Celebrating the Life and Poetry of Bulleh Shah (1680-1757)

- A Sufi from the Indian Subcontinent

Bulleh Shah all poets and singers (102K)

While back in the Indian subcontinent the governments are struggling to find ways to bring people together, Bulleh Shah's mystic poetry united people of Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani heritage together on a common platform in the United States on May 6th at the Hilton Hotel in Atlanta.

Sufi evangelists from these subcontinent nations came together to celebrate the life and poetry of Bulleh Shah - a Sufi soul, a humanist and philosopher from the 18th century from the land of five rivers - Punjab.

Bulleh Shah was born and lived in Punjab, but his poems and songs have been adopted by people around the world. Lyrics of his poems, famous for their vivid style and open denunciation of religious differences, have long been held in affection by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The poetry of Bulleh Shah is considered one of the jewels of pre-modern Punjabi literature, and is taught in schools and colleges on both sides of the Redcliff line.

Bulleh Shah discoursed, "The ultimate peace of mind can be realized when one tames the 'Me only' instinct." One of mind's challenge is to accept difference of opinions, thoughts, way of life, way to worship, way to express, etc. Unable to accept these differences keeps the mind anxious and in agony.

Bulleh Shah through lyrics of his poems, challenged the meaningless ritualistic practices infested in institutionalized forms of religion. His poetry emphasized submitting to our conscience and staying truthful to our inner voice.

Waqas Khawaja, professor at Agnes Scott College shared life history of Bulleh Shah, from his birth place until his death in Kasur. According to Mr. Khawaja, Bulleh Shah, through his poetry, emphasized the existence of one Divine source. A Sufi, in mystic journey reaches a state of mind where he/she sees no difference between genders - male and female. Additionally, a Sufi mind-set is beyond the demarcation and segregation of religious lines.

Gurmeet Kaur, an author and social activist, recited the kaafi - Mai(n) KusumbRa chuN chuN haari - "I picked a lot of Kusumbhs (Safflowers) yet I've lost the game." In this kaafi, Bulleh Shah depicts himself as someone enraptured by the beauty of this flower and through his journey as a flower picker explains his spiritual quest for the beloved Divine.

Gurmeet Kaur began by explaining the significance of the Kusumbh (safflower) in Punjabi literature through its physical and metaphysical characteristics starting from Sheikh Farid in the 12th century, tracing it all the way through the Guru period to Bhai Gurdas and then Baba Bulleh Shah in the 18th century. She makes the audience realize that the common elements of the Sufi and the Sikh literature are many - from the flowers, to the beautiful Punjabi language constructs, to the spiritual quest of the soul and the importance of the murshad or the Guru.

Gurmeet concludes by reciting a poem by UK based Punjabi poet, Amarjit Chandan, that beautifully plays on the word Vand - which means both split and share in Punjabi - referring to the split of Punjab and all that which is left to be shared. She leaves the audience with a dream of undivided Punjab brought about by the love of their common Mother, the mother language Punjabi.

Bulleh Shah pic6 (126K)

Surinder Singh Lalli shared socio-political stands taken by Bulleh Shah. Shah openly condemned the organized religiosity, injustice perturbed by establishments, and scare tactics used to control masses. Conversely, he provided solutions to the sociological problems of the world.

Bulleh Shah's poetry is widely used in Bollywood screenplays and stage plays across the subcontinent. Kafiyaans of Bulleh Shah has been incorporated into several Bollywood film songs - Tere Ishq Nachaya, Chaiyya Chaiyya, Bullah ki Jaana Mein Kaun, Duma Dum Mast Qalandar, Sade Vehre Aya Kar, and Mera Piya Ghar Aaya.

This event was collectively organized by Jehangir Rathore, Tahir Syal, Kamlesh Chugh, and many others who voluntarily paid tribute to the noble soul. D.V Singh, of the Indian Consulate served as chief-guest and shared a couplet of Bulleh Shah.

In the 18th century, Bulleh Shah's poetry did the magic of uniting people of different faiths, opinions and cultures. His work continues to remain relevant and crucial in the 21st century - to unite and bond people in creating a peaceful society.

Photography : Urmil 'Tracy' Marshall

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