Category Archives: Pakistan

Sehwan Sharif, Sindh

Credits: Rémy Delage (During the urs with the dargah under renovation in 2012)

Basic information

Location (country): Pakistan

Location (city): Sehwan Sharif

Location (neighbourhood):

Location (GPS coordinates): Latitude: 26.412225 | Longitude: 67.86294

Type of religious site: Dargah, Darbar, Muslim and Hindu Sufi lodges, etc.

Religious community(ies) attending: Sunni and Shia Muslims, Hindus, Malang, Faqir, etc.

No of communities attending:

Language(s) used for ceremonies and prayers: Sindhi, Urdu, Punjabi

Approximate size of the site: (in m2)

Year of construction: 13th century

Pilgrimage location: yes

Pilgrimage season: Month of Sha’ban

Names and dates of the main festivals celebrated in situ: Celebration of the `Urs (18-20 Sha’ban); Commemoration of Ashura (1-10 Moharram)

No of pictures of the sites appended to this form: (Min 1)

Website page of the site (if available):                                                 

Name and title of the in-charge of the site (if known): Awqaf Department, Government of Sindh

Overview of the site

The pilgrimage centre of Sehwan Sharif is located in the southern province of Sindh in Pakistan, along the Indus. Its reputation is related to the presence of the saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, an antinomian Sufi who migrated and settled there at the end of the 13th century. Since then, the locality developed in parallel with the growing cult of the saint that has known a significant increase in terms of participation since the late 20th century.  Apart from the daily visits of devotees (ziyarat) throughout the year, two major events structure the ritual calendar of the mausoleum. On the one hand, the commemoration of Ashura (month of Muharram) is an occasion for Twelver shias to display their religious identity during which a complex system of ritual processions reveals social divisions at the local level. On the other hand, the annual pilgrimage (urs, mela) during the month of Sha’ban is preceded by one the most important gathering of faqirs across the subcontinent and followed by the departure of several caravans of faqirs and pilgrims to other holy destinations. What is more, the locality of Sehwan articulates during the festival various circulatory territories that bring together various social (transgender, low and high castes, etc.) and religious groups (sunni, shia, hindu, malang, etc.). The practices of sharing public spaces during such specific event are worth being studied empirically since they contribute to the repositioning of pilgrims and local people faced with social and religious otherness.

Bibliography pertaining to the site

Rémy Delage (2018) « Sufism and Pilgrimage Market: A Political Economy of a Shrine in Southern Pakistan », in Coleman, S. & Eade, J. (eds) Translating the Sacred: Pilgrimage and Political Economy in Transnational Contexts, Berghahn Books, Oxford.

Rémy Delage (2016) « L’espace du pèlerinage comme territoire circulatoire : Sehwan Sharif sur les rives de l’Indus », Cahiers d’Outre-Mer, Numéro thématique Prier aux Suds : les lieux de culte entre territorialisations, cohabitations et mobilités du religieux, 275.

Omar Kasmani (2017) « Grounds of becoming : faqirs among the dead in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan ». Culture and Religion. An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 18, n° 2, pp. 72-89.

Omar Kasmani (2016) « Women [un-]like Women : The Question of Spiritual Authority among Female Fakirs of Sehwan Sharif ». In M. Boivin and R. Delage, eds, Devotional Islam in Contemporary South Asia: Shrines, Journeys and Wanderers, Londres, Routledge, pp. 47-62.

Rémy Delage (2016) « Soufisme et espace urbain. Circulations rituelles dans la localité de Sehwan Sharif », in Claveyrolas, M. & Delage, R. (eds) Territoires du religieux dans les mondes indiens. Parcourir, mettre en scène, franchir, Editions EHESS, coll. Purusartha, n°34, Paris, pp. 149-175.

Rémy Delage et Delphine Ortis (2014) « Les relations entre Sehwan Sharif et l’Indus dans le Sindh : histoire d’une mise à distance (Pakistan) », in Harit Joshi et Anne Viguier (eds) Ville et fleuve en Asie du Sud. Regard croisés, Editions INALCO, pp. 33-47.

Boivin, M. (2012) Le soufisme antinomien dans le sous-continent indien. Paris, Éditions du Cerf.

Michel Boivin (2012) « Compétition religieuse et culture partagée dans les lieux saints complexes d’Asie du sud » in Isabelle Depret et Guillaume Dye (dir.), Partage du sacré : transferts, cultes mixtes, rivalités interconfessionnelles, Bruxelles, Editions EME, pp. 149-165.

Boivin, M. (2011) Artefacts of Devotion. A Sufi Repertoire of the Qalandariyya in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, Pakistan. Karachi, OUP.

Michel Boivin et Rémy Delage (2010) « Benazir en odeur de sainteté. Naissance d’un lieu de culte au Pakistan », Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions, n° 151, Paris, Editions EHESS,  pp. 189-211.

Boivin, M. (2005) « Le pèlerinage de Sehwân Sharîf, Sindh (Pakistan) : territoires, protagonistes et rituels », in S. Chiffoleau & A. Madœuf, dir., Les  pèlerinages au Maghreb et au Moyent-Orient. Espaces publics, espaces du public, Damas, IFPO, pp. 311-345.

Mariamabad Virgin Mary Shrine, Pakistan

Devotees offering prayers in front of Mariamabad’s grotto. 2016. Credits P. Rollier

SITE – Basic information


LocationNational Marian Shrine, Mariamabad Chak # no 3, Shekhupura District, Punjab, Pakistan

Type of religious siteCatholic church and national shrine

Religious communities attendingPunjabi Christians, Muslims, Hindus

No of communities attending: more than two

Language(s) used for ceremonies and prayers: Punjabi, Urdu

Pilgrimage location: yes
Pilgrimage season: A three-day annual pilgrimage and mela is held yearly around September 8th to celebrate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The shrine also attracts visitors during Lent.

Name and title of the in-charge of the site (if known):  Parish priest Rev. Bernard Emmanuel (Archdiocese of Lahore)


Overview of the site

Established by Belgian Capuchins in the late nineteenth century, the small village of Mariamabad is located in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The site under study is composed of the village itself — about 300 houses — and its large religious complex, which includes a church, a mango orchard and a grotto topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary. Since the 1950s, this Catholic village has become a centre of pilgrimage. With growing intensity since the 1990s, thousands of pilgrims walk or cycle over great distances every year to celebrate the nativity of the Virgin Mary in Mariamabad. Known as ziarat-e-maqadas Mariam, this gruelling yet playful ritual is presumably the largest Christian congregation in the country, and culminates with a three-day mela or festival held around the Marian shrine.

Most participants are working-class Punjabi Christians, who are descendants of ‘chuhra’ untouchable castes converted to Christianity during the first half of the twentieth century. Concerned that recently converted Christians could relapse into heresy, Belgian missionaries designed the shrine and its pilgrimage as a Christian alternative to local Muslim village festivals. But boundaries are porous, and the language of ritual practice deployed in this site mirrors that of Muslim dargahs and Hindu yatras. This allows for a wide participation of Protestants, Muslims and Hindus seeking the Virgin’s blessings in relation to specific vows. As a result, critics often describe this site and its ritual as being excessively Islamized, or as a superficial recasting of Hinduism bordering idolatry. Rather than signalling a syncretic encounter, this ‘shared sacred site’ needs to be analysed with reference to the specific articulation between caste and religious identity in Punjab, and to the changing trajectories of social mobility among marginalized Punjabi Christians in Pakistan.

Bibliography pertaining to the site

Harding, Christopher.  2008. Religious Transformation in South Asia : The meanings of conversion in Colonial Punjab. Oxford.

Harding, Christopher.  2008. ‘The Christian Village Experiment in Punjab: Social and Religious Re-formation.’ South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 31(3): 397-418.

O’Brien, John. 2006. The Construction of Pakistani Christian Identity. Lahore: Research Society of Pakistan.

O’Brien, John. 2011. ‘The Quest for Pakistani Christian Identity: A narrative of Religious Other as Liberative comparative Ecclesiology.’ Pp. 78-103 in Church and Religious ‘Other’, edited by G. Mannion.  London; New York : T&T Clark

O’Brien, John. 2015. ‘By the finger of god: healing and deliverance in Pakistan’. Pp. 230-259 in Witchcraft, Demons and Deliverance: a global conversation on an intercultural challenge, edited by C. Währisch-Oblau and H. Wrogemann. Zürich: LIT Verlag.

Pelckmans, Godefroid.  1900. Dix Années d’Apostolat au Pundjab. Bruges: C. Ryckbost-Monthaye.

Pickett, J. Waskom. 1933. Christian Mass Movements in India. Lucknow: Lucknow Publishing House.

Walbridge, Linda. 2003. The Christians of Pakistan: The Passion of Bishop John Joseph. London: Routledge Curzon.

Webster, John. 1978. ‘Christianity in the Punjab’. Missiology: An International Review 6(4): 467– 483.

Webster, John. 2007. A social history of Christianity: North-West India since 1800. New Delhi: Oxford University Press

A French nun imparts catechism to ‘chuhra’ children in Mariamabad in the 1920s or 1930s. Credits: Source unknown
Young Christian in front of the statue of the Virgin in Mariamabad. 2018. Credits: P. Rollier
Pilgrims from Lahore on their way to Mariamabad. 2016. Credits: P. Rollier
Pilgrims from Lahore on their second day walking from Lahore to Mariamabad. 2016. Credits: P. Rollier.
Devotees climbing up a cross to offer a chadar in honour of the Virgin. 2016. Credits: P. Rollier
A hawker selling posters during the mela in Mariamabad. 2016. Credits: Michael Kashif
Young pilgrims during the mela in Mariamabad. 2016. Credits: P. Rollier
Cycling pilgrims arrive in the village of Mariamabad. 2016. Credits: P. Rollier
Statue of the Virgin Mary in Mariamabad. 2018. Credits: P. Rollier

A resident of Mariamabad singing in church after Sunday service. 2018. Recorded by P. Rollier

Promotional video: Annual Pilgramage to Mariamabad, 2018. Credits: Shahid Ghouri