Poet Of The Desert: Khwaja Ghulam Farid

Poet Of The Desert: Khwaja Ghulam Farid
Punjab has a rich literary tradition in Sufi poetry. The Punjabi language has a uniquely candid way to express the finer sentiments of love, devotion and affection. This land has produced many renowned Sufi poets and, among them, Khwaja Ghulam Farid is one of the finest examples and amongst the most inimitable exponents of the genre. Farid composed his poetry in Saraiki – a major language of the same family as Punjabi – which is, perhaps, the sweetest in expression and the mellowest in aural appeal. The essence of Sufism is glorification of love in its various forms, as Farid states it beautifully in his verses such as this;

"Qasm khuda di, qasm nabi di
Ishq hey cheez laziz ajeeb"
“God and his prophets testify
that love has mysterious joy”

Khwaja Farid was born in 1845 in the then bustling town of Chahcran on the left bank of the Indus River. He died in that town in 1901 at the rather young age of 56 years and was buried across the river in Kot Mithan, the ancestral village of his family. The two towns, now connected by a bridge, are held holy because of him.

Khwaja Farid had two abiding loves in his life. One was his firm belief in the concepts of Wahdat-ul-Wajood and Wahdat-ul-Shahud, the latter being translated in English as ‘apparentism’. It symbolises harmony of experience, perception and witness. The concept, first enunciated by Ibn Arabi in 12th/13th century, suggests that creation is not separate from the Creator as elaborated by Farid;
“her surat wich ranjhan mahi”
“I see my love in every face.”

Sufism’s unity of universe implies that as everything emanates from and reverts to the one and the only Supreme Being, humans should not be misled by various forms that creation has adopted. Erasing distinctions between the creator and the creation, Farid says;
“Tenun Khaliq zat-I kadim kahun
Tenun hadis khalq-I jahan kahun”
“Are you the ancient creator
or just an event or a creation in this world”

Farid found different beliefs and concepts of the Creator irrelevant as long as the message was love of humanity in developing a peaceful social order. That makes his beliefs very inclusive as it accepted all faiths in its fold, in the true Sufi spirit. Farid says;

“Tasbeeh kahoon, zunnar kahoon
tenon kufar kahoon, eman kahoon”
“Are you Muslims’ prayer beads or Hindus’ sacred thread;
Are you faith or disbelief?”

While he wrote many great unforgettable and eternally living poems, two of his poems are epitome of Wahdat-ul-Wajood. One is “Mera ishq vi toon. Mera yaar vi toon” meaning “You are my passion and you are my beloved.”
This poem depicts the literary power of Khwaja Farid as he explores through 153 possible attributes (yes, this author counted here too!) with which to address his beloved

The poem starts as an address to his love, affirming that she is his faith and soul. The poem then goes on to list 116 attributes (yes, the author counted) including body and soul, book and text, Hajj and zakat, honour and dignity, Rohi and Cholistan; and it goes on and on for forty-six verses with each line assigning two to four facets of life to the Supreme Being. The mood of the poem is of a lover madly and insanely praising the beloved without any pretensions; as in this verse.
“Maida sanwal Mithra, Sham salona
maan mohan, janaan vi toon”
“My sweet and sour beloved,
you have captivated my heart”
(Sham refers to the love story of Radha-Sham)

Like a true Sufi, Farid dedicates his whole life to the beloved;
“Meinda dukh, sukh, rowan, khilan vi toon
meinda dard vi toon, darman vi toon”
“You are my sorrow and comfort, tears and pleasure;
my affliction as well as cure”

The poem unites the lover with the beloved comprehensively, unconditionally and conclusively. Importantly, the reverse affection is neither asked for nor expressed because for a Sufi, or a mother or a true lover, that is immaterial. It is absolutely unilateral and selfless love without any conditions or pretentions or expectations in which the lover negates his own worth as the last verse of the poem states where the poet addresses himself;
“Na tan kehtar kamtar, ahqar adna
La shey, la mkan vi toon”
“You are insignificant, inconsequential, contemptable and trivial
You neither own anything nor have an abode to live”

At the shrine of Khwaja Ghulam Farid

The poem is mesmerising in the raw chants of the incomparably unique late Pathanay Khan, who himself was a Saraiki speaker and was aware of its fine nuances.

The second poem titled "Aye Husn-a-Haqiqi" expounds unity of creation ans takes the form of a bewildered devotee wondering at his inability to find suitable words to address his creator.
“Ae husn-I hakiki nur-I azal
Tenun vajib te imkan kahun”
“Oh immaculate beauty, the eternal light;
Is your reality inevitable or a mere possibility?”

Sufi thought often doesn’t make a sharp distinction between different concepts of God. The syncretic nature of Sufi beliefs in the Subcontinent is best characterised by these two verses of this poem:
“MahaDev kahun Bahgwan kahun
Tenu Git, Garanth te Ved kahun
Tenun har dil da dildar kahun
Tenun Ahmad-i, aali shaan kahun”
“We call You Mahadev and Baghwan;
and receive your message from Gita, Granth and Vedas
Or should we greet you as beloved of every heart
and name you as Ahmed the most exalted.”

This poem depicts the literary power of Khwaja Farid as he explores through 153 possible attributes (yes, this author counted here too!) with which to address his beloved.

There are similarities between these two poems and understandably so because their basic theme is the same, i.e. unity of creation with the creator.
In one poem he says;
“Mainda badal, barkha, khimna gajan
barish tey baran vi toon”
“You are my clouds, wet-season, lightening, thunder; rain and downpour”

In the other poem, he explores the same theme;
“Tenun badal barkha gaj kahun
Tenun Bijli te baran kahun”
“Should I call you cloud, or drizzle or thunder;
or lightening or rain-showers”

We also know that his free spirit didn’t accept colonial rule, we see from how he admonished the ruler of Bahawalpur

Farid’s second persistent theme was the desert. He was born and raised in a place where Thal lies to the north, Cholistan-Thar to the east and the barren hills of Balochistan to the west. He loved his environment and spoke affectionately of Rohi, ie the Cholistan desert that was the dearest to his heart. Though the desert still exists over a large part of the Cholistan-Thar continuum, the eco-geography of its northern and western portion has undergone a sea change since early last century due to canals emanating from Panjnad and Suleimanlki barrages over the Chenab and the Sutlej headworks. As one drives through Bahawalpur, Zahir Pir, Sadiqabad, Khanpur and Rahim Yar Khan, passing by thriving fields of cotton, sugarcane and mango orchards, it is difficult to imagine that a little over a century ago, this entire area was uninhabitable and barren. This was the desert that our Sufi wrote lovingly about. Just as he sought unity with his Creator, he will always be known as the poet of the desert and has become synonymous with his beloved Rohi.

'In search of water' by Khalid Saeed

“Mainda Mulk Malir tey Maroo Thalra
Rohi, Cholistan vi toon”
“I see You in my green fields, in desert of Thal
and in the sands of Cholistan.”

Farid would often wander in the desert, meeting its people and meditating in seclusion. The desert was in his blood and he found his spiritual and poetic calling in this khaki habitat where trees, animals, reptiles, sand, dust and many of the man-made elements are of the same hazel complexion. For those living in such an environment, life doesn’t offer the variety that is present in other habitats. The land where Farid lived and died was characterised by vast and seemingly endless barren land with a few isolated oases. One can understand why he, as indeed many of the desert people, conceive unity of Creation more naturally than those living in moist regions.

He has dedicated his poem "Nazak nazo jattian" to the women of Cholistan. Its opening verse is,
“Wich Rohi dey rehandian
Nazak Nazo Jattian”
“In the middle of Cholistan desert live;
delicate and delightful village girls”

In the poem titled "Delirium of Lovers" he says,
“Thal ber Tatti ruldi hey kyun
siddh waat tun bhuldi hey kyun”
“Why is the ill-fated girl wandering in the Thal?
Why is she drifting when the track is straight?”

Unfortunately, his biography wasn’t recorded in detail. He lived in the erstwhile princely state of Bahawalpur where, in his time, Western education had not penetrated except in certain limited privileged sections of society. Very little information has therefore reached us through the unreliable oral traditions. We know, for instance, that he was conversant with Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Saraiki languages. He married thrice and was survived by a son and a daughter. Fortunately, his poetical work was preserved to enrich our lives. We also know that his free spirit didn’t accept colonial rule, as we see from how he admonished the ruler of Bahawalpur;

“Aprain Mulk koon aap wasa;
toon puut angrezi thaney”
“You manage your affairs yourself
and erase British rule in the state”

Khwaja Farid is the pride of our land. The languages of our region have literary prestige because of Sufi poets like Khwaja Farid, Waris Shah, Muhammad Bakhsh, Bulley Shah and many other. Khwaja Farid enjoys immense love and respect in the Punjabi- and Saraiki-speaking worlds. This grateful nation has named many educational institutions, roads and parks after Farid. He will live eternally in the hearts of the people of this region.
“dil naal Farid da waaz sunno
sau baat di hey, baat ajeeb”
“Listen to Farid with rapt attention;
his words have profound meaning”


Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at parvezmahmood53@gmail.com

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com