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Saints who ruled India

Book Review

The War that Wasn’t: The Sufi and the Sultan By Fatima Hussain Publisher: Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi Pages: 245

Last year I had a chance to meet Dr Fatima Hussain, a thoughtful and inspiring academic based in Delhi. We had all congregated in Agra for the SAARC writers’ summit and Hussain’s facility with subcontinental history, especially Sufism, was most impressive. This is when I found out that her book had just been published and my curiosity to read the book knew no bounds. The title of this book was even more intriguing: “The War that Wasn’t: The Sufi and the Sultan”. Essentially the title summarises a millennium of the societal resistance offered by the Sufis against state power as well as the embedded social relations in the Indian subcontinent.

Hussain teaches History at Delhi University and was educated at Lady Shri Ram College and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has also authored The Palestine Question: A Historical Perspective (2003) and several scholarly articles. An interesting volume that she edited – Sufism and Bhakti Movement: Contemporary Relevance (2008) – perhaps explains the relative fluency of her familiarity with the subject. After her marriage to Pakistan’s leading Punjabi writer and activist, Fakhar Zaman, she is now delving into documenting the history, culture and morphology of Lahore. […]

Magic moments – incredible photos on mysticism

Today, a magical photographer and a brave journalist Iason Athanasiadis, wrote to me after reading some of my comments in NYT. This is such a small world after all. Iason has also lived in Pakistan and some of his beautiful pictures can be found here (I am posting an image from Pakistan below from his collection). What a treasure it is. I am so grateful that Iason got in touch..

Here is another one from Iran – absolutely stunning… […]

February 28th, 2010|Photo stories, Sufism|3 Comments

Mystical Form of Islam Suits Sufis in Pakistan

Known here today as Data Ganj Baksh, or Giver of Treasures, the Persian-speaking mystic journeyed to Lahore with Central Asian invaders, according to Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani writer and expert on Sufism. He settled outside the city, a stopover on the trade route to Delhi, started a meditation center and wrote a manual on Sufi practices, Mr. Rumi said. Few here last week knew many of those facts but that did not seem to matter. The dancing and drumming was part of a natural rhythm of life that after nearly 10 centuries was as much about culture as it was about faith

February 26th, 2010|Culture, Lahore, Personal, Religion, SouthAsia, Sufism|6 Comments

I have returned, like the new year (Rumi)

I am posting Sunlight translations of Rumi’s  Ghazal (Ode) 1375, from  “Diwan-e-Shamsi” (“The Collection of Shams”), rendered by Nader Khalili, and Prof. William Chittick:
i’ve come again
like a new year
to crash the gate
of this old prison
i’ve come again
to break the teeth and claws
of this man-eating
monster we call life […]
February 3rd, 2010|Rumi, Sufi poetry|1 Comment

“I have never become less from dying”

Rumi departed earthly life on 5 Jumadi II, 672 A.H (according to the Islamic lunar calendar; Dec 17, 1273 A.D., according to the Christian calendar). His death is referred to by Persians as “vesal”, meaning “union (with the Beloved)”, while in the Mevlevi Sufi tradition, the expression “shab-i aroos” (variously spelled “sheb-i arus”, etc., in transliteration) is used, a phrase meaning “the wedding night” — the night of Rumi’s marriage to the Beloved. (The Sufi tradition of referring to the death of a Sufi saint as “urs” — a wedding — predates Rumi, and is still used in Sufi circles.)

Over the next few days, the Sunlight mailing list will offer poems appropriate to the memory of Molana’s passing from this life, and touching on his teachings on the significance of death. […]

December 18th, 2008|Arts & Culture, Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|5 Comments

Thou art the sky and the deep sea (Rumi)

When you fall asleep,
you go from the presence of yourself
into your own true presence.
You hear something
and surmise that someone else in your dream
has secretly informed you.
You are not a single “you.”
No, you are the sky and the deep sea.
Your mighty “Thou,” which is nine hundredfold,
is the ocean, the drowning place
of a hundred “thou’s” within you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ […]

September 14th, 2008|Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|0 Comments

Kabir, Bulleh and Lalon – Petals of a mystic lotus

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. […]