Monday, March 26, 2007
As the Mela Chiraghan heads towards its end, thousands of men, women and children continue to flock at the shrine of Shah Hussain, the Sufi poet and saint of Punjab who was one of the most radical supporters of human freedom and always resisted oppression and injustice.
Born in Lahore, Shah Hussain (1538-1599) lived during the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar. He was born in the year when Baba Guru Naanak (1469-1538) passed away.
Shah Hussain was the son of Sheikh Usman, a weaver, and belonged to the Dhudha clan of Rajputs. He received early education in a mosque, and his areas of study included Qur’aan and Sunnah, Sharah [the high road to religion, the faith, law, justice and equity, as proposed by Islam and expounded by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)] and Tafseer, Hadith, Fiqh, religious texts, prosody, literature, histories, etc.
As a young man, Shah Hussain became a disciple of Behlol Daryaee of the Qadria order of Sufism. Bhakti/Bhagti (the ‘way of devotion’, later seen as the ‘way of love’), prompted by the Bhagavad Geeta, had been synthesised with the great influence of Ibne Arabi’s writings and commentaries, and an emphasis on Wahdatul Wajood (Unity of Being). These developments steered people towards Sufism.
Shah Hussain’s relationship with a young Brahman, Madhu, from Shahdara, from across the River Ravi, is well-known. Madho was 38 years younger than Shah Hussain. It is speculated that Shah Hussain’s name was Laal Hussain (or he was so known because of the Laal/red garment he is reported to have worn), and/or Madho’s name was Madho Laal. If both their names were Laal then the composite name by which the poet is also known - Madho Laal Hussain would be a public declaration that they were ‘one item’. And Laal is also the colour symbol of the mature love in Sufi lore.
Only in one ‘Kafi’ Maadho directly addressed (as Laal). Madho’s affection for the poet may be that of a disciple for a most revered teacher, in this case fully reciprocated by Shah Hussain. They are buried in the same grave in Baghbanpura, Lahore, near which, about half a century later, Shah Jehan had the famous Shalimar Gardens constructed.
According to tradition, at the age of 36, Shah Hussain, who was seeped in the Qur’aan and Sunnah, turned away from prayer, put on red clothes and started singing and dancing in the streets of old Lahore.
Dara Shikoh (1615-1659) says in his book ‘Shathiaat’ that this change came in Shah Hussain when he was reading an ‘Ayat’ of the Qur’aan which says that the world is sport. What the poet drew from this is not recorded. But ‘play’ became a significant theme of Shah Hussain’s verse.
Another tradition says the opposite. It depicts that the ‘Malamati’ (self-reproaching) methodology of Shah Hussain was also a way of dissembling to escape the king’s grasp. This tradition suggests that the poet was a supporter of Dulla Bhatti who had rebelled against the king. Indeed the day Dulla Bhatti was hanged, the poet is said to have been in the same prison. But there is no documentary evidence of this.
The grave of Shah Hussain and Madho became a shrine with attendant custodians and worshippers. Under the patronage of Moraan, a professional woman and courtesan of Ranjit Singh, a mela (fair) started at the time of ‘Basant’ later called Mela Chiraghan (festival of lights), or Mela Shalimar, which is still held every year at Baghbanpura, Lahore. Thousands of devotees thronged to the shrine of Hazrat Shah Hussain commonly known as Madho Lal Hussain to celebrate the traditional Mela Chiraghan (festival of lamps).
However, ironically enough, centuries later, Shah Hussain’s stature as a great crusader of human freedom, progressivism and anti-oppression entity has been reduced to just a holy man since very few people would know what Shah Hussain was and did and what he stood for in the times of the ‘Moghal-i-Azam.’
The time of Shah Hussain, Dullah Bhatti and Akbar was the same. It was Shah Hussain who wrote ‘Kehae Hussain Faqeer Sain Da Takhat Na Mildae Munge’ in those troubled times.
Besides Lahore, a large number of devotees from other cities especially Karachi, Sehwan Sharif and Multan came to attend the festival. Professional drum beaters accompanied most of the groups visited the shrine and youth as well as old people and some women danced to the deafening tunes and drum beats.
Devotees sat in and around of the shrine in groups to witness a large number of performing artistes who mostly sang Shah Hussain’s ‘Kafis’ and danced to the drums.
Shah Hussain is the first Punjabi Sufi poet who mixed Punjabi with Pothohari, Hindi, Persian and Arabic. His ‘Kafis’ are so simple that one understands his message without any difficulty.
[Picture: a view of the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore]