III. GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF PANJABI SUFI POETRY
We now proceed to examine the chief characteristics of Panjabi Sufi poetry. Foreign invasions and political changes retarded its growth in towns and cities.1 Its torch consequently was kept burning in the villages. Having been evolved in the villages, it lacks that point of extreme elaboration to which Sufi poets carried other languages, such as Persian and Urdu. Mysticism being more predominant than materialism in Panjabi Sufi poets’ temperaments, all complexity of expression, the artificial and ornate style, the jingle of words and bombastic language is missing from it. The chief effort of the poets was to give direct expression to their pious feelings in as brief a manner as possible. The vocabulary, similes and technical terms were confined to home trades, cottage industries, and the prevalent mythological ideas 2 and social customs. This should not, however, indicate that the language is crude and vulgar. No, the great anxiety to convey the devotional emotions correctly often imparted a sort of beauty and sweetness rare to the artificial Urdu poetry. Similes were taken from everyday life and were used with skilful restraint and preceded in order. The result was that though this poetry lacked dazzling brilliancy and poetic conceit, it always maintained dignity, order, and sincerity. To sum up, it can be stated here that, as the guiding principle of Panjabi Sufi poetry was the subordination of the parts to the whole, its chief merit lies exclusively in its beauty of fundamentals and not in its details.
The principal forms of Panjabi Sufi verse are the following:
Kafi. This name is borrowed from the Persian kafiya (meaning rhyme), and is applied to Panjabi Sufi poetry generally. Usually it is a poem on the divine attributes and sometimes on different Sufi beliefs. Kafia are found in different chandas, mostly prakrit, and in the ragas of the Panjabi musical system.3
Bara mah is an account of the twelve months of the Panjabi year. The poet describes the pangs of divine separation in each of these months. At the end of the twelfth month he relates the ultimate union with the Almighty. Almost all Sufi poets have composed a bara rnah.
Athvara or a de scri ption of eight days. For seven days the seeker waits anxiously for God. Then when the last hope is fading he finds himself in the divine embrace on the eighth day.
Siharfi is an acrostic on the alphabet. It is not found in any other Indian language. As it is not of Persian or Arabic origin we conclude that it is a Panjabi form. The oldest verse of this kind is found in the Adi Granth of the Sikhs and was composed by Arjuna Dev.4 Later on it appears to have become a popular verse-form of the Sufis. Some of them wrote more than two or three siharfis.5Siharfi Precisely, is not a short poem but is a collection of short poems. The letters of the alphabet are taken consecutively, and words whose initials they form are employed to give metrical expression to the poet’s ideas. Here is an example:
Alif allah chambe di buti murshid man mere vich Lai hu Nafi asbat da pani mali si rahe rage har jai hu Andar buti mushk machaya jaNphullan pai ai hu Jive murshid kamil bahu jai eh buti Lai hu 6
Alif: Allah is like the plant of chamba 7which the preceptor planted in my heart, O He, by water and gardener of negative and positive (respectively) it remained near the rag 8and everywhere, O He, it spread fragrance inside when it approached blossoming, O He, may the efficient preceptor live (long) says Bahu, who planted this plant, O He.
There do not seem to have been any hard and fast rules about siharfi Generally a letter has four lines, each consisting of two tukks but sometimes a letter may have five, six or more such lines.9 Some poets wrote a number of such poems for each letter. For example, if the Letter is alif the first line of each such poem will begin with alif.
As a rule a siharfi is written in praise of the Beloved (God) and his attributes, but sometimes it is written to relate some legend, historical or imaginary.10 In Sufi literature, however, we have found only one such siharfi.11
The siharfis of the Muhammadans are on Arabic or Persian alphabets. They did not compose any on the nagari or Panjabi alphabets, though Hindus of different sects have written siharfis on the Arabic and Persian alphabets.12
Qissa is another form of Sufi verse. It is generally a tragic story of two young people who Love each other madly. They are separated by parents and cruel social conventions to which they pay little attention and disregarding them try to meet each other. This disregard brings misfortune and so they die, ultimately to be united in death for eternity. Some qissas are composed on the siharfi principle; others are composed of baits, sometimes called slokas.
Bait is the corrupted form of the Arabic word bait 13 It is a sort of couplet poem, has very few rules and therefore has a good deal of variety. It is very popular with the Panjabis of all classes.
Dohra is another form of Sufi verse. It is not the Hindi doha but resembles closely the chand. It has four tukks, all rhyming in the same manner. This was the favorite verse form of Hashim.
There is another form of verse common to all Panjabi religious poetry, called var. Originally var meant a dirge (var) for the brave slain in battle. But then it began to be employed in songs composed in praise of the Almighty God or some great religious personage.14 It is composed of various stanzas called pauris, literally ‘steps’, which are sung by minstrels at religious shrines.
1. Aurangzeb considered the Sufi as heretic, and was extremely harsh to them. Provincial governors and princes of the royal blood often followed his example during his reign, and afterwards foreign invasions by Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah were also responsible, in great measure, for inflicting cruelties on them. 2. This in no way signifies that the poets believed in them. They made use of them to bring home to the people their deeply mystic
thought in a simple manner. 3. Though, the basic principles of the Panjabi musical system are the same as those of the Indian system, yet it differs, a good deal in details. 4. It is known as Bavan Akhri on account of the 52 letters of the Nagri alphabet. 5. Hashim and Ali Haidar each wrote about half a dozen siharfis. 6. Majmua Abyat Sultan Bahu. 7. Jasmine. 8.Shah rag or rag is the great vein found in the neck and considered by the Panjabi Sufi to be nearest his mind. 9. Haidar’s Siharfis are noted for this. 10. Panjabi poets other than Sufis, both Hindus and Muhammadans have written many such siharfis. 11. This siharfi, written at Gujrat by Muhammad Din, describes the life of a Sufi Murid. It cannot be more than fifty years old. 12. See Siharfis of Ganga Ram and that of Sai Das, both on the Arabic alphabet. 13. Maiya Singh’s Panjabi Dictionary 14. For example, the famous Vars of Bhai Gurdas in praise of the Sikh Gurus.