Visual Pilgrim: Mapping Popular Visuality and Devotional Media at Sufi Shrines and other Islamic Institutions in South Asia
… is an interactive, multimedia and multi-layered exploration that tries to locate transcultural connections and flows between various Sufi shrines or Islamic pilgrimage centres in India and beyond by plotting hundreds of documented images, videos, audios and objects onto the maps, unravelling linkages between different regions, sites, audiences, and media. This project looks at two important aspects that relate to the shrine’s role as ‘built heritage’ versus ‘religious relic’ and the trans-cultural flows via popular visuality and devotional media, across a landscape of megacities and small pilgrimage towns.
The study of the Sufi shrine of Nizamuddin Aulia for this project commenced in early 2009 in New Delhi and was carried for more than a year. It involved various activities such as the collection of devotional objects, popular videos/audios, and religious posters, besides video shooting of the rituals and sacred sites, as well as recording of interviews with the devotees and local business folk. Moreover, some research was undertaken among Indian Sufis in Canada. The idea behind is to explore the role played by producers of literature, images and other devotional ephemera with respect to the lives of the pilgrims and devotees to this area, how the production of such literature and images has been transformed over the years due to changing aspirations of pilgrims (also as consumers of more than religious experience), and how the print culture itself transformed the religious experience of the pilgrims by placing them in intangible global circulations of images, media and concepts.
The project is based on extensive annotation of the research data and uses open source programs, such as pad.ma - short for Public Access Digital Media Archive - an online archive of densely text-annotated video material, primarily footage and not finished films. Visual Pilgrim is work in progress, undertaken by Suboor Bakht, Christiane Brosius and Yousuf Saeed, and invites further input from scholars working on Islamic visual popular culture and religious sites. An edited volume with contributions by Sandria Freitag, Hans Harder, Shirley Abraham and Amit Mahdeshiya and others is in preparation, including case studies on Bangladesh, Irak, Singapore, and Pakistan.