Volume - 2 : Issue - 4

Published : Oct. - Dec. 2003

Group : Spirituality

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Sindhi Dharma - Fusion of Vedantic, Sufi, and Sikh Thought

by Dr. Motilal Jotwani

Moses saw a shepherd on the way, craving, ‘O Lord, where are Thou, that I may serve Thee and sew Thy shoes and comb Thy hair? That I may wash Thy clothes and kill Thy lice and bring milk to Thee, O Worshipful One.’ On hearing these foolish words, Moses said, ‘Man, to whom are you speaking? What babble; What blasphemy and raving! Stuff some cotton into your mouth!..... The High God is not in want of such like service.’ The shepherd rent his garment, heaved a sigh, and took his way to wilderness. Then came to Moses a Revelation: ‘Thou hast parted My servant from Me... I have bestowed on everyone a particular mode of worship; I have given everyone a peculiar form of expression. The idiom of Hindustan is excellent for Hindus, the idiom of Sind is excellent for the people of Sindh...’

“The Shepherd’s Prayer”

By Rumi in R.A. Nicholson’s – Rumi, Poet and Mystic, London, 1950.

At the very outset, two observations, in the main, may be made here. First, in the Sindhi dharma or religion, which may be best described as a way of life, God is both transcendent and immanent, or impersonal and personal. As regards the second observation, the Sindhi dharma is a mix of Vedantic, Sufi and Sikh thought and practices and in this mix of Sindhi dharma, God can be realised in both impersonal and personal ways.

The above mentioned poem “The Shepherd’s Prayer” by Jalaluddin Rumi brings out vividly the two approaches of the philosopher and the devout simple people. In it, the philosopher’s One God becomes many all-too-human gods.

The Sindhi dharma is secularist. It presents the Indian subcontinental view of secularity, which is not the state or quality of being non religious, as understood in the Western tradition, but that of being variously religious. Deep spirituality that attends this kind of secularity makes one rise above the narrow confines of one’s own religion and respect all religions of the world. And this kind of secularity evolved as it is by the Indian mind over the centuries, suits the Indian multireligious society the most. It is different from the one obtained in the unireligious societies of the West.

So far as the first ingredient VEDANTA of our Sindhi dharma is concerned, it was developed by various commentaries on Badarayana’s Vedanta Sutra and the Upanishads. Its major trend  advaita (nondualism)  was set off by Sankaracharya in the 8th century. According to him, Brahman is omniscient, omnipotent and the cause of organisation, sustentation and resolution of the world. The world contains no other reality except Brahman or the Absolute Spirit. Everything except the Absolute is an illusion (maya); the socalled individual soul is the Absolute itself, and no other. Brahman or the Absolute Spirit admits of no limitation and denomination and is the Boundless Reality. It admits of limitation only with reference to something which is not consciousness. Otherwise, there is no duality.

Ever since the four Vedas were produced on the banks of the river Sindhu in the Greater Sindh and Vedanta (Ved+anta) followed at the end of the Vedas, Sindhis, the inhabitants of the Sindhu river valley, have imbibed the idea of harmonious coexistence, enshrined in the following poem:
san vo manaansi jaanataam;
that is, Move together in unison, conduct dialogues among yourselves with goodwill. Share your knowledge in harmony.

Despite the fact that the Sindhi dharma has been secular in outlook and Sindhis have believed in the peaceful co existence over the millennia, poetry of the Hindu Sindhis was systemically destroyed by the Kalhora and Talpur rulers, preceding the Britishers in Sindh. It was Chainrai Bachomal Sami (1743–1850), who eloquently voiced the Vedantic wisdom of the people of Sindh. He wrote his slokas in the Gurmukhi script on pieces of paper and treasured those slips in a big earthen pot kept in a corner of his shop in Shikarpur. Kauromal Chandanmal Khilnani published Sami Ja Sloka in three volumes  the first two in 1885 and the third in 1892, many years after the conquest of Sindh by the Britishers in 1843.

Sami, a merchant himself, knew that in the world of ‘maya’ or illusion, hardly did any merchant, for that matter anyone, engage himself in true dealings; everyone exploited others; the rich exploited the poor and the pseudoGurus used the credulous people for their own ends. A saint poet who appeared on the Bhakti Movement in its last vestiges, Sami wrote the slokas embodying everything the Bhakti Movement espoused. Referring to the six shastras, the eighteen puranas and the four Vedas, he emphasised on self-introspection.

Six, Eighteen, Four describe the only one;
Why do you then go from door to door?
He is in you, look within,
And experience Him now and here.

On the one hand, the Sanskrit text Vedanta Sutra of the elite enabled him to have knowledge of the nature of reality, and on the other the Bhagavata of the laity induced in him the devotion for the personal God like Krishna. He reached the region of consciousness where the personal deity was realised as That One (tad ekam). He said,

I hear Krishna playing nonstop on the flute;
Two ears hear That One and don’t feel satiate.
And I wish I were in the timelessness of the lilt.

It would be pertinent to say here that the Hindu Sindhis have been worshipping Uderolal, which is the Sindhi form of the Krishna archetype popularly known as Jhoolelal Saeen, since the year 950 of the Christian era.

Mainly vedantic of the advaita trend, Sami spoke of Brahman in his poetic words as follows,

The player that He is, He assumes many a role, He Himself is the clay and the potter of pots...

At the same time, though less frequently, he talked of his Krishnabhakti, or devotion to Lord Krishna. Greatly influenced by the Gita, he says,

Karma, Bhakti ain jnana,
g’alhi chavani tha hikiree.

That is, Karma (action), bhakti (devotion) and jnana (knowledge) say one and the same thing.

Sami draws his imagery from what he sees around  him in his day to day life. For instance, the images of Kamal (lotus) and bhramar (the black bee); jal (water) and meen (fish); seep (oyster) and sagar (sea) and mriga trisna (mirage) are quite familiar to his coreligionists.

Dalpat (1769 – 1849) often echoed what his senior contemporary Sami said in his poetry. Deeply influenced by the nirguna bhakti (impersonal devotion) tradition, he also was a great integrator and preached communal harmony:

From where has this discord developed in the people?
If God is in the peepal tree,
who is there in the babool?

About the second component of SUFISM in the Sindhi dharma, it is quite akin to that of Vedanta. In both, realisation is possible only by becoming one with the object of realisation, by becoming what one would like to become. In that case, knowledge will not be of the form, “I know this”, but “I am this”. Realisation is an intimate knowledge in the form,” I am Brahman” or “I am Huqq”. Shah Abdul Latif (1689 – 1752), who imbibed the best of Islam and Hinduism helped develop a type of Sufism which was more Indian in its character, says :

As I turned inwards and conversed in my soul,
There was no mountain to surpass and no Punhu to care for;
I myself became Punhu...
Only while Sasui did I experience grief.

His Shah Jo Risalo is not a philosophical treatise, but it propounds the doctrine of wahdat alwajud, which is nothing but advaita, or nondualism. Nondualism in its political and social implications is opposed to the narrow setup of theocracy and to the disparities on grounds of wealth, heredity, etc. The Shah Jo Risalo embodies these ideals. That the Sufi poet was deeply influenced by Indian mysticism is evident from the fact that he, unlike the mystics of the Islamic world, described himself, or for that matter the seeker, in the role of a female lover and depicted God as the Man in her life. He became Lila, Marui, Moomal, Noori, Sasui, Suhini and Sorath  the heroines of the Sindhi folktales, who he delineated in his poetry. Through them he objectified his emotions.

Lila was the queen of king Chanesar. But she bartered away her husband for a necklace of diamonds, which her rival Kanwaru gave her to be able to spend one night with him. Chanesar came to know of the mean deal between the two and disowned Lila, for she had sold him away for a worldly thing like necklace. Now Lila repented, saying the following to herself:

O Lila, the jewel on which you set your heart is not a jewel;
It is from the very beginning (of the world) a false stone.

Maru was a poor young woman. She was kindapped by the Chieftain Umar of Amarkot and he offered her a good comfortable life in his mansion. But she did not accept it and remained faithful to the man in her life in the village. She says to Umar, remembering her beloved Khetsen.

Before God created the universe, saying,
“Be”, and we were not separated from Him,
My relationship began there and then,
O Khetsen, my Beloved, I still cognise it.

Moomal was Rano’s wife. During her husband’s absence, she slept beside her sister Soomal, clad in Rano’s attires, thus satisfying her desire of being with him. Rano saw her in that state and went back. Now, Moomal repented very much and cried with anguish in her heart,

The whole night my lamp did burn,
The dawn bursts in rays now,
O Rana, come back to me
I shall die without you.

Noori was a fishermaid. By her perfect humility, she became the beloved of the king Tamachi. Though a lowly fishermaid, she became coeternal with Tamachi, symbolic of Supersoul in the mystic lore,

Her hands and feet, her face and form
are not of the fishermaid...
The king knew her and bound
the majestic bracelet on her wrist.

Suhini was married off to a wordly man. But she Loved Mehar, the ‘Eternal One’. Every night, she would swim across the Sindhu river to meet him. Once, the earthen pot she used as a swimming aid gave way and she was drowned. Mehar joined her in the watery grave. Shah Abdul Latif says,

Mehar, Suhini and the river
are one and the same Truth...

Sorath, the queen of king Diyach of Girnar in Gujarat, sacrificed herself for the sake of her husband. Highly pleased with the minstrel Bij’al’s song, D’iyach asked him to ask for any reward of his choice. As the intrigues of fate would have it, B’ijal asked for his head. The benevolent king gave it away. Now Sorath, his wife, knew peace only when she also gave up her life. Minstrel B’jal, his instrument chang, King D’iyach and his wife Sorath are all reconciled in nondualism. Shah Abdul Latif says,

Where the body is a rosary, the mind a bead
and the heart a harp,
There the Love strings play the song of unity.

At one place in the Shah Jo Risalo, he says,

Constantly contemplate on this Word,
the cure of your misery,
Keep meem in your mind
and put alif before it.

The reference here is to both the sacred sound Om which when written in the Arabic script begins with the letter alif and ends with meem. Alif for Allah and meem for Muhammad; Allah followed by Muhammad. Om is the highest symbol of the Upanishads. The ‘Mula Mantra’ of the Jap-Ji by Guru Nanak, who is popularly known as a Guru of the Hindus and a Pir of the Muslims, opens with this mystic syllable, Ek Omkar Sat Nam Karta Purkha...

This brings us to the third factor of SIKHISM in our Sindhi dharma. Like Sami and Shah Abdul Latif are central figures who represent Vedanta and Sufism respectively, Guru Nanak (1469–1539) founder of Sikhism is the father figure in it. As the Gita, the Bible and the Quran are venerated by the Hindus, the Christians and the Muslims generally, so the Hindu Sindhis worship the Gita in general and Sami Ja Salok, Shah Jo Risalo and the Jap ji in particular. In fact, in the Sindhi homes, the Hindu Sindhis give scriptural importance to the Gita, Sami Ja Salok, Shah Jo Risalo and the Jap Ji. The first three books come so close to the fourth book Jap Ji (for that matter the Adi Granth, which comprises it) that the Hindu Sindhis are endearingly called “half Sikhs”. No ceremony in our homes, be it birth or death, is complete without making reference to or taking refuge in the Adi Granth.

The Adi Granth was compiled by Guru Arjan in 1604 at Amritsar. And its second version was finalised by Guru Gobind Singh in 1705. While Guru Arjan’s compilation comprised 5756 verses of the first five Gurus, including himself, and the Hindu bhaktas and Muslim dervishes,  Guru Gobind Singh’s version added 115 verses of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur, bringing the total number of verses to 5871. Not of any oracular kind, the Adi Granth, thus prepared, is a handiwork of humans in the late medieval times. Its words  as ordinary and commonplace as we speak at home, in the street and market place  cast in folkmusical verse forms become the Word of God. Its collective wisdom of humans  the gurus, bhaktas and dervishes  becomes divine grace of God.

Two Sindhis, among many others, contributed their mite towards Guru Arjan’s Adi Granth. One was Jadhano, a butcher by profession in Sindh, who lived in the thirteenth century. In his lifetime he migrated to the neighbouring province of Punjab, where he engaged himself in the company of bhaktas. One of his shabadas was included in the Rag Bilaval of the Adi Granth in which (shabad) he sang the glory of a true guru,

taba guna kahaan jagat gura
jau karam naa naasai
sangh saran kiti jaaie jau jambuk graasai

That is,

what would be your worth, O destroyer of the worldly darkness!
If you cannot destroy my (bad) deeds?
What about my seeking refuge in you, O great lion!
If jackals, too, devour me?

The other was Mian Mir (1550–1635), the maternal grandson of Qazi Qadan of Sindh. He was the Mughal Prince Dara Shikh’s preceptor and inspired him in his efforts of uniting “the two oceans” of Hinduism and Islam. He was invited by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. His tomb is in Lahore, now in Pakistan.

Kabir (1398–1518) whose, as many as 541 verses are included in the Adi Grantha, says,

The Lord first created Light,
And from it sprang the whole creation:
Why then divide it into the high and the low?
In the creation, the creator is everywhere.

Like Kabir, Sachal Sarmast (1739-1829) was a firm believer in impersonal God. He remembered Guru Nanak and his lofty message is the JapJi. To the near young brotherhood of Sikhs he says,

O Granthi, Chant the verses of Jap Ji,
and you will meet the Guru;
Use the knife of love, cut off hatred and intolerance;
on both your left and right, he is one and the same Satguru.

The Adi Granth opens with the Jap Ji hymns, which are favourite hymns of the Sindhi reading public. On analysis it looks that the whole of the Adi Granth is an exposition of the hymns of Jap Ji and the Jap Ji is that of its own first hymn, the “mool mantra”  Ek Omkar SatNaam, Karta, Purkh...

Thus, the best of Hinduism (advaita Vedanta), Islam (Sufism) and Sikhism congeal into the Sindhi dharma.

Dr. Motilal Jotwani
– A renowned writer in Sindhi, Hindi and English, was actively involved in establishing 'Sindhi Education Society', Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi in 1953.
– Post-Doctoral visiting scholar, Havard University USA 1979-80.
– Editor 'Indian Author', of Authors Guild of India 1985-90.
– Recipient of 6 awards from Ministry of HRD for outstanding literary contributions.
– Recipient of awards from Govt. of Delhi in 1988 and Govt. of UP in 1990 for contribution in Hindi literature.
–    Recipient of Padmashri Award in April 2003 for contribution to literature and Education.