On Bulleh Shah (At A Performance)
(1680-1758 A.D.)

Dear Friends,

It is an honour for us to have you here, and a double-honour for me to be presenting a tip of Bulleh Shah – the Sufi poet’s work.

I am singing 3 compositions of Bulleh Shah. The central idea of each song, I will try my best to explain in English: compressing the same, in a dozen lines. The total duration of celebrating Bulleh Shah to-night will be around 15 minutes in continuation. Anilesh, who is a bamboo flute player in Indian classical music is supporting me on the harmonium.

The word ‘sufi’ has been associated with the Arabic word safa, meaning pure. The word saf means wool. Early pages of history reveal, the dervishes (saints), who wore suf (a woollen cloak) and led pure lives of renunciation and poverty were known as Sufis. The Sufis were pious people wedded to extreme quietism, poetry and withdrawal from worldly pleasures.

By the end of the 8th century, a new development became apparent. Greek, Persian, Vedantic and Buddhistic influences brought about evolving changes in Sufism through the traveling saints. Then followed the Classical Period of Sufism from 13th century A.D onwards; great mystical poets in Persia, namely Attar, Rumi and Hafiz enriched the world of literature through their spiritual experiences and knowledge.

Fitting into the same category: In God’s love and in God’s intoxication, Bulleh Shah wrote verse after verse. Full of imagery and symbols, his works are best understood by those acquainted with languages of Punjabi and Sindhi. Ishq with his Yaar – Romance with his Lover i.e. God, was the main highlight for Bulleh Shah’s creative emotions.

Belonging to the high cast family of Sayids, Bulleh Shah was born in 1680 A.D. in the small village of Pandoke, near Kasur, Pakistan. He received spiritual guidance from Inayat Shah, who belonged to Lahore.

Another salient aspect of Sufi thought is that our lives are really integrally related “with a dream within a dream”. Therefore, Bulleh Shah, too, judges life as a dream and states that every thing will pass away because nothing is permanent. Joy or sorrow were ignored by the Sufis, as neither provided any solutions for peace and balance. Bulleh Shah says: Mein Vee Supna, Sab Jag vee Supna, Supna Log Babana. – I am a dream, the whole world is a dream, all the dear ones are a dream. Friends, your intellectual worthiness prompts me to take liberty in presenting in the same wave of reasoning a poem composed by me, titled : Flickering Reminders.
Flickering Reminders

What I most forget is:
All that comes to us,
From dark and light,
Does firmly pass.
While some laugh with child-like eyes,
Others weep,
Again and again.
And this too, does pass.
A reigning king, a fairy-prince,
The rest of us are together,
In a swaying dream,
We live by cold reason of our fate.
‘Hear me! Hear me!’
Chants some inner voice,
Like beads upon a thread,
Carrying for me words of flame.
‘Whirl around to look and search,
What you cherish, or dread most,
This too, shall melt from the beginnings:
To pass away!’
Therefore, the tidings over our lives,
Should not toss us,
In pain or joy,
Where we lose nearly all
The ease of sleep:
Cursing, or applauding our temporary dreams!
The invisible quill of time forever stands,
To describe:
All that comes to us,
Must firmly pass!

Geeta Chhabra


1. Ghunghat Chuk O, Sajana – (A Natural, Beat 54/15) – Romance with God was the flavour of passion with most Sufi poets. Bulleh Shah was no exception. He found fulfillment by stressing in different ways, his Ishq with the Beloved. Romance with his lover was the highlight for Bulleh Shah’s creative emotions. In this composition, Bulleh Shah is asking his Maker to remove the veil of shyness. Bulleh Shah describes the painful state of his lingering love for God by lines such as: You have enticed me with Your curly locks; You have bitten me like a cobra and You show no mercy seeing my blood-shot eyes. You have wounded me with Your eyes. Your eyes were like arrows. You play hide and seek with me. Who taught You such ways of stealing? You have stolen my heart. Falling in love with You has been like drinking a chalice of poison, and to have done so, I must be lacking intelligence. Please, show me Your face by removing the veil of shyness.

2. Jithey Vekhaan Mahi Mahi Vey – (A. Sharp, Beat 54/15) – Ecstasy! is another passionate flavour found in Sufi poetry. Bulleh Shah flourishes in this composition by expressing the ‘feel’ of his Beloved’s Omnipresence. He says: Wherever I see, I can only see my Beloved. He is here, there, everywhere. The pilgrims perform ‘Haj’, and go to Mecca, but in my own home, itself, I have nine hundred Meccas. In my body and soul I belong to Him. Wherever I look, I see my Companion and wherever my Companion is – that is my worship-place, meaning Kaba. I know, I am crazy and there is a hue and cry about my craziness. But, a truth can never be hidden. I know, I am crazy. For me, it is Him and Him, everywhere.

3. Harf Ishq Da Ekoe Nuqta – (E Natural, Beat 57/16) – Bulleh Shah considers the enormous love for the Supreme as just a dot of understanding. He questions people and says, ‘Why are you loading camels with knowledge which you may have studied, but failed to put to practice?’ Bulleh Shah writes: I have found the way of practicing the code of love through my spiritual guide, Inayat Shah. In this lyrical composition the poet is clearly upset with casteism which was deeply prevalent in his region. He wants to flee to the ‘colony of the blind’, where he will not be recognized by anybody for his high-class-birth, or questioned on his belief in: One God. He also laments on the fact that we spend no time with our spiritual guru i.e. the murshid. We allow ourselves to be sucked by worldly distractions. The poet warns his fellowmen that when the final day comes for each of us: none of our false styles of living will help our souls. Bulleh Shah asks us: how long will you last with your arrogance of eating meats, chewing betel-nut leaves, wearing a turban in a tilted style, adorning a fine robe, showing off fancy shoes: to others! How long can you avoid the spiritual guide who can save you from being slaughtered as a goat of sacrifice at the final hour!

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