Bulhe shah: Punjabi mystic, crusader for communal harmony. by Yoginder Sikand, India


The Punjab has, from the earliest times of known Indian history, been a great melting pot of cultures

, races, traditions and religions. Some four thousand years ago, the Punjab was the cradle of the Indus Valley civilisation. Then came the Aryans from Central Asia, followed, in the centuries after them, by the Scythians, the Huns, the Greeks, the Turks, the Persians and the Afghans. All of them have contributed to develop the rich composite Punjabi culture of which the people of Punjab are justly proud.
One of the most well-known symbols of Punjabi culture, and one that readily appeals to all Punjabis irrespective of caste and religion, is the great sixteenth century Punjabi Sufi poet of Kasur , Bulhe Shah. Bulhe Shah belonged to a family of Sufis and Sayyeds who claimed direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad. In taking to the Sufi path, he carried on the tradition of his illustrious ancestors. But while few can recall any of his forefathers, Bulhe Shah's is, till this day, a household name throughout the Punjab. His fame owes principally to his mystical poetical compositions that
continue to be sung and cherished by millions of ordinary Punjabis-Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus-down to our own times.
Bulhe Shah, like other Sufi poets, did compose many poems on strictly Islamic themes, such as the greatness of the Prophet Muhammad and his love for Allah. But what is equally significant are those verses of his where he uses distinctly Hindu motifs and idioms. It is this capacity to transcend
the barriers of religion and community that makes Bulhe Shah's poems so appealing to all. Vaishnavite as well as Nathpanthi Shaivite elements may easily be discerned in many of Bulhe Shah's poems. But he gives them a twist of his own, as in the case of the following verse where he places devotion to God above empty ritualism:
Hari pragat pragat hi dekho, kya pandit fir bed sunave! (Look! Hari is manifest. Why then does the Pandit recite the Vedas?) Here Bulhe Shah uses the symbol of Krishna's flute to symbolise the all-pervasiveness of God, providing an image for the merging of the seeker's soul into the Absolute: Bansi kahana acharaja bajai
Bansi valia chaka Ranjha
Tera sur hai sab nal sajha
Teria mauja sada majha
Sadi surti ap milai
Bansi kahan acaraj bajai
(Krishna plays the flute wonderfully Flute-player, cowherd, Ranjha Your melody unites with everything Your pleasures are in me Our appearances themselves have mingled Krishna plays the flute wonderfully). The love of God, says Bulhe Shah, causes one great suffering, making one lose all desire for the world. In his words,
Eh jo murli kahan vajai
Dil mere nu chot lagai
Murli baj uthhi anghata
Sun ke bhull gaia sab bata
(The melody played by Krishna on his flute Has wounded my heart The song of the flute resounded suddenly And on hearing it I forgot everything).
The love of Krishna drowns the seeker in great distress, for Krishna steals
his heart and disappears. This is how Bulhe Shah describes it:
Vekho ni kith kar gia mahi
Lai de ke dil ho gia rahi

(See what the cowherd [Krishna] did!
We exchanged our hearts, but then he set off on his way).
And so, to call him back, to be re-united with him, Bulhe Shah takes a cue from Radha and the gopis. As he says:
Pattia likhungi mai Sham nu
Piya menu nazar na ave
(I shall write a letter to Krishna Because my beloved is not in sight)
When that fails, Bulhe Shah thinks of another way out. He takes the garb of a yogini, a female sadhu, begging for a vision of the Lord. Here he makes ample use of Shaivite symbolism. Thus, he writes:
Why, dear friend, are you delaying now?
A deer-skin to my neck, a begging bowl on my head
I wander begging in tears
They call me a yogini
I shall go with the yogi, putting a tilak on my head.
But even so stern a sacrifice as this fails to take the seeker to the path of 'annihilation' in God. At this point Bulhe Shah says, the seeker realises that God can be attained only by Love, not by rituals. In his words:
Make your body a furnace and your mind an anvil
Let the hammer of love beat
And let fire melt the iron of your heart.
Traversing the path of love, overcoming great obstacles, the seeker finally reaches his destination-mystical merger with God. Now the seeker, says Bulhe Shah, cries out:

O, this is not a yogi, but a manifestation of the Lord

And, what is most significant, it dawns on the seeker now that all man-made divisions are illusory, for God is found everywhere and in everybody. So, Bulhe Shah loudly proclaims, 'Hindu na, nahi musalman' [I am neither a Hindu, nor a Muslim'], echoing the same slogan raise before him by Kabir and Nanak, in whose tradition he follows. And, when Buleh Shah comes to this realisation, he cannot help himself from passionately shouting out to the world that:
Kite Ramdas kite Fateh Muhammad
Eh do qadimi shor
Mit gia duha da jhagra
Nikal pia kuch hor
(Here was Ramdas [a Hindu] and there Fateh Muhammad [a Muslim]
What an ancient noise between them
But now their quarrel has vanished
And something new has emerged !)
And it is in that 'something new' that Bulhe Shah places his hopes for a resurrected humanity.

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