Poet of Truth and Ecstasy

on the immense impact of Sachal Sarmast

Poet of Truth and Ecstasy
Daraza Sharif, a small village near Ranipur in Khairpur district is famous for Darzai dervishes of Sindh who trace their genealogy back to Hazrat Umar Farooq (RA), the second caliph of Islam, hence are called Faruqis. The first notable of the Farooqi family was Khawaja Muhammad Hafiz alias Sahib Dino (1689-1778), who was a mystic poet in his own right. He composed poetry in Sindhi, Seraiki and Persian languages. He was contemporary of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689-1752).

From the Farooqi family of Daraza Sharif was born the great Sufi poet of Sindh whose real name was Abdul Wahab, but popularly came to be known as Sachal Sarmast. He was born in 1739 in Daraza Sharif. Sachal Sarmast, a name that literally means “truthful mystic” or “Ecstatic Saint of Truth,” was a multilingual poet and composed poetry in Sindhi, Seraiki, Persian and Urdu. Once Shah Abdul Latif visited Daraza Sharif and met Sachal when the latter was seven years old. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai remarked, “Sachal would take the lid off the cauldron I have set to boil.” He meant that Sachal would uncover the divine secrets which Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai kept concealed.

Graves of Sachal Sarmast and other Farooqi Sufi saints of Daraza sharif

Two collections of Sachal Sarmast’s Sindhi and Seraiki poetry in book forms are printed by Sindhi Adabi Board. His Sindhi and Seraiki poetry has been sung by folk singers for ages.

Sachal was revolutionary in his ideas. He was greatly influenced by the works of Hussain bin Manṣur al-Ḥallaj (858-922) and Farid ud- Din Attar (1145-1221) and extensively referred to them in his poetry. Hence Sachal was called ‘Mansur Sani’ and ‘Attar of Sindh.’ He was a staunch exponent of the doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wujud. Sufi by heart and ascetic by soul, he was intoxicating himself in the love of the Beloved and was thus called Sarmast.

Sachal was a child when his father died. He was raised by his uncle Khwaja Abdul Haq I (1708-1799 A.D.), who was the younger son of Khawja Muhammad Hafiz. Khawaja Muhammad Abdul Haq I was also the first sajjada nashin of the dargah of Khawaja Muhammad Hafif. And so it came to be that Khawaja Abdul Haq I was uncle, father-in-law and spiritual master of Sachal Sarmast. After the death Sachal’s father Salahuddin, Sachal remained under the guidance and supervision of his uncle, learning the mystic lore from him. Khwaja Abdul Haq I used to call Abdul Wahab as “Sachal,” “Sachu” and “Sachidino.” Sachal also used appellations of “Sachal,” “Sachu” and “Sachidino” in his Sindhi, Seraiki and Urdu poetry. In Persian poetry, his appellations were “Askhar” and “Khudai.” Sachal’s Persian works include 1) Diwan Ashkar, 2) Masnavi Ishaq Nama, 3) Masnavi Dard Nama (Story of Pain), 4) Masnavi Gudaz Nama (Song of Melting), 5) Masnavi Tar Nama (Song of the String), 6) Masnavi Rehbar Nama (Song of Guidance), 7) Masnavi Wahdat Nama (Song of Unity), 8) Masnavi Waslat Nama (Song of Union), 9) Masnavi Raz Nama (Song of Mystery), 10) Ghazal Behr-i-Taveel (Song of Deep Melody), 11) Diwan-i- Khudai (Poetry of Divinity), 12) Naktai –i- Taswwuf (Mystic Teachings).
On the instruction of his mentor Sachal Sarmast, one of his chief disciples, Faqir Nanak Yousaf, travelled to Sikh shrines

The Persian works of Sachal Sarmast were translated in Sindhi by Kazi Ali Akbar Darazi (1895-1981), Prof. Dr. Atta Muhammad Hami (1919-1982) and Qazi Maqsood Gul (1950-2015).

Facade of Sachal Sarmast's tomb

Apart from Sindhi, Serakai and Persian languages, Sachal Sarmast also composed poetry in Urdu. He was often believed to have been the first poet of Sindh to compose the ghazal in Urdu – which is incorrect. Before Sachal, many poets composed poetry in Urdu. Abdul Hakim Atta Thattvi (1630-1727) was the first poet in Sindh who composed ghazals in Urdu. Many Sindhi Sufi poets of the Kalhora (1700-1783), Talpur (1783-1843) and British (1843-1947) periods continued to compose poetry in Urdu. Prominent amongst these were Mir Hyder Uddin Abu Tarab Kamil (1688-1751), Mian Sarfarz Khan Kalhoro (d. 1777) Rohal Faqir (1720-1781), Murad Faqir Zangejo (1727-1796), Shahu Khan Zangejo (1752-1815), Syed Sabit Ali Shah (1740-1810) Mir Murad Ali Khan ‘Ali’ (d. 1833) Faqir Ghulam Ali Zangejo (1766-1839), Darya Khan Zangejo (1777-1852), Faqir Nanak Yousaf Khokhar (1792-1853), Qadir Bakhsh Bedal (1815-1873), Sufi Ibrahim Shah Faqir (1827-1875), Hamal Faqir Laghari  (1812-1879), Muhammad Mohsin Bekas (1858- 1881), Mir Abdul Hussain Sangi (1851-1924), Mir Ali Nawaz Khan Talpur ‘Naz’ (1884-1935) and many others.

Sachal was against the rigid mindset of the clergy of his times, which is reflected in his poetry. He was a great poet of the ghazal and the kafi. According to Tanveer Abbasi (1934-1999) who wrote some important books and articles on Sachal, he invented many new forms in Sindhi poetry and brought new traditions and styles of singing in music. His poetry continued to influence many of the later Sufi poets of Sindh. Prominent amongst them were Faqir Nanak Yousaf (his chief disciple), Faqir Khush Khair Muhammad Hisbani (1809-1877), Faqir Qadir Bakhsh Bedal (1814-1873) and his son Faqir Muhammad Mohsin Bekas (1858-1881), Usman Sangi (1778-1860) and many others. About Sachal’s kafi, Akhtar Dargai, a famous Sindhi writer, writes in his book Sachal Sain and Darazi Faiz that although the kafi originated before Sachal, he gave it new life and it reached its climax in both poetic and singing forms.

The shrine of Sachal Sarmast is a symbol of tolerance, religious harmony and social cohesion – where Muslims, Hindus and Christians frequently pay their respects. On the instruction of his mentor Sachal Sarmast, one of his chief disciples, Faqir Nanak Yousaf, travelled to Sikh shrines. He also visited the Golden Temple at Amritsar and spent some time in that area. During this pilgrimage to Amritsar, some of his eminent disciples Abdullah Faqir, Dandan Faqir Narejo, Allahdad Faqir and Bulo Faqir also accompanied him. According to his hagiography, during his stay in Amritsar, many Sikhs became his disciples. Sachal Sarmast used to call him Nanak as a mark of respect to the great Guru Nanak. This shows how Sindhi Sufis held in esteem the mystics of other belief systems.

Painting in Sachal Sarmast's tomb

Faqir Nanak Yousaf (1792-1853), whose real name was Shamsuddin, belonged to the Khokhar tribe. He called Sachal Sarmast his mentor, murshid, guardian and guru in his poetry.

Sachal died in 1827 at Daraza Sharif. His tomb is believed to have been erected by Mir Rustam Khan Talpur (d. 1842). Later, it was renovated and decorated with glazed tiles by Sakhi Qabool Muhammad II (1842-1924). The Talpur rulers of the Khairpur State greatly revered the Sufi saints of their state. Apart from the tomb of Sachal Sarmat, Talpur rulers built many tombs of Sufi saints in Khairpur State. Mir Ali Murad Khan Talpur (d. 1894) also built the tomb of Faqir Nanak Yousaf, the chief disciple of Sachal Sarmast.

Tile panel on the exterior wall of Sachal Sarmast's tomb

Apart from Faqir Nanak Yousaf Khokhar, other disciples of Sachal, which include Muhammad Saleh Qadri, Muhammad Salih Faqir Jeho (d. 1858), Muhammad Nishan Farooqui (d.1852), Gohram Faqir Jatoi (d. 1850), Akhund Abdul Hadi Darazi (d. 1827), Faqir Ghulam Muhammad ‘Gada’ (d. 1892) Syed Khair Shah (d. 1844) of Ratodero, Jano Fakir, Muhammad Siddiq and Haji Usman Faqir Chaki of Larkana, etc. also spread his message of divine love through their poetry.

Closer view of tomb of Sachal Sarmast

Nimano Faqir (1888-1962), a female Hindu disciple who was initiated in the Darazi school of Sufi thought and given her male name by Sakhi Qabool Muhammad II (1848-1925), was told that she was now male, as Nimano Faqir. Her real name was Ruqi Bai. Born in a rich and religious Hindu family of Shikarpur, after the death of her husband, she got associated with the dargah of Sachal Sarmast. Nimano Faqir served the seventh, eighth and ninth gadi nashins of the Daraza Sharif daragh. Nimano Faqir or Ruqi Bai spread the Sufi teachings of Darazi dervishes not only in Sindh but also in Baroda (now Vadodara), in modern-day India. Here, she, with permission of her mentor Mian Jan Muhammad alias Sakhi Qabool Muhammad III (1913-1952), established the Sakhi Khutia (Sufi lodge) to spread the Sufi teachings of the Darazi dervishes.

The writer is an anthropologist. He can be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail.com

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar