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Archive for the ‘Sufiana’ Category

The Shah Hussain aura

shah hussain

BACK in the 1990s, there was a sudden increase in the popularity of Sufi music in India, thanks mainly to Pakistani singers Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and later Abida Parveen. Yes, the hardcore followers admired the Sabri Brothers too, and Indian artistes Wadali Brothers and Nizami Brothers did shows across the country. But from the point of view of music albums, Nusrat and Abida attracted maximum sales.

The Sufi poets became popular too. And though the recording industry’s focus was primarily on Amir Khusro and Baba Bulleh Shah, followers heard the well-known songs of Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Sachal Sarmast, Waris Shah and Khwaja Ghulam Farid, to name a few. For a while, it had become a fad to listen to Sufi music, and it still is among certain sections. Here, we are talking of the purer form of the genre, and not the concoction belted out by Bollywood musicians who add standard words like ‘Khwaja’ and ‘Maula’ and brand themselves as Sufi musicians.

Of all the poets, Shah Hussain deserves special attention, as he is one of the pioneers of the ‘kaafi’, the classical form of Sufi poetry originating from the Punjab and Sindh regions. He lived in the 16th century, during the time of Emperor Akbar, and it was over a hundred years after his death that Bulleh Shah further revolutionised the poetic form.

A variety of musicians have rendered Shah Hussain’s work. Of the compilations, Times Music recorded an Abida Parveen masterpiece ‘Hazrat Shah Hussain’, containing popular pieces like ‘Sajjan de haath banh assaadi’, ‘Rabba mere haal da mehram tu’ and ‘Mera sona sajan ghar aaya’.

Some 10 years ago, a Music Today two-volume compilation called ‘The Best of Shah Hussain’. It featured singers Hans Raj Hans (‘Mere saahiba main teri ho mukhiyan’ and ‘Asan duniya te vat nahin’) , Barkat Sidhu (‘Rabba’ and ‘Hatthi thirkh paai’) and Wadali Brothers (‘Ni saiyyon assi’). Strangely, to cash in on Abida’s popularity those days, the compilation features her rendition of Bulleh Shah’s ‘Sadde vehre aaya kar’. Hope they had got the poet right.

Earlier this year, Bangalore-based singer Vasundhara Das released ‘The Shah Hussain Project’, featuring Sufi vocalist Mir Mukhtiar Ali and using modern versions with guitars, keyboards and additional English lyrics. The album contains eight songs, including ‘Mera sona sajan’, ‘Man atkeya beparwah de naal’, ‘Ni saiyyon assin’ and ‘Sajan bin raataan hoya waddiyaan’, and Vasundhara is planning a second volume.

Besides these specific compilations, there are many other recordings and YouTube offerings worth mentioning. One of the most popular renditions was used by Nusrat in the album ‘Night Song’, where Canadian producer Michael Brook lends an ambient feel to ‘Ni saiyyon assi’. The version, called ‘Sweet Lament’, is one of the album’s highlights.

Another Nusrat beauty is a pure qawwali performance of ‘Man atkeya beparwah de naal’, a song which has also been performed by the Wadali Brothers and the legendary Sufi singer Pathaney Khan. In fact, Pathaney has done some of the best presentations of Shah Hussain, including ‘Ghoom charakhreya’ and ‘Maen ni main kenu akhaan’, though he’s often been more associated with the ‘kaafis’ of 19th century poet Khwaja Ghulam Farid. Of the other well-known singers, Noorjehan has sung ‘Saahib teri bandi aan’.

Among the Pakistani ‘Sufi-rock’ bands, Junoon has done a version of ‘Ghoom charakhreya’. But the group to cover Shah Hussain extensively is the Mekaal Hasan Band, which has rendered ‘Rabba mere haal’, ‘Sajjan’ and ‘Jhok ranjhan di jaana’. The last number also has a popular version by Ataullah Khan.

Clearly, there has been a fair amount of representation for this wonderful Lahore-bred poet, who actually led a controversial life, and was considered by many to be a rebel, or in fact, the rock star of his times. He had a weakness for alcohol, which is said to have led to his early death at age 61. Another well-known story about him is that he fell for a Brahmin boy Madhoo, and he became his lifelong love, making him change his name to Madhoo Lal Hussain. Madhoo was in fact buried next to his lover-guru.

Though there is no exact fix on the number of ‘kaafis’ Shah Hussain wrote, estimates put the figure between 175 and 200. There have been various interpretations of his writing style, but the observations by L R Krishna in his thesis ‘Panjabi Sufi Poets: AD 1460-1900’ seem most apt. He says: “His verse is written in simple Panjabi, slightly overlaid with Arabic and Persian words. It excels in expression of thought, and has a clear flow… It lacks the brilliance of Urdu poetry but is remarkable for its just proportion of words and powerful sense of rhyme. His poetry is of a less orthodox type but it is not saturated with Indian thought as would be the poetry of Bulleh Shah. Like his character, his poetry is a curious mix of Sufi, Indian and foreign thought. The essential feature is that it pierces the heart, and creates a mystic feeling.”

Keeping that in mind, let us conclude this piece with a couple of his famous ‘kaafis’, along with their translations. They should give a fair idea of his supreme genius.

Ni saiyyon assi, naina de aankhen lagge
Paakh jinhaan diyaan hoya nigawaan
Kaddi na jaavan thagge

Ni saiyyon assi, naina de aankhen lagge
Nain lalaari te nain kasumba
Nain nainanoon dang de
Nain naina di karan mazoori

Mehnat mool na mang de
Hans kadeevina rode chugg de
Kaag na dissde vagge
Ni saiyyon assi, naina de aankhen lagge

Nain kataari chal rahi
Bin chooriyaan talvaar
Bin shastar ghaayal karen
Nain bade hathiyaar

Shah Hussain kaddi nahin marde
Jede maran yaaraan de agge
Ni saiyyon assi, naina de aankhen lagge

Friends, listen, my eyes speak the truth
Eyes that have a pure perspective cannot be cheated
Friends, listen, my eyes speak the truth

Red, ardent eyes with a piercing stare
Eyes that sting with a glance
Only eyes can labour as eyes do
Without asking for payment

(I have never seen) the pure swan eating stones; the crow is never white
Friends, listen, my eyes speak the truth
A battle of the eyes is in progress, without swords or knives
They have the power to wound
These eyes can be dangerous

Shah Hussain has become immortal
Since he breathed his last in the arms of his beloved
Friends, listen, my eyes speak the truth

Sajan bin raataan hoya waddiyaan
Raanjha jogi main jogiyaani
Kamli kar kar saddiyaan
Sajan bin raataan hoya waddiyaan

Maas jharey jhar pinjar hoya
Karkan laggeyaan haddiyaan
Main anjaan, pyar ki jaana
Birhoon tanavaan gaddiyaan

Kahe Hussain fakeer saayin da
Daaman tere laggeyaan
Sajan bin raataan hoya waddiyaan

Without my love the nights seem endless
Since my love has become detached, so have I
Call me crazy but I will still go to him
Without my love the nights seem endless

The flesh has fallen off my body and I am but a skeleton
Even my bones have started to rattle
What could I know of love?
This separation is taking its toll on me

Says Hussain, the man of God: I’m hanging on to your hand
Without you the nights seem endless

Poetry and translations taken from


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