Opening Remarks

Safir Rammah


The Indians and Pakistanis need no introduction. For those who don't understand Punjabi, I hope you had a chance to look at the program notes. I am sure that many of you are familiar with Sufi thought and with Arabic and Persian Sufi Poetry. Let me just say a few words about what distinguishes Punjabi Sufi poetry from other Sufi traditions:

In India, there were and are many different Sufi schools of thoughts. Among Muslims Qadaria, Chishtia, Malamti and others and then of course Hindu mystics and Sikh Gurus.

Punjabi Sufi poets didn't all belong to the same Sufi School but they had many common characteristics that allow us to put them in a class of their own and talk about them as Punjabi Sufi poets, even though they were not all followers of a single school of thought.

Let me just highlight those common characteristics:

        First and foremost was their choice of language. Since the beginning, Sanskrit and then Persian were the languages of power in India.  Persian was brought by the Muslim rulers and became the language of Delhi's court in the 10 and 11th century and remained so until it was abolished by the British rulers in 1837 and replaced by English

        Punjabi Sufis, beginning with Baba Farid in the 12th century, made a very important choice and started a tradition of writing Sufi poetry in Punjabi, the local language of people. That was a key choice that brought them closer to the people instead of the seats of powers in Delhi or Lahore and Multan.

        With that they also dropped all pretensions of writing poetry for an elite class of intellectuals and instead of adopting the intricacies and complexities of Persian poetry they used the very simple idiom of village folks and used the imagery, symbols, and metaphors that were taken from the daily lives of Punjabi villagers. Throughout the 800 a or so years of Punjabi Sufi poetry, this remained the hallmark of these poets

        Secondly, they added a few very important elements in their Sufi thought to address the practical problems faced by the multi-religious land of Punjab and adopted their message to the local conditions. Besides love for God and their murshid, or teacher, a very important part of their message is love for people. and how to live in harmony by diffusing the religious differences

        They did that by challenging the religious dogma and the religious and political establishment of their time. For them peace and harmony in the society were more important then the narrow confines of any one religious prescription.  They preached and taught people to rise above the religious differences and develop mutual understanding and tolerance for the many competing religious ideologies.

        For them these different ideologies were simply different paths leading to the same goal of a union with God or ultimate Truth that they believe could not be achieved without love for human beings.  As Mian Muhammad had said:  Masjid dhaa de mandir dhaa de, dhaa de jo kujh dhainda/ Ek bandian da dil na tureen, sohna Rub dillan wich rehnda (I wouldn't care if you demolish these mosques, mandirs and all other symbols of religious dogma/ Don't break the heart of a human being because it is the seat of Allah).

        Finally they wrote their poetry for the purpose of singing and set their lyrics in the classical Indian ragas or in folk tunes


Their poetry was mainly an oral tradition and was transferred from one generation to the other through singing.  Even today, if we visit the Shrine of Baba Farid at Pakpattan or of  Sultan Bahu at Shahkot on the bank of Chenab or Shah Hussain's Shrine in Lahore, from morning till night and even during the night, we can see groups of fakirs and singers sitting on the ground with their simple instruments, singing the same poetry we are going to hear tonight.

In each generation, many singers dedicated their lives to singing Sufi poetry.  That is how it got to Niazi Brothers' father, Tufail Niazi, who became a legend during his lifetime and then passed it on to his sons Babar and Javaid who are now keeping that tradition alive and have today brought Punjabi Sufi poetry and music to the Mall, in this beautiful auditorium ....