The news of the annual Jahan-e-Khusrau festival in Delhi poignantly brings back the legacy of the Qadiri order of Sufis. The Qadiris of the old Punjab were renowned for their deep philosophical studies. It was their worldview that had a profound impact on Prince Dara Shikoh.
And it was Shah Inayat Qadiri, as everyone knows, who was the pir sought and found by the popular Sufi devotee-composer Bulle Shah. Shah Inayat Qadiri, a spiritual descendant of Muhammed Ghaus of Gwalior, worked with outward simplicity as a market gardener but is reputed to have been of a scholar. In a work attributed to him called ‘Dastur-e-Amal’, he is said to have vividly described the Hindu paths to moksha. These ideas, according to some, were carried west by Alexander’s Greeks and thereby arrived in the possession of the mystics of Islam.
Shah Inayat Qadiri is said to have written many books, which were subsequently lost in the fire that broke out in the house of his descendants, “during the troubled times that followed the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh”, according to one source. Bulle Shah, with the zeal and enthusiasm of the newly-initiated, spoke and sang openly of the unity underlying Hinduism and Islam. But since the political situation of that era was against liberal Sufis, Shah Inayat Qadiri, forbade him to speak of it openly, for he himself practised ‘haqiqat’ (spiritual reality as understood by Sufis) under the cover of ‘tariqat’ (the established path, meaning orthodox Islam).
Bulle Shah’s insistence on outspoken liberalism upset his teacher who barred him from his presence. Knowing however of Shah Inayat Qadiri’s love of music and dance, Bulle Shah began to learn these arts from a dancing girl and one day, when he was proficient enough, began to sing and dance, dressed as woman, outside a place his teacher had entered (the story behind the original ‘Mere ishq nachaya mujhe chhaiya-chhaiya’). Attracted by the sound, Shah Inayat Qadiri emerged and Bulle Shah invoked the legend of Heer-Ranjha to convey in verse his wish for reconciliation with his beloved guru. The teacher, a true liberal at heart, recognised his pupil and asked if he was ‘Bulha’.
“Not ‘Bulha’, but ‘Bhoola’ (the erring one)”, said the pupil and was promptly forgiven and restituted in his teacher’s good graces, remaining with him until he passed away. As Sufiyana resonates anew in Delhi, it could remind us that such liberalism is our true heritage.
— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture