chapter  4
15 Pages

Sufism, Pilgrimage and Saint Worship in South Asia


South Asia or the Indian sub-continent area hosts one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, although Muslims constitute a majority in only three states, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Republic of Maldives. In India although there are about 200 million Muslims, they only comprise 12 per cent of the total population. Hindus constitute the majority of India’s population, i.e. about 70 per cent, and in the different branches of what we currently call Hinduism the performance of pilgrimage is ‘one of the most popular religious activities’ (Klostermeir, 1998: 138). While the word yatra embodies different categories of pilgrimages, the popular term for pilgrimage-tirtha − is found in most of the North Indian languages and refers to both a ford and the movement between the world of human beings and the world of the gods (see Claveyrolas in this volume). Interestingly, tirtha is very close to the word used by the Muslims for the sacred places they visit-the dargah or threshold. Rather than focusing on displacement, the two terms emphasize the role of place as a bridge between the two worlds.