Dawn, Pakistan
04 June 2003 Wednesday
- 03 Rabi-us-Saani 1424
By Ariel

A serious omission in history of Urdu literature

Should the history of Urdu literature be recast to focus the grand development of Ginan poetry of the Ismaili Pirs in the Punjab, Sindh and Gujrat in the 14th and 15th century?

The historians have never failed to mention Hazrat Amir Khusro (d. 1324 AD) as the first Urdu or Hindvi poet, but when it comes to some Ismaili Pirs e.g. Pir Shamsuddin Sabzwari (1241-1356) Pir Sadruddin (1300-1416), Pir Hasan Kabiruddin (1341-1449) Pir Tajuddin (d. 1449) and Syed Imam Shah, (d. 1520), the historians of Urdu literature draw a blank forgetting that they have included Hazrat Masood Ganj Shakar, popularly known as Ganj Shakar, who died in 1265 - almost hundred years before Pir Shamsuddin as an old Urdu Poet.

Why should, then, the intervening period remain in an oblivion? I believe that Baba Fareed was not a poet and it was his son whose poetry has passed for his poetry in Guru Garanth.

Anyhow in view of Amir Khusro's inclusion as the first Urdu poet, Pir Shamsuddin, his contemporary Ismaili poetry of the 13th century, has a rightful claim on Urdu poetry in the similar manner in which some Mid-English poets enjoy claim over English literature.

Pir Shamsuddin's poetry is understandable even to the present generation of readers. Hence he enjoys a better right to be called an Urdu or Hindi poet, also having vocabulary from Lahnda, Sindhi and Gujrati in his Ginan (Devotional) poetry.

In one of his Ginan he says:

Ae Sabhaga Aape Shah Mulla,Aape Shah Qazi
Aape Ved Quran Sabhaga
Ae Sabhaga Khada So Khada Peeta So Peeta
Daita Sohi Per Maron Sabhaga
Ae Sabhaga Is Duniya De Wich Kiya Gun Aawey -
Kiya Gun Nal Sabhaga....

In yet another Ginan, this language is clearer:

Aiji Ab Teri Muhabbat Lagi
Dil Mere Muhabbat Lagi
Nainon Se Nain Milado Mere Saab, Ab Teri....

Now a few facts about Pir Shamsuddin Sabzwari who lies buried in Multan and according to Tarikh Aiamma Ismailya, published by Shia Imamiya Ismaili Association of Pakistan, Karachi (Vol. III) was sent to India from Iran. His father Syed Sabahuddin also served the work of Da'wa in Baltistan. Pir Shams went to Tibet, Badakhshan and Ghazni to preach Ismaili doctrine. Pir Shams also went to Gujrat and Rajhistan and succeeded in converting thousands of locals population. He adopted quite a good deal of Hindu rituals to attract the locals. His Ginans number 80 and he could be termed as the advocate of a catholic approach to religion which did not make any distinction about the external differences.

In one of his Ginan, he writes:

Man Mera Musalla Allah Mera Qazi
Kaya Hameri Mastian Ai Bhi Allah
Ander Baith Namaz Guzaron....

His grandson, Pir Sadruddin, also wrote Ginan poetry. He came to India during Firozshah Tughlaq's period and his Dawat was conducted in secrecy. He was a great scholar of Hinduism and it was through his knowledge of Hinduism that he converted a lot of people to Islam.

Pir Sadruddin went to Punjab, Gujrat and Sindh and a great majority of Lohana Rajputs were converted to Islam (Hector Bolitho has written in his Biography of the Quaid that the Quaid-i-Azam's ancestors were drawn from the Lohana stock of the Multan Rajputs).

In those days, the Ismaili preachers worked with Ithna Ashri and Sunni divines quite closely. They did not want to antagonize the Hindus and were very successful in their approach. The Hindu converts were given the respectable title of Khwaja which became, over the years, Khoja which is the common appellation today.

One of his Ginan reads as follows:

Sacha Deen Rasul Ka, Tumhain Shih Kari Jano
Je Koi Chahe Deen ko, Tako Deen Mein Aar No

In yet another Ginan, he says:

Jo Jane Shah
Jo Jano Shah Pehchaniye
Tu Pehla Aap Pehchan
Jo Kuch Hai Pehchanna
So Sab Tuch Mahein Jan

Now we move towards the Ginan poetry of Pir Hasan Kabiruddin who belonged to the late 14th and early 15th century. We know that the historians have not been able to take into account the Ginan poets of these two and the readers suffer from a feeling of a significant vacuum. We talk about the influence of Persian mystic poets but do not touch the mystic poets of the great Ginan poetry which is as much Urdu as the Urdu poetry of the Deccani poets.

The only difference being that the Deccan poets were influenced by Telegu, Kanarese and Marhati languages. On top of it the Deccani dynasties promoted Urdu or Hindu that was acting as a bridge between the aristocracy and common masses.

The Ginan poetry of Pir Shamsuddin, Pir Sadruddin and Pir Hasan Kabiruddin and Syed Imam Shah did not receive the kind of patronage which the Deccani poets were fortunate to receive from the courts of Golconda, Beejapur, Bedar, Carnatak and Mysore.

Isn't it surprising that the historians of Urdu literature start the proceedings from Amir Khusro in early 14th century have to lie low for more than 150 years until they stumble on Khwaja Banda Nawaz Gaisu Draz (d. 1422) in the Deccan.

There is again a pause. This gap could easily be filled in by Pir Shamsuddin, Pir Sadruddin, Pir Ahsan Kabiruddin, Pir Syed Imam Shah and other Ginan poets as they have produced hundreds of Ginan vignettes which should not be treated as the Ismaili devotional literature as Marsia is being treated as something which could be appreciated by the Ithna Ashri readers and listeners.

The lovers of literature could keep the belief systems embedded in these forms of poetry separate from the linguistic studies which they make possible. A study of Mid-English poetry does not entail upon us any responsibility of subscribing to the tenets of Christianity. We can study the spirit, the appeal and the impact which the fusion of religious tenets and the corresponding rituals engender to make it the Ginan poetry's alternate potion for Bhajan poetry.

I wonder what could have been the cultural scenario of the people hooked on the Ginan if the Islamic form of Bhagti was not around. The number of converts which these Ginans have attracted is quite big and the way the Hindu influence has been allowed to taper off without any religious fiats is worth noting. It is really an example of a voluntary change-over from a strictly Hindu formalism to a credible Islamic ethos.

The Ginan are being studied by the Ismaili youth in Pakistan and India. I believe that the Anjuman Taraqqui-e-Urdu and the historians of Urdu language will agree that the Ginans have to be seriously considered for inclusion into the history books of Urdu literature. They would make the 14th and 15th centuries of Urdu poetry have a handful of new names and would also make an important community feel that all that had been looking so familiar was, after all, a fact.

This is not the only lapse on the part of our historians. We do not intend to discuss as to why the folklore of the Urdu belt - eastern Haryana and Western UP - was ignored to make Urdu-Hindi controversy acquire a plus point for the advocates of Hindi. In case this folklore is not Urdu and Urdu is only an urban language, let it then go to Hindi as it had to go some where.