Pakistan has a rich spiritual heritage with saints arriving from central Asia a settling in different parts of the Indian Sub-Continent. The religious tradition and culture were deeply influenced by the teaching of the Sufi saints who understand the 5000 years of the cultural history of the region and introduced Islam to masses who were predominantly Hindus. Therefore, there is a deep influence of Hindu cultural traditions and practises in music and wedding ceremonies of Pakistan society.
The saints introduced the tradition of Qawalli, a singing style of mystical music with deep religious and spiritual connotations. Qawallis are performed during urs (annual memorial of the saint’s birth) and during special events. The qawali music lies deep in the heart of Pakistani music tradition and a number of modern singers have used a variation of this art form to gain international fame. The theme of qawalis address love for the prophet and god. The modern version of qawalis addresses world love namely love for a human being. For this reason, this art form has gained acceptance by a large part of society. The poetry of the Sufi saints in various languages addresses the issues of love, loss, salvation and higher love for God. The poetry of some of the saints of Punjab has survived for over 700 years. Some of the oldest romances in the world are written in Punjabi, showing the deep history of the language and the culture of expressing feelings through poetry.
The message of the Sufi Saints
The spiritual message of the saints was aimed at the purification of the body and soul and still, there are a number of people who take allegiance to various saints and follow their practises and belief set. These beliefs and practices are deeply entrenched in the lifestyle of people living in the village and smaller towns. Saints used Quranic teaching and poetry as a way to express their message. The poetry is mystical in nature and addresses the deeper meaning of existence and connecting with God. The message is aimed at the purification of the self and shunning of worldly life in favour of a pure and simple spiritual life.
The tradition of dhammal (dancing to music) is one of the ways devotees express their sense of selflessness. Deeply entranced in the rhythm of the music, the saien (Sufi practitioner) shuns the principle of worldly life and embraces the harmony of a sound of motion. The message of the Sufi teaching touches the Pakistani Muslim psyche at different levels. The traces of these traditions can be found in most popular art forms including music, paintings and poetry.
Some of the cities in Pakistan have gained significance due to the shrines of very popular saints whose teachings have become the reasons for the popularity of these cities. These include Kasur, Lahore, Multan and Pak Pattan Sharif. Visiting these cities and shrines is an interesting way to understand the cultural values and traditions of Pakistan. If you are on a journey to explore the cultural history of Pakitan a visit to famous shrines is a great source of inspiration even as a believer of a different faith.
The saints of Pakistan have always remained famous throughout the world. They are not only an important part of Pakistani history but also show great influence on the lives of Pakistani people. Apart from usual traditions, shrines in Pakistan is a totally different culture. It let tourists explore the entirely unique side of Pakistan. In their time, these saints attracted groups and groups of people from all over the world because of their vast religious teachings. After their demise, their followers are promoting their teachings. These saints are respected all over the world. For keeping their memory alive, people have made shrines to honour them. Pakistan has four provinces. Each province has its own saint culture. Apart from all the festivals being offered in these cultures, the architecture and history of these shrines are attracting tourists from all over the world.
Shrines in Punjab
Shrines in Punjab have a deep impact on Punjabi culture. The Subcontinent’s famous saint Syed Ali Al-Hajweri lies in the shrine Data Ganj Bakhsh, Lahore. This is the largest shrine in Pakistan. The structure of the shrine is redesigned to capture the essence of Islamic design through its motif. Moreover, the captivating sight of various kinds of pigeons and peacocks enhances its beauty.
An important festival is Mela Cheragan which is held annually a the shrine of Shah Hussain, Lahore. The shrine of Bibi Javindi at Uch Sharif, built by Iranian price, is also a part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Regions. One cannot miss the yearly festival called Urs at the shrines of Shah Rukn e Alam and Hazrat Bahauddin Zikriya in Multan. Built in 1330 AD, the shrine of Shah Shams Tabrizi in Multan is also visited by thousands of devotees. The walls of these shrines are engraved with the poetry of those who are sleeping in these shrines. The most attractive thing about these uses is that thousands of visitors enjoy different traditional dishes in great amounts. At some Uras (gatherings) , visitors are also offered fresh milk as their welcoming gift.
Shrines in Sindh
After Punjab, in second place, shrines in Sindh contribute to the saint culture. Visitors will definitely enjoy the ancient architecture of Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine, the shrine of lal Shahbaz Qalander and Sachal Sarmast’s shrine. These shrines are built thousands of years ago. The design of these buildings is art itself. The use of mirrors and colourful tiles from the era of the Mughals also make these shrines a tourist attraction. Their unique saint culture also adds to their popularity in the world. These cultures are still practised in the shrines. The traditions of qwwalis, dhammals, mannats and chaddars are worth adventuring for international tourists.
For local visitors, these traditions are a way to express their needs before saints. By praying to them, they believe that all of their wishes will come true. The Shrine of Pir Mangho, near Karachi, is a must-visit the place. This shrine has a vast pond full of crocodiles, based on a famous history. Pir Mangho originally belonged to Iraq but gradually settled in the region near Karachi. Basically, he was living in an area that was surrounded by crocodiles. Mangho also used to feed these crocodiles. Soon people began to see him as a person who has some kind of miraculous power because crocodiles were not at all scared of him. Today’s crocodiles in that place are said to be descendants of those from Pir Mangho’s time.
Shrines in KPK
KPK, previously known as Sarhad, is also a prominent house of saints. Saints and shrines in KPK have been promoting the push to culture since the 18th century. One of the most visited shrines in KPK is Kaka Sahib’s shrine, located near Nowshera. This shrine is famous for its long-duration festivals. These festivals are based on the raising of the flag, qwalis, distribution of food and illumination. Locals also organise different sports competitions among young tourists.
The other famous shrine in the region of Peshawar is Shah Qabool Aulia’s shrine. This shrine is highly visited by the people of KPK in May for celebrating Jashn-e-Warud-e-Masaud. The Shrine of Rehman Baba in Peshawar is another famous shrine in KPK. The Poet festival at this shrine is quite famous among visitors because international poets also take part in its yearly poet festival. Though smoking is prohibited in the shrines but in this, there is a specific spot for those who like to smoke.
This shrine is surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. Under these trees, you can find different food stalls. The speciality of these shrines is that they offer you libraries. In these libraries, you can collect a lot of information related to the life, profession and works of these famous saints.
Other Holy places
Pakistan is a country, not only for Muslims but this is also a home for people of other religions. One can also experience the saint culture of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Lahore, next to Badshahi Masjid is a holy place for Sikhs. This place has its own unique history. One of the two gurus of Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev Ji is believed to have died here. He was martyred in River Ravi in 1606. Later, a gurdwara was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh at this place. Inside it, the dom is plated with gold and the floor is made of white marble. Sikhs from all over the world frequently come here to perform their religious rituals. One can also experience the rituals of St. Patrick’s day on 11 March in the St. Patrick Cathedral, Karachi. The famous shrine of Sindh, the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, is visited by both Hindus and Muslims on its urs.