Man of all seasons
The book carries selections from Baba Fareed Ganjshakar’s poetry presented in Nastaliq, Gurmukhi and Roman script along with translations and line-by-line discourses
Muzaffar A. Ghaffaar
The place and date of birth of Baba Fareed is disputed by historians of all ilk. The following is one assessment. Baba Fareed was born in a village called Kothaevaal, near Multan. The date of his birth is uncertain but scholars seem to converge on 584AH/1188AD. His lineage is said to connect from his father’s side with Hazrat Umar, the second caliph of Islam. Maternally he is reported to be a descendant of Sultan Ibrahim Adham, but this is disputed. Baba Fareed’s mother was the daughter of Mulla Wajihuddin Khajandi, and is recorded as a saintly person who provided the poet’s early education. His father was Jamaaluddin Sulaemaan.
Tradition has it that Baba Fareed Masud Ganjshakar received the name Ganjshakar (treasury of sugar) as his mother would put a lump of sugar under his prayer mat because he was very fond of it and, in lore, certain miracles are linked with this
They did this with a strong grounding in Arabic and Persian (in which they also wrote), and sometimes in Sanskrit also, an elite tongue that never became a lingua franca. Sanskrit was the language of mythology and socio-religious commentaries which were regarded as sacred, indeed as religious texts, by the larger section of society, who later, in the 18th century, were classified as Hindus. A most important aspect of the use of the language of the people was that Baba Fareed also employed fresh metaphors developed from the lives of common folk, and used others which flourished in the oral tradition.
A second, related, and most important happening was the decision of Baba Nanak to collect and collate the works of major poets and holy men who were writing in the native tongues. In an era when anthologies were almost unknown this was an original and creative action which saved some Punjabi verse as it was consecrated in the Granth Saahib, the sacred text of the Sikhs. The fact that a sacred text of a significantly sized religion is in Punjabi has ensured for Punjabi the status of a living language in perpetuity. Scholars say that Guru Granth Sahib contains at least 118 dohras (two line poems) and four asbloks (verse sayings) of Baba Fareed. These verses were personally collected by Baba Nanak from Shaekh Ibrahim (Fareed Saani), a descendent of Baba Fareed and his 11th successor from Pakpattan, over two hundred years after Baba Fareed’s passing.
In 1604, 339 years after Baba Fareed’s passing away, these verses became a part of the Granth Saahib (the number of verses by Baba Fareed in the Granth Saahib, is uncertain, as Baba Nanak, and possibly others, sometimes wrote using the pseudonym Fareed).
Scholars have collated dohras (two line poems) which are classified as the verse of Baba Fareed and which are not included in the Granth Saahib ... Some scholars believe Baba Fareed is the most secular of Sufi poets. They state that the vast underpinning of metaphysics and religious thought is not present in his poetry. Others believe that his language and metaphor is existential, experiential and visionary. They too feel that his expression is not in the religious tradition. They claim that metaphysical, religious echoes are not raised in the mind as one reads the dohras.
Other scholars believe that the metaphysical and religious content is subtle and ever-present. They suggest that it was the deeply spiritual Baba Nanak, the inspiration of the Sikh religion, who inducted the dohras into his preaching and these were consecrated into the Granth Saahib. This induction was for their spiritual and religious metaphor and not merely for their poetry.
It may be an assumption that later poets resorted to greater abstraction perhaps because the kings had become more powerful, and what could be construed as criticism was veiled in abstraction. Thus space was created for poetry where space was wanting. In Baba Fareed the metaphor is more of life than of social condition. He makes his own space. He does not create stereotypes. His message is powerful. Perhaps Baba Fareed left Delhi because he started feeling that he was living with people with facades who had little genuineness. When he went and settled in Pakpattan, he transcended his Delhi experience, sophistication and language. He used his old experience and clued into the current. If the Delhi experience had any residual impact, it may have been on the austerity and heavy discipline of his poetry. The content remained aloof of city and court sophistication. He was fully familiar with city life, with attitudes to worship, spiritual guides, religion — all he had learnt. But at some time Baba Fareed reverted to people who live on banks of rivers, and eke out a living in arid and semiarid areas, who had their own metaphors, consciousness and wisdom. He wrote in their tongue, and creatively expressed their feelings, experiences and metaphors. But this was done with superior poetic craftsmanship, via inspired verse ...
Baba Fareed sits comfortably in the meeting ground of religion and poetry. The fifth guru, Arjan Dev, led Sikhism at a time when its members had swelled to the thousands and the Granth Saahib was compiled and consecrated as the paramount scripture of Sikhism. This had two effects: one, the dohras of Baba Fareed, collected by Baba Nanak, were preserved (in the form they were placed in the Granth Saahib by Guru Arjan’s committee of compilers, which was led by Bhai Gurdaas). Secondly the status of Baba Fareed’s verse was elevated to a religious text of a whole religion. This may even have helped to preserve some of his other couplets in the oral tradition which did not become part of the Granth Saahib ...
We can assume that at a time when paper was very expensive and not easily available, the works of many poets were lost. But in all traditions poets of merit come at intervals. Even today, with a plethora of poetry being published, not much may remain as poetry of significance. But anthologies, a relatively recent phenomenon, may preserve the work of more poets than in the pre-anthology era.
The press came to Punjab in the 1850s, to Ludhiaana, and in the 1860s to Lahore. Hundreds of books were published in Punjabi. This became a trickle in 1947 when Punjab accepted Urdu as the national language. Somehow this was read as a replacement of regional languages, which it was never intended to be.
The Punjab had been a province of Persia, then of Afghan and Turkish Central Asian princes who collected tribute on behalf of the king at Delhi. These people started as conquerors but did not become colonisers as they owned the place and settled here. They did not repatriate any funds or riches, as colonisers do, from the collected tribute. In the time of Baba Fareeduddin Masud Ganjshakar, Punjab was well-settled as a province of the empire. It was sufficiently loyal to be mounting expeditions of its own.
An element of physical anxiety in Baba Fareed’s time has been identified by Irfan Habib in his book on a later era, (Agrarian System in the Mughal Period). There was a big jungle near Pakpattan where rebels lived and from where tax was not collected. This may have influenced the free spirit of Baba Fareed. Poets comment on the human condition and sometimes on the times. The poetry of Baba Fareed is subtle as well as direct. It has a fair content of social comment.
The dohras are definitely worked on by the poet. This must mostly have been done in the mind as paper was scarce. Each word is selected with austerity and panache. So is each thought and then a whole poem is encapsulated in a musically metered two liner.
Excerpted with permission from
Masterworks of Punjaabi Sufi Poetry: Baaba Fareed Ganjshakar Within Reach
By Muzaffar A. Ghaffaar
Ferozsons, 60 Shahrah-i-Quaid-i-Azam, Lahore
Tel: (042) 630 1196-8;
Muzaffar A. Ghaffaar, a teacher, poet, author and translator, is president of the Lahore Arts Forum. His other books include Unity in Diversity, How Governments Work and books in the series on Sufi poets