By Sadia Dehlvi
Feb 11, 2015
Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit was the first in a long line of Sindhi mystical poets. His collected poems were assembled in the compilation Shah Jo Risalo which contains 30 chapters named according to their Sur, musical odes. Translations of Shah Latif’s mystic verse exist in many languages. He added a number of new melodies to the folk ballads of the Indus Valley.
His ancestors came from the heart of Afghanistan, to settle in Matiari in Sindh. Shah wandered through the country with a group of yogis. Gradually, his disciples increased and the mystic migrated to Koti, in search of solitude. He made his khanqah at a sand mound called Bhit, a few miles from Hala where he lived for the last eight years of his life.
The young poet fell in love with the daughter of Mirza Mughal Beg, a proud scion of the Afghan rulers. Although Shah’s family drew their lineage from the family of the Prophet, there was a difference in the social status of the families. The ruling family was aristocratic, while the Shah came from a family of Sufis. In 1713, some robbers assassinated Mughal Beg and decamped with all his riches. Reduced to poverty, the Mirza’s family eventually agreed to give their daughter in marriage to Shah, who had by then gained fame as a poet.
Shah Abdul Latif died in 1752 AD, and his Dargah at Bhit Shah, Pakistan, is one of the most beautiful structures among Islamic monuments. On Thursday nights, devotees assemble to hear the musicians sing his songs that are popular all over the subcontinent.
Shah Latif immortalised the story of Sohni, the love-stricken damsel whose beloved Mahiwal grazed cattle on an island in the Indus. He also used the backdrop of the romantic folktale of Sassi Punhnu to demonstrate mystical teachings of quest, separation and eternal union with the beloved. Sassi, the beautiful washer man’s daughter, attracts people from all over the country, including the prince of Keech in Balochistan. The prince falls in love with her, and stays with her. His father sends some relatives to make him drunk and carry him away. Sassi, waking up at dawn from the “sleep of heedlessness”, finds herself alone. She decides to follow the caravan to Keech, but perishes in the desert. Her voice, no longer the voice of a woman or a bird, changes into the voice of love itself. Shah Latif sings:
By dying live that thou may feel, The beauty of the beloved thou will surely do the righteous thing, If thou will follow this advice, Die that thou prosper, Sit down: O woman, live after death, thou will unto Punhnu come, They who so died before their death, By death are not in death subdued, assuredly they live who lived, Before their life of living was, From age to age will live for aye, They will not die again who died, Before the dying came to them, Thou did not know thy death was there, In quiet questing for thy live. Thou didst not hear, O woman this: Die, why does thou behead thyself.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam