by memory and dreams in restitution of the practice of saint veneration in contemporary (East) Punjab.

Paper long abstract:

The partition of Punjab in 1947 divided the province into a Muslim-majority Pakistani Punjab and Sikh-Hindu dominated Indian Punjab. This happened after the catastrophic sharing of populations on the either side of Radcliffe line and irreparably divided the region on communal lines, seriously undermining those traditions of shared popular veneration of Sufi shrines, which had over the centuries since the arrival of Sufism in medieval South Asia, emerged as the dominant element of Punjabi society. What began as a social reform movement in the late nineteenth century led to a sustained onslaught of the reformers on the popular veneration of Pirs in the early twentieth century and Sikh militancy in the late twentieth century.

Thus, it becomes significant to probe the ways in which such practices reconfigured themselves in East Punjab when the larger centers of Sufism were left behind in the West Punjab. It is also important to underline that the practice of saint veneration continues to exist among non-Muslim population in East Punjab. Taking an account of selected popular Sufi shrines in contemporary (East) Punjab, this paper seeks to foreground the role played by dreams in recovering the popular memory of pre-partition Punjabi society, the centrality of saint veneration in its social formation. Significantly, this process has translated in the emergence of a new set of shrines in contemporary Punjab, particularly in the post-militancy phase, which have been constructed through donations from non-Muslims. This process has also led to the emergence of new forms of dissenting associative (popular) identities based on the rejection of caste and religious hierarchies. These narratives appropriate and interweave the medieval liberal discourse of the Chishtis with the Nath and Bhakti tradition, and emphasize the continued relevance of these articulations in contemporary social formation.

Panel W133
Muslim saints, dreams, and veneration of shrines