The Powerful Ephemeral: Everyday Healing in an Ambiguously Islamic Place

By Carla Bellamy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Absence
Lobān, Volunteerism, and Abundance

On an average day in the courtyards of Ḥusain Ṭekrī’s rauẓas, pilgrims may be observed performing a range of dargāḥ-specific healing practices. Of these, khulī ḥāẓirī is certainly the most eye-catching, but looking beyond this violent, fearsome spectacle a visitor may also observe pilgrims engaged in several other healing practices that are common at Muslim saint shrines: inhaling lobān (the Arabic-derived Urdu word for the smoke of a rocklike form of incense),1 wrapping chains and locks around various parts of the body, hanging onto jālī (the metal or stone latticework that covers the windows of subcontinental Muslim tombs and shrines), and tying strings (commonly called challā) to jālī.2 While most pilgrims’ religious backgrounds are not easily deduced, some markers of religious identity are visible and obvious, making it clear that these practices are meaningful not just to Muslims, but also to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Jains. What is it about these practices that allow them to transcend religious boundaries, and what might the answer to this question teach us about not only dargāḥ culture, but religion in South Asia in general?

Fundamental to this question is whether or not pilgrims generally regard Muslim saint shrines as Islamic places. It is certainly true—and important—that extra-subcontinental Islamic narratives and Arabic-derived names contribute an explicitly Islamic element to the popular perception of the tombs of subcontinental Muslim saints. Ḥusain Ṭekrī’s rauẓas are marked as Islamic by their association with Islamic names and narratives of the deaths of Husain and his companions at Karbala. However, in what

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