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In the times when  the whole world is going through an era of hatred, intolerance and extremism and Pakistan seems to be synonymous to all these words, what could be a better tribute to Bulleh Shah but to show to the world that there existed a daring secularist on this land almost 250 years ago.

Here I make a feeble attempt to write about Bulleh Shah, from  what little I know of him as a secularist : 


Bulleh Shah (1680-1757), was a sufi, who  lived in the heart of  Punjab, in Kasur,  as a  contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh, a reformer and mystic in his own right. Both of them had to face the wrath of a radical Muslim Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in their life.

Not very different from the state of our current world, ridden with extremism and hatred towards other faiths , even 250 years ago, the subcontinent  was plunged in deep turmoil.  But Bulleh Shah, who thought far ahead of his times, dared to challenge the prevailing hatred and religious bigotry.  

He lamented:

“Ulte hor zamane aaye,
Hun asaan bhed sajjan de paaye.
kaa(n) laggad nun maaran lagge, 
chiriyan jurre khaaye 
iraqiyan nun chabuk paunde, 
gade khood khavaye
aapneyan vich ulfat naahee,
ke-he chaachche taaye 
piyo putran ittfaak naa kaahee, 
dheeyan naal naa maaye 
sachcheyan nun hun milde dhakke, 
jhoothe kol bahaaye 
agle jaaye bankaale baithe, 
pichliyan farash vichaye 
Bullah jina hukam hazooron andaa, 
tina nun kaun hataaye.” 

“Perverse times have come,
I know the mystery of the beloved
crows have begun to hunt hawks, 
and sparrows feed on falcons
horses bear the whipping, 
while donkeys graze on lush green
no love is lost between relatives, 
be they younger or elder uncles
There is no accord between fathers and sons,
Nor any between mothers and daughters
The truthful ones are being pushed about,
the tricksters are seated close by
The front liners have become wretched,
the back benchers sit on carpets
Those in tatters have turned into kings,
the kings have taken to begging
O Bulleh, that which is His command
who can alter His decree.” 

Despite being a terror that Aurangzeb was, Bulleh Shah audaciously defied him not once but several times :

When Aurangzeb banned the music and dance, declaring it  as haram in Islam–Bulleh Shah, following instructions from his teacher, defiantly  went from village to  village in Punjab, singing and dancing to his Kafis.

As Aurangzeb beheaded Guru Tegh Bahadur, Bulleh Shah dared to call the slain Sikh leader as Ghazi, a religious warrior.

” Kitay Tegh Bahadur Ghazi hay ” 

Bulleh Shah hailed the revolutionary spirit of Guru Gobind Singh, calling him  a ‘protector’ of those who believed in right to follow their religious belief. He said in a subtle satire:

Nah Karoon Ab Kee,
Nah Karoon Baat Tab Kee.
Gar Na Hotey Guru Gobind Singh,
Sunat Hoti Sab Kee.

I talk about neither yesterday nor tomorrow;
I talk about today.
Had Gobind Singh not been there,
They would all be under Islamic sway.

Hence, mentioning that had the tenth Guru not been there, Auranzeb would’ve forced all to convert to Islam( implying Sunnat as circumcision).

Not only did he oppose the persecution of Sikhs in his times, he also advised Banda Bahadur not to avenge Auranzeb’s cruelty by killing innocent muslims.

Referring to the plight of his times in Punjab, and referring to the apathy of the onlookers, he wrote:

The Mughals quaff the cup of poison.
Those with coarse blankets are up.
The genteel watch it all in quiet,
They have a humble pie to sup.
The tide of the times is in spate.
The Punjab is in a fearsome state.
We have to share the hell of a fate.

(According to KS Duggal here ‘coarse blankets’ is referred to Sikhs) .

Bulleh Shah, in solidarity with Sikhs,  is said to have visited a Sikh temple at  Makhowal  at the time of Guru Tegh Bahahdur. He saw people engrossed in ‘ Kar Seva’ (service to the temple,  construction etc), ‘Kirtan’ (the morning singing of prayer) and ‘Langar’ ( the free distribution of meals ) by the devotees. Impressed by their devotion through service,  he remarked:

Ett khrikka ( sound of bricks during construction work)
Duppar vajje ( sound of dholaki during kirtan)
Nale balle chulla (langar).
Enhi galin Rabb raji rehanda
Nale rehanda Bulleh.

Aurangzeb  was  arrogant  not just to non Muslims, he even did not attempt to hide his hatred towards his own  brother Dara Shikoh for following the Shia sect of Islam. And he had heartlessly got  GuruTeghBahadur killed in public, in Delhi and also eliminated his brother DaraShikoh for his beliefs.

Bulleh Shah , on the contrary,  being a true and fearless secularist, rejected  the discrimination between faiths- be Hindu-Muslim -Sikhs or sects- Shia-Sunnis ,and wrote:

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.
We are neither hungry nor replete,
Neither naked nor covered up.
Neither weeping nor laughing,
Neither ruined nor settled,
We are not sinners or pure and virtuous,
What is sin and what is virtue, this I do not know.
Says Bulhe Shah, one who attaches his self with the lord.
Gives up both hindu and muslim. 

While he did not spare those who monopolised their faith:

“Lumpens live in the Hindu temples
And sharks in the Sikh shrines.
Musclemen live in the Muslim mosques
And lovers live in their clime.”

And even dared to compare their clergy to ‘barking dogs’ and ‘crowing roosters’.

Not very different from the current times, wherein ‘secularism’ is still perceived as  Ladeeniyat ( atheism)), he too was labelled as an apostate for his secualr stance. To which he taunted:

Bulleh-a aashiq hoyiyon Rabb da,
Hoai Malamat Lakh Tenon Kafir Kafir aakhdey,
toon aaho aaho aakh
A lover of God?
They’ll make much fuss;
They’ll call you a Kafir 
You should say -yes, yes.

Learning from Bulleh Shah and  Kabirdas, and knowing the history of subcontinent,  today I too gather courage to defy Iqbal’s  verses :

Juda ho deen siyasat se tou reh jati hai Changezi .
When religion is separated from politics, it is reduced to brutality.

I say: Jurey jo  deen siyasat se tou ho jata hai Changezi…
When religion enjoins politics, it becomes brutal.

If after this you call me a traitor: I should say yes, yes.


 P.S. My two penny: 

Recently talking to a friend from Bhopal, about extremism in Pakistan,  I felt disheartened to know that all she knew Bulleh Shah was that  Abida Parveen sang him and that too in the context of his love poetry. And was oblivious to his humanist and secularist stance.

It is so unfortunate that even today, many in India ( besides Punjab) and elsewhere in the world, people who know Kabirdas and Amir Khusrow backwards,  have barely heard of Bulleh Shah except in context of  his love poetry.

Even my  first exposure to Bulleh Shah’s poetry was through the verses…Bulleh ki jana main kaun...that too as a song sung by Rabbi Sher Gill. And I wondered and found the words wierd…not aware of the context. However, after having read some ‘bit’ of his history and his Kafis, it all makes sense now.

What wonders me most is that though in India, we read Kabirdas from grade Six, I never ever heard of  Bulleh Shah’s mention in any Indian history text books. What is more unfortunate that even in Pakistan, school text books never taught Bulleh Shah whether in history or in literature.

I still  consider Rabbi Sher Gill as the one who let me be familiar with Bulleh Shah’s name, to begin with. Besides many other sources…my special thanks to KSDuggal’s Mystic Muse,  Saeen Zahoor for telling stories of Bulleh Shah, the blogs Sufi Poetry, of Raza Rumi ‘s and Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi’s, who I stalked to learn about Bulleh Shah’s poetry and history.

Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun.

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun

Bulleh!, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun

Bulleh , ki jaana maen kaun

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk (Muslim), nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

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Comments on: "Bulleh Shah, the daring secularist!" (12)

  1. I have no idea how it is in Pakistan, but here in India, yes, we have this thing for Pakistanis. This genetic level of aversion and apathy. It suffocates me. I have lived my life believing that every person’s suffering is a shameful blot on the humanity’s existence. And when i really could access to different speakers, believers, mystics in History, the border between nations to me faded further and more.

    India and Pakistan. That which is here is there. The cries here, echoes there; vice versa. Only when each person loves each other person across the boundary there can be a treaty. A peace treaty that doesn’t have any signatures, that is not written on any parchment. That has no media coverage worldwide. It has silent appreciations in every heart.

    I wish we see the day. Because, I am sorry dear dreadful History, love always won!

    Thanks for Bringing Bulleh Shah to us! And so descriptively too! A real tribute to him.

    In a Farid Ayaz’s video I found online, I heard some Bulleh Shah “Ve Bulleya, jithe dil adh jaaye phir ki gori ki kaali?”, I immediately knew, this is another Kabir! A person who doesn’t see a difference between dark and fair, men and women, sees every soul as the same (Like Kabir’s “Sakal Hans mein …” ) is the person to follow!

    I must make a confession? Religions have begun to seem silly lately.

    • Aww froZenwell you stole my words…I too had the same thoughts when I read Bulleh Shah first time–‘this is another Kabir !’. And am sure you will agree that in India, we would never have got to hear BullehShah if it wasn’t for RabbiShergill, FaridAyaz or AbidaParveen, sadly.

  2. By the way, I am narendra, you can call me naren 🙂

  3. @ writer of above article/blog and others:

    First of all thanks for sharing such a good peace with us.
    I would like to provide a comprehensive reply, being a humble pupil of Baba Bulleh Shah, a keen reader of history and a born humanist.

    1. King Aurangzeb didn’t assassinated his brother Dara Shikoh “for following the Shia sect of Islam”. Among his brothers only Sultan Shujah was, some how, inclined toward shia/persian sect of Islam not Dara. Dara was a Sufi-disciple of Miyan Mir and Sarmad Shaheed. Aurabngzeb, a clever, ruthless and diplomatic power-lusty Prince, killed his all brothers, including Dara, just for paving way for his emperorship.

    2. The translation of “Bulleha aashiq hoyiyon Rabb da, Hoi Malamat Lakh…” wasn’t precise. Actually, It means, “Bulleh! When you fell in love with your beloved one, the poor masses (‘Rabb’ is acting as synonymous to ‘humanity’, ‘people’ because a Sufi’s God resides in mankind)….[then the Muslim clergies, being opponent to your concept of God, began calling you an ‘apostate’ to which you should reply: Yes, of course-because if these hypocrites are Muslims then who could feel proud in proclaiming himself a Muslim?]”

    3. Calling Bulleh Shah ‘another Kabir’ is impressive. Well said! I would even go further stating this that in every TRUE Sufi/Sant, Kabir lies. Kabir lies in Bulleh Shah, in Baba Nanak, in Baba Fareed, in Sultan Bahoo…

    4. Your intentions expressed in article are noble and deserve to be appreciated. You are a true seeker of knowledge and peace. Your “feeble attempt to write about Bulleh Shah” is an attempt, stronger than any attempt by ‘famous’ and so-called-Sufi authors of now days who are ruthlessly trying to Islamize the legacy of Bulleh Shah and other Sufi intellectuals, especially in Pakistan.

    5. No doubt Pakistan has become a synonymous to ‘hatred, intolerance and extremism’ in world community but there are not few liberals, seculars and humanists here in Pakistan; It’s because of the lack of Media and Government’s support, they are under both psychological and physical attack. The nation that can kill even a Governor (Mr. Sulman Taseer of Punjab) for his secular views, despite having tight-security how can pardon a common man adhere to secularism? Honestly speaking, being a realistic Pakistani citizen, banner of ‘freedom of expression and speech’ is as secure in Pakistan as a common man of street, who is continuously being bitten on one side by orthodox Mullah and on other side by Policemen and other safeguards.

    6. Here in Pakistan, situation is, as Bulleh Shah said:
    “Mullah tay masaalchi donhi iko chit
    Lokaan karday chanan, aap anhairay nitt”
    [Clergy and torchbearer are alike in darkness despite their claim of spreading illumination among masses]

    Warm Regards from Pakistan to ilmanafasih, Naren and all peaceful citizens of borderless world.

    I’ll appreciate if you have any question regarding Sufism or history to be asked.

    Saad Ahmed,
    Lahore, Punjab (Pk.)

    • Saad,

      I cannot thank you enough for taking time to write in such details. I really appreciate the corrections…as this precisely how one learns.
      Thank you for your kind words too..And yes, I find Kabir and Bulleh Shah so similiar. Referring to the verse that you quoted in the point 6. Kabir says something similiar

      “Jaka guru hai andhla, chela hai ja chandh / Andhe andha theliya, dunyu koop parent.”

      (If the preacher is blind (unrealized) and the disciple is also blind, how can they progress further? If a blind shows the path to the other blind, they both are bound to fall in some dead well at some time).

      I would appreciate if you went through my blogs: “An Encounter with Saeen Zahoor.Part 1 & 2.” and “Kabir a day keeps radicalism at bay.” with critical appraisal.

      Thanks again 🙂

      Ilmana

  4. What passion, Ilmana. Didn’t know you dig so deep. If I had my way, Bulleh Shah would ‘religiously’ be part of the curriculum.

  5. By quoting the above verse of Kabir, you remind me of something very past. My late grandfather use to quote Kabir’s that statement regarding ‘blind followed by blinds’…lolzz certainly here case is quite alike; we have “Sheikh-ul-Islam”, “Peeraan e Peer”, “Peer-e-Tareqat”, “Hazrat Sufi Molana” “Sawami Maharaaj etc”, …..all know nothing expect organizing a “wonderful gathering” for the sake of their ‘DUKAAN’s marketing…
    Kabir rocked!

    I’ll certainly go through those blogs as well 🙂

  6. Beautiful piece! I can’t believe these are not our heroes anymore. It seems Punjabi literature has been long forgot especially in Pakistan. Punjabi literature has such writers like Sultan Bahu, Baba Fareed, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Guru Nanak, the list goes on and on. I’m actually a Punjabi Sikh, i was born in Amritsar grew up in U.S most of my life. Majority of my friends here are from Pakistan, i have known them for over 10 years, i felt more close to them than some of my Indian friends, because we shared the same punjabi culture. Its always surprising to me sometimes when i meet people from Pakistan Punjab, they treat Punjabi as some second class language, yet it is suppose to be their mother tongue. I knew knew the reason why they prefer Urdu over Punjabi, even though Pakistan has nothing to do with Urdu. How can someone feel ashamed for their own mother tongue? We had such humanist as baba fareed who wrote about humanism a thousand years ago.

  7. Wonderful thoughts and praises for true role models shining like beacons in these dark times.
    I must say that I do feel very aggrieved about ‘pakistan’. this country was created by selfish politicians with such horrific genocide that the consiquences are scars of hatred.
    I prefer to think of times before ‘pakistan’ when this was all Punjab ,with punjabi people and punjabi culture, punjabi common value and punjabi love for one another : we were all brothers and background was irrelevant . It was in this fabric that we had our role models.
    The politicians ( social & religious) have far too much to answer for.
    By remembering such wonderful role models helps remember who we really are – brothers with the same colour blood, created by the same god, who one day, in-shalla, will unite with God.

  8. I also wondering why this great Bulleh Shah’s name is not appearing in INDIA as well.
    I also first heard the great versus of Bulleh Shah from an old MTv song…thanks to Rabbi Shergill.
    I was touched by the translation displayed in screen as i do not know Punjabi.
    But Bulleh Shah’s relation with Tegh Bahadur is a new information for me.. thanks for that.
    I think Sufism is our culture.. It will never hurt anyone. It’s a way of living. No contradictions.. I also visited Sufi shrines..infact Hindus are regular visitors of Sufi Dargas now a days..especially in Sai Baba and Ajmer..etc.. I do not see any issue in seeing another saint/God to be in our prayer room….Be in peace..The whole world…..!!!

  9. Finally a religious blog or page without a word of hate. I am an atheist and just started to explore Sufism. Thanks for all the knowledge guys!

    • A correction this is not a religious blog. This is about secular poetry. Check Kabir and Khusrau blog posts too.

      You will not find any hate on this blog 🙂

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