New Age Islam
Sat May 08 2021, 08:28 AM

Islamic Personalities ( 26 Jun 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Bulleh Shah: Rumi of Punjab

By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam

27 June, 2015

 Bulleh Shah, a Punjabi Muslim Sufi poet, a humanist and a philosopher


Bulleh Shah is one of the great Sufis of India. Like other Muslim Sufis he transcended the barriers of religion, caste and creed.  To the real Sufis, Sufism was akin to dogma-less devotion to God. Their sole aim was the union with the Supreme Being who is formless and immanent. Bulleh Shah also believed in the realization of God through love and devotion (Ishq) and not through lifeless dogmatic practices that devotionless mullahs preach.

Bulleh Shah belonged to both Qadria and Shattaria orders of Sufism that were popular in India. He was born in Panduki village near Lahore, now Pakistan in a Syed family whose family tree went back to the Prophet Muhammad pbuh, according to some accounts. He became the disciple of Shah Enayat Lahori who also was associated with both Qadria and Shattaria orders.

According to the book Khazinat ul Aulia written by Mufti Ghulam Sarwar Lahori, Mir Bulleh Shah died in 1171 Hijri or 1757 A.D. His date of birth is not available to his biographers.

Before embarking on the journey of Sufism, Bulleh Shah travelled far and wide in search of a spiritual guide (Murshid) and finally met his Murshid Shah Enayat Lahori who was a promiment Sufi of his time.  Shah Enayat Lahori was an Arain (fruit trader), a low caste among Musilms. Despite the fact that Bulleh Shah himself belonged to a Sayyid family having links with the Prophet Muhammad pbuh, he accepted Shah Enayat as his Murshid as he considered that only he could guide him to the true realization of God. His family strongly disapproved of Bulleh Shah’s association with Shah Enayat. In one of his kafis (Qawwalis), Bulleh Shah speaks of this incident:

My sister and brother-in-law came to me

And castigated me

What happened to you O Sayyid?

 You have brought disrepute to the Sayyids

 Pleas listen to our advice, O Bulha

 Leave the company of an Arain

Bulleh replies to this:

Whoever calls me a Sayyid

Will be punished with the hell fire

 Whoever calls me an Arain

 Will play and enjoy the life in Heaven

O Bulha, if you seek real solace

Become a disciple of an Arain

Shah Enayat himself was a nonconformist. During his stay at Qasur for the propagation of Islam, he married the daughter of a prostitute. His relatives complaint against him to the ruler who called him and questioned his marriage to a prostitute’s daughter. Shah Enayat was angered and questioned the ruler’s authority and cursed him. Shah Enayat then bid adieu to Qasur. It is said that the ruler died after some time.

Shah Enayat was among the Sufis who believed that for being a true Sufi, attachment with respect of basic foundations of Islam like namaz, Quran and the holy signs of Islam like Makkah and Madina was necessary. When we study the poetry of Bulleh Shah, we find that he was influenced by the thoughts and ideas of Kabir who was a rebel in the true sense of the term. He expressed his strong disapproval of religious dogma and also to the outer practices of the religion like Puja, Namaz, Teerath, hajj, Quran, Qurbani because Kabir thought without true devotion to and love of the Supreme Being, the outer religious practices do not lead one to God. So in many of his Shabads and Dohas, Kabir criticizes the dogma of religion. Influenced by the thoughts of Kabir and other Bhaktivadi poets, Bulleh too started demonstrating similar rebellious ideas and thoughts in his kafis ( poetry). For example:

Burn the prayer mat (Musalla) and break the Lota used for ablutions  

Do not use the rosary

To accept s straight path and the opposite direction

The kingdom of love is ever fresh and stable

When I learnt the lesson of love

I nurtured a fear of the mosque

Then my inner self entered the temple

Where thousands of bells rung

The kingdom of love is ever fresh and stable

We were tired of reciting the Vedas and the Quran

Our foreheads were bruised and worship was going to waste

 God is neither in sacred places nor in Makkah

Whoever got his realization

Was immersed in its light

The kingdom of love is ever fresh and stable

In another kafi, Bulleh wrote:

People tell Bulha to go and sit in the mosque

If the heart is not inclined towards worship what’s the use of going to mosque

If the inner self is not purified in place, what’s its use

 O Bulleh, your worship is in vain if you do not get a Murshid

 Throw your worship in fire and bury your Roza in the soil.

Darkness has engulfed the Kalima.

My God is within me; Bulha says he has seen God

 People show useless curiosity

Shah Enayat did not like such an attitude and ideas to develop in his disciple. He wanted his disciple to adhere to a spiritual discipline and not go wayward like the mast Qalandars defying all religious discipline. He warned Bulleh Shah against indulging in such thought and expression. But in his spiritual ecstasy, he would not listen to the instructions of his Murshid. Finally, his Murshid became angry with him over his rebellious thoughts. Thus, Shah Enayat barred him from entering his hospice. This made Bulleh Shah a fish out of the water. Without the Murshid, Bulleh found a spiritual void in him. To win back his love and guidance, he would sing and dance on the way Shah Enayat would go to the mosque. In his songs Bulleh Shah would praise Shah Enayat, express his repentance and seek his love and affection. Lastly, Shah Enayat again took him back as his disciple.

Like other Indian and Iranian Sufis, Bulleh Shah too believed in the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujud. Notwithstanding, due to the influence of his mentor Shah Enayat, Bulleh did not believe this universe to be a whim or fancy (Maya). He believed that the world and all the phenomenon of this universe had a real existence. Though his ideas and philosophy is influenced by Vaishno Mat, Nath Panth, Sikhism and Buddhism as all these religious philosophies believe in the existence of one formless God, he does not leave his Islamic foundation and remains a disciplined Sufi all his life. About God’s reality he says:

There is no difference between Ahad and Ahmad

Only the ‘M’ makes the difference.

To him Ahad (one God) is the formless immanent existence while Ahmad (man or the prophet) is the physical incarnation of God. Here, the letter ‘Meem’ (or M) may also be taken for Maya.

The core of the teachings of Bulleh Shah is love of the Supreme Being. Bulleh Shah believes that one can have union with the Supreme Being only through his love and not merely through ritual practices. That’s why he says:

Ishq Shara Ki Nata

(What has Shariat to do with love?)

His poetry is full of the love of God so much so that Babu Budh Singh in his book “Hans Jog” has called Bulleh Shah the Rumi of Punjab. Budh Singh says that like Rumi, Bulleh Shah has propagated the religion of love. He sings the spiritual songs of the love of the divine. He sings of the kind of love in which the lover immerses himself in the beloved in such a way that he loses the feelings of life and death, sorrow and joy, of sleep and wakefulness, of lust and desires etc.

Thus Bulleh Shah is really a great Sufi in his own right. He was not only a great Sufi but also a great poet of Punjabi language. He wrote spiritual poetry in many genres of Punjabi poetry and enriched the treasury of Punjabi poetry. Like Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah also contributed to the growth of Punjabi literature and poetry and to the spread of liberal thought, fraternity, brotherhood and love in the multicultural society of the Indian subcontinent.

Note: This article is Based on Surinder Kohli’s book ‘Bulleh Shah’ published by Sahitya Akademi