SHAH ABDUL LATIF OF BHIT
A Chapter from
SHAH ABDUL LATIF of Bhit, called simply' Shah' or 'Monarch’ is a unique figure in literature. He is not only the greatest of Sindhi writers, but he has been equated with the literature of his land, as if he were co-terminous with Sindhi literature. The first foreigners who explored the civilization and culture of Sind thought that Shah was the only Poet and Philosopher Sind had produced, and the universal vogue of Shah-Jo-Risalo, or Shah's Poetical Works, in the land of the Sindhu, inclined them to believe that the Risalo was the only literary work in the Sindhi language.
It has become clear now that, far from being the only poet of Sind, or the only singer of his time, Shah was only one-- albeit the greatest of a multitude of poets who formed a 'nest of singing birds' in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Shah was the finest flower in a garden of poetry. His poetry is not that of a pioneer, it is the poetry of fulfillment; it is not the poetry of experimentation or innovation, it is the poetry of gracious benediction. Nor is it correct to call him the last of the traditional or medieval poets in Sindhi, as some have tried to make out; Shah is no Milton, the last of the Elizabethans'. It is well-known that Shah looked upon Sachal as his spiritual successor. And there were others besides Sachal to keep up the tradition of Shah. Shah did for Sindhi language and literature¬ and the Sindhi people-what other world poets have done for their own language and country in their own particular way¬ Hafiz for the Persian Lyric, Dante for the' illustrious vernacular' of Italy, and Tulsidas for Hindi language and literature.
Another misconception about Shah requires a more detailed exposure, because it is more persistent. It is to treat Shah as purely a poet of Islam, writing for the Muslims, and in the approved Islamic: fashion. Were Shah really an Islamic poet, pure and simple, he would not have made the appeal he has made to the Hindu mind and sentiment. The Sindhi-Hindus, forced by Muslim bigotry to quit Sind, still turn to Shah-Jo ¬Risalo as to a scripture, and with nostalgic sentiment. This would be impossible if Shah were a poet of Islam, and not a patriotic Sindhi and essentially Indian poet, fully in line with other Indian poets. That Shah was by birth, upbringing and ancestry, a Muslim, and that he conformed to the tenets of his faith, cannot be gainsaid. Shah had any amount of reverence for the Prophet, and admiration and affection for his son-in-law, Ali, and Ali's son martyred in Kerbela. But he was not a doctrinaire Muslim, bound by a dogma or ritual. Some of his most famous lines are:
It were well to practise Namaz and Fast
But Love's vision needs a separate Art.
There is a legend that when they asked Shah whether he was a Sunni Muslim or a Shia, he said he was neither, he was in ¬between. And when someone said: There is nothing in¬ between', he said, Then I am Nothing.' Muslim writers have shed quite needless ink to discuss what kind of Sufi he was: did he belong to the Qadiri order, or the Chishti order? He had something which neither of the Orders had, and no preceptor of either of these Orders could claim to have initiated him into Sufism. So someone asks, was he then of the Uwesi type of Sufi, a man who has not had a preceptor or Murshid? No defi¬nite reply is possible. A man who could don the garb of Hindu Jogis, wander with them for years, make pilgrimages to Hingla, Dwarka and other sacred places of the Hindus, a man who broke, without the slightest compunction, the Islamic injunction against Samaa or Dance-music, and died tasting the pleasure of that Dance-music, a man who went out of his way, in that era of Kalhora bigotry, to pull out from a crowd of fanatic Muslims a poor Hindu whom they were proceeding to convert forcibly to Islam, could hardly be regarded as a Muslim, pure and simple. It is noteworthy that one of the constant and dear friends of Shah was Madan, a Hindu, and the two musicians who comforted his soul, Atal and Chanchal, were also Hindus. If, in Sur Kalyan he referred to Prohpet Mahomed as the Karni or the' Cause' of creation, or elsewhere he imagined the rain cloud wafting across Islamic lands and she Iding grateful showers over the Tomb of the Prophet, or if he quoted or referred to the verses of the Koran in more than a hundred places in the Risalo, it only shows his faith and poetic fervour and his understanding of the audi¬ence to whom he was addressing his poetry. It does not show propagandist zeal or dogmatism. Were everything that he wrote to perish and only one or two Surs like Sur Ramkali to survive, there would be no difficulty in demonstrating that Shah had affinity with Hindus and their religion. G. M. Syed, in his thoughtful book, Paigham-e-Latif or Message of Latif, has drawn a comparison between a poet of Pan-Islamism, or an essentially Islamic poet like Iqbal, and a patriotic and nationalist poet like Shah. When Shah was praying to God to shower plenty and prosperity upon Sind, in lines dear to every Sindhi, he was doubtless visualising Sind as an integral part of Hind.
No reader of Shah can forget that the entire poetry of Shah is cast in the traditional ragas and raginis of Indian poetry, his heroes and heroines are Indians, every inch, and that the con¬tent of his poetry is Indian, medieval no doubt, but medieval Indian, and not Central Asiatic, .or West Asiatic. The shrewd readers of Shah have noted that in all his story-poems the woman is the lover and the male person the one sought after-in the fashion peculiar to Indian poets alone.
One point which the commentators and critics of Shah and his poetry have clean missed is that Shah should be regarded not as the voice and interpreter of the attenuated Sind we know, but the poet of that Greater Sind which extended anciently to Kashmir and Kanoj, to Makran and Saurashtra, Jaisalmer and Barmer. On any other assumption, the' stories' of Shah would have no proper significance, and his wanderings would be without an aim and purpose. Plot the extreme points reached by Shah in his wanderings on a map of the Indian Sub-Conti¬nent and that would show the confines of the Greater Sind of which Shah sang in his Surs.
It is possible to make too much of the mystic and sufistic ele¬ment in Shah's poetry, and to by-pass another predominant motif or element in his 'poetry-c-his Sindhiyat or the peculiar Sindhi-ness of his poetry which is to be found in no other Sindhi poet or writer. This Sindhiyat is of course one of the earliest and most fragrant of the several flowers in the Indian garland of Poetry and Philosophy. The two main aspects in Shah's poetry which deserve detailed treatment are his mysticism and Sindhiuat, Fitly has he been called the Sage of Mihran (or the Sindhu), where Mihran or the Sindhu is simply the longest of the Indian rivers. The two most important paints in Shah's poetry and his mental make-up are that he was a God-intoxi¬cated Soul and that he was the Voice of Sind. His being a Muslim does not matter so very much.
It is also worth nothing that barring one Muslim, namely Mirza Kalich Beg, the author of a biography of Shah in Sindhi, and a Lexicon on Shah, nearly all the editors, biographers, critics and commentators on Shah upto the separation of Sind from the Bombay Presidency 11937), nay upto the Partition of India (1947) were non-Muslims Dr. Ernest Trumpp was the first to bring out an edition of the Risalo (1866), and Dr. H. T. Sorley was the first to write in English a book on the life and times of Shah and trans¬late quite a representative chunk of Ids poems (Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit 1940). Sir Bartle Frere's manuscript on Shah has 1101 been published nor Mir Abdul Husain's manuscript, alluded to by some writers. Apart from these names, almost all other names of earnest workers in Shah's vineyard in the British regime, have been Hindu names. Dayararn Gidurnal, Judge, wrote on Shah under the pen name of Sigma in his Something about Sind (1882); gathering from authentic sources anecdotes about Shah, Lilararn (Sing)Watanmal, another Judge, wrote a shod life of the poet (1890); educationist Tarachand Showkiram, brought out an edition of Shah, under Government aegis in 1900 ; Lalchand An~rdinornal wrote iii Sindhi a brochure all Shaha no Shah' the first decade of the present century. Jethrnal Parsram wrote Stories from Shah and treated of Shah in his Sufis and usiics of Sind in the second decade; Bherumal Mahirchand produced his Latifi-Sair in 1928 giving a sketch of the Travels of ah, Naraindas Bhambhani wrote in Sindhi a book on the The Heroines of Shah, Professors T. L. Vaswani, M. M. Gidwani and the present writer wrote magazine articles and pamphlets on Shah, and above all, Dr. H. M. Gurbaxani brought out three volumes of Shah-J o-Risalo (from 1923 on¬wards) with his masterly Introduction on Shah (Muqadamah Latifi) which will always remain a landmark in Sindhi literature. The two Muslim names of writers on Shah in the British period are those of Md Sidik Mernon, writer in Sindhi of a History of Sindhi literature in the third decade of twentieth century in which he had perforce to find the greatest space for Shah, "and Dr. U. M. Daudpota, the favourite pupil of Dr. H. M. Gur¬baxani, and his assistant in the preparation of his monumental work.
After the Partition of India, the Pakistani Sindhis have done more systematic work on Shah and his Risalo than their Hindu counterparts in India. As long as Sind was a separate Province, in Pakistan, the Government of Sind did much to finance research and scholarship on Shah, and endowed a cultural centre at Bhit, the place of Shah. The Muslim scholar who deserves praise for editing the Surs of Shah left unedited by Dr. Gurbaxani was GhulamMd. Shahwani, who brought out a complete edition of the Risalo with Introduction and Notes in 1950, following strictly in the footsteps of Dr. Gurbaxani. Muslim scholars, whose names deserve mention for work done on Shah. are those of Md. Ibrahim Joyo, editor Mihran, Nabibux Baloch, Head of Sindhi Studies in Sind University, Pir Hasarnuddin Rashdi (writer of a brochure in Urdu on Sindhi Adab or literature), Lutfullah Badvi (author of a History of Sindhi Poetry in three volumes), and Taj Md. Agha (writer of Aks-e-Latif 1951, Shah's life in Urdu). Special mention must be made of Ayaz, most eminent of living Sindhi poets and translator in Urdu of the Risa!o, Din Mohamed Wafai, author of Luti-ai-Lau] (1951) perhaps the most readable book produced in Pakistan (in Sindhi) on Shah. Ghulam Murtaza Syed, author of a brilliant analysis of Shah's Thought and Mentality (Paigham-e-Latif), and above all of that gracious couple, Imdad Kazi (most recent editor of the Risaloi, and Mrs. Elsa Kazi, poet and translator of Shah's lyrics. The number of Muslims writing on Yadgar-e-Latif or Tributes and Homage to Shah in pamphlets and magazines is simply legion: the Mihran as well Nai Sind, and Goth Sudhar, with their annual special Shah issues, cannot be ignored by anyone who loves Shah.
In Bharat, that is India, there are three post-Partition writers on Shah whose names deserve special mention. Kalyan Advani has done solid work on Shah by annotating all the Surs of Shah in a sumptuous one-volume publication which it is a pleasure to read and handle. His book on Shah is a must' for every student of Shah. Fatehchand Vaswani's Selections from Shah, with scholarly chapters of} various aspects of Shah's personality and poetry, are interesting and instructive. Ram Ranjwani, in his (Sindhi) Seven Stories from Shah, has dramatised some of the best Surs in Shah with chapters on folklore, to which the present writer has furnished an Introduction on Shah's role as the voice or interpreter of Sind.
Shah Abdul Latif, the greatest of Sindhi poets, was born in 1689, in a Syed family, his father Shah Habibulah being-one of the well-known holy men of his time. According to Tuhlat¬al-kiram Shah Habib was often plunged in meditation so that he sometimes did not know what was happening around him. He would not recognize his own son at times, so abstracted he was in his devotions. But he seems to have been a tender and loving parent. There is a well-known story that Shah Habib was once startled to find his beloved son almost buried to the neck in the bark of a tree, or in a sand-dune in which he lay in meditation, and thought that he was no more in the land of the living. He exclaimed in fright:
The wind, has turned into a storm,
The limbs lie buried in dust.
And there came a rejoinder from his son:
The breath yet comes and goes,
To see the Beloved, linger it must.
There is another story that when Habib lay dying, he was very anxious to see his son for the last time and sent a message to him:
Would that could get from you, while living
My dear, t at which you are sure to give when I am gone.
Shah Latif sent back the consoling reply:
Be not dejected, I am never far from you
This distance is only apparent,
Your bourn and mine coincide.
Actually, the father gave up the breath before his son reached his bedside. The father died just seven years before his son (in 1745), some say that he died ten years earlier. It has been acknowledged by Shah's biographers that if anyone could claim to be Shah's guide in the spiritual arena it was his father. Long before Shah was born it had been told to his father that his son , Latif' would be a 'Kutb' or 'Pole Star' of his era. So he called his first-born as Latif but the child soon died, and he named the second son, too, as Latif. Shah Abdul Latif died without offspring, and his only brother (really step brother) Jamal, succeeded to the gadi, and Jamal's descendants still enjoy that gadi.
Shah Latif's father was according to tradition, a holy man, but his great-grandfather, Shah Karim of Bulri, was a much more renowned and revered personage. Shah Karim's holiness was such as has eclipsed his very genuine claim to being a Poet and let some admirers think of him only as a holy man. Actually, Shah Karim is the greatest poet in Sindhi before his great¬grandson came on the scene, and the framework (Hindi doha) of his hundred or so verses, and their content (Sindhi folklore and Sufism), have been adopted in Shah's poetry, and Karim's corn¬positions intermingled with those of Shah. Shah Latif had not to undergo that discipline of extreme poverty which his great-¬grandfather had to, nor to face the ordeals which his ancestor did. Shah Karim was from the first inclined to a life of monas¬ticism and celibacy, and he had to contract a marriage because he could not very well say • nay' to his elders. There was nothing of that other-worldliness in Shah Latif who was through", out life a normal, healthy man, free from sensuality and greed. but as willing and able to enjoy friendship, love, and social intercourse as any other man. And Shah Latif had not to hold the plough and face starvation as his distinguished forbear had to. There is nothing to show that Shah Karim undertook long journeys, and sojourned into distant lands, like Shah Latif. Shah Karim's life was secluded. Shah Latif's life was open and a centre of attraction for kindred spirits. Shah Karim knew not princes nor their courts, but Shah Latif. if he did not become a high judicial officer like Qazi Qazan, the first authentic Sindhi poet, enjoyed the esteem and regard of the Kalhora rulers of the land and bigwigs like Makhdurns, even though he might first have awakened their jealousy and ire. The most famous of the Kalhora rulers, Ghulam Shah Kalhora, was born to Kalhora Noor Mahomed because of the blessing of Shah Latif. And this Kalhora Noor Mahomed actually tested Shah's strength of mind and self restraint by leaving him alone with a bevy of maidens, good to. look at but not very particular in their morals, And when Shah disdained their charms and wiles, the Kalhora ruler twitted him about his puritanism, to meet with a reply; the last line of which has become current in the Sindhi language:
Let the wenches have their fling
Not to them will Lahutis cling.
But Shah Karim never went through the agony Shah Latif. did when he heard of the martyrdom of the most eminent of Sindhi Sufis, Shah Inayat of Jhok :
No sound of Seekers is heard in parlours; the Adesis are gone
Monasteries have lost their attraction
Those who had the elixir of life are dead and gone. There was something in Shah Latif's brave and gracious en¬counter with the princes and tyrants of his time which recalls the Prophet and Ali, the' Lion of Islam', from whom he was lineally descended. There was-in him something as well, of his tactful ancestor, Syed. Haider, 13th in ascent from Shah Latif-who secured the goodwill of conqueror Tamerlane witn a feast and a present of one rupee for every man in Tamerlane's army, and laid the foundation of his family's fortunes. Syed Haider came from Herat in Afghanistan in 1398, and settled in Sind at Matiari (Mutalwi). He had a wife in Herat and another in Sind who also belonged to a Syed family. His Sindhi son, Mir Ali, after he grew up, proceeded to Herat and successfully claimed a part of his patrimony from his step-brothers. He returned to Sind and became the progenitor of two Syed lines: the Sharafpotas and Mirapotas. Shah Latif belonged to the Sharafpotas.
The great-grandfather of Shah Latif migrated from Matiari to Bulri and is now knows the sage of BuirL His son i.e., the grandfather of Shah Latif died in an encounter with dacoits to assist a widow who had b en robbed. When he died, the family was ensconced again in Matiari from where the father of Shah Latif migrated for a time to the village of Bhaipur in Hala Taluka and ultimately to Kotri Mogul in the same Taluka. Shah Latif, several years afterwards, left Kotr i to find a new place, Bhit, (literally a sand-dune) four or five miles away from (the now desolate) Kotri Mogul. Bhit is now famous in Sindhi annals, for every Sindhi has heard of Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit, and Bhit has become the most famous cultural centre in Sind. The birth of Shah Latif took place in Bhaipur, and his early years were spent in Kotri.
The childhood of Shah Latif was spent in a family famous for generations for piety, devotion and social service. And he kept to these traditions, adding to the family traits the traits of love of music, and clemency towards men and birds and beasts. In an age of cruel and skillful huntsmen he refused to hunt poor animals, and preferred the company of boys who could utter soul-stirring strains and awaken in him meditation and love of solitude. Shah Latif was not a huntsman but he was a sports¬man all right, and he showed his mastery of archery when he managed to fly an arrow through the fingers of Mirza Mogul Beg, a grandee of his village, Kotri, and make a hole in his amulet, without hurting the Beg in the slightest. As is usual, there are several anecdotes about the wonderful signs perceptible in the child Latif which were indicative of his future greatness. Maulvi Din Md. Wafai refers to two flowers presented to the child Shah by a god-intoxicated fakir, Watai, of Tatta, which really blonged to Khwaja Khizr, the blue mantled Deity of the Sindhu. They syrnbolised the investment of the child with the fragrant spirit and sparkle of Sind.
How far Shah was an educated man has been debated.Those who believe in miracles eagerly assume that Shah was an Umi i.e. unlettered man, and that knowledge and illumination came to him from High. They believe with the Persian poet:
Sans books, sans figures, sans letters
Knowledge comes to the Man of God.
In the lives of saints and mystics of the East, the claim to have derived knowledge directly from God, without scholastic training or education, is a recurrent tale. It is said that as a boy Shah Latif was sent to learn the alphabet from Akhund Nur Mahomcd Bhatti, but he refused to proceed after the first letter, Ali], to the next letter (Bai), saying that there was nothing beyond' Alif, the One or Unity: He was then withdrawn from the school and never got any further scholastic training. This story is to be taken with a grain of salt. Long afterwards, Shah said in a verse that has become well known:
Read one letter, Alif, the only one,
The rest you can all forget.
Let thy spirit have a cleansing
No other study for you next.
This may be placed along with his other pronouncement on the same theme:
How can.vigils and Lents
Vie with a glimpse of Love?
Turn thou pages endless
One word, only, wiil you probe.
Here is insistence upon Alif, Unity, One Thing, One word, the substratum of all things, and the need of vision of that One Thing, here is declaration of the supreme duty of knowing that One Word which was in the beginning and which was with God and which was God .... and not any belittling of book-learning as such. If book-learning interfere with God-vision it has to go, that is all. But those who have read the Risalo of Shah will refuse to believe that he had only God-intoxication and no book-learning.
That he knew the Koran is apparent to the most superficial reader of the Rlsalo ; it is also certain that he was fond of Jalauddin Rumi's Masnavi the Bible of the Persian mystics, and treasured the copy of the Masnavi presented to him by the Kalhora ruler of the time. From' internal' evidence of the Risalo it is clear that Shah knew the Koran and the Hadis (Traditions of-the Prophet) in Arabic, the Masnavi of Rumi in the Persian language, the' well known Bhakti compositions in the Hindi or the verna¬cular; current in north India, and the folklore and legends of Sind, and the compositions of his predecessors like Qazi Qazan and Shah Karim, some of whose verses are incorporated in his own, or are paraphrased in his/ poetry. It is possible that all these poems or cornpositions are learnt by Shah by oral tradi¬tion and committed to me memory, but it is very improbable that this is what happened. There was not much book-learning in Sind in the Muslim times, but Shah Abdul Latif must have had his share of what there was.
Whether he was book-learned or not, Shah Abdul Latif had his full share of Nature-learning. Like Wordsworth he had wandered over hills and dales, rivers and lakes and the deserts and wildernesses of his native land, to settle at last in Bhit, the Sand-dune, in the environs of Lake Kirar. There is sufficient evidence of Shah's Travels for a continuous period of three years after he reached the age of twenty, and his subsequent journey. many years afterwards, to Multan to bring stones for the monu¬ment over his great-grandfather's grave. But he was never without the intimate companionship of Nature, Nature not red in tooth and claw, or cloying in the extreme, but Nature in her vastness and solitariness, inducing in the sojourner a .sense of stillness and infinitude, of Oneness and Eternity, of voiceless music and undisturbed harmony. Fitly has Shah's poetry been called 'Desert Melodies.'
Shah is never a townsman or a courtier; his poetry is not of the market-place o~ of the church cloisters, nor of the learned Pandits and lawgivers. So, some critics have mistaken him for a rustic poet. If rustic means that he was of the countryside it is alright to call him rustle-but if 'rustic' denotes ignorance of culture, boorishness or narrowness of mind and sympathies, Shah was anything but a rustic. Any man or woman, however, highly trained or polished, will find something in Shah's Risalo to teach him gentleness of manners, catholicity of sympathies, and breadth of vision. Sorely, otherwise a devoted admirer of Shah, lays too much stress upon the rusticity of Shah and brings him down a peg lower than Rurni, Jami, and Hafiz, famous Persian poets :
No might is here of Roumi's verse
No Jami's soul-wrapt music swings.
No high-tuned note of Hafiz wit
Within your humble minstrel rings.
Dr. Sorley condescends to distribute some praise to Shah, too, but as the poet of Islam:
And yet-strange paradox it be,
That not less searching is the calm,
The simple magic of his lays
Than wise, deep utterance of Islam.'
The great defect of Sorley's study of Shah Abdul-Latif of Bhit is that he wants to crib and confine him into the narrow mould of a dogma that he calls Islam, instead of viewing him as a typical, true Indian rishi, the man who had a darshan or vision of God, and who passed on that vision in ecstatic words to his rapt hearers. Bhit was a medieval Ashram or forest-sanctuary where Shah saw the world 'and saw it whole, and saw beyond it and behind it the Mystery of Mysteries. Sorley does not seem to be conscious or even dimly aware of the glory of the Upani¬shads and the Rishis of the Upanishads. Shah, and after him, Sacha I and Sami, were the inheritors and interpreters of a pre-cious heritage-the heritage left by the Rishis who chanted the mantras of Vedas and Upanishads on the banks of the Sindhu, and meditated on Man, Nature and God, and pierced to the uttermost depths of Being. If Sorley had said that all the three¬fold qualities in Rumi, Jami and Hafiz-might, soul-wraptness, and lyricism-were joined in the 'lowly' and 'humble' bard of Sind, he would not have been far wrong. The technique of the poetry of Shah is indeed not that of a rustic but that of an accomplished Master. While Rumi's jnethod is to relate an entire story in sequence to bring out his Sufistic moral, Shah's method is to throw darts of meaning and suggest spiritual points in tales well-known to all his readers and hearers and so not in need of recital or recapitulation. Marui has only to say, ' It is not the wont of Marus to exchange in-laws for gold' to convey what a whole chapter or book could not, Sasui has only to turn upon herself in the midst of poignant woe and wailing and to utter the words 'why to arraign husband's brothers for mischief, only if my Day had not played mischief' to sum up all that is to be learnt about Man and Fate, Shah has only to remark in Suhni's story , The jar was broken, the wench died, all the means vanished, then only did Suhni hear the call of Mehar ' to suggest a mighty spiritual instruction. Sorley selects the best in that ‘soul-wrapt' chapter in Yusuf-Zuleikha :
See where the tulip grows
In upland meadows, how in balmy spring
It decks itself and how amidst its thorns
The wild rose rends its garment and reveals
Its loveliness. Though too when some rare thought
Or beauteous image or deep mystery
Flashes across thy soul, canst not endure
To let it pass but holdst it, that perchance
In speech or writing thou mayst send it forth
To charm the world.
and remarks: 'The Risalo has nothing comparable with this passage from Jarni": But Shah's greatness is not in long-drawn passages; it is in the minute coruscations his pen flings forth in all directions. Shah did not compose poems in his 'study', his beyts or verses were sparks or bits of revelations. As he said of himself :
These be not verses as you think
But revelations that abide
They turn your mind inward
And take you to His side.
As for Hafiz, one of the great lyric poets of the world, a Sindhi listening to his lyrics and Shah's lyrics sung at the same time would be hard put to make a decision which is sweeter in tone and more magical in appeal. Hafiz says about his ghazals, that they are a string of pearls and that the very firmament links them to the Pleiades. Shah does not use such language about his poetry, but he invented the wai or kafi which is as melodious in tune, as lofty in tone, as the Persian ghazal, even in the hands of its. greatest master. The simplicity, humility, economy in words, and absence of self-consciousness on the part of Shah proclaim him to be one with Nature, but they do not warrant anyone to call him a rustic. Sorley has animadverted against Shah's habit of intermingling the remarks of the poet and out¬bursts of his heroines in the narration of their stories, and termed it irritating and illogical; he forgets that Shah is a lyrical and not a dramatic poet and that these interjections add to the music and majesty of the narrative. Sorley's real grouse is that in this practice Shah was following Hindi poets. He blinks his eyes to the fact that Shah was essentially an Indian poet, in the Indian tradition. Shah lived for over sixty years, a fairly long period in his age, in stirring times. He was eighteen when Aurangzeeb died, and the Kalhoras gradually took over the administration. He was alive when Nadir Shah invaded India. But there is no mention or echo of these events in his verse. He lived in the vicinity of Khudabad, the capital of the Kalhoras, but he might have lived hundreds of miles away, so little was his life influenced by them.
The three points of interest in the life of Shah are his Wander¬ings, his Marriage, and his life with his Associates. Fortunately, we have more data or information about these points in Shah's life than we have about any other Sindhi poet. To take up first, his Wanderings. There is a fine book extant in Sindhi about the wanderings of Shah under the title Latifi Sair, (Latif's Travels), written by that painstaking Professor of Sindhi, Bherumal Mahirchand. At the outset, the writer pays- a tribute to Shah the Sailani or Wanderer by commenting on his remarkable powers of observation of men as well as Nature. Shah minutely observes the women-spinners at their spinning wheel, as well as the common crow, as the bird which defiles the place where it sits and flies from place to place, making an ideal messenger. Shah notices the luminaries in the sky, the thunder and the rain, in the bazaar he observes the blacksmith at his anvil, the gold¬smith and pearl merchant with their precious wares, and the potter at the wheel. His especial attention is directed to the flight of the birds across the sky, and the march of the camel in the desert. The Desert and the magnificent River which is a veritable ocean were the poet's life-long studies. The Desert was, as it were, at his very door. Bhit, the place of his residence, meant' a sand-dune', and he delighted in solitary walks in the region of sand-dunes. He was also in touch with voyagers across the river to the Indian ocean beyond. One of his Surs, the Sur Samundi or Sur of the sea-farers, describes the prepara¬tion of the voyagers for their voyages and the woes and tribula¬tions qf the anxious spouses they left behind. Shah knew abeut the European pirates; he calls them Phlangis (from Feringees or Franks the appellation for Europeans in general). Of course everything in Shah's poetry has a meaning attached to it, and the life of the Desert-dwellers, as well as that of River-Iarers and sea-farers, furnishes him with valuable lessons. There are anecdotes about Shah Latif being often found by herdsmen and wanderers lying in the desert, entranced in meditation, with his head held between his knees. This /picture sketched of Shah Latif by Sindhi painters often sh him in this posture of the head gripped between the knee or ' Monas' :
Lay your head i side the Monas
Have little care of what you eat
Look down and close your eyes
Behold the Friend, and Him meet.
The 'Mona' has been sometimes compared to the Mount Sina or Sinai where Moses had his vision of God.
It is said that for three years at least Shah Latif went on wandering, far and wide, in the company of Hindu Jogis and Sanyasis. This period may be compared to the Horton period in Milton's life, the period of incubation of poetic genius. The material gathered in the course of these wanderings was suffi¬cient to last him a lifetime. He was twenty three or twenty four when he returned from his travels.
The first place to which Shah repaired for pilgrimage was Ganja Takar near modern Hyderabad (a city which came into existence a short while after Shah's death). Shah had a darshan of Goddess Kali's image in the temple of the goddess at Ganja Takar. Then he proceeded with Hindu Jogis to the famous Hindu pilgrimage centre of Hinglaj in Las Bela State, Baluchis¬tan, following the route along the modern route to Karachi (then a small fishing-place). In conformity with the usage of Hindu pilgrims, Shah donned the ochre-coloured garments of Hindu Sanyasis. On the way from Ganja Takar to Hinglaj Shah pass¬ed by Hilaya Hill, and Keenjhar Lake. He saw the place where Jam Tarnachi had had his dalliance with the fisher-girl Nuri or Gandr i, and referred to it, afterwards, in Sur Kamal. Near Karachi on the side of present Manora port, he saw Kalachi whirlpool, where a big crocodile lay hidden which had taken the toll of sixbrothers of Mari the fisherman. Shah has referred to Kalachi in his poetry. On the way to Karachi, Shah saw Bambhor, the place of the most famous heroine in Sindhi legends and song, Sasui. It was not easy to make way through the wilderness after crossing the Hab river. Shah had a firsthand experience of the desolate spots, hills and sand-dunes through which Sasui had to make her way in frantic search of Pun hun, her lover. Then Shah reached the fabled Hara mountain and Hingol riverlet. It was after an arduous journey that Shah and his fellow-pilgrims reached Hinglaj.
The famous Hindu pilgrim-centre of Hinglaj is a cave at the base of Hara hill wherein five hundred pilgrims could enter com¬fortably at a time, and pour milk over the recumbent figure of the goddess Amba. Shah paid a second visit, too, to Hinglaj, but on that occasion he had a disagreement with his Hindu fellow-pilgrims, and it is said that he disappeared from Hinglaj in a miraculous fashion, and appeared at Tatta instead. But Shah retained till the last affection and regard for Hindu Jogis. He distinguished between two sets of Jogis, one Nuri i.e. seekers of Light, and others Nari i.e. Burning in Hell :
Some be Nuris, other Naris
In the world of Jogis living,
They set aflame the ashen heart
For them alone I'm existing.
In his itinerary of Las Bela and Kech Makran, Shah saw many of the places he was to make famous in his Surs about Sasui e.g. Wankar and Lahul, also Jhalwan; a mountainous region in Baluchistan. Returning via Tatta and places in Lar he reached Kutch and Bhuj. The 1819 earthquake which completely separated Kutch from Sind, by the influx of an inland sea, was yet to come, and a man could go from Sind to Kutch most easily. In Kutch SI18h made his pilgrimage to Lakhpat, Narainsar, and Kotesar.
From Kutch, Shah proceeded to Saurashtra, or Kathiawar, and visited places of pilgrimage such as Dwarka and Porebunder and the famed city of Junagadh and the fort of Girnar about which he sang in Sur Soratli. He went to Kharnbat or Carnbay as well. On return, he made his way into Thar, saw Malir, ever consecrated to Marui, and also places connected with the heroine, Mumal. Shah seems to have got beneath the skin of the Tharis so completely that he has adopted the Tharispeech. He has rendered, as a born Thari, the customs, costumes, dwellings, cactuses, wonderful trees, deep wells and sands of Thar in his verse, and described Thar when blessed by rain¬drops. He saw Jaisalmer and Ladhoro or Ladano above the river Kak, of Mumal-Rano fame. Shah went so far as Barmer. He saw Puran, the old bed of the River Sindhu as well.
Shah spent .some time in Upper Sindh in Sahiti cities like Naushahro, in Darazan near Khair r, where he met the child Sachal, the greatest of his successors. Shah saw Upper Sind and Bahawalpur when he went a far as Multan to bring stones to decorate the tomb of his gre t-grandfather. Central Sind he knew from his birth. As for Lower Sind, he seems to be familiar with it as many of his friends and disciples lived there and he had to visit them periodically. It must not be forgotten that the pronunciation and spelling of Shah's poems is of Lar or or Lower Sind, and that his most poignant memory was that of Martyr-Sufi, Shah Inayat, of Jhok.
There was one pilgrimage on which his heart was set, but death overtook him in 1752 before he could fulfill his wish. That was a pilgrimage to Kerbela in Iraq, the scene of the tragedy of Imam Husain and his devoted companions. The story of Kerbela is such as to move any heart, and a poet and mystic like Shah was eager to set his eyes on Kerbala. It is a disputable point whether Sur Kedaro, wherein the tragedy of Kerbala is¬ celebrated in song, is the work of Shah Latif, but whether the verses are his own or those of other poets there is no doubt that the Kedaro verses have got so intermingled with the poetry of Shah as to be indistinguishable from it, and they reveal his. magic touch in many places. The devotion of Shah Latif to Kerbala has led many to ask the question whether he was a Shia, but it is not necessary to answer that query.
The travels of Shah gave him an intimate idea of almost every inch of ground celebrated in Sindhi legend and folklore, parti¬cularly about Thar, which desert region would have remained otherwise terra incognita in Sindhi literature if he had not opened it for the gaze and affectionate inspection of the Sindhis. In the course of his travels, Shah had, of course, to encounter many perils to his life and limbs, but he came out unscathed from these ordeals. He came in contact with all sorts of persons and stories are related of these encounters. The most famous of these encounters was his meeting with a solitary hermit who was chanting frantically to himself one line, in a dense forest, between Hinglaj and Tatta :
Alone alone, wending towards Punhoon
He did not know the other two lines to complete the verse. And when Shah supplied the missing line:
The hills are tough, but they are a boon
the hermit asked for the third and final line and Shah recited it as well :
Gather your aches to reach Him soon.
And as soon-as the desolate lover got the complete verse, he fell down and gave up the ghost! The Shah had to dig the grave and bury the lover, but he could never forget the yearning, and all-consuming love of the deceased for the ob jed of his- devo¬tion.
Even if Shah did not go to school, he had his education by circumambulating the sacred precincts of Greater Sind. All the roughnesses, irregularities and oddities he may have derived by growing up in the company of fanatic Syeds and Fakirs were rounded off and polished by his initiation into Yoga, Bhakti, and Vedani, the traditional philosophy and all-em¬bracing religion or mysticism which India had treasured for thousands of years. It is problematic whether Shah would have risen to full stature as the poet of Sind and a true mystic, if he had not travelled over the whole of Greater Sind and spent at least three precious years in the company of Hindu Sanyasis and Jogis and dressed, lived, worshipped like them and became one of them. The Surs Ramkali and Khahori bear eloquent testimony to the Sindhiyat (and Indian) charac¬ter of his poetry and thought.
Now to turn to Shah's Love and Marriage, let us remember what the Persian poet, Jami, says in a celebrated passage:
'T were better we in love should still remain:
Without this converse we are all in vain ....
The heart's no heart that is without love's pain.
Without it bodies' moistened clay remain
Towards passions' pain thy face turn upon the earth;
The world of passion is a world of mirth.
Of love's sweet pain may never heart be free,
On earth without Love may man never be ....
Be passion's captive, that thou mayst be free, Lay on thy breast its burden, glad to be.
Love's wine with warmth and ardency will bless,
All else brings melancholy, selfishness. ...
Though in the world thou may 'figs essay
Love only takes thee from thy self away.
Turn not thy face from love, though it be feigned,
Access to God's truth through it may be gained
The last two lines are the most significant, but they have not been well translated. The correct translation of the Persian verses of Jami is:
Turn not thy face from Love, though it be Carnal
For it will pave the way to Truth Eternal.
The sense of what Jami urges is however quite clear. What is stated by Jami is illustrated in the Love-life of Shah Abdul Latif. Physical or Carnal passion or love is the first step to¬wards Divine Love, because this passion makes a man forget his own entity, and completely absorbs him in an all-consu¬ming yearning for union with the Beloved. This is a bridge that leads to the shore of Union with God. Woe to him who stops short at the bridge of physical possession and enjoyment, and plunges only into the sad satiety of physical meeting and union. Ultimately the lover has to shift his devotion from a frail body to the Eternal who has no body, no form, andAnnhilation his separate being to become one with the Being of all Beings. This is what the, Sufi or the Mystic aims at in his progress from Body to the Spirit, from Passion to Perfec¬tion, from Individuality to Annihilation (of Self). And Shah Latif soared from carnal love to the sublime height of spiritual or Divine Love. And equally noteworthy is the point that Shah was no voluptuary who turned to God when he had become blase or weaned and disillusioned from love.He was a man of a single Love, and a single experience of connubial bliss. After a fairly early experience of physical love in his life he settled down to the enjoyment of Spiritual Love and enjoyment. He was fortunate and blessed in love. It was at the age of twenty, that is before he set out on travels, that he was enmeshed in the folds of love. As a matter of fact, it was partly to be away from the scene of what looked like hopeless passion that Shah left Kotri where his childhood was spent The top grandee of Kotr i Mogul was Mba Mogul Beg, a scion of the House of Arghuns who ruled over Sind a century before Shah was born. The Arghuns, like other Muslim aristocratic families of India, and Central Asia, were strict observers of Purdah and did not allow any female member of their family, above the age of seven or eight, to be seen by a stranger. And they were also very proud in their ways. The only persons to whorn they showed some consideration were the Syeds, descendants of the Prophet of Islam, and spiritual guides of the laity. Mirza Mogul Beg occasionally repaired to Shah's father to obtain charms and amulets from him, or to ask him to offer prayers for him and his family in times of difficulty and danger. Once it so happend that the adolescent daughter of the Mirza fell somewhat seriously ill, and the worried father went to Shah Habib, Shah Latif's father, to invite him to his house to offer prayers and prepare a charm for averting danger to his daughter. Shah Habib was unwell, so he asked Shah Latif to go instead with the Mirza. When Shah reached the house of the Arghun grandee, he was led to the cot of the invalid who lay thoroughly huddled up in a heap of clothes. And Shah fell in 'love at first sight' with one whose face he could not see well, covered as it was by a muslim veil. He was only able to lift her hand and cross his fingers with her little finger. To console the anxious parent he offered the usual prayer and retaining her little finger in his grasp he exclaimed:
No harm, no danger, dare attend
One whose little finger lies in Syed's hand.
The Mirza was incensed at what he took to be the insult implied in this exclamation, and with great difficulty controlled himself from dealing a death-blow to the youth' who dared to hint of espousal with his daughter. But thereafter he became hostile to the Syeds of his village and pursued them with hatred and rancour until they had to quit Kotri and build their Haveli or family residence at a considerable distance from the place where Mirza lived. Many years afterwards, Shah removed himself to Bhit, a desolate place at a distance of five miles.
It never occurred to Shah to take any anti-social step to meet the object. of his love or to take her by stealth of force. Instead, he left his father's place at the age of 20 and set on travels to drown his sorrows and derive spiritual solace in the company of Hindu .Jogis. Pilgrimages to the places con-secreted by the touch or passage of immortal Sindhi heroines like Sasui, Marui and Mumal, only made his own woes of separation afflict him the more. .
Soon after Shah returned from travels, some say, only after the lapse of three days, the death of irza Mogul Beg occurred under tragic circumstances. In 1711, n a day when the Mirza and his male companions were not in Kotri, some dacoits of Dal Tribe made a clean sweep of the belongings left behind in charge of the women-folk. When the Mirza returned he was all-agog with anger and he went after the dacoits. Mirza and his men had to pass through the street where Shah and his father had taken up their new abode, and seeing the plight of their old neighbours the Syeds offered their services to the Mirza to help him in running .down the dacoits. Mirza spurn¬ed this offer with scorn, and went in pursuit of the Dal dacoits. In a hand-to-hand fight with the dacoits Mirza and all his men were, killed. Only one male member of the Arghuns in Kotri was left to carry on the race-one minor child who was called • Gala '. The followers of the Syeds carried the news of this catastrophe to Shah summing up the news in one word • Bud Khabis' or '. The rascal ceased to be '-which words yielded by the Abjad, or Persian numeral system, the year of the death of the Mirza (1711). Shah at once corrected them and asked them to render the date as 'Yak Mogul bih budah " i.e. • One good Mogul used to be ' words which yielded by the Abjad rule the same year Shah was too great to gloat over the demise of his foe. Some see in this incident a conclusive proof of Shah's scholastic learning.
The death of nearly all the male members of their family brought down the Mirza's women-folk to a helpless condition, and many of them thought that their sufferings were due to the wrongs done by them to the Syeds. The hand of Syeedah Begum, the adolescent girl with whom Shah Latif had been in love for four years, was offered to the despairing lover and he attained to his earthly paradise when she entered the portals of his house. This lady was known thereafter as Taj-al-mukhdarat or Crown of Chaste Damsels and she proved herself to be deserving of all the tributes that could be paid to a woman. Kalyan Advani in his 'Shah' has applied to her the famous lines of Sa 'adi, the Persian moralist :
A woman that is good, loyal and chaste
Can make a monarch of her beggar-mate.
With this marriage Shah's life became full and sweet-but not- fruitful. His travels had broadened his outlook and had done something more. The Hindu philosophy had turned his mind inwards and taken him from Ishq Majazi, Physical or carnal Love, to the path of Ishq Haqiqi, True or spiritual love. This is apparent from the well-known anecdote about Shah's behaviour when his wife became enceinte. In that 'interest¬ing , condition women acquire strange and not-so-strange cravings. The wife of Shah felt a craving to eat the pala fish, and a follower of Shah took a distant journey to bring a pala for his master's spouse. While the man was returning with the dainty present Shah found him panting .and foot-weary. On being told that he had been away to satisfy a demand of his wife the Shah exclaimed, 'What use is it to have a child if it can cause agony to my Fakirs even before it is born?' It is said that the lady had soon an abortion and never' con¬ceived again. Shah never felt the need of offspring of his own. His Fakirs were the progeny he delighted in.
Shah was not a domesticated or family man. It has been said that he was rarely to be seen in the interior of women's rooms in his house, but that he was always in his otak or men's parlour, in the company of his beloved Fakirs. From the early years of his life he was accustomed to seeing his father and other Syeds surrounded by a large concourse of associates and disciples who had flocked for spiritual guidance. Shah passed his life in the company of admiring Fakirs and disciples who gave a signal proof of devotion to him by fetching bricks and doing odd jobs in the construction of the main edifice and the envitoning shanties, while Shah was a-building Bhit. And this devotion continued until his death in 1752, and even afterwards.
Every Friday,-even now, the Fakirs wake all at night and chant Shah's soul-arousing lyrics at his tomb in Bhit. Daya¬ram Gidumal kept such a wake or vigil in the eighties of the last century and described it as under: 'The deepest silence occa¬sionally broken by a hearty “Allahee” prevailed in the wide courtyard where I kept my memorable vigil with more than a hundred men, women and children' '.
Nobody has said anything about Shah Abdul Latif or his father doing anything manual to earn their livelihood. His going into a trance. It is this posture which is painted in the pictures that have been drawn about him from men's imagina¬tion. Another stance which was common was falling into ecstasy while music, vocal and instrumental filled the air. It was purely Indian music, and the Ragas and Raginis were Indian. It was no exotic music which enthralled him. There was nothing erotic in the dance-music he encouraged. Appro¬priately enough, he breathed his last at the age of 64 in 1752 while listening rapturously to such music or Samaa as it was called.
Shah, as already remarked, was as fond of solitude as of society. He had a large concourse of friends and associates some of whom were well-known all over Sind. Din Md. Wafai, in his Lut-al-Latif has a whole chapter devoted to a recital of the contacts Shah had with these personages. The first and most important of those friends and associates was of course Shah Inayat, the sage of Jhok and best-known of Sindhi Sufis, whose martyrdom has been commemorated in Sur Ramkali.
Other prominent associates were Khwaja Md. Zaman Lawari, Fakir Sahib of Darazan, Syed Md. ancestor of Rashdi Pirs, Makhdum Abdul Rahim Grohri and' Hindu Bhagat Madan. .There are many authenticated and spurious anecdo¬dotes about his meetings with and colloquies with these Fakirs, but the most famous of these relates to his second visit to Darazan when he met Sachal, grandson of Mian Sahib dina, who was only five years old at that time and was destined to be next only to Shah Latif in eminence as a poet. Shah Latif at once recognised the surpassing greatness of the boy and said that he was going to take the lid off the kettle (of poetry) he had himself set to boil. Thus Shah proclaimed Sachal as his spiritual successor and his prophecy -carne to pass. As a Muslim writer has said. what Shah described in tales and figurative language was made plain and effective by Sachal in open forceful language.
Madan, a Hindu Bhagat, was very dear to Shah, and they had frequent discussions on matters of mystic import. It is said that Madan once went to a lonely spot and was frightened by the vociferous croakings and cries of frogs. Madan ran to Shah to tell of his freight. Shah commended his attitude of fright and said that that was the fit attitude to assume to¬wards God. He said: 'Give Him all you can and still be always in state of freight and terror. Never be arrogant that you are giving something, our friend is really terrible
In Bhit, Shah continually enjoyed the company of his two Indian musicians Ataland Chanchal and agreeable associates like Bilal, Inayat and Wagand, and his two amanuenses, Tamar and Hashim. These companies were devoted to him, and it is said that when in a fit of exasperation and frustration he flung his Risalo in the Kirar Lake, Tamar and his colleague retrieved the loss by transcribing the Risalo from memory. An original manuscript of Shah's Risalo is still treasured by the descendants of Tamar.
Shah was really a great patriot; one has only to read the Sur Marui to know what love Shah bore to the land of his birth. Modern readers go so far as to call him a nationalist and democrat, and see in his poetry a sympathy for the common man far in advance of his age. Shah loved the toiling masses of Sind-the potters, the blacksmiths, the poor peasants, the . weavers and fishermen. He had no feudal notions and no affinity with the robber barons and bigoted priests of his time .
He watched with delight the birds and the beasts about him and drew several" morals from their habits. He re-created in his verse the Sind he loved and uttered the famous benedic¬tion on Sind and all humanity:
O Lord! may Sind be ever prosperous and fertile ....
May all humanity be of cheer!
The Desert and the River that are Sind are immortalised for ever by this poet of Sind. Shah immortalised the simple Sindhi heroines and a few heroes (e. g. Abro) in his verse, and gave shining permanence to Sindhi folklore and legends. No other Sindhi poet has done a tithe of his work in enshrining Sind, its birds and beasts, its flowers and grasses, its artisans and poor toilers, its rustics and fishermen, and, above all, the Sindhi women, in literature.
Shah, became a classic in his own lifetime, and ever after¬wards, his pre-eminence as the. greatest of Sindhi poets has remained un-challenged. Other Sindhi poets have provoked controversies, Shah has evoked only reverential comments. All sections of Sindhis, Muslims and Hindus alike, treasure his Rlsalo as their most precious literary treasure, and even in India, that is Bharat, Shah Abdul Latif rules the hearts of Sindhis.