by Ayesha binte Rashid
Sufism identifies itself as the madhhab-i ‘ishq (Creed of Love), a path to the Divine that is paved by ‘ishq’ (love), an all-consuming love that comes with a burning desire to be united with the object of one’s yearning. To be specific, this is not a temporal ‘ishq’, a transient feeling that comes as quickly as it goes. This is an ‘ishq’ that is all-encompassing and undying — it is felt by the aashiq (lover) without reprieve, it survives the passing of time, the changing of seasons, and all obstacles that society puts in its path.
In the Sufi tradition, love can manifest itself as love for the Divine’s Creation and the beauty within it, a gift that comes to those who have the wisdom to perceive the divine qualities hidden within the material world. Sufi philosophers call these worldly manifestations of the Divine reality majaz, and love of these material aspects of creation is referred to as ‘ishq-i majazi.
Sachal Sarmast’s Hairaan Hua is an ecstatic declaration of ‘ishq’, a conversation with the beloved that weaves between yearning and euphoria, speaking of the beloved’s beauty. “Is husn peh main hairaan hua,” Sarmast declares, “Your beauty has left me wonderstruck”. The beloved’s coquetry and playful glances are like the onslaught of an army, casting a spell over Sarmast’s heart. It is Sarmast’s devotion to the beloved that has turned him from a beggar to a king, not in the eyes of the world, not with material wealth, but in spiritual wealth, now that his heart is filled with a love that is unlike no other. There is also yearning in Sarmast’s words — the beloved has hidden themselves away and Sarmast longs to see them, having lost his senses in this love. He calls back to Sufi philosophers who have lived before him, remembering Shams Tabrizi and Mansur Al-Hallaj, both of whom, he declares, sacrificed their lives in the beloved’s path.
Hairaan Hua’s verses take on new dimensions if one is familiar with the name that is Sachal Sarmast. A poet who lived in Sindh during the 18th century, Sachal Sarmast is widely regarded as one of the Subcontinent’s most renowned Sufi philosophers and saints. His poetry at once exalts the qualities of the Divine while inviting the reader to form their own relationships with the Truth. The beloved he speaks of in Hairaan Hua is the Divine Beloved, it is His Beauty that has left Sarmast wonderstruck and it is a glimpse of Him that Sarmast yearns for, bemoaning that He is not more visible — what seems like a declaration of ‘ishq-i majazi is, in fact, one of ‘ishq-i haqiqi.
Ultimately, ‘ishq-i majazi is meant to be a stepping stone towards the Divine, one that enables a person to feel the selflessness and passion that one is meant to feel towards the Creator. The eighth century Sufi scholar Rabi’a Adawiyya was one of the earliest Sufi theologians to expound on the philosophy of love, declaring, “I have not worshipped Him for fear of His fire, nor for love of His garden ... I have worshipped Him for love of Him and longing for Him.” This is ‘ishq-i haqiqi — love of the Divine, the One who is the Ultimate Reality, and a longing to meet Him, to be united with Him in a manner that transcends the bounds of the material and the physical.
In this way, the majaz becomes a gateway to the haqiqah (Real), ‘ishq-i majazi opening in us the emotional well that enables us to reach towards ‘ishq-i haqiqi. The concept is summed up in an old Sufi addage, “al-majazu qantaratu l-haqiqah,” meaning that the physical world is a bridge to the Divine Reality.
Sufi poetry plays on this relationship between the material and spiritual, layering meanings into verses that speak of ‘ishq-i majazi, using it as a symbolism for ‘ishq-i haqiqi. Readers and listeners are invited to engage with the symbolism of material love, to delve into the textual meanings and imagery of the verses, and perceive the divine essence that has been weaved into them. The beloved that Sufi poets speak of in their poetry is the Divine Beloved, the beauty that they are enthralled with is the Ultimate Beauty of the Divine that is merely reflected in His Creation, and it is this Beauty that the poets are calling us to recognize. Idioms and imagery rooted in the material world become a bridge to meanings that speak of the Divine, ‘ishq-i majazi becoming a symbol of ‘ishq-i haqiqi, and the reader is called to engage with the verses in a process that opens one’s perceptions to the presence of the true essence of spirituality in the material.
Coke Studio’s rendition of Hairaan Hua brings Sarmast’s verses together with poetry that gives audiences context to the significance of his words. Sitting on the takht on Coke Studio Season 12’s set, Sanam Marvi begins her piece by calling out to her Maula (Lord), the deep resonance of her voice reflecting the complete surrender of Sufi ‘ishq’. Before launching into Sarmast’s poetry, she recites a verse on Moses’s experience on Koh-e-Toor, when he was given a glimpse of the splendor of his Lord. The verse beseeches Moses to take the speaker with him to Koh-e-Toor so that they may also witness His Beauty, for, “who will witness the Beloved’s beauty if the sight makes you faint,” the speaker asks Moses. With these words, Sanam sets the stage for Hairaan Hua , inviting the audience to look within the song for a Love that finds its essence in spiritual truth and is unchanging in its divine core — to cross the bridge from the material into the Divine.