|Tomb of Shah Latif Bhittai|
"You are the Beloved, you are the physician,
You alone are pain's medicine,
Within me are aches of innumerable kinds,
Lord! heal Thou my afflicted mind."
Bhitai [Sur Yaman Kalyan]
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (ڀٽائيِ عبدالطيف شاھ) also referred to as Lakhino Latif, Latif Ghot, Bhittai, and Bhitt Jo Shah was a Sindhi Sufi scholar, mystic, saint, poet, and musician (credited with inventing the tampura). He is considered by most Sindhis to be the greatest poet of their language. Indeed, the Sufi mystical poet is the ultimate cultural touchstone of Sindh, and in particular, Muslim Sindh. His collected poems were assembled in the compilation Shah Jo Risalo, which exists in numerous versions and has been translated into several languages. His work frequently has been compared to that of Rūmī with Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, describing Shah Latif as a "direct emanation Rūmī's spirituality in the Indian world."
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai was born in 1689 in Hala Haveli's village Sui-Qandar near Hyderabad, Pakistan. Shah Abdul Latif was the son of Syed Habibullah and grandson of Syed Abdul Quddus Shah. According to most scholars, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai's lineage goes back to the Khwarizim Shahs. Some popular traditions claim he was a descendant of Mohammad (PBUH) and even a grandson of the Prophet.
After it was sacked by Timur, Shah Latif’s ancestors fled Herat in Afghanistan and settled in Sindh. His great great grandfather Shah Abdul Karim Bulri (1600s), was a mystic Sufi poet of considerable repute whose mausoleum stands at Bulri, about 40 miles from Hyderabad. Shah Latif received his early education in the school (maktab) of Akhund Noor Muhammad in basic Persian (the government language at that time) and Sindhi (local spoken language). He also learned the Qur'an. His correspondence in Persian with contemporary scholar Makhdoom Moinuddin Thattvi, as contained in the Risala-i-Owaisi, bears witness to his scholastic competence.
Shah Latif died at Bhit Shah on January 3, 1752. In his memory, every year, on 14th Safar of the Hijri calendar, an Urs is held at Bhit Shah, where he spent the last years of his life and where his elaborate and elegant mausoleum stands.
The 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 Hijri 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.
In his quest for spiritual truth, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai traveled throughout Sindh, Baluchistan and southern Punjab and parts of what is today Rajasthan (in India) staying with Sufi brotherhoods and visiting towns and cities to preach the teachings of Islam. In addition to his religious writings Shah Latif wrote of those he met on the way, local history as well as the flora and fauna. He wrote about the adventures of samundis (Sindhi sailors) and their voyages to Lanka and Java, in the Sur Surirag and Sur Samundi. As a true mystic he travelled and studied and lived with holy men of all creeds and spent a considerable amount of time with Hindu yogis and sanayasis.
By the time he was 21 Shah Latif recognized his calling. His ascetic habits, contemplation and his dedication to prayer attracted a large number of his disciples which, as expected, raised the ire of the local power elites. But ultimately they were unable to argue with his character and decreased their opposition. In 1713 he married Bibi Sayedah Begum, a virtuous and pious lady, who in time gained the respect of his followers as well. They had no children.
Wanting a place where he could devote his time to prayer and meditation, Shah Latif began to build a village near Lake Karar four miles away from New Hala. The place as known simply as 'Bhit' (the Sand Hill), but with his disciple set about creating a new settlement. In 1742, whilst he was still setting up the new village which would eventually be called Bhitshah, he got the sad news of his father’s death. 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.
For 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. After 21 he emerged, bathed, had his disciples dress him in a white sheet and asked his disciples to sing mystical music. This continued for three days when the musicians, concerned about the motionless poet, found that his soul had already left his body.
He was buried at the place where his mausoleum now stands, which was built by the ruler of Sindh, Ghulam Shah Kalhoro. His name literally means 'the servant of the Shah'. He, along with his mother, had adored and revered Shah Latif and were his devoted disciples. The work of the construction of the mausoleum was entrusted to the well-known mason, Idan from Sukkur. The mausoleum, as well as the mosque adjoining it, were later repaired and renovated by another ruler of Sindh, Mir Nasir Khan Talpur. A pair of kettle drums, that are beaten every morning and evening even till today by the fakirs, yogis and sanyasis, who frequent the mausoleum, were presented by the Raja of Jaisalmer.
The 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 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. The Seven Queens mentioned in Shah Jo Risalo are Marvi, Momal, Sassi, Noori, Sohni, Sorath, and Lila.
Although Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai presented an idealised view of womanhood, 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.
Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan, born in the small Sindhi provincial town of Tando Adam Khan, was the greatest classical singer of modern Sindh. Like so many musicians of his type while highly regarded in his life time (he was the first Sindhi musician to receive Pakistan’s prestigious President’s Pride of Peformance Award) he lived a humble life. In death, he is forgotten, except by a dwindling handful of aficionados (Washerman’s Dog, being one) and beleaguered bureaucrats responsible for cultural affairs who recently inaugurated a music school in his home town.
These recordings are from another tape produced by Lok Virsa and will take you right back to the sort of music that Shah Latif’s followers sang for three days and nights not knowing he had already passed away.
Track Listing (apologies to Sindhi speakers for incorrect translations):
01 Unki jataan pind khech jo
02 Danura daach
03 Bund bara ji bahaar lagi
04 Sik marun ji samhit na di
05 Tambu tamaji jamarja