Rediscovering Bulleh Shah

Bulleh Shah

Bulleh Shah

Tear down the mosque and temple too,

Break all that divides

But do not break the human heart, as it is there that God resides.

(Bulleh Shah)

In my last post, I mentioned how many times in our lives, we experience times of suffering and darkness. They may lead to periods of lengthy contemplation and solitude – which in hindsight, is a precious gift. Particularly, if we have allowed the routine of the daily grind to overwhelm us into an automated mode of living. The self-reflexive and critical monologues that emerge from these crises, may lead to a newly-discovered clarity, spiritual or creative realisation, or simply an exploration of certain truths of our realities.

As I’ve dazed in the ecstasy of my supposed ‘epiphanies’, I’ve enjoyed believing in the momentarily narcissistic delusion that my mind has stumbled upon a revolutionary and profound discovery – if only! Thankfully – for my ego, and sanity – I’ve then very soon discovered that someone has already thought, spoken and written about something similar, in a much more profound and far more beautiful way.

As Andre Gide said,

‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again’

This crash back down to earth and humility is very much OK with me. Firstly, because it reminds me that although the outlandish nature of my own ideas may at times worry me, I am far from being the ONLY one in the whole universe who has thought like this – humbling and comforting at the same time. Secondly, the discovery of a grander, kindred soul, who may have lived centuries ago, in much more difficult and testing social circumstances, provides an immense inspiration to keep pursuing any sparks of creative thought. A reminder, that the quest to question and challenge social paradigms that confine us is actually timeless and never-ending.

Rediscovering Bulleh Shah

Now, this is what when happened when I was writing my last post (ideas I had contemplated for almost two years) about the excessive important placed on physical rituals, pilgrimages and shrine veneration in organised religion, compared to the neglected spiritual quest towards becoming a more compassionate human. After writing, I remembered a beautiful song by renowned Sufi Punjabi singer Rabbi Shergill called ‘Bullah Ki Jaana’ (2004) that had been based on the poetry of Punjabi Sufi Saint, Bulleh Shah. The melody and some of the words had always remained in my heart, but I listened to it again, more patiently (and with the English translation of all the lyrics):

Na mai arabi na lahoria (Neither am I arab, nor lahori)

Na mai hindi shehar nagauri (Neither am I indian, nor naguari)

Na hindu na turak peshawri (Neither am I hindu, muslim, not peshawari)

Na mai bheth mazhab da paaya ( I have not found the secret of religion)

Na mai adam havva jaaya (Nor am I from Adam and Eve)

Na koi apna naam dharaaya (Neither am I of this name, which I am known by)

The themes of humanity, equality and most importantly the ‘journey within’ that are contained in this poem (especially since I had been writing about compassion and humanity), really drew me to its original writer, Bulleh Shah (1689 – 1752).

I was fascinated to discover that although this man had lived a time of grand poetic tradition, he had stood out for his rebellious philosophy against the stern religious orthodoxy of his time. Inspired by the Sufi tradition, his poetry had been expressions of his identity, as a Lover of the Divine and a humanist – simply on a quest towards becoming human, through rejecting the dogma and divisiveness of organised religious conventions. Poetry comes from a place of emotion, and it’s evident that he was clearly distraught at the underlying inequality, prejudice and materialism that was so prominent in his society. Unsurprisingly, he was pretty much declared a mad-man for his non-conformist attitudes and rejected by the religious status quo of his time.

Since discovering more about Bulleh Shah, and his beautiful couplets, I have felt a growing and overpowering attraction towards him. I am not only drawn to read about the challenges of his life in those turbulent times, but also excited to explore more of his inspiring and timeless poetry, relevant as ever in today’s age.