Bulleh for our times
By Ali Abbas
First published in Islamabad Dateline
Mystifying is the turn of time, indeed. Refuted by clerics of his time, the same Bulleh Shah who was refused burial in his community graveyard is quoted by contemporary mullahs and holds worldwide reverence today.
Same can be said for all mystic poets who lived to challenge the rigid interpretation of religion prevailing in their times.
One wonders if he would have been charged for blasphemy and assassinated like Taseer or Bhatti if Bulleh were to say ‘whatever is in the heart’ in our society at present — mou’n aye baat na rehndi aye.
His words elevated his stature after death and today only few dare to challenge the great Bulleh Shah as he lays peacefully in his grave in Kasur. Elite of the city pay handsomely to be buried near the man they had once snubbed.
Bulleh Shah’s poetry is mainly colored with the philosophy of re-union with the beloved — God. He believes in serving humanity and loving beyond regions and religions, something that he does not separate from worship of God.
We can relate to him as he was a product of our society. His overwhelming audacity and almost arrogant critique of the religious orthodoxy strikes upfront. His poetry is filled with direct attacks on mullahs:
Mullah and the torch-bearer, both from the same flock
Trying to give light to others; themselves in the dark
Bulleh Shah was a humanist. He provided solutions to sociological, political, cultural and religious problems of the world around him.His words preach religious tolerance and teach the art of agreeing to disagree peacefully — something that is the need of the hour in our times as well. He embarked on the mystical journey to search God whilst describing the turmoil his homeland, Punjab, was passing through.
His poetry highlights mystical spiritual journey through four stages of Sufism —Shariat (Path), Tariqat (Observance), Haqiqat (Truth) and Marfat (Union).
He starts from the rules defined by Islam, and eventually ends up where he accepts the existence of God, everywhere, with no bias between different religions, finally experiencing union with God.
Pointing at someone else’s faith would only unveil how weak one’s faith is. Picking up guns, instead of pens to enforce your way of thinking would never have an effect that the likes of Bulleh Shah had, through their soul-searching and heart-melting poetry.
O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there
Where everyone is blind
Where no one recognizes our caste (or race, or family name)
Unfortunately, we have not provided high accolade to this great mystic poet in our educational curriculum. He is known to the youth only through artists like Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Saeen Zahoor, Junoon and Noori.
And if questioned, how Bulleh changed me? Almost every time I hear Abida Parveen giving voice to his words I can imagine him singing and dancing to please the beloved, losing his caste, because love never had a caste or sect. I find myself dancing with him, at times. I find myself criticizing the authority our society has given to clergy.
In Pakistani society, hatred and differences are usually magnified and celebrating diversity is the need of the hour. Bulleh’s message if properly infused can fight extremism and inspire about a positive change which is much needed in these troubling times.
Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace!
When inquired with Raza Rumi, an intellectual and writer based in Lahore, about his views on the importance relaying the message that Bulleh Shah gave, he replied, “Bulleh’s poetry reflects his rejection of the orthodox hold of mullahs over Islam, the nexus between the clergy and the rulers and all the trappings of formal religion that created a gulf between man and his Creator. His message is clear and pertinent for the current crisis in Pakistan where the clergy has occupied public space and is nurturing a culture of intolerance.”
Bulleh’s poetry and its innate message can be a rallying point for a progressive Pakistan where humanism can prevail. In the current dark times, we have to reclaim Bulleh Shah and introduce the rich, plural heritage of Pakistan to the youth and younger generations.
Tear down the Mosque, tear down the temple
Tear down every thing in sight
But don’t (tear down) break anyone’s heart
Because God lives there
The world is becoming polarized, with hatred being fed to masses everyday, on religious and ethnic grounds. Instead of burning it down, we have to repair the damage done — stitch by stitch and any such voice which attempts to build these ideals should be glorified if we dream to make this world a better place for coming generations. One such voice is that of Bulleh Shah.
How true were his words about his own physical death:
Bulleh Shah asaa’n marna naahi; gor pya koi hor! [Bulleh Shah! I will not die; someone else lays in the grave]
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi