Friday, May 29, 2009

Bulleh Shah: The Mystic Voice of Punjab


Me no believer—no believe in mosque

And me no pagan, no ritual no task

Me is no pure amongst the impure,

And me no Moses, no Pharaoh endure,

But Me no knoweth.

Who isseth Thee!

O’ Bulleya,

Me no knoweth,

Who issethMe!

By Umair Ghani

Farida Breuillac, a practicing Sufi from France, now living in Turkey, is sitting beside me on a stool in Lahore’s Regale Inn, discussing Sufism over a cup of desi tea. Dazzled as she is by the beauty and stark truth of Bulleh Shah’s verse, I recite to her the poetry of the great saint of Qasur, verse by verse as she whirls around in a trance.

A week later I was standing outside the Darbar or the shrine of Bulleh Shah in the heart of Qasur city. Dhol beats echoed loud in the air with chants of ‘Ya Ali’ and ‘Dam Mast Qalandar’ as a multitude throngs to the shrine of, one of the greatest Sufi souls of Punjab.

Bulleh Shah’s real name was Abdullah Shah, that later transformed into Bulleh Shah out of sheer reverence and affection of the common citizenry of Punjab who ardently adhered to his rebellious message of love, hope and wisdom.

Its widely believed he was born around 1680 at Uch Gilaniyan in Bahawalpur; later migrated to Malakwal and finally settled in Pandoke Bhatian, about 14 miles southeast of Qasur. It was here that Bulleh Shah got his formal education from Maulvi Ghulam Murtaza, who was the Imam of the main mosque in Qasur.

Later, after completion of his formal education Bulleh Shah started teaching at the same mosque, but spiritually he chose to follow the path of his mentor, Inayat Shah Qadri, who was a famous saint of the Qadirya chain of Sufis in Lahore. Bulleh’s rebellious yet highly rhythmic and appealing utterances attracted intense criticism from his family as well as friends; for his blindly following the Sufi order much different and opposite to that of the Syeds, [the Muslims who claim their lineage from the Holy Prophet Muhammad, PBUH] However, this criticism added even more spur to his rebellious mind. He revolted against those so called hierarchs of spirituality. Bulleh Shah remained steadfast to his master’s philosophy till his death in 1729.

Bulleh Shah’s attachment to his mentor’s philosophy was so strong that under the sheer spell of his devotion, he addressed his master as god, guide, lord, spouse, husband, beloved and friend. His teacher’s guidance made him experience the spiritual ecstasies and a vision that helped him explore the unfathomable realms of inner self. In this process of self realisation, he began his journey into a metaphysical learning process which was unique to have enabled him grasp the reality of things on one hand, and yet felt blessed and obsessed by revelations from within. The journey to the path laid down by his master continued to be so intense, so self sacrificing that rapture of being away from his spiritual master, the qualms, the torment his soul faced, never ceased till the end. So intense was this Ishq (a process to find God through an intense longing, fonding and attachment with one’s mentor) that he expressed the fire in him through these words.

He listeneth to my tale and lisseneth to my woe

Shah lnayat my guide my teacher is so,

He leads me to places high and low

Shah Inayat my Master honoureth me,

Gives riddance of wrangles and of me,

My master, my Shah is with me,

Then who can dare put strife to me,

Who dare anyone harm to me,

Shah Inayat graces me,

Gives riddance of wrangles and of me,

My master, my Shah is with Me.


Thus found Bulleh Shah’s spiritual quest in the finest expression of his poetry, the Kafis. His tone is satiric, razor sharp that acts like the precision of a surgeon’s lancet, his verses bleeding with pain, the anguish, the qualm of separation and unprecedented genius of his thought process, mercilessly cutting into the social norms, the taboos and established dogmas in the name of religion. He sets out his own aesthetics of the divine love, guidance, faith, virtuosity, love and forgiveness. Like all other Sufis, he preaches negation of the “self” while seeking unity with the divine. His poetry sets liberal standards with strong intonations of religious tolerance and communal harmony. Realizations of truth transformed Bulleh Shah into a true mystic. He purified his heart with the fountain of truth gushing deep inside his soul. Overwhelmed with an obsession of spiritual knowledge, like wine intoxicates the body and mind and thus becomes the principal driving force, Bulleh Shah heroically voiced his wisdom in his following verse.

Put fire to thy prayer rug

and break even thy water mug,

then quit even thy rosary

And let thy staff to the tug

Me tired of reading the Veda book,

Me tired of reading the Quran

And Me no kneeling, me no prostrating,

Nor me forehead down
For God liveth in holy Mecca

Nor he in Mathura resides
For only those who find Him

Who see the light with self besides.


With this verse Bulleh Shah stands tall in the Sufis’ lineage, a stalwart of the Sufis’ school of thought led by Mansoor who was penalized by clerics of the day, declaring his chantings of “Ana-al Haque” (I am the Truth, I am the God) as ‘Kufr’ (negation of God) oblivious of the ecstasies that torment and thus cleanse the soul of a Sufi or saint is a unique phenomenon hardly perceptible or understood by clerics and dogmatists; who go by mere words and not the meanings and context of a scripture. This happened with Mansoor Hallaj and this too happened with Bulleh Shah who met a similar torment to his soul, his inner self.

Bulleh Shah spent rest of his life in total self denial; he did not care at all of the concern and hostility that orthodox mullahs unleashed at him for his rebellious poetry. He danced ecstatically, fearlessly, perpetually and thus treaded the path of spiritual realization and atonement. He preached love and humanism with a firm rejection of any formal religious authority on the affairs of the people. So it was no surprise that on his death in 1758, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery and was thus laid to rest in isolation outside the main city of Qasur. But his massage of love, his fight against religious bigots, the traditional hierarchs of different theological schools in the subcontinent, made him a people’s wali or saint. That isolated grave is now a darbar where all including the clergy, the rich and the poor all throng to pay homage to that great soul of Punjab who treaded the path of Sufism, the non traditional mystic way of finding God and a solace for one’s soul.

Me the first, me is the last,

Me don’t know, no one else,

Me the wisest, no one else,

But Bulleya,

Me no knoweth

Who isseth Thee!

O’ Blleya,

Me no knoweth

who isseth Me!

Me know no secret, to me no religion,

Not one to me not known

From Adam and Eve, me not me was born

Me don’t know even the name me own

Me don’t know the people who bow and pray

Me don’t know the people who go astray

O’ Bulleya!

Me no knoweth who isseth Thee!

Me no knoweth who isseth Me!

Me no Arab, nor Lhori,

Me no Hindu, nor Nagauri,

Me no Turkic, nor Pishauri,

Me don’t live in infinity,

Yet, O’ Blleya!

Me no knoweth

Who isseth Thee!

Me no knoweth

Who isseth Me!

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