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Workshop 2010

Popular Poster showing the tomb of Nizamuddin Aulia at Delhi. Published by Brijbasi Art Press, Delhi (Circa 1995)
Popular Poster showing the tomb of Nizamuddin Aulia at Delhi. Published by Brijbasi Art Press, Delhi (Circa 1995)

South Asia’s Islamic Sufi shrines (known as dargah, aastana, takia, mazar, or maqbara) are unique institutions of religious pilgrimage usually centred around the grave or mausoleum of an important Sufi saint of the past.The shrines are visited by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who come here for spiritual salvation as well as to pray for their common needs and problems related to health, wealth, marital issues, and even occult practices. While a Muslim mosque does not allowed many social and informal activities and rituals, a Sufi shrine provides a more relaxed space for social interaction, emotional expression of one’s individual piety, and a physical medium (such as a grave) or meeting with a living spiritual master for an emotional catharsis. At the arrival of any saint’s urs (death anniversary) each year, which brings thousand of pilgrims to the shrine from faraway places, one gets to see many posters and banners announcing the occasion to the public, containing the schedule of the events in Urdu or Hindi, including the names of participants (speakers, qawwals), and few images and decorative borders. All this usually creates a very vibrant visual culture around each shrine that by itself becomes a visual medium of devotion and popular piety.

However, the shrines and their vicinities cannot simply be visualized in a traditional and romantic way – there is much more happening around them to make the flow and continuity of this visual culture asymmetrical. The visual and print culture is undergoing transformation due to various factors that range from ideological shifts to the changes brought about technology and what one could call globalization, besides the structural changes to the shrine and archeological sites themselves. In terms of the ideological shifts, the most important is the impact of the reformist or the so-called Wahhabi/Salafi tendencies in contemporary Islam that tend to undermine the more liberal and rustic traditions of a Sufi shrine. The technology on the other hand is empowering the producers of visual/print culture much better and advanced means to disseminate popular piety and religious discourse among the faithful. But that empowerment happens on both sides – in the Sufi-based discourses as well as the reformist literature/narratives. Thus, the ideological confrontationhas probably been heightened by the advancements in technology and new media. The media, together with “globalization” also takes these sites to a much wider range of visitors or would-be visitors all over the world.  


This workshop brings together in Heidelberg, Germany, some researchers from South Asia and the rest of the world to present their stories of the popular visual cultures of Muslim shrines and their shifting asymmetries in the global context, as part of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context” Initiative.

The workshop is open to all those who are interested, however please do drop us an email latest by 1st June 2010 at mueller@asia-europe.uni-heidelberg.de confirming your participation.

Workshop on

Changing Popular Visual Cultures of Muslim Shrines:

Transcultural Flows and Urban Spaces



Venue: Karl Jaspers Centre, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
Dates: June 4-5, 2010

Under the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context:
Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows"
Principle Coordinators: Yousuf Saeed, Christiane Brosius

| Schedule | Abstracts | Participants |  

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