“This body is God’s home”

Moving [counting beads] of tasbih [rosary] does not move [transform] the heart, so why hold a tasbih? If gaining of knowledge does not evoke humility [obedience] then what is the gain of [such a] knowledge? If sitting through chillas [isolation] does not bring any fruits then what is the purpose of adopting [the ritual] of chillas? Without mixing [of yogurt] the milk does not transform into yogurt even if it has been boiled many times over and turned reddish. You [Mullah] have become a professional tasbih-mover and you utter incoherent words.The jewel of your heart does not move while you are wearing garlands made of hundreds [five-twenties] of pieces /When you have to give something your throat is squeezed but when you have to get something you become a lion. O Bahu! for the stone-hearted people the rain [of love] gets wasted.



by Dr. Manzur Ejaz


Historians and commentators have provided contradictory portrayals of Sultan Bahu’s life and his political inclination. However, his poetry seems to be a coherent collection of baits (a four line verse). Neither his predecessors nor his successor poets can match his direct harsh criticism of Mullahs, Qazis and clerics of Islam. His exploration of man’s inner self is also uniquely deep.

Sultan Bahu belonged to the Awan tribe, and was born in village Anga near Shorkot, Jhang in 1631, about two-three years after Shah Jahan (1592-1666) had ascended the Mughal throne after killing many of his relatives. His father, Sultan Bazaid, is said to have been connected to Shah Jahan’s court, which is reported to have given him a large tract of land. Most historians agree that Sultan Bahu was schooled at home by his mother, Bibi Rasti Quds Sara. He was sent to Habib-ullah Qadri at Baghdad (not the Iraqi city) on the banks of river Ravi.

After some time when he could not gain further knowledge from his mentor he went to Delhi and was initiated into the Qadri order by Abdul Rehman Dehlvi. Khawaja Ghulam Farid affirms this in his biographical diary Maqabees Almajalas: “Sultan Bahu was a follower of Syed Abdul Rehman Dehlvi… Sultan Bahu’s Sufi fame caught on when he was known by his preceptor’s name. Therefore, his name is Syed Abdul Rehman Sultan Bahu… He belongs to Alia Qadryia…”

Quoting Manaqab-i-Sultani, Lajwanti Rama Krishna writes: “Bahu had four married wives and seventeen mistresses. Of the former, three were Muslims and the fourth a Hindu. He had eight sons from his wives.” Lajwanti Rama Krishna continues: “This sort of life, though sanctioned by Muslim law, did not befit a saint and a teacher… But it is not for us to judge.”

Muhammad Sharif Sabir, researcher and editor on many Punjabi classics, most of all Heer Waris Shah, claims that Sultan Bahu lived the very simple life of a farmer distributing his large estate among the tenants.

Similarly, Sultan Bahu’s relationship with Emperor Aurangzeb is full of contradictory statements by historians. Upon Shah Jahan’s fall in 1657 a war of succession between his sons broke out. The leading contenders were Dara Shukooh, a Qadri Sufi, and Aurangzeb, follower of Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Khawaja Muhammad Masoom, the third son and successor of the founder of Mujaddidi order Ahmad Sirhindi: most of Aurangzeb’s pro-Mullah Shahi edicts came from his preceptor. One of the commentators has quoted Sultan Bahu’s edict:

“The country is governed by the slave of God as Aurangzeb is the king.” However his strong affinity with the Qadri order and his poetry shows that such writings were later added or written in his name. Condemning the Court-Sheikh/Mullah alliance he says:

(Scholars) study and gain knowledge just to please the kings.

Naturally, Sultan Bahu was not attacking imaginary characters in this verse: ha was directly hitting Naqshbandi leaders who were directly guiding Aurangzeb in matters of imposing Sharia. The fact of the matter is that many entities have claimed to be the true heirs to Sultan Bahu and they have fitted his writings according to their own needs and times. And now, when sajjada-nasheens have turned Sufism into a set of rituals and form the single largest group of the ruling elite-sajjada nasheens, their offspring, relatives or proxies constitute the largest group in Pakistan National Assembly – allegiance with Aurangzeb and his modern followers, the Islamic extremists of our time, is not surprising. Therefore, it is safer and advisable to stick to Sultan Bahu’s poetry to reconstruct his personality and ignore contradictory portrayals and opportunistic statements assigned to him. How can he be associated with Aurangzeb when he writes:

Never be associated with a bad company to dishonor your family/Infant. Crow cannot become peacock even if fed on pearls. Saline water wells cannot be sweetened even if hundreds of sugar bags are mixed in them.

Sultan Bahu had a different background than his predecessor and successor classical poets, who were mostly educated in reputable madrassas and had studied the same curriculum. This is one of the reasons that themes of most classical Punjabi and Sindhi poets overlap. Sultan Bahu was home-schooled and was not exposed to debates that must have been taking place among brilliant students of highest quality madrassas. Consequently, he gave a freshly unique flavor to Punjabi poetry.

Sultan Bahu can be termed the major poet of North India of the 17th century because the spell of Bhakti poetry had come to an end in the 16th century and Urdu was just in its infancy. Wali Muhammad Wali (1667-1707) or Wali Deccani were almost his contemporaries. By then or even before, if one looks at Shah Hussain’s poetry, the Punjabi language was fully developed by then while Urdu was getting its first poets.

As his predecessor, Shah Hussain, introduced symbols of Heer and Ranjha to describe the concept of outer contradiction and inner unity, Sultan Bahu elaborated it by explicating the law of contradiction in his poetry:

Alaf God’s jasmine was planted in my heart by my preceptor/ Every artery and spot [of my being] was watered by negative and positive [forces]/ The plant started blooming and flowering.

For Sultan Bahu, living under Aurangzeb’s strict Sharia regime, the major contradiction was the imposition of formalistic religion implemented through Sheikhs (religious elders), Qazis and Mullahs. The severity of Aurangzeb’s fanaticism can be imagined through this quote from Syed Muhammad Latif’s The History of the Punjab: “He [Aurangzeb] issued an edict prohibiting the use of wine… suppressed all gambling and issued an edict abolishing singing, dancing and buffoonery. The singers and musicians attached to the court were discharged. Special officers were appointed to enter any house where music was heard and burn the instrument. These were collected in heaps and destroyed. Hundreds of musicians were thus reduced to starvation. All dancing girls were to be either lawfully wedded or banished from the king’s dominion.”

This is probably why Sultan Bahu was very hard on Sheikhs, Mullahs and everyone whose bread and butter was coming from selling religion in one way or the other. Sultan Bahu portrayed the pushers of organized ritualistic religion and Sharia as dark characters. Here are some of the characteristics of religious professionals that Sultan Bahu highlighted:

God enabled you and you memorized, but the veil [of ignorance] was not lifted to see the secretes [of the universe)/ You studied very hard to become an accomplished scholar and yet you were allured by money/ You can read hundreds of thousands of books and yet it cannot conquer your ego (self interest).

The religious scholars study just to demonstrate arrogance while Mullahs boast/ These wretched people wander the streets [like vendors] carrying their books [scriptures]/ Wherever they see rich food [as offering] they recite with more zeal/ Those people who are selling their labor [religious knowledge] are robbed in both worlds.

After studious readings they have claimed to be religious authorities (Mushaikh) and they worship double the time [of others]/Their inner hut (heart) is being robbed but neither their body nor their heart knows it because they are misled (by satan).

They [mullahs, etc.] study very hard to please the rulers. What is the gain of such scholarship?/ If the milk has been soured then it can be boiled many times but it can never produce butter.

The more they [mullahs] studied the more arrogant they became. Even their wisdom took a nosedive.

The scholars have become heavyweights through studying thousands of books and gaining knowledge / They are unable to read an alphabet of love and are wandering misguided/The journey from [religious] scholasticism to higher level is tedious and the distance is too large/The ones who did not buy love are condemned in both worlds.

If the moving [counting beads] of tasbih [rosary] does not move [transform] the heart then why hold a tasbih?/ If gaining of knowledge does not evoke humility [obedience] then what is the gain of [such a] knowledge? /If sitting through chillas [isolation] does not bring any fruits then what is the purpose of adopting [the ritual] of chillas? /Without mixing [of yogurt] the milk does not transform into yogurt even if it has been boiled many times over and turned reddish.

You [Mullah] have become a professional tasbih-mover and you utter incoherent words.

The jewel of your heart does not move while you are wearing garlands made of hundreds [five-twenties] of pieces /When you have to give something your throat is squeezed but when you have to get something you become a lion/ Bahu, for the stone-hearted people the rain [of love] gets wasted.

While negating religious professionals, Sultan Bahu defined himself as a seeker of love. In his own words: “I am neither a Jogi who has been worshiping in isolation nor have I been running to the mosque to make noises of gigantic prayer beads.” Interestingly enough he refuses to be a Sunni or Shia: “I am neither Sunni nor Shia. My heart is scared of both.” He goes on to further alienate himself from the religious establishment when he writes:

If faith [religion] was in studying then the heads [of Husain and his family] would not have been put on spikes [in Karbla]/ Eighteen thousand religious scholars would have sacrificed their lives for Hussain /If they had professed to the Prophet’s elegance why would they ban the water [on Hussain]/Bahu, the faith of only those is true who give their head [sacrifice their life]

Sultan Bahu, like his predecessors, rejects all kinds of formalistic and ritualistic practices of every religion. In this very famous bait he ridicules religious professional of all religions:

If God could be found by washing and bathing then frogs and fish would have found it [first]/If God could be found by celibacy then emasculated bulls would get him readily.

The human heart is deeper than the ocean and no one knows it all/ There are ships, waves and sailors in it/ Fourteen planets are standing like tents in the heart
. Sultan Bahu repeatedly uses the human body as a house (“This body is God’s home”) which has immeasurable depth and dimensions. To find humanity one needs to explore these depths instead of adopting religious rituals:

While the better part of Sultan Bahu’s poetry is a negation of Muslim religious professionals, he emphasizes humility, love, civility, obedience and inner commitment to live a humane life. One cannot blame him for preaching subjectivity because there is nothing subjective about severely criticizing the people adored by the Emperor Aurangzeb. His symbol of the inner self is the reflection of objective reality: every human decision has implications for the outer world. Following his predecessors Sultan Bahu further affirmed a secularist humanism.

Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a Washington based writer, literary critic and well-known Pakistani columnist.



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