When nearly forty years ago Najam Hosain Syed started teaching Sachal Sarmast in his weekly Sangat (gathering), his poetry was not yet available in Urdu. Syed arranged for copies from Sindh in the Sindhi script. The lack of familiarity with this remarkable poet was not just a matter of script, Sachal was unique in his themes and style. His mission as “The Poet of Seven Languages” was not just an empty display of style and syntax, but of content as well. He conveyed a different philosophy.
Sachal surrendered the family/silsila’s caliphate of “Daraza Sharif”, a famous dargah (shrine) in Khairpur, Sindh to first his brother and subsequently to his nephew. His message was unique and gained fame not only in Punjab and Sindh but all across the spiritual world. Since he wrote in seven languages, his poetry touched every aspect of the spiritual, social and economic life of everyone who got to read it.
He shared his ideology with Baba Guru Nanak. It is said that Sachal was so impressed by Nanak’s work that he once suggested one of his students Yousuf to adopt ‘Nanak Yusuf’ as takhallus (pen-name).
Ghaffaar has carefully chosen a small sampling of Sachal’s poetry, but it is enough to introduce this spiritual bard to the uninitiated.
In the Kafi below, Heer says: ‘I am both Raanjha and Khaera’, i.e. both the hero and the villain of her story. The dialectics of love and loss both being found in a lover at the same time is a complex phenomenon of human emotion, but Sachal knows how to deal with these perfectly.
“Beloved Raanjha, Khaera, both are I, Heer went and stayed where O where
Jhang Syaal and Takht Hazara, both I’ve seen here O here
Beloved Raanjha, Khaera, both are I, Heer went and stayed where O where
We went and lived thither, where no one’s name is there O there”
Ghaffaar with his excellent translation in English inspires one to explore the Kafi further. Poetry is not rhyme and rhythm alone. Even when one has a working knowledge of both the languages, which Ghaffaar is equipped with, this poetry demands further exploration. He introduces us to many possible interpretations of Sachal’s poetry with the detailed explanation that accompanies every stanza.
Guru Nanak used a Sanskritised version of Punjabi and his message attracted many of his followers. Today’s Sikhs have their own battles of ideology and politics, but Sachal was free of this confusion. He looked at Nanak as we may look upon Maulana Rumi now.
Iqbal once wrote: “Nanak nay jis watan mein wahdat ka geet gaaya”
(1) Where is that unity of ideology and thought?
History is the key to the answer. With the Muslim conquest, philosophical/ religious conflicts in India became serious enough for Emperor Akbar to think of consolidating the religion of his subjects under a new religion called: ‘Deen-e-Elahi’. People like Sachal were aware of these conflicts and confusions. Both him and his predecessor Shah Latif, sought to untangle people from these confusions, as did Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah and many others. The remarkable thoughts put forth by these incredible poets have become yet another muddle of belief, labelled ‘Sufism’, a term being used by genuine ‘dervishes’ as well as costumed tricksters all across the board.
The second Kafi reads more like a Marxist tract:
How have you come into the price, go ask the priceless
Yourself carry separation’s load, made sweet syrup into bitterness
How have you come into the price, go ask the priceless
I remain amazed, in wonder, a puppet given the peacock’s wantonness
Like all poetry, this verse can be interpreted in many ways as well, but the underlying concept remains the same: what is valued and how that came to be. Who owns what and who made the laws that protect ownership and property.
As the famous poet Mir once said: “Ameer logon se Dilli mein nah milakar Mir
Ke hum ghareeb huwe hain unhi kee daulat se”
Sachal was far more radical in all facets of life than Mir ever was, as these tracts show:
“Na koi dozakh na koi Jannat na koi Hoor Qasoor
Man asaada nahi manaenda Mulian da mazkur…
Sachal sach sayee kar jane haeen tun aap huzoor”
His partner in his iconoclastic thought would be Waris Shah whose book Heer Ranjha remained, for over two hundred years, the essential tale of love in human life.
Renowned scholar Dr Farina Mir, who teaches history and literature in the US, in her book Punjab Reconsidered treats piety as the quintessential theme of Heer. However, Waris would laugh at the notions of piety associated with his tale of Heer and Ranjha. The recurrent ‘PanjPir’ (Five Pirs) in the tale, for example, are symbolic of the hidden power of human love. Waris ridicules the Mullah of the mosque in his famous dialogue with Ranjha. In Guru Balnath’s dialogue with Ranjha, he demolishes the Hindu version of piety as well. The Goddess Kali and the folk character Kaal are both present as allies of love in the rebellious Saheti who helps her bhabhi (sister-in-law) Heer abscond with her lover Ranjha. Waris, the ‘Laughing Lion’ of Punjabi mocks and laughs at all varieties of piety as reeking of hypocrisy. Whither Piety?
For Waris “Ishq Guru te sab jag Chelrra ae”
English translations are quite beneficial in this day and age when it has been seen continually that many renowned scholars of Punjabi, particularly in the USA and India, do not have a command on Punjabi poetry beyond that of the Guru Granth poets. With more than twenty-five books on classical Punjabi poets under his belt, Ghaffaar has done invaluable work for the teaching institutions in the Indian subcontinent, the USA and rest of the world, wherever Punjabi literature is being taught.
It is said that once while Sachal was lecturing his disciples, a group of singing women of “ill-repute” passed by. Sachal, who was lecturing in Persian spontaneously exclaimed: Tabeebaan amdand! (The healers have arrived!)
Sachal Sarmast, Within Reach
Author: Muzaffar Ghaffaar
Publisher: Ferozsons Limited
Price: Rs 1,195/-