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says the author of Tazkira were originally Kayastha Hindus who
embraced Islam in the time of Feroz Shah.2 But Baba Buddh Singh is
of opinion that his great-grandfather or grandfather, who became a
Mussulman, belonged to the dhata clan of the Rajputs.3 Under what
circumstances Husain’s family confessed the Muhammadan creed is
not known. All that we know is that at the birth of Husain, the family
was sunk deep in poverty. His father, who was called, nau shaikh
‘Usman,4 was a weaver. Husain never learned this trade, but on
account of his father being engaged in the industry, Fard Faqir in his
Kasab-Nama Bafind-gan 5 says:
Par is kasabe de vice bahute alam phazal hoai
Par shah husain kabir Jo aye dargah ja khaloai.
Though in this profession many learned ones had been, yet Shah
Husain and Kabir who came (in the profession) went and stood at the
door (of God).
Husain was put under the charge .of Abu-Bakr at a very tender age
and became a hafiz when he was ten years old.6 Then Shaikh Bahlol
of Ciniot (Chiniot, Jhang district), who learnt the doctrine of fana
from a Sufi of Koh-Panj-Shir, came to Lahore and made Husain his
own disciple.7 After a few years Shaikh Bahlol returned from Lahore
and left Husain to continue his study of the Sufi practices at the shrine
of Data Ganj Bakhsh8 in Lahore.9 For twelve years he served the ashes
of the pir and followed the strict Qura’nic discipline.10 He is said to
have spent many a night in a standing posture in the river Ravi,
repeating the Qur’an.11 At twenty-six he left that pir and became a
student of Sa’d-ullah, with whom he read many a book on Sufiism.
Some time after this, as he was coming out of the house of his teacher
with his fellow-students, he thought he had found the secret of God.
Happy at his success he threw in the well the Qur’an which he had in
his hand, but his companions were enraged at this act of heresy. He
thereupon ordered the hook to come out. It came, and to the surprise
of his companions it was as dry as before.12 Here after Husain,
discarding all rules and regulations, began to dance, sing, and drink.
He became a mystic. The excesses of Husain became scandalous and
reached the ear of Shah Bahlol at Ciniot. The Shaikh was so much
upset that he journeyed to Lahore to see things for himself. His talks
with his disciple convinced him of his saintliness and he went back
satisfied to his native town.13 Husain wore a red dress and came to be
known as Lal Husain or Husain the Red.14 Husain was very fond of
dancing and singing and mixed freely in the company of dancers and
musicians. The Qadiris, to whose sect Husain belonged, generally
loved music and dancing which, they, never went to the extreme
which Husain reached. Husain shaved clean his moustache and beard
and refused, according to the author of Hasanat-ul-arifin to accept
those persons as disciples who were unwilling to shave their faces.15
This idea of Husain and his neglect of the religious duties of a
Mussulman aroused suspicion, and some officials thought of
punishing him; but by pointing out to them their own neglect of
religious duties, Husain escaped punishment.16 LaI Husain was
fortunate to have been born, to live, and to die during the reign of
Emperor Akbar whose fondness for religious men and especially the
Sufi was proverbial. Akbar, it appears from the writings of Dara
Shikoh, knew Husain. Prince Dara writes: ‘Prince Salim and the ladies
of Emperor Akbar’s harem believed in his supernatural powers and
entertained respect for him.’17 The Tahqiqat-i-Cishti states18 that
Prince (later Emperor) Salim was greatly attached to the saint and
appointed Bahar Khan, an officer, to record his daily doings. These
records, which were regularly submitted for the perusal of the Prince,
were later on compiled together with the sayings of the saint and were
named Baharia.19 The Baharia is said to be replete with incidents
relating to the supernatural power of the saint.
His Attachment to Madho
Having become a Sufi, Husain began preaching in public. A Brahman
boy of Shahdara, a village across the Ravi, frequented these religious
séances and showed keen interest in his teachings.20 This attracted the
attention of the saint, who soon became attached to the handsome
youth. This attachment developed so much and so rapidly that if on
any day Madho failed to come, Husain would walk down to his house.
This sort of friendship was not liked by the parents, who tried to
dissuade their son from meeting Husain, but to no effect. Desirous of
separating their child from the Sufi, they proposed take him to the
Ganges on a certain festival day. When Madho informed saint of his
impending departure, he was much distressed and begged the boy not
to go with his parents. However, he promised Madho a bath in the
company of his parents on the appointed day. Madho thereupon
refused to accompany his parents, who proceeded alone to Hardvar.
After a few days the saint asked the boy to close his eyes, and when
he did so, Madho found himself on the banks of the Ganges along
with his parents who had reached there by that time. After the bath he
discovered that he was back in his house at Shahdara. On their return
the parents confirmed their son’s statement that he bathed with them
on the appointed day. This miracle, says tradition, so much impressed
Madho that he confessed the Muhammadan faith and became a
Mussulman.21 Another story about Madho’s conversion is that the
attachment of Husain for Madho was disagreeable to the parents and
created suspicion in the people’s mind.22 But Husain, unmindful of all,
would go to the boy’s house when he was prevented from visiting
him. Very often the parents would tell him that Madho was absent and
Husain would return disappointed. One day when he had been refused
permission to see the boy, he walked down to his house for the second
time. On reaching the place he saw people weeping and Wailing. On
inquiry, he was told that Madho was dead. The Faqir laughed aloud
and walking to the dead body exclaimed: ‘Get up, Madho, why do you
sleep at this hour? Get Up end see I am waiting for you.’ Upon this,
continues the story, Madho jumped on his feet and followed Husain
out of his parental house, never to return there again, and be a
Both these versions of Madho’s conversion are legendary and most
probably untrue and of later origin, because how could a Sufi of
Husain’s type who disregard traditional precepts convert his beloved
friend to Islam? 23
Secondly, since Madho did not change his Hindu name, it is certain
that he was not converted to Islam. To our mind the truth appears to
have been as follows:
That Madho, convinced of Husain’s saintliness, was attached to him
in the same manner as the saint was to him, and consequently,
ignoring the rules of his own society, became his disciple and ate and
drank with his spiritual guide. Such behavior would surely have
offended the conservative Hindus who, on this account,
excommunicated him and turned him out of their social fold. Thus
secluded, the unfortunate Madho had no choice but to go and live with
his master as his friend and disciple. Thousands of such adherents
were unhesitatingly given by the Hindus to Islam and Madho no doubt
had been one of these forced converts.
Madho later on was known as Shaikh Madho and his name came to be
prefixed to that of the saint, 24 who to this day is known as Madho Lal
The love of Husain for Madho was unique, and he did all that lay in
his power to please the boy. Once, seeing his co-religionists
celebrating holi 25 and being desirous of doing the same, he brought
some gulal (pinkish-red powder) and threw it on Husain. Husain at
once joined him in the fun.26 Basant or the spring festival, like holi,
was also celebrated each year by Lal Husain to please Madho.26
Madho Lal Husain was held in great respect by the people, and the
Hindus, though they seem to have turned Madho out of their fold,
could not master their credulous beliefs in the supernatural miracleperforming
power of the saint and esteemed him just as much as their
Muslim brethren. The author of Tazkira fixes the number of his
followers as 90,000; but other people, he says, believed the number of
his faithful to reach 1,000,000.27 The same authority is responsible for
the statement that Husain’s gaddis, sixteen in number, are scattered all
over India.28 Four of these sixteen seats are called Garibs, or the poor,
the other four are named Diwans or the ministers.29 Three are known
as Khakis or the ash-smearers, and another four as Baihlavals, i.e.
entertainers. Nothing is said about the sixteenth.30
Husain indulged in wine, and probably it is due to alcohol that ho died
at the age of 53, a comparatively early at for saint. His death occurred
in A.H 1008 (A.D. 1593) at Shahdara, where he was duly buried 31 A
few years later, as predicted by the saint,32 the grave was swept away
by an overflow of the Ravi. Thereupon Madho exhumed the corpse
and carried it to Baghbanpura, where it was buried with pompous
formalities. After his death Madho was buried by his side. Latif
describes the tomb as follow:
The tomb is situated north of the village Baghbanpura. There are signs
of two tombs on high platform, one of Madho and the other of Lal
Husain, the actual tombs being in an underground chamber. The
platform is surrounded by a wall with a gateway to the south. Between
the platform and the surrounding wall is a space left for the devotees
to go round,—the platform being lined on all sides with lattice-work
of red stone. North of the enclosure is a tower in which is reverentially
kept the impression of the prophet’s feet (Qadam-i-Rasul) and to the
west is a mosque. This mosque was constructed by Mora, a
Muhammadan wife of Ranjit Singh.34
La1 Husain appears to have had friendships among the holy men of
his time. He was an intimate friend of Chajju Bhagat who, the
tradition says, called him Shah Husain for the first time.35 He met
Guru Arjun whenever he came to Lahore. We, however, cannot find
any historical evidence to support the assertion of Baba Buddh Singh,
who states that when Arjun was compiling the Adi Granth, Husain
submitted his verses to him for inspections but the Guru, disapproving
them, refused to insert them in the Granth.36 Husain’s poetry, if we
may be permitted to say so, is in no way inferior to that of many
others found in the body of the Granth, nor would a free Sufi like
Husain care to have his verses inserted in the book of a sect then not
so popular as it was to be alter a few years.
Husain’s Sufiism was of a peculiar type and presented a curious
medley of Persian and Indian Sufiism. In his mystic ideas and beliefs
he was more Indian than anything else, but in his daily life he
followed the style of the Persian Sufis.
Husain has left no poetic works. His only work is a number of kafis of
a highly mystic type.
His Language and Style
His verse is written in simple Panjabi, slightly overlaid with Persian
and Arabic words. It excels in expression of thought and has a clear
flow. In its simplicity and effectiveness it is superior to Ibrahim
Farid’s Panjabi. It lacks the brilliancy of Urdu poetry but is
remarkable for its just proportion of words and powerful sense of
rhyme. His versification is smoother, his similes more relevant, and
his words simpler but more effective than those of Ibrahim. His poetry
is of a less orthodox type but is not as saturated with Indian thought as
would be the poetry of Bullhe Shah. Like his character, his poetry is a
curious mixture of Sufi, Indian, and foreign thought. The essential
feature of his poetry which strikes the reader is that it is highly
pathetic and, piercing the heart, creates a mystic feeling.
Peculiarity of his Doctrines
Husain’s peculiarity of character is also reflected in his poetry. He
believes in fana but does not seem to accept the doctrine of ana’l-
Haqq’ without which fana is not comprehensible. As we shall see
presently, he spent his life in search of the Beloved whom he knew to
be present everywhere but whom he could not see. His excessive love
for Madho also proves that he did not reach those heights which
Husain believed in the theory of karma, but on a rational Panjabi
Dunia to mar javana vatt na avana
Jo kich kitta bura bhala to kitta apna pavana.
A good number of Panjabi Sufi poets made attempts to create friendly
feelings between the different communities by harmonizing the
opposing systems. For this reason their poetry became clear to all
sections of the Panjabi people. Besides, from the literary point of view
also it deserved and was allotted a very high place. It retains the favor
of both Hindus and Mussulmans and circulates among the masses in
the form of songs, proverbs, and hymns even to this day.1 In short,
without this strain, Panjabi literature would be poor and devoid of a
good deal of its beauty and literary charm.
Here we shall give explanations of those few words that are used in
their original forms in our discussion of the Sufi poets.
Gaddi-nishin :2 one who occupies the spiritual seat of a saint; a
Murid: a disciple.
Murshid: a preceptor or a teacher.
Khalifa: chosen successor of a teacher; a successor.
‘Urs: nuptial festivals held at Sufi shrines. Urs. or nuptials signifies
the union of the Sufi with God.
Rahau: chorus; refrain or the first verse of a song indicating the
musical tune to which the remainder is to be sung.
Antara: a poem or song excepting the refrain.
It has been mentioned above that the Panjabi Sufis in their
compositions employed, except for a few technical terms and words
concerning tasawwuf borrowed from Arabic and Persian, the
vocabulary and terms of local trades and cottage industries, in the
Panjab as elsewhere the villages and towns were self-supporting
units.3 All the necessities of life in those times were produced by the
people themselves. The Sufi poetry which was nursed in the towns
and villages therefore bore strong impressions of its surroundings. The
most important industry of the Panjab, which flourished more or less
in every village and city, was the cotton industry.4 This cotton
comprised three processes:
1. Cleaning and carding of cotton and making small rolls ready for
spinning. This was done by both men and women.
2. Spinning, turning cotton into yarn, done entirely by women.
3. Weaving, done by men, though often feminine aid was procured.
The Sufis made ample use of the vocabulary of this industry and took
similes from it. We give below the vocabulary relative to cotton
manufacture, which may be of help to those who are interested in
Panjabi Sufi poetry.
The first process, cleaning of cotton:
Tumbna: to open the cocoons by hand. This operation was generally
performed by the women folk.
Velna: the instrument used for separating the seeds.
Velavi: one who works on the velna.
Jhambhna or Pinjna: to card cotton.
Penjah or pinjah: cotton carder.
Punni: a small roll of carded cotton prepared for spinning.
The second process, spinning: To the Panjabi Sufi the world was a
spinning-wheel and his own self or soul the young girl who was
supposed to spin and prepare her dowry. His good actions were like
spinning, and the yarn thus spun washis dowry which, like tile young
girl, he would take to the husband (God). As a husband loved and
lived happily with the wife who brought him a dowry and was
qualified in spinning,5 so did God love the Sufi who died with good
account (karma or actions) and possessed qualities that would befit a
soul striving for good. But like that obstinate and short-sighted girl
who, ignoring the future consequences, spent her time in games and
replied to her mother’s remonstrance by stating that one part or the
other of the spinning-wheel was out of order, the ignorant Sufi made
excuses for his indulgence in worldly pleasures. In the end, like the
idle young girl, he was ignored by the Beloved and union was denied
him. Thereupon he bewailed his sorrow and described the pangs of
Divine separation. Here is the vocabulary:
Charkha: a spinning-wheel.
Charkkhari: the wheel of the spinning-wheel on which the thread
Bair: the network of cord which bridges the two sides of the
charkkhari and on which the thread turns.
Mahl or Mehal: thread that connects the charkkhari with the spindle.
Hatthi or Hattha: the handle that turns the wheel.
Manka: circular beads used as pivots for the spindle.
Chamari: a small object made either of leather or of dry grass, which
fits in the two pillars of the spinning-wheel and through which the
Munna: a pillar of the spinning-wheel which hold the spindle.
Takkla or trakla: spindle of the spinning-wheel.
Tand : thread spun on the spinning-wheel.
Challi or Mudda: a hank of spun yarn.
Trinan or Trinjhan: a party of young girls or women for spinning in
competition; a spinning-bee.
Kattna: to spin.
Bharota or Chikku: a small basket to hold the hanks.
The third process, weaving:
Nara: a Weaver’s shuttle.
Nali: the quill or bobbin of a weaver’s shuttle.
Khaddi: a loom.
Tana or Tani: warp.
Mand or Pan: paste of wheat flour used to stiffen the cotton thread for
Kanghi: a heavy comb by which the threads of the woof are pressed
Gandh or Ghundi: a knot to unite the two ends of a broken thread.
Atti: a skein of spun cotton.
Atterna: coiling of spun thread on a small frame to make skeins.
Atteran: the frame used for coiling cotton thread.
Julaha: a weaver.
Unna or Bunna: to weave.
Rangna: to dye.
Daj: dowry chiefly consisting of dresses, the major part of which was
prepared by the bride herself; a trousseau.
Besides the vocabulary of the cotton industry the Sufis also employed
the names of things in everyday use in the areas, as:
Goil:6 a small hut of mud and grass, built on pasture land for the
cowherd, or made in fields for the person who keeps watch.
Chajj: a tray of thin reeds, used for winnowing agricultural products.
Chajjli:7a tray larger than a chajj and used to winnow the threshing
Jharu 8or bauhkar: a broom used for sweeping the floor or to collect
together grain spread in the sun.
Angithi:9 a small object made of iron or earth to hold fire.
Bhambar:10 a flame or a big fire.
Ghund:11 that part of a woman’s veil which she throws over her face
to conceal it from men.