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Searching for Shiva in Pakistan

Civil Society News, New Delhi

In the face of rising extremism and intolerance Haroon Khalid, journalist and educationist, sets off on a journey in the reverse direction. He goes off to explore Pakistan’s folk religious culture and uncovers its links to Hinduism and history. He then writes a book with an intriguing title, In Search of Shiva. 

Shiva in Pakistan? In his book, Haroon identifies shrines in the names of Sufi saints dotted on Pakistan’s landscape that have survived the trauma of time and the onslaught of puritanism. Revered by ordinary folk, most of these shrines pre-date Partition. Their religious practices are still a veritable mix of folklore and tradition. Each shrine he visits has a story to tell and some hark back to the Indus Valley Civilisation.   

There is a shrine where women worship the phallic symbol for fertility, reminiscent of the cult of Shiva. In another shrine there is a wishing tree where women fast for nine days, the Muslim version of the Hindu festival of Navratri. Haroon also draws an analogy between the dervish dance and the dance of Shiva.

The middle class in Pakistan, too, unconsciously practises traditions that are syncretist. Connections between Islam and Hinduism — the qawwali, Sufi saints, folklore, poetry — are very old.   

But such cultural synthesis, remnants of Pakistan’s indigenous traditions, are unlikely to survive. The country has turned its back on its South Asian roots. The state has for decades promoted a conservative stream of religion.

Haroon studied anthropology at the Lahore University of Management and Sciences. He writes for Pakistan’s Friday Times, Nepal’s Himal, and the Indian website, scroll.in.

His first book, A White Trail, was a sensitive portrayal of Pakistan’s religious minorities. In Search of Shiva is a brave book and hopeful. Perhaps, ...

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