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Archive for September 8, 2011

Bulleh Shah, the daring secularist!



In the times when  the whole world is going through an era of hatred, intolerance and extremism and Pakistan seems to be synonymous to all these words, what could be a better tribute to Bulleh Shah but to show to the world that there existed a daring secularist on this land almost 250 years ago.

Here I make a feeble attempt to write about Bulleh Shah, from  what little I know of him as a secularist : 


Bulleh Shah (1680-1757), was a sufi, who  lived in the heart of  Punjab, in Kasur,  as a  contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh, a reformer and mystic in his own right. Both of them had to face the wrath of a radical Muslim Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in their life.

Not very different from the state of our current world, ridden with extremism and hatred towards other faiths , even 250 years ago, the subcontinent  was plunged in deep turmoil.  But Bulleh Shah, who thought far ahead of his times, dared to challenge the prevailing hatred and religious bigotry.  

He lamented:

“Ulte hor zamane aaye,
Hun asaan bhed sajjan de paaye.
kaa(n) laggad nun maaran lagge, 
chiriyan jurre khaaye 
iraqiyan nun chabuk paunde, 
gade khood khavaye
aapneyan vich ulfat naahee,
ke-he chaachche taaye 
piyo putran ittfaak naa kaahee, 
dheeyan naal naa maaye 
sachcheyan nun hun milde dhakke, 
jhoothe kol bahaaye 
agle jaaye bankaale baithe, 
pichliyan farash vichaye 
Bullah jina hukam hazooron andaa, 
tina nun kaun hataaye.” 

“Perverse times have come,
I know the mystery of the beloved
crows have begun to hunt hawks, 
and sparrows feed on falcons
horses bear the whipping, 
while donkeys graze on lush green
no love is lost between relatives, 
be they younger or elder uncles
There is no accord between fathers and sons,
Nor any between mothers and daughters
The truthful ones are being pushed about,
the tricksters are seated close by
The front liners have become wretched,
the back benchers sit on carpets
Those in tatters have turned into kings,
the kings have taken to begging
O Bulleh, that which is His command
who can alter His decree.” 

Despite being a terror that Aurangzeb was, Bulleh Shah audaciously defied him not once but several times :

When Aurangzeb banned the music and dance, declaring it  as haram in Islam–Bulleh Shah, following instructions from his teacher, defiantly  went from village to  village in Punjab, singing and dancing to his Kafis.

As Aurangzeb beheaded Guru Tegh Bahadur, Bulleh Shah dared to call the slain Sikh leader as Ghazi, a religious warrior.

” Kitay Tegh Bahadur Ghazi hay ” 

Bulleh Shah hailed the revolutionary spirit of Guru Gobind Singh, calling him  a ‘protector’ of those who believed in right to follow their religious belief. He said in a subtle satire:

Nah Karoon Ab Kee,
Nah Karoon Baat Tab Kee.
Gar Na Hotey Guru Gobind Singh,
Sunat Hoti Sab Kee.

I talk about neither yesterday nor tomorrow;
I talk about today.
Had Gobind Singh not been there,
They would all be under Islamic sway.

Hence, mentioning that had the tenth Guru not been there, Auranzeb would’ve forced all to convert to Islam( implying Sunnat as circumcision).

Not only did he oppose the persecution of Sikhs in his times, he also advised Banda Bahadur not to avenge Auranzeb’s cruelty by killing innocent muslims.

Referring to the plight of his times in Punjab, and referring to the apathy of the onlookers, he wrote:

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.

(According to KS Duggal here ‘coarse blankets’ is referred to Sikhs) .

Bulleh Shah, in solidarity with Sikhs,  is said to have visited a Sikh temple at  Makhowal  at the time of Guru Tegh Bahahdur. He saw people engrossed in ‘ Kar Seva’ (service to the temple,  construction etc), ‘Kirtan’ (the morning singing of prayer) and ‘Langar’ ( the free distribution of meals ) by the devotees. Impressed by their devotion through service,  he remarked:

Ett khrikka ( sound of bricks during construction work)
Duppar vajje ( sound of dholaki during kirtan)
Nale balle chulla (langar).
Enhi galin Rabb raji rehanda
Nale rehanda Bulleh.

Aurangzeb  was  arrogant  not just to non Muslims, he even did not attempt to hide his hatred towards his own  brother Dara Shikoh for following the Shia sect of Islam. And he had heartlessly got  GuruTeghBahadur killed in public, in Delhi and also eliminated his brother DaraShikoh for his beliefs.

Bulleh Shah , on the contrary,  being a true and fearless secularist, rejected  the discrimination between faiths- be Hindu-Muslim -Sikhs or sects- Shia-Sunnis ,and wrote:

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.
We are neither hungry nor replete,
Neither naked nor covered up.
Neither weeping nor laughing,
Neither ruined nor settled,
We are not sinners or pure and virtuous,
What is sin and what is virtue, this I do not know.
Says Bulhe Shah, one who attaches his self with the lord.
Gives up both hindu and muslim. 

While he did not spare those who monopolised their faith:

“Lumpens live in the Hindu temples
And sharks in the Sikh shrines.
Musclemen live in the Muslim mosques
And lovers live in their clime.”

And even dared to compare their clergy to ‘barking dogs’ and ‘crowing roosters’.

Not very different from the current times, wherein ‘secularism’ is still perceived as  Ladeeniyat ( atheism)), he too was labelled as an apostate for his secualr stance. To which he taunted:

Bulleh-a aashiq hoyiyon Rabb da,
Hoai Malamat Lakh Tenon Kafir Kafir aakhdey,
toon aaho aaho aakh
A lover of God?
They’ll make much fuss;
They’ll call you a Kafir 
You should say -yes, yes.

Learning from Bulleh Shah and  Kabirdas, and knowing the history of subcontinent,  today I too gather courage to defy Iqbal’s  verses :

Juda ho deen siyasat se tou reh jati hai Changezi .
When religion is separated from politics, it is reduced to brutality.

I say: Jurey jo  deen siyasat se tou ho jata hai Changezi…
When religion enjoins politics, it becomes brutal.

If after this you call me a traitor: I should say yes, yes.


 P.S. My two penny: 

Recently talking to a friend from Bhopal, about extremism in Pakistan,  I felt disheartened to know that all she knew Bulleh Shah was that  Abida Parveen sang him and that too in the context of his love poetry. And was oblivious to his humanist and secularist stance.

It is so unfortunate that even today, many in India ( besides Punjab) and elsewhere in the world, people who know Kabirdas and Amir Khusrow backwards,  have barely heard of Bulleh Shah except in context of  his love poetry.

Even my  first exposure to Bulleh Shah’s poetry was through the verses…Bulleh ki jana main kaun...that too as a song sung by Rabbi Sher Gill. And I wondered and found the words wierd…not aware of the context. However, after having read some ‘bit’ of his history and his Kafis, it all makes sense now.

What wonders me most is that though in India, we read Kabirdas from grade Six, I never ever heard of  Bulleh Shah’s mention in any Indian history text books. What is more unfortunate that even in Pakistan, school text books never taught Bulleh Shah whether in history or in literature.

I still  consider Rabbi Sher Gill as the one who let me be familiar with Bulleh Shah’s name, to begin with. Besides many other sources…my special thanks to KSDuggal’s Mystic Muse,  Saeen Zahoor for telling stories of Bulleh Shah, the blogs Sufi Poetry, of Raza Rumi ‘s and Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi’s, who I stalked to learn about Bulleh Shah’s poetry and history.

Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun.

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun

Bulleh!, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun

Bulleh , ki jaana maen kaun

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk (Muslim), nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

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