‘Yes Majnu Shah’, nodded Cherag Fakir. ‘Only he can make the Sahibs run in fear.’ Asif had of course heard about Majnu Shah and his heroic battles with the British. Villagers often talked about Majnu Shah’s soldiers who came down the hills to loot the British offices….

From: The Tattooed Fakir by Biman Nath

Very little is known about his early life of this Sufi warrior except that he was born in the Mewat region of Haryana. He succeeded Shah Sultan Hasan Suriya Burhana to the leadership of the Bihar based Deewanagan Madaria sufi order in the mid-eighteenth century. He was an organizer of great ability, great commander in chief who travelled in Bengal and Bihar to inspire people to join the rebellion and fight against the superior forces of the British in the second half of the 18th century.  It was his Pir, Hamiuddin who motivated him to take up arms against the British:

There was a mazar of dervish Hamid

In the domain of Assadusman

There in the Khanaqa of the old Pir Khadim

Came Majnu Fakir to offer his Salam

Khadim urged Majnu in despair

Lakhs of people are dying in famine

Try to save their lives!

The company’s agents and landlords

Torture artisans and peasants

For exorbitant revenue

And people are deserting villages

Take up arms…

Distribute all provisions among the starved

And drive out the English

As no alternative is left.

-Majnu Shaher Hakikat by Jamiruddin Dafadar


Majnu Shah became a legend in the literature and folklore of undivided Bengal. The lines mentioned below refer to the united Hindu-Muslim revolt against the British known as the Fakir Sanyasi Rebellion which engulfed most districts of northern and eastern undivided Bengal and parts of Bihar during the early part of the British colonial rule in India. According to some historians this movement represented an early war for India’s independence. Whatever little popular imagination that exists about this rebellion, largely stems from the film ‘Anandmath’ which is based on a novel of the same name by Bakim Chandra Chaterjee. This novel was published in 1882, a century after the events actually happened. Notwithstanding its literary significance, the novel has overtones of Hindu revivalism and attitude of co-existence with the British rule which is a major departure from the actual incidents of this movement. There are official records documented by British officers of at least three incidents where the Fakirs and Sanyasis together fought against the East India Company.

Majnu calls out Bhabhani Sanyasi

Catch the Whites and hang them straight

Bhabhani roars and the Giris flash swords

They dispatch the Whites to Yama’s doors

-Khwabnama, Elias

This movement, which the British, in their arrogance, refused to call nothing more than a law and order situation, turned into a fifty thousand strong rebellion of Muslim fakirs and Hindu sanyasis, along with peasants, poor artisans, disbanded soldiers of the Nawabs and Mughal army and dispossessed zamindars that would traumatise the British occupiers for the last three decades of the 18th century (1767-1800). These bands of Fakirs and Sanyasis were very familiar with territories bounded by Brahmaputra in the north and Ganges in the south. Using the riverine paths and the forest covered hills, they out smarted the East India Company troops, waging a guerrilla war on them and plundering the Company’s treasuries and factories, intercepting the Company’s revenue in transit and snatching the possessions of the new landlords and Company’s agents with weapons and ammunition looted from the British themselves !!

It all began in the second half of the 18th century when popular resentment against the East India Company had begun to grow. For over a century the Madari Fakirs and  Dasnami sanyasis (also known as Giris )  used to travel to their places of pilgrims in north Bengal and on the way collect alms and land grants from both Hindu and Muslim Zamindars, which was given willingly. However the situation changed after the East India Company took over the diwani of Bihar and Bengal. The British   increased the land tax, the lands of many Zamindars were also confiscated, and many restrictions were placed on the movements of the Fakirs and Sanyasis because the British considered them thugs and looters. Moreover the   unfair trade policies of the Company which consisted of one-way trading export of raw material, resulted in the crumbling of cottage industries like silk, muslin and handloom.  This, combined with natural disasters and crop failure and the consequent Bengal famine of 1770-71, which killed one-third of the population, all contributed to the popular resentment against the British and their agents.

In the 18th century many Fakirs and Sanyasis had recruited themselves as soldiers under the Mughal administration in Bengal. When The East India Company began to gradually dismantle the armed forces of the Nawabs and erstwhile Mughal provincial administration, the disgruntled soldiers joined the Fakir Sanyasi rebellion.

This movement also had the support of dispossessed zamindars like Maharani Bhawani of Natore and Assad Usman Khan – the Nawab of Birbhum.

By the end of 1760 the extraordinary leadership qualities of Majnu Shah brought the Muslim Fakirs and Hindu Sanyasis under a common platform in their struggle against the British.  Bhavani Pathak and Devi Choudhrani were two prominent leaders of the Sanyasis who supported Majnu Shah. Other prominent leaders of this movement were Musa Shah, Chirag Ali, Shobhan Shah, Parigullah Shah, Karim Shah, Mohan Giri and Ganesh Giri.

Majnu Shah Bridge in Bangladesh (photo credit: vsgoi.blogspot)


Majnu Shah build a fort in 1776 behind an ancient dargah at Mahasthangarh in Bogra. Here he made make- shift barracks, where he would retreat with his forces to regain strength and discuss their next strategy. Majnu Shah enjoyed the good will and support of the locals and he would station his spies among them to inform him of the Company’s movements. He made constant efforts to keep unity among the Fakirs and Sanyasis and to avoid confrontations among them. One such conflict was sparked off in 1777 but was amicably resolved due to Majnu’s efforts. He was shot at and wounded on December 8, 1786 in a battle at Kaleshwar, he managed to dodge the British and reach Makanpur where he was given shelter by ancestors of local landlord Mir Syed Hasan. The injury however proved fatal and he died on January 26, 1787.  After him, his lieutenants, Musa Shah and Chirag Ali led the rebellion.

Although this rebellion of Sufis and Sanyasis could not achieve its ultimate goal, it left a blazing trail for others to follow. In Bangladesh, Majnu Shah is acknowledged among the first martyrs of India’s early resistance to the formation of the British Empire. His relentless struggle against the British is still preserved in Bangladeshi literature and folklore. A feature film based on this martyr was made by the Bangladeshi actor and Darashika titled ‘Fakir Majnu Shah’.  Several years ago, the Bangladeshi government paid tribute to this brave heart by dedicating a bridge in his name. But in India, Majnu Shah has been forgotten and the grave of this great son of India lies in utter neglect in some forlorn corner of Makanpur in Kanpur district.

Dilapidated grave of Majnu Shah at Makanpur (photo credit:



  1. Nath, B. 2012. The Tattooed Fakir, Pan Macmillan, India
  2. Khwabnama (Tale of Dreams). 1996. Akhteruzzaman Elias, Naya Udyog, Kolkata
  3. Dasgupta, A. 1982. The Fakir and Sanyasi Rebellion. Social Scientist. Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jan., 1982), pp. 44-55
  1. Khan, Muazzam Hussain 2012. Majnu Shah. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh(Second ed.).Asiatic Society of Bangladesh


BULLHE SHAH: The Rumi of Punjab



Artist's impression of Bulleh Shah. Courtsey: Wikipedia

An artist’s impression of Bullhe Shah. Courtsey Wikipedia



मैं  बेक़ैद, मैं बेक़ैद;
ना रोगी, ना वैद|

ना मैं मोमन, ना मैं फाक़र,
ना सैयद, ना सैद|

चौधीं तबक़ीं सैर असाडा,
किते ना हुंदा क़ैद|

ख़राबात है जात असाडी,
ना सोमा, ना ऐब|

बुल्ल्हेशाह दी ज़ात की पुच्छनै,
ना पैदा ना पैद|


Main beqaid main beqaid

Na rogi na waid
Na main momin na main kafir
Na saidi na said
Chothin  tabqeen sair asada
Kitte na hopnda qaid
Kharabat hai jaat asadi
Na soma na aib

Bullah shah di zaat keh puchna ain
Na paida na paid

(I am not caged

Not caged am I

Neither the sick nor the healer

Neither believer nor non-believer

I wander in the seven skies and lands

but none can grasp me in their hands

I am an intoxicated wanderer

beyond vice and virtue

Do not ask Bulle’s identity,

for he was never born, nor ever existed)

This Sufi from Punjab, whom the maulawis did not allow to be buried in the community graveyard because of his unorthodox beliefs, is today known globally as the greatest Sufi poet of Punjab; the rich and the influential, the very class which had rejected him once, today compete with each other to be buried near his grave at Qasur (near Lahore).

He was born in a Sayed family which had a long association with Sufis. His father, a noble soul with spiritual leanings and well respected was given the title of ‘Darvesh’ by the local people. But Bullhe Shah chose to follow the spiritual path shown by a humble ‘low caste’ Arai.

His original name was Abdullah Shah but the masses gave him the name Sain Bullhe Shah, Bullhe Shah or just Bulla out of affection. He is believed to have been born 1680 in the village of Uch Gilaniyan, in Bahawalpur region (in present day Pakistan). When Bulla was six months old, his father had to migrate to another village- Pando kee Bhattiyyan in Qasur district. He lived here for the rest of his life and died in 1758. His ancestors are believed to have come from Bukhara (in present day Uzbekistan) and were associated with the Sufi Hazarat Sheikh Ghaus Bahauddin Zakariyya of Multan. The tomb of Bullhe Shah’s father still stands at Pando kee Bhattiyyan where every year an urs is performed where the Kafis of Bulle Shah are sung by the locals. Bullhe Shah was well versed in Islamic theology, Arabic and Persian, however his most popular kafis are in the local language of his region: Punjabi. The simplicity of his mystical compositions made them very popular among the common people in the form of folk songs which continue to ring today in the fields and river valleys of Punjab on either side of the border.

The search for the mystical path drew Bullhe to Hazrat Inayat Shah of Lahore who belonged to the Qadiri-Shattari sisila. Hazrat Inayat Shah belonged to the Arai community who were traditionally farmers and gardeners. On being chided and persuaded by his sisters and sister- in- laws to leave the company of an Arai, Bullhe replied:

बुल्हे नूं समझावण आइयां

बुल्हे नूं समझावण आइयां,
भैणा ते भरजाइयां|

“मन्न लै बुल्ल्हिआ साडा कहणा,
छड दे पल्ला राइयां,
आल नबी औलादि अली नूं,
तूं क्यों लीकां लाइयां?”

“जेह्ड़ा सानूं, सैयद आखे,
दोज़ख मिले सज़ाइयां,
जो कोई सानूं राईं आखे,
भिश्तीं पींघां पाइयां|”

राईं साईं समनीं थाईं,
रब दियां बेपरवाहियां,
सोह्णियां परे हटाइयां,
ते कोझियां लै गल लाइयां|

जे तूं लोड़े बाग़ बहारां,
चाकर हो जा राइयां,
बुल्ल्हे शाह दी ज़ात की पुछणैं,
शाकिर हो रज़ाइयां|

Bullay Nu Samjhawan Aaian Bheynaan Tay Bharjaiyaan,
Man Lay Bulleya Sada Kena, Chad Day Palla Raaiyan

Aal Nabi Ullad Ali,
Nu Tu Kyun Lee-kaan Laiyaan.

Jeyra Saanoun Syed Saday Dozakh Milay Sazaiyaan.
Jo Koi Saanu Raie Aakhe, Bhisti Peenghaan Paian.

Jay To Lorain Baagh Baharaan ,Chaakar Ho Ja raiyaan.
Bulley Shah Dee Zaat Kee Puchni, Shaakar Ho Razayaan.

Interpretation: Bulle’s sisters and sister in-laws came to convince him of the folly of associating with a ‘low caste’ Arai since Bulle belonged to a superior ancestoly of Ali and the Prophet.

Bulle replies that those who associate him with high caste will go to hell and those who can perceive him humbelness will rejoice in heaven

If you desire nearness to God become a servant of the Arai

Don’t ask about my identity for my only identity is that I am a servant of my murshid, and have surrendered to God’s will.

Among the Sufis the divine bondage between the murshid and murid is legendary and can be equated to the Divine love between the devotee and God. Once when Bullhe Shah was separated from his murshid -Hazrat Inayat Shah, Bullhe spent days and nights in grief, his soul lost in darkness. When he was finally united with his master he said:

Ranjha Ranjha

Ranjha ranjha kardi hun main aape Ranjha hoyi
Saddo mainoon Dheedo Ranjha, Heer naa akho koyi
Ranjha main wich, main Ranjhe wich, ghair khayyal na koyi
Main naheen au aap hai, apni aap kare diljoyi
Jo kuch saade andar wasse, zaat assadi soyi
Jis de naal main neoonh lagaya oho jaisi hoyi
Chitti chaadar laa sut kuriye, pehan faqeeran loyi
Chitti chaadar daag lagesi, loyii daag na koyi
Taqt hazaare lai chal Bulleah, siyaaleen mile na dhoyi
Ranjha ranjha kardi hun main aape Ranjha hoyi


In my yearning for Ranjha (Beloved) I have become Him

Do not call me Heer anymore, call me Ranjha,

 For, I have become the One that I seek

I have merged with Ranjha and Heer no longer exists

The individual soul has merged with the Universal and rejoices in this union

We are identified with what dwells inside us

Take off these clean clothes and don a Fakir’s garb

The clean dress can get soiled but a Fakir’s humble garb can never become impure

Take me to Takht Hajeera (Ranjha’s village)

For there is nothing left for me in Syali (Heer’s village)

In seeking Ranjha I have become Him


In his Kafis Bullhe called his master by many names: Shah, Sajan, Yaar, Sain, Aarif, Ranjha etc. He would sometimes see God in the form of his master and sometimes his master in the form of God. The spinning wheel was his favourite metaphor and the grieving Heer for her beloved Ranjha were his favourite characters.He had little faith in bulky books and theology of the ‘learned’ maulawis and pundits and he would say:

इक अलफ़ पढ़ो छुटकारा ए

इक अलफ़ पढ़ो छुटकारा ए|

इक अलफ़ों दो तीन चार होए,
फिर लख करोड़ हज़ार होए,
फिर ओथों बाझ शुमार होए,
हिक अलफ़ दा नुक़ता न्यारा ए|

क्यों पढ़ना एं गड्ड किताबां दी,
सिर चाना एं पंड अज़ाबां दी,
हुण होइउ शकल जलादां दी,
अग्गे पैंडा मुश्कल मारा ए|

बण हाफ़िज़ हिफ़ज़ क़ुरान करें,
पढ़-पढ़ के साफ़ ज़बान करें,
फिर निअमत वल्ल ध्यान करें,
मन फिरदा ज्यों हलकारा ए|

बुल्लाह बी बोहड़ या बोया सी,
ओह बिरछा वड्डा जां होया सी,
जद बिरछ ओह फ़ानी होया सी,
फिर रह गया बीज अकाश ए|

इक अलफ़ पढ़ो छुटकारा ए|

Ik Alif Padho Chhutkara Ai

Ik alifon do tan char hoye
Phir lakh karor hazar hoye
Phir othon bajh shumaar hoye
Hik alif da nukta niara he

Ik alif parho chutkara he

Kiun parhnain gadd kitabaan di
Sir chana en pind azabaan di
Kiun hoyian shakal jladaan di
Agge pinda mushkal bhara he

Ik alif parho chutkara he

Hun hafiz hifz quran karain
Parh parh ke saaf zubaan karain
Per nemat wich dhian karain
Mann phirda jion halkara he

Ik alif parho chutkara he

Bullah bhi borh da hoya si
Oh birach wada ja hoya si
Jad birach oh fani hoya si
Phir reh gaya beej akash e

Read the first alphabet and be free

From the One emerged two and four and then lakhs and crores

And the world was filled with infinite forms

this unique nukta(a single point) encompasses eternity within itself

Read the first alphabet and be free


Why do you carry this burden of books on your head

They spell nothing but despair

All that knowledge makes you look like a tyrant

The way ahead is long and difficult

Read the first alphabet and be free

You memorise the Quran

And purifiy only your tongue with it

 Then you get lost in worldly matters

Your mind runs amok in all dirctions

Read the first alphabet and be free

This world was sown like a Banyan seed

It has grown with time and will die in time

All that is left will be the seed

 Alone and One in the cosmos

Read the first alphabet and be free

In this compostion Bulle Shah by cautioning the disciple not to get lost in the maze of Maya appears to be referring to mystical beliefs that are similar to the Advaita and Nirguna concepts of Hindu philosophy,


Bulle Shah believed in Universal religion and considered himself neither a Hindu nor a Muslim:

बुल्ल्हिआ, की जाणां मैं कौन?

बुल्ल्हिआ, की जाणां मैं कौन?

ना मैं मोमिन विच्च मसीतां,
ना मैं विच्च कुफ़र दियां रीतां,
ना मैं पाक आं विच पलीतां,
ना मैं मूसा ना फिरऔन|  

ना मैं विच्च पलीती पाकी,
ना विच शादी, ना ग़मना की,
ना मैं आबी ना मैं ख़ाकी,
ना मैं आतिश ना मैं पौन|

ना मैं भेत मज़ब दा पाया,
ना मैं आदम-हव्वा जाया,
ना कुछ अपणा नाम धराया,
ना विच बैठण ना विच भौण|

अव्वल आख़र आप नूं जाणां,
ना कोई दूजा आप सिआणा,
बुल्ल्हिआ औह खड़ा है कोन?

Bulla Ki Jadan Main Kawn

Bullhe! ki jaana maen kaun

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

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

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

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

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

(I know not who I am

I am neither a pious Muslim at the mosque

Nor a performer of blashphemous rites

Neither am I impure among the pure

Neither Moses nor Pharoh

Neither pure among the impure

Neither sad nor gay

I am neither water nor clay

I am neither fiery nor watery

Neither an Arab, nor Lahori

Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri

I am neither a Hindu, Turk (Muslim), nor Peshawari

Nor do I live in Nadaun

I am not identified by any faith

Nor am I from Adam and Eve’s lineage

I am not known by any name

I am neither changing nor same

In short I know no-one but myself

I know no one apart from myself

In my selflessness I am unique

Then who is this man who calls himself Bullhe?)

(Note: All translations into English are by Rupa Abdi)

Bullhe Shah was beyond all bondage and did not consider his compositions as his own. He did not write down any of his compositions but  left them in the form of oral traditions to float in the common current of folk culture: to be modified, changed and adapted by the masses and to be claimed by them as their own.

All is in the Beloved and the Beloved is in All

The rest is irrelevant…..unnecessary burden

Says Bulla……..



Sufis of the Punjab Doabs: Creaters of Folk Mysticism


The Punjab Doabs

 The Doab regions of Punjab, Courtsey: Wikipedia

The Punjab Doabs (tracts of land lying between the confluent rivers of the Punjab region of Indo-Pakistan) have produced one of the greatest Sufi saints of this subcontinent. Most of their mystical compositions are now a part of folk culture and folk songs of this region. Sometime in 905 the great mystic like Hallaj, probably sat on the very banks of one of these doabs to discuss theological problems with the sages of this land. The people of this region were travellers and traders, farmers and shepherds. Punjabi is a strong expressive language, ideal for expressing mystical feelings. Like Kabir, the Sufi poets of the doab regions used the symbol of weaving cotton, the threads are our thoughts, words and deeds with which we weave a net around ourselves….. The Punjabi Sufis wove motifs from everyday life of ordinary people to portray the various shades and subtleties of passion of a lover separated from her Beloved – the individual soul, which is always depicted as a woman in Punjabi Sufi poetry, yearning for annihilation and unity with the Eternal: blending cultural traditions with Islamic mysticism, creating a completely a new genre of Folk mysticism.  In a continent where people lived and died within the barriers of caste, community and religion, these Sufis rose above all barriers and   opened  their hearts and souls to all humanity, defying the orthodox pandits and narrow minded maulawis.

Hazrat Bābā Faridüddin Masud Gunj-i Shakar: The Lone Ascetic

(d. 1265)

‘Not every heart is capable of finding the secret of God’s love.


There are not pearls in every sea; there is not gold in every mine.’


Dargah of Baba Farid at Pakpattan, Pakistan


Shrine of Baba Farid at Pakpattan, Dera Pindi, Punjab (Pakistan) Courtsey: Wikimapia

On the far banks of the Sutlej, stands the lone figure of a Sufi who stands above and apart from those who were to follow his path but not till several hundred years had elapsed. His mystical penances were legendary and his verse excelled in simplicity and brevity. No other Sufi poet, before and after him, could convey so much in such simple a verse:

” Farid Kaaley maindey kaprey, kaala mainda wais,

Gunahan Bharehan main pheraan, Lok kahain dervish “

(Laden with sins I go around covering them with a black garb

People see me and mistake me for a Darvesh ) (Ashodara)

Baba Farid, also known as Farīduddīn Mas’ūd Ganjshakar was the first Sufi saint to compose mystical poetry in Punjabi, more precisely a local dialect Multani Punjabi (Lehendi) and thereby laid the foundation for the development of vernacular Punjabi literature. Guru Nanak Sahib is believed to have been inspired by Farids’s verses and the fifth Sikh Guru Shri Arjan Dev included some of Farid’s compositions in the Guru Granth Sahib. These came to be known as Farid bani and commentaries on Farid bani were later added by various Sikh Gurus. Baba Farid is revered by the Sikhs as one of the fifteen Sikh bhagats.

Bābā Farīd is believed to have been born in Kothewal village in Multan on the first day of Ramzan in 1173. The first spiritual influence on Farid was that of his mother who initiated him into a spiritual life. It is believed that in order to motivate him to perform the namaaz regularly; she would put some sugar crystals under his prayer mat. Once she forgot to do it, yet miraculously, after performing namaaz, Farid found some sugar under his prayer mat. That is one of the legends behind his title – Ganj-i shakar (sugar treasure). Baba Farid, completed his education by the age of sixteen, and went to Sistan and  Kandhahar and later to Mecca for Hajj.

He received his early education at Multan, where he met his murshid (master) Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (d.1235), a Sufi saint from Farghana (in present day Uzbekistan) who came to India along with his murshid, Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti (d.1236). Kaki was passing through Multan, from Baghdad on his way to Delhi.

Baba Farid later shifted to Delhi, to join his master there and to learn his doctrine. When Kaki died, Farid assumed the role of his spiritual successor. However due to political unrest in Delhi he soon moved to Ajodhan (present day Pakistan). On his way to Ajodhan and passing through Faridkot, he met the 20-year-old Nizamuddin Auliya, who later became his disciple, and successor.

The city of Faridkot is named after Baba Farid.  It is believed that, Farīd stopped by the city, then named Mokhalpūr, and sat in seclusion for forty days near the fort of King Mokhal. The king was so impressed by his presence that he named the city after Bābā Farīd, which is today known as Tilla Bābā Farīd. The festival Bābā Sheikh Farid Āgman Purb Melā’ (the coming of Baba Farid), is celebrated in September each year, marking his arrival in the city.  Baba Farid spent the rest of his life at Ajodhan which had come to be known as ‘Pāk Pattan’ (the ferry of the pure); Here, at Dera Pindi, in the month of Mohorram his mortal remains were laid to rest.

Farid’s poetical compositions are mainly composed of ‘Dohras’: a rhymed couplet, in which each of the lines generally has a caesura (a pause or break in a line of poetry), whose significance varies according to the meaning. A Dohra is a complete self-sufficient couplet, unless when it is followed by a complimentary couplet. On most occasions the last lines of the Dohra bears the name of Farid. Farid’s Dohras are distinguished by their austerity of tone and rhythm:

“Galian chikkar door ghar, naal payarey neouney,

challaan tey bhijjay kambli, rahan ta jaaey neouney.”

(Literal translation: The lanes are filled with mud but I have to keep my promise of meeting with the Beloved

If I walk on, I soil my clothes and if I stay back, I break my promise)

Interpretation: The path to the Beloved is difficult, yet I must overcome the worldly hurdles to keep my word to unite with the Beloved.

“Bhijoy sujhoy kambli Allah wirsay meen

Jai millaan tahaan sajnaa tate nahin neounay”

(Let my clothes be soiled and the Almighty make the rain pour

Go I will to meet the Beloved and keep my promise.)

Interpretation: I have no care or regard for worldly shame or name, may God (circumstances) make the path as difficult as He wants but I will overcome and meet the Beloved, reach my ultimate destination.


” Kook Farid Kook, Tu jivain Rakha Jawar

Jab lag tanda na, Giray tab lag Kook pukar.”

(Shout, Farid, shout like the mindful watchman in the corn-field; shout till the crop is mature and falls with ripeness)

Interpretation: Stay awake and watchful; let not heedlessness creep in until you have attained spiritual ripeness .



 NAQSHBANDIYYAS: People of the Silent Dhikr

 “The lights of some people precede their dhikr, while the dhikr of some people precede their lights. There is the one who does (loud) dhikr so that his heart be illumined; and there is the one whose heart has been illumined and he does (silent) dhikr.”

                                 -Ibn cAta’Allah.( (d. 1309), the third sheikh of the Shadhili Sufi order)

They brought their caravans to the sanctuary through the hidden path. The Naqshabandi’s believed that their spiritual journey began where other’s ended. The centre of their beliefs was the silent dhikr and breath control. They also emphasised saubat – the intimate conversation between the master and the disciple. This spiritual bonding gave rise to various ‘paranormal phenomenon’ such as telepathy and faith healing. They believed in spiritual education and the purification of the heart. It was a sober and rather orthodox silsila which disapproved music and sama .

 The founder of this silsila was Bahauddin Naqshband (d.1390) from Central Asia, who was a descendent of the great Imam Yusuf Hamadhani (d. 1140). Hamadhani was in turn spiritually affiliated to Abu-l-Hasan Ali al-Kharaqani (d. 1034) – an illiterate but distinguished mystic and an uwaysi (a Sufi who has been initiated not by a living master but the powerful spirit of a departed Sufi). Kharaqani was initiated into tassawuf by the spirit of Bayezid Bistami (d.874) who himself was a legendary Sufi from north west Iran.

 One of Hamadhani’s eminent khalifa, Abdul – Khaliq Ghijduwani (d.1220) is best known for the eight founding principles that are still followed by all Naqshabandiyya schools. His set of teachings are known as tariqa-yi Khawajagan (the way of the teachers; singular Khoja) and are interpreted as follows (the literal translation of the Persian words are given in brackets):

 1. hush dar dam (awareness in breath): One must safeguard his/her breath from mindlessness while breathing in and breathing out, thereby keeping her heart always in the Divine Presence. Every breath which is inhaled and exhaled with Presence is alive and connected with the Divine Presence. Every breath inhaled and exhaled with mindlessness is dead, disconnected from the Divine Presence.

 2. nazar bar qadam(to watch every step): This implies watching over one’s steps and actions. The gaze precedes the step and the step follows the gaze. The Ascension to the higher state is first by the Vision, followed by the Step. One needs to understand the Sufi path in its myriad forms before one can actually comprehend and follow this principle.

3. safar dar watan (to journey towards one’s homeland): This refers to the internal mystical journey wherein the seeker travels from the world of desire to the world of Divine.

 4. khalwat dar anjuman (solitude in the crowd): To be untouched by the vagaries of this world. To be steady in ones contemplation of the divine, to live in this world but not to be moved by it.

 5. yad kard(to recollect): To remember, to recollect all the time the Divine name and one’s ultimate destination.

6. baz gard(to return,): To surrender, to return to God i.e. to submit to the will of God.

7. nigah dasht (to be aware of one’s sight):To be aware of one’s thoughts and emotions, to restrain the thoughts that take you away from God. To safeguard one’s heart from unholy inclinations.

8. yad dasht (to remember, recall): To return again and again to that state of mind which dwells in God. To keep one’s heart in Allah’s Divine Presence continuously. This allows one to realize and manifest the Light of the Unique Essence

‘Although Adam had not got wings,

 Yet he has reached a place that was not destined even for angels’

– Mir Dard

This silsila gained influence over the business class and royalty of Central Asia and as a result grew highly politicized. Under the leadership of Khwaja Ahrar (d.1490), an influential Naqshabandi saint, this silsila dominated the entire Central Asian region and even the Mongols, Timurs and Uzbegss came under its sway. Like the early Suhrawardis, the Khwaja believed that in order to serve the world they needed to exercise political power.

 Dargah of Mazhar Janjanan at Delhi

The Naqshabandi silsila was founded in India by Khwaja Baqi billah(d.1785). His disciple Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (d. 1624) played an important role in Indian political and religious life. In India, most prominent Naqshabandi saints, such as Khwaja Mir Dard (d.1785), Shah Waliullah(d.1762), who was also initiated into the Qadiriyya silsila, and Mazhar Janjanan(d. 1782), were based in Delhi and besides politics made major contribution to Sufi poetry and theology in Urdu .

 Dargah of Khawaja Baqi Billah at Delhi. Courtesy: Mayank Austen Soofi

Looming large over other Naqshabandi saints of the Indian subcontinent is Khawaja Mir Dard who was one of the four pillars of Urdu poetic tradition and is acknowledged as the greatest mystical poet of Urdu language.

‘Alas O ignorant one:

 at the day of death this will be proved:

 A dream was what we saw, what we heard, a tale’

 – Mir Dard

QADIRIYYAS: The Miracle performers

 Ucch Sharif at Multan. Courtesy:Gilbert (NFIE)

The most popular Qadri saints in India are Bulle Shah (d.1768) and Sultan Bahu (d. 1691) in the north, and Hazrat Shahul Hameed Qadir Wali of Nagore in the south. Several karaamaat (miracles) are attributed to the founder as well as the early saints of this silsila. This silsila was established by Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 1166) from Baghdad. He is known as the master of the Jinn. His influence extended from Turkey, to Baghdad and across West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. There are Sindhi songs describing his glory and ancient trees named after him. It is believed that one of his descendents – Muhammad Ghaus (d. 1517) established this order in the Indian subcontinent. He along with the first missionaries of this silsila settled in Ucch, north east of Multan (Punjab-Pakistan) in the late fifteenth century. From here this silsila spread to the rest of the Indian subcontinent, and even as far as Indonesia and Malaysia. Eminent Sufis of this silsial were Mian Mir (d. 1635) whose ancestors came from Siwistan in Sindh, his sister Bibi Jamal (d.1647 ), Mir’s disciple Molla Shah Badakshi (d. 1661), who was a scholar and writer of Sufi literature. Molla Shah initiated the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh(d.1659) and his elder sister Jahanara (d.1681)  into this silsila.

 Hazrat Shahul Hameed Qadir Wali’s dargah at Nagore in Tamil Nadu

Abdul-Haqq Dihlawi (d.1642) was among the influential Qadiriyya saints of Delhi. According to him the Qadiri principle of perfect life in the world was to follow the sharia laws and the jurists teachings and then the Sufi path. However the mystical aspect into this silsila was introduced by Mian Mir .



In India the four major silsilas to take root were Suhrawardiyya, Chishtiyya, Qadiriyya and Naqshabandiyya. From these major orders many suborders such as Shattariyya branched out.

Founders of the four great Sufi orders

THE CHISHTIYYAS: Founders of Indian Sufism


This was the silsila which with its spirit of equality and brotherhood won the hearts of the people of the subcontinent. The doors of the Chishtiyya khanqahs were open to all at all times. This silsila was instrumental in spreading Islam in central and southern Indian with its ocean like generosity, mildness of the evening sun and earth-like modesty. Sufism became a mass movement under the influence of Chishti saints who settled in the Indus region: Sind, Punjab and Multan. The contempt of the Chishti saints for the rulers was obvious from their refusal to accept any land or money from them. The early Chishti saints considered anything accepted from the rulers as unlawful. From the ‘low caste’ Hindus to the mighty Mogul kings, all bowed in reverence at the feet of the great Chishti saints.

The birth place of the Chishti order is believed to be in Chisht, a village, sixty miles east of Herat in present day Afghanistan. However in the Indian subcontinent Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (d.1236) was instrumental in laying the foundations of Sufism especially the Chishtiyya silsila. He was born in Sistan (a province bordering Iran and Afghanistan) and in his early years was inspired by Abu Najib Surhawardi. Muinuddin who was also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaaz (benefactor of the poor), reached Delhi in 1193 but later shifted to Ajmer when it was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate.


Dargah of Khwaja Garib Nawaaz at Ajmer

Among the most important disciples of Muinuddin was Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (d.1235) who carried out the Chishtiyya work in Delhi. His successor was Shaykh Fariduddin  or Baba Farid (d.1265), the legendary sufi poet of Punjab, whose disciple was another great saint – Nizamuddin Auliya (d.1325), whose disciple was the popular poet and muscian Amir Khosrau (d.1325). Other prominent Chishti saints and poets were Shaykh Hamiduddin Nagori (d.1274) who was based in Nagaur (Rajasthan) and was known for his vegetarianism and frugal life style; Hasan Sijzi Dihlawi (d.1328); Bu Ali Qalandar Panipati (d. 1323); Hazrat Nasiruddin Roshan Chiragh-i Dehli (d.1356); Muhammad Bandanawaz Gisudara (d.1422) who spread the Chishtiyya silsila in southern India with the patronage of Bahmani Sultans of Deccan. He was the first Indian Sufi to write in Dakhani (the southern branch of Urdu); Shaykh Salim Chishti (d. 1572) and Warith Shah (d.1798) .

Dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki at Mehrauli, Delhi

THE SUHRAWARDIYYAS:  Political Diplomats

The sufis of this order were known for their close ties with the rulers and played a key role in making war and peace. They acted as political emissaries and ambassadors and  held important posts as advisers in the royal court and excepted jagirs and gifts as royal patronage.  The early Suhrawardiyya saints believed that it was their duty to guide the rulers. It  was from this silsila that Muinuddin Chishti drew his first inspiration. However the Chishtiyya silsila stood in stark contrast to the Surhawaddiyyas in their contempt for rulers and governments.

This silsila was founded in north west Iran by Abdul Qahir Abu Najib as-Suhrawardi (d. 1168). He was a disciple of the well known Imam Ghazzali’s youngr brother – Ahmad Ghazzali. However, more influential than Abdul Qahir Abu Najib as-Suhrawardi was his nephew – Shihabuddin Abu Hafs Umar as-Suhrawardi (d.1234), whose treatise – Awarif al-Maarif became an essential part of the courses on Sufism taught in Indian madarsas.  In the Indian subcontinent, this silsila was introduced by Bahauddin Zakariya Multani (d. 1262) who was a contemporary of Baba Farid.The two Sufis not only lived miles apart from each other but were also miles apart in their attitude towards material wealth and rulers. Bhahauddin was a prosperous landlord whereas Baba Farid was a fakir in the true sense of the word.

Some of the eminent Suhraawardi saints were Sayyid Jalaluddin Surkhpush (the red dressed one, d.1292) who was a disciple of Zakariya. He came from Bukhara and settled in Ucch (north east of Multan in present day Punjab-Pakistan). Fakhruddin Iraqi (d. 1289), a was a well known Persian poet and a disciple of Bahauddin Zakariya whose tender and intoxicatiing love songs continue to be sung at his master’s tomb in Multan.  Ucch became a centre of Suhrawarddiyya silsila under the tireless efforts of Jalaluddin Makhdum-i Jahaniyan, (the one whom all the people of the world serve), (d.1383). Jalaluddin Tabrizi (d.1244) who was a disciple of Abu Hafs Umar Suhrawardi, played a key role in spreading the Suhraawardi message in Bengal.

Dargah of Gisudaraz at Gulbarga, Karnataka.

Sufism and Indian Sufism

Artisit’s impression of Baba Farid


Kaagaa sab tan khaiyo, chun chun khaiyo maans,

Do nenan mat khaiyo, mohe piyaa milan ki aas

(O crow eat my body and every morsel of my flesh

But pray eat not my eyes for they wait for the sight of the Beloved)

–          Hazrat Baba Farid

The above composition by Hazrat Fariduddin Ganj-i Shakar fondly called Baba Farid, a sufi from Punjab and a disciple of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, captures in one couplet the soul of Sufism. Once Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, asked Baba Farid, to go into 40 day seclusion while hanging upside down in a well. Baba Farid hung motionless in meditation, mistaking him for a corpse the crows began to gather around him, that was when he composed the above lines.

Sufism or tassawuf can be simply defined as the mystical dimension of Islam. It is one of the greatest schools of mysticism which has not only survived the test and tribulation of time but continues to flourish today in all its infinite shades. Sufism, like a flowing river, defies description. To know it, one must experience it: drink its waters, swim in it and drown in it to eventually merge with the Ocean.

 Sufism has emerged out of the esoteric significance attached by an important section of Muslims to the words of the Quran. The elevated feeling of Divine apprehension of which the Prophet often spoke, the depth and passion of his ecstatic rapture which characterised his devotions constitute the foundations of Sufism. The Islamic doctrine of ’inward light’ inspired the early Muslim ascetics to lead a contemplative life, devoted to a higher yearning after the Infinite. Sufism is based on the idea among nobler Muslim minds that there is a deeper and more inward sense in the verses of the Quran. This belief did not arise from the wish to escape from the rigour of ‘texts and dogmas’ but from a deep conviction that the words of the Quran mean more, not less, than the popular expounders supposed them to convey. The word Sufism originally called Tasawuff in Arabic and Urdu, is derived from the word ‘suf’ which means ‘wool’ in Arabic, alluding to the coarse woollen garment worn by the first generation of Muslim ascetics .

Sufis believe that they live in this world but are not of it: they posses nothing and are possessed by nothing. However following the basic tenets of the Quran and the service of fellow humans are an integral part of Sufism .The Path to God, according to the Prophet, is threefold: the sharia (the words of the Prophet), the tariqa (his actions), and haqiqa (his interior states. According to the Sufis the seeker of Truth by intensive inwardness and communion with God can rise by successive stages of adoration to a state of consciousness when she can actually have a vision of the divine essence. The various steps or stages along the path are known as maqam (pl .maqamat). The first step along the Path is for the adept to form the niyat (the resolve or intention); followed by tauba (repentance and renunciation). She is now on the firmly on the Path, this stage is called mujahadah (striving and struggle with the carnal self). After a prolonged mujahadah the ecstatic soul appears in the Presence still veiled, this stage is called muhazara. The next maqam is the lifting of the veil of ignorance (mukashafa) and finally when God becomes revealed to the devotee’s heart and she begets divine Vision, this stage is called mushahada .


In the later years, brotherly love began to be emphasised in the social discourse of the Sufis reflecting the Prophetic tradition of ‘Al-mu’min mir’at al-mu’min’ (the faithful is the mirror of the faithful). When a Sufi notices a weakness in his neighbour he is supposed to correct this very weakness in himself. Brotherly love was to be extended not just to other Sufis but to whole of humanity. Since service of humanity also included aiding in their spiritual upliftment Sufis started expanding their groups and spreading their spiritual message to all levels of population and by early 12th century Sufi fraternities or orders (silsilas) began to emerge each with a distinct tariqa (set of practices and beliefs) that each founder had evolved to attain the Infinite. By the 14th century fourteen Sufi orders had crystallised. The Suhrawardiyya, the Qadariyya, the Kubrawiyya, the Shadhiliyya and the Badawiyya were some of them. Sufi masters (called sheikh, pir, or murshid) began to send their disciples (murids) to distant lands to spread their teachings. Many prominent Sufis travelled to India.


Several hundred years before any Muslim invader set foot on the Indian subcontinent, Muslim traders had been coming to the western ports of India extending from Gujarat to Kerala. The first Muslim army to reach India was led by an Arab conqueror – Muhammad bin Qasim in 711 who occupied the regions from Sind to Multan. The first Sufi to come to India was Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d.222). He travelled in the lands conquered by the Arabs and discussed theology with the saints of this region. The second wave of Muslim conquest was in the year 1000 and was led by the Gaznawids, and it was Mahmud Ghazni’s conquest of Punjab that is believed to have led a number of prominent Sufis to settle in this region.  Lahore became the first centre of Persian inspired Muslim culture and it was in this city that Abu’l-Hasan’Ali bin ‘Usman al-Hujwiri(, known as Data Ganj Bakhsh (~Distributor of Unlimited Treasure) composed his famous Kashfu’l-mahjub, in Persian. This treatise gives the biographies, thought and practices of Sufis from the time of the Prophet to his own time. However Sufism’s full impact began to be felt in the late 12th and early 13th century after the formation of main Sufi orders in the Muslim countries and the most outstanding contributor to this movement was Hazrat Mu’inuddin Chishti (d.1236). Islam in most parts of India spread not at the point of sword of the Muslim invaders but by the power of the Sufi saints like Mu’inuddin Chishti and his disciples whose simple preaching and practise of love of God and one’s neighbour impressed many Hindus, especially those belonging to the so called ‘lower castes’.

Data Ganj Baksh's durgah at Lahore, courtsey Abdul Nishapuri

While the Sufis of Middle East and North African countries flourished in lands that had already been Islamised, the Sufis in the Indian subcontinent were faced with the challenge of spreading their message among people belonging to an ‘alien’ faith. This was their biggest challenge and this was their biggest triumph and in this respect they stand above their brethren who served in other parts of the world.

Indian Sufism owes it uniqueness to its great power of selective assimilation of local culture, folk tales and symbology. While it protected itself from any considerable or overwhelming external influence, it included whatever struck and impressed it and in the act of inclusion transformed it in harmony with its own Essence. In this process Sufism in the Indian subcontinent has developed its own flavours and shades. Apart from contributing to the spiritual upliftment of rulers and ruled alike, two of the greatest contributions of the Indian Sufism have been: the creation of syncretic traditions in the Indian subcontinent thereby creating communal harmony among followers of diverse faith; and the creation of exquisite and divine music, prose and poetry that further enriched the astonishingly diverse culture of this subcontinent.


Tombs of sages at Makli Hill, Thatta, Sind(Pakistan)
The regions of Sind and Punjab, nurtured by the waters of Indus, have produced one of the the greatest sufi saints of this subcontinent. Some time in 905 the great mystic like Halaj, probably sat on the very banks of this river to discuss theological problems witht the sages of Sind. The people of this region were travelers and traders, farmers and shepherds. Apart from Sindhi, many Sindhi sufi poets used Siraiki, a northern dialect of Sindhi which transits into Punjabi. Sindhi and Punjabi are both strong expressive languages, ideal for expressing mystical feelings. Like Kabir the sufi poets of the Indus regions used the symbol of weaving cotton, the threads are our thoughts, words and deeds with which we weave a net around ourselves….. The Sindhi and Punjabi sufis wove motifs from everyday life of these simple folk to portray the various shades and subtleties of passion of a lover separated from her beloved – the individual soul yearning for annihilation and unity with the Eternal: blending cultural traditions with Islamic mysticism. In a continent where people lived and died within the barriers of caste, community and religion, these Sufis rose above all barriers and   opened  their hearts and souls to all humanity, defying the orthodox pandits and narrow minded maulawis.


Among the wilderness heights,
where not a bird can perch
burns the dhuni of yogis……..
– Shah Latif
In the 18th century the mighty Indus river chartered a different course; it carried more water and its banks and valleys were a lot greener than they are today. In the region of Sindh or Mehwar, as it was called then, the river was, and still is, flanked by the hills of Gorakh, Ganjo, and Kinjher, and by Hinglaj in Baluchistan. Among the pristine slopes of these hills roamed one of the greatest sufis of Sindh: Shah Abdul Latif.
Through, valleys, hills and along rivers he wandered… seeking the company of Nath Yogis, following their dhunis (ritual fires) which they would set alight among the highest and remote peaks of these hills.
Though born into a family of sufis, it was in the company of these yogis that Shah Latif grasped the mysteries of life and reality. He would also live among farmers and shepherds, weaving great mystical truths into their folklore and ballads. Shah Latif was an uwaisi mystic i.e. he had no predecessor or master and therefore did not belong to any of the formal sufi orders or tariquaas.

‘Hal qurban, mal qurban

According to Shah Latif, on the Path, both bliss of the mystical states and worldly possessions have to be sacrificed. The Path is difficult and the mountains too steep to weigh down your mind with any burdens or attachments.

Shah Abdul Latif was born in 1689 in Hala, near present day Hyderabad (Sind, Pakistan). He is believed to have roamed in the company of yogis for three years and travelled as far as Baluchistan, Rajasthan, Kutch and Kathiawar. The collection of his mystical poems titled, ‘Shah jo Risalo‘ (The book of Shah). It comprises of more than 1200 pages and contains 30 surs based on different ragas. Some of these ragas are from Indian classical music and some were originally composed by Shah Latif himself. The Risalo begins with Sur Kalyan: it describes the One God and its various manifestations and the suffering that the Seeker has to endure on the path of devotion. This is followed by Sur Yaman Kalyan and Sur Khanbhat….Sur Sarirag and Sur Samundi, the latter describes the trials and tribulations of a seafarer on his final Journey. In some of his surs, Shah Latif has dealt exclusively with the traits/signs of the true men of God: Sufis and Yogis. Above all, Shah Latif emphasises the importance of Ikhlas:sincerity and adab: right behaviour or conduct for the tavellers of the Path.The Risalo uses a combinations of metaphors, symbols and folk tales to reveal the secrets of the Path. Among the most popular of his poems, which were composed in the form of Kafis or Ways and Bayts, are those based on the folktales of legendary lovers like SohniMehanwal, SassaiPunhun and NuriTamachi.

‘Surrender all actions to the Glorious whom you seek’

Without grief or thought and His grace will bring to you

what you need…..’

Shah advises the estranged lovers to forsake greed and become humble, tauba or repentance is essential on the path to the Beloved, taming of the nafs (the lower soul or the ego)symbolised by the camel and constant wakefulness, tawakkul:trust in God and complete surrender to the will of God, sabr: patience and rida: contentment advised for the lovers, travellers and seafarers.

‘Nothing that comes from the beloved is bitter

all is sweet if you taste it with faith’

Sassui, a washer man’s daughter, separated from her lover Prince-Tamachi, wandering alone in the desert, lonely and hopeless – symbolic of the various stages of the separated soul before it can be one with God: hope, longing, fear and annihilation…She finally realizes that Tamachi is no longer apart from her, but within her own heart and the outward journey is transformed into a journey within…… and finally the destination, the state fana: annihilation in God is realised. But this Path , according to Shah Latiff, is treacherous:

‘the company of the Yogis is not for the weak….only those who are predestined to wear the cap of the Sufis can walk this Path…..’

In his later years, Shah Latif settled at Bhit, not far from Hala, and spent the rest of his life in the company of his disciples. His beautiful shrine at Bhit Shah is as exquisite as his poetry.

The land of Sind also harboured other sufi saints like Lal Shahbaz Kalandar who lived on the west bank of lower Indus besides a Shiva lingam, this lingam still stands besides his tomb today at Sehwan;
Sachal Sarmast also known as the ‘Attar of Sind’, who was a companion of Shah Latif, and a  sufi poet who wrote in Sindhi, Sairaki, Urdu and Persian.  At Makli Hill near Thatta are buried 125,000 saints of Sind. Even the Hindus of Sind came under the influence of these great sufis. Hindu writers used Muslim imagery in their mystical poems and in the Ta’ziya during the Muharram mourning of the Shia community of Sind.





The Fakir from Punjab






ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥

(Ik ōaṅkār sat nām kartā purkh nirbha’u nirvair akāl mūrat ajūnī saibhaṃ gur prasād )

One creator, one supreme reality,
His formless unity manifests itself in limitless forms
His name represents one cosmic Truth, one without a second, without fear or limitation
He is the creator, the timeless form, self-created, self manifesting……
May the Guru’s grace be with us……

These were the first words, (mool mantra -the basic holy chant) uttered by Guru Nanak upon his spiritual awakening. This formed the basis of Sikhism, the spiritual path shown by Guru Nanak. Guru Granth Sahib – the holy book of the Sikhs also begins with this mantra, and the rest of the book merely elaborates on the multiple dimensions of the this universal mantra.

Very little is known about the identity of this saint who was born in the 15th century in Punjab, a region in north India. His birth place was the village of Talwandi which falls in present day Pakistan.
Guru Nanank got married and had a family, he believed in living in this world, but not being swayed by it. He performed his duties as a family man but his heart was always submerged in the love and yearning for his God, whose praise he would sing night and day. The Gurudwaras of the Sikhs still ring with the melodius Guru Banis – the songs of the Gurus.
While Hindu and Muslim bigots fight over whether Guru Nanak was a Hindu or Muslim reformist, his true disciples, the Sikhs, are only concerned with following their Guru’s teachings. Guru Nanak was against divisive religions, outward ritualism and running away from worldly responsibilities. He asked his disciples to follow three simple teachings:

Naam Japan:: Chanting the Holy Name , ceaseless devotion to one God
Kirat Karo: Making an honest living
Vand Chakkho: : Sharing and caring for others

Some believe that the Sikh religion consists of the higher ideals of Bhakti Yoga and Sufism. Very few people are aware of the fact that the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, also known as Harminder Sahib, was laid by a sufi – Hazrat Miyan Mir, who was especially invited by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev for this purpose.

Guru Nanak was greatly influenced by Kabir and Shaikh Ibrahim Farid (1450 – 1535) a descendent of the famous Sufi saint Shaikh Fariduddin Shakarganj of Pak Pattan whose works, along with Hazarat Mian Meer and Waris Shah., were incorporated in the Guru Garanth Sahib.  Their work makes up 33 percent of the book. Guru Nanak undertook a deep study of Hindu and Muslim faiths, traveled to Mecca, Medina, Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey  and Baghadad with his childhood Muslim companion – Bhai Mardana, and subsequently came up with his own simple teachings bereft of any outward rituals or symbols. Guru Nanak’s main objective was to bring together Hindus and Muslims of India in common worship of one God, overcoming all caste and social distinctions.

The Guru told his followers that they were to be householders and could not live apart from the world — there were to be no ascetic or hermits. He introduced the practice of langar -the communal meal, where the rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim, high caste and low caste, would sit together to eat.
Like all the other faiths present day Siikhism has developed into an organised religion with political overtones.

Kabir: the weaver of mystic


Where do you seek me O devout?
I reside neither in the temple nor in the mosque
neither in Kashi nor in Kaba
Neither in rites nor in ceremonies
Neither in Yoga nor in renunciation……
the true seeker shall find me in a moments realisation
for I reside in the very breath of your being….

(translated from the ‘Bijak’ collection of Kabir sayings)


Sometime in the 15th century lived a julaha – a ‘low caste’ Muslim weaver, who preached the oneness of all men and all beliefs, the futility of all religions and rituals and the eventual passing away of all that is of flesh or of material in this phenomenal world. His name was Kabir. He claimed no sainthood or a personal philosophy. He taught the religion of love, in a language that could be understood by all –Sadhukhadi, the twilight language of the mystic poets, bhakti saints and sufi poets. Kabir was the first, the first to imbibe a pluralistic tradition in his teachings and poetry, the first to transcend both Hinduism and Islam. Many were to follow in his footsteps….Akbar, Dara Shikoh, Amir Khusro…., but Kabir was the first to win the hearts and souls of the people who mattered – the common people of India. An illiterate, he spoke of the highest esoteric truths in a simple language. A simplicity that the ‘learned’ pundits and maulvis are incapable of. One can see the syncretic reflections of Advaita theology and intense and personal passion of Islamic mysticism in his spontaneous compositions. Indian sufis in Delhi, Agra and Kashmir were reading his poetry during the rule of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. He was a predecessor of Guru Nanak, – the founder of Sikh religion. The sacred Guru Granth Sahib contains a substantial number of Kabir’s verses. Kabir is believed to have been born around 1398 and died around 1448. Most of his life was spent in the Banaras-Magahar region of present Uttar Pradesh, India. He was a family man and did not retire from the world to pursue a life of contemplation. He lived the simple life of a Julaha and died like one, earning his living at the loom and spurning the company of the ‘learned’ and royalty alike. He believed that the simple and hardworking life of an ordinary man was the world in which the quest for Higher Reality could be fullfilled. According to Kabir, every individual has to find his own Path and seek liberation from this illusory world of Maya. This, he says, can be achieved through unwavering love for the Higher Reality or God and compassion for fellow humans. He compares the individual soul or atman to the Hansa or swan, who will leave the cage of this body and fly away into the vastness of the limitless sky:

Ud Jayega Huns Akela,

Jug Darshan Ka Mela

Jaise Paat Gire Taruvar Se,

Milna Bahut Duhela

Naa Jane Kidhar Girega,

Lageya Pawan Ka Rela

Jub Howe Umur Puri,

Jab Chute Ga Hukum Huzuri

Jum Ke Doot Bade Mazboot,

Jum Se Pada Jhamela

Das Kabir Har Ke Gun Gawe,

Wah Har Ko Paran Pawe

Guru Ki Karni Guru Jayega,

Chele Ki Karni Chela


Which loosely translates as:


Alone you shall fly O Swan


This world is a brief fanfare

Like a leaf that falls from a tree

where to it will fall,

where to the wind will carry it

no one can tell

once your life is over

servitude and slavery is over

the omens of Yam (Death) are strong

it is Yam (Death) you will encounter

Kabir had immersed himself in the praise of God

and God he will attain

the Guru will reap his karmas

and the disciple his.


Kabir’s another composition addresses the Swan thus:

O Swan let us talk of ancient tales

where from have you come

and what dark shores do you seek ?

Awake ! Arise!

the morning is upon us

follow me

and I will take you to a land

where there is no sorrow

no fear of death

where the wind blows

with the fragrance of

“I am thou”

in Whose nectar the bee of the heart

is deeply immersed

and yearns for no other joy…


Sufism: Being in love with Love

As I navigated my way through the maze of lanes in Nizammudin West (Delhi), that led to the durgah of Amir Khusrow, I was appalled by the filth, and crass commercialization that seem to ooze from every corner of those lanes. ‘Could these lanes really lead me to the shrine of one of greatest Sufi poets of this continent …?’, I wondered to myself, struck by the irony of the fact that the final resting place of such divine a soul was now surrounded by the most base of human passions.
I began to reminiscent as I trudged along – ‘Who were these beings called ‘Sufis’ …?’. They were of flesh but without its weaknesses, ever lost in the love of the Divine. Yearning, seeking and then, rejoicing in the union with their Beloved. One cannot define Sufism, or for that matter mysticism, it would be like trying to hold water in a clenched fist. A true Sufi is in love with Love. Love that is all encompassing and infinite, for isn’t love another name for God? The great Sufi poet Rumi describes this Love as “drinking without quenching”. The essence of Sufism is to be in love with God with such intense passion that it leads to the dissolution of the Self (fana) and the lover becomes one with the Beloved.
It is in essence similar to the Bhakti Yoga of Hinduism. Complete love leads to complete surrender to the will of God. With the ego no longer an obstacle ‘illusion’ is replaced by ‘awareness’ of the divine nature of all things. However one cannot be initiated into Sufism by reading about it or practicing the various rituals associated with it or by contemplation. It is a spontaneous process like falling in love. It just happens to you by divine grace or not at all.
Historians describe Sufism as the mystical core of Islam, tracing its roots to Prophet Mohammad who is believed to have received two fold revelations – the one embodied in the holy Koran and the other in his heart. The former was meant for all and the latter was to be imparted to a selected few through a line of succession. However according to Sufis the essential truths of Sufism exist in all religions. Sufism is like river which has been flowing through many lands, imbibing the culture and religious beliefs of the region it flowed through.
As I reached the durgah, waving aside the various hawkers selling all kinds of ‘religious’ trinkets, I was in for a disappointment. The durgah itself seemed to have been robbed of its sublime aura by the decades of decadence that had befallen the people in charge of its upkeep. The so called ‘custodians’ of the durgah had become scavengers of faith. I returned home to my collection of Khusrow’s soul stirring compositions, they were now his only incorruptible legacy.



Notes: Nizamuddin, is a south-Delhi locality named after the dargah of the Sufi Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya. Next to his grave lies buried his greatest disciple: Amir Khusro who was a poet, philosopher, musician, and linguist. Amir Khusrow Dehlavi (1253-1325) brought music to sufism and made it sing, blending folk and classical music, Amir Khusrow was the genius who through his love for the Divine, music and poetry, defined the pluralistic traditions of the Indian subcontinent. It is noteworthy that both Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusrow were against organised religion as they believed that the clergy were more interested in power than in spreading the word of God.




The image at the top is an artist’s impression of Amir Khusrow