This evening I attended a fascinating talk at Alliance française de Karachi on Jhulelal/Udero Lal, the mystic figure who is considered a saint in Islam (also known as Khwaja Khizr and Zinda Peer; not to be confused with Lal Shabaz Qalandar) and an avatar of the Hindu god Varuna.
He is known as the River Saint or River God and is revered by Muslims and Hindus in Sindh. There are three women considered to be reincarnations of Udero Lal: Mata Bina of the shrine at Udero Lal; the Mata of Mol Sharif; and the mysterious Sain/Mata of Mirpurkhas, an androgynous young woman who dresses in men’s clothes and wears a man’s turban. These three women come from India periodically to attend festivals and bestow blessings on the Hindu disciples of Udero Lal.
Hindus and Muslims worship side by side at the shrine of Udero Lal, located 60 kms north of Hyderabad, in Matiari district. He is a ubiquitous presence in every temple and mandir in Sindh, seated on a palla fish. There are Hindu devotional songs, kirtans, and Sufi devotional poetry written about him and sung in his honor. This is a sign and symbol of the unique heterodoxy and syncretism in Sindh.
The researchers, Michel Boivin of Paris’s Center for South Asian studies at EHESS and two Pakistani anthropology grad students, one at Jamshoro and the other in Paris, hope to learn more about Udero Lal’s literary and visual constructions; authority and social spaces, and the territories and structures of the sacred spaces devoted to him. With many differing versions and interpretations of him and his story, this will be a challenging project but will add much to the scholarship of and about Sindh.