Governing Sufi Sound, Empowering the Subaltern Singer: Raagi Faqirs On the Edge of Modernity in Contemporary Sindh, Pakistan

  • Author / Creator
    Shumaila Hemani
  • In the 18th century, a Sufi mystic and poet in Sindh region of pre-colonial India showed his devotees (the raagi faqirs) the Sufi path by reciting verses that the faqirs memorized and sang. This corpus of sung verses called the Shah jo Raag stands distinctly for its poetic, melodic and structural elements within the more dominant forms of Sufi singing in South Asia namely qawwali, kafi, and khayal. As musical communities from across Rajasthan, Gujarat and Sindh sing Shah Latif’s poetry, the original community of devotees, the raagi faqirs have been preserving the style of singing they refer to as the kari style of singing the Shah jo Raag at the dargah of Shah Latif for nearly 300 years. This community and style stands as a subaltern within Hindustani musicians and singing styles that remain predominant in Sindh. My dissertation addresses the question: To what extent have processes of modernity empowered or disempowered the subaltern? I address this question in the historical context of post-colonial Sindh that witnessed regulation of waqf (religious endowment) of Sufi dargah in Pakistan examining its impact on the tradition of the Shah jo Raag and its singers.Drawing upon post-colonial theory on empowerment and etasization of society based on Michel Foucault’s discussion of “governmentality,” I analyze the faqirs voices and conduct in the public sphere and at the dargah, and the extent to which their participation is shaped by the ways in which the spiritual authority of the Sajjada Nashin has been impacted by state regulations. I argue that modernity and state interventions create new forms of subalternity within music communities making ambiguous Sufi singers’ rights to their tradition and heritage. With ethnographic work in Sindh between 2009-2017, I examine faqirs’ subalternity in contemporary Sindh by tracing how the trajectory of modern governmentality from colonial to post-colonial and from neo-liberal and corporate has impacted the Shah jo Raag tradition and the authority of the raagi faqirs. Since the faqirs’ voices in the public sphere and their rights to their heritage is mediated by the Sajjada Nashin and the pirzade family whose authority over the tradition is recognized by the Waqf Legislation, the disputes at the dargah are resolved through a power imbalance. I conclude that the absence of faqirs’ rights over their heritage within the state legal system contributes to faqirs’ subalternity created by modern governmentalities. This dissertation contributes to the discipline of Ethnomusicology, Islamic Studies and South Asian Studies by bringing into discourse the emerging scholarship on the Islamic heritage of waqf and how the sacerdotal power imbalances within the pre-modern socio-economic structure impacts the music communities and their claims to heritage today.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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