Sufi poetry in punjabi

Sufi poetry in punjabi DEFAULT

Divine Love and Sufi Poetry of Punjab

Listen to the audio version of this article featuring audio extracts of the poems mentioned in the text: Podcast Ep 32 KHAYAL DIARIES | Divine Love & Sufi Poetry of Punjabby Abduallah Sattar

The experience of wonder is a beautifully inexplicable phenomenon. Wonder arrests us in a way that no other emotion truly can. What is the secret behind the veil of wonder? Why do grown men and women – intellectually sound and emotionally grounded – seem to drown in this ecstasy?

It is because wonder, though finite itself, ultimately points to the infinite.

I grew up in Rawalpindi in the Punjab. Punjab, (literally ‘Five Rivers’) has been a cultivating ground of Divine devotion for over a 1000 years. Muslim sufis have traversed the land and promulgated the message of Divine Oneness for centuries. Some, like Alī al-Hujwīrī (d. 1072 CE/464 AH) are famously known for writing multiple treatises on tasawwuf, purification of the heart.

The sufis preached ‘Ishq, above all else as the summation of Divine Reality. Ishq is derived from the root word ʿašaq, which means to ‘cleave onto’ or ‘cling to.’ It sheds light on the state of the ‘āshiq, the one who has drowned in the sea of Ishq. The sufis did just that; they clung on to the path of Allah and His Beloved ﷺ. Indeed, the patron saint of Kasur and the son of Punjab, Bulleh Shah said:

“Tariqat is my mother,

Shariat is my foster-mother-

This is how I have known truth”

It would be difficult to capture the full impact sufi saints and poets have had on the Punjab, or the Indian Subcontinent at large, in a short article such as this, but to say that they fundamentally changed the spiritual landscape of the region, would not be an overstatement. 

Sufi Poetry of Punjab

Sufi poets were able to bring the love of God and the Prophet ﷺto the hearts and homes of thousands of devotees. Punjab is an agrarian land, with an oral culture of folklore. The sufis were able to synthesize the deep philosophical messages of Islam with mystic poetry and present these concepts to the masses in a way that resonated with them. Folklore and symbolism were key. Take for instance the ethereally poetic tales of Heer-Ranjha or Sohni-Mahiwal. Exoterically, these fables were about temporal love between two lovers (Ishq-e-Majazi). Esoterically, however, they spoke of deeper realities: Divine Love (Ishq-e-Haqiqi).

Punjabi sufi poetry often extolled the virtues of finding a guide, a Shaykh – to ensure that one does not drown in the currents of the dunya. The story of Sohni-Mahiwal is actually an allegorical account of the dangers of not finding a guide and/or clinging to the path.

It goes like this: Sohni and her beloved, Mahiwal, were separated physically, with the river Chenab cutting through them and acting as a cruel barrier. Sohni would use a clay pot (garha) as a boat to cross the river and get to the other side. One day, certain acquaintances of Sohni replaced her baked clay pot with an unbaked one – out of pure envy. She subsequently drowned and died in the deep currents of the Chenab, her love forever etched on vessels of Punjab’s heart. 

Sufi Poetry of Punjab

The symbolism is explicit; Sohni is the seeker, her beloved is The Beloved (God) and the treacherous, tumultuous river is the dunya. The pot symbolizes the Law, the Path and the Shaykh- the conduit. One cannot expect to cross the river of deception with a weak conduit.

Sohni laments to the pot: “how could you betray me like this?” and the pot replies:

“Main garha, main khur jana, meinoun hath na lawaein-

Pharh palra Pakkay Murshid da, jerha tenoun paar langaway.”

“I am but a pot, unbaked and fragile, do not dare to touch me!

Grab onto a true Shaykh, one that shall help you cross.

Many other sufi shayukh (scholars) of Punjab emphasized this point. Sultan Bahu (d. 1691 CE) a Qadiri sufi saint from southern Punjab is famously known to have penned the following lines:

“The guide planted the seed of God’s love within me

He watered my veins with negation and affirmation

Blossoming, the plant of His love spread its fragrance through me

Long live my perfect guide, Bahu, who has planted this within me.”

Here, Sultan Bahu is referring to his Shaykh and how he helped foster the love of Allah within him. The negation and affirmation has to do with the Shahada: There is no god (negation) but God (affirmation). Such were the ways of these mystics, by which they spread the beauty of God’s message. 

Sufi poetry also adapted to the dialectal diversity of Punjab. Sultan Bahu’s poetry has Seraiki influences- a dialect of Punjabi spoken in south Punjab. Others, such as Mian Muhammad Baksh (d. 1907 CE) were influenced by the Pahari/Potoharidialect of northern Punjab and Kashmir. The dialect diversified, yet the message remained the same: Ishq.

Mian Muhammad Baksh penned a famous poem, Saif-ul-Maluk. The gripping beauty of this poem cannot be done justice in this short essay, however I must quote one of my favorite lines:

“Ik gunah mera maa-pe waikhan

dewan des Nikalan

lakh gunah mera Allah waikhay

parday pawan aala.”

“A single sin of mine, do my parents witness

and they exile me from my lands

a thousand sins does my Allah witness

the Veiler of all sins.”

It is no wonder that to this day these four simple lines move the masses to tears. The power of the words in Punjabi is not only related to the content; the tonality, the delivery and the sentiment tug at the most rusty strings of the heart. 

Growing up in a sufi household, I was no stranger to the world of poetic expressions of Divine love. My maternal village in central Punjab is the resting place of my great-great grandfather who was a sufi shaykh in pre-Partition India. I always frequented the Samaa’ sessions in my early years. Samaa is derived from the word ’istimā which means ‘to listen.’ In South Asia it usually involves a group of devoted performers who sing devotional poetry, celebrating the love of Allah, His Messenger ﷺ, the Sahaba, and the Awliya– the saints.

These invoked in me that deep spiritual longing. That Ishq. That Wonder. 

I moved away from Pakistan to attend university. I returned after four years for a short visit. As expected, being back brought with it a kaleidoscope of emotions. However, what I truly craved (and had craved during those four long years away) was that feeling of wonder. I wished once again to become that young child I once was – who had surrendered his mind, heart and soul to Divine Love.

I knew just the way to do this.

Islamabad is a beautiful city. Nestled right at the foothills of the magnificent Himalayas, it is a quiet town- bureaucratic, urban and serene. It might be the last place one looks at for spiritual sustenance. 

Right at its outskirts however, in a small town called Golra, there is a mosque. This mosque is adjacent to the shrine of Pir Meher Ali Shah, a sufi mystic from late 19th century India. He was a Shaykh of the Chishti tariqah (founded by Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti). Pir Meher Ali Shah was not only a mystic, he was also a great poet. In one of his ecstatic spiritual states, he penned the following ethereal couplet, as an ode to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:

Aj sik mitraan dee vadheri ay

kyoon dilri udaas ghaneri ay

loon loon vich shawq changeri ay

aj nainaan laiyaan kyon jhariyaan!

Why is the yearning for the Beloved especially strong today?

Why is my heart sadder today than ever before?

Why does longing penetrate every tissue of mine?

And why are the eyes shedding tears like the rains of monsoon?

Subhan Allah! Maa ajmalaka

maa ahsanaka, maa akmalaka

Glory be to Allah! There is no one more beautiful than thee!

No one more excellent than thee, no one more perfect!

“Kithay mihr ali kithay teri sanaa

gustaakh akheen kithay jaa ariyaan!

Who is (the humble) Meher Ali to chant thy praises;

How (presumptuous and) impudent his eyes are to aspire to the heights of thy love!

One humid day, I paid a visit to the mosque in Golra. After reciting Fatiha for the soul of Pir Meher Ali Shah, I sat in the courtyard of the shrine with the warm marble beneath me and a cool breeze brushing through my hair. I saw children playing, elders praying and people captured in this state of wonder. A short while later, it was time for Maghrib prayers. As I assumed my position as part of the congregation and the Imam started the prayer, something beautifully bizarre happened. It started raining. Pouring. By the time the prayers had concluded, every worshipper was drenched. No one complained.

Ass we got up and went for cover, I heard a Punjabi voice from the crowd: 

“Ae vi Rehmat houndi ae,”

“This (the Rain) is a blessing too!”

Moved by the experience, I left the shrine behind me to return home. With salawat on my lips I prayed for the soul of Pir Meher Ali Shah and all the Awliya of Allah- those who spread the message of Divine love throughout the Punjab and beyond; those who spread Wonder.

God have mercy on them all. 

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Bulleh Shah’s Poetry

Bulleh Shah‘s real name was Abdullah Shah, was a Punjabi Muslim Sufi poet, a humanist and philosopher.

Born: 1680 Uch, Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan
Died: 1757 (aged 77) Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan

Early life and background

Bulleh Shah is believed to have been born in 1680, in the small village of Uch, Bahawalpur, Punjab, now in Pakistan. His ancestors had migrated from Bukhara in modern Uzbekistan.

When he was six months old, his parents relocated to Malakwal. There his father, Shah Muhammad Darwaish, was a preacher in the village mosque and a teacher. His father later got a job in Pandoke, about 50 miles southeast of Kasur. Bulleh Shah received his early schooling in Pandoke, and moved to Kasur for higher education. He also received education from Maulana Mohiyuddin. His spiritual teacher was the eminent Sufi saint, Shah Inayat Qadiri.

Little is known about Bulleh Shah’s direct ancestors, except that they were migrants from Uzbekistan. However, Bulleh Shah’s family was directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH).

Career

A large amount of what is known about Bulleh Shah comes through legends, and is subjective; to the point that there isn’t even agreement among historians concerning his precise date and place of birth. Some “facts” about his life have been pieced together from his own writings. Other “facts” seem to have been passed down through oral traditions.

Bulleh Shah practiced the Sufi tradition of Punjabi poetry established by poets like Shah Hussain (1538 – 1599), Sultan Bahu (1629 – 1691), and Shah Sharaf (1640 – 1724).

Bulleh Shah lived in the same period as the famous Sindhi Sufi poet , Shah Abdul Latif Bhatai (1689 – 1752). His lifespan also overlapped with the legendary Punjabi poet Waris Shah (1722 – 1798), of Heer Ranjha fame, and the famous Sindhi Sufi poet Abdul Wahad (1739 – 1829), better known by his pen-name, Sachal Sarmast (“truth seeking leader of the intoxicated ones”). Amongst Urdu poets, Bulleh Shah lived 400 miles away from Mir Taqi Mir (1723 – 1810) of Agra.

Poetry Style

The verse form Bulleh Shah primarily employed is called the Kafi, a style of Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki poetry used not only by the Sufis of Sindh and Punjab, but also by Sikh gurus.

Bulleh Shah’s poetry and philosophy strongly criticizes Islamic religious orthodoxy of his day.

A Beacon of Peace

Bulleh Shah’s time was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs. But in that age Baba Bulleh Shah was a beacon of hope and peace for the citizens of Punjab. While Bulleh Shah was in Pandoke, Muslims killed a young Sikh man who was riding through their village in retaliation for murder of some Muslims by Sikhs. Baba Bulleh Shah denounced the murder of an innocent Sikh and was censured by the mullas and muftis of Pandoke. Bulleh Shah maintained that violence was not the answer to violence.Bulleh Shah also hailed Guru Tegh Bahadur as a ghazi (Islamic term for a religious warrior) and incurred the wrath of the fanatic muslims at the time.

Banda Singh Bairagi was a contemporary of Bulleh Shah. In retaliation for the murder of Guru Gobind Singh’s two sons by Aurangzeb, he sought revenge by killing common Muslims. Baba Bulleh Shah tried to convince Banda Singh Bairagi to renounce his campaign of revenge. Bulleh Shah told him that the same sword which fell upon Guru Gobind Singh’s sons and innocent Sikhs also fell upon innocent Muslims. Hence killing innocent Muslim was not the answer to Aurangzeb’s reign of oppression.

Humanist

Bulleh Shah’s writings represent him as a humanist, someone providing solutions to the sociological problems of the world around him as he lives through it, describing the turbulence his motherland of Punjab is passing through, while concurrently searching for God. His poetry highlights his mystical spiritual voyage through the four stages of Sufism: Shariat (Path), Tariqat (Observance), Haqiqat (Truth) and Marfat (Union). The simplicity with which Bulleh Shah has been able to address the complex fundamental issues of life and humanity is a large part of his appeal. Thus, many people have put his kafis to music, from humble street-singers to renowned Sufi singers like the Waddali Brothers, Abida Parveen and Pathanay Khan, from the synthesized techno qawwali remixes of UK-based Asian artists to the rock band Junoon.

Bulleh Shah’s popularity stretches uniformly across Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, to the point that much of the written material about this philosopher is from Hindu and Sikh authors.

Modern Renditions

In the 1990s Junoon, Asia’s biggest rock band from Pakistan, rendered such poems as Aleph (Ilmon Bas Kareen O Yaar) and Bullah Ki Jaana. In 2004, Rabbi Shergill successfully performed the unlikely feat of turning the abstruse metaphysical poem Bullah Ki Jaana into a Rock/Fusion song, which became hugely popular in India and Pakistan. The 2007 Pakistani movie Khuda Kay Liye includes Bulleh Shah’s poetry in the song Bandeya Ho. A 2008 film, ‘A wednesday’, had a song, “Bulle Shah, O yaar mere” in its soundtrack. In 2009, Episode One of Pakistan’s Coke Studio Season 2 featured a collaboration between Sain Zahoor and Noori, “Aik Alif“.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulleh_Shah

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– Makkeh Gaya, Gal Mukdee Naheen (Going to Makkah is not the ultimate)

– Bulleya Ki Jana Main Kaun (Bulleya to me, I am not known)

– Verhe Aa Varh Mere (Do come to me)

– Main Jana Jogi De Naal (I’m going together with Jogi)

– Aa Mil Yaar (Come my love)

– Uth Gaye Gawandon Yaar (There goes my Love!)

– Bas Karjee Hun Bas Karjee (Enough is enough, my friend)

– Tere Ishq Nachaya (Your love has made me dance)

– Ilmoun Bas Kari O-Yaar (Aik Alif) (Enough of learning, my friend!)

– Ishq De Naween Naween Bahar (Love is ever new and fresh)

– Ghoonghat Ohle Na Luk Sajna (Hide not behind the veil, my love)

– Gharyali Diyo Nikal Ni (Sack the gongman)

– Meri Bukkal De Vich Chor Ni (There is a thief in the folds of my arms.)

– Ek Nukte Wich Gal Mukdi Ae (At this one point, all talk ends.)

– Ek Nukta Yaar Parhaya Ae (I have learnt a secret)

___________________________________________________________

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Punjabi in sufi poetry

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