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The Play of Inter-Semiotic Traffic at Roadside Peer Baba Shrines: Adapting a Sufi Tradition (New Delhi, India)


· Rita Mukhopadhyay Ashoka University (New Delhi, India)
· Ronie Parciack Tel Aviv University (Tel Aviv, Israel)


07/27 | 14:10-14:30 UTC+2/CEST


We explore the inter-semiotic associations and adapted narratives that are invoked at roadside Peer Baba mazars ( a generic name for the grave-shrines of holy men), which attract citizens across otherwise diverging religions.

Peer Baba mazars draw upon and adapt elements of the classical Islamic and Sufi tradition, such that an entombed and invisible Peer is believed to act as a mediator between the supplicant and Allah. However, the affiliation of the Peer with a silsila (spiritual order), that is pronounced at established Sufi shrines in north India, is either thin or absent at roadside mazars. By underscoring the individuality of the saint, his immanence and rootedness to the spot, these caretakers (khidmatgars) try to ensure their own authority. The local offerings of cash and kind made at the shrine, then, remain with the caretakers and, at some sites, with women-caretakers who cannot assume this role at the established mazars.

The location of Peer Baba shrines along pavements and prominent roads and at street corners and roundabouts in the prime urban space of central New Delhi invites the attention and land-grab of caretakers, devotees and state functionaries. Here, caretakers turn narrators and adaptors of stories of resistance that relate recent and miraculous accounts of how Peer Babas foiled state-mandated plans aimed at the diminution or demolition of their shrines.

The borrowing and play of intra- and interreligious hermeneutics, correspondences, translations and adaptations are investigated across an array of visual symbols, gestures, ritual objects (especially grave coverings - chadars) and interlinguistic usages that cut across singular faiths.