Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Upanishad Diaries - I

An artists impression of Ved Vyas

'Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the ignorance, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.'
- Isha Upanishad

Some time around 2000 BC, or perhaps even earlier, when much of Europe was still perfecting the art of survival, sages and seers of India were contemplating on the very nature of Reality.

Meditating along river banks, on slopes of the mighty Himalayas and in remote forests, these wise men had realised that the human existence was a mere veil of something mightier and more profound than life itself. They had discovered that there was a more 'real' existence than the mental existence and a 'greater' Life than the physical life. For the awakened men the forms and enjoyments that ordinary men worship and pursue were not anymore the object of desire.

Thus rose the cry of the Upanishads - Rise and aspire beyond, free yourself from this illusory world of phenomenon and death and become your true immortal Self !!
The Upanishads also known as the Vedanta or the culmination of the Vedas, are actually the essence of all Vedas and from the Upanishads was born the Bhagavad Gita, the song celestial - which contains a philosophy so practical and yet so profound that no other philosophy of this world or the next has been able to surpass it.

The European powers were astounded when they were told by a German Indologist, Max Muller and later by another German philosopher, Schopenhauer that the earliest inhabitants of this primitive and savage land that they had set out to civilize and conquer had discovered the highest metaphysical truths when much of European civilization was still in its infancy.

Ironically it was the Persian translation of the Upanishad written by a Muslim prince - Dara Shikoh which was instrumental in taking the primeval Hindu wisdom to the West.

to be continued.......

Friday, 23 September 2011


The Wadali Brothers

In recent times Sufi music and poetry have moved from the shrine to the stage. Some consider this trend to be undesirable. They believe that in the attempt to make it more appealing it is being diluted and corrupted for public consumption. However the fact remains that the increasing popularity of Sufi music and poetry, in whatever form, has in no small measure contributed in revealing the compassionate, tolerant and creative aspect of Islam to the non-Muslim audience.

Like its philosophy and beliefs, the Sufi poetry performances have, over the ages, adapted to the indigenous styles of the continent as well as added some of their own. Among the most popular are Sufiana Kalaams (sacred words or compositions), Kafis (folk music from the Punjab region), K’waali (a form of devotional singing normally performed at Sufi dargahs), and Na’at (poetry recitation in the praise of Prophet Mohammad).

Amir Khusrau’s Compositions in Bollywood Films

Hindi movies were among the first to introduce compostions by Sufis to the larger public. The most popular among movie makers were the lok geets and love songs of Amir Khusro. His compositions in Hindavi (a synthesis of Brijbhasha and Urdu) were among the first to find place in Hindi movies. Some of his mystical compositions in which Hindvi and Persian couplets were seamlessly woven appeared in the later period.The movie ‘Suhag Raat,’ under the direction of Kedar Nath Sharma, produced in 1948, had a bidai geet (song sung when the bride is finally sent away with her in-laws) penned by Amir Khusro and sung by Mukesh. The music director was Snehal Bhatkar. This composition was also sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the film Heer Ranjha (1948) with some modifications, and again in the 1954 film ‘Suhagan’, under the music direction of C.Ramchandra and Vasant Desai. In this song, the young bride is appealing to her father not to marry her and send her away to foreign shores:


Skaahe ko byaahe bides, are lakhiyan baabul mohe

kaahe ko byaahe bides ...
ham to baabul tore khunthe ki gayaa

jahan kaho tyon bandhehi jaye

are lakhiyan baabul mohe ...

kaahe ko byaahe bides ...

ham to baabul tore bele ki kaliyan

are ghar-ghar maange hain jaaye

are lakhiyan baabul mohe ...

kaahe ko byaahe bides ...

Hum To Baabul Tore,
Pinjarae Ki Chidiya
Are Kuhuk-Kuhuk RaatI Jaaye

mahalan tale se dola jo nikala

are beeran mein chhaaye pachhaad

are lakhiyan baabul mohe

kaahe ko byaahe bides ...

bhaiya ko diyo baabul mahalan do mahalan

are ham ko diyo pardesh

are lakhiyan baabul mohe

kaahe ko byaahe bides

are lakhiyan baabul mohe

However the best rendition of this song was by Jagjit Kaur, under the music direction of Khayyam in the 1981 film ‘Umrao Jaan’ produced and directed by Muzaffar Ali.

Amir Khusro q’waali style was introduced to the moive audience in the film ‘Barsat ki raat’ (1960), directed by P.L.Soni. The q’waali, ‘Ye Ishk Ishk Hai’ under the music direction of Roshan became an instant hit This movie was among the first bollywood movies to popularise the q’waali form of music, in which the legendary poet Sahir Ludhianvi took some liberties with the following composition of Amir Khusro:
Bahut Kathin hai dagar panghat ki,

Kaisay main bhar laaun madhva say matki?

Paniya bharan ko main jo gayi thi,

Daud jhapat mori matki patki.

Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki.

Khusrau Nijaam kay bal bal jayyiye

Laaj rakho moray ghoonghat pat ki.

Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki.

Later in 1962, Shevan Rizvi introduced Hindi film audience to another of Khusro’s compositions in the film ‘Ek Musafir Ek Hasina’ under the music direction of O.P.Nayyar. The film was directed by Sashadhar Mukherjee. The following lines were beautifully sung by Asha Bhonsle:

 Zabaan-e yaar-e mun Turkie, wa mun Turkie nami daanum,
Che khush boodi agar boodi zabaanash dar dahanay mun.

(My beloved speaks Turkish, but I do not know Turkish;
How I wish that I could speak her/his language)

The first scene of Hindi film Junoon (1978), produced by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Shayam Benegal, opens with a beautiful composition by Amir Khusro, ‘ Chchap teelak sab chcheeni re’ combined with ‘Aaj rang hai’ set to music by Vanraj Bhatia and sung by Jamil Ahmed:

ख़ुसरौ रैन सुहाग की, जो मैं जागी पी के संग,
टन मोरा मान पिया का, जो दोनो एक ही रंग.

ख़ुसरौ दरिया प्रेम का, जो उल्टी वाह की धार,
जो उभरा, सो डूब गया, जो डूबा सो पार.

अपनी छाब बनाई के, जो मैं पी के पास गयी,
छाब देखी जब पिया की, मोहे अपनी भूल गयी.

छाप तिलक सब छीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

बल बल जाउन मैं, तोरे रंग रेजावा,
ऐसी रंग दो के रंग नाहीं छूटे, धोबिया धोए चाहे सारी उमारिया

बल बल जौन मैं, तोरे रंग रेजावा,
अपनी सी रंग दीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

प्रेम भाटी का माधवा पीलायके

मटवारी कर दीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

गोरी गोरी गोरी बैयाँ, हरी हरी चूड़ियाँ,
बहियाँ पकड़ हर लीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

ख़ुसरौ निज़ाम के बाल बाल जैय्हैन …

मोहे सुहागन कीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके
Khusrau rain suhaag ki, jo main jaagi pi ke sang,
Tan mora man piya ka, jo dono ek hi rang.
Khusrau dariya prem ka, jo ulti waah ki dhaar,
Jo ubhra, so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar.
Apni chab banaai ke, jo main pi ke paas gayi,
Chab dekhi jab piya ki, mohey apni bhool gayi.
Chaap Tilak sab cheeni re, moh se naina milayke.

Baat agham keh deeni re moh se naina milayke.
Bal bal jaaun main, tore rang rejava,

Aisi rang do ke rang naahin chhutey,
Dhobiya dhoye chaahe saari umariya
Bal bal jaaun main, tore rang rejava,
Apni si rang deeni re, moh se naina milayke.
Prem bhati ka madhva pilayke
Matwari kar deeni re, moh se naina milayke.
Gori gori gori baiyaan, hari hari chudiyaan,
Bahiyaan pakad har leeni re, moh se naina milayke

Khusro Nizam ke bal bal janiya

Mohe suhagan ki nee re moh se naina milayke.

Aaj Rang Hai

Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri
Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri
Sajan milaavra, sajan milaavra,
Sajan milaavra moray aangan ko
Aaj rung hai........
Mohay pir paayo Nijamudin aulia
Nijamudin aulia mohay pir payoo
Des bades mein dhoondh phiree hoon
Toraa rung man bhayo Nizamuddin.,
Jag ujiyaaro, jagat ujiyaaro,
Main to aiso rang aur nahin dekhi sakhi
Main to jab dekhun moray sung hai ri,

Mohay Apne He Rung Mein Rung Lay Khuwaja Ji

Mohay Rung Basanti Rung Day Khuwaja Ji
Jo Tu Maangay Rung Ki Rangai
Mora Joban Girwi Rakhlay Khuwaja Ji
Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri.

(There is radiance everywhere mother.

The house of my Beloved is filled with radiance
At last I have found my Beloved in my own courtyard

I have found my pir Nizamuddin Aulia.
I have roamed far and wide in the world,
and I found You to my liking;

And lo behold my entire world is filled with radiance.

I have never seen such Devine radiance before
He is forever with me now,
Oh beloved, please colour me in your radiance;

There is radiance everywhere, Divine Radiance)

Note: Khusro sang these lines in ecstasy when he came back to his mother after meeting Nizamuddin Aulia for the first time, after a long search for an ideal Sufi master. Hence the above lines are addressed to his mother

 Zehal-e miskin makun taghaful, duraye naina banaye batiyan;
ki taab-e hijran nadaram ay jaan, na leho kaahe lagaye chhatiyan.
Shaban-e hijran daraz chun zulf wa roz-e waslat cho umr kotah;
Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhun to kaise kaatun andheri ratiyan.
Yakayak az dil do chashm-e jadoo basad farebam baburd taskin;
Kise pari hai jo jaa sunaave piyare pi ko hamaari batiyan.
Cho sham’a sozan cho zarra hairan hamesha giryan be ishq aan meh;
Na neend naina na ang chaina na aap aaven na bhejen patiyan.
Bahaqq-e roz-e wisal-e dilbar ki daad mara ghareeb Khusrau;
Sapet man ke waraaye raakhun jo jaaye paaon piya ke khatiyan.

Following is my interpretation which may not be a literal translation:

Do not ignore my grief with your seductive eyes,
and sweet talk ; Your separation is past endurance, why don’t you embrace me..

Like long dark lustrous curls is the night of separation,
and our union brief like the short -lived life ;

How will I endure the dark night without my Beloved?
With sudden charm your enchanting eyes have robbed my mind of peace

No one bothers to convey my agony to my Beloved
Tossed about in bewilderment, like a flickering candle,
I writhe in the fire of love;

I lie without the Beloved, sleepless and restless,
but the Beloved neither comes nor sends any message.

I shall wait for the day I meet my Beloved
who has seduced me for so long, O Khusro;
For I have saved my heart and my love for the Beloved....

Gulzar Sahab has been instrumental in popularising sufiana kalaam in Hindi film music. In 1980, the film ‘Ghulami’ directed by J.P.Dutta, had a song written by Gulzar under the music direction of Lakshmi Kant Pyarelal. This song was inspired by Amir Khusro’s composition ‘Zeehal- e Mishkeen’, which has alternate lines in Farsi and Hindavi:

Zehal-e miskin makun taghaful, duraye naina banaye batiyan;

ki taab-e hijran nadaram ay jaan, na leho kaahe lagaye chhatiyan.

Shaban-e hijran daraz chun zulf wa roz-e waslat cho umr kotah;

Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhun to kaise kaatun andheri ratiyan.

Yakayak az dil do chashm-e jadoo basad farebam baburd taskin;

Kise pari hai jo jaa sunaave piyare pi ko hamaari batiyan.
Cho sham’a sozan cho zarra hairan hamesha giryan be ishq aan meh;

Na neend naina na ang chaina na aap aaven na bhejen patiyan.

Bahaqq-e roz-e wisal-e dilbar ki daad mara ghareeb Khusrau;

Sapet man ke waraaye raakhun jo jaaye paaon piya ke khatiyan.

Following is my interpretation which may not be a literal translation:

Do not ignore my grief by your seductive eyes,

and sweet talk ; Your separation is past endurance, why don’t you embrace me..

Like long dark lustrous curls is the night of separation,

and our union brief like the short -lived life ;

How will I endure the dark night without my Beloved?

With sudden charm your enchanting eyes have robbed my mind of peace

No one bothers to convey my agony to my Beloved

Tossed about in bewilderment, like a flickering candle,

I writhe in the fire of love;

I lie without the Beloved, sleepless and restless,

but the Beloved neither comes nor sends any message.

I shall wait for the day I meet my Beloved

who has seduced me for so long, O Khusro;

For I have saved my heart and my love for the Beloved....

In more recent times, the song ‘chhayya chhaya’ from ‘Dil Se’ (1998) under the music direction of the living legend A.R.Rahman, became an instant hit and heralded an entirely new genre of quasi-religious sufi poetry and music in Bollywood films. This song is originally based on ‘Tere ishq nachaya kar ke thaiyya thaiyya’ a Punjabi sufi Kalaam by Bulle Shah. It was rewritten by Gulzar. The film ‘Maqbool’ (2004) by Vishal Bhardwaj, who directed the music, Gulzar composed the song ‘Jhin mini jhini’ opening with the lines by Khusro – ‘Khusro rain suhag ki’. Of late Gulzar sahab has been using the Sufi style of repeating two-syllable Farsi words to give it a mystical dimension. The song 'Tere Bina' (Dum Dara Mast Mast), in the film Guru (2007), under the music direction of A.R.Rahman, is one such instance:dum dara dum dara mast mast dara – 2
dum dara dum dar chashma chashma nam.....

Here the world dum could mean many things: breath/ life/ prana; dara again could mean in/ inside/ door/ door to the soul or Being; mast means trance/ecstasy; chashma means eyes, could also mean vision; and nam means moist. The repetition of ‘dam dar’ could imply to the breath control that Sufis indulge in to get vision or to enter into a higher state of mind or ecstasy.

Filmi versions of Sufi songs are now a norm in Bollywood films and are a big hit with the audience.

Bullhe Shah in Popular Imagination

While folk singers, qawwali singers, maniar singers and popular singers like Runa Laila have been singing Sufi compostions for the general public, Sufi music has only recently captured popular imagination. We now have solo singers as well as self-styled bands from the Indian subcontinent captivating audiences from all over the world with their various adaptations of age old Sufi compositions. A cursory scan of U-tube will display numerous forms of Sufi compositions including the ‘rock’ and the ‘pop’ versions. However the Pakistani band ‘Junoon’ deserves credit forbeing instrumental in popularsing Sufi poetry with their hit song ‘ Sayyoni’, then came the living legend Abida Parveen who took the Sufi music world by storm with a voice that was both ethereal and filled with divine passion. At present there is no dirth of popular singers on both sides of the border who are playing a significant role in popularising Sufi compostions. Kailash Kher and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are among the most popular.


In 2004, Rabbi Shergill converted the abstract metaphysical compositon of Bullhe Shah, ‘Bullah ki Jaana’ into a popular song, which became a huge sucess in India and Pakistan. Bullhe Shah’s composition again appeared in the song ‘Bandeya Ho’ in the 2007 Pakistani movie ‘Khuda ke liye’. The 2008 Indian movie ‘A Wednesday’, written and directed by Neeraj Pandey, had a song, “Bulle Shah, O yaar mere” in its soundtrack. Bullhe Shah’s composition was rewritten in this film by Irshad Kamil The music director was Sanjoy Choudhury. In the movie Raavan (2010) Gulzar used Bullhe Shah’s ‘Ranjha Ranjha’ in one of the songs. In 2009, Episode One of Pakistan’s Coke Studio Season 2 featured collaboration between Sain Zahoor and Noori, and as a result, Bullhe Shah’s ‘Aik Alif’ became immensely popular.

(Note: All translations into English are by Rupa Abdi)

Amir Khusrau

Amir Khusrau: The Sufi with a difference

Amir Khusrau teaching his disciples; miniature from a manuscript of Majlis Al-Usshak by Husyn Bayqarah. Courtsey: Wikipedia
Remembered more as a musician and a poet than a Sufi, this versatile genius, who is also considered to be among the first Muslim musicologist of India, was born in 1234, in Patiali near Etah district of north India. His original name was Yamin- ud-Din Muhammad Hasan but he is commonly known as Amir Khusrau (d.1325). He was of Turkish origin and a murid of the great Nizamuddin Awliya and his world vieiw, like his master’s, was humane, tolerant and intrinsically simple. He was not just a ‘Jack of all arts’ but master of all. A scholar, poet, musician, Sufi and and a skilled courtier who served the Slav, Khilji and Tuglaq kings of Delhi Sultanate. Music and poetry were his twin passions and he learnt Arabic, Persian and Indian music. According to him ‘Indian music is the fire that burns the heart and the soul and is superior to the music of any country’. He invented his own genre of music by adding Persian and Arabic elements to Indian music. He is also credited with the modification and improvement of the veena. He is also believed to have invented the tabla.

Khusrau not only helped in developing the ğazal, until then little used in India, but also in the historical epic as a new genre of poetry. He created new ragas such as Sarfarda and Zilaph. He also invented the Qawwali form of devotional singing and is the originator of the Taraana sytle of vocal music. In this style of singing, apparently meaningless syllables are used to create mystical ecstasy. The syllables when pieced together form Persian words that possess mystical symbolism.

After being initiated into Sufism by his master Nizammudin Awliya, Amir Khusrau is believed to have retired from worldly life. Hoevere he continued to write poetry and is known to have written over four lakh couplets . Of these over 300 consist of riddles, some using bilingual pun of Hindvi and Persian, word play and litrary tricks .

He lived up to the age of ninety and during his long life attained legendary fame. The historians of his time appear to have credited him with much more than he had actually done. However, his literary genius is without doubt unmatched in its ability to seamlessly weave two diverse cultures and faiths together. His compositions have now become of part of folk culture of north India, especially Uttar Pradesh. His geets and ghazals have inspired and continue to inspire generations of Hindi movie songs. It is noteworthy that Khusrau’s compostions have proved to be a gold mine for Bollywood music directore and lyric writers .
‘Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar’

(The river of love flows upsteam

Those who enter to swim will drown

Only those who enter to drown will cross it)

Note: For more compositions by Amir Khusrau see my post on “Sufi Poetry and Music in Popular Culture”.


BULLHE SHAH: The Rumi of Punjab

Artist's impression of Bulleh Shah. Courtsey: WikipediaAn artist’s impression of Bullhe Shah. Courtsey Wikipedia


मैं बेक़ैद, मैं बेक़ैद;
ना रोगी, ना वैद

ना मैं मोमन, ना मैं फाक़र,
ना सैयद, ना सैद

चौधीं तबक़ीं सैर असाडा,
किते ना हुंदा क़ैद

ख़राबात है जात असाडी,
ना सोमा, ना ऐब

बुल्ल्हेशाह दी ज़ात की पुच्छनै,
ना पैदा ना पैद


Main beqaid main beqaid

Na rogi na waid
Na main momin na main kafir
Na saidi na said
Chothin tabqeen sair asada
Kitte na hopnda qaid
Kharabat hai jaat asadi
Na soma na aib

Bullah shah di zaat keh puchna ain
Na paida na paid

(I am not caged

Not caged am I

Neither the sick nor the healer

Neither believer nor non-believer

I wander in the seven skies and lands

but none can grasp me in their hands

I am an intoxicated wanderer

beyond vice and virtue

Do not ask Bulle’s identity,

for he was never born, nor ever existed)

This Sufi from Punjab, whom the maulawis did not allow to be buried in the community graveyard because of his unorthodox beliefs, is today known globally as the greatest Sufi poet of Punjab; the rich and the influential, the very class which had rejected him once, today compete with each other to be buried near his grave at Qasur (near Lahore).

He was born in a Sayed family which had a long association with Sufis. His father, a noble soul with spiritual leanings and well respected was given the title of ‘Darvesh’ by the local people. But Bullhe Shah chose to follow the spiritual path shown by a humble ‘low caste’ Arai.

His original name was Abdullah Shah but the masses gave him the name Sain Bullhe Shah, Bullhe Shah or just Bulla out of affection. He is believed to have been born 1680 in the village of Uch Gilaniyan, in Bahawalpur region (in present day Pakistan). When Bulla was six months old, his father had to migrate to another village- Pando kee Bhattiyyan in Qasur district. He lived here for the rest of his life and died in 1758. His ancestors are believed to have come from Bukhara (in present day Uzbekistan) and were associated with the Sufi Hazarat Sheikh Ghaus Bahauddin Zakariyya of Multan. The tomb of Bullhe Shah’s father still stands at Pando kee Bhattiyyan where every year an urs is performed where the Kafis of Bulle Shah are sung by the locals. Bullhe Shah was well versed in Islamic theology, Arabic and Persian, however his most popular kafis are in the local language of his region: Punjabi. The simplicity of his mystical compositions made them very popular among the common people in the form of folk songs which continue to ring today in the fields and river valleys of Punjab on either side of the border.

The search for the mystical path drew Bullhe to Hazrat Inayat Shah of Lahore who belonged to the Qadiri-Shattari sisila. Hazrat Inayat Shah belonged to the Arai community who were traditionally farmers and gardeners. On being chided and persuaded by his sisters and sister- in- laws to leave the company of an Arai, Bullhe replied:

बुल्हे नूं समझावण आइयां

बुल्हे नूं समझावण आइयां,
भैणा ते भरजाइयां

"मन्न लै बुल्ल्हिआ साडा कहणा,
छड दे पल्ला राइयां,
आल नबी औलादि अली नूं,
तूं क्यों लीकां लाइयां?"

"जेह्ड़ा सानूं, सैयद आखे,
दोज़ख मिले सज़ाइयां,
जो कोई सानूं राईं आखे,
भिश्तीं पींघां पाइयां"

राईं साईं समनीं थाईं,
रब दियां बेपरवाहियां,
सोह्णियां परे हटाइयां,
ते कोझियां लै गल लाइयां

जे तूं लोड़े बाग़ बहारां,
चाकर हो जा राइयां,
बुल्ल्हे शाह दी ज़ात की पुछणैं,
शाकिर हो रज़ाइयां

Bullay Nu Samjhawan Aaian Bheynaan Tay Bharjaiyaan,
Man Lay Bulleya Sada Kena, Chad Day Palla Raaiyan

Aal Nabi Ullad Ali,
Nu Tu Kyun Lee-kaan Laiyaan.

Jeyra Saanoun Syed Saday Dozakh Milay Sazaiyaan.
Jo Koi Saanu Raie Aakhe, Bhisti Peenghaan Paian.

Jay To Lorain Baagh Baharaan ,Chaakar Ho Ja raiyaan.
Bulley Shah Dee Zaat Kee Puchni, Shaakar Ho Razayaan.

Bulle’s sisters and sister in-laws came to convince him of the folly of associating with a ‘low caste’ Arai since Bulle belonged to a superior ancestoly of Ali and the Prophet.

Bulle replies that those who associate him with high caste will go to hell and those who can perceive him humbelness will rejoice in heaven

If you desire nearness to God become a servant of the Arai

Don’t ask about my identity for my only identity is that I am a servant of my murshid, and have surrendered to God’s will.

Among the Sufis the divine bondage between the murshid and murid is legendary and can be equated to the Divine love between the devotee and God. Once when Bullhe Shah was separated from his murshid -Hazrat Inayat Shah, Bullhe spent days and nights in grief, his soul lost in darkness. When he was finally united with his master he said:

Ranjha Ranjha

Ranjha ranjha kardi hun main aape Ranjha hoyi
Saddo mainoon Dheedo Ranjha, Heer naa akho koyi
Ranjha main wich, main Ranjhe wich, ghair khayyal na koyi
Main naheen au aap hai, apni aap kare diljoyi
Jo kuch saade andar wasse, zaat assadi soyi
Jis de naal main neoonh lagaya oho jaisi hoyi
Chitti chaadar laa sut kuriye, pehan faqeeran loyi
Chitti chaadar daag lagesi, loyii daag na koyi
Taqt hazaare lai chal Bulleah, siyaaleen mile na dhoyi
Ranjha ranjha kardi hun main aape Ranjha hoyi

In my yearning for Ranjha (Beloved) I have become Him

Do not call me Heer anymore, call me Ranjha,

For, I have become the One that I seek

I have merged with Ranjha and Heer no longer exists

The individual soul has merged with the Universal and rejoices in this union

We are identified with what dwells inside us

Take off these clean clothes and don a Fakir’s garb

The clean dress can get soiled but a Fakir’s humble garb can never become impure

Take me to Takht Hajeera (Ranjha’s village)

For there is nothing left for me in Syali (Heer’s village)

In seeking Ranjha I have become Him

In his Kafis Bullhe called his master by many names: Shah, Sajan, Yaar, Sain, Aarif, Ranjha etc. He would sometimes see God in the form of his master and sometimes his master in the form of God. The spinning wheel was his favourite metaphor and the grieving Heer for her beloved Ranjha were his favourite characters.He had little faith in bulky books and theology of the ‘learned’ maulawis and pundits and he would say:

इक अलफ़ पढ़ो छुटकारा ए

इक अलफ़ पढ़ो छुटकारा ए

इक अलफ़ों दो तीन चार होए,
फिर लख करोड़ हज़ार होए,
फिर ओथों बाझ शुमार होए,
हिक अलफ़ दा नुक़ता न्यारा ए

क्यों पढ़ना एं गड्ड किताबां दी,
सिर चाना एं पंड अज़ाबां दी,
हुण होइउ शकल जलादां दी,
अग्गे पैंडा मुश्कल मारा ए

बण हाफ़िज़ हिफ़ज़ क़ुरान करें,
पढ़-पढ़ के साफ़ ज़बान करें,
फिर निअमत वल्ल ध्यान करें,
मन फिरदा ज्यों हलकारा ए

बुल्लाह बी बोहड़ या बोया सी,
ओह बिरछा वड्डा जां होया सी,
जद बिरछ ओह फ़ानी होया सी,
फिर रह गया बीज अकाश ए

इक अलफ़ पढ़ो छुटकारा ए

Ik Alif Padho Chhutkara Ai

Ik alifon do tan char hoye
Phir lakh karor hazar hoye
Phir othon bajh shumaar hoye
Hik alif da nukta niara he

Ik alif parho chutkara he

Kiun parhnain gadd kitabaan di
Sir chana en pind azabaan di
Kiun hoyian shakal jladaan di
Agge pinda mushkal bhara he

Ik alif parho chutkara he

Hun hafiz hifz quran karain
Parh parh ke saaf zubaan karain
Per nemat wich dhian karain
Mann phirda jion halkara he

Ik alif parho chutkara he

Bullah bhi borh da hoya si
Oh birach wada ja hoya si
Jad birach oh fani hoya si
Phir reh gaya beej akash e

Read the first alphabet and be free

From the One emerged two and four and then lakhs and crores

And the world was filled with infinite forms

this unique nukta(a single point) encompasses eternity within itself

Read the first alphabet and be free

Why do you carry this burden of books on your head

They spell nothing but despair

All that knowledge makes you look like a tyrant

The way ahead is long and difficult

Read the first alphabet and be free

You memorise the Quran

And purifiy only your tongue with it

Then you get lost in worldly matters

Your mind runs amok in all dirctions

Read the first alphabet and be free

This world was sown like a Banyan seed

It has grown with time and will die in time

All that is left will be the seed

Alone and One in the cosmos

Read the first alphabet and be free

In this compostion Bulle Shah by cautioning the disciple not to get lost in the maze of Maya appears to be referring to mystical beliefs that are similar to the Advaita and Nirguna concepts of Hindu philosophy,

Bulle Shah believed in Universal religion and considered himself neither a Hindu nor a Muslim:

बुल्ल्हिआ, की जाणां मैं कौन?

बुल्ल्हिआ, की जाणां मैं कौन?

ना मैं मोमिन विच्च मसीतां,
ना मैं विच्च कुफ़र दियां रीतां,
ना मैं पाक आं विच पलीतां,
ना मैं मूसा ना फिरऔन

ना मैं विच्च पलीती पाकी,
ना विच शादी, ना ग़मना की,
ना मैं आबी ना मैं ख़ाकी,
ना मैं आतिश ना मैं पौन

ना मैं भेत मज़ब दा पाया,
ना मैं आदम-हव्वा जाया,
ना कुछ अपणा नाम धराया,
ना विच बैठण ना विच भौण

अव्वल आख़र आप नूं जाणां,
ना कोई दूजा आप सिआणा,
बुल्ल्हिआ औह खड़ा है कोन?

Bulla Ki Jadan Main Kawn

Bullhe! ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

(I know not who I am

I am neither a pious Muslim at the mosque

Nor a performer of blashphemous rites

Neither am I impure among the pure

Neither Moses nor Pharoh

Neither pure among the impure

Neither sad nor gay

I am neither water nor clay

I am neither fiery nor watery

Neither an Arab, nor Lahori

Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri

I am neither a Hindu, Turk (Muslim), nor Peshawari

Nor do I live in Nadaun

I am not identified by any faith

Nor am I from Adam and Eve’s lineage

I am not known by any name

I am neither changing nor same

In short I know no-one but myself

I know no one apart from myself

In my selflessness I am unique

Then who is this man who calls himself Bullhe?

Bullhe Shah was beyond all bondage and did not consider his compositions as his own. He did not write down any of his compositions but left them in the form of oral traditions to float in the common current of folk culture: to be modified, changed and adapted by the masses and to be claimed by them as their own.

All is in the Beloved and the Beloved is in All

The rest is irrelevant.....unnecessary burden

Says Bulla........

(Note: All English translations are by Rupa Abdi)

Friday, 16 September 2011


Sufis of the Punjab Doabs: Creaters of Folk Mysticism

The Doab regions of Punjab, Courtsey: Wikipedia

The Punjab Doabs (tracts of land lying between the confluent rivers of the Punjab region of Indo-Pakistan) have produced one of the greatest Sufi saints of this subcontinent. Most of their mystical compositions are now a part of folk culture and folk songs of this region. Sometime in 905 the great mystic like Hallaj, probably sat on the very banks of one of these doabs to discuss theological problems with the sages of this land. The people of this region were travellers and traders, farmers and shepherds. Punjabi is a strong expressive language, ideal for expressing mystical feelings. Like Kabir, the Sufi poets of the doab regions used the symbol of weaving cotton, the threads are our thoughts, words and deeds with which we weave a net around ourselves….. The Punjabi Sufis wove motifs from everyday life of ordinary people to portray the various shades and subtleties of passion of a lover separated from her Beloved – the individual soul, which is always depicted as a woman in Punjabi Sufi poetry, yearning for annihilation and unity with the Eternal: blending cultural traditions with Islamic mysticism, creating a completely a new genre of Folk mysticism. In a continent where people lived and died within the barriers of caste, community and religion, these Sufis rose above all barriers and opened their hearts and souls to all humanity, defying the orthodox pandits and narrow minded maulawis.

Hazrat Bābā Faridüddin Masud Gunj-i Shakar: The Lone Ascetic

(d. 1265)

‘Not every heart is capable of finding the secret of God’s love.

There are not pearls in every sea; there is not gold in every mine.’

Dargah of Baba Farid at Pakpattan, Pakistan

Shrine of Baba Farid at Pakpattan, Dera Pindi, Punjab (Pakistan) Courtsey: WikimapiaOn the far banks of the Sutlej, stands the lone figure of a Sufi who stands above and apart from those who were to follow his path but not till several hundred years had elapsed. His mystical penances were legendary and his verse excelled in simplicity and brevity. No other Sufi poet, before and after him, could convey so much in such simple a verse:

" Farid Kaaley maindey kaprey, kaala mainda wais,

Gunahan Bharehan main pheraan, Lok kahain dervish "

(Laden with sins I go around covering them with a black garb

People see me and mistake me for a Darvesh ) (Ashodara)

Baba Farid, also known as Farīduddīn Mas'ūd Ganjshakar was the first Sufi saint to compose mystical poetry in Punjabi, more precisely a local dialect Multani Punjabi (Lehendi) and thereby laid the foundation for the development of vernacular Punjabi literature. Guru Nanak Sahib is believed to have been inspired by Farids’s verses and the fifth Sikh Guru Shri Arjan Dev included some of Farid’s compositions in the Guru Granth Sahib. These came to be known as Farid bani and commentaries on Farid bani were later added by various Sikh Gurus. Baba Farid is revered by the Sikhs as one of the fifteen Sikh bhagats.

Bābā Farīd is believed to have been born in Kothewal village in Multan on the first day of Ramzan in 1173. The first spiritual influence on Farid was that of his mother who initiated him into a spiritual life. It is believed that in order to motivate him to perform the namaaz regularly; she would put some sugar crystals under his prayer mat. Once she forgot to do it, yet miraculously, after performing namaaz, Farid found some sugar under his prayer mat. That is one of the legends behind his title – Ganj-i shakar (sugar treasure). Baba Farid, completed his education by the age of sixteen, and went to Sistan and Kandhahar and later to Mecca for Hajj.

He received his early education at Multan, where he met his murshid (master) Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (d.1235), a Sufi saint from Farghana (in present day Uzbekistan) who came to India along with his murshid, Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti (d.1236). Kaki was passing through Multan, from Baghdad on his way to Delhi.

Baba Farid later shifted to Delhi, to join his master there and to learn his doctrine. When Kaki died, Farid assumed the role of his spiritual successor. However due to political unrest in Delhi he soon moved to Ajodhan (present day Pakistan). On his way to Ajodhan and passing through Faridkot, he met the 20-year-old Nizamuddin Auliya, who later became his disciple, and successor.

The city of Faridkot is named after Baba Farid. It is believed that, Farīd stopped by the city, then named Mokhalpūr, and sat in seclusion for forty days near the fort of King Mokhal. The king was so impressed by his presence that he named the city after Bābā Farīd, which is today known as Tilla Bābā Farīd. The festival Bābā Sheikh Farid Āgman Purb Melā' (the coming of Baba Farid), is celebrated in September each year, marking his arrival in the city. Baba Farid spent the rest of his life at Ajodhan which had come to be known as 'Pāk Pattan' (the ferry of the pure); Here, at Dera Pindi, in the month of Mohorram his mortal remains were laid to rest.

Farid’s poetical compositions are mainly composed of ‘Dohras’: a rhymed couplet, in which each of the lines generally has a caesura (a pause or break in a line of poetry), whose significance varies according to the meaning. A Dohra is a complete self-sufficient couplet, unless when it is followed by a complimentary couplet. On most occasions the last lines of the Dohra bears the name of Farid. Farid’s Dohras are distinguished by their austerity of tone and rhythm:

"Galian chikkar door ghar, naal payarey neouney,

challaan tey bhijjay kambli, rahan ta jaaey neouney."

(Literal translation: The lanes are filled with mud but I have to keep my promise of meeting with the Beloved

If I walk on, I soil my clothes and if I stay back, I break my promise)

Interpretation: The path to the Beloved is difficult, yet I must overcome the worldly hurdles to keep my word to unite with the Beloved.

"Bhijoy sujhoy kambli Allah wirsay meen

Jai millaan tahaan sajnaa tate nahin neounay"

(Let my clothes be soiled and the Almighty make the rain pour

Go I will to meet the Beloved and keep my promise.)

Interpretation: I have no care or regard for worldly shame or name, may God (circumstances) make the path as difficult as He wants but I will overcome and meet the Beloved, reach my ultimate destination.

" Kook Farid Kook, Tu jivain Rakha Jawar

Jab lag tanda na, Giray tab lag Kook pukar."

(Shout, Farid, shout like the mindful watchman in the corn-field; shout till the crop is mature and falls with ripeness)

Interpretation: Stay awake and watchful; let not heedlessness creep in until you have attained spiritual ripeness .

Tuesday, 13 September 2011



NAQSHBANDIYYAS: People of the Silent Dhikr

"The lights of some people precede their dhikr, while the dhikr of some people precede their lights. There is the one who does (loud) dhikr so that his heart be illumined; and there is the one whose heart has been illumined and he does (silent) dhikr."

-Ibn Ata'Allah.( (d. 1309), the third sheikh of the Shadhili Sufi order)

They brought their caravans to the sanctuary through the hidden path. The Naqshabandi’s believed that their spiritual journey began where other’s ended. The centre of their beliefs was the silent dhikr and breath control. They also emphasised saubat - the intimate conversation between the master and the disciple. This spiritual bonding gave rise to various ‘paranormal phenomenon’ such as telepathy and faith healing. They believed in spiritual education and the purification of the heart. It was a sober and rather orthodox silsila which disapproved music and sama .

The founder of this silsila was Bahauddin Naqshband (d.1390) from Central Asia, who was a descendent of the great Imam Yusuf Hamadhani (d. 1140). Hamadhani was in turn spiritually affiliated to Abu-l-Hasan Ali al-Kharaqani (d. 1034) - an illiterate but distinguished mystic and an uwaysi (a Sufi who has been initiated not by a living master but the powerful spirit of a departed Sufi). Kharaqani was initiated into tassawuf by the spirit of Bayezid Bistami (d.874) who himself was a legendary Sufi from north west Iran.

One of Hamadhani’s eminent khalifa, Abdul – Khaliq Ghijduwani (d.1220) is best known for the eight founding principles that are still followed by all Naqshabandiyya schools. His set of teachings are known as tariqa-yi Khawajagan (the way of the teachers; singular Khoja) and are interpreted as follows (the literal translation of the Persian words are given in brackets):

1. hush dar dam (awareness in breath): One must safeguard his/her breath from mindlessness while breathing in and breathing out, thereby keeping her heart always in the Divine Presence. Every breath which is inhaled and exhaled with Presence is alive and connected with the Divine Presence. Every breath inhaled and exhaled with mindlessness is dead, disconnected from the Divine Presence.

2. nazar bar qadam(to watch every step): This implies watching over one’s steps and actions. The gaze precedes the step and the step follows the gaze. The Ascension to the higher state is first by the Vision, followed by the Step. One needs to understand the Sufi path in its myriad forms before one can actually comprehend and follow this principle.

3. safar dar watan (to journey towards one’s homeland): This refers to the internal mystical journey wherein the seeker travels from the world of desire to the world of Divine.

4. khalwat dar anjuman (solitude in the crowd): To be untouched by the vagaries of this world. To be steady in ones contemplation of the divine, to live in this world but not to be moved by it.

5. yad kard(to recollect): To remember, to recollect all the time the Divine name and one’s ultimate destination.

6. baz gard(to return,): To surrender, to return to God i.e. to submit to the will of God.

7. nigah dasht (to be aware of one’s sight):To be aware of one’s thoughts and emotions, to restrain the thoughts that take you away from God. To safeguard one’s heart from unholy inclinations.

8. yad dasht (to remember, recall): To return again and again to that state of mind which dwells in God. To keep one’s heart in Allah’s Divine Presence continuously. This allows one to realize and manifest the Light of the Unique Essence.

‘Although Adam had not got wings,

Yet he has reached a place that was not destined even for angels’

- Mir Dard

This silsila gained influence over the business class and royalty of Central Asia and as a result grew highly politicized. Under the leadership of Khwaja Ahrar (d.1490), an influential Naqshabandi saint, this silsila dominated the entire Central Asian region and even the Mongols, Timurs and Uzbegss came under its sway. Like the early Suhrawardis, the Khwaja believed that in order to serve the world they needed to exercise political power.

Dargah of Mazhar Janjanan at Delhi

The Naqshabandi silsila was founded in India by Khwaja Baqi billah(d.1785). His disciple Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (d. 1624) played an important role in Indian political and religious life. In India, most prominent Naqshabandi saints, such as Khwaja Mir Dard (d.1785), Shah Waliullah(d.1762), who was also initiated into the Qadiriyya silsila, and Mazhar Janjanan(d. 1782), were based in Delhi and besides politics made major contribution to Sufi poetry and theology in Urdu .

Dargah of Khawaja Baqi Billah at Delhi. Courtesy: Mayank Austen Soofi

Looming large over other Naqshabandi saints of the Indian subcontinent is Khawaja Mir Dard who was one of the four pillars of Urdu poetic tradition and is acknowledged as the greatest mystical poet of Urdu language.

‘Alas O ignorant one:

at the day of death this will be proved:

A dream was what we saw, what we heard, a tale’

- Mir Dard

QADIRIYYAS: The Miracle performers

Ucch Sharif at Multan. Courtesy:Gilbert (NFIE)

The most popular Qadri saints in India are Bulle Shah (d.1768) and Sultan Bahu (d. 1691) in the north, and Hazrat Shahul Hameed Qadir Wali of Nagore in the south. Several karaamaat (miracles) are attributed to the founder as well as the early saints of this silsila. This silsila was established by Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 1166) from Baghdad. He is known as the master of the Jinn. His influence extended from Turkey, to Baghdad and across West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. There are Sindhi songs describing his glory and ancient trees named after him. It is believed that one of his descendents – Muhammad Ghaus (d. 1517) established this order in the Indian subcontinent. He along with the first missionaries of this silsila settled in Ucch, north east of Multan (Punjab-Pakistan) in the late fifteenth century. From here this silsila spread to the rest of the Indian subcontinent, and even as far as Indonesia and Malaysia. Eminent Sufis of this silsial were Mian Mir (d. 1635) whose ancestors came from Siwistan in Sindh, his sister Bibi Jamal (d.1647 ), Mir’s disciple Molla Shah Badakshi (d. 1661), who was a scholar and writer of Sufi literature. Molla Shah initiated the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh(d.1659) and his elder sister Jahanara (d.1681) into this silsila.

Hazrat Shahul Hameed Qadir Wali’s dargah at Nagore in Tamil Nadu

Abdul-Haqq Dihlawi (d.1642) was among the influential Qadiriyya saints of Delhi. According to him the Qadiri principle of perfect life in the world was to follow the sharia laws and the jurists teachings and then the Sufi path. However the mystical aspect into this silsila was introduced by Mian Mir .

Thursday, 8 September 2011



In India the four major silsilas to take root were Suhrawardiyya, Chishtiyya, Qadiriyya and Naqshabandiyya. From these major orders many suborders such as Shattariyya and the Kubrawiyya branched out.

Founders of the four great Sufi orders

THE CHISHTIYYAS: Founders of Indian Sufism

This was the silsila which with its spirit of equality and brotherhood won the hearts of the people of the subcontinent. The doors of the Chishtiyya khanqahs were open to all at all times. This silsila was instrumental in spreading Islam in central and southern Indian with its ocean like generosity, mildness of the evening sun and earth-like modesty. Sufism became a mass movement under the influence of Chishti saints who settled in the Indus region: Sind, Punjab and Multan. The contempt of the Chishti saints for the rulers was obvious from their refusal to accept any land or money from them. The early Chishti saints considered anything accepted from the rulers as unlawful. From the ‘low caste’ Hindus to the mighty Mogul kings, all bowed in reverence at the feet of the great Chishti saints.

The birth place of the Chishti order is believed to be in Chisht, a village, sixty miles east of Herat in present day Afghanistan. However in the Indian subcontinent Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (d.1236) was instrumental in laying the foundations of Sufism especially the Chishtiyya silsila. He was born in Sistan (a province bordering Iran and Afghanistan) and in his early years was inspired by Abu Najib Surhawardi. Muinuddin who was also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaaz (benefactor of the poor), reached Delhi in 1193 but later shifted to Ajmer when it was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate.

Dargah of Khwaja Garib Nawaaz at Ajmer

Among the most important disciples of Muinuddin was Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (d.1235) who carried out the Chishtiyya work in Delhi. His successor was Shaykh Fariduddin or Baba Farid (d.1265), the legendary sufi poet of Punjab, whose disciple was another great saint – Nizamuddin Auliya (d.1325), whose disciple was the popular poet and muscian Amir Khosrau (d.1325). Other prominent Chishti saints and poets were Shaykh Hamiduddin Nagori (d.1274) who was based in Nagaur (Rajasthan) and was known for his vegetarianism and frugal life style; Hasan Sijzi Dihlawi (d.1328); Bu Ali Qalandar Panipati (d. 1323); Hazrat Nasiruddin Roshan Chiragh-i Dehli (d.1356); Muhammad Bandanawaz Gisudara (d.1422) who spread the Chishtiyya silsila in southern India with the patronage of Bahmani Sultans of Deccan. He was the first Indian Sufi to write in Dakhani (the southern branch of Urdu); Shaykh Salim Chishti (d. 1572) and Warith Shah (d.1798) .

THE SUHRAWARDIYYAS: Political Diplomats

The sufis of this order were known for their close ties with the rulers and played a key role in making war and peace. They acted as political emissaries and ambassadors and held important posts as advisers in the royal court and excepted jagirs and gifts as royal patronage. The early Suhrawardiyya saints believed that it was their duty to guide the rulers. It was from this silsila that Muinuddin Chishti drew his first inspiration. However the Chishtiyya silsila stood in stark contrast to the Surhawaddiyyas in their contempt for rulers and governments.

This silsila was founded in north west Iran by Abdul Qahir Abu Najib as-Suhrawardi (d. 1168). He was a disciple of the well known Imam Ghazzali’s youngr brother – Ahmad Ghazzali. However, more influential than Abdul Qahir Abu Najib as-Suhrawardi was his nephew – Shihabuddin Abu Hafs Umar as-Suhrawardi (d.1234), whose treatise – Awarif al-Maarif became an essential part of the courses on Sufism taught in Indian madarsas. In the Indian subcontinent, this silsila was introduced by Bahauddin Zakariya Multani (d. 1262) who was a contemporary of Baba Farid.The two Sufis not only lived miles apart from each other but were also miles apart in their attitude towards material wealth and rulers. Bhahauddin was a prosperous landlord whereas Baba Farid was a fakir in the true sense of the word.

Some of the eminent Suhraawardi saints were Sayyid Jalaluddin Surkhpush (the red dressed one, d.1292) who was a disciple of Zakariya. He came from Bukhara and settled in Ucch (north east of Multan in present day Punjab-Pakistan). Fakhruddin Iraqi (d. 1289), a was a well known Persian poet and a disciple of Bahauddin Zakariya whose tender and intoxicatiing love songs continue to be sung at his master’s tomb in Multan. Ucch became a centre of Suhrawarddiyya silsila under the tireless efforts of Jalaluddin Makhdum-i Jahaniyan, (the one whom all the people of the world serve), (d.1383). Jalaluddin Tabrizi (d.1244) who was a disciple of Abu Hafs Umar Suhrawardi, played a key role in spreading the Suhraawardi message in Bengal.

Dargah of Gisudaraz at Gulbarga, Karnataka.