Introduction to Bulleh Shah's Poetry
: K. S. Duggal
The Sufi cult is akin to mysticism. It is believed in some quarters that it was born out of interaction
between Semitic Islam and Aryan Vedantism on the soil of India. This is not the whole truth. Sufism took birth in Arabia in the ninth century. However, the Aryan perceptions in Iran and then in India influenced it a
great deal, more particularly in accentuating the emotional content as against the dry-as-dust self-denial of the Arabs. The Arabs laid stress on asceticism and disciplining of the body, while the later Sufis in Iran
and India, under the influence of Greek philosophy, Platonic ideology, Christian faith, Vedantist thinking, Buddhist lore, etcetera believed in leading an emotionally ~rich life. They drank and danced and advocated that
physical love could sublimate itself into spiritual love. They had faith in God: they loved the Prophet but they maintained that the Murshid or Guru could also lead to realization of the Divine Reality.
speaking, a Sufi is one who is pure or one who goes about with a woollen blanket. In Greek, he is a Sufi who is enlightened. The cardinal features of the Sufi cult are:
(a) God exists in all and all exist in God.
(b) Religion is only a way of life; it does. Not necessarily lead to Nirvana.
(c) All happenings take place as per the will of God; nothing happens if He does not ordain it,
(d) The soul
is distinct from the physical body and will merge into Divine Reality according to a person's deeds,
(e) It is the Guru whose grace shows the way and leads to union with God,
The Sufis believe that there are four stages in one's journey to realization:
(a) Leading a disciplined life as prescribed in Islam (Shariat),
(b) Following the path delineated by the Murshid or Guru (Tariqat),
(c) Gaining enlightenment (Haqiqat),
(d) On realization of truth, getting merged into Divine Reality (Marfat).
The practitioners of the Sufi cult came 10 India following the Muslim conquerors, more with a
view to propagating Islam, There came to be established several centers at Lahore, Pakpattan, Kasur, Multan and Uch in the Punjab, 'However, the most popular sects among them were those which combined in them the best
of every faith and promoted it amongst the people, Bulleh Shah, the noted Sufi poet, belongs to this group.
The Sufis loved God as one would love one's sweetheart. God for a Sufi is the husband and humankind his
wife, Man must serve, love, undergo asceticism, gain enlightenment and then get merged in God, The Indian Sufis laid stress on repeating the Name (Japu), concentration (Dhyan) and meditation (Habs-1~dam), A Sufi must
eschew sin, repent, live a simple and contented life and should look for the grace of the Murshid or Guru. The Sufis maintain that the soul has been separated from the Divine Reality and the supreme mission of human
life is to achieve union with God.
Like the Iranian Sufis who sang the praises of Yusaf Zulaikha, laila Majnun and Shirin Farhad, the Sufis in the Punjab idealised the romances of Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal and
Sassi Punnun. Preoccupied with the metaphysical, they restored the use of symbols drawn from everyday life around them like the spinning-wheel, boat, dowry, etc. As poets, they employed kafi, baramah, athwara, siharfi,
doha, baint and deodh as their favourite poetic forms. Their language is simple and conversational, light and lyrical. There is no denying that they made an indelible impression °on the life and thought of the people of
the Punjab. More important among the Sufi poets who wrote in Punjabi were Shah Husain (1538-
1599), Sultan Bahu (1629-1691), and Shah Sharaf (1640-1724). They were preceded by Farid in the 12th century and
followed by Bulleh Shah (1680-1757), Ali Hyder (1690-1785), Hashim Shah (1735-1843) and others in the 17th and 18th centuries.
More important among the Sufi saints who influenced life in the Punjab were: Data
Ganj Baksh, Sheikh Farid Shakarganj, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Moinuddin Chishti, Nizamuddin Auliya, Mian Meer and Sarmad.
Though he is said to have been born in 1680 A.D., not much is known about Bulleh Shah's
personal life. The little that has been culled from the works attributed to him and the contemporary records testify that he was born in a village called Uch Gilania in Bahawalpur. Later his father Sain Mohammad Oarvesh
moved first to a village known as Malakwal and then to Pandoke near Kausur, not far from Lahore. Bulleh Shah was only six years old at that time. Here he was put under the tutelage of Ghulam Murtza who was the Imam of
one of the mosques in Kasur. There being no regular schools, the practice obtaining in the town was that the mosque served as an elementary school and the Imam of the mosque was entrusted with the task of teaching
children. Ghulam Murtza was a sort of poet who, it is said, had translated Gulistan from the Persian. When Bulleh came of age, he became a Murid of Inayat Shah Qadri of Lahore. This was greatly resented by his people
who were Syeds, while Bulleh Shah's Murshid was a low-caste Araeen, Syeds draw their lineage from Prophet Mohammad. There is evidence of this unpleasantness in Bulleh's verse. The ardent devotee in him says:
Those who call me Syed
Are destined to hell made for them.
Those who call me Araeen
Have the swings of heaven laid for them.
Nevertheless, according to A.N. Walker, Bulleh Shah's sister had to pay
the price for it; she remained unmarried. In 1729 when Shah Inayat died, Bulleh Shah succeeded him as' the master of ceremonies in the monastery at Lahore. According to the epitaph on his tomb, Bulleh Shah died in 1757.
He never married.
A semi-literate Punjabi peasant, Bulleh Shah's search for truth led him on to the spiritual path. And it is when he started enjoying the beauty of truth that his emotional exuberance drove him
to Sufism : singing, dancing and finding expression in verse. However, neither did he care to prepare a Divan nor did he or anyone else ever record the story of his life. His poetry has traveled to us from mouth to
mouth mainly through Qawwals. Similarly, his life has come to us in the form of anecdotes, some of which are reflected in his verse. Maybe it was due to the fact that the Punjab was greatly disturbed between 1710-1750.
If there were any MSS, they must have been lost. It was only in 1882 that one Malik Hira collected his compositions and brought them out from Lahore for the first time.
His first meeting with his Murshid Inayat
Shah is said to have been meaningfully dramatic. It is said that when Bulleh approached his spiritual master, Inayat Shah was engaged in transplanting onion seedlings in his orchard. Finding that Bulleh Shah wished to
be initiated into the fold of divine seekers, Inayat Shah remarked, 'It's not difficult; it is like uprooting here and planting it there.
This clinched the issue. Bulleh Shah became a disciple of Inayat Shah.
It is said that soon after Bulleh Shah annoyed his Master due to some indiscretion and he was thrown out of the Daira. Several months passed; Bulleh begged forgiveness, repented, had other devotees speak to Inayat
Shah who would not relent. Suffering the pangs of separation, Bulleh sang soulful Kafis:
Leaving my parents, I am tied to you
Oh Shah Inayat! My beloved Guru
Whatever happens is ordained by him.
His mandate none dare alter.
My pangs of agony cry aloud
Someone should go and tell my Master
For whom I pine.
As time passed, he went sort of crazy and in a fit of frenzy he disguised himself as
a dancing girl and barged into his Master's Daira singing and dancing:
Your love has made me dance allover.
Falling in love with you
Was supping a cup of poison.
Come, my healer, it's my final hour.
Your love has made me dance all over.
Discovering that it was none other than Bulleh, singing and dancing in abandon, Inayat Shah relented and took him back in his fold.
During the period of his
estrangement with his Master, Bulleh Shah used to roam about in the streets of Lahore in a deranged state of mind. In the prime of his youth, with curly tresses flowing on his shoulders, he was the cynosure of many an
eye. It is said, once passing through a street he saw a middle aged woman doing the hairdo of a newly-wedded bride. Bulleh Shah liked the hairdo and the next time he happened to pass that way, he asked the lady to do a
similar hairdo for him. Who would not oblige a charming youth like Bulleh? It is said that when her husband came to know of it, he gave a severe beating to his wife. As the husband was giving vent to his jealous anger,
there was a knock on the door. Opening the door they found it was no other than Bulleh Shah asking the lady to undo his hairdo! 'My husband wouldn't allow it, he beats me,' said Bulleh and put the woman's husband to
Similarly, when Aurangzeb banned singing and dancing as an un-Islamic practice, Bulleh Shah's Master, Inayat Shah, is said to have advised him to go from village to village in the Punjab singing and
dancing and thus defy the imperial injunction which Bulleh did with impunity.
Bulleh Shah's times were out-of-joint. The Punjab was particularly disturbed. Before he died in 1707, Aurangzeb was preoccupied in the
South, leaving the North to be administered by Governors who had to contend with Marathas and the Khalsa emerging as a formidable force under Guru Gobind Singh. Then there were incursions from the northwest -whether by
Nadir Shah or Ahmed Shah Abdali. There were also fundamentalists like Sheikh Ahmed Sarhandi who infused much communal hatred and disharmony inconsistent with the Sufi way of life and ideology which laid emphasis on the
unity of God, amity and communal cohesiveness. They had little use for formal religion whether it was Islam or Hinduism. They sneered at meaningless rituals and ceremonials and propagated liberation of man from the
stranglehold of blind faith.
When Guru Gobind Singh, a great revolutionary of his time, created the Khalsa by baptising the Sikhs of Guru Nanak with Amrit at Anandpur Sahib in 1699, Bulleh Shah had just come of
age. He was 19 years old. Guru Gobind Singh, a mystic in his own' right, launched a relentless fight against the time-worn rituals and ceremonials of the Hindu Rajas entrenched in the Himalayan belt on the one hand and
the bigotedness and unjust rule of the Mughals on the other. With the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 A.D. the Punjab was plunged into turmoil. The confusion was worst confounded with the attacks of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah
Abdali, more particularly between 1740 and 1750 A.D. Thus until his death in 1757 Bulleh Shah had to witness disintegration allover the Punjab. He bemoans it again and again:
The Mughals quaff the cup of poison.
Those with coarse blankets are up.
The genteel watch it all in quiet,
They have a humble pie to sup.
The tide of the times is in spate.
The Punjab is in a fearsome state.
We have to share the hell of a fate.
What seems to have irked Bulleh Shah, and for that matter his contemporary mystics the most, was the widening gulf between the Hindus
and the Muslims of the day. The root cause of the misunderstanding was Sheikh Ahmed of Sarhand who believed:
"The glory of Islam wlies in ridiculing the non-Muslims. Those who give quarter to Kafirs disgrace
The non-Muslims should be kept at a distance like dogs. They must not be given any consideration or humane treatment. Violence and inhuman behaviour with them are like saying one's prayers. Inflicting
Jazia on them is to humiliate them. This leads them not to wear respectable clothes, do themselves up or make any purchases of luxury goods." Maktoobat-i-lmam Rabbani
The reference to those 'with coarse
blankets' in Bulleh Shah's verse is to the Sikhs. They being an upcoming community were a thorn in the flesh of the Muslim fundamentalists like Aurangzeb who would not tolerate even the Shia Muslims. He had his, own
brother Dara Shikoh who was a Shia murdered mercilessly. The same fate was meted out to Sarmad who was a noted mystic of his time. In his single-minded pursuit of Islamization, Aurangzeb had Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth
Sikh Guru, executed publicly in Delhi.
Aurangzeb was followed by Bahadur Shah who tried to make friends with the Sikhs. cultivated Guru Gobind Singh as his ally, but essentially a weak ruler, the newly forged
friendship was short-lived. He was followed on the Delhi throne by Jahandar Shah (1712-1713), Farrukh Sayyar (1713-1719), Mohammad Shah (1719-1748) and Ahmed Shah (1748-1754). They were all staunch Sunnis. The Governors
appointed to take charge of the Punjab affairs by them were no Gless narrow-minded and communal Sunnis. They were: Munim Khan (1707
1713), Abdul Samad Khan (1713-1726), Zakria Khan (1726-1745), Yahiya Khan
(1745-1747), Shah Niwaz (1747-1748), Mir Moinuddin (1748-1753) and Murad
The Hindus who did not play their tune and the Sikhs in general were persecuted as never before in the annals of
Indian history. In 1732 A.D. Haqiqat Rai, a young boy, was executed because it was believed that he had abused Bibi Fatima when provoked by his Muslim class-fellow with a swearword for a Hindu goddess. Farrukh Sayyar's
regime saw Banda Bahadur subjected to inhuman tortur before he was beheaded in Delhi. During this period every Sikh head, alive or dead, had a price fixed on it. Similarly, Zakariya Khan had Bhai Mani Singh done to
death by slicing his limbs, one after the other. In 1745 Bhai Taru Singh's skull was dismantled and he was put to death. Then during the tenure of Abdul Samad and his son Yahiya Khan an attempt was made to wipe out the
Sikhs as a community altogether. They were either put to the sword or driven to the bushes in the countryside. It is said that, in what has come to be known as Chhota Ghalughara, about 7,000 Sikhs were rounded up in
Kahnuwan forest and killed,. while 3,000 were captured. Those captured were later slain in Lahore and their heads arranged to form a pyramid. Another genocide of the Sikhs took place on 5th February, 1762, when Ahmed
Shah Durrani massacred 22,000 Sikhs in a village called Koop Heera. This came to be known as Wada Ghalooghara. Both the times Harimandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) at Amritsar was destroyed and the Holy Tank defiled.
The most unfortunate ignominy suffered by the Punjab during this period was the repeated incursions of Nadir Shah, starting in 1739 and those of Ahmed
Shah Abdali, whose first attack took place in 1747. These
were both a challenge and an opportunity for the Sikhs. Hounded out of their hearths and homes, they lived virtually on horseback. Organizing themselves into guerrilla squads, they would attack the retreating Afghan
forces w1th loot and relieved them of their booty and rescued thousands of Hindu girls accompanying them as slaves. In due course of time, they evolved themselves into Misals who wielded considerable influence in the
Punjab. And from them emerged a hero known as Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was the first Punjabi to rule over the Punjab in the annals of Indian history.
Such were the times when Bulleh Shah emerged as a protagonist
of communal amity in the Punjab. Living in Kasur with his Murshid in Lahore, he could not but be embroiled in the political changes taking place around him despite the fact that the Sufis tried as far as possible to
steer clear of the contemporary happenings.
Bulleh Shah's was a major voice against injustice. He called Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Sikh Guru, who was beheaded by Aurangzeb, a Ghazi. He hailed Guru Gobind
Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, as a protector of Hinduism:
I talk about neither yesterday nor tomorrow;
I talk about today.
Had Gobind Singh not been there,
They would all be under Islamic sway.
He gave no quarter to hypocrisy. He was particularly hard on Mulla~ Quazi amd Mufti in the Muslim social hierarchy. f1e accepted no discipline. Says he:
I am emancipated, emancipated I am,
I am no prisoner of being born a Syed,
All the fourteen heavens are my territory,
I am slave to none.
Only they shout loud while calling others to prayer
Whose hearts are not pure .
Those who go to Mecca on pilgrimage
Have little else to occupy them here.
It needed a great deal of courage for a Muslim to say all this during the times Bulleh Shah lived in.
The record of the
persecution of the Sufis in India is fairly alarming despite the fact that their contribution to Islam and to Indian society for promoting amity amongst the various communities is no mean.
Jalaluddin Khilji had
Saidi Maula, an eminent Sufi of his time, crushed under the feet of an elephant. Similarly, Alauddin Khilji had almost got Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya beheaded but for a miraculous escape. It is said that Mohammad Bin
Tughlaq had Sheikh Shahabuddin Bin Ahmad murdered with his mouth filled with dung. A similar fate was meted out to Nasiruddin Chiragh Oehlvi who was tortured with holes bored in his cheeks. Firoz Shah had Ahmed Bihari
executed since Bihari's disciples addressed him as God. Jehangir had Guru Arjan, a friend of Mian Mir, tortured to death. Aurangzeb had Guru Tegh Bahadur beheaded.
It was, therefore, highly bold of Bulleh Shah to
have challenged the mindset of the bigoted Muslims of his time:
The Mullas and Qazis show me the light
Leading to the maze of superstition.
Wicked are the ways of the world
Like laying nets for innocent birds
With religious and social taboos
They have tied my feet tight.
Be that as it may, Bulleh Shan maintained:
Shariat is my midwife, Tariqat. is my mother
This is how I have arrived at the truth of Haqiqat.
Despite this, when he was denounced as a heretic, Bulleh Shah shouted back:
A lover of God?
They'll make much fuss;
They'll call you a Kafir
You should say -yes, yes.
He does not differentiate between the Hindu and the Muslim. He sees God in both of them. When he decides to ridicule them, he does not spare either:
Lumpens live in the Hindu temples
And sharks in the Sikh shrines.
Musclemen live in the Muslim mosques
And lovers live in their clime.
Sick of the sophistications of the academicians, he would rather
be happy in the company of the uneducated. He preferred simple folk with faith to the so called enlightened of his day:
Enough of learning, my friend
For it there is no end.
An alphabet would do for me,
No one knows when one's life would end.
The Sufis of the Punjab were close to the saints of the Bhakti Movement. Both denounced fundamentalism. While the Sufis laid emphasis on love, the saints emphasized
devotion. Some of the spiritual stages of the Sufis have parallels in the saints of the Bhakti Movement :
'Aboodiat' of the Sufis is the 'Seva Bhav' of the saints, meaning selfless service.' Similarly, 'Zuhd' is
'Tapassiya', meaning asceticism, 'Tassawar' is 'Dhyan', meaning meditation, 'Habs-i-dam' is 'Pranayam', meaning Yoga breathing exercise, 'Zikr' is 'Simran'. meaning repetition of Name, 'Wisal' is 'Milap',
meaning union and 'Fanah' is 'Abhedata', meaning merger with the Divine.
There were three main cults of Sufism prevalent in India: Qadri, Suhrawardi and Chishti. Bulleh Shah belonged to the Qadri denomination.
The main features of the Qadri cult were:
(a)Developing the spiritual potential by
exercising discipline and self-denial.
(b) Discarding rituals and ceremonials of any
faith, of any type.
(c) Disregard for Shariat as such.
(d) Man can gain realization of the Divine Reality
through the intervention of his Murshid or
Bulleh Shah has delineated his spiritual journey of a Sufi through
various stages as known to his times in his poetry, these being: Shariat, Tariqat, Haqiqat and Marfat. He started his spiritual journey as a conformist. Most of the seekers do so.
Shariat is the preliminary stage
when the Salik conforms to the Sharia or the code of conduct as dictated by Islam. It is saying prayers five times a day, observing fasts during the month of Ramzan. besides faith in the supremacy of God and Prophet
Mohammad as His Messenger. It is said that Bulleh' Shah knew the text of the HOLY QURAN by heart. The way he quotes the Islamic scriptures in his verse speaks volumes for it. Says Bulleh Shah:
Understand the One and forget the rest,
Shake off your ways of a non-believer
Leading to the grave and to hell, in quest.
Tariqat: If Bulleh Shah's verse is any guide, he did not take long to leave
Shariat as a spiritual path behind, At best. he employed it as a stepping-stone. He moved on to Tariqat. which is an important landmark in a Salik's career. The cardinal feature of this stage is the assistance provided
by the~ Murshid or Guru. In fact, what Sharia does in the life of a common devotee, Tarriqat does in the case of a Sufi. The literal meaning of Tariqat is manner or observance. Tariqat according to Bulleh Shah is the
Purslat of Baba Farid, the bridge which helps the seeker pass the arduous path of hard spiritual exercises with the help of the Murshid. The Guru or Murshid is like the philosopher's stone which converts metal into
gold. Good deeds are the dowry that the bride collects at this stage and then qualifies for union with the lord. In the first instance, Bulleh Shah discards the rituals and the ceremonials prescribed by the Shariat:
Burn the prayer mat, break the water pot,
Quit the rosary and care not for the staff.
Having done that. he -"I surrenders to the Murshid who is going to hold h1s hand and cruise him to his
destination. Bulleh's love for his Guru is like that of Heer for Ranjha or Sohni for Mahiwal. It is physical love sublimated into spiritual love:
Why must I go to Kaaba
When I long for Takht Hazara?
People pay their homage to Kaaba
I bow before my Ranjha.
Haqiqat: The third stage of his spiritual journey to which Bulleh Shah refers time and again in his verse is Haqiqat or the realization of truth.
The devotee understands and accepts the existence of God. God is truth. God exists in everything around us. This concept has been described in the Sufi idiom as Hamaost. When the Salik comes to realize it. he no longer
discriminates between the Hindu and the Muslim. the temple and the mosque. He hears the call of the Muezzin in the flute-strains of an idol worshipper:
Pour not on prayers, forget the fasts.
Wipe off Kalma from the sight.
Bulleh has found his lover within,
Others grope in the pitch-dark night.
What a spark of knowledge is kindled ~
I find that I am neither Hindu nor Turk.
I am a lover by creed;
A lover is victorious even when swindled.
At this stage Bulleh Shah has little use for books and learning:
The rest is all but idle talk,
What counts is the name of Allah, it looks.
Some confusion is created by the learned,
And the remaining g1ess is entailed in books.
Marfat: This is the last stage of the spiritual evolution of a Sufi.
It is the merging into Divine Reality called Fana and thus attaining the life eternal known in the Sufi idiom as Baqa. The Murshid helps the seeker arrive at this stage but it is the grace which makes possible the
ultimate union. The moment this happens, caste and creed cease to have any meaning. The Atma (Soul) and Paramatma (God) become one. When Bulleh attained this stage, the entire world appeared to him as a reflection of
the Divine Reality, Bulleh has merged in God:
Remembering Ranjha day and night,
I've become Ranjha myself.
Call me Dhido Ranjha,
No more I be addressed as Heer.
I abuse Ranjha but adore him in my heart.
Ranjha and Heer are a single soul,
No one could ever set them apart.
Be that as it may, Bulleh Shah's Sufism is Quranic Sufism. At least to start with. When he
breaks this code, he hardly ever goes beyond the limits laid down by his tribe earlier. However later in due course, he is influenced by the Saint tradition prevalent in the Punjab during his times. Like a practicing
Yogi, he advocates Habs-i-dam or Pranayam which leads to union with God: .
Heer and Ranjha have already met,
In vain she looks for him in the orchard;
Ranjha rests in the knots of her net.
Similarly, he refers to the ten Dwars of the yogis:
It is for you that I am imbued with greed.
Closing the nine Dwars, I went to sleep.
I come to the tenth and ask your leave.
My love for you is ever so deep.
The place Bulleh Shah gives to his Murshid in his spiritual evolution reminds one of the importance of the Guru in the Sikh faith as obtaining in the tradition of the Bhakti
Leaving my parents I am tied to you,
O Shah Inayat, my beloved Guru!
Keep the promises made,
Do come to me.
The immortality of the soul is indicated thus:
I was in the beginning, I'd be in the end,
Who could be wiser than me?
In the tradition of the saints of the Bhakti Movement, Bulleh Shah styles himself as the bride. God is the bridegroom :
How many knots should I tie for my wedding?
My learned friend, advise!
The marriage party must come on the prescribed date,
Will forty knots be wise?
Unlike the general trend of the Sufi poets,
Bulleh Shah is humble. He finds faults in himself. He has faith in his Master's mercy. It is the grace of God
which will eventually cruise him across :
I'm a poor scavenger of the court of the True Master.
Bare-foot, unkempt hair, I have been summoned from beyond.
In order to kill one's ego and cultivate control over all temptations, unlike his contemporaries, Bulleh Shah does not prescribe Zuhd and
torturing the body to submission. on the other hand, like the Saints of the Bhakti Movement, he believes in love and devotion. At the most, he is seen suffering the pangs of separation and no more:
In my passion of union with him,
I've lost all count of form;
I laid my bed in the public park
And went to sleep in my lover's arms.
I am broken, I am bent,
Tell him how I am pining for him;
My disheveled hair, with the tying band in my hand,
Feel not embarrassed, do go and tell him oh messenger!
Bulleh Shah goes a step further. He seems even to have been influenced by what is known as the
Bhagwat tradition. He is enamored of Krishna's flute. The flute notes seem to have a peculiar pull for him :
Bulleh Shah was captivated
The moment he heard the flute,
Frenzied he ran towards the Master
Whom and how should he salute?
The tilt Bulleh Shah's Sufism has more particularly in the later period towards the Saint tradition belonging to> the Bhakti Movement could also be due to his having
belonged to the Qadri cult of the Sufis. The Qadri cult is close to the Nirgun Bhakti Mat, akin to the Sikh faith. Its founder was Abdul Qadir Jeelani of Iran. Bulleh Shah's Master, Inayat Shah, was also a Qadari. Says
Come Inayat Qadri!
I long for you.
Bulleh Shah was no less conscious of reforming his society. He was a severe critic of the clergy whether Islamic or Brahminic. He ridicules them for
the way they exploit the people and mislead them with false promises. He calls them thugs :
The thugs with their mouths full of froth
Talk about life and death
Without making any sense.
With the fundamentalist, he is more severe :
If you wish to be a ghazi,
Take up your sword :
Before killing the Kafir
You must slaughter the swindler.
Bulleh Shah is credited with the following works:
This is the whole lot that appears in his name in various collections
published from time to time. A considerable part of it is unauthentic. The first time an academician in Or. Mohan Singh Diwana' researched on Bulleh Shah's work, he seems to have found only 50 Kafis genuinely composed
by the Sufi Saint. This was in the thirties of the twentieth century. Syed Nazir Ahmed of Lahore (Pakistan) compiled a fairly prestigious volume of Bulleh Shah's work in 1976 in which he has included 66 Kafis besides a
few miscellaneous pieces. Interpolations have been galore. His Kafis at times seem to vary as they travel from Pakistan to India.
Kafi has no specific mould called Chhand in Punjabi poetics. It has, however, a
prescribed manner of presentation as light classical music. Rather than a Raga, some scholars have called it a Ragini. Long before Bulleh Shah, Guru Nanak wrote three Kafis. We have five more Kafis in the Holy Granth,
one each of Guru Amardas and Guru Ram Das, two of Guru Arjan and one of Guru Tegh Bahadur. These Kafis are available in Ragas Asa, Suhi, Tilang and Maru. Besides light classical musicians, Kafi singing is popular with
Qawwals who make their presentations in choruses and carry the audience with them as if in a trance. Kafis, as text, sing the praises of the Murshid and the Divine Reality, refer to the transitoriness of the world and
also describe the pangs of separation of the devotee from the Guru and seeker from God. At times Kafis deal with social and political themes as well. Bulleh does it time and again. As regards the form, more often than
not, Bulleh provides a refrain which provides relief as well as underlines the theme of the Kafi:
Strange are the times!
Crows swoop down on hawks.
Sparrows do eagles stalk.
Strange are the times!
The Iraqis are despised
While the donkeys are prized.
Strange are the times!
Those with coarse blankets are kings,
The erstwhile kings watch from the ring.
Strange are the times!
It's not without rhyme or reason.
Strange are the times!
Athwara: Taking week days as the basis, Athwara is generally the expression of a love-torn beloved (Soul) separated from the lover (God) .The
beloved expects the lover every day, waits for him but he is to be seen nowhere. As poetic form. the first couplet of the Athwara has a longer measure which is sung by the leader of the choral group. It is followed by
short-measure couplets sung by the rest of the party. Bulleh Shah's Athwaras are, in fact, Satwaras, starting with Saturday and terminating with Friday. Though a rebel by conviction, Bulleh Shah follows the Islamic
calendar in Athwaras and Baramah. A specimen :
I better have a look at my love on Saturday
Maybe I don't come home the next day.
What a Saturday it is !
Suffering from the pangs of love, I pine.
I look for you in dales and deserts,
It's past midnight, I hear the chimes.
I miss you.
Longing for you every moment,
Sleeping at night, I encounter tigers.
I cry for help at the top of my voice
Spears piercing my every fiber.
I remain yours.
Baramah as a poetic form is a great deal popular in the Indian languages. Like Athwara, in Baramah the poet makes every month a basis for recounting his woes
in separation from his lover. An attempt is also made to depict the peculiar climatic features of the month, more often than not with a view to associating them with the emotional intensity of the lover pining for his
beloved. In a poetic form Baramah is also like Athwara with the first couplet in a larger measure to be sung by the leader, followed by short-measure couplets presented by the rest of the choral group. Baramah can be
intensely passionate at times while describing the plight of the love-torn beloved in the rainy season or in the long winter nights. A specimen :
The month of Phagun reflects in fields
The way someone dresses in flowers.
Every branch is laden with blossoms,
Every neck has the look of a bower.
My friends celebrate Holi.
My eyes are a brimming trough.
Tears give me a miserable time,
I am torn with slings of love .
Whatever happens is ordained by Him.
His mandate none dare alter.
My pangs of agony cry out aloud
Someone should go and tell my Master,
For whom I pine.
Doha is a typical Punjabi poetic form though it has no prescribed measure as such. It is in fact a couplet that rhymes and is complete in itself. It reveals a fact of life or makes a
telling observation. It can be an emotional outburst or a reference to a political happening or ridiculing a social foible. A few specimens :
Day before Bulleh Shah was an atheist,
He worshipped idols yesterday.
He had no occasion to commune with Him
Though he sat at home today.
Bulleh loves the Muslim
And salutes the Hindu lord.
He welcomes home all those
Who remember the Almighty God.
Bulleh treads the path of love,
It is an endless road.
A blind man meets the blind,
Who should wield the goad?
Siharfi or acrostic is another poetic form which was
very popular with the medieval poets in the Indian languages. There was a time when every major poet tried his hand at writing a Siharfi. It is taking an alphabet from the script of the language and building the
composition, followed by the next alphabet and so on. Guru Nanak has a highly sophisticated acrostic called Patti to his credit. It figures in the Holy Granth. Bulleh Shah's acrostic is devoted mainly to man's yearning
for union with the Divine. A specimen:
Alif -He who meditates on Allah
His face is pale, his eyes bloodshot.
He who suffers pangs of separation,
No longer he longs his life ~ last.
Say -Soulful is my love for you,
Whom shall I go and tell?
In the swelling waters of a river at midnight
A wailing swallow fell.
Gandhan or knots as a poetic form owes its origin to a practice
prevailing among the tribals of the Sunderbans and Ganjibar of the Punjab (Pakistan) who when they fix a marriage date, tie the number of knots and the bride's family would then untie a knot every morning so that the
marriage ceremony is celebrated on the day decided upon earlier. Bulleh Shah uses this device to depict his wait for his union with his Murshid. Every day untying a knot brings him closer to the long-cherished union
with the Master. A specimen :
How many knots should I tie for my wedding?
My learned friend, advise!
The marriage party must come on the prescribed day,
Will forty knots be wise?
Untying the first knot I sat and cried.
Since I must go one day, better get the dowry dyed.
Bulleh Shah's language is Central Punjabi but when he is emotionally charged, he waxes eloquent into Lehndi, the
South-eastern dialect. There are traces of other Punjabi dialects also in his poetry which could, perhaps, be attributed to interpolations and the fact that his work has travelled from mouth to mouth. While singing in
chorus the Oawwals are known to deviate from the original text. Bulleh Shah employs classical terms and phrases whether from the Persian or the Sanskrit according to the philosophic content of his verse. His language is
replete with eternal truths, which are in common use in the Punjab in everyday life. As a poet, some of his expressions remain unsurpassed :
The sun has set; its flush only is left.
A peacock calls in the grove of passion.
Mohammad Baksh, a great bard of his time, writing in 1864, was, perhaps, the first to recognize Bulleh Shah's talent. Says he:
Listening to Bulleh's Kafis Rids one of blasphemy.
He, indeed, has swum
God's ocean of eternity.
question that nags a reader of Bulleh Shah's work is that if Sarmad and other Sufi saints who talked the way Bulleh talked could not escape the ire of the fundamentalists and were done to death, how is it that Bulleh
could escape this fate? More, when he spoke so endearingly about the Sikhs who were at logger heads with the rulers of the day. There appear to be two reasons for it. Firstly, when Bulleh Shah was at the peak of his
glory, Mughal rule was on the decline. The administration was much too preoccupied with law and order to take notice of such social aberrations. Secondly, unlike Hinduism, Sikhism is close to Islam conceptually, though
it is nearer Hinduism socially. Guru Nanak who believed, there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim was still venerated in the Punjab as 'Baba Nanak Shah Faqir; Hindu ka Guru, Musalman ka Pir' (Guru Nanak the great man of
God! He is the Guru of the Hindu and Pir of the Muslim). Even Guru~ Gobind Singh, the reigning Sikh Guru, had a large number of followers among the Muslims like Pir Budhu Shah, Nihang Khan, Ghani Khan, Nabi Khan and
others. Writing in his book, Sufis, Mystics and Yogis of India, Banke Bihari says, 'It was a period when Mughal supremacy was fading out and the Sikhs were gaining supremacy. He (Bulleh Shah) met Shri Guru Gobind
Singhji and others and heard to his great pain of the atrocious deeds of the Muslims in decapitating the heads of Hindu saints. It was a time when a few decades earlier Sarmad had been beheaded by Alamgir for his
pantheistic leanings. ,
Bulleh Shah is classed with Kabir and is said to belong to the Saint tradition of the Sufis. The Punjab witnessed the emergence of the two main cults of the
Sufis: The Quranic Sufis
and the Neo-Platonic Sufis. Amongst the Quranic Sufis in the Punjab are listed: Fard Faqir, and Ghulam Rasul. Those listed as NeoPlatonic Sufis are: Hafiz Barkhurdar, Ali Hyder, Ahmed Yar, Muqbal and Waris Shah. Unlike
all these Baba Farid, Shah Husain and Bulleh Shah are closer to the saint tradition of the Bhakti Movement. They seek union with the Divine on the lines of the Nirguna Bhaktas. Says Bulleh Shah
I have wiped off the Kalma
And found my Lord within me.
The whole world is deceived.
Bulleh Shah's mysticism is the assertion of the soul against the formality of religion. He came to believe that it is
possible to establish a direct link with God. His is the eternal yearning of the human soul to .have direct experience of Divine Reality.
Bulleh Shah's Sufism was no doubt Quranic to start with. But the Shariat
has relevance as long as duality persists; the moment duality disappears, one is liberated from all bonds. This is exactly what seems to have happened with Bulleh Shah. He qualified himself to Tariqat. He became
liberated. He became a part of the Divinity. He sees himself in everything around him.
Before the Sufi cult arrived in India, it had crossed many a bridge. The Saint tradition of the Bhakti Movement was yet
another influence which it imbibed and gave birth to a distinct variety of Sufism which is rooted in the Punjabi soil. It was a happy mixture of Sabar and Takwa, Santokh and Riazat, Takkawal and Toba, Raza and Prem.
Bulleh Shah played a prominent role in it. According to Lajwanti Raffia Krishna writing in Punjabi Sufi Poets: 'He is one of the greatest Sufis of the world and his thought equals that of Jalal-ud-din Rumi and Shams
Tabrez of Persia.
1995 New Delhi