SUFI BALM FOR TROUBLED TIMES

An urs, or commemoration of the death of a Sufi philosopher-poet-singer, began in Kasur/Qasur, in Pakistan on Friday, August 24, and someone posted a few lines on Facebook from a beautiful poem anyone – atheist or believer – can identify with.

Baba Bulleh Shah’s poem, Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun(text and youtube links below), has particular resonance in the context of a great deal of xenophobia and distrust of the other that we are witnessing in many parts of the world, and especially in India.

In my southern Indian city, Bangalore, rumours recently led to the exodus of thousands of people originally from Northeastern India. The rumours were blamed on another minority in the city, the Muslims, who then felt obliged to host extensive rounds of Iftar parties (breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan/Ramzan) and dinners, inviting people from Northeastern India living in Bangalore, so as to reassure them that neither posed any threat whatsoever to the other.

It was apposite that just as the city began to recover from that ignoble trauma, the urs for a humanistic saintly figure began in another part of the subcontinent, where too large numbers of Pakistani civil society activists were energetically denouncing attacks on minorities and outrageous allegations of blasphemy. The troubles in India itself had started because of exaggerated rumours and false pictures depicting the fate of the Rohingya minority in Burma. And what is far worse, there have been clashes in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, pitting tribal people against presumed ‘outsiders’ from Bangladesh.

Who are outsiders and insiders among human beings who have been constantly migrating for thousands of years, whose DNAs can be traced back, according to overwhelming scientific evidence, to an African mother and whose languages, philosophies and religions are so interlinked? What earthly basis is there for this Auslaender raus (outsider out) thinking?

The poem by Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) contains many lines acutely relevant to the present times. This version is taken from the singer Rabbi Shergill’s websites.

 

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun (Bulla, to me I’m not known – also translated as Bulla, who knows who I am?)

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
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 Pharaoh
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

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.
Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

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
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

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
Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

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
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

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

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

The legendary Mehdi Hasan sings it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMbqs2QbZZg

And Pakistan’s world-renowned Coke studio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOriUKHfnrs

Iqbal Bahoo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNDTc35g2GI

Sain Zahoor Ahmed looking every bit a Sufi recluse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd0Wbli39zA&feature=related

Imran Aziz Qawwal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSY9k2Soedk&feature=related

The great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has sadly been let down in this recording http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbRPnehCgnk

A version which has gotten massive hits is Rabbi Shergill’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTxZy32Fv_0

Baba Bulleh Shah’s supreme relevance to today’s India and the world is further brought out in these superb lines:

Chal Way Bullehya Chal O’thay Chaliyay

Jithay Saaray Annay

Na Koi Saadee Zaat PichHanay

Tay Na Koi Saanu Mannay

O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there

Where everyone is blind

Where no one recognizes our caste (or race)

And where no one believes in us

Or in the words of that 20th century Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore,

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;…”

This day, 49 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr made his stirring I Have A Dream speech which too contain similar sentiments: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” http://www.mlkonline.net/dream.html

Different continents and centuries, one dream.

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About walkerjay

The author, N. Jayaram, a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi, was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions.
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18 Responses to SUFI BALM FOR TROUBLED TIMES

  1. b.s.ahalya says:

    Great Article.A.

  2. shovonc says:

    BTW, I didn’t know the words to the Bulleh song. Thanks. Sounds a bit non-committal, though.

  3. walkerjay says:

    Shovon,
    These words “Not an Arab, nor Lahori/ Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri/ Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari” and the words “…to me I’m not known” or “…who knows who I am”, stuck a chord with me because of the bewilderingly large numbers of NE Indians who suddenly left Bangalore and in the backdrop of the events in Assam, in Pakistan and elsewhere.

  4. Gita Sahgal says:

    Wonderful article and fitting to remember Bulleh Shah in this contexts – during the exodus of North Easterners from Bangalore and other Indian cities. Good to hear of the many attempts by Muslims in those cities that they were not involved in plans to attack North Easterners. Few press reports said much about this. Indians have had to think hard about racism and exclusion inside India, after these events.

    Thanks for the translation and all the different versions of the song.

    • walkerjay says:

      Gita Sahgal,

      I did not translate. Wish I knew that much Punjabi/Saraiki. Lifted outright from Rabbi Shergill, as I say in the para next to Baba Bulleh’s picture.

  5. JGN says:

    >>>>So long as the Saffron crowd is willing to sit down and listen to other voices, rather than going about plotting pogroms, there may yet be hope for India>>>> where did you see them plotting progroms? If you have any credible lead, pl provide the same to our law enforcement agencies.

    Btw have you heard of the plans of Zaid Hamid & Co for capturing India?

  6. JGN says:

    @ Jayaram, Mr. Shivam Vij had wirtten on Kafila some time back that he is a “second-generation” Punjabi Refugee. Pl ask him what happened to the “Sufi Balm” when his elders/ancestors had to flee from their place of birth tucking tail between the legs.

    The Muslims may have some grievances but it is really disgusting to see the so-called Hindus taking up their vakalat-nama and lambasting all other Hindus in the name of secularism! Do you know what kind of secularism prevails in Pakistan, a part of undivided India till about 65 years back?

    http://dawn.com/2012/04/21/forced-faith-or-force-of-faith/

    And this is what another great secularist said:

    http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-interview-hindus-muslims-are-separate-nations-geelani/20101101.htm

    May be people like you and Shivam Vij get an orgasm when you lambast your fellow citizens!!!!!!!!

  7. sam says:

    Hey, bro, appreciate your article. However it would have been better if at least the translation of the poetry was correct.

    Correct linguistic translation of the verse

    Na maen momin vich maseet aan

    I am not in muslims mosque

    Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan

    I am not in non muslims (kufar-hindu) rites

    Bulleh shah like Sant Kabir is trying to emphasize that God is not in Muslims mosque or in Hindu rituals. The whole poem is about where and what God is not. It is a critique of societies wrong belief of God. This is in line with the general thought of all sikh, bhakti and sufi saints of that time.

    Please for gods sake or at least honesty sake, do not distort this great message of a true saint philosopher. I also think the translation is from some islamist source if not from you.

    • walkerjay says:

      Thank you!
      Always ready to be corrected. The translation, as stated alongside the picture, was directly lifted from Rabbi Shergill’s sites.

      • samkoulSam says:

        The translation you have taken is from a Rabbi Shergill fan site (http://rabbishergill.com/) is not from the Rabbi Shergill but from his fan.

        Rabbi’s actual translation embedded in his video

        is as :

        Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun
        Bulla, I know not who I am

        Na maen momin vich maseet aan
        Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
        Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
        Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
        Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
        Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
        Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

        Nor I am the believer in mosque
        Nor I am in the rituals of the Infidal
        Nor am I the pure in the impure
        Nor am I inherent in the vedas
        Nor am I present in intoxicants
        Nor am I lost nor corrupt
        Bulla, I know not who I am

        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

        Nor in Union nor grief
        Nor am I intrinsic in the pure/impure
        Nor am I of the water or of the land
        Nor am I fire nor air
        Bulla, I know not who I am

        Na maen arabi na lahori
        Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
        Na hindu na turak peshawri
        Na maen bhed mazhab da paaya
        Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
        Na maen apna naam dharaaya

        Nor I am Arab, nor from Lahore
        Nor am I the Indian city of Nagaur
        Nor a Hindu, nor a Peshawari Turk
        Nor did I create the difference of faith
        Nor did I create adam – eve
        Nor did I name myself

        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

        Beginning or the end I just know the self
        Do not acknowledge duality
        There’s none wiser than I
        Who is this Bulla Shah
        Bulla, I know not who I am

        Na vich jaagan na vich saun.
        Na maen aatish na maen paun
        Na maen rehnda vich nadaun
        Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun
        Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun
        Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

        I am not sleep or wakefulness
        I am not fire or the Wind
        I do not stay in Nadaun
        I am not in Inertia or travel
        Who is this Bulla Shah
        Bulla, I know not who I am

        Bulla Shah’s message is relevant even today, the day majority of people in India and Pakistan understand what he said, a lot of our problems will just go away.

  8. walkerjay says:

    Many thanks, once again!

  9. samkoulSam says:

    Do you want to remove the incorrect translation or introduce the above or another translation from a known and authentic source. Otherwise it distorts the message. 🙂

  10. walkerjay says:

    The translation you have provided contains repetition, for instance the last two stanzas. Let it be. The comments are there for all to see.

  11. Irfan Engineer says:

    In deed, Bulle Shah is very relevant today

  12. The poetry of the great Sufi poet of Punjab is plain yet melodious, down to earth and above all has message for humanity at large. Baba Ji had perceived the narrowness of the clerics among the Muslims as well as the Hindus. Unfortunately this narrowness persists even today. The poetry of Baba Buleh Shah, therefore, needs to be brought to as many people as possible. In this respect, Jayaram Ji, your efforts are indeed commendable.

    I wish to say and say it loudly so that it reaches all corners of the Sub continent ‘Pakt-Bharat Dosti Zindabad, Pak-Bharat Awam Bhaichara paindabad.
    Nayyar

  13. Pingback: Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun « Wonders of Pakistan

  14. Pingback: Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

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