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  • Writer's pictureMandapaka Harini

Mystic Encompassment-Devotional and beyond

Written by Samridhi Singh

Illustrated by Saurabh Yadav

Last year, around this time, I was in Jaipur attending my sister's wedding. Regal is the word I'd use to describe the celebration, which took place with all pomp and grandeur. To complement the outfits and decor that exuded magnificence, one required an equally impressive bridal entry. For her entry, my sister had chosen the Coke Studio Pakistan rendition of the popular ghazal Chaap Tilak, originally penned down by the notable 14th-century Sufi wordsmith Amir Khusro. The first line of the song goes "Chaap Tilak sab cheeni re Mose Naina Milayke" (You've taken away my identity, zabiba, tilak, and everything from me by looking into my eyes). The song does  justice to the bridal entry as it further goes on to talk of all-encompassing love, love that is romantic and is assumed of that between a man and a woman at first glance, for it speaks of acts like passionately taking off bangles or simply marriage in the coming sentences. This may not seem out of the blue unless one mentions that the song was composed by Amir Khusro in devotion to his supreme Sufi guide, Nizamuddin Auliya.

The Sufi scriptures call Khusro the most beloved disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya. After their deaths, both men were buried in a twin tomb, and their deaths are celebrated by the name of Satravin Sharif (holy seventeenth), as it is recorded on the 17th day after Eid ul-Fitr. The evocative nature of Khusro's verses for Nizamuddin Auliya is largely overlooked, for one believes that poetic prowess transcends the realm of layperson relationship labels. Bulleh Shah too, in his poems, often addresses himself as a woman, and a romantic, and regularly addresses his murshid, his guide, Shah Inayat as his companion, in ways filled with palpable romantic undertones that perplex even the most sensible of readers. One of his verses can be translated to -

                  "O Bullah, the Lord brought me to the door of Inayat,

Who embellished me with clothes green and red."

While the blurring of lines between romantic and devotional may seem implicative in nature, we can also say that such a level of devotional admiration, a love that is so all-consuming is unbeknownst to the average person, so the only way it can be explained is perhaps through romantic love. In Hinduism, various literature and performing arts can be categorised into 8 rasas based on the emotions they invoke. Khusro's and Shah's verses can be said to be a confluence of Bhakti (devotional) Ras and Shringar (romantic/attraction-based) Ras. Simply put, expressing spiritual affection to the supreme form, at times romantically.

Delving deeper into it, one questions the unusualness of their adulation . In both of these examples, the Sufi saints are unfazed by the evidently feminine portrayal of their selves, aloof to the softness with which they yearn for the all-embracing union with the supreme power, something so feminine in nature. The lack of concern for the portrayal or the overall interpretation of these verses makes one wonder, if they had the alternative of communicating their love with equal vigour of that between a man and a woman, would they have taken that route?

Sufi text is all about love, and acceptance of diversity in life and the universe. Rumi said, “Come, regardless of who or what you are, just come (and join).” Despite this, one can question the integrity of these words and whether Sufism too, beneath the facade of inclusivity, emanates hostility like its Abrahamic brethren. The answer to this lies in Auliya's perception of Sufism. The ideals of Sufi chastity transcended labels. His concern was about any kind of illicit attachment, as he saw them as reasons for further inundating oneself in the realm of worldly attachments. His personal example is that desires should be refined and channelled towards spiritual admiration as it is the connection of the soul to the eternally supreme. 

While the above citations are merely indicative and left upon the discretion of the reader, the likes of Sufi saints Shah Hussain and Sarmad Kashani further solidify this argument, by having their names etched in the catalogue of evergreen amour, often alongside romantics like Sohni-Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiba. Shah Hussain, a Sufi poet, becomes our murshid here as modern-day Sufi poets refuse to take his name without his companion, endearingly referring to him as Madho Lal Hussain. Notably, the Sufi masses disapproved of the Madho Lal-Shah Hussain alliance not due to its unconventional nature and inter-religionist background but due to the remarkable age gap between them. As for Sarmad, another eminent Sufi bard, the nature of his association with his disciple Abhay Chand is hotly debated among scholars, mostly against the idea of it being suggestive in any sense. While the feigning scholars indulge in this discourse, Sarmad's poems for his confidant bask in their multitude of queer references.

One can let the scholars dance to the tune of pretence. As they indulge more and more in their multifaceted discourse, somewhere out there, beyond the ephemeral journey, these admirers meet. Amir Khusro and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya celebrate their union; Shah Inayat and Bulleh Shah dance another dance; and Sarmad returns home to Abhay Chand's mesmerising vocals. As Rumi said-

          "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,

           there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Samridhi Singh



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