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    Saturday, September 08, 2007

    Whirling dervishes take on the Taliban

    Whirling dervishes take on the Taliban

    By Isambard Wilkinson in Sehwan
    Last Updated: 1:11am BST 08/09/2007

    Pakistanis have turned to prayer, hashish and frenzied dancing in an attempt to overcome their twin troubles; the Taliban and internal political turmoil.

    The frenzied festival for the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar

    More than half a million pilgrims flocked to Sehwan in Sindh for a festival for one of Pakistan's chief Sufi saints, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, last week. "It is better than disco. If I do not come here, I do not feel right," said Idrees Rehman, a bus driver, as the festival and its whirling dervish dhammal dances ended yesterday.

    The slogan "Dama dam mast Qalandar", which roughly translates as "endless inspired intoxication for Qalandar" has entered Pakistan's political lexicon. It denotes unrestrained agitation which can be mobilised either in support for an ally or against an enemy.

    In a room smelling sweet with incense and petals, Ahmed Bhutto, who called himself a physics professor, said: "We are the anti-Taliban force. We stand for love, tolerance and the great infinity."

    The shrine, not far from the ancestral stronghold of exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is patronised by the Bhutto clan, who sit atop a hierarchy of Pirs, hereditary saints who hold significant power in politics in rural southern Punjab and Sind. The festival drives to the heart of Pakistan's battle for souls. Shia, Sunni, Hindu, Sikh and Christian all worship at the shrine that is a symbol of tolerance.

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