Arieb Azhar performs Sufi poetry — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Arieb Azhar performs Sufi poetry — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: The Asian Study Group (ASG) on Thursday hosted “Babey Lok: the Great Mystic Poets of Punjab”, where renowned musician Arieb Azhar introduced the diverse audience to the famous Sufi saints through poetic renditions and music.

The audience comprising locals and foreigners remained spellbound as Arieb Azhar brought to life the saints from Baba Farid Ganj Shakar of the 12th century to Mian Mohammad Baksh of the 19th century.

Arieb Azhar said in Punjabi, Lok means people and with Babey it meant “wise old people.”

“The Punjab - the land of five rivers - has been a crucible for culture, philosophy and poetry through the ages. Much of the folk music of this area developed round the poetry of the Sufi saints, who presented the essence of diverse cultures that had been coexisting in this region in a unified expression of poetic thought.

Their profound yet simple message has been resonating for over eight centuries and their verses may still be heard on the lips of every folk balladeer from Punjab”, he said.

Mr Azhar began his presentation with the tradition of Sufi poetry starting with the austerity of Baba Farid. Fariduddin Masud Ganjeshakar or ‘treasure of sweetness’ was a 13th century poet mystic in the Islamic Golden Age – a time of polymaths when critical thinking was encouraged.

Baba Farid was also one of the founders of the Chishti Sufi Order, tracing his lineage to Moinuddin Chishti through Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. His disciple was Nizamuddin Auliya.

Baba Farid established the tradition of the ‘Langar’ which the Sikh religion also adopted into their practice. In fact, several of Baba Farid’s hymns are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book of the Sikhs and he is as venerated by the Sikhs as the Muslims.

After introducing the mystic saint, Arieb Azhar sang couplets from Baba Farid’s poetry and then translated them for the audience.

With a brief presentation on the three pillars of Sikhism, that is Kirt Karo, Vand Chakko and Naam Jappo, and the famous Sikh pilgrimage sites, Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and Kartarpur in Pakistan, Arieb moved on to Shah Hussain and the Festival of Lights, who started as a weaver, became an ascetic and then a hedonist for the world. Shah Hussain is the pioneer of the Punjabi Kaafi style of poetry.

From there, Arieb took the audience through the contemplation of Sultan Bahu, the humanism and resistance of Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and the love of Heer, Mian Mohammad Bakhsh and his epic poem Saiful Mulook.

Welcoming the guests, ASG President Parveen Malik gave an introduction of the organisation that was formed in 1973 for promotion of the Asian culture.

CEO Serena Hotels Aziz Boolani said they were contributing to the society in terms of promoting culture, arts and crafts and sports activities.

Ambassador of Austria and Patron of the ASG Andrea Wicke said, “As we gather here, we are not just celebrating an institution but celebrating the collective spirit of compassion and goodwill that binds us together.”

“Before being posted here, I had not been to Pakistan. Coming here, I discovered the culture of Pakistan is incredibly rich, old, diverse and deeply rooted in history. It is a melting pot of various ethnic, linguistic and religious groups each contributing to the vibrant tapestry that makes up the Pakistani cultural landscape”, she said.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2023

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