Category Archives: spirituality

The Upanishad Diaries – I

An artists impression of Ved Vyas

‘Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the ignorance, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.’

Isha Upanishad

Some time around 2000 BC, or perhaps even earlier, when much of Europe was still perfecting the art of survival, sages and seers of India were contemplating on the very nature of Reality. 

Meditating along river banks, on slopes of the mighty Himalayas and in remote forests, these wise men had realised  that  human existence was a mere veil of something mightier and more profound than life itself.  They had discovered that there was a more ‘real’ existence than the mental existence and a ‘greater’ Life than the physical life. For the awakened men the forms and enjoyments that ordinary men worship and pursue were not anymore the object of desire. 

Thus rose the cry of the Upanishads – Rise and aspire beyond, free yourself from this illusory world of phenomenon and death and become your true immortal Self !!

The Upanishads also known as the Vedanta or the culmination of the Vedas, are actually the essence of all Vedas and from the Upanishads was born the Bhagavad Gita, the song celestial – which contains a philosophy so practical and yet so profound that no other philosophy of this world or the next has been able to surpass it.

The European powers were astounded when they were told by a German Indologist, Max Muller and later by another German philosopher, Schopenhauer that the earliest inhabitants of this  primitive and savage land that they had set out to civilize and conquer had discovered the highest metaphysical truths when much of European civilization was still in its  infancy. 

Ironically it was the Persian translation of the Upanishad written by a Muslim prince – Dara Shikoh which was instrumental in taking the primeval Hindu wisdom to the West. 

to be continued…….


The Wadali Brothers

In recent times Sufi music and poetry have moved from the shrine to the stage. Some consider this trend to be undesirable. They believe that in the attempt to make it more appealing it is being diluted and corrupted for public consumption. However the fact remains that the increasing popularity of Sufi music and poetry, in whatever form, has in no small measure contributed in revealing the compassionate, tolerant and creative aspect of Islam to the non-Muslim audience.

Like its philosophy and beliefs, the Sufi poetry performances have, over the ages, adapted to the indigenous styles of the continent as well as added some of their own. Among the most popular are Sufiana Kalaams (sacred words or compositions), Kafis (folk music from the Punjab region), K’waali (a form of devotional singing normally performed at Sufi dargahs), and Na’at (poetry recitation in the praise of Prophet Mohammad).

Amir Khusrau’s Compositions in Bollywood Films

The Gifted Writer Gulzar. Courtsey: Wikipedia

Hindi movies were among the first to introduce compostions by Sufis to the larger public. The most popular among movie makers were the lok geets and love songs of Amir Khusro. His compositions in Hindavi (a synthesis of Brijbhasha and Urdu)  were among the first to find place in Hindi movies. Some of his mystical compositions in which Hindvi and Persian couplets were seamlessly woven appeared in the later period.The movie ‘Suhag Raat,’ under the direction of Kedar Nath Sharma, produced in 1948, had a bidai geet (song sung when the bride is finally sent away with her in-laws) penned by Amir Khusro and sung by Mukesh. The music director was Snehal Bhatkar. This composition was also sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the film Heer Ranjha (1948) with some modifications, and again in the 1954 film ‘Suhagan’, under the music direction of C.Ramchandra and Vasant Desai. In this song, the young bride is appealing to her father not to marry her and send her away to foreign shores:


kaahe ko byaahe bides, are lakhiyan baabul mohe 

kaahe ko byaahe bides …


ham to baabul tore khunthe ki gayaa

jahan  kaho tyon bandhehi jaye

are lakhiyan baabul mohe …

kaahe ko byaahe bides …




ham to baabul tore bele ki kaliyan 

are ghar-ghar maange hain jaaye

are lakhiyan baabul mohe …

kaahe ko byaahe bides …


Hum To Baabul Tore,
Pinjarae Ki Chidiya
Are Kuhuk-Kuhuk RaatI Jaaye

mahalan tale se dola jo nikala 

are beeran mein chhaaye pachhaad

are lakhiyan baabul mohe

kaahe ko byaahe bides …


bhaiya ko diyo baabul mahalan do mahalan 

are ham ko diyo pardesh

are lakhiyan baabul mohe


kaahe ko byaahe bides

are lakhiyan baabul mohe

However the best rendition of this song was by Jagjit Kaur, under the music direction of Khayyam in the  1981 film  ‘Umrao Jaan’ produced and directed  by Muzaffar Ali.

Amir Khusro q’waali style was introduced to the moive audience in the film ‘Barsat ki raat’ (1960), directed by P.L.Soni. The q’waali,  ‘Ye Ishk Ishk Hai’  under the music direction of Roshan became an instant hit This movie was among the first bollywood movies to popularise the q’waali form of music, in which the legendary poet Sahir Ludhianvi took some liberties with the following composition of Amir Khusro:

Bahut Kathin hai dagar panghat ki,
Kaisay main bhar laaun madhva say matki?
Paniya bharan ko main jo gayi thi,
Daud jhapat mori matki patki.
Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki.
Khusrau Nijaam kay bal bal jayyiye
Laaj rakho moray ghoonghat pat ki.
Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki.


Later in 1962, Shevan Rizvi introduced Hindi film audience to another of Khusro’s compositions in the film ‘Ek Musafir Ek Hasina’ under the music direction of O.P.Nayyar. The film was directed by Sashadhar Mukherjee. The following lines were beautifully sung by Asha Bhonsle:

Zabaan-e yaar-e mun Turkie, wa mun Turkie nami daanum,
Che khush boodi agar boodi zabaanash dar dahanay mun.

My beloved speaks Turkish, but I do not know Turkish;
How I wish that I could speak her/his language.

The first scene of Hindi film Junoon (1978), produced by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Shayam Benegal, opens with  a beautiful composition by Amir Khusro, ‘ Chchap teelak sab chcheeni re’  combined with ‘Aaj rang hai’ set to music by Vanraj Bhatia and sung by Jamil Ahmed:

ख़ुसरौ रैन सुहाग की, जो मैं जागी पी के संग,
टन मोरा मान पिया का, जो दोनो एक ही रंग.

ख़ुसरौ दरिया प्रेम का, जो उल्टी वाह की धार,
जो उभरा, सो डूब गया, जो डूबा सो पार.

अपनी छाब बनाई के, जो मैं पी के पास गयी,
छाब देखी जब पिया की, मोहे अपनी भूल गयी.

छाप तिलक सब छीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

बल बल जाउन मैं, तोरे रंग रेजावा,
ऐसी रंग दो के रंग नाहीं छूटे, धोबिया धोए चाहे सारी उमारिया

बल बल जौन मैं, तोरे रंग रेजावा,
अपनी सी रंग दीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

प्रेम भाटी का माधवा पीलायके

मटवारी कर दीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

गोरी गोरी गोरी बैयाँ, हरी हरी चूड़ियाँ,
बहियाँ पकड़ हर लीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके.

ख़ुसरौ निज़ाम के बाल बाल जैय्हैन …

मोहे सुहागन कीनी रे, मो से नैना मिलायके

Khusrau rain suhaag ki, jo main jaagi pi ke sang,
Tan mora man piya ka, jo dono ek hi rang.
Khusrau dariya prem ka, jo ulti waah ki dhaar,
Jo ubhra, so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar.
Apni chab banaai ke, jo main pi ke paas gayi,
Chab dekhi jab piya ki, mohey apni bhool gayi.
Chaap Tilak sab cheeni re, moh se naina milayke.

Baat agham keh deeni re moh se naina milayke.
Bal bal jaaun main, tore rang rejava,

Aisi rang do ke rang naahin chhutey,
Dhobiya dhoye chaahe saari umariya
Bal bal jaaun main, tore rang rejava,
Apni si rang deeni re, moh se naina milayke.
Prem bhati ka madhva pilayke
Matwari kar deeni re, moh se naina milayke.
Gori gori gori baiyaan, hari hari chudiyaan,
Bahiyaan pakad har leeni re, moh se naina milayke

Khusro Nizam ke bal bal janiya

Mohe suhagan ki nee re moh se naina milayke.

Aaj Rang Hai

Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri
Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri
Sajan milaavra, sajan milaavra,
Sajan milaavra moray aangan ko
Aaj rung hai……..
Mohay pir paayo Nijamudin aulia
Nijamudin aulia mohay pir payoo
Des bades mein dhoondh phiree hoon
Toraa rung man bhayo Nizamuddin.,
Jag ujiyaaro, jagat ujiyaaro,
Main to aiso rang aur nahin dekhi sakhi
Main to jab dekhun moray sung hai ri,

Mohay Apne He Rung Mein Rung Lay Khuwaja Ji

Mohay Rung Basanti Rung Day Khuwaja Ji
Jo Tu Maangay Rung Ki Rangai
Mora Joban Girwi Rakhlay Khuwaja Ji
Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri.

(There is radiance everywhere mother.

The house of my Beloved is filled with radiance
At last I have found my Beloved in my own courtyard

I have found my pir Nizamuddin Aulia.
I have roamed far and wide in the world,
and I found You to my liking;

And lo behold my entire world is filled with radiance.

I have never seen such Devine radiance before
He is forever with me now,
Oh beloved, please colour  me in your radiance;

There is radiance everywhere, Divine Radiance)

– English translation by Rupa Abdi

Note: Khusro sang these lines in ecstasy when he came back to his mother after meeting Nizamuddin Aulia for the first time, after a long search for an ideal Sufi master. Hence the above lines are addressed to his mother

Gulzar Sahab has been instrumental in popularising sufiana kalaam in Hindi film music. In 1980, the film ‘Ghulami’ directed by J.P.Dutta, had a song written by Gulzar under the music direction of Lakshmi Kant Pyarelal. This song was inspired by Amir Khusro’s composition ‘Zeehal- e Mishkeen’, which has alternate lines in Farsi and Hindavi:

Zehal-e miskin makun taghaful, duraye naina banaye batiyan;
ki taab-e hijran nadaram ay jaan, na leho kaahe lagaye chhatiyan.
Shaban-e hijran daraz chun zulf wa roz-e waslat cho umr kotah;
Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhun to kaise kaatun andheri ratiyan.
Yakayak az dil do chashm-e jadoo basad farebam baburd taskin;
Kise pari hai jo jaa sunaave piyare pi ko hamaari batiyan.
Cho sham’a sozan cho zarra hairan hamesha giryan be ishq aan meh;
Na neend naina na ang chaina na aap aaven na bhejen patiyan.
Bahaqq-e roz-e wisal-e dilbar ki daad mara ghareeb Khusrau;
Sapet man ke waraaye raakhun jo jaaye paaon piya ke khatiyan.

Following is myinterpretation which may not be a literal translation:

Do not ignore my grief with your seductive eyes,
and sweet talk ; Your separation is past endurance, why don’t you embrace me..

Like long dark lustrous curls is the night of separation,
and our union brief like the short -lived life ;

 How will I endure the dark night without my Beloved?
With sudden charm your enchanting eyes have robbed my mind of peace

No one bothers to convey my agony to my Beloved
Tossed about in bewilderment, like a flickering candle,
I writhe in the fire of love;

I lie without the Beloved, sleepless and restless,
but the Beloved neither comes nor sends any message.

I shall wait for the day I meet my Beloved
who has seduced me for so long, O Khusro;
For I have saved my heart and my love for the Beloved….

The living legend A.R.Rahman. Courtsey: Wikipedia

In more recent times, the song ‘chhayya chhaya’ from ‘Dil Se’ (1998) under the music direction of the living legend A.R.Rahman, became an instant hit and heralded an entirely new genre of quasi-religious sufi poetry and music in Bollywood films. This song is originally based on Tere ishq nachaya kar ke thaiyya thaiyyaa Punjabi sufi Kalaam by Bulle Shah. It was rewritten by Gulzar. The film ‘Maqbool’ (2004) by Vishal Bhardwaj, who directed the music, Gulzar composed the song ‘Jhin mini jhini’ opening with the lines by Khusro – ‘Khusro rain suhag ki’. Of late Gulzar sahab has been using the Sufi style of repeating  two-syllable Farsi words to give it a mystical dimension. The song Tere Bina (Dum Dara Mast Mast), in the film Guru (2007), under the music direction of A.R.Rahman, is one such instance:

dum dara dum dara mast mast dara – 2
dum dara dum dar chashma chashma nam…..

Here the word dum could mean many things: breath/ life/ prana; dara again could mean in/ inside/ door/ door to the soul or Being; mast means trance/ecstasy; chashma means eyes, could also mean vision; and nam means moist. The repetition of ‘dam dar’ could imply to the breath control that Sufis indulge in to get vision or to enter into a higher state of mind or ecstasy.

Filmi versions of Sufi songs are now a norm in Bollywood films and are a big hit with the audience.

Bullhe Shah in Popular Imagination

In 2004, Rabbi Shergill converted the abstract metaphysical compositon of Bullhe Shah, ‘Bullah ki Jaana’ into a popular song, which became a  huge sucess in India and Pakistan. Bullhe Shah’s composition again appeared in the song ‘Bandeya Ho’ in the 2007 Pakistani movie ‘Khuda ke liye’. The 2008 Indian movie ‘A Wednesday’, written and directed by Neeraj Pandey, had a song, “Bulle Shah, O yaar mere” in its soundtrack. Bullhe Shah’s composition was rewritten in this film by Irshad Kamil  The music director was Sanjoy Choudhury. In the movie Raavan (2010) Gulzar used Bullhe Shah’s ‘Ranjha Ranjha’ in one of the songs. In 2009, Episode One of Pakistan’s Coke Studio Season 2 featured collaboration between Sain Zahoor and Noori, and as a result, Bullhe Shah’s ‘Aik Alif’ became immensely popular.

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



Abida Parveen

While folk singers, qawwali singers, maniar singers and popular singers like Runa Laila have been singing Sufi compostions for the general public, Sufi music has only recently captured popular imagination. We now have solo singers as well as self-styled bands from the Indian subcontinent captivating audiences from all over the world with their various adaptations of age old Sufi compositions. A cursory scan of U-tube will display numerous forms of Sufi compositions including the ‘rock’ and the ‘pop’ versions. However the Pakistani band ‘Junoon’ deserves credit forbeing instrumental in  popularsing Sufi poetry with their hit song ‘ Sayyoni’, then came the living legend Abida Parveen who took the Sufi music world by storm with a voice that was both ethereal  and filled with divine passion. At present there is no dirth of popular singers on both sides of the border who are playing a significant role in popularising Sufi compostions. Kailash Kher and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are among the most popular.

The Sufi Rock Band, Junoon. Courtsey: Wikipedia

Amir Khusrau


Amir Khusrau: The Sufi with a difference



Amir Khusrau teaching his disciples; miniature from a manuscript of Majlis Al-Usshak by Husyn Bayqarah. Courtsey: Wikipedia

Remembered more as a musician and a poet than a Sufi, this versatile genius, who is also considered to be among the first Muslim musicologist of India, was born in 1234, in Patiali near Etah district of north India. His original name was Yamin- ud-Din Muhammad Hasan but he is commonly known as Amir Khusrau (d.1325). He was of Turkish origin and a murid of the great Nizamuddin Awliya and his world vieiw, like his master’s, was humane, tolerant and intrinsically simple. He was not just a ‘Jack of all arts’ but master of all. A scholar, poet, musician, Sufi and and a skilled courtier who served the Slav, Khilji and Tuglaq kings of Delhi Sultanate. Music and poetry were his twin passions and he learnt Arabic, Persian and Indian music. According to him ‘Indian music is the fire that burns the heart and the soul and is superior to the music of any country’. He invented his own genre of music by adding Persian and Arabic elements to Indian music. He is also credited with the modification and improvement of the veena. He is also believed to have invented the tabla.

 Khusrau not only helped in developing the ğazal, until then little used in India, but also in the historical epic as a new genre of poetry. He created new ragas such as Sarfarda and Zilaph. He also invented the Qawwali form of devotional singing and is the originator of the Taraana sytle of vocal music. In this style of singing, apparently meaningless syllables are used to create mystical ecstasy. The syllables when pieced together form Persian words that possess mystical symbolism.

After being initiated into Sufism by his master Nizammudin Awliya, Amir Khusrau is believed to have retired from worldly life. Hoevere he continued to write poetry and is known to have written over four lakh couplets. Of these over 300 consist of riddles, some using bilingual pun of Hindvi and Persian, word play and litrary tricks .

He lived up to the age of ninety and during his long life attained legendary fame. The historians of his time appear to have credited him with much more than he had actually done. However, his literary genius is without doubt unmatched in its ability to seamlessly weave two diverse cultures and faiths together. His compositions have now become of part of folk culture of north India, especially Uttar Pradesh. His geets and ghazals have inspired and continue to inspire generations of Hindi movie songs. It is noteworthy that Khusrau’s compostions have proved to be a gold mine for Bollywood music directore and lyric writers .

‘Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar’

(The river of love flows upsteam

Those who enter to swim will drown

Only those who enter to drown will cross it)


 Note: For more compositions by Amir Khusrau see the post on ‘Sufi Poetry and Music in Popular Culture”.

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.

Raman Maharishi: The Silent Seer of Arunachala

Like his beloved hill – Arunachala, this sage raised his head in solitary grace above the rest of humanity, humble in his spiritual grandeur. He advocated no religious method, tradition or ritual. He was above them and espoused the spirit of Self inquiry. ‘Know thyself and you shall know the Truth’ was his response to Paul Brunton – a western seeker of Indian spirituality, who was to later introduce this, one of India’s greatest sages, to the Western world. After meeting the Maharishi, Ralph Wardo Emersen, the great American philosopher  said, ‘The words of this sage still flame out in my memory like beacons of lights…..Our best philosophers of Europe could not hold a candle to him…..’

Born in 1879 on the auspicious occasion of Arudra Darshan – the sight of Shiva, which marks the day Lord Shiva manifested himself to his devotees, the Maharishi spent twenty years of his adult life on the slopes of his beloved hill Arunchala – the Hill of Sacred Beacon. Among all those who visited him, none was untouched by his lustrous eyes, his compassionate smile and a sense of beautiful peace that seemed to pervade the very air around him.

While his teachings were simple and direct, there was something mysteriously aloof about this seer, perhaps his consciousness lay immersed in a plane beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Paul Burton would describe one of his experiences that he felt in the presence of the Maharish: ‘What is this man’s gaze but a thaumaturgic wand, which evokes a hidden world of unexpected splendour before my profane eyes?’

He was not a Yogi in the orthodox sense and had no guru in the conventional sense. He had sought, found and followed an inner path leading to Self – Knowledge, he was, he believed, guided by an inner divine monitor. He would tell his disciples that if they searched deeply and sincerely for anything, they would eventually be led to the object of their quest. The Maharishi’s method of helping others was a subtle, silent and steady outpouring of healing vibrations into troubled souls. This mysterious phenomenon is perhaps what is known as ‘Grace’. His silences were more significant than his utterances.

It was perfectly clear to all who were fortunate enough to be in his presence, that he had no wish to convert anyone to his own ideas, whatever they may be, and no desire to add anyone to his following. Paul Brunton called him ‘one of the last of Inida’s spiritual supermen’. Simple and modest, he made no claims to siddhis or occult powers. Totally without any traces of pretensions he strongly resisted any attempts to cannonise him during his life time.

The path shown by the Maharishi demands no blind religious faith. He simply put forward a way of self-analyses, which can be practiced irrespective of any ancient or modern theories and beliefs which one may have. Verbal injunctions were not necessary, with the power of the Maharishi’s grace; each sadhak (disciple) was helped according to his nature, in proportion to his devotion and understanding.

To read some more about the Maharishi’s teachings please check out my other blog at :


Waiting for the Saviour

Know that al-Mehdi (A.S.) must come, but he will not come until the earth is filled with injustice and oppression. He will fill it with justice and equity…..

 – Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Vol. 1, P. 99 

When rigthteousness is weak and unrighteousness exults in pride, then my Spirit arises on earth for the salvation of the good and destruction of evil in men….

– Shri Krishna in the Geeta

Yesterday was Shab-e-Baraat and by a strange coincidence there was power cut in our locality. As dusk and darkness approached and the time for the ceremonial nazr drew close, numerous candles were lit. The soft glow of the candles and the fragrance from the incense sticks filled all corners of our house which had been immersed in darkness. Perhaps this was symbolic of what the Shia Muslims of the world expect once their ‘Mehdi’ (a.s.), their savior – their twelfth Imam reappears.

Nazr, in form of halwa, made from chana dal, was offered and Sur-e- Fahteha and Sur-e- Qul were recited, first, in the honor of Amir Hamzaa (the uncle of Prophet Mohammad s.a.v.), followed by all our ancestors and departed relatives. We prayed to God asking for forgiveness for the sins of our departed relatives and prayed for the safe journey of their souls to the here-after. It reminded me of ‘Pind Daan’ or ‘Shraadh,’ performed by many Hindus believing this will relieve their ancestors of all sins and help their souls attain salvation.

Later in the night, as there was a fire-work display to celebrate the birth anniversary of the twelfth Imam – Muhammad al-Mehdi (a.s). The halwa was then distributed among our neighbors and the poor.

Shab-e-Baraat also known as Lailatul Bara’at, falls on the 14th/15th of Shaban, the eighth month of Muslim calendar. It is variously known to mean, ‘the night of commission’, or ‘the night of emancipation, forgiveness or atonement’. There are various beliefs and traditions regarding this night among Muslims. Many Muslims believe that on this night God writes the destinies of all humans for the coming year by taking into account the deeds committed by them in the past year. People pray to God both in preparation for Ramazaan and for the forgiveness of the sins committed by them. Some believe this night to be the night of good fortune and a popular legend says that on this night the Prophet (s.a.v.) visits each house and relieves the pain of suffering humanity. Shia Muslims believe that the souls of their ancestors and deceased relatives visit them on this night.

While there is no mention of Shab-e-Baraat in the holy Quran, Sura Dukhan does mention about Laila Mubaraka, which, according to some Islamic scholars is Shab-e-Baraat. It is believed that, on this day, the Prophet (s.a.v.) paid a visit to the Jannatul Bak’i graveyard to pray for the salvation of the souls of the departed including his martyred uncle – Amir Hamza, who had embraced Islam and had become one of its bravest champions. Many observe fasting during the day and perform nafal (optional) namaz at night.

The Shia Muslims associate this night with the birth of their last Imam – Mohammad al-Mehdi and pray for his reappearance. In the Indian subcontinent, candles and fire-work displays light up Shia neighborhoods. The parallels between the Hindu festival of Diwali and Shab-e-Baraat are apparent. Diwali commemorates the home coming of Lord Ram after 15 years of vanvaasa, on Shab-e-Baraat the Shias pray for the home coming of their Mehdi (a.s) since he disappeared or went into vanvaasa several hundred years ago. Diwali symbolizes the victory of Good over Evil. The Mehdi (a.s.) is expected to do the same –vanquish evil and oppression from this world.

Shias consider Hazrat  Ali (a.s), who was indicated by Prophet (s.a.v.) as his successor, as the first rightful Caliph and Imam of the Muslims, and that after his assassination the spiritual headship descended in succession to his and Fatima’s posterity in ‘the direct male line’ until it came to Imam Hassan al’Askari (a.s.), eleventh in descent from Ali, who died in 874 A.C. or 260 Hegira. Upon his death the Imamat passed on to his son Mohammad al-Mehdi – ‘the Guide’, the last and twelfth Imam. The story of the Imam’s of the house of the Prophet(s.a.v.) are rather tragic. The father of Hassan al’Askari (a.s.) was deported from Medina to Samarra by the tyrant Mutawakkil and detained there until his death. Similarly Hasan (a.s.) was kept a prisoner by the jealousy of Mutawakkil’s successors. His infant son, Mohammad al-Mehdi (a.s.), barely five years of age, pining for his father, wandered about in his search and entered a cave from which he is believed to have disappeared. This tragic story ends with hope and expectation in the hearts of the Shias that the child will return to relieve a sorrowful and sinful world of its burden of sin and oppression. This Imam bears, among the Shias, titles of the Muntazar– the Expected, the Hujja – the Proof (of the Truth), the Kaim – the Living. Great sufi’s and Islamic theologists like Attar, Rumi, Jami and ibn-Arabi have referred variously to the twelfth Imam as the ‘Seal of Sainthood,  ‘the Hidden Imam’, or the ‘Imam of the Time’. 

The belief in the appearance of a savior or avataar in not too distant future is common to almost all religious traditions and cultures. There are over 700 prophecies from around the world which promise the advent of a world savior pledging spiritual revolution and redemption. The Hindus await the incarnation of Vishnu in the avatar of Kalki, the Buddhists wait for  the reincarnation of Lord Buddha as Lord Maitreya, the Zoroastrians foretell the second coming of Zoroaster as Saoshynt, the Jews wait for their Immanuel, and the Christians wait for the return of Christ. However the interpretation of all the prophecies suffers from ‘religious myopia’. All religious follower believe that there can be only one savior – theirs. The savior from their particular faith is the only true redeemer. But perhaps  the hallowed concepts of organized religions and messianic traditions themselves need to undergo death and resurrection before this world can be saved from itself. 

Quotes: Stillness, silence and the present moment


Be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

The speechless full moon  

comes out now.

– Rumi

 ” The discovery of the truth is the discernment of the false. You can know what is not. What is – you can only be. Do you understand that the mind has its limits? To go beyond, you must consent to silence.”

– Nisargadatta



 We can’t listen and receive if we’re constantly creating and projecting. We can’t observe or be aware of what’s behind us: Unconscious motivations, habits, energy blocks, knots, drains, etc., if we are busily creating more of the same.  We need to learn and value the art of listening and observing.  

We find this place of Silence through surrender, after perhaps years of struggle to dis-cover the false self.

 – Bob Fergeson 

 ” There is a way between voice and presence where information flows. In disciplined silence it opens. With wandering talk it closes.

 – Rumi 

 “It is, moreover, only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.”

C.G. Jung

 By learning to observe our thoughts rather than mechanically react on them only, can lead to a new level of being, one in which everything is possible, even our own becoming.

 – Bob Fergeson 

 Only through staying in the present, and Being, can we be free of our mind and its misery, and access the power of Now.

 Now – that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality.

 The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.”

 – Ekhart Tolle 

 Free thinkers are generally those who never think at all.”

                                              – Laurence Sterne

 A listening which is attentive yet not reactive, and unaffected by circumstance and the constant changes of thought and mind.  

 – Bob Fergeson

 Knowing that all thought is reactive and one step behind the present moment, we may begin to just listen, to observe without reaction. In this quiet, listening mind, something Real has the possibility of entering.

                                                -Bob Fergeson


The mind won’t allow you to be in the moment…ever.

 – Vicki Woodyard

 To see more quotes on various aspects of the spiritual quest please check out my other blog at :









Flight of the Soul Bird

Equating the human soul with a bird is found in myth and mystical literature all over the world. From Hallaj to Sanai and Rumi, Persian mystical poetry has used the symbol of Bird, beautifully. The human soul, like a bird can choose to remain caged in this perishable body or fly towards Liberation. Ibn Sinna (Avicenna) used this motif and Ghazali wrote the Risalat at-tayr, “Treatise on the Birds”. The nightingale of Sufi poetry, yearning for the rose, singing night and day of its unfulfilled longing and union, suffering without complain the sting of its thorns – is the soul longing for eternal beauty. It is this longing that inspires the soul bird to sing. Longing is the most creative state that the soul can reach.

 Rumi often spoke of the soul as a white falcon, exiled amidst the black crows, or a nightingale in the company of ravens. Rumi’s pun on the word falcon or baz, which in Persian also means “again”, or ‘return’, refers to the baz’s desire to come back to its Lord and Master.

 However the symbol of the soul bird’s jouney to is final abode is ingenuously developed by Attar – the master story teller of Iran, in his epic poem, Mantiq u-tayr, “The Birds’ Conversation”, also known as “The Conference of the Birds”. Fariduddin “Attar” (= seller of essence and scents), a druggist by profession, is considered by many as the greatest of the Mathnavi writers of Persian mystical poetry after Rumi. He was born in Nishapur (north-eastern Iran) and died there most likely in 1221 C.E. The idea of traveling and ascension towards the spiritual home, so dear to the mystics of Islam, found its most poetic expression in Attar’s poetry. The Mantiq u-tayr was modeled on the, Risalat ut-Tayr, Treatise on the Birds composed half a century earlier by another Sufi master, Ahmad Ghazali (d. 1126 CE).

 The “The Conference of the Birds” revolves around the decision of the birds of the world to embark on a journey to seek out their king, the Simurgh – their debilitating doubts and fears, and the knowing counsel of their leader Hoopoe. Each bird falters in turn, whereupon their leader urges them on with parables and exemplary stories, including numerous references to some of the early Muslim mystics such as Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, Abu Sa’id ibn Abi’l-Khair, Mansur al-Hallaj and Shibli. The different birds represent the different personality types among humans as well as the complex characteristics that make up the human individual.

 In these 4500 odd couplets, Attar speaks to all of us – to our inner being. We are all born with wings, but few of us discover them in our lifetime. Wings to fly back to our home – the abode of the mystical Simurgh – the Lord of all Birds, who lives on the world encircling mountain of Kaf. This journey ultimately is the soul’s progression towards inner perfection.

 The different stages along this spiritual journey, which may take a different sequence in different individuals, are symbolized by Attar as seven valleys. Perhaps the series of valleys are used to denote that this journey is not that of a single ascension. It occurs in stages, and once you have crossed one valley, you find yourself at the bottom of another. Valleys can be both enchanting and entrapping and the wayfarer may be tempted to linger on or get trapped in one of them. These seven valleys may be interpreted as follows:


The valley of Longing and Searching: This stage represents the longing and searching of all creatures, who unknown to themselves, long for their original home. It is the strange yearning that overcomes some of us when we listen to beautiful music or behold Natures’ beauty – its mountains and valleys, oceans and springs…… It is this longing that drives us from one desire to another. Not knowing what it is that will quench our thirst once and for all – the Trishna of the Advaita yogi.

 The valley of Love: This is the all consuming Love which purifies and the lover is regenerated and altered by it to such an extent that his very being undergoes a change – his every fiber is purified and raised to a higher state, resonating to a higher tune. This is true loving surrender, irrespective of religious tradition, reputation, name or fame, like the Love of Majnu for Laila; like the Love of Sheikh Sanan for a Christian maiden for whom he gave up the rosary for the ‘infidel’s’ girdle, like the Love of Mirabai for her Giridhar Gopal – the Bhakti and Samarpan of Bhakti yoga.

 The valley of intuitive Knowledge: Also known as the wisdom of the heart, marifa  or gnosis, this is direct revelation of the truth as apposed to ‘ilm’ or discursive knowledge. This is the Atmagyana or Atmabodh mentioned in Advaita. This revelation leads to detachment from all things perishable (valley of Detachment) and the realization of the unity of all existence (valley of Unity) – of both the phenomenal and the causative world. All opposites melt, everything is renounced and everything is unified. All forms merge into one singular Essence.

According to Jami, ‘ Unification consist in unifying the heart, that is, purifying it and denuding it of all attachment to all things other then “The Truth”, including not only desire and will but also knowledge and intelligence’. These valleys or states lead to the valley of Bewilderment, this is the long dark night of the soul, referred to by many Christian Gnostics – a state of perpetual sadness, and consuming desire – the agony of being in Love but not knowing with whom.

 Finally in the valley of Poverty and Annihilation, the thirty birds who undertook the painful journey in the search of Simurgh realize that they themselves – si murgh (=thirty birds in Persian) are the Simurgh. The story thus ends with one of the most inventive puns in Persian mystical poetry. This is the ultimate sought after state of fana – the nullification of the mystic in the divine presence when the seeker finds his way into the ocean of his own soul, all longing ends. However, this is not the end. When the soul has finished its journey to God, the journey in God begins – the state that the Sufis call baqa i.e. the absorption and abiding life in God,  the Sat- Chit- Ananda of Advaita. Here the soul traverses ever new depths of the fathomless, divine being – which no tongue can describe. Referring to this state Ghazali says ‘When I saw the rays of that sun, I was swept out of existence. Water flowed back to water’. The water drop finally falls back into the ocean, and the mortal form of the moth is reduced to smoke and ash in his Beloved flame’s embrace. It is the Nirvana and the moksha of the soul-bird which has finally returned Home.







Bhakti Saint Poets of India


They belonged to various castes and communities, spoke  varied language and dialects and came from different professions. We had Kabir the weaver, Namdev the tailor, Akho the goldsmith, Goro the potter and Chokhmela the mahar who rebelled against the exploitative caste system and exclusiveness of organised religions. While Eknath and Gyanadev, the Brahmin,  from Maharashtra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal, and Shankardev from Assam strove for bringing about reform and transformation in religion. Namdev, Tukaram and Chokhamela from Maharashtra, the Lingayat Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi and Allamaprabhu from Karnataka spoke of a novel tradition based on equality of all mankind. Then there was Mirabai and Narasinh Mehta – who, intoxicated with the love of God, overcame pain and suffering by singing and dancing to their beloved Lord. They belonged to no one religion or tradition. They belonged to this country and its people. They did not write high philosophies in Sanskrit, but preached and sang in the common dialect and their poetry survived hundreds of years of oral tradition. The Santvani (song of the saints) of this land still vibrates in its air and ether, if we could only tune in…..

These saint poets were the harbingers of the Bhakti movement which rose in the southern part of India and from there surged upwards into east, west and northern parts of the country. Its philosophy was guided by a humanizing multiculturalism, an passionate fervor and a thirst for the the Beloved – the Divine essence, and experience.

The Bhakti movement was a unique attempt, a first of its kind, at decentralizing the rigid class and caste hierarchy imposed by the Brahmins and the elite. The saint poets used the language of the masses – the marginalized part of the society i.e. the vernacular languages of the common people and their folk idioms  motifs in their poetry.

The Bhakti movement began in the 8th century Tamilnadu with the Shaiva and Vaishnav Bhakti cults and continued into the 12th century by the Lingayats of Karnataka,  onto the 13th century  Warkari Panth of Maharashtra . From here it flowed into Central and North India where Nirguna Bhakti was initiated in the 14th century by Ramananda’s school along with the Saguna Vaishnava Bhakti of Chaitanya in Bengal and Orissa which had a parallel stream flowing from the Saguna saint poets of  Gujarat.


Sadarangani,N M. 2004. Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception , Cultural Encounter and Impact. Sarup & Sons. New Delhi

Bhakti poets – Premanand, the Manbhatt of Gujarat – I

The tradtion of Brahmins (Bhatt) drumming on earthen or copper pots (mann) with their ringed fingers while narrating akhayans – melodious poetical compositions describing in detail, episodes from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharat is unique to Gujarat.
Born in Vadodara, Gujarat in the 17th century, Kavi Premanand was one such Manbhatt who raised the standard of Gujarati bhakti poetry with his akhayans to new heights. His simple yet vivid compositions reflected the life and culture of common people of Gujarat during the Mughal period. He travelled around Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh with his akhayans, narrating, with unique vivdness, episodes from Mahabharat and Ramayan.
to be continued……