Starting in the early 12th century, the movement gained popularity in Greater Khorasan and neighbouring regions, including the South Asia. The first references are found in the 11th-century prose text Qalandarname (The Tale of the Kalandar) attributed to Ansarī Harawī. The term Qalandariyyat (the Qalandar condition) appears to be first applied by Sanai Ghaznavi (died 1131) in seminal poetic works where diverse practices are described. Particular to the qalandar genre of poetry are terms that refer to gambling, games, intoxicants and Nazar ila'l-murd, themes commonly referred to as kufriyyat or kharabat. The genre was further developed by poets such as Fakhr-al-Din Iraqi and Farid al-Din Attar.
The Qalandariya may have arisen from the earlier Malamatiyya and exhibited some Buddhist and Hindu influences in South Asia. The Malamatiya condemned the use of drugs and dressed only in blankets or in hip-length hairshirts.
The writings of qalandars were not a mere celebration of libertinism, but antinomial practices of affirmation from negative action. The order was often viewed suspiciously by authorities.
The term remains in popular culture. Sufi qawwali singers the Sabri brothers and international Qawwali star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan favoured the chant dam a dam masta qalandar (with every breath ecstatic Qalandar!), and a similar refrain appeared in a hit song from Runa Laila from movie Ek Se Badhkar Ek that became a dancefloor crossover hit in the 1970s.