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Sufi Literature


Sufi Literature a distinctive stream of medieval bangla literature, which was inspired by sufism. Sufi saints started coming to Bangladesh from Arabia and Iran in the mid-eleventh century. After bakhtiyar khalji conquered Bengal in 1203 AD, many Islamic scholars and saints came to Bengal and began to propagate Islam. They settled at dhaka, bogra, pabna, chittagong, sylhet, netrokona and engaged themselves in spreading the message of islam by establishing khanqahs, mosques, makberahs and madrasahs. Islam's message of equality and the practice of liberalism, humanism and service by the Sufis attracted the lowly, oppressed and deprived sections of the society to Islam. In this way a new Muslim society consisting of immigrant rulers, scholars, teachers and Sufis and local converts was formed. The literature that the Sufi poets created in Bangla to cater to the spiritual and psychological needs of this new community became known in due course as Sufi literature.

A massive body of Sufi literature was first created in Iran. Famous Iranian poets like Abdur Rahman Jami, Nizami Gaznavi, Omar Khayyam, Hafiz and Amir Khasru wrote poetry in different genres such as masnavi, ghazal, rubaiyyat and khomsa. Sufi literature in Bangla developed on these models.

Soon after the founding of Muslim rule in India, the Sanskrit book Amrtkunda was translated into Arabic and Persian. This became very popular with Sufis as it was about yogic meditation. Muslim converts from Hinduism and Buddhism welcomed this book which drew upon both Hindu and Muslim philosophies. The poets of Bengal translated into Bangla Sufi books written in Persian and Hindi, among them were Shah Muhammad Sagir's yusuf-zulekha, daulat uzir bahram khan's laily-majnu, Kazi Daulat's Satimayna-Lor-Chandrani, alaol's padmavati, and nawajish khan's gule bakawali. These books did not, however, retain the symbolism of the original books nor their philosophical mysticism. In fact, these were turned into poetical verses of human love. A few of the books, however, contained some descriptions of yoga meditation and philosophy.

In the middle ages two types of Sufi poems were written in Bangla: shastrakabya or theological poems and padavali or shorter spiritual poems. Those worth mentioning among the first category are Sheikh Zahid's Adya Parichay (1498), syed sultan's Jvanpradip, Jvanchautisha and Yogkalandar ((16th century), sheikh chand's Hargauri-Sambad and Talibnama (17th century), abdul hakim's Chari-makam-bhed (17th century), Haji Muhammad's Suratnama (17th century), Mir Muhammad Shafi's Nurnama (17th century), Sheikh Mansur's Sirnama (18th century) and ali raza's Agam and Jvansagar (18th century). These books mainly describe Sufi devotional practices and contain instructions in respect of cosmology, the path of spiritual salvation, religion and ethics. Sheikh Zahid's Adya Parichay begins with cosmology which says that in the beginning there was only a void, then out of the void came God and the universe was created from God's limbs. It also contains the doctrine that the body is the seat of all truths, the mystery of birth and death. The philosophy of yoga is mixed with Sufism.

Syed Sultan's Jnanpradip and Jvanchautisha contain almost identical thoughts. Jvanpradip describes Sufi philosophy, devotion, mysticism, religion, dhikr (invocation of God's names) and the divine in the form of questions and answers between Prophet muhammad (Sm) and Hazrat Ali (R). Syed Sultan's doctrine about the body combines Sufi thoughts with Hindu yogic concepts. According to him, the Creator is nothing but formless purity and the human body is his abode. So knowing the body is knowing God.

The Indian Sufi saint Shah Bu-Ali Kalandar introduced the new devotional practice of yogkalandar, which was a mixture of Iranian and Indian spiritual practices. Its influence fell on Bengal as well. The poetic work Yogkalandar contains the devotional practices of this concept. Its author is unknown but some scholars suggest that he was the 17th century poet Syed Murtaza. The book begins by explaining the four presences of Sufi philosophy: nasut (the world of body), malakut (the world of pure intelligence), jabarut (the world of power) and lahut (the world of negation). According to the poet, the eternal soul lives in the human body, and yoga and devotion bring the human soul and the eternal soul together.

Both of Sheikh Chand's books were written in the form of questions and answers and contain discussions on identical philosophical thoughts. The dialogue in Hargauri-Sambad is between Shiva and Durga and that in Talibnama between the poet himself and his pir, Shah Doulah. The principal themes of the discussions are faith in the guru, mystery about the Creator, cosmology and yoga. It also has a description of Shiva's imparting secret wisdom to Durga. Here the influence of Nath religion is discernible.

Haji Muhammad's Suratnama contains instructions about religious rites and worldly affairs as well as reflections on yoga-based doctrines of the body and cosmology. It also explains that one can attain supreme bliss by way of four spiritual paths: shariat (revealed law), tariqat (ways of devotion), haqiqat (truth) and marifat (union with God or Sufism).

Sheikh Mansur's Sirnama and Ali Raza's Agam and Jvansagar describe, in Islamic vocabulary, the various truths and instructions about Sufism. The first book has ten chapters on truth, the sayings of a dervish, the secret of spiritual ascent, the concept of absolute purity of God etc.

Ali Raza was a pir and a powerful poet. The common people knew him as Kanu Fakir. The language of his literary work was refined and of a high order. The themes of his first book, Agam, are cosmology, the four spiritual stations, the concept of the atmosphere, psychology and belief in Allah. His Jnansagar contains explanations of the same themes in greater detail, establishing the belief that one can reach Allah by becoming a fakir. In this way Ali Raza emphasised as the way of fakirs or Sufi devotional practices.

Sufi Padavali reflects the spiritualism of the Sufi school of philosophy. During the medieval period short lyrical poems were called padas. Vaishnava poets composed thousands of padas. charyapada, the earliest extant literary writing in Bangla, and subsequent shaktapada and baulpada or baul songs belong to the same genre. The padas composed on Sufi thoughts came to be known as sufipada. In Sufi vocabulary, these are known as ghazaliyat or gitpada.

A Sufi's ultimate aim is to attain union with God. The devotee is shown this path by the pir or murshid (spiritual guide or teacher). Guided by the pir, the Sufi tries to free himself from the senses and purify his soul. Through spiritual rites, he frees himself from all worldly attachments and attractions and then surrenders unconditionally to Allah. This path is not without difficulty; the devotee's mind is not without doubts or confusions. Sufipadas have been composed around the themes of surrendering oneself to God, of the fears, the lack of ability, the pain of non-attainment in the minds of the devotees. The poets expressed their sentiments and feelings in unambiguous language. At times they used metaphors to give indirect vent to their feelings, often using the love of radha and krishna symbolically. Extensive use of this symbolism has led many contemporary critics to describe the poets of this stream as 'Muslim Vaishvava poets', 'pro-Vaishnava Muslim poets' etc. Sufipadas have also been composed on society, famous persons, places and nature. Sufi poets also stress that it is by knowing the human body that the Sufi can know God.

The names of over a hundred Muslim pada composers are known, including Ainuddin, Afzal, Alaol, Ali Raza, Nasir Mahmud, Mir Faizullah, Sheikh Kabir, Sheikh Chand, Syed Mortuza and Syed Sultan. Many of them also composed philosophical writings in verse. Syed Mortuza composed over sixty padas, each of which begins with particulars of the poet and has a raga and a tal mentioned at the top. It is, therefore, certain that the padas were meant to be sung. It is not, however, known on which Muslim occasions they were supposed to be sung or how they were sung. In some poems the poet's personal sentiments, perceptions, feelings, and language have found expression in poetic elegance. The shastrakabya, or scripture-based poems, reveal the devotional practices and philosophical thoughts of the Sufis of Bengal while their padavalis reveal their inner thoughts. [Wakil Ahmed]