Category Archives: Sufi

Mullah Nasiruddin

There is a Sufi story about Mullah Nasiruddin, who was once asked by someone – ‘You claim that you can see in the dark. If that is so, why do I see you walk around with a candle in your hand?’. The Mullah replied – ‘ I do that so that other people who cannot see don’t bump into me.’

Think about it.

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Sufiana – Doppelganger

On Friday, I watched ‘Sufiana – Doppelganger‘, a play by Salim Ghouse (whom you may recognize as the voiceover on NDTV). The play centered around Mullah Nasiruddin – the sufi mystic cum jester, whose numerous escapades we have all read about as kids. The interesting thing though, is that while all those stories seemed to be structured like ‘jokes’, on a more careful analysis they reveal themselves to be much more than that, offering insights into the nature of reality, man’s search for meaning in life etc. The encoding of profound truths in unlikely metaphors is a common concept in sufi literature, and poetry.

This particular play though used the central structure common to a typcial Mullah Nasiruddin story, yet made it contemporary through references to the war in Iraq, WMD etc. The metaphors and underlying themes probably did not make sense to a lot of people sitting in the audience (Prithvi ), causing a few to leave midway through the performance.

The performances by Salim, and his wife (who plays his wife in the play too) were quite good, though nothing spectacular. On Saturday, Troubadour, another play centered around Sufism (this time, Rumi’s poetry) was staged. I missed this one though.

More on Salim Ghouse

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Parvaaz by Junoon

I have a new respect for Pakistani band Junoon – for making sufi poetry more accessible. I reconnected with Junoon when I started listening to Parvaaz (flight of passion), arguably the band’s best album to date, in it’s lyrical ambition. The most ambitious song in the album has to be Ghoom.

English translation follows:

Spin wheel, spin

Spin wheel, spin
The girl spinning, reeling the thread
Long may she live, while you spin
Saying, Near Him, I fear Him
With Him I tremble
Spin wheel, spin

Spinning wheel says, Lord, Lord
Thread says, You
Shah Husain, a fakir for the Lord
Says, I am nothing, all is You
Spin wheel, spin

Speak His name, breathe His name
And nothing can shake you
From flood of five rivers choose one
Live where it takes you
Spin wheel, spin

Spin wheel, spin
The girl spinning, reeling the thread
Long may she live, while you spin
Saying, Near Him, I fear Him
With Him I tremble
Spin wheel, spin
.

This was written by the sufi mystic poet, Shah Hussain. The rendition is absolutely sublime, and so is Salman Ahmad on the guitar. I can’t think of many bands that can work with lyrics like that to produce rock like Parvaaz.

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Sufism

My interest in Sufism stemmed out of a book of Rumi’s verses. The Quran is said to have many interpretations. Sufism is said to have sprung from a mystical interpretation of the Quran by Prophet Mohammad who transferred this knowledge to select disciples, who carried forward the oral tradition. The primary objective of Sufism is to unify the individual spirit with the universal spirit. The final goal is fanaa or “annihilation in god”.

However, one must be quick to point out that this annihilation in God need not imply death. It is possible to have supra-sensory experiences or visions that give one a glimpse of God. The underlying concepts of sufism are not very unlike Indian schools such as Vedanta, only the means to achieve the final goal are different. Music and dance are two important components of the Sufi tradition. The dance, originating from Rumi, is popularly referred to as the dance of the swirling dervishes. Its movements symbolize the movements of the cosmos itself.

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