Saturday, April 23, 2016

S is for Sufi poetry

Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.
~ Rumi~
Every evening, before I enter the kitchen to start prepping for dinner, I stop by my music system and push the play button to listen to Sufi music. Over the years, I've collected a few CDs that I can listen to almost anytime. And if you happen to pay me a visit, you will have to do the same. Yes, listen to Sufi music before we go to jazz or Bollywood or Spanish acoustic guitars or Mamma Mia. Sufi's always first. Sorry!

Do you listen to music when you prepare meals?

Sufi poetry, Sufi saints and poets from the Bhakti movement are as intrinsic to my upbringing as Basmati rice and chawal ke kheer (rice pudding).

I didn't know how uniquely secular my upbringing had been till I became an adult and started travelling the world. I grew up in a town of green hedges and grey heads, called Dehradun: made famous by the British who chose to retire in this green valley after India gained its independence.

Religion was a big part of my day to day, but religion meant something completely different to what it looks like today on Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN.
 "Your daily life is your temple and your religion."
said Gibran
And even though I hadn't heard of Gibran then, it felt like how he says it should.

Back then, religion for me was:
  • listening to stories of Krishna and Ram and Sita and Ravana and Guru Gobind Singh ji.
  • waiting for kadha (sweet semolina pudding) prasad and kaale chane (cooked black chick peas) every Saturday at the Gurudwara in our neighbourhood.
  • Decorating Christmas cards with drawings of holly and candles and even getting a fiber optic X-mas tree twinkling and winking in the cold winter months.
  • Tasting savaiyan kheer  (vermicilli and milk pudding) for Eid.
  • Waking up before sunrise to go on prabhat pheris (early morning rounds) with my grandfather, singing bhajan (religious songs) and waiting to sip piping hot tea from his glass when we reached our destination. He would blow into the glass to cool it for me.
  • Chanting Sat naam, Sat naam, Wahe Guru ji (Sikh prayer) while watching the granthees (priests) put the Guru Granth Sahib ji to bed at the end of the day.
  • Singing the Lord's prayer every morning in school.
  • Playing Holi and lighting candles at temples and Gurudwaras on Diwali day.
  • Giving baby Krishna's cradle a gentle push on his birthday while waiting for panjeeri (another sweet prasad prepared especially on Janmashthmi- Krishna's birthday)
  • Escaping my mother's anger by seeking refuge in a nearby temple or Gurudwara at prayer time, with the added bonus of getting sweet prasad in the end.
  • Standing around temple exit on Tuesdays to eat boondi ka prasad (sweet, sweet mini balls of heaven) when worshipers finished their prayers and before exiting the temple were obliged to share their blessings with all of us kids hanging there with hungry eyes. Despite post dinner full bellies, we hankered for prasad. I don't know why.
Yes, my childhood was a jumble of all the good things from all the religions around me. Notice how food features a lot more often in the list above. What can I say? It's the one complaint I had when I went to Madras (Chennai now) and the priest only gave me flowers as prasadam. 

Then I grew up and discovered that all these World Religions were set in their own compartments. The more college- educated my world became, the more rigid these compartments became. Imagine all the Gods from these religions sitting up in Heaven with their open plan offices and a few house plants for a bit of green. 
I was never a fan of rituals and rigidity, but as a teenager I became averse to all things religious. 
That's when I reconnected with Kabir and Amir Khusrau and Bulleh Shah and rediscovered Meera.
A few years later, Rumi appeared in my life.
Recently, Gibran has been keeping me busy.

Sufi poetry can make you weep with joy, smile so wide your cheeks hurt and give you goosebumps when you read it or listen to it when it's sung by artists like Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan or Abida Parveen or the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Sufi poetry is so vast and deep, that you will have to dive in yourself to taste the magic. I'll share a few of my favourites. It's hard to choose just a few, but the post is getting really long.

1. Kabir Das, who said about himself, 'I'm at once the child of Allah and of Rama." wrote:

Oh follower, where do you search me?
I am always with you.

2. Amir Khusrau: 
Oh Khusrau, the river of love runs in strange directions.
one who jumps into it drowns, and one who drowns, gets across.

3. Bulleh Shah
I have learnt a secret...
He is the same
From this end to that
It's only we
Who fuss like a brat

4. Meera Bai: She dedicated her life and poetry to Krishna. In her words:
"Don't forget love;
it will bring all the madness you need
to unfurl yourself across
the universe."
Today, at this time in my life, Gibran's words summarize what religion or God means to me:
"You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising
and waving His hands in trees."

Yes, my garden is my temple and I see Him everyday.

And because it's the weekend, and because I've had a glass of wine and because I'm about to pour my next one, 
let me leave you with this beautiful video of Rumi's poetry:
Enjoy a wonderful weekend:)

If you are curious and you have the time to follow through your curiosity, here are some links that you might like to explore to find out more about Sufis and their poetry:


  1. Thank you for writing this beautiful and important piece, Arti, reminding us that the current state of affairs is not how it has always been. My childhood was rather like that as well. My mother said that God was all the goodness in the world and we children were encouraged to celebrate whatever was being celebrated. Dehra Dun must have been a beautiful place to grow up in; was it culturally a bit like Kashmir? Do you still have family there?
    You have inspired me to go back to listening to music while cooking.
    Love, J

    1. Hi Josna. Thanks for visiting:)
      Yes, Dehra Dun was a beautiful place and still is. I've only been to Jammu as a six year old, so I'm not sure if I can compare it to Kashmir.Yes, I still have family there. And I think my soul belongs to the valley. I hope to go back to Dehra once my parenting duties are over and grow vegetables and roses in my patch of green.
      Music always makes dinner tasty. What do you think?
      Have a lovely Sunday.

  2. What is Sufi? I have never heard of that term before.

    I don't listen to music when I cook. I am normally talking to my husband or trying to watch any of the "Real Housewives" franchises.

    I like to put on satellite music from Dish net when I'm cleaning house.

    1. Yes, music always makes chores more fun for me, too:)
      Sufis believe in devotion to one God; devotion so complete that the devotee surrenders himself/herself to Him completely. Sufi poetry captures this intense love. The links I've added at the end should give you an idea.
      Hope to catch up on my blog visits today Shelly, and 'T' has been tardy, too:)

  3. Wow ! I too live,love,love Sufi music ,poetry, name it .
    And to have someone as articulate as you encapsulate it- kya baat !

    1. Hey Shramila. It's good to see you here. And shukriya dost:)

  4. Very true, Arti, about the plurality of the religious scenario back then.

    1. I feel Doha gives our children a version of that plurality. i.e. with so many different nationalities that our children are friends with, they rejoice in each other's celebrations like we used to. I feel grateful for this.

  5. Very true, Arti, about the plurality of the religious scenario back then.

  6. So very true. Sufi is divine. Can relate soooo much to our childhood with this blog. Beautiful blog!

    1. Thanks Manu:) Yes, prasad was my reason to go to the temples with my daada and daadi:)

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


I would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts and comments here.