Four poems by Bulleh Shah (new translations)

Who I am

I know not who I am,
I am neither a believer going to the mosque
Nor given to non-believing ways.
Neither clean nor unclean,
Neither Moses nor Pharaoh.
I know not who I am.

I am neither among sinners nor among saints,
Neither happy nor unhappy,
I belong neither to water nor to earth.
I am neither fire nor air,
I know not who I am.

Neither do I know the secret of religion,
Nor am I born of Adam and Eve.
I have given myself no name,
I belong neither to those who squat and pray,
Nor to those who have gone astray.
I know not who I am.

I was in the beginning; I’d be there in the end.
I know not any one other than the One.
Who could be wiser than Bulleh Shah
Whose Master is ever there to tend?
I know not who I am.

Come my Love, take care of me

Come my Love, take care of me,
I am in great agony.
Ever separated, my dreams are dreary,
Looking for you, my eyes are weary.
All alone I am robbed in a desert,
Waylaid by a bunch of waywards.

The Mulla and Qazi show me the way,
Their maze of dharma that is in sway.
They are the confirmed thieves of time.
They spread their net of saintly crime.

Their time-worn norms are seldom right,
With these they chain my feet so tight!
My love cares not for caste or creed.
To the ritual faith I pay no head.

My Master lives on yonder bank
While I am caught in the gale of greed.
With his boat at anchor, He stands in wait,
I must hasten I can’t be late.

Bulleh Shah must find his love,
He needn’t have the least fright.
His Love is around, yet he looks for him
Misled in the broad daylight.

Come my love take care of me,
I am in great agony.

**************

Strange are the times!

Crows swoop on hawks
Sparrows do eagles stalk
Strange are the times!

The Iraqis are despised
While the donkeys are prized
Strange are the times!

Those with coarse blankets are kings;
The erstwhile kings watch them from the ring.
Strange are the times!

Its not without reason or rhyme,
Strange are the times

Says Bulleh, kill your ego
And throw away your pride.
You need to forget yourself
To find Him by your side.

It’s all in One contained

Understand the One and forget the rest.
Shake off your ways of an apostate pest.
Leading to the grave to hell and torture,
Rid your mind of dreams of disaster.
This is how is the argument maintained,
It’s all in One contained.

What use is it bowing one’s head?
To what avail has prostrating led?
Reading Kalma you make them laugh,
Absorbing not a word while the Quran you quaff.
The truth must be here and there sustained,
It’s all in One contained.

Some retire to the jungles in vain.
Others restrict their meals to a grain.
Misled they waste away unfed
And come back home half alive, half dead.
Emaciated in the ascetic postures feigned,
it’s all in One contained,

Seek your master, say your prayers and surrender to God,

It will lead you to mystic abandon
And help you to get attuned to the Lord.
It’s all the truth that Bulleh has gained.
It’s all in One contained.

Bulleh Shah, a renowned Muslim spiritual leader of the sub continent of Indo-Pakistan, was a Punjabi Sufi poet. His spiritual master was Shah Inayat Qadiri of Lahore and because of this Bulleh was referred to as a saint or spiritual leader. Bulleh’s real name was Abdullah Shah, but he was known as Bulleh to his family and that was the name he chose to use as a poet.

Bulleh came from a religious family and his father was a highly religious person. Bulleh wrote primarily in Punjabi, but also in the locally spoken language, Siraiki, which is often considered a dialect of Punjab.

The verse form Bulleh Shah primarily employed is called the Kafi, a style of Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki poetry used not only by the Sufis of Sindh and Punjab, but also by Sikh gurus. He held a spiritual position in the eyes of his followers, who were from all over the world, but he was a very secular man who was against the division of human beings for religious reasons. Bulleh Shah’s poetry and philosophy strongly criticizes the Islamic religious orthodoxy of his days. His poetry is filled with direct attacks, to the point of comparing Mullahs, the religious leaders, to barking dogs and crowing roosters.
Bulleh Shah is considered to be one of the greatest mystic poets of the Punjabi region. However, the mullahs refused to allow him to be buried in the community graveyard because of his unorthodox views.

Bulleh Shah lived from 1680 to 1757 during the period of the Mughal King Aurangzeb, who was the most communal and orthodox Muslim ruler the subcontinent ever faced. His time was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs.  But in that age Bulleh Shah was a beacon of hope and peace for the citizens of Punjab. While Bulleh Shah was in Pandoke, Muslims killed a young Sikh man who was riding through their village in retaliation for the murder of some Muslims by Sikhs. Bulleh Shah denounced the murder of an innocent Sikh and was censured by the Mullas and Muftis of Pandoke. Bulleh Shah maintained that violence was not the answer to violence.

Bulleh Shah himself became a respected scholar, but he longed for true inner realization. Against the objections of his peers, he became a disciple of Inayat Shah, a famous master of the Qadiri Sufi lineage (Islamic), who ultimately guided his student to deep mystical awakening.

The nature of Bulleh Shah’s realization led to such a profound egolessness and non-concern for social convention that it has been the source of many popular comical plays. For example, one day Bulleh Shah saw a young woman eagerly waiting for her husband to return home. Seeing how, in her anticipation, she braided her hair, Bulleh Shah deeply identified with the devoted way she prepared herself for her beloved. So Bulleh Shah dressed himself as a woman and braided his own hair, before rushing to see his teacher, Inayat Shah.
(This note was prepared by Baseer Naveed of AHRC on the basis of research into several sources on Bulleh Shah)






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9 Comments to “Four poems by Bulleh Shah (new translations)”

  1. Thanks for returning to this set up this is the best one.

  2. Echo Nadima’s comment. I love to see the familiar set-up.

    As far as the entry goes, Bulleh Shah would not have appreciated being regarded as a “Muslim spiritual leader”. What is that brilliant line that goes that it would be a sin to associate Bullay Shah as a Syed.

    Aal Nabi Ullad Ali Noun
    To Kyoun Leekaan Layaan
    “Jeyra Saanoun Syed Saday
    Dozukh Milan Sazaiyaan”

    Lastly translation being art of the impossible, a link to the original would be good to have to read the original and enjoy the kafi and then revert to the translation to take some maza out of it

  3. A book containing the kafis of bulleh shah is available on this website and can be ordered by
    email .The link is http://www.jsks.co.in/religiouspoetry.htm
    Just drop them an email at contact@jsks.co.in . They have a large variety of religious books
    especially on sikh religion and punjabi or sufi poetry .

  4. Can anyone tell me plz that y Bulleh Shah dressed himself as a woman and braided his own hair, before rushing to see his teacher, Inayat Shah. No matter he was deeply impreesed by that woman waiting for her beloved but isnt that too weird for bulleh shah to do something like that. Tell me plz

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  7. Bulleh no samjhawan aian behna tay bharjain
    Man lay Bulliah sada kehna Chad day Pala Arian
    All Nabi Olad Ali non ton kyon Leekan Layan
    Jeera Sano Sayed Sday Dozakh Milay Saziain

    It means a number of close relatives came to ask Bulleh Shah not to follow Peer Anayat Qadri who belongs to lower cast and you are Sayed and belong to higher cast, then Bulleh Shah replied them one who calls me Syed will go to hell.
    Infect Sofia Ikram in Islam stress on equality and they think these are our acts which take us nearer to Allah not our status.

  8. Belwo is answer to Faro:
    That woman appearance was just to show love for his Master because one day Bulleh Shah saw a young girl whose husband was expected to come home, and in whose preparation she was putting plaits in her hair. A strange desire arose in his mind. He also dressed himself like that woman, put the same type of plaits in his hair, and went in this guise to meet his master. For the worldly people such an act would look ridiculous, but it shows not only the great love but also his unconcern with public opinion and his desire to sacrifice himself for his beloved. In the manners of true lovers he shed his masculine pride and assumed the form of helpless woman, who renounces her ego and surrenders herself completely to her Lord.

  9. Hello,

    This is a wonderful post, I have subscribed to your blog now.

    Thanks.

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