Erasing Boundaries And Drawing Boundaries

January 21, 2014 at 9:15 AMJan (Activism, Literature, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

dietrich_rumiD.R. Nagaraj in his introduction to the Kannada translation of Sufi poetry narrates an incident from his childhood where a neighboring Muslim lady comes to his house, when there is a power cut, and while talking to his mother tells a story. The story is this: In the city of Baghdad a man brought a snake which died in the cold to the sunlight and with the touch of sunlight the snake came back to life and bit people around and killed them. D.R. Nagaraj then cuts his narrative to his college days where one evening while in the library of Central College, Bangalore, he found the same/ similar story of the Baghdad and snake in Jalaluddin Rumi’s book ‘Masnawi’. D.R. Nagaraj after having read the same/ similar story in a text of Rumi wonders how an illiterate lady who never crossed the boundaries of Doddaballapura taluk had heard of a story about Baghdad written by Rumi.

This wonder of D.R. Nagaraj reverberates with an observation made by Rahamat Tarikere in his seminal work ‘Karanatakada Sufigalu’ where in the introduction he writes, “Sufism was local/ native and universal at the same time and these two spheres had a healthy give and take relationship.”

Sufism, to me, not just crossed boundaries, like the boundaries of local and universal, literate and illiterate, but also erased and blurred boundaries. I will try to illustrate the argument with two more examples: one of Hindustani music and another of Hindustani language.

The word Hindustani originates in the word ‘Sindhu’ which refers to the Indus River. Literally it means divider, though not separator. So the story of Hindustani music is the story of the two sides of the river which came together. What today is the defining element of the Hindustani music, the Khyal was introduced by the father of Hindustani music Amir Khusro, a Sufi! Prior to that Dhrupad in the native and Taraana in the Persian family of music depended heavily on pure music with mostly dummy words or phonemes. With introducing Khyal the Sufis married music and poetry.

It was the nomadic Sufis, who in their travelling picked up languages, brought dialects Braj, Bhojpuri, Avadh, Kadi Boli, Persian, Arabic all together and formed the Hindawi or Hindustani language.

20While meditating about Hindustani music and the language Hindustani, to my mind’s eye it appeared like they are not just merging boundaries and blurring the boundaries but more importantly also fighting the idea of purity. They dint let languages be purely themselves, they dint let poetry and music be just themselves. They caused amalgamation. Today when we look at our history and the history of the present we realize that it’s the idea of purity- at various level- which slips into fundamentalism, untouchability, fascism, fanaticism etc which are harmful to harmonious co-existence of humans. By battling this idea of purity and by initiating amalgamation the Sufis created an atmosphere for harmonious life.

Because Sufism, as said earlier, is not just crossing boundaries but also erasing, merging and blurring boundaries it becomes difficult to put one’s finger on Sufism itself and say ‘this is Sufism’. It starts resembling into the Baul tradition, to the Vachana tradition, to the Varkari tradition, to the Bhakti tradition etc. Lets see two examples:

Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi, who was the great grandson of Tippu Sultan in one of his poem titled The Sufi writes,

His Body Is The Mosque, His Rosary
The Rhythmic Breath, The Holy Kaaba Shrine
Is Built Within The Sufi’s Secret Heart.

This resonates with Basavanna’s vachana:

The rich build the Shiva temple
What can I a poor man do?
My legs themselves are pillars,
My body itself the temple O Father
My head is the golden cupola O Father
Listen O Father Kudalasangammadeva
The standing has its end But not the moving.

Bulleh Shah’s ‘mursheed’ was one Inayat Shah Qadiri. The story of him finding his ‘mursheed’ says that once while in search for a ‘mursheed’ Bulleh Shah was tired and hence sat under a tree in a mango orchard. He was hungry and hence he invoked the name of God and the mango fell on his lap. When he about to eat it the gardner- Inayat Shah Qadiri- came to him and said, “You have stolnen the mango.” To this Bulleh Shah explained that he had not stolen. But Inayat Shah Qadiri did not listen to him and said, “Invoking the name of God, you got the mango. You have committed theft.” Bulleh Shah is said to have realized the spiritual power of Inayat Shah Qadiri at that point and requested Inayat Shah Qadiri to have him as his ‘mureed’.

There is an emphasis to human labour more than prayer here in this story of Bulleh Shah and his mursheedInayat Shah Qadiri. A similar story is there from the vachana movement. It’s the story of one Nuliya Chandayya, a vachanakaara.

Once while Nuliya Chandayya was indulged in labour the icon/idol of Shiva tied to his arm fell down deliberately to test him. Chandayya left it behind and walked ahead. The icon/idol cried to Nuliya Chandayya asking him to carry it. Nuliya Chandayya declared that if the idol/icon wanted to be with him then it must toil with him and engage in day to day life, labour and world. The idol/icon agreed and Nuliya Chandayya picked it up.

There is a resonance of a similar outlook, similar philosophy.

So yeah Sufism thus while blurring, merging, erasing and crossing barriers, merges, blurs, erases and crosses its own barrier. But in simple it can be understood that Sufism is a ‘saadhana’.

1865070693It’s a philosophy which said ‘Anal haq’ meaning “I am God/ truth” (Hussain Mansoor Al-Hallaj). We should also note two terms that Rumi used: Al-Haq and Al-Hakeekha which mean, “Ultimate truth” and “worldly truth”. Both were important for Rumi and Sufis for it is through the latter that the earlier can be achieved, they believed. Because the worldly truth was the door way to the ultimate truth they did not look down upon the worldly truths.

Hence the body was body and temple at the same time. Breath was a rosary and a breath at the same time.

The Sindh region of the undivided India was heavily influenced by the Sufi culture. Here the identities of the people were fluid and porous religious identities, thanks to the Sufi influence on the region. The two communities with their fluid identities lived in harmony. But the political developments between 1920 and 1947 hardened their identities and not just that but also turned them against each other.

Between 1920and 1947 the political work of Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League ensured that the fluid identity got solidified and thus made way for the breaking of a harmonious life in the region. But prior to Hindu Mahasabha it was the Arya Samaj which made the hardening of identities possible. It is on the foundation constructed by Arya Samaj that the Hindu Mahasabha built it palace. Arya Samaj under the leadership of Pandit Lekhraj and Pandit Puran Anand made a concentrated effort to stop “Hindus” from “converting” to “Islam.” They introduced a ritual called ‘shuddhi’ (purification) by which converted “Hindus” could be brought back to Hinduism. They also introduced an event called ‘behas-baazi’ which was sort of a debate between two communities about scriptures. These ‘behas-baazi’, held regularly, are said to have intensified the division between the two communities.

Prior to Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League there were other organizations operating in the Sidh region like, Sindh Muhammed Association that began operating in 1885, Sindh Zamindar Association which began operating in 1886 and Sidh Madrasa Board which began operating in 1885. But all these associations were formed to demand separation of Sindh from Bombay Province. Importantly the membership for these associations was not restricted to any particular community. But the membership for Hindu Mahasabha was restricted to Hindus only and the membership of Muslim League was restricted for Muslims only. The hardening of identities and the hate politics broke the harmony in Sindh region to the extent that a number of riots took place in the region between the two communities before Independece and it was in Sindh that the question of partition was first raised (1938) and it was in the Sindh region that the first resolution supporting the demand for Pakistan was taken (1942).

What led to the division of a region also led to the division of a culture, a tradition. One can clearly see in this example how drawing of boundaries erases Sufi culture and also erases harmony.

images (1)A similar example can be the poetry of Bulleh Shah in post-Independence Pakistan and India. The language used by Bulleh Shah was a Punjabi which was people’s Punjabi first used in literature by Baba Farid. In the times after partition in the Indian Punjab the language Punjabi was becoming more and more Sanskritized and Hindi’ized while in Pakistan the language Punjabi was being Persianized and Arabisized. This purification of language made Bulleh Shah, his poetry and his philosophy distant from people and inaccessible!

Every idea of such purification, every boundary drawn is a wound made on the body of Sufism, a scar on the body of Sufism.

I have to narrate two stories:

Anis Kidwai was a social worker who was volunteering at the Puraana Qila (Delhi), where stood a refugee camp, in the days following the partition. In her book Aazaadi Ki Chaaon Mein (In The Shade of Freedom) she narrates an incident where a man comes to her, at the Puraana Qila and asks her if she can spare five minutes. Anis asks the man what the matter is and the man says, “I am a qawwal, can I please sing a qawwali. I will take only five minutes.” Anis Kidwai doesn’t encourage the qawwal, because of the circumstances. Qawwali was a gift of Sufism. The man couldn’t sing not just because the times were bad but also because the atmosphere of singing a music that stemmed from a syncretic culture had lost that atmosphere too. He wanting to sing was also an attempt to keep that atmosphere that culture alive.

Once a Baul singer, (Baul was a kind of Sufism, heavily influenced by Sufism) named Sadanand Khyapa, in Bengal crossed the border of Bangladesh to make a visit to Kushthiya, birth place of Lalan Fakir. He was soon arrested after crossing the border. In the police station he explained the purpose of his visit to an Inspector named Nasiruddin who immediately made a request to Sadanand. He asked Sadanand to sing a keertan. Sadanand, as documented by Sumanta Banerjee, is said to have sung for hours with Nasiruddin listening to him with closed eyes. Once Sadnand finished singing, Nasiruddin said, “Can you imagine for how many years I haven’t heard a keertan? Ever since you people left for Hindustan, we lost our chance to listen to keertans.”

In a scenario where boundaries have been drawn a singer longs to sing but cannot sing and a listener longs to listen but cannot listen (to songs). While erasing of boundaries, merging of boundaries, crossing of boundaries makes way for new language, new music, new stories and a new way of life which is filled with harmony. Hence I said, every boundary drawn is a wound made on the body of Sufism.

james-sufiWhen I was in Delhi there were few places which I used to visit frequently. Gandhi Samadhi, Ghalib Haweli, Hazrat Nizamudding Dargah and Hazrat Kalim-Ullah Dargah. Today when I look back at those places I realize that they had so many things in common! While Gandhi Samadhi, Ghalib Haweli, Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah is quite known to many Hazrat Kalim-Ullah is not as popular as the others. It is located opposite the Red Fort. The myth says that during the Aurangazeb regime Yamuna crossed its border and the flood disrupted the life of Delhi. The river Yamuna was later tamed by the prayer of Hazrat Kalim-Ullah.

Today again the life is disturbed because Yamuna is, metaphorically, overflowing. It is overflowing because some forces have stopped it from flowing and reaching Ganga. The merging of Ganga and Yamuna is not happening. It has been stopped. Hence Yamuna is overflowing and disturbing life. Now we must make a duaa to Hazrat Kalim-Ullah to tame Yamuna and make it flow freely and meet the Ganga and ensure a harmonious Ganga-Jamini culture in this soil of Sufis!

[This speech was prepared for the Sufi-Saint-Harmony seminar organized by Rangayana, Mysore as a part of their yearly Bahuroopi festival. I sincerely thank Rangaayana for the invitation and the opportunity. Sincere and heartfelt thanks also to my ‘mursheed’ Rahamat Tarikere who suggested my name to Rangaayana and made this possible with the love and faith that he has invested in me.]

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3 Comments

  1. bhupinder said,

    Absolutely fascinating, Not just the stories but also how you have put them together. It is an example of a very successful amalgamation in itself. Thanks for this superb post.

  2. suma embar said,

    very interesting. erased and blurred boundaries….the metaphor of the free flowing river is apt.

  3. zar4h said,

    This is truly beautiful!!

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