Lateef Bhittai: singing soul of Sindh
AT Bhit Shah, brisk preparations are on and people from all walks of life are reaching here to celebrate the Urs of Hazrat Shah Abdul Lateef Bhittai from Safar 14 to 17 (Dec 28 to 31). Although he was witness to the change from the Mughal to the Kalhora rule in Sindh, his verses contain little or no reference to the political events taking place then. He was not interested in a transient phenomenon; he believed in things permanent.
Shah Abdul Lateef was not only preeminently original in thought, he could express supremely well a kind of religious philosophy current among the educated men of his time.
His poetry is like a diamond with many facets: mystical. spiritual, didactic, romantic and lyrical. But in all these forms, the poet’s mind is attuned to his Maker, to whom all things ultimately return.
His poetry is all about the yearning of the loving souls. and the heart’s desire to be one with the Infinite. It depicts the natural beauty of Sindh’s earth and skies and describes the majesty and awe of its mighty river.
The quality of his poetry in the Risalo, which is what the collection of Shah Abdul Lateef’s poems is called (Risaloliterally the arranging or setting out in ranks, like the ranks of regiment), is very uneven — passages of bathos mingling with excerpts of pure lyrical beauty and the ecstatic expression of devotion. But the unevenness in quality is a characteristic of great poetry everywhere and poetry lovers know how to avoid the banal and seek the divine.
Despite the depth and sincerity of the mystic philosophy of the Risalo, it is doubtful whether the poems would have attained their overwhelming popularity had it not been for the fact that several of the bestknown of them are written round folk stories, current in the Sindh countryside then.
Shah Abdul Lateef also had a command on Persian and Arabic. It is certain that he was familiar with the Masnavi of Rumi. He always carried with him the holy Quran and the Sindhi verses of his grandfather, Shah Abdul Karim of Bulri.
Shah Abdul Lateef’s poetry and music become synonymous in his art, his poems representing music in words. He was a composer of poetry and music at the same time. In order to promote music, he formed an institution at Bhit Shah.
The poems in the Risalo are all set to melodic forms and are sung to raag and raagni of generic types. These have many local variations. Many of the Mughal raagnis to which some of the surs of Shah Abdul Lateef are sung are Sindhi variants of the Indian generic forms.
Shah was a true Sufi and an ambassador of goodwill and love. His poetry continues to inspire us. The flower is no more there but its fragrance continues to sweeten the soil of Sindh.