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 Shah Abdul Lateef

Shah Abdul Lateef (1689--1752)

                Ajuna otakun men talib tanvareen.

                Adesee uthee viya, marhiyoon moon mareen.

                Je jeea khe jiyareen, se lahootee lade viya.

Translation :

Now at our meeting places, the seekers sing no more ;

The hermits have departed, and their shrines are painful to visit ;

They who were our life and soul, those holy ones are gone for ever.

Shah Lateef's main contributions are his symbolic renderings of the old popular folk-tales of Sind mentioned above. But Shah does not re-tell these tales in any detail or sequence of events; he only picks out some principal incidents and elaborately derives from them some spiritual significance based on sufistic truths. The main symbolism he employs in these love-tales is that of the beloved standing for the human soul in quest of the divine lovers, the worldly obstacles in the path of their union being the physical senses. In these tales, Shah has created such a vast portraitgallery of heroes and heroines, with their characters so varied and individualized, and with the heroines generally superior to the heroes, that it will not be an exaggeration to call him the myriadminded Shakespeare of Sind.

Although the vast body of Shah's poetry is mainly mystical, much of his earlier poetry is based on his minute observation of human life and nature, abounding in flights of imagination, and poetic similes and metaphors. Here are a few examples of how he derives moral lessons from the objects of the observation :—

1.             Kana manjh karar, hua hehanda sanga men.

                Gahe gah firaq je, kaya dharo dhar,

                Najana behar, kadanh melo theendo sajanen.

Translation :

There were many a grain in the ear of corn, living happily together ;

But on the threshing-floor they were separated one from the other ;

I know not when I shall be united with beloved again.

2.             Vagar kayo vatan, prit na chhinan pan men :

                paso pakhiaran, manhun-an meth ghano.

Translation :

They fly about in clusters, but they never break their friendship. Lo ; the birds love each other even more than men.

3.             Parado so sadu, varu vaee-a jo je laheen ;

               Hua agheen gadu, budhan men ba thia.

Translation :

The echo is the Voice, but for the air's rebound;

They always were one sound, but to our ear they sound like two.

4.             Roza nimazoon, ee pin chango kam.

                Par-a oo ko biyo faham, janh son pasan pireean jo.

Translation :

These fasts and holy prayers, are surely good things all.

But the wisdom wherewithal to see my Love, is another thing.

It should be noted that in the verse-translation of the last two couplets an attempt has been made to bring out the peculiar characteristic of the Sindhi dohra, of rhyming the second verse in the middle instead of at the end, lending a new kind of melody to the couplet. Shah has also written many purely love-poems inspired by his youthful love episode on which no spiritual significance need be necessarily perceived as most Sindhi scholars ingeniously insist on doing. The following exquisite illustration will suffice :

Naza manjhran nikri, jadahin pireen kare tho pand,

Bhoon pin bismillah chave, raha chumen thi rand,

Ubbyoon ghane adab sen, lage hairat hoorun hund,

Saeen jo sowghand, sajan sabhna suhno.

Translation :

When my beloved steps out and walks about with grace

Even the earth cries : "God be praised" and the path kisses her footsteps;

The hours are struck with wonder and stand by in reverence ;

I swear by the Lord, my beloved is most beautiful of all.

Shah was a lover of music, and most of his poems were sung by his followers at his desertresidence at Bhit (Sanddune) on account of which he is entitled Bhitai ghote (Bridegroom of Bhit) of Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai, which latter is also the title of the only* critical biography of Shah written by a western scholar, H. T. Sorley. Because Shah's poetry was written to be sung, his collected poetical works called Shah-jo-Rasalo, were divided into sections called Surs, e.g. Sur Kalyan, Sur Sarang, Sur Desi, Sur Ramkali, Sur Bilawal, Sur Asa and Sur Dhanasari, and his poems were generally sung by his followers in the ragini indicated, and later on even by Hindu bhagats (devotional singers) at largely attended public meetings which often times lasted late into the night. At the end of each Sur, Shah composed a Vaee, the original name of the famous Kafi which is the staple form of Sindhi music, and is still sung by the goat herd tending his flocks, the driver on camelback and the minstrel in the street. Shah Lateef, along with his martyred friend Shah Inayat, also made an innovation in the form of the traditional doha and the various chhands or metres of Sanskrit prosody employed in Sindhi poetry, by enlarging their scope from two verses, to three, four or even more verses, but retaining the internal rhyme in the last verse and sometimes in the opening verse. The combination of doha and soratha verses is called doheero in Sindhi, and the two Shahs at times even increased the number of matras (syllables) in each verse from the original 24, 25 and even 26 syllables.