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Home Page > Punjabi Sufi Poets > INTRODUCTION: THE SUFIS IN INDIA


Lajwanti Rama Karishna
May 18th, 2008
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After the Muslim conquest of northern India, the Sufis began to pour into the country. This was the only peaceful, friendly and tolerant element of Islam. The Islam promulgated by the sword 1 and by aggressive ‘ulama and qazis could not impress the Hindus who abhorred it. But the Islam represented by the Sufis appealed to them. Almost all the willing conversions were no doubt the result of Sufi preaching.

Development of Sufiism in the Panjab

In the beginning, the Sufis In northern India were preachers and often joined hands with the rulers to establish their power and to convert the people to Islam.2 Their patience, tolerance and friendly spirit brought them followers from the lower grades of the Hindus, unfortunately neglected by the higher classes. To this class of Sufis belonged Faridu’ddin Ganj-i-Shakar, ‘All Makhdum Hujwiri, and many others. But, later on, many Sufis gave up missionary work 3 and devoted themselves to the study of different religious systems and philosophies of the country. Mia Mir, Prince Dara Shikoh and Abu’l-Fazl and Fayzi belonged to this category of Sufis; they began to question the superiority of their own religion or to deny its authority.4 Mia Mir is said to have helped Guru Har Govind many a time and to have sent him a woman, related to the Qazi of Lahore, who liked the Guru’s doctrines and had wanted to become a Sikh.5

Sufiism underwent another considerable change towards the end of the seventeenth century. The intolerance of Aurangzeb and of his adherents had so much affected the spiritually and the intellectually minded amongst the Sufis that they were driven towards Hinduism more than before.6 Hindu Vedantic thought overpowered their beliefs. Bhagvatism influenced their ideas, and it was a surprising fact that in the Panjab, the stronghold of Islam, Mussulman mystics held the view that save God there was no reality; all else, therefore, became illusion or the Hindu maya.7

The doctrine of transmigration and reincarnation was soon adopted and was afterwards supplemented by the theory of karma.8Again Muhammad, who remained the perfect model of Man for the Sufis of other countries, was not necessarily the ideal of the Panjabi Sufis. The philosophically-minded sometimes ignored him, at other times allotted to him the same place as they gave to the prophets of other religions.9 For the orthodox and popular Sufis he nevertheless remained somewhat higher than the other prophets, but not in the same way as before. He became the hero of their poetry as Krishna is the hero of the Bhagavata-lore.10 The condemnation of idols, which had not been very vehement even in the sixteenth century, ceased altogether now. Muhammadan mystics accepted them as another way of adoring the Universal Lord 11 The Sufis often abstained from eating meat and practiced the doctrine of ahimsa by loving all life, animal and human.12

The Qur’an, which could not be dispensed with and was held in great veneration by the early Sufis, was now placed on the same level with the Vedas and the Puranas.13

Last but not the least, it should be mentioned here that the principle of religious tolerance was advocated by many mystics who denounced fanaticism and admitted freedom of religious beliefs.14

The above were the new developments in Sufiism on Panjabi soil. They were, however not the chief characteristics of every Sufi’s teachings. These newdevelopments, on the other hand, helped in the classification of the Sufis. The Sufis of the Panjab may be classed into three schools of thought:

I. The Orthodox School—The Sufis of this school believed in conversion from one religion to another. They held that the Qur’an was the best book revealed and that Muhammad was God’s greatest prophet on earth. Though they tolerated different religions, yet they believed Islam to be the only true creed. To this class of Sufis belonged Farid Sani and Ali Haidar.

2. Time Philosophic School — TheSufis of the philosophic school were speculators and thinkers. They had absorbed the essence of Vedanta so well that to them differences of religion, country, and sect were immaterial. They abhorred regulations and the dry dogmas of all religions. They displayed best the essence of pantheistic Sufiism. They ignored conversion, and were chiefly responsible for establishing unity between the faithful of various religions. Bullhe Shah belonged to this school.

3. The Popular School— The adherents of this school were men of little or no education. These people collected the beliefs and superstitions of various creeds, and preached and practiced them. Muhammad remained their only Prophet and the Qur’an their best book, but they provided a place for all other prophets and teachers in their long list of saints and angels. They were popular with the lower classes of both Hindus and Muslims. To the Hindus they preached the Qur’an and the superstitions of Islam, while to the .Muhammadans they preached the popular beliefs and superstitions of both. As they were apt to change with the times and conditions, they were dangerous equally to Islam and to Hinduism. To this class belonged Fard Faqir and many others.

Panjabi Sufi Poetry

The Sufis of the Panjab, like the Sufis of other parts of India, wrote for centuries together in the Persian language.15 They copied the phraseology, the similes, and, in fact, the whole system of Persian prosody and rhetoric in its entirety. Later on, the Sufis began to write in Urdu. But this Urdu looked for guidance to Persia and was so much overlaid by Persian vocabulary, phraseology, and jeux de mots,16that it was really Persian diluted by an Indian language. The national culture was thus paralyzed, and national sentiments and thoughts were allotted a secondary place in their compositions. It was only in the middle of the fifteenth century that the initiative to write in the language of the people, i.e. Panjabi, was taken by a saint of the Cishti order of the Sufis.17 This initiator was Shaikh Ibrahim Farid, a descendant of Faridu’ddin Ganj-i-Shakar of Pak Patan. His example was followed by many, of whom Lal Husain, Sultan Bahu, Bullhe Shah, Ali Haidar, and Hashim are the outstanding and well-known figures. A considerable amount of fragmentary Panjabi Sufi poetry, of various authorship, has also been found.18 A few of these poems contain the names of the writers, but not much more. We will speak of this poetry elsewhere.

The Ideal of the Sufi Poet

The ideal of the Panjabi mystic poet was to find God in all His creation and thus attain union with Him. Thus union or annihilation inGod wasto be fully achieved after death, but in some cases it was gained while living.19 The Panjabi Sufi, like any other mystic in the world, callsGod his Beloved. But the Beloved, who in Islamic countries was both masculine and feminine,20here became masculine.

In Panjabi Sufi poetry, therefore, God isthe Beloved and the Sufi, or the human soul, the woman separated from her lover by illusion or maya. The Sufisoul at times wails, then cries and yearns for union withthe Beloved. The Sufi poet in the Panjab generally refers to three stories of perfect love in his poetry. They are the love tales of Hir Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, and Sohni Mahival,21 These tales of perfect love which end tragically are popular with all Panjabis.

In all the three, the heroines, Hir, Sassi and Sohni, who spent their lives in sorrow, always yearning to meet their respective lovers, were united with them in death. For a Sufi these tales 22 have a spiritual significance. The heroines stand for the Sufi (the soul) and the heroes for God (the Beloved sought), After the Sufi has attained union with God he is no more Hir 23 but becomes Ranjha, because for him all differences vanish away and he sees Ranjha (God) as much in his own self as in the external world. The Sufi poetry consequently is full of poems, songs, and hymns praising the Beloved, describing the pain and sorrow inflicted by separation, and ultimately the joy, peace and knowledge attained in the union.

1. The bold assertion of Professor Massignon that ‘ce n’est pas par les guerres que l’Islam a diffuse dans l’Inde, c’est par les mystiques et par les grands ordres, Tshishtiyah Kobrawiyah, Shattariyah et Naqshbandiyah’ (Lexique Technique, p. 68) shows his scanty knowledge of Indian history.
2. Shaikh Ali Makhdum Hujwiri generally known as Data Ganj Bakhsh followed the arms of Masa’ud, son and successor of Mahmud Ghaznavi to Lahore, where he settled down to preach. (See Latif, History of Lahore, pp. 179-82.) There are many such examples.
3. Mr. Zuhurud-Din Ahmad, in his Mystic Tendencies in Islam, p. 142, Out of the later Sufis very few appear to have given any thought to this practica1 aspect (conversion) of the doctrine of Islamic Sufism.
4. Emperor Akbar is another example; his faith in the superiority of Islam was so much shattered that he founded a new religion. Din-i-Ilahi.
5. See Latif, History of the Panjab, p. 256.
6. No doubt the Sufis during the reign of Shah Jahan, under the patronage of Prince Dara Shikoh, had absorbed a good deal of Hindu Vedantic though, but they remained, save for a few rare exceptions, within the limits of their own religion. The intolerance of the orthodox people and of the Emperor Aurangzeb, however, later on compelled them to Islamic dogmas, etc., and to turnmore towards Hindu religion with real feeling then they had done before. Both Inayat andBullhe Shahwere born during this period.
7. Dabistan, Vol. III. p. 281.
8. Kanun.i-’Ishq. Vol. I, kafie 2 and 37. ‘The doctrine of karma which is alien to Sufism’ (The Mystics of Islam, p. 19) became now one of its doctrines.
9. See the poetry of
Bullhe Shah, especially kafi90 of Sai Bullhe Shah.
10. See the Baramah of Karim Bakhsh, ch. ix.
11. Sahibjani. a celebrated Sufi of the seventeenth century, performed the puja in the house of idols (Dabistan, Vol. III.p. 302). The Panjabi Sufi fortunately did not go to that extreme but considered both temple and mosque the same. When he bad attained the stage of understanding he even ceased to go to the mosque. His temple and mosque were every where. See Bullhe Shah. Qanun-i-ishq. kafi 58.
12. Dabistan, Vol. III. p. 302.
13. Qanun-i-ishq. kafi 76.
14. See the work of Bahu and Bullhe Shah
15. Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb. Vol. 111, p. 387.
16. The grammatical system, however, was Indian.
17. With the exception of a few poems ascribed to Shakar Ganj, no trace of Sufi poetry is found before Ibrahim Farid. The poems said to be of Shakar Ganj are, as we shall see later on, not his.
18. From some neglected and worm-eaten
and torn manu scri pts in private libraries, and from some lithographed books, not varymuch real by the public.
19. Union gained while living was of two natures, partial and complete. A partial union was possible when the Sufi was in a state of supreme ecstasy. The complete union was attained (in very rare cases) when all consciousness of self was lost and the mystic lived ever after in and with the Universal Self.
20. In Persian, poetry, for example, the Beloved is both Laila and Majnu.
21. Of these Hir and Ranjha and Sassi and Punnu in all probability were of Indo-Scythian origin, but the poets have overlaid them with Muslim
colors and superstitions.
22. Of the three, the Hir, and Ranjha tale is the most important,
and has been written by many poets, the best written up to date being Hir of Vare Shah, or Waris Shah.
23. Hir has almost the same position In Panjabi literature as Radha has in Hindi literature.


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