Mini BioShah Abdul Latif Bhittai is a famous Sindhi Sufii scholar, mystic, saint, poet and musician known for promoting religious tolerance and humanistic values. He was born in the village of Sui-Qandar in Sindh in 1689. He received little formal education. Mostly self-educated, Bhittai was well-versed in several languages including Arabic and Persian. He travelled many parts of Sindh, from the Ganjo Hills south of Hyderabad to the Thar Desert and bordering lands of Lasbela in Balochistan and Multan in his quest for religious truths. He travelled with Jogis and Samis and met ordinary people. His poetry contains accounts of his adventures and travels. Despite his wealthy origins, even as a young man he was known for his piety, ascetic habits and devotion towards prayer. He denounced extravagance, injustice and exploitation in all forms and at all levels, and praised simplicity and hospitality.
Early LifeShah Abdul Latif Bhitai is known throughout the length and breadth of Sindh, as well as, in places all over the world where Sindhis live. He was not just adored for his poetry alone. People from far and near respected and loved this man as a saint, a sufi and a spiritual guide. Not much is known about the early life of this noble son of Sindh from written records. Most of the information that has come down to us has been collected from oral traditions. A renowned Sindhi scholar, educationist, and a foremost writer of plays, dramas and stories, Mirza Kalich Beg, has rendered a yeoman service to Sindhi literature by collecting details about the early life of Shah Bhitai, from the dialogues that he has constantly held with some of the old folks, still living at that time, who knew these facts from their fathers and grandfathers for they had seen Shah Latif in person and had even spoken to him.
EducationYoung Shah Abdul Latif was raised during the golden age of sindhi culture. His first teacher was Noor Muhammad Bhatti Waiwal. Mostly, Shah Latif was self-educated. Although he has received scanty formal education, the Risalo gives us an ample proof of the fact that he was well-versed in Arabic and Persian. The Qur'an, the Hadiths, the Masnawi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, along with the collection of Shah Karim's poems, were his constant companions, copious references of which have been made in Shah Jo Risalo. In his poems he writes about Sindh and its neighbouring regions, he mentions distant cities such as Istanbul and Samarqand, he also writes about Sindhi sailors their navigation techniques voyages as far to the Malabar coast, Sri Lanka and the island of Java.
Early HistoryShah Abdul Latif Bhittai of Bhit, called simply' Shah' or 'Monarch’ is a unique figure in literature. He is not only the greatest of Sindhi writers, but he has been equated with the literature of his land, as if he were co-terminous with Sindhi literature. The first foreigners who explored the civilization and culture of Sind thought that Shah was the only Poet and Philosopher Sind had produced, and the universal vogue of Shah-Jo-Risalo, or Shah's Poetical Works, in the land of the Sindhu, inclined them to believe that the Risalo was the only literary work in the Sindhi language. There is a legend that when they asked Shah whether he was a Sunni Muslim or a Shia, he said he was neither, he was in ¬between. And when someone said: There is nothing in¬ between', he said, Then I am Nothing.' Muslim writers have shed quite needless ink to discuss what kind of Sufi he was: did he belong to the Qadiri order, or the Chishti order? He had something which neither of the Orders had, and no preceptor of either of these Orders could claim to have initiated him into Sufism. So someone asks, was he then of the Uwesi type of Sufi, a man who has not had a preceptor or Murshid? No defi¬nite reply is possible.
After the PartitionAfter the Partition of India, the Pakistani Sindhis have done more systematic work on Shah and his Risalo than their Hindu counterparts in India. As long as Sind was a separate Province, in Pakistan, the Government of Sind did much to finance research and scholarship on Shah, and endowed a cultural centre at Bhit, the place of Shah. The Muslim scholar who deserves praise for editing the Surs of Shah left unedited by Dr. Gurbaxani was GhulamMd. Shahwani, who brought out a complete edition of the Risalo with Introduction and Notes in 1950, following strictly in the footsteps of Dr. Gurbaxani. Muslim scholars, whose names deserve mention for work done on Shah. are those of Md. Ibrahim Joyo, editor Mihran, Nabibux Baloch, Head of Sindhi Studies in Sind University, Pir Hasarnuddin Rashdi (writer of a brochure in Urdu on Sindhi Adab or literature), Lutfullah Badvi (author of a History of Sindhi Poetry in three volumes), and Taj Md. Agha (writer of Aks-e-Latif 1951, Shah's life in Urdu).
History of FamilyShah Latif's father was according to tradition, a holy man, but his great-grandfather, Shah Karim of Bulri, was a much more renowned and revered personage. Shah Karim's holiness was such as has eclipsed his very genuine claim to being a Poet and let some admirers think of him only as a holy man. Actually, Shah Karim is the greatest poet in Sindhi before his great¬grandson came on the scene, and the framework (Hindi doha) of his hundred or so verses, and their content (Sindhi folklore and Sufism), have been adopted in Shah's poetry, and Karim's corn¬positions intermingled with those of Shah. Shah Latif had not to undergo that discipline of extreme poverty which his great-¬grandfather had to, nor to face the ordeals which his ancestor did. Shah Karim was from the first inclined to a life of monas¬ticism and celibacy, and he had to contract a marriage because he could not very well say nay' to his elders. There was nothing of that other-worldliness in Shah Latif who was through", out life a normal, healthy man, free from sensuality and greed. but as willing and able to enjoy friendship, love, and social intercourse as any other man.
More Information About Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai
Bhittai's AncestryAccording to most scholars, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai's lineage goes back to the Khwarizim Shahs, others claim he was a descendant of Mohammad and grandson of Mohammad. He however used the term "Shah" as a surname. His ancestors had come from Herat in Afghanistan to Sindh, after it was sacked by Timur and his Mongol forces. Shah Abdul Karim Bulri (1600s), whose mausoleum stands at Bulri, about 40 miles from Hyderabad, a mystic Sufi poet of considerable repute, was his great, great grandfather. His verses in Sindhi are existent and his anniversary is still held at Bulri, in the form of an Urs. His father Syed Habib Shah, lived in Hala Haveli, a small village, at a distance of about forty miles from Matiari and not far from the village of Bhitshah. Later he left this place and moved to Kotri, where Shah Abdul Latif bhittai spent some part of his adolescent life, he is also known to have grown up during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Names of Bhittai
The Urs SharifThe Urs is a grand festival in Sindh, where people from almost every village and town of Sindh and from different cities of other provinces of Pakistan - rich and poor, young and old, scholars and peasants - make a determined effort to attend. The Urs commences every year from 14th Safar (2nd month of Hijra calendar) and lasts for three days. Along with other features, like food fairs, open-air markets selling Ajrak and Sindhi Caps among others, and entertaining and competitive sports, a literary gathering is also held where papers concerning the research work done on the life, poetry, and message of Bhittai, are read, by scholars and renowned literary figures. His disciples and ascetics, singers and artists, gather around and sing passages from his Risalo. Scholarly debates and exhibitions of his work and traditional Sindhi artefacts are also organised. The mausoleum over his tomb was built by Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro, to commemorate his victory over the Rao of Kuchh a renegade Maratha in the Thar Desert.
Appearance and CharacteristicsIn appearance, Bhittai was a handsome man, of average height. He was strongly built, had black eyes and an intelligent face, with a broad and high forehead. He grew a beard of the size of Muhammad's beard. He had a serious and thoughtful look about himself and spent much time in contemplation and meditation, since he was concerned about his moral and spiritual evolution with the sole purpose of seeking proximity of the Divine. He would often seek solitude and contemplate on the burning questions running through his mind concerning man's spiritual life.
JourneyIn quest of religious truths, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai traveled to many parts of Sindh and also went to the bordering lands as far as Multan. He became well known to the rulers at height of the power and rule of Kalhoras in Sindh. However he independently traveled with Sufi brotherhoods visiting towns and cities, to preach the teachings of Islam. Throughout his travels he went to hills, valleys, riverbanks, fields and mountains where he met the ordinary simple people. He is known to have traveled to the Ganjo Hills in the south of Hyderabad, Sindh. He also writes about the adventures of Samundis (Sindhi Sailors) and how they voyaged to Lanka and Java, in the Sur Surirag and Sur Samundi, he writes a detailed account on Thatta and the port Debal. He is known to have traveled with Baloch nomads and tribes into the mountains in Las Bela, Balochistan. For three years, he traveled with these jogis and sanyasis, in search of the truth, peace, and harmony. At several places in the Risalo, mention has been made of these jogis and of his visits to these wonderful, holy and peaceful places. He also traveled to such far away places in the Thar desert such as Junagadh, Jaisalmer.
Ascetism & PietyBy the time he was a young man of twenty one years, he began to be known for his piety, his ascetic habits and his absorption in prayers. Observation and contemplation were chief traits of his character. A number of people flocked round him adding to the already large number of his disciples. This aroused jealousy of some powerful, ruthless, tyrannical persons - landlords, Pirs, Mirs, and Rulers - who became his enemies for some time. Later, seeing his personal worth, and the peaceful and ascetic nature of his fame, abandoned their rivalry. At this time he was living with his father at Kotri, five miles away from the present site of Bhitshah. It was here that his marriage was solemnised in 1713 CE with Bibi Sayedah Begum, daughter of Mirza Mughul Beg. She was a very virtuous and pious lady, who was a proper companion for him. The disciples had great respect for her. They had no children. In the true ascetic spirit, Shah Latif was now in search of a place where in solitude, he could devote all his time in prayers and meditation. Such a place he found near Lake Karar, a mere sand hill, but an exotic place of scenic beauty, four miles away from New Hala. This place was covered by thorny bushes surrounded by many pools of water. It was simply and aptly called 'Bhit' (the Sand Hill). On the heaps of its sandstones he decide to settle down and build a village. As it was sandy, he along with his disciples dug out the hard earth from a distance and covered the sand with it to make the ground firm. After months of hard labour, carrying the earth on their heads and shoulders, the place was now fit enough for the construction of an underground room and two other rooms over it, along with a room for his old parents. A mosque was also built and the houses of his disciples properly marked out. In 1742, whilst he was still busy setting up a new village, Bhit, he got the sad news of the death of his dear father.. Soon after this Shah Latif shifted all his family members from Kotri to Bhitsah, as the village now began to be called. His father was buried there, in accordance to his will, where his mausoleum stands only eight paces away, from that of Shah Abdul Latif, towards its north.
The Final YearsFor the last eight years of his remarkable life, Shah Latif lived at Bhitshah. A few days before his death, he retired to his underground room and spent all his time in prayers and fasting, eating very little.
- "Laggi Laggi wa'a-u wiarra angrra latji, Pa-i khanen pasah-a pasan karran-i pirin-a jay." ......Bhittai "Wind blew! The sand enveloped the body, Whatever little life left, is to see the beloved."
Shah Jo Risalo
CompilationsThe traditional compilations of Shah Jo Risalo include 30 Surs (chapters) which were compiled by the renowned researchers. The oldest publications of Shah Jo Risalo contained some 36 Surs, but later most of the linguists discarded 6 Surs, as their language and content did not match with the Shah's style. Recently, Dr. Nabi Bakhsh Baloch, the most renowned linguist of Sindhi language has compiled and printed a new edition after 32 years of research in folk culture, language and history of Sindhi language.
The Seven Queens of SindhThe women of Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry are known as the Seven Queens, heroines of Sindhi folklore who have been given the status of royalty in the Shah Jo Risalo. The Seven Queens were celebrated throughout Sindh for their positive qualities: their honesty, integrity, piety and loyalty. They were also valued for their bravery and their willingness to risk their lives in the name of love.Perhaps what Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai saw in his tales of these women was an idealised view of womanhood, but the truth remains that the Seven Queens inspired women all over Sindh to have the courage to choose love and freedom over tyranny and oppression. The lines from the Risalo describing their trials are sung at Sufi shrines all over Sindh, and especially at the urs of Shah Abdul Latif every year at Bhit Shah. The Seven Queens mentioned in the Shah Jo Risalo are:
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