Also published in the Weekly Friday Times July 24 issue
The subcontinent during the 15th century witnessed the coming of age of a process that started brewing with the arrival of Central Asian Sufis, those eternal travellers who arrived in India with a message of Islam and mystic love. When Sufi thought, an off-shore spiritual undercurrent to the rise of Islam, met its local hosts, the results were terrific. There was no shortage of fundamentalists and communalists in that cultural landscape; and the gulf between alien rulers and the native subjects was a stark reality as well.
Nevertheless, a synthesis of sorts was navigated by hundreds of yogis, Sufis and poets of South Asia. Very much a people’s movement from below, the Bhakti movement articulated a powerful vision of tolerance, amity and co-existence that remains relevant today. This is many centuries before the suave, Western-educated intelligentsia coined the “people-to-people” contact campaigns. Yes, much has been lost in the tumultuous 20th century and perhaps these histories are irreversible. But a vast and complex common ground was nurtured by mystic poets of northern India, now comprising India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. […]
A Strange Bird
Look, how a strange bird flits in and out of the cage!
O brother, I wish I could bind it with my mindÃs fetters.
Have you seen a house of eight rooms with nine doors
Closed and open, with windows in between, mirrored?
O mind, you are a bird encaged! And of green sticks
Is your cage made, but it will be broken one day.
Lalon says: Open the cage, look how the bird wings away!
People ask, what is Lalon’s caste?
Lalon says, my eyes fail to detect
The signs of caste. Don’t you see that
Some wear garlands, some rosaries
Around the neck? But does it make any
Difference brother? O, tell me,
What mark does one carry when
One is born, or when one dies?
A muslim is marked by the sign
Of circumcision; but how should
You mark a woman? If a Brahmin male
Is known by the thread he wears,
How is a woman known? People of the world,
O brother, talk of marks and signs,
But Lalon says: I have only dissolved
The raft of signs, the marks of caste
In the deluge of the One!
Translated by Azfar Hussain
More details on Lalon are below: […]
When Sufi thought, an off-shore spiritual undercurrent to the rise of Islam, met its local hosts, the results were terrific.
Troubled by the ongoing middle east crisis, the destruction of Lebanon and the acrimony generated by the tragic Mumbai blasts, I am reminded of this poem by Kabir:
Allah and Rama
If Khuda inhabits the mosque,
then whose play-field is the rest of the world.
If Rama lives in the idol at the pilgrim station,
then who controls the chaos […]