The lyrical folk tale of Sassi Punnu does not merely tell the tragic tale of two lovers but also speaks of the lilting romance of the River Indus, the resounding echo of the arid Baluch mountains, the dry, hot, sandy air wafting in the Thar Desert and the pleasing fragrance of the city of Bhambhor as described by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the 18th century Sindhi Sufi poet, scholar, mystic and saint in his poetic compilation Shah jo Risalo. The story of Sassi Punnu is the most famous of the seven tragic Sindhi romances that Shah Latif immortalized in his work. In keeping with Sufi tradition, he penned the tales not just as earthly love affairs but as examples of eternal love and divine union. Having lived during the golden age of Sindhi culture, Latif is considered to be the greatest Muslim poet of the Sindhi language. In fact, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, called Shah Latif “(the) direct emanation of (the Persian poet) Rumi’s spirituality in South Asia”
As with all folk tales, there are many versions of this romance. This version has been adapted from the tale written by Shafi Aqeel in his book Pakistan kee Lok Dastanain (The Folk Tales of Pakistan) by Professor Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti, a lecturer at IIU in Islamabad and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
During Raja Dilu Rai’s rule in 11th century AD in Sindh, in Brahminabad on the bank of Bhambhor Canal near Gharo district, Thatta lived a Hindu Raja called Tania with his wife Mandhar who were childless. Desperate for a son, they visited temples, presented offerings and supplicated pundits, pujaris, yogis and faqeers for their blessings. Finally, one day the couple was fortunate enough to have a baby girl. Though they had prayed for a son, they rejoiced at the birth of their beautiful baby. As per Brahmin traditions, the parents went to an astrologer to foresee their daughter’s future. The astrologer carefully studied the birth-chart, made planetary calculations, and in a portentous manner declared that their daughter would bring disgrace to their royal house by marrying a Muslim boy.
The strict Brahmin couple was devastated. But they couldn’t kill their precious baby. For the sake of family honour and their upper caste status, they made a difficult decision. They put their baby daughter in a wooden box and, early one morning when it was still dark, floated it on to the River Indus, hoping she would be rescued by a kind soul.
By afternoon, the box floated into the dhobi ghaat (riverside laundry) of Bhambhor, a busy trading city at that time. The laundry owner Atta was a prosperous businessman employingscores of washermen serving the entire town. Atta and his wife too were childless and had made pilgrimages to the shrines of saints, dervishes and Sufis, donated charity and fed the hungry in the hopes of being blessed with a child.
The box was fished out of the river and a beautiful baby girl, sucking her right thumb, was found inside. The washerman took it to Atta. As soon as he looked inside the box, the baby smiled at him. Atta was instantaneously smitten; he picked her up, hugged her and took her home to his wife.
“Look, God has given us a daughter, bright and beautiful as the moon,” he announced happily. His wife was equally thrilled. They named their adorable newly adopted daughter, Sassi, the moon.
Sassi was raised in the lap of luxury. Atta spared no expense to bring her up. She was cosseted and petted as the only child of a prosperous dhobi. Sassi grew up to be absolutely beautiful.
Proud of his daughter who had a regal mien, the dhobi built a splendid new mansion teamed with maid servants to do her every bidding. Artisans decorated the interior with colourful tiles imported all the way from Central Asia. In Sassi’s bedroom a mural depicted the legendary Arab tale of Qais and Laila. Hence, she dreamt of love and romance whether sleeping or awake. Horticulturists and landscapers cultivated the garden with fruit trees, both indigenous and exotic as well as colourful fragrant flowers. She daily roamed her garden like the princess she was and distributed alms amongst the needy as a sweet, charitable girl. Soon Sassi’s fame spread far and wide.
Bhambhor lay on the route to various mercantile cities. Caravans from far off areas camped here to sell goods and restock. Atta owned a camping site behind his garden where he welcomed the travelers since the business they brought was welcome to the town. Occasionally, the lucky amongst them enjoyed the relaxing garden and even got to feast their eyes on the nubile Sassi. Tales of her beauty the foreign traders took back with them wherever they went.
One day, a caravan from Kech Makran camped there and some of the travelers chanced upon Sassi roaming blissfully unaware in her garden. On their return to Kech Makran, a mirasi (folk singer) related the tale of “drinking from the flood of (her) beauty.”
“Sassi is the prettiest of all girls in the world. Oh prince, she is absolutely matchless. She is a fairy from Koh Kaaf. Her eyes are deeper than oceans on the earth, her cheeks are brighter than stars in the sky, her voice is sweeter than the cuckoos in the jungles. Whoever sees her smiling loses heart to her,” he described the teenager reverently.
Punnu became agog to see the famous beauty for himself. “Think of the best plan to reach the famous beauty of Bhambhor. Let me know of your advice by tomorrow,” he told his advisors to concoct a plan for him to be able to see the beauty for himself.
One advisor devised a plan that the prince could not only see but interact with the well guarded Muslim girl: “A caravan should take a variety of perfumes to Bhambhor and you should go along with it as a musk trader.”
Punnu got permission from his father, the Raja Aari Jam, to travel incognito. He put together a caravan carrying exotic imported perfumes that would tempt a fine lady to acquire. As the caravan of the perfume sellers reached Bhambhor, the whole city was bathed in the fragrance of its wares. Even Sassi heard that a handsome trader called Punnu had arrived from Kech Makran hawking special perfumes.
All the Bhambhor residents and merchants from neighbouring areas flocked to where Punnu’s caravan had set up shop. Leaving the business of selling to the rest of the traders, Punnu kept his eyes peeled towards the entrance of the camp throughout the day waiting for a glimpse of the fair Sassi.
Finally, in the afternoon, accompanied by her friends, Sassi visited the site on a shopping expedition. As soon as Punnu spotted Sassi amidst her friends, he knew she was The One. She was far more beautiful than his imagination had pictured. In her turn, Sassi as she dealt with the trader, the Prince in disguise also fell in love with him at first sight.
“Back home, Sassi discovered that Punnu was now in her veins. He was everywhere: in the air, on flowers, in the mirror, on her tongue. She could not like anything, experienced a strange restlessness in sitting, discomfort in sleeping, unease in walking. She didn’t know how to describe this self, this no self. Had no idea of how to cure herself, not sure if she really wanted to cure herself of the sweetness of pain. Finally, she sought her best friend’s council. ‘I love the young musk trader. Think of some way that he is mine—mine forever.’”
A guileless female always confides tales of her love to her best friend who tries to help her win in the game of love. Likewise Sassi confided to her best friend who went to Punnu to guage his intentions. He readily admitted that that the sole aim of his life was to attain Sassi. Then, she went to convince Sassi’s parents to marry her to the young man. “Sassi is unable to live without him. And I must tell you, Punnu isn’t an ordinary man. He is the prince of his tribe in Kech Makran, and is the handsomest of men,” argued the girl earnestly.
But Atta would have none of it. He replied, “Punnu is a traveler. We know nothing about his caste and family. How can we give our beautiful daughter’s hand to a stranger? She will marry someone from our own fraternity, a dhobi,”
Sassi’s friend thought on her feet, “Actually, I have heard that Punnu too belongs to a tribe of dhobis, they only trade in perfumes. You can ask him to wash some clothes as a test.”
So Atta agreed to invite him to their house. Punnu, a prince in reality, went over pretending to be a laundryman. Atta bid him to wash a sack full of clothes to test his veracity.
At the time, clothes in the Subcontinent were washed by beating them on a stone at the edge of a water body. Prince Punnu beat the clothes against rocks besides the mighty gushing Indus River, hurting his hands and tearing the clothes. When Sassi got to know that he had torn most of the clothes were torn, she told her friend to carry a message:
“Tell Punnu to fold the clothes and place a coin of gold in every torn piece. The people of my town will be happy to see gold and won’t complain to my father.”
Punnu folded gold coins in the folds of the clothes. The townspeople demurred and Atta gave his permission reluctantly. He made Punnu promise that he would not take away his only daughter but would take up residence with them in Bhambhor after his wedding to Sassi. Punnu readily agreed.
Punnu’s brothers and friends came from Kech Makran for the wedding. Atta threw an extravagant and magnificent celebration in honour of his only daughter’s wedding.
While they were enjoying Atta’s gracious hospitality, Punnu’s brothers urged him to return to Kech Makran where their father was waiting for him, but Punnu refused to leave his ladylove’s side. When he wouldn’t budge, they returned home without him.
Upon reaching Kech Makran, brother Chunru told this to their father Aari Jam. Punnu, being his youngest son, was the baby of the family. Their handsome prince abandoning his life in the palace for the life of a dhobi, it was unthinkable! His parents wanted their bewitched son back at all costs.
Aari sent a messenger to tell him to immediately return. The messenger tracked down Punnu washing clothes sitting at the dhobi ghaat with other dhobis. “My Lord, this job is beneath your dignity. You are our prince. Come back to home and lead a life that suits your stature,” he said.
“Go back and tell my father and brothers to forget me. I will never be able to go away from here. My home is where my Sassi lives,” the erstwhile prince replied.
The messenger explained how worried his father was, and how the Prince had lowered himself to the level of an ordinary worker by washing clothes. But when Punnu paid no heed.
Aari Jam was so upset when he heard his messenger’s account that he felt dizzy and fell unconscious with worry. Seeing their father sicken, Punnu’s brothers, Chunru, Hoti and Noti put their heads together.
“We must do something to save our father from this agony,” said Hoti, the eldest. “I can’t see him suffer anymore.”
“Yes, we must bring Punnu back to Kech Makran, no matter what price we have to pay,” said Noti.
The brothers strode swift camels and rode toward Bhambhor to bring their brother back in any way possible.
Not being aware of their true design, Punnu and Sassi were thrilled that his brothers had finely accepted his marriage and were visiting them.
Nightly they laid out grand feasts and entertainment for them with mehfil (gathering) of singing, dancing and drinking. Hoti, Noti and Chunru bided their time. First they tried to convince Punnu to return by telling him how their father suffered, how sick he had become pining for him, “If you don’t come back soon, our father will no longer be alive.”
Punnu said categorically that he would never return.
One night, Chunru, Hoti and Noti did not get drunk but let Punnu have his fill and pass out. As Sassi kept waiting for Punnu in their bedroom, she applied henna to her left hand. She eventually fell asleep with the henna stick in her hand. The stick was to be planted in soil in the morning according to the custom in those days.
As soon as Punnu passed out, his brothers picked him up and flung him across a camel’s back. They quickly and quietly left for Kech Makran without disturbing the sleeping household.
In the morning, Sassi woke up to find herself alone in bed. Punnu was nowhere to be found. “My Punnu has been abducted by his brothers. They have deceived me,” she shrieked.
Devastated at her loss, she dashed out without even putting on her shoes, wailing his name. Her parents and the servants ran after her.
“Where is my Punnu?” She kept repeating inconsolably. “I’ll find him. I will find him.”
Threatening to kill herself if they stopped her, Sassi ran towards the jungle outside Bhambhor. Her parents and servants followed her but they lost track of her when twilight fell in the thick jungle. Sassi ran madly crossing the jungle, over the barren land, sandy dessert and craggy mountains. Her feet got cut over the thorns, branches, rocks and hot sand, but she didn’t even notice.
All are enemies, camels, camel men and brother in laws,
Fourth enemy is wind that removed the foot prints of Punnun,
Fifth enemy is sun which delayed its setting,
Sixth enemy is sky which did not make travel easy,
Seventh enemy is moon which did not shine longer
(Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, as translated by Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti)
Sassi walked another few miles before her blistered and bleeding feet became too sore and painful to walk on. She had reached the Harho mountain range where she was spotted by a shepherd from a distance. “Where is my Punnu? Have you seen my Punnu?” Sassi asked the uncivilized goatherd.
The lascivious man sought to take advantage. “You are searching for one Punnu? In this world everyone is a Punnu for you. I am Punnu for you. My father, my grandfather, my seven generations are Punnu for you. My sheep, my donkey, all the animals are Punnu for you.” He flung himself on her, desirous of raping her and fulfilling his baser animal urges.
“O merciless man, I am dying of thirst and you assault me. Fear Allah and get me something to drink,” Sassi begged him.
As the shepherd relented enough to get her some milk from his goats, Sassi beseeched Allah to order the ground to open and swallow her up. “O Almighty, the One who listens to the helpless, help me out in this moment of trouble. I am Punnu’s trust. Protect my honor from the wickedness of this shepherd. You and only You can hear me in this barren land!”She moaned with tears streaming down her face.
Her prayer was heard.
Suddenly the ground beneath her shook and split open. The crevice widened to engulf her into its protection and closed over her again, leaving only the border of her duppatta as a trace above ground. The shepherd got so scared to witness this miracle that he fell in a sajda and begged forgiveness from Allah.
To atone for his sin, he became the caretaker of Sassi’s grave. To mark it, he placed stones around where the spot where she had disappeared into the ground and built a small hut for himself nearby.
Meanwhile, the brothers had reached Kech Makran without incident. Punnu didn’t get a chance to escape because they had tied him to the back of a camel.
Punnu kept protesting, “I won’t go to Makran. Leave me here. I have to go back to my wife, my love. Don’t try to separate us, you can’t do that,” but they were adamant.
Though his old sick father Aari Jam felt so happy to finally see him home, Punnu didn’t care and said, “Release me. Let me go to my Sassi. She would be worried. She will die without me. I have to go to Sassi. I have to go to Sassi. Please release me.”
After failing to convince him, Aari Jam, a wise, thoughtful man, feared Punnu might harm himself if they didn’t relent. Eventually, he sent for his elder sons and told them, “Take him back to Bhambhor and bring both Punnu and Sassi here. He can’t live without his woman, and we can’t see him in this condition.”
Lying to Punnu that they were going to leave him to live with Sassi in Bhambhor, the brothers prepared for their journey.
Aari told them, “Bring Sassi to Kech Makran at any cost, and come back at your earliest possible. We’ll live to see the woman, who thieved a beautiful chamber of our heart.”
“Don’t worry, father. We’ll follow your wish and wisdom,” chorused all three in unison.
Punnu was desperate to get back as soon as possible. “Had he got wings, he would have flown to her. Since the time they had separated him from his Sassi, Punnu behaved like a stranger.”
When they reached the spot where Sassi had been “veiled under the earth,” Punnu’s sixth sense averted him. Pulling the reins of his camel, he looked around to detect her by now tattered dupatta border peeping out from the ground surrounded by stones. What was Sassi’s dupatta doing her and why did he feel her presence? He saw the shepherd squatting down on his haunches at the entrance of a nearby hut and asked him politely “Whose grave is this?” He had an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach that he already knew the answer to his own question.
The shepherd burst out crying and sobbed, “She is the devoted lover of someone called Punnu. She was running about madly, calling out his name. and took refuge here in this rock.”
His worst fears had come true. He fell down on his knees and folding his hands together in supplication offered Fateha for his beloved Sassi casting his streaming eyes upwards. “O You the Creator of love and of the lovers, O the Greatest Healer of the injured souls, send me to where Sassi is, to where Love is,” he prayed to God.
All afternoon he repeated his prayer. Finally, in answer, the ground shook again, the rock split open and Punnu hurriedly fell in calling out Sassi’s name. The rock closed behind him, reuniting the lovers that no one again could put asunder.
Punnu’s brothers stood stock still terrified. The shepherd dissolved in tears; he was now the custodian of a single grave of the two lovers, and the tale of their miraculous and divine love. The brothers realized how wrong they had been to try to come between a love sanctioned by Allah; how grave a sin they had committed in their shallow, earthly considerations. After pondering over their grave mistake, they recited a Fateha for the lovers and, with a heavy heart, departed for Kech Makran.
Sassi Punnu’s alleged grave is located near Lasbela, 45 miles away in the Pub range to the west of Karachi. Haji Muhammad, an affluent resident of the area, constructed a simple mausoleum in 1980, which is visited by those from near and far. Ruins of Punnu’s fort are likewise located in Turbat.
Seeking the Beloved- In the spirit of Shah Abdul Latif
It is exhilarating to know that in these troubled times for Muslims, Sufi scholars of yesteryear are distinctly revered by people of all communities, faiths & sects. Gyaan Adab organized a book reading session by Author Anju Makhija, of her book of poetry. This book is an English translation of Shah Abdul Latif sur ( or couplets) from the Sindhi language .
Shah Latif, a mystic & poet from erstwhile Sindh, that extended from Sindh in Pakistan to Kacch in present India. Shah Latif of Bhittai, a place in Sindh were his mausoleum is built, wandered these areas during his lifetime in the quest of God. His followers now are pastoral nomads are rendering his tradition with folk tales, poems & recitals of his couplets .
So what is that Sufi’s spoke about that still reverberates with current generation?
Well, its imperative with all the references to wine, love & the beloved it was about annihilation of self/ ego, sacrificing the self for the love of Allah ( beloved). More we see engulfed in the wars, fueled by greed, over-consumption & urge to have more couplets of Shah Latif make immediate sense :
Their ego the ascetics have killed,
They wish their unity with God to be fulfilled .
Or if we were to contrast that with the lives of new age godmen in the modern era, who roam around in private jets, carry their own cavalcade of personal body-guards & enjoy a luxurious life, to them Shah sahab said :
Those jogis who treasure Food and cloth for their pleasure,
From them God will stay Still farther and away .
Sufi’s spoke of universal love & brotherhood and their teachings transcended through different religions . For them being “Good” was more important without attaching strings of religion. In short they loved humanity & so does humanity still loves them .
As you would have understood by now, they spoke the universal language of Love for all.
An important theme of Sufi poets of subcontinent, has been their emphasis on correcting the inner spiritual self & purifying it from within :
Faith does not in that direction lie that the Kalima you day and night cry,
Your heart is imprisoned in falsehood With Islam you mask your face Within, many idols hold their place?
What are you waiting for ?
The inherent qualities of spiritual masters has always been, once the inspiration strikes, to go out & seek their true love , i.e. God or as Shah Latif said :
Do not care about hot or cold weather,
Do not think about rest,
You should push forward without wasting your time because if you become late,
darkness will spread all around and you will not be able to see the footprints of your beloved .
I have seen wanderers (ascetics) who do not sleep
They wandered in wilderness acquired ascetic knowledge
They happened to wander there, where there is nothing except nothingness
PAAN(N) PAHER DU PAAN(N) KHEY TALIB SUN(N)JH TU(N)
NAKA HAA(N) NA HUU(N) PARDA SUBB PAASEY THIYA
O seeker listen, egoism acts as a casing against you
Preclude all ego and arguments, all the veils then be removed
KHAHUREIN KHAFI SEE(N) SUJHEY LADDO SUBHAAN
AASHIQ AHREY AKHRIYAN LUNGHIYA LA MAKAAN
HU MEI(N) GHADHJI HU THIYA BABU JE BHARBAN(N)
SUBBOI SUBHAAN AAYO NAZAR ATHAN JE
The ascetic seekers sought the Lord through secret devotion
This way the lovers passed through a space less place
Those ascetics who roasted themselves in love
United with beloved, They saw the Lord's manifestations every where
These glimpses of poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s work shows his greatness cannot be grasped fully
‘I Saw Myself’ features new translations of the Sindhi Sufi poet’s works by Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi.
Kabir says the well is one
Water bearers many
Their pots are of different shapes
But the water in them in one
I thought the path was one
But there were a thousand million
Whoever took whichever one
Made it across the ocean
One palace, one million doors
Countless windows in between
From wherever I took
The Beloved is before me
Shah Abdul Latif
The beauty of language, the inwardness of the translation, in the three verses above tell us of the many journeys pursuers-translators have made. It exemplifies not only the continuity of syncretic thought but also a co-habitation of different regions (through Kabir from north India, Mekan Dada from Kutch, Shah Abdul Latif from Sindh) that refuse to stay fixed.
In my mind Shah Abdul Latif collapses with an unforgettable visual I remember from my visit to Jerusalem. After days of witnessing the hostile intimacy with which the Jewish, Christian and Muslim sides in East Jerusalem cohabited, I encountered a view through a glass window that overlooked the structures of all three religions, but was divided and distorted in the window frame. What that brought home was how no narrative is available in the singular; that choosing one over others is possible only through a manipulated vision. Between the villages of Kutch on the Indian side of the border and those in Tharparker across the international boundary resonate with the voice Shah Abdul Latif.
A passion project
As I hold I Saw Myself : Journeys with Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, it’s difficult not to feel somewhat infected by the passion that must have accompanied Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi when they undertook the project. Each time I say “project” in such a context I am reminded of Farid Ayaz’s words to Virmani recorded in the film Had-Anhad, “Isko zindagi ka project banayein.” And that’s exactly what Kabir and now Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai are – life projects.
And just as we don’t live life alone, this book is also not alone, with a single author or translator, but one that gives a sense of collectivity in its approach and design. Mine and not mine, as Gandhi said of Hind Swaraj. After the enormous value that the Shabnam Virmani-led Kabir project brought to our understanding of the continued relevance of Kabir and his multiple lives in parts of India and Pakistan, enhanced further by the impeccable translations of Linda Hess, we now have with us a new voice and new collection.
This voice is not from the heart of India, but from its frontiers, parts of which are in Pakistan and parts, in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The book is more a journey than a final and comprehensive compendium to the Sindhi Risalo by Shah Abdul Latif. It has verses from the previous compilations, in addition to ones that Virmani and Rikhi hear as a part of the oral tradition in Kutch. In that sense this is an unusual, almost quirky book in that it mimics, despite being textual, the spontaneity of an oral tradition.
A daily presence
The name of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai is not unknown anymore to those who follow Sufi thought and music even in the most rudimentary manner. Details of Shah Abdul Latif’s life and the arrangement of the Risalo in surs and dastans, and the forms of bayt and wai, are too well known and accessible to bear repetition here. Equally well-known and recorded are the influences of Rumi and of the Quran, of the yogis and of Vedic learning.
These acquire different emphases depending upon ideological positions of the commentators. The stories of Moomal and Rano, of Noori and Jam Tamachi, are dispersed across the western region – Junagadh, Jaiselmer, Barmer, Thar, and Hinglaj. The singing is found in the repertoires of Abida Parveen, Allam Faqir, and Coke Studio.
In Sindh and Banni (Kutch) no conversation of any kind, literally, is possible without someone quoting a bayt from the Risalo. It is so common to hear, “Shah saab chayo aa..” and then a verse that can explain anything from the absence of rain to the betrayal of a lover, from the names of plants to the dilemmas of a spiritual life.
I remember hearing this about an aspiring politician: “andar vihareen kaunv, baaher boli hunj jee,” which means, “with a crow inside you, you speak the language of a swan” and that should give us a gist of the universality of Latif’s themes. But Latif is essentially and firstly a Sufi, who believes in an austere life, a meagre existence and retreat inside. Given below is a famous verse with my rendering in Hindi:
chup kar, chap-a-ma chore,
poore akhyoon dhuka kana
rah udhooru un
ta who moorat
tunhijo mushahido maneean
chup kar, hoth na hila
aankhe bandh, kaan bandh
paani pee, pet na bhar
kha anaaj bas thoda sa
taaki woh murat ubhar aaye
jo basi tumhare andar
This life of austerity is not without yearning for a beloved, until the lover and the beloved are experienced as one. Words like “pirin” and “supreen” in the Risalo evoke references to friendships and nations of soulmates. Here’s one more verse, again in Hindi.
shukr hai jo mile
jeete dino mein yaar se
baithe jinke pahlu mein
mile hame kitna qaraar
maalik na karna juda
iss pirin ki pados se
Sufi ne saaf kiya
thoya panna vajood ka
phir jua iss kaabil
dikhi jhalak yaar ki
A presence across communities
When Sassui looks for Punhoon only to realise that she has become Punhoon herself, or when Marvi longs for her homeland Malir, Sufism ceases to be an inaccessible form – it acquires in the popular imagination stories of love, wisdom, politics that co-exist with the mystical. This combination makes Shah Sahib very unusual and explains his presence across different communities.
Amena Khamisiani, one of the translators of Risalo mentions how “the peasant ploughing his field, the herdsman and the shepherd tending to the herd of cattle or flock of sheep, the fisherman casting his fishing net in the water, the village housewife at her daily chores and the villager amidst his companions at leisure time, sings, recites, or hears this poetry...”
Another translator mentions how his father, a bus conductor, gave him the Risalo, saying in Siraiki, “...aba hi wada kitab tedi wadi madad karesi (my son, this great book will help you greatly).” It is a different and crucial matter that Shah sahib himself was a Syed and one may argue that his lineage leaves a caste-blind mark on the Risalo.
Recent scholarship by Sufi Hussain draws attention to this phenomenon, and there is no reason why a new assessment of this iconic figure should not take place. My own knowledge of the Risalo is built through memories and versions of people and a textual tradition starting from Ernest Trumpp to HT Sorley, from Elsa Kazi to Kalyan Advani, from Christopher Shackle to Annemarie Schimmel and, now, to Virmani and Rikhi. These are mere glimpses, but we need to be humble and reconcile with the fact that greatness is not graspable fully.
277th Urs celebrations of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai commence in Bhitshah
22 hours ago
BHITSHAH: 02, OCTOBER, 2020: The 277th Urs celebrations of great Sufi Saint Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai will commence in Bhitshah, Sindh province from today (Friday) with enthusiasm and religious fervour.As per sources, the three-day ceremony of the Urs will be started with poetry marathons, literature conferences, and other activities to celebrate the poetry of the sufi saint.The vast numbers of devotees of the Sufi shrine are arriving in Bhitshah to attend the 277th Urs of great poet of Sindh.Strict security measures have been taken in this regard to avoid any untoward incident. CCTV cameras have been installed while devotees will enter the shrine after passing walkthrough gates placed at all entry points. Thousands of police officials along with Pakistan Rangers personnel will perform security duties on the occasion.The Sindh government had announced a public holiday today (October 2) to commemorate the 277th Urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. A notification had been issued by the Sindh administrative department in this regard.According to a notification, signed by the Sindh chief secretary, all offices, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, corporations and local councils falling under the Sindh government, except essential services, will remain closed on the 2nd of October. Educational institutes will also be closed to mark the Urs of the saint.
Mrs. Allama Kazi who called by all as Mother Elsa Kazi,
was a remarkable woman indeed. She was German by birth,
but a Sindhi by spirit and God had bestowed upon her the
grace of being one of the greatest poets of her time. She was
not only a poet of very high caliber, but painter of great
distinction, besides she was a writer of repute,
she wrote one act plays, short stories, plays, novels and history.
She was acomposer and a musician of considerable attainments.
Indeed, there was hardly any conspicuous branch of Fine Arts that
she did not practice to perfection. Although she did not know
Sindhi language directly but still she managed to produce
translation in English verse of the selected verses of Shah
Abdul Latif after the pith and substance of the meaning of
those verses were explained to her by Allama Kazi. She has
successfully couched the substance of those verses in a
remarkable poetical setting which, in musical terms, reflects
the echo of the original Sindhi metrical structure and
expression in which Latif had cast them. Her's remains the
best translation so far in English of Shah Abdul Latif's
Elsa Kazi (Elsa Gertrude Loesch) was born in 'Rudel Stadt' a
small village in Germany on 3rd October, 1884, in the house of
a great musician, who ultimately migrated to Dulwich
London. She was a daughter of prosperous German Eldermn.
He had property in London which was destroyed in world
War-II. After war, compensation was paid to her in respect of
such property. Her paintings are often seen in many
distinguished family homes. She also painted the famous
courtesan queen of Khairpur Mirs, “Bali”.
It was in London that she met Allama I.I. Kazi, just by sheer
chance. It so happened, that once Allama Kazi, having arrived
at a railway station, just in time, while the train had already
started moving. He was however able to board in, in the last
compartment which was empty, excepting a solitary young
lady occupying a corner quarter. Reared in a traditional family
background of saints & sages, Mr. Kazi felt very much
embarrassed and kept standing near the door with his back to
the lady. Elsa was amazed, astonished and amused to meet a
man, who would not take seat, despite repeated offers and
would only repeat apologies. For a man who was so innocent
chaste and interesting, she sought his address and thus
developed a life long association. The couple was married in
Germany in 1910 A.D.
The fate had so ordained that a Sindhi scholar should get
joined in wedlock with a German poetess, to make a versatile
couple of scholarly eminence. The couple lived in London from
1911 to 1919, and occasionally came on short visit to Sindh.
Altogether, the couple spent 30 years of life in England,
during which they remained engaged in research, tracing the
evolution of religion through the ages up to the advent of
Islam. Both of them contributed numerous essays, articles
and addresses in various vital branches of modern knowledge,
beside preaching Islam under the aegis of Jamiatul
Muslimeen. In the year 1919, the couple returned to Sindh,
and Kazi Sahib first entered Government Judiciary Service on
deputation. After two years stay, because of some difference
with His Highness Mir Ali Nawaz of Khairpur, he resigned
and the couple left for London.
The couple continued propagation of Islam in London till
April 1951, when Allama was offered the post of
Vice Chancellorships of University of Sindh, they returned to Pakistan.
Some translations of Shah-jo-Risalo in Verse By Elsa Kazi.
The One Creator, the all greats;
Lord of the universe
The living, the original;
Ruler with power innate;
The giver, the sustainer,
the unique , compassionate;
This master praise, to Him alone
thyself in praise prostrate..
The generous, who does create
the universe in pairs..
None shares His glory, "He was..is,
shall be"..who this doth say
Accepts Mohammad as 'guide'
with heart and love's true sway;
None from amongst those lost their way
or ever went astray.
“He is without a partner” , when
this glorious news you break
With love and knowledge, Mohammad
accept ..as cause him take
Why would you then obeisance make
to others after that?
From One, many to being came;
'many' but Oneness is;
Don't get confounded, Reality
is 'One' , this truth don't miss
Commotions vast display - all this
I vow, of Loved-one is.
The Echo and the call are same,
if you sound's secret knew
They both were one, but two became
only when 'hearing' came.
A thousand doors and windows too,
the palace has ..but see,
Wherever I might go or be
master confronts me there
If you have learnt to long, by pain
be not distressedSecret of love's sorrow must be
never confessedSuffering is by the heart caressed,
and there it is preserved.
The poison-drinking lovers, lured
by poison sweet, drink more and more;
To bitterness of fatal cup,
the poison-drinkers are inured,
Though wounds are festering, and uncured,
no whispers to the vulgar goes
All from Beloved's side is sweet
whatever He gives to you.
There is no bitter, if you knew
the secret how to taste.
There is a call to gallows, friends,
will any of you go!
Those who do talk of love may Know
to gallows they must speed.
If you a draught desire
to tavern find your way;
Thy head do sever, and that head
beside the barrel lay;
Only when you this price do pay
then few cups you may quaff.
The genuine lover, for his head
care and concern has none;
He cuts it off---joins it with breath
as gift then hands it on ;
Carves down to shoulders, form loved-one
then begs for love's return.
To guard and to preserve the head,
the lover's business is not this---
One of beloved's glance is worth
so many hundreds head of his---
Flesh, skin and bone, and all there is ,
the 'least ' of loved-one , equals not.
SATURDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2016
English Translation of Sur Kedaro By: Zulfiqar Ali Bhatti
This piece of work is translation of Sur Kedaro which is one of the 32 chapters of Shah Jo Risalo, the great poetry book of renowned mystic poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai form Sindh Pakistan which narrates the story of battle of Karbala in which Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was martyred along with his 72 companions and family members by the Army of tyrant ruler Yazid.
The month of Muharram arrives, heart for the princes sinks
God knows better, as he does whatever he likes, thinks
The month of Muharram returns but the Imams did not,
I might meet the lords of Medina, God I pray thee a lot.
The stalwarts left madina and they did not come back
Am in Plight for those went away, dyer, dye clothes in black
Plight of martyrdom was nothing but blessing
Yazid knew not about their eternal love, passion
To sacrifice their lives for their ultimate love
And die for their word their way, their fashion
Plight of martyrdom is nothing but pride pure
Stalwarts to know the Karbala’s tragedy obscure
The Imams leave Madina when the moon sets there
Equipped with swords, lances, axes and eagles along
To the battle field went the sons of Ali where
They will take the field with iron weapons strong
Settled in Karbala, the field of fierce battle
Faced Yazid’s army with great vigor and whim
With stunning strikes and with their teeth rattle
Fierce battle couldn’t make their passion dim
The Prophet’s siblings came to the land of Karbala
Their fine swords downcast the enemies to slaughter
No doubt the un fearing and undaunted in the battle
Were the sons of the Prophet’s beloved daughter
Stalwarts came to the land of Karbala
Brave, worthy of praise , undaunted
Earth jolted, and skies too shivered
With valor they their enemies enchanted
He gets friends slaughtered, beloved ones killed
And puts his closer ones into pain and plight
He does whatever wishes and whatever likes
Of course there lies some secret of deep insight
Is there any, saw gallants fighting in the field with valor great
Blood all around and death, feel the way fair, where life under threat
Gallants shine axes, swords and holding lances erect high
They relax them not, eager for martyrdom, ready to die
Charging and marching and fighting are the gallants’ trends
They keep on assaulting and, too, take care of friends,
The warriors came across with deafening sword strikes
And the stalwarts one after the other came down dead
Bloodshed all around, bloodstained bodies scattered
All around is hue and cry, and the field is all red
Warriors in the war shout and charge
And here cried one there the other breath
Trumpets cry at high on either side
Heroes and horses embraced the death
Heroes and horses shorter lives lead
Either at home or in the battle field
Martyrs’ bodies are brought back
In the battle field is hue and cry
Wives mourn for’em in the shack
With soiled hair on death of ally
Clad in wedding clothes, get ready and come along, groom
And fear not in spears strikes till you earn martyr’s bloom
Say not the husband fled away the field,
Pleased if hear, killed with wounds in his face
But If he bears in the back, I would die
Of unbearable pain, plight and disgrace
With out-thrust neck, proud wife sing aloud
Whose husbands were in the field martyred
“Such brave and undaunted warriors” they say
“With their blood red they their clans honored”
I’d love If you die fighting and I for you cry
But. dear husband flee not of the field
Life’s nothing but a very short ally
Shame forever which carping taunts yield
Dew fell or the twisters made them reach a weald
There came night over Ali’s children in the battle field
Yazid, put not Ali’s children in the quarrel’s plight
You will never avail whatever will be Hussein’s delight
Cruel Kufains came to the tyrant’s fold
Imam determined not to give up faith
Though under the impure people’s hold
And gladly braced a martyr’s death
Cruel Kufians sent word in the name of Lord
We your slaves, you the master of us all
Must you come once, we for your wait here
Be our saviour and listen to our eager call
Cruel Kofians allow not drink water in Karbala
There the children remember Ali, their father
And look around for Muhammad, the Prophet
Ask for aide from tyrants around that gather
Early in the morning there came a bird
At the Prophet’s shrine cried with painful moan
From the land of Karbala with saddening word
Seen swords striking, aide the children own
Hassan not there to aide Hussein in plight
And he is far, far away from his natal sod
Where Yazid assaults over him day and night
With his well trained, equipped warrior squad
Hassan not there to help the brother in the battle
If were there would have helped and sacrificed
Now, no one else is there to offer some aide,
Who could for Hussein his enemies have sliced
Not all in the battle field remain bold and brave
But only who care not life and for death they crave
He yet loves life if he does take shield
Gallant waits for none but marches ahead
Among all the warriors in the battle field
Stalwart all alone jumps to fight instead
Make doubt free heart, if want thee victory
Assault and wrestle and take not shield
Strike with spears with cries and shouts
Lumber cut enemies, take the battle field
Hur, the sturdy stout came straight and said,
Am but a slave to your grandfather, the Prophet nice
May I get his blessings as I am here to present
Myself, my soul and body for you sacrifice
Hur, though came from the other side to fight
He was with Hussien from the core of his heart
“My life is for you dear lord” said the true knight
Allah doesn’t burden a soul more than his sort
And I will do whatever I can against the plight”
Then braced martyrdom and well played his part
Wearing combat hamlet, audacious stalwart proud and sure
Stood undaunted though turned red with his blood pure
Beard bloodstained, teeth too, read like pomegranate flowers
Turban in the battle field shone like the full fourteenth moon
His mother to feel proud in the company of Muhammad, the prophet
Praise is for the vigorous gallant , martyred on the tenth’s afternoon
The mother cleansed the Karbala’s dust, and Ali wounds of the martyr
The Lord Almighty pardoned for the gallant’s brave blood’s barter
O warrior lord! throw thee onto the spears till thy last breath
For such an adorable sight for the years waits the death
As the goats cover mount, the vultures on the battle field
The warriors charge and chase and follow and fight
Widows of martyrs to raise the price of blue in numbers
They are to wear the mourning clothes after the plight
Vigorous warriors can’t stop fighting in the field
They battle in the name of Lord and sacrifice
Their lives before Imams, and warmly welcomed
With flowers’ wreathes by virgins in Eden so nice
Heaven is the home to stalwarts where they go
To Eden they move then, and meet the Lord
Bless me with a chance great , O, dear God,
And show me their face with your kind accord
Hassan and Hussien mourned by three clans
Men and brutes and angels in skies
Birds, too, cried, the beloved ones depart
Oh lord, eternal honor for them apprise
Those heartily adore not, Hassan and Hussein
The Creator Lord will never forgive them
“Risalo” by Shah Abdul Latif, edited and translated by Christopher Shackle
The Sindhi diaspora, whether in India or around the world, have a warm spot for the name Shah Abdul Latif, an 18th-century Sufi poet from Sindh, Pakistan, and a contemporary of the better known Punjabi Sufi poet Bulle Shah.
Very little is known about Latif, except that he was a pir, or a holy man, and his title Shah hints at his possible direct descent from the prophet Muhammad. An ancestor of his, Shah Karim, is considered to be one of the earliest poets writing/composing in Sindhi. Latif is hailed as Shakespeare of Sindhi literature.
Christopher Shackle’s edition of Risalo—Latif’s collection of his songs; the title means “the message— forms part of the respected Murty Classical Library of India published by the Harvard University Press and is an easily accessible bilingual edition of the entirety of Latif’s works in Sindhi original and English translation.
It also comes at a special moment: at a time when Sindhi language is fast disappearing from even the isolated pockets of several Indian cities where the Sindhis live, and when the schools teaching in Sindhi are shutting down, the Risalo stands as a revived icon of the esteem and the heritage of the community.
A word about Sufism and the language would be in order here. Sufism, or tasawwuf, is a mystical tradition of Islam often quite different from what might be considered “orthodox” practices. The movement spread to South Asia with the Muslim conquest; its literary express came with the consequent contact with Persian literature.
The Sindhi language’s relation with Islam goes back to at least the 9th century when tradition has it that Quran was first translated in Sindhi. The language has more recently been political: there was a row in the Victorian colonial period about which script to write it in and more recently about its lack of status as an “official” language”. In Sindhi, the Sufi message is seen at its subtlest and most powerful in the words of Latif.
Latif’s Risalo speaks of love and the beloved and incorporates metaphors of wine and yogic practices, highlighting traditions that belie Islam’s characterization as a monolithic faith.
The verses or lyrics in the Risalo are grouped under thirty surs. While a sur is understood to be the way a particular raga or scale is sung, in the Risalo, the surs are mostly named after the theme that the majority of the verses deal with. The surs do not come with a musical notation but the musicians performing at the shrine of Latif sing them in specific ways. Some surs are dedicated to regional legends like Suhini-Sahar or Sasui-Punhun. Some speak of love in general. Some offer praise to God. But within all subsumes the idea of the beloved as God and God as beloved. In “Sur Yaman Kalyan,” Latif says:
Mother, I do not believe those who shed tears and show people how their eyes water. Those who truly think of the beloved do not weep or say anything.
And a little later:
If you think of being united with the beloved, then learn from the way that thieves behave. They celebrate by keeping awake and taking no rest all night long. When they deliberately do come out, they do not utter a word. When they are chained together and put on the gallows, they say nothing. Although they are cut with knives, they reveal nothing of what has really happened.
The idea of love as a silent phenomenon is not unusual across cultures but the way it is blended here with thievery seems unique and shocking. Also unusual is the way Latif incorporates contradictions in the way he defines Sufi ways of love and devotion:
They are grieved by being given, by not being given they are happy. True Sufis are those who take nonexistence with them.
Latif speaks of love as suffering and pain, even in terms of violent images:
False lovers escape the arrow and never let themselves be struck. Those who make themselves a mark are killed by the first shot.
On the field of love, do not care about your head. If you mount the gallows of the beloved you will find perfect health.
Sufi thought and practice conceive of love as self-sacrifice. Latif spells it out very clearly when he says that desire and death begin with the same letter. The only way to love is be ready for death, to cease to exist, to trade with one’s head. These are the pre-requisites to union:
The self is a veil over yourself; listen and mark this well. It is existence that stands in the way of union.
Misery, unbearably cruelty—such are the ways of love and what it demands:
My beloved tied me up and threw me into deep water. He just stood there and told me not to get the hem of my clothes wet.
Latif also uses local romantic stories as analogies for devotion. There is one about Suhini who is married to Dam, but crosses the river Indus or Sindhu every night to meet her lover Sahar. Someone from Dam’s family conspires to kill her by replacing the pot she uses to cross the river with an unfired one. Suhini drowns but Latif uses her journey to draw parallels with the quest for the divine beloved. The husband and the society stand for the world that stands between Sunhini and God:
Her route lies in whichever direction the river flows; only insincere girls inspect the riverbank. Those who are filled with desire for Sahar do not ask about entry points or landing places. Those who thirst for love think the river is a mere step.
Loving becomes a journey and the act of pursuing the divine. Latif turns something as illicit as extramarital love into piety. Suhini screams:
Love rages at me every day. Beloved, why do you not come and restrain it?
Besides these ways of refreshing the way trueness to God/beloved is conceived of, there is also an element of transcending religious boundaries in Latif’s poetry. Latif says that the practice of seeking God is not in any way exclusive to the pathways dictated by any religious scriptures. That is why he can see what the Hindu yogis who journey towards the Eastern sites of pilgrimages are up to:
For what purpose do the yogis follow this path? Their hearts are not set on hell, nor do they desire paradise. They have nothing to do with unbelievers, and they do not have Islam in their minds. They stand there saying: “Make the beloved your own.”
The way the Sufis and the yogis love is the same in this vision. Both are consumed by a passion for the beloved and both quietly go about their business of seeking him/her:
Ram dwells in their soul, they speak of nothing else. They filled the cup of love and drank deeply from it. After that they closed their lodges and left. With matted braids over their foreheads, the yogis are always lamenting. No one has ever spoken to ask what makes them grieve. They spend their entire life in suffering.
This kind of identification and camaraderie across religious practices is not discernible in South Asian literary traditions except, perhaps, in the work of the Indian Bhakti poet Kabir, or Latif’s contemporary Bulle Shah. Christopher Shackle’s translation goes a long way in reminding readers across communities that faith moves people and torments them too in the same way irrespective of their religiosity.
The Risalo might be held as the Quran of Sindhi literature, Shackle suggests. It is perhaps no coincidence that among the works inspirational to Latif himself was the Persian poet Rumi’s Masnavi, which in turn is idolized as the Quran of Persian literature.
Sindhi writing is among the least known regional expressions of South Asian literature. This edition brings to light an important voice from an intersection of a literary tradition and a syncretic practice. The new Risalo is invaluable for reintroducing the poet saint’s message and creating a context for reading about the ecstasy of divine love and revisiting the ways one can love.
Be it morning or evening, the faqirs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai may be found dressed in black and sitting in a semi-circle before the door to his tomb, singing his poetry on the tamboura. The Shah Jo Rag at his dargah enthrals the audience, who come from different parts of Sindh to pay respects to him. This practice of Shah Jo Raag continues from the days of Shah Abdul Bhitai when he himself used to sing with his faqirs. The shrine complex of Shah Abdul Latif is always full of his devotees: led by his faqirs who enter his dargah reciting his Sufi poetry. Many faqirs are to be seen leaning against the outer walls of the shrine and reciting his poetry. The Shah’s shrine provides succour to downtrodden segments of Sindhi society, who come to find some solace praying and sit leaning against the outer walls of the shrine which are decorated with blue and white tiles. These oppressed sections of society throng the Shah’s shrine to pay homage to him and spend their most of time at his dargah feeling the mystic milieu. For instance, at almost any time, it is possible to see families of Hindus from marginalized castes at the shrine, reflecting its popular appeal as well inclusiveness.
The Shah Jo Risalo, which has 30 surs (and ‘sur’ refers to a mode of singing that corresponds to the subject matter), was first published by German scholar Ernest Trumpp in 1866 in Leipzig, Germany. This publication missed a few surs, which were later added by other scholars.
In his poetry, women find a premier place. Shah reflects in his verse the suffering, sorrow and honesty of the woman of the land
Born in the small village of Hala Haveli in 1689, Shah Abdul Latif received early education in the village from his teacher Noor Muhammad. Amena Khamisani, who translated the Shah Jo Risalo into English, believed that although Shah Abdul Latif received a scanty formal education, the Risalo gives ample proof of the fact that he was well-versed in Arabic and Persian languages. The Holy Quran, the Hadith, the Masnawi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi and the collection of Shah Abdul Karim’s poems (his great-grandfather, who died in 1623), were his constant companions. He was also presented a copy of the Masnawi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi by Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro to win back his favour, as he had been estranged from Shah Abdul Latif. Mai Gulan, the wife of Noor Muhammad Kalhoro, was an ardent devotee of Shah Abdul Latif. Her son Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro was also Shah’s admirer. When Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai passed away in 1752, Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro (1757-1772), then the ruler of Sindh, built his tomb. Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro also built the tomb of his father Shah Habib and a mosque at Bhit Shah. Later Mian Naseer Khan Talpur also made some extensions.
Today, the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai is visited by his Muslim and Hindu devotees alike, who come to seek the blessings of the saint. This is one of the few Sufi shrines in Sindh where people of different faiths come to seek solace transcending all religious boundaries. Bhitai rejected the religious bigotry of his time and travelled with Hindu yogis to their pilgrimage centres in Sindh and Balochistan. He also mentioned other holy places of jogis in Kutch, Girnar, Dwarka and Rajasthan, some of which he might have visited himself. From his Risalo, one learns a lot about his poetry on the sectarian affiliation and holy places of yogis. Shah Abdul Latif makes references in his poetry about some of the popular Hindu sacred spaces which he visited with wandering ascetics. The two surs of his Risalo ‘Sur Ramkali’ and ‘Sur Khahori’ are devoted to yogis. In fact, yogis found a good place in Sufi poetry of Sindh. Before Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Shah Lutfullah Qadiri (1611-1679) was the first Sufi poet who mentioned them in detail in his poetry. Miyon Shah Inayat (1620-1708) also referred to yogis in his poetry, and even devoted two surs, Ramkali and Purab, to them. He mentioned Veer Nath in his poetry – who was an eminent 17th-century Nath Yogi. He was also the founder of the Veernathi Sampradaya. Veer Nath Ji Marhi at Ratokot in Khipro taluka was once an important centre of the Nath Jogis of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Sindh. It still attracts both ascetics and common people.
The name of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai is synonymous with Sindh identity. In every nook and corner of Sindh and beyond, a majority of Sindhis identify themselves as the followers of Shah’s message of love, harmony, devotion and tolerance. The Shah’s mysticism is a many-splendoured jewel. Like many other subjects in his Risalo, Shah Abdul Latif also utilized the main features of the folk romances of Sasui and Punhun, Suhni and Mehar, Umar and Marvi, Leela and Chanesar, Moomal and Rano, Nuri and Jam Tamachi, Sorath-Rai Dyach and Bijal etc. to expound the spiritual journey that one has to undertake on their way to God.
In his poetry, women find a premier place. Shah reflects in his verse the suffering, sorrow and honesty of the woman of the land. In Marvi’s case, for instance, Shah depicts how her longing and love for her homeland were not changed by Umar’s wealth, affluence and luxury.
Through Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry, these romances also inspired the Sindhi painters who painted scenes from them in tombs. All the folk romances that Shah Abdul Latif used in his Risalo to convey his mystic thoughts became part of the later artistic repertoire of Sindhi painters – which they could draw upon to express their feelings and emotions in the form of murals. Instead of painting the entire story, the painters focused on the important episodes of the story.
Apart from the romantic tales, the folk tale of King Rai Dyach and Bijal also became an important theme in Sindh’s art – which was again derived from the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif. In this legend, as depicted in tombs, the famous musician Bijal is shown asking for the head of King Rai Dyach who was known for his generosity. Word had it that nobody returned empty-handed from his palaces. When Bijal insisted on demanding nothing short of the king’s head, Rai Dyach proceeded to cut his head with a sword and presented it as a memento to the musician.
Apart from Rai Dyach’s generosity, Shah Abdul Latif also composed poetry on various other generous (dattar) and brave persons including Jadam Jakhro, Samo, Abro, Rahu etc. in Sur Bilawal.
Today, the shrine of Shah has become a symbol of religious harmony and tolerance, where people of different faiths interact and intermingle – shedding their bigotry by engrossing themselves in the Sufi music and poetry. Both his Muslim and Hindu devotees are likely to promote this message to their progenies for posterity.
It is a story of the times when Umer Soomro used to rule over THAR. In the village of Malir (this is the Malir in THAR, and it is not the Malir 14 miles from Karachi city) a shepherd named Palini used to live with his wife Maduee. They had a small farm also. They used to look after their herd, cultivate their small piece of land and led a contended life. They had hired a farm boy named Foghsen.
They had a daughter named Marvi. Even at the time of birth she was as beautiful as a fairy and as she grew in years she grew in beauty also. Her fame as a very beautiful girl spread far and wide. As she entered her youth Foghsen was infatuated by her. In spite of being a mere farm hand he had the audacity to ask for the hand of Marvi. This infuriated Palini and he was immediately sacked and Marvi was betrothed to Khetsen. Thus spurned and guided by fire of jealousy and to seek revenge for affront suffered.
Foghsen approached Umer Soomro the ruler of Umerkot (fort Umerkot) which was known after the name of its ruler Umer though in fact this fort was founded by Amarsingh Rathore.
Foghsen incited the rulers’ lust by giving vivid descriptions of
the beauty of Marvi. He said that the place of such a beautiful lady was only in the palace of the ruler where due to all the comforts and luxuries her beauty would bloom.
The ruler was naturally quite impressed by Foghsen’s narration of Marvi’s beauty. He wanted to posses her. Umer Soomro the ruler guided by Foghsen went to Malir in disguise. When they reached outskirts of Malir incidentally at that exact time Marvi was going towards the
well to fetch water. At the sight of her beauty Umer was quite intoxicated; while Foghsen hid behind trees, he approached Marvi as a thirsty traveler. As Marvi came near to give him water he immediately picked her up on his camel and quickly rode to Umerkot.
At Umerkot she was kept virtual prisoner. She was enticed, cajoled and threatened, but to no avail. Ruler Umer Soomro praised her beauty, professed deep love, promised to make her reining Queen, but all the allurements of good –luxurious clothes, food, status and all luxuries failed to shake her resolve that she belonged to her clan, her own native people and she would not marry any one else except Khetsen a person to whom she was betrothed to.
In the word of Shah Latif the immortal poet of Sindh:
I will not accept any other husband,
For me that, wearing coarse garments is handsome,
Even if uncouth he occupies the place in my heart.
This infuriated Umer Soomro and she was consigned to prison. She was abducted during winter season; nearly six months elapsed and rainy season came. She would sadly count the seasons and would picture the life of her kinsfolk at her village of Malir and pine for them. She bore her adversity with stoic fortitude for she knew that her poor kins were not able to rise against the King. She did not waver in her resolve. She did not change into royal garments, to this she became utterly oblivious.
In the words of Shah Latif Marvi said:
I would not use your oil; my heart is attached to my kin,
Why should I listen to any one, ultimately I belong there.
This is not the way of my kin folks,
To exchange daughter for the sake of Gold,
While at Umerkot I shall not sour this tradition,
The love of hutment cannot be exchanged for a palace.
Having failed in all his endeavors Umer resorted to shaming her by saying. “You crave so much for your kin folks but all this time they have not even cared to send any message to you. It is futile for you to continue to remember them, pine for them and entertain any hope of rescue from them.” Marvi was unshaken in her resolve. She did not even look at all the allurements and luxuries kept before her. She would prefer her simple food to the royal feast and the wild flowers to costly scents offered by the ruler.
In the words of Shah Latif:
My bare threads are more than the gold chain,
Don’t offer silks to poor cowherds O, Umer!
Even a fold of my own upper garment is dear to me.
She entreated Umer to free her so that she may return to her native place and pour water of her soil on herself. She further told Umer that when she would die in his captivity her body should be sent to her people so that she may be buried in her native soil.
In the words of Shah Latif:
While pining for my land, were I to breathe my last,
My body be handed over to my people,
May the creepers of my native soil cover my body,
I would live though dead, if buried at Malir.
All this exasperated Umer. He was all the more sullen. At that time his nurse who came to know of the situation rushed to Umer and told him that Marvi and he had par taken the milk from the same wet nurse and thus they are in a way brother and sister. On hearing this Umer was horrified at the enormity of the crime he was to commit. Immediately he sent a camel rider to Malir to Marvi’s parents and asked their forgiveness and gave money and gold to Marvi as behooves a brother.
Marvi returned to Malir with her parents. As Marvi had remained with Umer at his palace her betrothed Khetsen was suspicious about her chastity. Even in the community Marvi could not get the respect due to lingering doubts.
When Umer heard this he came with army to Malir. This led to her people abandoning their huts. Marvi went to Umer and told him that he had first committed the crime of abducting her and on the top of it he has attacked them which is totally unfair. Even if they suspected me they were not wrong. How would they know that I am still pure? Now you must go back to your palace.
Hearing this Umer felt ashamed and offered to undergo any trial to prove the truth. Marvi said I am the one who is under suspicion therefore I will face the test. An iron rod was put into fire when that rod was red hot Marvi stretched her palm and held the same in her hand and emerged unscathed. Then Umer the ruler also insisted on the same test and emerged pure.
This convinced every one and Marvi and Khetsen lived happily ever after till ripe age.
Religious extremism and Sufi literature
Published April 28, 2009
Though much has been written on Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and his Sufi poetry, there are some misconceptions about him and his poetry. One of the reasons for this misunderstanding is that due to a dearth of good books on him in Urdu and English those who do not know Shah's native Sindhi cannot reach the heart and soul of his poetic works. His poetry, truly a great piece of literary heritage, is deeply rooted in Islamic Sufism that shunned narrow, bigoted approach towards religion and welcomed everyone with open arms regardless of their colour, caste or creed. And this kind of all-embracing openness is not limited to Shah Sahib alone but almost all the Sufi poets of the sub-continent practiced what they preached and wrote about humanity, love and approbation.
Some are under the false impression that Shah Abdul Latif was a reclusive Sufi who uttered couplets under trance which his disciples wrote down as he himself was not literate. Many underrate his works and do not grant him a position beyond the status of a folk poet and think that the focus of his themes and poetry is Sindh alone. Manzoor Ahmed Qanasro has strongly dispelled these misconstrued impressions in his recently published book, 'Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai hayaat-o-afkaar', a book written in Urdu and backed by considerable research.
Compiled with a view to understanding Shah's message of humanity and love against the backdrop of his contemporary social and political milieu, the author has devoted a good portion of the book to highlight Sindh's history and the events that surrounded Shah's life and ultimately exerted their influence on his poetry. Qanasro has also cast some light on the hitherto little-explored aspects of Shah's life and his poetry and that include the 'bhit' or the mound, Shah's tomb, the famous Lake Karar, the rituals performed at his tomb, the tradition of 'sama'a' or qawwali music, genres of Sindhi poetry, the folk tales and folk characters that appear in Shah's poetry with symbolic and allegorical connotations. Some colour photographs of these places and characters adorn the book.
Qanasro says Shah was not only properly educated but also knew many languages including Arabic, Persian, Seraiki, Punjabi, Urdu/Hindi and Balochi, not to mention Sindhi. In Shah's poetry, there are scores of metaphors and allusions that refer to the Quran, Hadith and Mathnavi of Maulana Rumi. He used to carry with him all the time, says Qanasro, a copy of the Quran, the Mathnavi and 'Bayan-ul-arifeen', a collection of Sufi poetry of Shah's great-grandfather Shah Abdul Karim of Bulri. According to Ernest Trump, the famous scholar who first published the collection of Shah's poetry 'Shah jo risalo' in 1866 from Germany, his poetry is enough evidence to prove that Shah was an educated and well-read person, writes the author.
Shah was not only a great poet or a great Sufi, he was also a great connoisseur of music. Though he never played a musical instrument in his life, his entire poetry is based on classical ragas and is sung according to the decorum these ragas demand. Qanasro has given the details of the ritualistic music-playing and singing at Shah's mausoleum and has described the significance it carries.
What makes the book more adorable for the readers of Urdu is the Urdu translation of Shah's selected poetry along with the original Sindhi verses and the Sindhi pronunciation mentioned in Urdu script, thereby closing in the gap between the speakers of the two languages that has, unfortunately, existed till today. The author has done another favour to the readers by giving the abstract of every chapter first, explaining the metaphorical and symbolic meanings of the verses that follow. Prof Sahar Ansari is right when he says in his intro to the book that Qanasro has not only opened the vistas of new meaning for modern readers but has tried to decipher 'the meaning of the meaning' in Shah's poetry. Agha Saleem, in his foreword, stresses that we have lost our cultural identity and the re-discovery of our poets like Shah Abdul Latif, Baba Fareed, Bulleh Shah, and Sachal Sarmast etc will lead to our own rediscovery.
In Shah's poetry we find certain symbols that denote metaphysical ideas. Love in Shah's poetry does not necessarily refer to worldly love and the material world may be an allusion to the spiritual. For instance, in 'Omer Marui' in 'Shah jo rislao', during her imprisonment Marui constantly focuses her thoughts on 'Marus', her fellow tribesmen, and according to Anne Marie Schimmel, “the plural form 'Marus' is used here, as elsewhere, to denote the One True Beloved who manifests Himself in the most varied forms while still eluding all concrete description”. In other words, Shah Sahib, like many other Muslim Sufis, believed in 'wahdat-ul-wujud', a kind of Islamic pantheism. This invariably resulted in the belief that everybody should be loved since everyone and everything is but a manifestation of the One True Beloved, a thought well-presented in Sufi poetry.
Sufi poetry has a long and unbroken tradition in the sub-continent and it, therefore, is surprising for some that a society that had a continuity of Sufi thought that has stressed peaceful coexistence and religious harmony to the point of loving virtually everyone has become so extremist as to shun everything except its own brand of religious faith. For a better understanding, let me quote Schimmel again who says “... simple Quranic precepts have been interpreted more and more narrowly over the course of time. Moreover, customs and attitudes lacking any and all Quranic foundation have become increasingly rigid”. But, then, she is equally aware of the sensitivities of Muslim societies and points out “On the other hand, we have to be careful not to look upon our ideas that stem from a liberal, frequently from an 'uninhibited' interpretation of the concept 'freedom', as ideals applicable and valid for all the world. We have to be equally wary not to dismiss or condemn outright as being old-fashioned customs and habits we happen not to like. Muslims easily reject the transposition of certain 'modern' ideals onto the Islamic world as being just another new attempt to colonization. Such perceptions do little more than engender sharp resistance”.
Somehow I feel that this aspect of Muslim sensitivity has largely been ignored, igniting a sharp resistance.
Published by Karachi's Sindhica Academy, the book is just a reminder that Sufi poetry is a voice against extremism.
Tradition relates that Shah Abdul Latif was born by the
benediction of a certain holy man and so named in
accordance with his desire. In Tuhfat-ul-Kiram, Shah Habib,
the poet’s father, is described as a ‘Perfect Man of God’,
devoted to a life of piety and contemplation. At times, he
used to be so completely lost in meditation as to be
unconscious even of his beloved son’s presence in his
chamber. Tuhfat-ul-Kiram was written by Mir Ali Kana’ of
Thatta, a disciple of Shah Abdul Latif, in 1181 A.H. (1767
A.D.), i.e., fifteen years after the Poet’s departure from this
It is stated that Shah Habib sent his son for academic
instruction to Akhoond Noor Mohammed Bhatti of the
village Vai, a village situated six miles from Bhit and four
miles from Udero Lal. Shah, it is said, declined to learn
anything beyond ‘Alif’, the first letter of the alphabet, and
also that of ‘Allah’, The Supreme One.
Learn the letter ‘Alif, forsake all other learning;
Purify thy heart, how many pages shalt thou turn?
When Shah Habib learnt that his son had declined to
learn anything beyond the first letter, ‘Alif’, he felt elated
and warmly embraced his son. He, however, remarked:
‘Verily, thou art on the path of Truth. This mystic truth
is also known to me but worldly prudence dictates that
one should not abhor secular education.’ Tuhfat-ul-Kiram,
however, records that Shah did not receive any school
There are two opinions as to whether the poet was
‘Ummi,’ i.e., ‘illiterate’ or otherwise. The scholars, who
regard him as ‘the unique man of letters of his age’, are,
however, unable to produce any reliable or authentic
evidence in support of their view. At best, theirs is an
Dr Trumpp, the eminent European scholar, who was the first man to compile and publish the poet’s Risalo, writes in the Introduction:
‘It is said that he had never studied, which is however
sufficiently refuted by his Diwan, where he exhibits a deep
learning in Arabic and Persian.’
Dr Gurbuxani writes in his ‘Muqqadama-Latifi’
(Introduction in, Sindhi to Shah Jo Risalo) : ‘It can be stated
with certainty that Abdul Latif, according to his times, was
highly learned in every branch of knowledge—partly due
to his academic pursuits and partly due to his personal
observation and study. He was a scholar of Persian and
Arabic and had a complete mastery over his mother tongue.
Not only this, but he was also conversant, to some extent,
with some other languages such as Balochi, Saraiki, Hindi,
Punjabi, etc. ... he seems to have made a deep study of the
Koran and Traditions, Theology and Philosophy, Sufism
and Vedantism, Syntax and Grammar, etc. The Holy Koran,
Rumi’s Mathnawi, and Shah Karim’s Risalo were always
with him... he has touched in his Risalo a variety of subjects
originating from the study of these three books and also
of the aforementioned branches of learnings; at certain
places he has given literal renderings of some of the verses
of the Koran and Rumi’s verses... this bears undisputable
testimony to the fact that Shah Abdul Latif was a unique
scholar of his own time. . . the “true knowledge”, however,
which he imbibed, dawns only on a few rare souls. There
is only one way of acquiring this knowledge—
contemplation of the beauty and majesty of Man and
Nature and reading the Book of Self. Undoubtedly, Shah
had made this study and this is what accounts for his being
the Sovereign of Poets.’
Mirza Kalich Beg writes in his work in Sindhi—An
Account of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai: ‘It is but certain that
he received no instructions under any school teacher;
perhaps what he learnt was by his own personal zeal. He
was well versed in Persian and Arabic. There are several
Koranic Verses, Traditions and other Arabic Sayings in his
Risalo, which can be quoted with such elegant aptness by
none except a man of deep learning. There is, however,
12 Shah Latif An Account of the Poet’s Life 13
nothing on record to testify that Shah had received any
regular academic training. Had he learnt to scribe, a few
remnants of his hand would have surely been on record.
Shah possessed manuscripts of three books—the Holy
Koran, Rumi’s Mathnawi and the Risalo of Shah Karim of
Bulri. Nothing is written in hand on the copies of these
books—whether on their covers or in the margined space
of their pages to exhibit any specimen of the hand of the
poet. In all faith, we submit, that on Perfect Men, God
bestows Divine Knowledge, of which mortals know
Professor Jethmal Parsram in his Life of Shah Bhitai also
expresses the belief that Shah had made a deep study of
Arabic and Persian. He (Professor Jethmal) refers to the
wealth of Persian and Arabic phraseology contained in the
Dr Sorley writes in his Shah Abdul Latif of Bhitt: ‘How
far Shah Abdul Latif was an educated man has proved a
great puzzle to scholars. The popular tradition is that he
had no regular education but taught himself everything.
Popular tradition in this respect is, however, unreliable.
His poems show clearly an acquaintance with Arabic and
Persian far beyond the ordinary accomplishments of his
time. It is certain that he was familiar with the work of
Jalaluddin Rumi. . . The mystical form of his poetry could
never have been achieved without a deep and sympathetic
understanding of the mystical development of Islam that
came to India through the work of the great Persian poets.
Thus, whatever the facts of Shah Abdul Latif s education
may have been (and it is a typical conceit of hero worship
to pretend that all knowledge came to him as a sort of
special revelation), it is clear that his education was neither
superficial nor contemptible.’
Mian Din Mohammed Wafa’i writes in his work in
Sindhi, Lutf-ul-Latif: ‘Such is the sublimity and grace of
his poetry that none can believe that Shah Sahib was an
illiterate man or an ordinary individual ; but those who
know that through self-purification and penance man gets
knowledge of those mysteries of which common men are
absolutely ignorant, will surely believe that God bestows
upon some illiterate persons such treasures of knowledge
as fill the minds of the wise and the learned with
Saiyid Mir Ali Sher Kana Thattawi, a disciple and
contemporary of Shah, however, writes in Persian in
Maqqalat-ul-Shuara: ‘Although the much revered Shah
Sahib was illiterate, yet all the knowledge of the Universe
was inscribed on the hidden tablet of his heart.’
Some of the foregoing scholars have laid stress on
Shah’s knowledge of Persian and Arabic and, on that basis,
they pronounce the verdict that Shall had acquired
scholastic training. In order to establish the truth of the
thesis that Shah was educated, scholars invariably argue
thus : Had he been illiterate, he should never have retained
with him a copy of Rumi’s Mathnawi—a golden-lettered
and golden-edged attractive manuscript presented to him
by Mian Noor Mohammed Kalhoro, the ruler. Shah had
a profound faith in Rumi, who is the only mystic poet of
Persia quoted by him in his poetry. Sachal also was a
disciple of Attar, the great Persian mystic poet of Mantaqut-Tair fame. Being an Awaisi, Shah probably had some
pre-destined spiritual connection, with Rumi (Awaisis
receive spiritual Grace from living as well as departed
Masters). It was, therefore, perhaps out of reverence for
Rumi, that Shah had always with him a copy of the great
Persian mystic’s Mathnawi. Persumably Mian Noor
Mohammed presented it to him in the light of his knowledge
of the poet’s faith in Rumi. Shah makes mention of no
other poet in his Risalo except Rumi. He quotes him by
way of authority in a string of half a dozen couplets, one
of which may be cited here by way of illustration:
The whole diversity (creation) is His seeker and He
the Fountain Source of Beauty—thus says Rumi.
All times are GMT - 5 Hours Goto page Previous1, 2, 3, 4
Page 4 of 4
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum