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What is Sufism?: Reflections on the Practice of the Sacred in North-Western India

This lecture series is presented by Dr. Yogesh Snehi, Professor, Dr. B.R at Ambedkar University Delhi. To find out more information about Dr Snehi, please click here.


Part 1: Introduction to Sufism

About the video

Practiced in south-Asia and specifically widely in India and Pakistan, Sufism is a spiritual practice embedded in the precepts of mystical Islam, possessing a rich culture and traditions that run into over seven centuries of history. In this video, Dr. Snehi talks about Sufism through the widely popular practices that are prevalent to this day in India and Pakistan, and establishes contemporality through narratives of the past. 


Part 2: Sufi Traditions, Social Reform, and the Academia

About the video

As part of what later came to be known as ‘reformist’ religion within Islam, Dr. Snehi imparts a critical view to the continuous entanglement of the state and religion, and how specifically in the case of the Indian subcontinent, academia has always been informed by these intersections and has looked at religion from the point of view of political economy, rather than on its own.

In this video, Dr. Snehi comments on the heterogeneity of Sufism and the issues that have risen due to a narrow understanding of it, thus leading to academic and cultural challenges. 


Part 3: Sufi Shrines and Popular Visual Culture

About the video

Commenting on the importance of visual representation in Sufism, Dr. Snehi states that visuals [in Sufism] “become a medium of communication, establishing pilgrims’ connection with Sufi shrines.” During the post-partition period, visual representation and circulation of Sufi saints and shrines located in Pakistan in India became an important medium through which Sufism entangled with popular culture.

However, in this video, Dr. Snehi tries to comment on the question of why such ‘local’ art has to this date been largely ignored by historians. He tries to explain the pre-occupation of academia with ‘high-art’ before moving on to newer forms of amalgamation of Sufism with popular culture, especially through songs and films.


Part 4: Why Sufi Shrines continue to thrive in Punjab?

About the video

A state that has been in constant flux since the medieval times, Sufi shrines within Punjab have also undergone remarkable changes over the centuries. As Dr. Snehi states, before the partition, it was noted that during festivities at a given shrine, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs participated in tandem.

In the post-partition period as Punjab was reduced to a purely Sikh majoritarian state, a lot of the pirs became extent, with their caretakers now in Pakistan. Many of such sacred spaces lay desolate, only eventually to be rejuvenated by the combined efforts of local Hindu and Sikh patrons, whose beliefs and heterogeneity of traditions embedded embeddedness Sufism to their everyday life through large circulation of its popular culture.

Through various examples of celebrations that occur today in these shrines operated by Hindu and Sikh families, Dr. Snehi answers the questions he himself poses in this part.