Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Sufi poetry in Punjabi - A Preview

Presently I am 'head over heels' into a wonderful book titled, Prominent Mystic Poets of Punjab by Lochan Singh Buxi. The book portrays the laudable role played by the Sufi saints and their valuable contribution towards the betterment of human society.

These noble sons of Punjab, used their mother tongue as a vehicle of enthusiasm for human beings in striving for the welfare of the people. The book introduces some of the prominent Sufi saints of Punjab along with the English rendering of their immortal poetry.

The poets included in the anthology are: Sheikh Farid, Shah Hussain, Ali Haider, Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah and Khwaja Ghulam Farid, whose poems are considered to be the finest gems of Sufi poetry available in Punjabi.

To call Thomas Gray to my rescue, 'Full many a gem of purest ray serene' lay in abundance in these ‘unfathomed caves!’

And so here goes...

Background to the Prominent Mystic Poets of Punjab

Sufism is the other name for Islamic mysticism. The theologians have traced its origin to a sect of pious people called Darveshs or Faqirs who formed themselves into a community, in as early as AD 623. According to the available sources on the subject, these ascetics said to be about 45 in number, were the dedicated followers of prophet Muhammad. Originating from Mecca and Medina they spread all over Central Asia. They followed practices of penitence strictly conforming to the written word. Poverty and austerity were their basic rules of life which they had derived from the traditional source saying Alfaqr Fakhri (poverty is my glory). This refers to groups of people known as Ashabe suffa. They were the companions of the prophet who used to live on a platform near the prophet’s house. The Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, referring to the origin of the word Sufi has also mentioned of this group as follows:

“People of the bench a title given to certain poor Muslims in the early days of Islam, who had no house or lodging and therefore used to take shelter on the covered bench outside the mosque built by the Prophet at Medina.”

So they purposely decided to lead a life of poverty, misery and deprivation as according to them riches lead to corruption. As such they renounced the world and took a vow to serve the Almighty by observing the prescribed exercises and practices. Like the traditional spiritualists in India, who called this world as May, the Sufis observed severe ascetic discipline and lived the life of recluses.

The members of this sect, used to wear cloths made of wool. It was a coarse, woolen sack cloth called ‘Suf’. Accordingly they were termed as Sufis. Muslim Saints and Mystics, A UNESCO collection of representative works says: In a time when silks and brocades, had become the fashion of the wealthy and mundane minded, this cult chose to wear ‘suf’ which was, symbolic of that renunciation of worldly values and their abhorrence for physical comforts.” In reality, this is the translation from Farid-ud-din (by A. J. Arberry), who is considered to be an authority on Islamic mysticism.

With the passage of time, the tiny group developed into larger groups and established their schools called Rabats and Khanqahs, all over Arabia and Persia. Later on they spread out to Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Maghrib, the expression used for Morocco.

Before we discuss the advent and development of Sufism in India, it would be worthwhile to acquaint the reader, with the doctrines of mysticism. Direct communion between God and man is the basic fibre which dominates the mantle of Sufism. They practice mystic exercises and stress upon the elevation of soul. However, Sufism, remained as a personal religion and stressed upon the individual pursuing his own way: mysticism thus becomes a system of training involving meditation and asceticism, through which one attains knowledge of the ultimate or a direct union with Him.

Mysticism is only a method of approach to reality. This is obtained by training the emotional and spiritual faculties. Like the images in a mirror, God exists in man but the veil of ego always keeps Him hidden. According to the Hindu philosophy this is the veil of Bhram or May, which hides the self from the real, the self has been given the name of Ahm in Hindu scriptures. The Muslims recognize it as Khudai. The first step in the sufi doctrine is to kill An or Nafs, before proceeding on the path of realization.

From Shah Hussain’s mighty lines –


Think of the journey ahead
Space of the humble grave is your mighty possession for all times.
Lofty buildings, golden balconies and in-built doors,
Pots and pots of money
All will be carried away by the angel of death.
Of what use is the worldly knowledge
Always have fear of the Lord.
When the order comes helplessly you have to leave with humility
And submission.
He will demand full account.
Says Hussain, hermit of the Lord,
Do something noble. Die before death (kill your desire).


 And yes!!! these are just excerpts to entice you to read this wonderful book on the Mystic Poets of Punjab.

Source Book Citation

Buxi, Lochan Singh. Prominent Mystic Poets of Punjab: Representative Sufi Poetry in Punjabi, with English rendering. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of I & B, Government of India, November 1994. Print.

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