“Dust of Their Earthly Remains, Abdul Latif affirms, Surely Esteemed”
By Dr. Ahmed H. Makhdoom, Singapore
Today is that day in the glorious, glittering and grand History of the Great Nation of Sindh, when her most illustrious, filial, worthy and noble son, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhitt, was born. We celebrate today is the 330th Birth Anniversary. His sanctified and sacred soul eternally resting in the Garden of his Beloved and his earthly remains interned permanently in the warm, divine and hallowed lap of venerable and Blessed Mother Sindh, Bhittai, till today, 267 years after his passage into Eternity, remains an iconic, and saintly figure.
Thousands, from far and wide (even as far as from Berlin, Germany) throng to his Shrine at Bhittshah to attend his annual Urs (Festival of Love, Peace, Longing and Reverence), which lasts for three days, to pay homage to the memory of this great Saint, Sage and Sufi of Sindh. His remains may be mortal but his legacy, spirit and message is surely immortal and evergreen.
“Saaree raat Subhaan, jaggee jani yaad kayo,
Una jei Abdul Latif chawei, mitteeya ladho maan,
Korrein kani salaam, achyo aasanna una jei.”
“Chanting Praises awake whole night, Beloved they remembered,
Dust of their earthly remains, Abdul Latif affirms, surely esteemed,
Paying homage come multitudes, visiting those abodes so blessed.”
(Shah Bhittai: Translated by Ahmed Makhdoom)
Over twenty years ago, whilst sitting alone in the study-room of my home in my adopted country Singapore – far, far away from my beloved motherland, my fatherland, Sindh, as my kids and family slept, I wrote. My old tape recorder is playing an old tape of one of the genuine daughters of Sindh, Sushila Mehtani, who is singing the opening lines of the “Risalo Of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai:”
“Awali Allahu aleemu, aalaa aalama jo dhannee,
Kadiru pahinji kudrata seen, kaaimu aahei kadeemu,
Waalee, waahidu, wahdahu, raaziku, rabu raheemu,
So saaraahi sacho dhanneen chaee hamdu hakeem,
Karei paana Kareemu, jorroon jorra jahaan jyoon.” (Shah Bhittai Saaeen)
“Begin in the name of Thy God, the Most Knowledgeable Thy Lord;
Lofty One Supreme: Worlds all He nurtures, Most High His Abode!
Creator with His Creation: Exists of yore, Enduring, Abiding eternally,
Most High, the One and Only: Sustainer, Mercy-Giver abundantly;
Remembering my True Captain, His Graces day and night chant me,
Shower Thine Blessings, Beloved! Surely, Gracious One art Thee.” (Shah Bhittai: Translated by Ahmed Makhdoom
With great dedication, respect, reverence, love and gratitude for this noble son of Sindh, my guide, my guru, my teacher, my mentor, Saaeen Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (Rahmatullah Alaihi), I continue with my quest for the watering of flowers of my roots, by telling you the story of this great Sufi, Saint, Sage and a Poet – Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai – and his enlightening and enriching, illuminating and inspiring poetry that is so reverently preserved in his beautiful and epic collection “Shah Jo Risalo” (Message of Shah). In this book are also his dreams, doubts, desires and devotion, which far surpass in rhythm, meaning and melody, any other poetry by any other poet of the East or West, anywhere, at any age and time.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai is not just a paramount poet of Sindh, he is the very soul of Sindh. If he would have been born in Middle East – somewhere near Mecca, Jerusalem or Bethlehem – they would have proclaimed him a prophet. If he would have surfaced in England, they would have made him a Poet Laureate – nobody would have known Shakespeare, Byron, Keats or Shelley.
Instead, he was born in a humble, tiny village of central Sindh. Sindh is where the greatest civilization, that the world has ever known, flourished. Yes, a great mother, Mother Sindh, deserves a great son, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhitt. Bhitai, the noble son of Sindh is the heart and soul of Mother Sindh. Without him, Sindh will be like a wandering gypsy, perpetually searching for the light, seeking guidance and enlightenment, and conjuring a relentless quest for the truth in pursuit of her restless soul.
Today, bleeding and in pain, this noble mother is at the threshold of death – her soul is no more wandering. Her soul is secure in the poetry of Shah Bhitai. Even for the children of Sindh – truncated, wounded, mauled, and vanquished though they may be – the solace comes in the form of soul that remains – the poetry and music of Bhitai.
“Tateeya dhadheeya kaahi, naahei weila wihanna jee,
Mataan thiyaee uundaahu, peiru na laheen pireenya jo.” (Shah Bhittai)
“Whether burning or freezing, this not time to sit in trance,
Ere darkness fall, Beloved’s footsteps be not able to glance.” (Shah Bhittai: Translated by Ahmed Makhdoom)
World should know that Bhittai is a universal poet and certainly, the foremost Sage and Saint who had given the message of love, peace, humility and excellence to the humanity – a Sufi par excellence!
On my table, in my Library and in my heart, mind and soul are preserved three books that I revere the most and regularly read for inspiration, enlightenment, enrichment and guidance: Holy Qura’an, Shah Jo Risalo and Mathnawi of Rumi.
And, beside these are other Sacred books as well for the illumination of my soul – Psalms, Old Testament, Bible, Geeta, Guru Granth Sahib, Buddhas Teachings, Lao Sze’s Treatise, Zoroaster’s Words of Wisdom, Bahaullah’s Guidance – and few others from various Philosophies and Native Faiths.
And, of all these books, I surely read Shah Abdul Latif of Bhittai Saaeen the most. My guide, my mentor, my Teacher, my murshid, my guru, Shah Saaeen, lovingly called ‘Shah Bhitai,’ is adored throughout the length and breadth of Sindh, irrespective of peoples religious beliefs and intellectual standing, not only as the greatest poet of Sindh but as a Saint, a sufi, a Sage, an Aulyaa, an Avtaar and a spiritual guide and teacher.
It is the spiritual significance of his poetry, expressed in most touching down-to-earth words, harmonised with a musical setting, that makes a direct appeal to the hearts and souls of the listeners, including the elite and the man in the street. The peasant ploughing his field, the herdsman and the shepherd tending to the herd of cattle or flock of sheep, the fisherman casting his fishing net in the water, the sailors going to sea, the village house-wife at her daily chores and the villager midst his companions at leisure time, sings, recites or hears this sublime poetry that uplifts his very soul, be he a Muslim or a Hindu.
The eternal and proverbial love for one’s Motherland and the kindred folks and anything and everything concerned and connected with the Fatherland is symbolised, so elegantly, eminently and effervescently in Bhittai’s epic Sur ‘Umar Marvi.’ Marvi, a young village lass of Malir – beautiful, charming, suave and gracious – scoffs at the glamour of the Ruler Umar’s Palace and turns down all his overtures and attempts, pleas and even threats, gifts and treasures, silk and satin, importance and status – to accept him as her husband and to become the Queen of the State.
Bhittai narrates in such a heart-warming, awe-inspiring and spell-binding terms the story of Marvi. Illustrious and filial daughter of the land of Malir, Marvi, truly symbolises the height of patriotism, peak of one’s love and devotion for Fatherland and zenith of one’s yearning and longing for the kindred folks. She prefers a simple needle from her Motherland rather than Royalty and honours, silk and brocades! She wants the needle from the land of her loved ones, the Maaruunarraa of Malir, to stitch her tattered clothes and sew patches on her torn shawl that she had been wearing since her forced and deceptive abduction away from her ancestral land to the Palaces of Ruler Umer:
“Paacchhaahee na paarriyaan, sartiyuun! Sueeya saannu;
Dhakei ughaarran khei, keena dhakiyaaeen paannu;
Mbeehara cjaapee cjaannu, ibura jei ausaafa khei.” (Sur Marui, Shah Bhittai)
“O Friends! Kingdom is nothing, compared to kindred needle using;
It dresses naked ones with clothing, itself stark naked remaining;
Die and be born again knowing, qualities graceful of needle learning.”
(Sur Marui, Shah Bhittai: Translated by Ahmed Makhdoom)
In the towns and cities of mother Sindh, the scholars, intellectuals and learned people, hold sessions of its recitation and its singing by renowned artists of the land. Every Sindhi, young and old, whether literate or not, man or woman, know most of the verses by-heart, and often quote them in daily conversations at significant occasions.
Mother Sindh has been ravaged, since her colonisation under the illegal and illegitimate state of Pakistan. Her children had suffered the pangs of distress, dejection and destruction, deprivation and destitution and enchained and enslaved in the yoke of servitude and serfdom. However, the poems, songs and verses of Bhitai Saaeen, when heard, bring uncontrolled tears to every Sindhis eyes, comfort to one’s heart and nourishment to the soul, making them forget, though momentarily, the pangs, pains and infidelities of life.
Who is this man? What is his philosophy? Why his poetry elevates people to heights of ecstasy? Why is this noble son of Sindh, rightly referred to as the “Soul of Sindh.” Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai – not much is known about the life of this thinker, saint, and sufi, from the written records. Much of the information has come down to us through oral traditions.
Shah Jo Risalo, in essence, is untranslatable into any language. The beauty of Sindhi language, especially the Sindhi used by Bhitai, the lilting melody, the churning of the of the words, the music in every line of the verse, and sheer hypnotic effect on heart, mind and soul, can only be felt and appreciated in the original Sindhi language. Not just Sindhis, but foreigners, as well, has been enthralled by this ecstatic poetry.
Dr Annemarie Schimmel, a German scholar and linguist, has learnt Sindhi, especially to be able to peruse for herself the poetry of Bhitai, which, according to her, “expresses the most refined mystical experiences and the most inexplicable movements of the soul.” Yes, the poetry of this Soul of Sindh creates turbulences right to the very core of one’s soul. Even Ernest Trumpp, the renowned German scholar and missionary, and H.T. Sorley, the English scholar, both have been mesmerized by the magical spell of the ‘vais’, ‘dohiras’ and ‘ka’afis’ sung by the devotees of Bhitai.
In my own humble way and personal understanding, I too, have attempted to translate Bhittai’s poetry, waaees, kalaamsk and verses. It has certainly been a formidable, humbling, and extremely challenging task. No matter what and how best I translate, I admit, I have not done true justice to the real message of Saaeen Bhittai and the actual meaning of his verses, by translating from Sindhi language to English.
Bhittai is the foremost, formidable, powerful and indomitable poet – a Darveish, a Faqeer – that ever lived and breathed. There can never, ever be one like him. My humble advice to all who do not know the sweet Sindhi language: “Please, go and learn the language!” Having learnt the language, ask me for a copy of Shah Jo Risalo – which I will surely give you free as a Golden Gift from an elder – and read, and read, and read again! Your life, I assure you, will become meaningful, sensible, significant and will surely, change for good.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai was born in 1689 and died in 1752. In his monumental work there are Chapters, known as Surs – Melodies – where Bhittai gives his Message of love, longing, patriotism, humility, tolerance, Divine Affection and devotion. These Seven Melodis and in fact the seven stages of Soul that find expression through his famous heroines.
Orientalists have observed that the succession of Sohni, Sassi, Leelan, Moomal, Marui, Noori and Sorath – Sata Suurmiyuun (Seven Heroines) represent the Seven Stages of the Soul. Indeed, quite an apt allegory, and Bhittai’s speciality is that he doesn’t narrate complete stories but offers dramatic monologues highlighting the lessons to be learnt at each stage
“Jani wincjaayo wujuuda khei, sei faanee thiya “Fee Allah” mein,
Na tini, qiyaamu na qauudu mein, na ko kani sujuudu,
Jeilaan thiyaa naabuudu, teilaan gaddiyaa buudu khei!” (Shah Bhittai)
“Self they exterminated, for Beloved they themselves annihilated,
Laws ‘n rituals they abandoned, prostrations ‘n prayers they rejected,
Fetters ‘n chains they decimated, lofty status thus they celebrated!” (Shah Bhittai: Translated by Ahmed Makhdoom)
Long Live Sindh! Long Live Sindhyata!