South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - The Resonant Tomb 

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Mahogany, First Floor

Every Thursday night, the left bay in the gallery leading to the tomb chamber of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in interior Sindh, Pakistan, turns into an affective musical instrument. The vaulted brick roof sucks the thin vibrations of the sitar and the hoarse sounds of the musicians, only to return them with ethereal amplification. The marble floor gives Qawali (mystical devotional sung poetry) with the irreverent and audacious reverence of the giant mystic and poet buried behind the musicians, a resonance that purrs into the pilgrims viscerally. The audience sits cross-legged, shaking their heads and beating their bangles. As the music picks us tempo and the numbers swell, men and women in the courtyard across from the bay join mendicants in whirling and swaggering—till some enter into a momentary trance. This paper studies this unique public space in the Islamic world where women join men in an explicit display of an altered state of being. In this reverberant space, the emotive expression of their inner states takes possession of a public spiritual space. I will argue that the bodies of entranced women hosted by the acoustical landscape of a Sufi shrine Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai create a heterotopic space that holds a mirror to the perversions of utopias of contemporary Islam and the modern state. The feminist over- and undertones of the space narrated by (do not read as “rewritten”) the performance of “dispossession” (entranced) of their bodies speak of an ephemeral space which must be unpacked cautiously and lightly. 

Shundana Yusaf

University of Utah, United States


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4 - The Resonant Tomb 

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