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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXII (1998-1999)

POETRY OF SHAIK-UL-AALAM

Moti Lal Saqi

In the realm of Kashmiri Literature Shaik-ul-Aalam is second to Lal Ded only. His poetry is considered sacred by the common people. Mussalmans of the valley have great respect for his Shruks. His Shruks and other longer poems are quoted from the pulpit in the religious sermons enjoyed and adored by the literate and illiterate equally, irrespective of their faith or religion. A number of his verses are quoted in day-to-day conversation by the common people and such verses have attained the status of proverbs, wise sayings and parables.

Shaik-ul-Aalam's poetry is the spontaneous expression of his spiritual experiences and observations. He, in fact, has poured his very soul in his verses. His poetry reveals the grandeur of the saint as a great soul and poet of high order. There is no contradiction between the patron saint and poet Shaikh. When we examine his poetry in detail and depth, it is impossible to understand the saint and his Rishi order unless and until his poetry is understood. He made his poetry the message of his faith, love and brotherhood, peace and respect for all creeds and beliefs, but his message has not injured or diminished the quality and grace of his Shruks and longer narratives. Here we come across a perfect blend between his gospel and poetry. Such complete blend is hardly witnessed, which speaks of his poetic genius and complete grip on the art of versification. Like a master mind he has converted his feelings, experiences and observations in living images and word pictures.

His poetry is the harbinger of a new mystic order the neo-Rishi order of Kashmir which has hardly any parallel. This mystic order has absorbed all the good and noble principles of different prevailing faiths. As regards his 'Rishi Order' there is no recorded evidence or source other than his poetry available to understand its basic principles or tenets.

Junior contemporary of Lal Ded, Shaik-ul-Aalam was in many ways very close to her. His sources of inspiration remained almost the same which nourished the ideal world of Lal Ded. He too preached non-violence, and adopted the way of asceticism. There is much more resemblance evident in their poetry; difference if any is in thought content, presentation and execution of the theme. But form is the same. The poetry of Lal Ded and Shaik-ul-Aalam is complimentary to each other.

The poetry of Lal Ded is termed as Vakh and that of Shaik-ul-Aalam as 'Shruks' in Kashmiri. The Vakh owes its origin to Sanskrit 'Vakhya' and the Shruk, is, in fact the Prakrit form of Sanskrit 'Sholok'. In Sanskrit both these words have nothing particular to denote as independent forms of poetry. In Kashmiri both the words refer to particular genres used for rendering the mystic experiences in poetry.

Like Vakh most of the Shraks are four line stanzas and their rhyme scheme is as follows :

Though independent of foreign influence Vakhs and Shruks have of-course something in common with Hindi Doha and Chau-Paei and Rubai. How and why our ancestors classed and divided the poetry of these two epoch making personalities as 'Vakh' and 'Shruk' is still a problem to be resolved

The poetry of Lal Ded and Shaikh represent the phases of Kashmiri language when it was thriving in the lap of Sanskrit culture. It belongs to that bright period of our language when Kashmiri could easily bear the burden of philosophy and communicate its essence to the readers. It was not the beginning of a glorious chapter of Kashmiri language and literature, but the end.

After Shaikh and his contemporary Avtar Bhat there is a complete break for a long period. It is worthwhile to say that while Shaikh-ul-Aalam's Shruks represents the language of the common man, Avtar Bhat's verses represent the language of the elite of that period. There are references in books at some literature was produced in the intervening period also but nothing has come down to us. Actually this period of Kashmiri History was a period of chaos and civil unrest. Every now and then kings were installed and deposed. Later on when Habba-Khatoon (16th Century A.D.) appears on the scene we see a complete, rather drastic change in the form as well as thought content of Kashmiri poetry.

In Persian Rishi Namas it is recorded that one of the disciples of the Shaikh, Kati Pandita compiled his poetry in the form of a book but this manuscript is not traceable. Historians have written that court poet of Budshah - Milla Ahmed translated the poetry of Shaik-ul-Aalam in Persian but this version too is not available now. It was the result of reverence of the people for Lal Ded and Shaik-ulAalam and established sacred oral tone of their poetry that some people had committed it to memory and this tradition continued for centuries together. Finally the 'Vakhs' of Lal Ded were written down with their Sanskrit commentary in late 18th Century. The Shruks of Shaik-ul-Aalam were collected and written down in 19th century by Baba Kamal-Ud-Din, Mir Abdullah and Baba Khalid in their respective Rishi Namas; Rishi Nama of Baba Nasib-Ud-Din Gazi was written only 190 years after the death of the saint and contains only a few Shruks.

Baba Davood Muskavati's 'Asrar-ul-Abrar' provides the reader with some details about the wanderings of the Shaikh. So far as his poetry is concerned Muskavati has provided nothing to satisfy our craving.

The compilers of Rishi Namas have rendered a great service to Kashmiri language and literature by recording the Shruks of the Shaikh for the posterity. Otherwise Shaikhs' poetry must have been wiped out for ever, but at the same time they have left out a sizeable portion of Shaik's poetry which they refer to as Shamskriti (poetry in Sanskrit) and 'Gouri' (poetry in the idiom of Pandits) because all such poetry was beyond their comprehension. As such the poetry of Shaikh is invaluable linguistically also. The study of his 'Shruks' proves beyond any doubt that Sanskrit was a dominating force in the 14th Century A.D. in Kashmir. It enjoyed the royal patronage of some Mussalman kings also and was replaced by Persian in 15th century during the kingship of Budshah (1420-1470). The word hoard of Shruks owes much to Sanskrit. Most of the spiritual and technical terms, besides some, 'Tatsam' and 'Tad Bhav' words have been borrowed from Sanskrit besides, a host of words and technical terms in their Prakrit form. He has enriched his poetry with epic and Puranic allusions and mythology. We frequently see words and terms 'Giana Dhyana', 'Krodha', 'Bal', 'Bhag', 'Lobha', 'Siva', 'Chitta', 'Kivala', 'Panthan', 'Punya', 'Diva', 'Bandhana' etc. used in their original meaning in his poetry. We rarely come across a Persian word or phrase in his real Shruks which is enough to prove that during his life Persian had yet to make a mark on the life and culture of Kashmir.

Thus we come to the conclusion that Shaik-ulAalam's poetry thrived in such a background which was illuminated by Sanskrit culture and thought. It is close to the Sanskrit Kavya tradition and has a direct link with Sanskrit. His 'Shamskriti' and 'Gouri' poems would certainly open new vistas of understanding and would unfold many hidden realities about 15th century Kashmiri but all the poems of this class are lost for ever.

Shaik-ul-Aalam is the father of narrative (Nazam) in Kashmiri. He enriched the Vatsun also, which we for the first time come across in the poetry of Lal Ded. Some of the longer poems of the Shaik are more revealing than his Shruks. It is he who paved the way for the forthcoming mystic poets and provided them with the fund of words and technical terms which served them as chariots for the revelation of their mystic experiences. From Souch Kral (19th century A.D.) to Ab. Ahad Zargar (died 1984) all our Sufi poets have derived inspiration from him and have been influenced by him. He has recorded almost all the details of migration of his great grandfather and his settlement in Kashmir. He has openly recorded that he is a Mussalman as his father embraced Islam at the hands of Syed Hussain Simnani at Kulgam.

He craves for that what was attained by Lal Ded and cries :-

"That Lalla of Padmanpora drank ambrosia in gulps. ' She saw Shiva all around her, in each and every object, oh God bestow me with such eminence."

His poetry has a cooling and soothing effect, with something deep, something peculiar to communicate. It has a glow of spirituality around it and a keen reader gets lost and is absorbed in it. One feels refreshed after reading or listening to it. Every time its recitation has something new and novel to convey. The spontaneity of the Shaik's poetry is like that of a mountain stream which has a powerful gush-and makes its way through the stone beds and hard rocks. The saint has used the languages in such a creative way that every word and phrase bears a fresh look, attains new dimensions of grace and meaning. His poetry is not confined to the mystic experiences alone. Sometimes he comes out of his mystic world also and talks of life. His longer poems are the word picture of the society of the age and unveil the inequality, injustice, tyranny and social disorder in such a way that a sensitive person can hardly control his tears.

In one of his longer poems 'God has nothing to do with all this' he reveals :

"There are people who have hoarded enormous quantity of food grains.
Food grains of various tastes and colours.
There are people who long for a morsel of food.
Their infants wail and weep of hunger.
This state of affairs is man made and man created. God has nothing to do with all this."
Commenting on the cruel behaviour of men Shaikul-Aalam says :
"They will cut the throat of that very cock.
Who calls them to prayers.
They will simply weigh him for their own ends. I beseech I may not be born among such people Oh! God."
At the same time we witness the all pervading dread of death in his poetry :
"One can not escape death and its blows.
Noble souls are being swept away every now and then."
Shaik-ul-Aalam always stressed the unity of man. Man in his eyes was the symbol of the divine. To serve the mankind is the noblest service and way to God :
"Why are you bent upon to create hatred amongst them.
They are the descendants of one and the same mother,
serve to the best of your capacity Mussalmans and Hindus.
If you follow this path God will bestow his grace on thee."
Throughout his pious life Shaik-ul-Aalam fought against the bigots and bigotry; because in his opinion bigotry was the very negation of truth, and was against the fundamental dictums of evey religion. Bigots have nothing to do with the real nature of religion because all the religions teach tolerance and respect for other's creeds. Bigots simply create an atmosphere of hatred and

disagreement and thus pave the way for their ends. They pretend to be learned but their attitude exposes them at every step. They learn only to attain worldly fame and have no liking for attaining the divine. Addressing the bigots the Shaik says :

"You have crammed the books only for worldly ends.
Your learning never prevents you from your bad deeds.
You always think in terms of trapping each-other
Your contention is wrong, for you consider.
Yourselves to be amongst the chosen.
I foretell with authority that you will not reach the goal."
In the poetry of Shaik-ul-Aalam there is no dearth such Shruks which contain the essence of Vedanta. In one of the Shlokas of 'Bhagvat Gita' Lord Krishna says :
"It is desire, it is anger
Born of Rajujana
All consuming and most evil.
Know this to be the enemy on earth" (Gita A-3 S-37)
Shaik-ul-Aalam says :
"Desire, pride and greed overwhelmed you.
It is the burning inferno before your very eyes."
At another place he says :
"If you are under the fury of God.
Do not try to avoid it.
If he puts you to a hard and fast test.
Consider it to be the source of comfort.
If you do this you are sure to be a chosen one."
In Gita Lord says :
"Satisfied with whatever comes unshaked,
beyond the pairs of opposites.
Free from envy, balanced in success and failure.
Acting he is not bound" (Gita A-2 S.12).
Shaik-ul-Aalam reveals the nature of ultimate thus :
"It was there from the very beginning.
It will always remain there.
Meditate upon the ultimate.
All your doubts will fade away.
My inner self, beware."
The dictum of Gita runs thus
"Never the spirit was born,
The spirit shall cease never,
Never was time it was not.
End, beginning are dreams."
Shaik-ul-Aalam says :
"Who saw him face to face,
Who follow his path,
Those who concentrate and meditate upon the ultimate.
They alone find an easy path to him."
Addressing Arjuna, the Lord says :
"Oh! Arjuna, He who acts me,
depends upon me.
Devoted to me,
gives up attachment,
is without hatred towards any being,
reaches me."
Great personalities are mirrors and in a mirror everybody is bound to see his reflection. Shaik-ulAalam one of the noblest of Kashmiris is one, in the fraternity of great Indian sages and saints like Tulsi Dass, Tuka Ram, Sur Mass, Mira Bai, Guru Nanak, Nama Deva, Bhagvat Kabir and others. Shaik-ul-Aalam commands a place of respect and reverence as a great saint and a great poet. In fact Shaik-ul-Aalam is one of the foremost makers of our language and literature.
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