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A great Sufi poet
By Iftikhar Ahmed
With their soul-stirring poetry, Sufi poets have enriched the subcontinent’s literature. Bulleh Shah is one of them. His traditional poetry and kafis (called raagnis in the Hindi language) have kept the world of music and literature alive even after centuries of his death. Some of his kafis, sung by Pakistani pop music group Junoon and folk singer Abida Perveen in recent times, enthral the audience no end.
Deeply touching the soul, Bulleh Shah’s kafis carry the message of eternal love. He does not believe in mortal love, neither does he believe in worldly relations that terminate as soon as life ends. The beauty of the world does not attract him because he is completely lost in the beauty of his beloved. This condition he very well portrays in one of his kafis, Bulleh kee jana main kaun, in which he says that he himself does not know who he is since his love has made him impervious to everything else.
A born Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah showed his talent from an early age. Instead of playing with his friends, he would remain aloof, absorbed in his own thoughts — sometimes singing his kafis and sometimes whirling in ecstasy, completely detached from his surroundings. This detachment gave him the name, Bulleh Shah (the one who forgets his surroundings). His real name was Abdullah Shah.
Bulleh Shah was born during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707AD) in a village called Uch Gillanian, 80kms from Bahawlpur, where the River Sutlej and the Chenab converge, in 1081Hijra to Syed Sakhi Shah Mohammad. His father’s lineage goes back to Hazrat Ghaus-i-Azam Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. For some reason, his family migrated to Sahiwal and settled in a village called Pando Ki Bhatti when Bulleh Shah was only 10 years old. There his father became the Imam of a local madressah where he started teaching children.
The young Bulleh Shah, apart from his studies, was given the task of grazing livestock. One day some of his animals strayed into someone else’s land. The owner of the land, Jewan Khan, came and found Bulleh Shah sleeping under a tree. He also saw a huge snake beside him. Thinking that the boy was dead of a snakebite, he rushed to inform his father.
His father came running but found his son all right. The snake had disappeared. The father asked him about the trampling of Jewan’s field. “My cattle have not destroyed any field,” Bulleh Shah innocently replied. When Jewan Khan took them to show his field, they were surprised to see that the field was intact. Jewan Khan took no time to realise the karamat of the small boy. First it was the snake that did not hurt him, and then his field that remained un-trampled. He immediately gifted the land to the boy, which later became the resting place of his father.
Although Bulleh Shah’s father taught him basic religious knowledge, he always looked for something else. Seeing his curiosity, his father took him to Kasur to a scholar, Hafiz Ghulam Murtaza Kasuri, for further education. There he learned Arabic and Persian along with religious knowledge.
One night, after returning to his village, he saw a holy man in his dream who advised him to go to Hazrat Enayat Qadri in Lahore who would lead him to the spiritual world. Hazrat Enayat Qadri, the Imam of the “unchi” mosque near the Bhati Gate of the old walled city of Lahore, was a thorough murshid. One can visit his shrine at Shahrah Fatema Jinnah, off Queens Road, Lahore.
After six years of rigorous spiritual training, Bulleh Shah’s murshid asked him to go to Kasur to bring the strayed people back to the right path. Bulleh Shah put up his cottage on the outskirts of the city. Seeing his karamat and knowledge, soon the people of Kasur started visiting his khanqah. He was only 30 years old, but his spiritual charisma proved a blessing for the people and many returned to the folds of Islam.
Once being angry with him, his murshid ceased all his spiritual powers. Bulleh Shah immediately left Kasur and went to the shrine of Hazrat Mohammad Ghaus of Gawalior, a renowned saint of India during the reign of Emperor Jalauddin Akbar. As Hazrat Enayat was his disciple, Bulleh Shah went to plead his case with him. There he performed a chillah and saw Hazrat Ghaus in his dream.
It is said that Hazrat Ghaus advised him to eat two-and-a half leaves from the tamarind tree at the grave of Mian Tansen (a renowned classical singer of India) to have soz (passion) in his voice to please his murshid.
After reaching Lahore, Bulleh Shah planned to join the mehfil-i-sama of his murshid in the guise of a veiled woman to sing kafis. Permission was sought from Hazrat Enayat which he gladly gave. Actually, through the kashf, he had already come to know about Bulleh Shah’s plan. When Bulleh Shah started Tere ishq nachaya ker ke thia thia (your love turned me into a dancing and whirling dervish) the audience was enthralled. Smilingly, Hazrat Enayat said: “Now you can remove your veil Bulleh.” He embraced him and restored his wilayat (spiritual power).
After the death of Bulleh Shah in 1171Hijra, a very poor person came to his shrine and prayed for his wish to come true. For several days he prayed and cried but nothing happened. Then came a woman singer. She sang some kafis and prayed to Allah. The next day she came with a big pot of food for the poor as her wish had come true. This disappointed the poor man, and he left the khanqah saying: “The wish of a singing woman has been fulfilled but not mine, when I have been crying for so many days.”
The same night he saw Bulleh Shah in his dream saying: “Allah did not like the woman singer to come to the shrine but He liked your crying and beseeching and that’s why your wish was delayed. But if you don’t want to cry any more, your wish would also come true.” The next day his wish was honoured.
Every year in the month of Rajab thousands of devotees throng Bulleh Shah’s shrine at Kasur to celebrate his anniversary (urs). The three-day urs is a spectacle worth seeing — people whirling in ecstasy and singing the popular kafis of the sleeping dervish.