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The life Sketch of Shah Abdul Latif

Shah Abdul Latif is known throughout the length and breadth of Sindh, not only as a great poet of the highest order but as a saint, a Sufi and a spiritual guide. It is the spiritual significance of his poetry, couched in the most touching words, harmonized with a musical setting, that makes a direct appeal to the hearts of the listeners, including the elite and the man in the street. The peasant ploughing his field, the herdsman and the shepherd tending to the herd of cattle or flock of sheep, the fisherman casting his fishing net in the water, the village house-wife at her daily chores and the villager midst his companions at leisure time, sings, recites or hears this sublime poetry that uplifts his very soul, be he a Muslim or Hindu. In the towns the cities, the Sindhi scholars and the elite, hold decisions of its recitation and its singing. Such is the familiarity with the Risalo, as the collection of these poems is called, that verses from it are often quoted at appropriate points in the daily conversation by men and women alike. The feelings of the Sindhis, are so attuned to this poetry, that listening to its harmonious and ecstatic tunes and its spiritual message conveyed in the most expressive words, their eyes are often seen filled with tears.

Occasionally there is a lighter note, because of that, it can be sung not only at sober gatherings but on occasions of festivity also.

It is not only the Sindhis who are enthralled by this ecstatic poetry but even foreigners like the German learned missionary Ernest Trumpp and English scholar, H.T. Sorely, have come under its spell. In more recent times, we have seen Dr. Annemarie Schimmel learning Sindhi to be able to pursue for herself, this poetry, which she loves as it “expresses the most refined mystical experiences and the most inexplicable movements of the soul”.

Not much is know about the life of Shah Abdul Latif from written records, most of the information that has come down to us, has been collected from oral traditions. In this field, Mirza Kalich Beg has done yeoman service as during his life time, some old men were still living who had been told much about Shah Abdul Latif by their fathers for they had seen him in person and had even spoken to him.

Scholars agree that he was born in 1102 A.H. corresponding to 1689 A.D at village Hala Havelli of Taluka Hala, district Hyderabad. He departed from this world, at the age of sixty three on 14th Safar, 1165 Hijra era, 1752 A.D. To commemorate his memory every year, on 14th Safar an Urs (fare) is held at Bhitshah where he lived the last years of his life and where his mausoleum stands. The Urs lasts for three days. Along with other features common to such fares (meals), on its second day, a literary gathering is also held where papers concerning the research work done about Shah Abdul Latif’s life and poetry, are read. In addition to the annual mela, every preceding Friday night, his fakirs (disciples) gather and sing passages from his Risalo in the most rapturous tones. The people from the nearby towns and villages also come to hear the Fakirs’ sing the mystic, rapturous songs.

Shah Abdul Latif’s lineage has been traced back directly to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) through Imam Zain-ul-Abdeen, son of Imam Hussain as shown in the family tree given by Mirza Kalich Beg in Appendix “A” (P.142) of his book “life of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai” published in 1980 at Hyderabad by the Bhitshah Cultural Centre Committee. His ancestors had come from Heart and had settled at Matiari. Shah Abdul Karim (1600 A.D) whose mausoleum stands at Bulri, 40 miles from Hyderabad, in Guni Taluka a mystic poet of considerable repute, was hit great, great grand father. His verses are extant and his anniversary is still held at Bulri Shah Abdul Latif’s father, Syed Habib Shah lived in Hala Havelli, a small village now in ruins at a distance of 40 miles from Matiari and not far from Bhitshah. Later, he left this place and lived at Kotri where some period of Shah Abdul Latif’s adolescence was spent. Our poet’s early education did not exceed what the village school curriculum could provide. His first teacher was Noor Muhammad Bhatti Wai Wala. Although he had received scantily formal education, the Risalo gives us an ample proof of the fact that he was well-versed in Arabic and Persian. The Holy Quran, the Hadith, the Masnawi of Maulana Jalaluddin Roomi alongwith the collection of Shah Abdul Karim’s poems, where his constant companions, copious references of which have been made in the Risalo. A copy of the Masnawi presented to him by Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro, the then ruler of Sindh, to win back his favor, as he had been estranged from Shah Abdul Latif.

In appearance, he was a handsome man, of average height. He was strongly built, had black eye and an intelligent face, with a broad and high forehead. He grew a beard of the size of the Holy Prophet’s beard. He had a serious and thoughtful look about himself and spent much time in contemplation and mediation, since he was concerned about his moral and spiritual evolution with the sole purpose of seeking proximity of the Divine. He would often seek solitude and contemplate on the issues that chiefly concern man’s spiritual life, the purpose of his being on this earth and his ultimate destiny.

Although he was born in favored conditions, being the son of a well known and very much respected Syed family, he never used his position in any unworthy manner, nor did he show any liking for the comforts of life. He was kind, compassionate, generous and gentle in his manner of speech and behavior which won him the veneration of all those who came across him. He had great respect for women and exercised immense reserve in dealing with them, in an age when these qualities were rare. He hated cruelty and could never cause physical plain to any man or even to an animal. He lived a very simple life of self-restraint. His food was simple and frugal, so was his dress which was often of deep yellow, the color of the dress of Sufis or jogis, stitched with a black thread. Till this day, his relics are preserved at Bhitshah, some of which include a “T” shaped walking stick, two bowls, one made of sandal wood and another of transparent stone, which he used for eating and drinking. His long cap and his black turban are also preserved.

In quest of religious truth, Shah Abdul Latif traveled in many parts of Sindh and also went to the border lands. He kept himself all of from the political scene of favoritism and intrigues which was going on at the rise of the Kalhoras to power during this time, though he was much respected by some of the members of this dynasty and could have benefited by it. He did not visit towns or cities but went to hills and valleys where he met Sufis and jogis, most of the latter being Hindus in whose company he wandered disguised, going to the Ganjo Hills in the south of Hyderabad and to the mountains in Las Bela on the border of Sindh and Balochistan. He was in the company of these sanyasis for three years and went with them to Hinglaj, Lakhpat, Nani at the foot of the Himalayas and to Sappar Sakhi. At several places in the Risalo, mention has been made of these jogis and of his visits to these places which are considered holy by them. The two Surs Ramkali and Khahori describe them under various endearing names and a detailed account of their lifestyle is given. He also traveled to Jhunagarh, Jesalmere and parts of the Thar Desert.

By the time that he was a young man of twenty one years, he began to be known for his piety, his ascetic habits and his absorption in prayers. Observation and contemplation were chief traits of his character. A number of people flocked round him adding to the already large number of his disciples. This aroused the jealousy of some powerful persons who became his enemies for some time but later seeing his personal wroth, abandoned their rivalry.

At this time, he was living with his father at Kotri, five miles away from the present site of Bhitshah. It was here that his marriage was solemnized in 1713 with Bibi Sayedah Begum, daughter of Mirza Mughal Beg, a virtuous and intelligent lady, who was a proper companion for him. The disciples had great respect for her. He left no issue.

In the true ascetic spirit, Shah Abdul Latif was now in search of a place where in solitude, he could devote all his time in prayers and mediation. Such a place he found near Karar Lake, a mere sand hill, four miles away from new Hala, which was covered with thorny bushes surrounded by many pools of water. It was called Bhit (Sand Hill) and on this heap of sand stones, he decided to built a village. As it was sandy, he along with his disciples dug out hard earth from a distance and covered the sand with it to make the ground firm. After months of labor, carrying the earth on their heads and shoulders, it was fit enough for the construction of an underground room and two rooms over it, alongwith a room for his parents. A mosque was also built and the houses of the disciples marked out, which did not take much time to be built. In 1742, while he was still busy in the work of setting up Bhit, he got the sad news of the death of his father. Soon after this Shah Abdul Latif shifted all his family members from Kotri to Bhitshah as the village now began to be called. His father had already been buried there according to his will, where his mausoleum stands, only eight paces away from that of Shah Abdul Latif’s towards its north.

For the last eight years of his life, he lived at Bhitshah. A few days before his death, he retired to his underground room and spent all his time in prayers and fasting, eating very little, after 21 days, he came out and having bathed himself with a large quantity of water, covered himself with a white sheet and asked his disciples to start the mystic music. This went on for three days, continuously, when the musicians concerned about the motionless poet, found that his soul had already left for its heavenly abode to be in the proximity of the Beloved for whom he had longed for, all his life and only the body was there on 14th Safar, 1165 Hijra corresponding to 1752 A.D. he suffered no sickness, neither had he any kind of pain. He was buried at the place where his mausoleum now stands, which was build by Ghulam Shah Kalhoro who along with his mother, had adored and revered him. The work of the construction of the mausoleum was entrusted to the well-known mason, Idan, from Sukkur. The mausoleum as well as the mosque adjoining, it were later repaired by Mir Naseer Khan Talpur. His brother Mir Noor Muhammad Talpur had a big well sunk in the courtyard and his cousin, Mir Muhammad put up a door with silver plates which is still there. A pair of kettle drums that are beaten morning and evening till today were presented by the Raja Jesalmere.


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