Farid was to Punjabi what Chaucer was to English. He made Punjabi poetry and poetry Punjabi. Later when Adi Granth (Sikh scripture) was compiled by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjun Dev Ji, Farid’s ‘slokas’ (sacred couplets) were given the place of honour along with those of Kabir, Ramdev and Guru Ravidas.
Baba Sheikh Farid Ji was a great Sufi saint, very sweet of tongue and who lived an austere life. He asked for only one blessing from Goda life of prayer and meditation. His following insight forms the subject of the painting above-
“Sweet are candy, sugar, honey, and buffalo’s milk. Yea, sweet are these but sweeter by far is God.”
The year was 1398. Timur was returning home after ransacking Delhi -light of mind but laden with gold, trampling corn, killing men and cattle alike. It was a typical Punjab winter and the air in the fields mingled with the blood of the innocents.
On the banks of the river Sutlej at a place called Pak Pattan, his horses suddenly stopped. The horsement whipped their animals. The stallions started bleeding but refused to move further. There was panic among the soldiers, hysteria among the officers, total confusion in the army. There was consternation and alarm writ large on every face. Not used to such unscheduled halts, the Turk chief leapt forward, roared like a lion and demanded answers.
Nobody replied. He shouted again. Everyone remained totally speechless. At last an old man came forward and said, “Your honour, this place is sanctified”.
“By one saint whose ancestors had migrated from Iran to escape death at the hands of your ancestors”, the old man replied. Everyone looked at everyone else. The general’s hands reached for his sword but before they could go any further, a miracle happened. As goes the legend, a voice came from somewhere and called, “Baba Farid, the King of Kings”. Every tongue felt that it had an ear on it. A vision came to the advancing marauder. He felt elated. The armies were ordered to spare the town.
Timur bowed low in the ‘Khanqah’, heard the Sufi hymns, spent the night in the ‘dargah’. He ate the same austere food, which the Devotees ate, slept on the same mat and pledged not to kill any more innocents, only to break the pledge later.
Acknowledged by every literary authority as the first major poet of the Punjabi language, Farid was to Punjabi what Chaucer was to English. He made Punjabi poetry and poetry Punjabi. Later when Adi Granth (Sikh scripture) was compiled by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjun Dev, Farid’s ‘slokas’ (sacred couplets) were given the place of honour along with those of Kabir, Ramdev and Guru Ravidas. They all sang in the people’s dialect about the glory of India’s culture, the greatness of Indian values and the supremacy of Indian thought.
Among the many social and religious movements in India of the last two thousand years, the Bhakti movement of the middle ages from the 13th to the 17th centuries was the most pronounced, as it cut across all distinctions of high and low birth, the learned and the unlettered, men and women and opened the doors of spiritual realization and salvation to one and all. Besides, it provided a base for common socio-religious culture in India.
One great characteristic of the Indian civilization is that more than its kings and warriors and generals, it is the Saints and the Sufis who realized the goals of the Renaissance and the Reformation. The cyclic tales recited by the lute players of ancient India, the songs of the wandering minstrels, the ba!lads and the ‘kathaks’ (storytellers) of medieval times provided a framework for the evolution and growth of the composite culture of India. They integrated the diverse elements of Indian society and knit them in a unified cultural necklace. It is these saints and sufis who bestowed a sense of Indianness on Indians down the ages. Baba Farid occupies a very high place in this cultural anthology.
Baba Farid lived in Punjab in the 13th century and composed hymns in Punjabi, the likes of which are yet to be composed. There was something in his poetry akin to prayer. He spoke of his people in the people’s dialect and asked them to use Punjabi for religious purposes. He started a ‘silsilah at Pak Pattan and established a mystic organization, a ‘Khanqah’ (Monastery) on the lines of a European seminary upholding the rule of mind over matter in the ultimate analysis of human affairs.
Baba Sheikh Farid had been in the 12th & 13th centuries, a great intellectual, unique renunciat, perfect ascetic and committed devotee of the Timeless Lord who communicated to the common folk the revealed divine message through the medium of sweet, soothing Punjabi language. Farid lived a householder’s life marked with contentment and perseverance. One of the greatest virtues of his life was his love and sympathy for entire mankind. His heart felt pain of oppression perpetuated by the Muslim invaders in the name of religion. He tried to put balm on the hurt psyche of the people through the medium of sweet, soothing words so that the adverse impact caused by excesses of the orthodox Muslims to the image of Islam could be neutralised. Such an act on the part of someone was required for the revival of the feeling of fraternity amongst mankind. The unique humanitarian values of compassion, love, sympathy, mutual understanding and appreciation are clothed in the hymns of Farid as fragrance is in flowers. For his sweet words, sweet ideals and sweet behaviour, Farid became known as an epitome of Sweetness (Shakarganj); his full name was Sheikh Farid ud-din Maund Ganj-I-Shakar.
Farid occupies a place of pre-eminence among the Punjabi poets. During his lifetime, wherever he went, whomever he conversed with, could not but be influenced by the high, pious and divine ideas of Farid. So much do that Raja Gokul Dev changed the name of his capital town to Faridkot in honour of this great Sufi saint. Faridkot is today one of the important towns of the Punjab state. Sheikh Farid was a disciple of Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki, the disciple & spiritual successor of Hazrat Ali who had received spiritual training from Hasan Basri; a known saint of Chishti traditon. Baba ji was born in 1173AD at Khetwal, now known as Chawli Mashaikh, a village in the Multan district (Pakistan). His mother’s name was Mariam, also called Kursum by some. It is said that after birth, he didn’t suck milk for breatfeeding until night because he observed Roza (fast) at the time of his birth. This simplicity and austerity in the manner of his diet was to remain a life-long habit. The writer of ‘Life and Times of Sheikh Farid’ says that half a tumbler of Sherbat (sweetened water), few raisins and half a loaf of bread, prepared of the millet flour generally comprised his daily meal.
Farid’s mother was very wise & noble, and wished for her son to acquire the best education so that he could comprehend the Truth. His father, Sheikh Jala ud-din Suleman, was descendant of the second Calipha of Islam. According to a historian, Farid was related to the Royal family of emporer Farakhshal of Kabul, but the family was uprooted due to the invasions by Changez. Farid deeply impressed his spiritual mentor, Kaki, with his varied virtues. Thus, Kaki had a high respect for this disciple whom he used to call the most important bead in the rosary of Dharma.
In an absolutely impressive manner, Sheikh Farid realised this manifest world, the reality of God. He advises us to overcome worldly temptations & remain devoted to God, the creator of the whole universe. He cautions us against the false attractions of the world through his Bani which is deeply sensitive to the feeling of Empathy, Inevitable death & the waste of human life due to man’s indifference to God & goodness. He continued preaching his message throughout his life, and at last breathed his last in AD 1266 at Pak Patan, earliar known by the name Ajodhan. He was succeeded on his spiritual throne by his son, Diwan Badrud-din Suleman.
The essence of the hymns of Farid can be stated as follows:
· Never forget Death under any circumstances.
· Avoid all quarrelling & polemics.
· Non-violence is the most beautiful ornament of Peaceful life.
Baba Farid ji exhorts mankind to cultivate these & all such virtues. He states that Contentment resides in the heart purified of all traces of Ego & Greed. Talking of a Faqir (hermit) he states that any new cloth is like a coffin for him. According to him, the dtached person is also the wisest. He is the greatest who can face both pleasure & pain with Equanimity. The richest person is the one with the most content heart. He who has given up contentment is the worst dependent. Farid ji preached Ideology reflecting the reality of life. That is perhaps why he has been known as the best poet of old age & death.
According to Farid, self-realisation or liberation from self is the other name for God-realisation One who is subject to desires of senses, is the meanest of all because such a man fails to control his mind, and the endless desires emanating from mind make him a tool in the hands of the devil who makes him dance to his tune. Farid not only preached detachment and austerity but also made these the guiding principles of his life. It is said that at the time of Farid’s death even a small piece of cloth to serve as coffin for his body could not be found in his house. For the tomb over his grave, the bricks were taken by pulling down a portion of one of the walls of his house.
The hymns of Sheikh Farid are available at 3 different places in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (SGGS):
· 2 hymns under Asa musical measures.
· 2 hymns under Suhi measure
· 112 slokas toward end of Scripture
Farid’s ‘Bani’ (religious text) is small in volume but has moved mankind over the last eight centuries. The lyrical content and haunting melody of these ‘slokas’ has been so great that every visitor to Punjab has stopped to pay homage to the soul, which conceived them. In the true Sufi tradition, Farid employed sensual imagery to convey mystical meaning. Regarding God as eternal beauty, the Sufi poets, both in Persia and India, had set new trends in poetry. Its special quality lay in the fact that unless one knows the intentions of the poet, one cannot distinguish whether it is an ode to human love or a hymn addressed to a deity. Take for example this love song of the Baba.
“The alleyway is muddy, O Farid, The Beloved’s House is distance, if I go I would drench my cloak, And break my bond if I stay. It’s the Creator’s ordinance, this deluge;
Go I will to my Beloved to strengthen
The links of love, and let my woollen sheet
Be drenched with downpour.”
Even the illiterate could understand and enjoy Farid’s metaphors and imagery – rooted as they were in the soil.
The high reputation Farid obtained in Delhi soon became irksome to him. He therefore made his way to Hansi, where he remained for some time. Meanwhile Khwaja Qutub-ud- Bakhtiar Kaki died at Delhi and Baba Farid paid a second visit to that city, and assumed the mantle of his late spiritual guide. He ultimately left it in the keeping of Jamal-ud-Din of Hansi and thence proceeded to Ajodhan, the present Pak Pattan. The manner in which the name of Ajodhan changed to Pak Pattan was that a canal which derived its water from the Sutlej passed near the town. It was usual for all who visited Baba Farid to wash their hands and feet there. The place then became known as Baba Sahib ji da Pak Pattan, or Farid’s cleansing ferry.
Sheikh Farid ji made Pak Pattan a great center of Sufi thoughts. People from all over India and Middle-east would come to see him. He always used his language, that is, Punjabi spoken by common people, even though he was highly learned and educated in Arabic, Persian, etc. His all couplets are written in Punjabi, in Persian script. He generally rejected offerings of money, but would accept gifts of food, etc for public kitchen. Baba Farid went to Delhi again and was received with a most hospitable reception. Emperor Nasir-ud-Din Balban introduced him to his family. Hazabra, the Emperor’s daughter, was married to Baba Sheikh Farid, but only after Emperor Balban promised not to give any costly gifts. Baba ji distributed all her jewels, etc. to the poor.
Once seven hundred holy men were sitting together. An inquirer put them four questions to which Baba Farid ji replied :
Q.1 Who is the wisest of men?
A.1 He who refraineth from Sin.
Q.2 Who is the most intelligent?
A.1 He who is not disconcerted at anything.
Q.3 Who is most independent?
A.3 He who practise the contentment.
Q.4 Who is the most needy?
A.4 He who practise the it not.
A Student asked Baba Farid if singing was lawful and proper. He replied that, according to Islam, it was certainly unlawful, but its propriety was still a matter of discussion. Nizam-ud-Dauliya told Nasir-ud-din, a disciple of his, that one day when he went to visit Baba Farid he stood at his door, and saw him dancing as he sang the following :
I wish ever to live in Thy love, O God
If I become the dust under Thy feet, I shall live
I thy slave desire none but Thee in both worlds;
For Thee I will live and for Thee I will die.
The following couplet was a favorite of Baba Farid’s Not every heart is capable of finding the secret of God’s love. There are not pearls in every sea; there is not gold in every mine.
Baba Farid visited a city called Mokhalpur, it is now called Faridkot in honor of the Baba Farid, and is in the Indian part of Punjab. Then he turned towards the Punjabi mountains where he converted a tribe. Baba Farid remained there for six months and then he locked up the house in which he had dwelt, saying that his successor would open it, and then returned to Pak Pattan. As his successor, Diwan Taj-ud-Din, was returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina, he happened to visit that part of the country. He asked people their tribe name, they said they were descendents of Qutub-ul-Alam Baba Farid Shakarganj. And thus Taj-ud-din opened the door of Baba Farid’s hut hundreds of years later.
Baba Farid died of Pneumonia on the fifth day of the month of Muharram, CE 1266. The date of Baba Farid’s death is commemorated by chronograms (a) Farid Asari (b) Auliye Khudai. He was unique, a saint of God. Baba Farid was buried outside the town of Pak Pattan at a place called Martyr’s Grave. His torch of Sufi thoughts was carried by his successor and subsequently several others such as Bhagat Kabir, Guru Nanak, etc. were influenced by the teachings of the great Saint. Guru Nanak’s contemporary was a Baba Sheikh Farid Sani, or the second Sheikh Farid, 6th in succession of Baba Farid Shaikh Shakarganj. Thus, Baba Sheikh Farid Shakarganj can be truly called the founder of Punjabi literature, making Punjabi literature older than Hindi, Urdu, etc. It was much after Baba Farid’s use of Punjabi that Tulsidas, Mira Bai, etc started using Hindi as the language for writing religious literature. Baba Sheikh Farid can truely be called the founder of the Punjabi literary tradition.
Another article on Sheikh Farid
Rise Oh! Farid! do your ablutions And say the morning prayers. Behead the head that does not bow before the Lord.
It is early morning, some eight hundred years ago. In a small village named Khotwal; near Ajodhan, in West Punjab, an old man and his wife are worried. The lady of the house has just discovered that there are no sweets in the house and their child would not say his prayers without the promised prize. The understanding is that the mother keeps sweets beneath the prayer mat; this serves as a bait, as it were, for the child. He would get up and after he has said his prayers, he starts eating sweets. The child is fond of sweets. The shops are closed and the neighbors are asleep. The old father has a rustic sense of humor. “We collect some pebbles from the street and deposit them beneath the prayer mat,” he suggests. “And if he discovers it, he would never say his prayers”, the mother voices her fears. “No”, says the lather, “he looks for the prize only when he has earned it, after finishing his prayers. By that time, the shops in the bazaar will open and we shall buy him sweets”.
The trick works. Farid wakes up at the appointed time and making sure that his prize has been duly kept beneath the prayer-mat, he starts saying his prayers. The old man, his father, is happy in the heart of his hearts. The moment he finishes his prayers, the child lifts the corner of the prayer-mat and pulls out the prize bag. As be takes the first helping, the mother stops him, “No, son they are not sweets; your father has gone to the bazaar to bring them.” “But they are sweets,” the child insists; he starts munching the piece in his hand. “1t’s sweeter than ever. What is wrong with it?” To her astonishment the mother finds that it is no handful of pebbles. They are sweets. As sweet as candy. A miracle had taken place. From that day, Sheikh Farid came to be known as Ganj-I-Shakkr, the store-house of candy. The real name of Shejkh Farid was Farid-ud-Din Masood. He was given this name after the great Sufi poet Farid-ud-Din Attar. Sheillh Farid was born in A.D. 1173. His father’s name was Shejlth Jamal-ud-Din Suleman. His mother was a God-fearing lady. Her name was Kulsum Bibi. Sheikh Jamal-ud-Din had three sons and a daughter. Sheilth Farid was the second son. Sheikh Farid was born at a time when the Muslims were trying to establish their rule in India. A large number of Islamic scholars and religious leaders came and settled here. Some believe that they had been driven to India by Chengiz Khan, who was at that time active in West Asia. It seems more probable that they were invited by the conquerors to propagate the Muslim way of life in the country of their domicile. They were granted liberal endowments and settled in various parts of the country. Some of the more important centers of Islamic learning in Northern India were Delhi, Panipat, Hansi, Uch and Multan. Sheikh Farid’s father had settled in Khotwal. When Farid grew up, he shifted to Multan for higher studies. Multan attracted eminent scholars from Iran and Baghdad.
It was at Multan that Farid came across his spritual mentor, Hazrat Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiar Kaki. He took Farid along with him to Delhi where they met Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the greatest name among the Muslim men of God belonging to the time. It is said that Farid underwent severe penance and asceticism under Khwaja Qutb-ud-Din’s stewardship. He hung himself upside down in a well for forty days. He neither ate nor drank but remained attuned to the Almighty. There are a number of references to this experience:
My bread is made of wood,
And hunger is my sauce;
Those who eat rich food,
Will suffer severe agonies.
Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi was Sheikh Farid’s most prominent follower and a renowned Sufi himself. At the age of 90, Baba Farid sent for Harrat Nizamuddin and taking leave of him, breathed his last. It was a lucky coincidence that Guru Nanak met Sheikh Ibrahim, a follower of Baha Farid in the sixteenth century and recorded Baba Farid’s poetry which was later on preserved in the Holy Granth Farid wrote a large of couplets (sloka) which are very popular with Punjabi-speaking people. They are noted or their musicality and sweet cadence of diction:
I have seen the eyes that lured the world.
A trace of kohl they would not bear.
And birds, today, have made their nests in them.
Why do you roam the jungles with thorns pricking your feet?
Your Lord dwells in your heart.
And you wander about in search of Him.
I thought I was alone who suffered.
I went on top of the house,
And found every house on fire.
Owing partly to the distance of time between Sheikh Farid and Guru Nanak and partly to the influence of eastern Punjabi expressions in sheikh Farid’s verses as found in the Guru Granth, it is sometimes doubted if they are actually Sheikh Farid’s compositions. Some scholars have explicitly attributed them to a contemporary of Guru Nanak, Sheikh Ibrahim, who was the religious head at Pakpatan at that time. These attributions are difficult to accept Firstly, the Sikh Gurus, both Nanak and Arjan, were too discriminating scholars of the lore of their time to have been deceived into believing the compositions of a contemporary to be those of his illustrious predecessor of three hundred years earlier. Secondly, there are references in these verses to some events of the times and austerities undergone by the first Sheikh Farid. A much later descendant of his would not arrogate those austerities to himself. Thirdly, Guru Arjan who compiled the Guru Ganth is not known to have accorded the honor of inclusion in the scripture of his religion the compositions of any contemporary of local importance only. Even a famous mystic of the time, Shah Hussain, was not accorded that honor.
It is sometimes argued that since the modern Indian languages began to take shape in the eighth or ninth century and that literary traditions remained strongly conservative and were reflected primarily through Apabhramsha up to the 11th century, it is difficult to accept that the Multani dialect could have attained in the 12th century such literary refinement as is evidenced in Sheikh Farid’s verses. Also they are so similar in their style and diction to the compositions of Guru Nanak and even Guru Arjan that it becomes bard to believe that there is a distance of some three hundred years between the two. If we proceed on the basis of this argument of chronic change, the language of Sheikh Farid’s verses is not much different from refined Multani speech extant even today after a lapse of four centuries. And there is no reason to believe that the rate of change was quicker in the earlier period.
There can be no doubt about Sheikh Farid’s deep learning. His available compositions, though written in a dialect, amply suggest a learned mind behind the sensitive idiom,. a mind that has steeped itself in the tradition of his age and creed and is
capable of absorbing the influences of his environment.
However, a feature of Sheikh Farid’s compositions available in the Guru Granth is that they do not seem to be the work of a religious missionary of Islam who is known to have enjoyed great esteem in high circles both religious and temporal and to have converted large numbers of people to Islam. These compositions have very little of the spirit of Islamic Shara use very little of Islamic religious lore and do not show any marked sectarian trend. From the nature of the contents, they seem to be the work of a Muslimw who though deeply religious bad very little to do with Islamic lore. On the other hand, he is keenly aware with the transitory nature of this world as per the Hindu belief. It is surprising indeed that nowhere in these verses does the name of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed ever occur, nor do his tides of Nabi, Rasul, Paigambar, etc. Even the word ‘Murshid’, a popular concept of Sufi tradition, is not to be found. The general temper is devotional, no doubt, and great stress is laid upon the performance of prayers, fasting and other ways of worship according to Islam. The spirit is, nevertheless, of Hindu bhakti Even the words Guru and Prabhu occur in one of the hymns.
Like most religious and metaphysical writing, Sheikh Farid’s poetry has for its general content, man’s love of God. Such poetry has naturally to be lyrical and sentimental and its imagery erotic. In Sheikh Farid the relationship between God and man is that of husband and wife. In the very first three of his couplets found in the Guru Granth he visualizes the relationship between man and God first as that between man and death and then gives it the conjugal parallel. The day woman was born, he says, the hour of dedication to the husband was fixed. Death, the bridegroom, heard of for long, comes and shows himself at the appointed hour. The helpless soul is beaten out of the bones. Death, the bridegroom, must take away in marriage the soul, the bride. Let the soul understand this that the appointed hour cannot be evaded.
There is very little difference between God and die Angel of Death in Sheikh Farid’s imagery. In another couplet he says:
Had I known the sesame seeds were so small in quantity
I should have been liberal in filling my fist.
Had I known my Lord was not yet an adult,
I would have prided less in myself.
In yet another verse, he says again:
Had I known the end would slip,
Tighter would I have made the knot.
Nobody matters to me as much as You,
Though I have traversed a whole world.
This world indeed appears to Sheikh Farid to be an obstacle in the way of man’s union with God. He says:
The lanes are muddy and far is the house
of the One I love so much.
If I walk to Him I wet my rug, and
remaining behind, I fail in my love!
Life in this world is a period of separation from God, which is full of sorrow, and pain:
Sorrow is the bedstead,
Pain the fiber with which it is woven,
And separation is the quilt
See this is the life we lead, O Lord.
Absorption in the affairs of the world, in forgetfulness of God, is regarded by Sheikh Farid as desertion by a woman of her husband and going over to an alien house.
Give it not me, Oh Lord, that I should
seek alien shelter.
If that is what You have willed,
Rather take the life out of this body.
Man’s duty in this life is to win the love of God as it is the woman’s to win the love of her husband, and as such, youth or age should not matter;
Those who have not wooed Him when their hair was dark,
May do so when their hair is grey.
For if you love the Lord
The newness of youth will be yours again.
The metaphors of wooing the husband and being accepted by him or failing in being accepted have been used in many other verses also:
I did not sleep with my love tonight
And every bit of my body aches.
Go ask the deserted ones,
How they pass their nights.
I am not afraid of the passing of my youth,
If the love of my Lord does not pass with it.
So many youths have withered away without love.
The fear of death is perhaps a more forceful emotion in Sheikh Farid’s poetry and he has expressed it in touching figures of speech. As mentioned before, the main image is that of death as the bridegroom and the human soul as the bride, and subordinate figures, the reduction of the body to dust, the greying of the hair, the trembling of the limbs and drying away of the bones have been used to reinforce the argument. The motif of rich and poor
being brought to the same end has also been used quite often, too.
The impermanence of life on this earth has been illustrated by the figure of a bir4 coming to play on the bank of a pool. In some verses man has been instructed how to behave in this transitory world. He is advised to live humbly and poorly and remain ever
conscious of his sins.
Like most men of renunciation, Sheikh Farid regards detachment from this world as the right path for man. A true fakir has been pictured by him thus:
On the bank of a pool in the moor
The swan has come to alight
But he does not dip his beak to drink,
He is eager to fly away.
The teachings of Sheikh Farid as embodied in these verses do not indeed smack at all of any superior attitude. He comes down to the level of the poorest of the poor and calls himself a sinner. This attitude of his endeared him to the conquered people. It is this fact of endearment which is responsible, perhaps, for the inclusion of his poetry in the Scripture of the Sikh Gurus who were in their time and in their own way endeavoring to uplift their people and to give them the strength to stand up to oppression.
There is nothing in Sheilth Farid’s poetry that is strident, or offensive to the sentiments of the Indian people. Unlike missionaries in general, he does not play up the superior virtues of his creed. Nowhere does he make any reference to the caste system, to idolatry or to other peculiar features of the Brahmanical creed or creeds. His verse is singularly free from any social, historical or sectarian prejudices. No doubt, in many of his verses he exhorts people to offer prayers in the Muslim way and to practice other obligations of the Muslim creed, but his teachings are of a general moral nature and have to be judged as such. His message is for a typical feudal society; stressing detachment from the world, if not actual renunciation of it, to purge oneself of all ambition and passion, to be humble, poor, passive and contented. As such Farid must be credited with exercising a refining influence on the society of his day and keeping down the pressure of individual ambition and greed and of conflict. No other teaching was to be expected from a high-souled man like Sheikh Farid, especially when he happened to be on the winning side in the conflict between the two sets of forces.
Specimens of Farid’s verse
My bread is made of wood and my hunger is my sauce
Those who eat rich meals shall come to grief.
Says Farid, you must fathom the ocean which contains what you want
Why do you soil your hand searching the petty ponds;
Says Farid, the Greater is in the creation and the creation in theCreator
Whom shall we blame when He is everywhere?