This article attempts to explore the dynamics of pīr-murīd (master-disciple) relations under the premise of a religious ritual, called dhamāl, in which the people enthusiastically dance under the percussion of big drums on the occasion of the death anniversary of Madhō Lāl Hussain (a famous saint) in Lahore. Analysis of the role of ritual (dhamāl) in determining the relationship between master (pīr) and disciple (murīd) is the object of this study. Previous studies on Indo-Pak Sufism largely discuss biographical stories of famous shaykh (masters) and their thoughts, evolution and history of sūfī thought, systematized or formalized disciple and ascetic practices. Pīr-Murīd relations are often described in terms of power and hierarchy. Role of rituals in determining the nature of pīr-murīd relations remains an un-explored area in the existing literature. This study is an attempt to fill those gaps.
Dhamāl is mainly organized by the master, his disciple, the dhōl wālā (drummer), and the dancers including drummer's student (shāgird), and ascetic (faqīr) who gather at shrine for performing pilgrimage. The ritual of dancing (dhamāl) helps the dancer acquire a state of superstition beyond ordinary consciousness. Whirling movements under the influence of rhythmic drumming for long time along with chanting various sacred names bring the dancers to a state where they can communicate with the spirits of the saints and beyond. The ritual of dhamāl strengthens the bond between the living master (pīr), his disciple (murīd) and the ascetic (faqīr); that consequently leads to their spiritual connectivity that to the deceased Saints or the Prophet Muhammad. The very mystic experience of dhamāl is considered "annihilation in the master", which leads to "annihilation in the Prophet Muhammad".
It is widely believed in the spiritual (sūfī) tradition of Islam in Pakistan that the living masters represent and embody the Prophet by modeling themselves after the Prophet; by spiritually linking to him through various spiritual exercises. The communion with the saint and beyond while doing dhamāl consequently generate the deep veneration for living saints (pīrs) which is expressed in various ways such as the complete obedience of a disciple to his master, enthusiastic affection (ishk) for his master, self-sacrificing service (sēvā) for his master, and his everyday religious practices. Because the living master gives his disciple the link to the deceased saint/s and the Prophet through spiritual exercises such as a dhamāl; it reaffirms and strengthens the relations between the master and his disciple. Web of such pīr-murīd relations are very common in the shrines of Pakistan. The door of sainthood is open to everybody who adheres to these established norms of pīr-murīd relations. Drumming is not just a performing art but a sacred religious profession. In addition to the role an entertainer for common people, the drummer plays the role of linking agent between the disciple and the master in the spiritual tradition of Pakistan.