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Old 05-24-2011, 03:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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SHAH ABDUL LATIF of Bhit, called simply' Shah' or 'Monarch’ is a unique figure in literature. He is not only the greatest of Sindhi writers, but he has been equated with the literature of his land, as if he were co-terminous with Sindhi literature. The first foreigners who explored the civilization and culture of Sind thought that Shah was the only Poet and Philosopher Sind had produced, and the universal vogue of Shah-Jo-Risalo, or Shah's Poetical Works, in the land of the Sindhu, inclined them to believe that the Risalo was the only literary work in the Sindhi language.

It has become clear now that, far from being the only poet of Sind, or the only singer of his time, Shah was only one-- albeit the greatest of a multitude of poets who formed a 'nest of singing birds' in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Shah was the finest flower in a garden of poetry. His poetry is not that of a pioneer, it is the poetry of fulfillment; it is not the poetry of experimentation or innovation, it is the poetry of gracious benediction. Nor is it correct to call him the last of the traditional or medieval poets in Sindhi, as some have tried to make out; Shah is no Milton, the last of the Elizabethans'. It is well-known that Shah looked upon Sachal as his spiritual successor. And there were others besides Sachal to keep up the tradition of Shah. Shah did for Sindhi language and literature¬ and the Sindhi people-what other world poets have done for their own language and country in their own particular way¬ Hafiz for the Persian Lyric, Dante for the' illustrious vernacular' of Italy, and Tulsidas for Hindi language and literature.

Another misconception about Shah requires a more detailed exposure, because it is more persistent. It is to treat Shah as purely a poet of Islam, writing for the Muslims, and in the approved Islamic: fashion. Were Shah really an Islamic poet, pure and simple, he would not have made the appeal he has made to the Hindu mind and sentiment. The Sindhi-Hindus, forced by Muslim bigotry to quit Sind, still turn to Shah-Jo ¬Risalo as to a scripture, and with nostalgic sentiment. This would be impossible if Shah were a poet of Islam, and not a patriotic Sindhi and essentially Indian poet, fully in line with other Indian poets. That Shah was by birth, upbringing and ancestry, a Muslim, and that he conformed to the tenets of his faith, cannot be gainsaid. Shah had any amount of reverence for the Prophet, and admiration and affection for his son-in-law, Ali, and Ali's son martyred in Kerbela. But he was not a doctrinaire Muslim, bound by a dogma or ritual. Some of his most famous lines are:

It were well to practise Namaz and Fast

But Love's vision needs a separate Art.

There is a legend that when they asked Shah whether he was a Sunni Muslim or a Shia, he said he was neither, he was in ¬between. And when someone said: There is nothing in¬ between', he said, Then I am Nothing.' Muslim writers have shed quite needless ink to discuss what kind of Sufi he was: did he belong to the Qadiri order, or the Chishti order? He had something which neither of the Orders had, and no preceptor of either of these Orders could claim to have initiated him into Sufism. So someone asks, was he then of the Uwesi type of Sufi, a man who has not had a preceptor or Murshid? No defi¬nite reply is possible. A man who could don the garb of Hindu Jogis, wander with them for years, make pilgrimages to Hingla, Dwarka and other sacred places of the Hindus, a man who broke, without the slightest compunction, the Islamic injunction against Samaa or Dance-music, and died tasting the pleasure of that Dance-music, a man who went out of his way, in that era of Kalhora bigotry, to pull out from a crowd of fanatic Muslims a poor Hindu whom they were proceeding to convert forcibly to Islam, could hardly be regarded as a Muslim, pure and simple. It is noteworthy that one of the constant and dear friends of Shah was Madan, a Hindu, and the two musicians who comforted his soul, Atal and Chanchal, were also Hindus. If, in Sur Kalyan he referred to Prohpet Mahomed as the Karni or the' Cause' of creation, or elsewhere he imagined the rain cloud wafting across Islamic lands and she Iding grateful showers over the Tomb of the Prophet, or if he quoted or referred to the verses of the Koran in more than a hundred places in the Risalo, it only shows his faith and poetic fervour and his understanding of the audi¬ence to whom he was addressing his poetry. It does not show propagandist zeal or dogmatism. Were everything that he wrote to perish and only one or two Surs like Sur Ramkali to survive, there would be no difficulty in demonstrating that Shah had affinity with Hindus and their religion. G. M. Syed, in his thoughtful book, Paigham-e-Latif or Message of Latif, has drawn a comparison between a poet of Pan-Islamism, or an essentially Islamic poet like Iqbal, and a patriotic and nationalist poet like Shah. When Shah was praying to God to shower plenty and prosperity upon Sind, in lines dear to every Sindhi, he was doubtless visualising Sind as an integral part of Hind.

No reader of Shah can forget that the entire poetry of Shah is cast in the traditional ragas and raginis of Indian poetry, his heroes and heroines are Indians, every inch, and that the con¬tent of his poetry is Indian, medieval no doubt, but medieval Indian, and not Central Asiatic, .or West Asiatic. The shrewd readers of Shah have noted that in all his story-poems the woman is the lover and the male person the one sought after-in the fashion peculiar to Indian poets alone.

One point which the commentators and critics of Shah and his poetry have clean missed is that Shah should be regarded not as the voice and interpreter of the attenuated Sind we know, but the poet of that Greater Sind which extended anciently to Kashmir and Kanoj, to Makran and Saurashtra, Jaisalmer and Barmer. On any other assumption, the' stories' of Shah would have no proper significance, and his wanderings would be without an aim and purpose. Plot the extreme points reached by Shah in his wanderings on a map of the Indian Sub-Conti¬nent and that would show the confines of the Greater Sind of which Shah sang in his Surs.

It is possible to make too much of the mystic and sufistic ele¬ment in Shah's poetry, and to by-pass another predominant motif or element in his 'poetry-c-his Sindhiyat or the peculiar Sindhi-ness of his poetry which is to be found in no other Sindhi poet or writer. This Sindhiyat is of course one of the earliest and most fragrant of the several flowers in the Indian garland of Poetry and Philosophy. The two main aspects in Shah's poetry which deserve detailed treatment are his mysticism and Sindhiuat, Fitly has he been called the Sage of Mihran (or the Sindhu), where Mihran or the Sindhu is simply the longest of the Indian rivers. The two most important paints in Shah's poetry and his mental make-up are that he was a God-intoxi¬cated Soul and that he was the Voice of Sind. His being a Muslim does not matter so very much.

It is also worth nothing that barring one Muslim, namely Mirza Kalich Beg, the author of a biography of Shah in Sindhi, and a Lexicon on Shah, nearly all the editors, biographers, critics and commentators on Shah upto the separation of Sind from the Bombay Presidency 11937), nay upto the Partition of India (1947) were non-Muslims Dr. Ernest Trumpp was the first to bring out an edition of the Risalo (1866), and Dr. H. T. Sorley was the first to write in English a book on the life and times of Shah and trans¬late quite a representative chunk of Ids poems (Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit 1940). Sir Bartle Frere's manuscript on Shah has 1101 been published nor Mir Abdul Husain's manuscript, alluded to by some writers. Apart from these names, almost all other names of earnest workers in Shah's vineyard in the British regime, have been Hindu names. Dayararn Gidurnal, Judge, wrote on Shah under the pen name of Sigma in his Something about Sind (1882); gathering from authentic sources anecdotes about Shah, Lilararn (Sing)Watanmal, another Judge, wrote a shod life of the poet (1890); educationist Tarachand Showkiram, brought out an edition of Shah, under Government aegis in 1900 ; Lalchand An~rdinornal wrote iii Sindhi a brochure all Shaha no Shah' the first decade of the present century. Jethrnal Parsram wrote Stories from Shah and treated of Shah in his Sufis and usiics of Sind in the second decade; Bherumal Mahirchand produced his Latifi-Sair in 1928 giving a sketch of the Travels of ah, Naraindas Bhambhani wrote in Sindhi a book on the The Heroines of Shah, Professors T. L. Vaswani, M. M. Gidwani and the present writer wrote magazine articles and pamphlets on Shah, and above all, Dr. H. M. Gurbaxani brought out three volumes of Shah-J o-Risalo (from 1923 on¬wards) with his masterly Introduction on Shah (Muqadamah Latifi) which will always remain a landmark in Sindhi literature. The two Muslim names of writers on Shah in the British period are those of Md Sidik Mernon, writer in Sindhi of a History of Sindhi literature in the third decade of twentieth century in which he had perforce to find the greatest space for Shah, "and Dr. U. M. Daudpota, the favourite pupil of Dr. H. M. Gur¬baxani, and his assistant in the preparation of his monumental work.


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