Bulleh Shah, an 18th C. Punjabi-Sufi poet and philosopher, eloquently wrote in his most famous work Bulleya Ki Jaana:
“Na main arabi na lahori Na main hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na main rehnda vich nadaun”
(Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun)
After listening to Rabbi Shergill’s rock rendition of his verses, I was totally blown away by the timeless relevance of Baba Bulleh Shah’s words. In times when identity has become the center of Indian contemporary thought and politics, the Sufi master’s philosophy of oneness cannot be overlooked.
Faith has been a matter of great pride in India’s cultural history, but Bulleh Shah transcends those boundaries and reveals to us that the quest for God is an experience not limited to any holy scriptures or places of worship.
“Na main momin vich maseetaan
Na main vich kufar diyan reetaan
Na main paakaan vich paleetaan
Na main moosa na firown”
(Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh)
India is older than any religion. It is older even than the Vedas or the Puranas. The idea of India is one of prehistory as well. India is as old as the time when humans first crossed the oceans and arrived at the grand landscape of this subcontinent, perhaps even older. Bulleh Shah says –
“Na main bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne main aadam havva jaaya
Na main apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun”
(Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move)
Bulle Shah says: “Bulleya ki jaana main kaun – Bulleya,” I don’t know who I am.
So what is India then? What is the identity of an Indian? The identity of India is not an identity of a Hindu or a Muslim, neither of a Brahmin or Kshatriya, the identity of India is an identity of the world that assimilated into it. India is a civilization of vibrant cultural and philosophical narratives. It is a country of ancient wisdom, far superior to any religion or sect.
“Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun”
(I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?)
Today, we all need to look within ourselves and say – Bulleya ki jaana main kaun!
Then, and only then would we truly understand the nostalgia of this land of ever-expanding ideas and stories – the idea of India.