Bulleh Shah

October 1, 2009

Bulleh Shah, the greatest mystic poet of Punjab, had lived the most tumultuous period of the Sub-continent history during which Mughal dynasty jolted after Aurangezb’s death and his successors first fought each other for the Delhi’s throne and later the attack of Nadir Shah broke the back of Mughal’s rule in India. The subsequent events led to the ascendancy of the British.
Bulleh Shah’s real name was Abdullah Shah and he was born in 1680 at the Pandoke area in Qasur, where his father Sakhi Dervish was a local prayer leader.

He became a disciple of the Qasur’s famous teacher Hafiz Ghulam Murtaza and acquired a deep understanding of the Quran, Hadith (Traditions), Fiqh and Logic. Bulleh Shah was the disciple of the Shah Inayat Qadri Shatari who belonged to the Qadri tradition of the Sufis, which trace their origin to Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad. His affinity to his spiritual leader Shah Inayat grown to such an extent that the people started to taunt him saying that he is a Syed or of the Prophet’s family and Shah Inayat belongs to the Arian which is a lower caste, but he answered the rebukes and taunts of people by saying:

“Let anyone, who calls me a Sayyiad,
Be punished with tortures of hell,
And let him revel in the pleasures of heaven,
Who labels me an Arain” (Translation- J.R. Puri and T.R. Shangari)

Once some action of him annoyed Shah Inayat and it left him in great distress and his poetry is replete with the pain of separation from his master. He tried his utmost to repent his indiscretion but Shah Inayat was not ready to let it go that easy and in a frantic fit Bulleh Shah dressed like a female and reached a party in which his master was also present and started to dance and sing the famous Kafi, Teray ishq nachaya kar thai-ya thai-ya’:

Your love has made me dance all over.
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 (Translation-S.K Duggal)

When Shah Inayat learned it that Bulleh Shah was dancing, he forgave him and he was allowed to the coveted circle of his master.

In the words of K.S. Duggal,”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.” He also became a part of what is called the feud between the Sufis and Orthodox Ulema and even when he died the Ulema refused to lead his funeral prayers. He ridicules the traditionalist Ulema in his poetry by saying:

The Mullahs 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. (Translation-K.S. Duggal)

He died in 1758 and is buried in Qasur and his Kafis are much popular across the Sub-Continent as compared to his own time as he had said in one of his couplet, Bulleh Shah asan marna nahi, gor paya Koi Hor” (It is not me in the grave, it is someone else.”


The history of Basant

February 26, 2009

Basant is a centuries old cultural tradition of Punjab. Over the years it gained element of controversy as the fundamentalism wiped the norms of tolerance and co-existence from our society. Disregard for law and lives of fellow citizens had turned it into a bloody sport. It has become a bone of contention between the so-called liberal elements who term those opposing the festivals as killjoys, while the right-wingers trace its origins to the killing of Hindu who blasphemed Holy Prophet.

Recently, I came across a book “URS AUR MELAY” by Aman Ullah Khan Arman, published by Kitab Manzil Lahore in 1959. I am reproducing the chapter on Basant (p.276-277) here:

“Basant (a Sanskrit word for spring) is a seasonal festival of Indo-Pak sub-continent and it has no religious bearings. Basant heralds spring and celebrated in winter (Magh) on the fourth or fifth day of lunar month. That is why it is called Basant Panchami. Basant season starts on this day, therefore, it is regarded as the herald of spring, wheat grows, and mustard blossoms in this season. (Old Aryan tradition divides a year into six seasons each having two months. Mustard blossom that is yellow in color is considered the color of spring and accordingly yellow outfits are worn).

Sanskrit poet Kalidasa says that rivulets and streams suddenly started gushing, mango bear flowers, honeybees hum and god of love enamors the hearts during Basant.

In pre-partition India Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs celebrated Basant in unison. Basant festivals held in all major cities of Punjab and men wore yellow turbans and women yellow dupattas and saris. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women together play and traditional seasonal songs were sung that reflected the liveliness and romance of Punjabi life. Kite flying was also common but on a small scale with decency.

After partition the festival too lost its original colors. After departure of non-Muslims Basant was reduced to kite flying and other traditions were gradually forgotten. Now a days neither yellow clothes nor swings could be seen or any other civilized activity. Here and there, crowds of kite flyers show their ill manners. Children, grownups and old alike fly kites on rooftops from dawn to dusk. Kite battles and brawls are common scenes.

Most of the kite flyers are less educated or illiterate laborers. Some educated also do the same and the kite flying orgy is spreading among the school children”.

This is a narration of Basant celebration nearly 50 years ago but much has changed. Sadly, the festival has lost its true color and instead became a game of death.