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FARID, SHAIKH

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FARID, SHAIKH (569-664 AH/AD 1173-1265), Sufi mystic and teacher, who is also known to be the first recorded poet in the Punjabi language. His father Shaikh Jamaluddin Sulaiman whose family related, according to current tradition, to the rulers of Kabul by ties of blood, left his home in Central Asia during the period of Mongol incursions in the course of the twelfth century. Seeking safety and some place to settle in, he came into the Punjab where already under Ghaznavid rule several Muslim religious centres had developed and sizeable Muslim populations had grown, particularly in the areas now included in West Punjab (Pakistan). To Shaikh Jamaluddin Sulaiman was born in 569 AH/AD 1173 in the month of Ramadan a son, the future Shaikh Farid.

The newly born child is said to have been named after the Sufi poet Fariduddin Attar, author of several works on Sufi philosophy.The child became famous by the first part of his name Farid, which is Arabic for 'Unique'. He also acquired the appellation of Shakarganj or Ganj-i-Shakar (Treasury of Sugar) or Pir-i-Shakarbar. The place of his birth, close to Multan, was called Kotheval. His father having died while he was still a child, his mother Qarsum Bibi, an extremely pious lady, brought him up. He grew up to be a great saint, combining with holiness learning in all the sciences comprehended at that time under Islamic religious studies, such as canon law, jurisprudence and mystical philosophy.

About the appellation of Shakarganj popularly given him, it is related that in order to induce the child to say his prayers regularly, his mother used to place under his prayermat a small packet of shakaror country sugar which the child would get as a reward. Once, it is said, she forgot to provide the incentive. Such was the piety of the child and such the divine favour that a packet of shakar nevertheless appeared in the usual place.On discovery, this was attributed to a miracle, and hence the appellation Shakarganj. Another explanation given is that while undergoing in his youth extremely hard penance, he in a fainting state once looked around for something to break a three days continuous fast.

Not finding anything to assuage his hunger, he thrust a few stone pebbles into his mouth. By divine intervention, the stones turned into lumps of sugar. But this name may in reality be traccable to the blessing which he is recorded to have received from his spiritual preceptor, Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, who praised the sweetness of his disposition and of his word, and remarked; "Thou shall be sweet like sugar." Shaikh Farid is one of the founding fathers of the famous Chishti Sufi order in India, which began its long course in the country towards the close of the twelfth century with the coming of the great saint Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chishti. Khwaja Mu'inuddin came to India during the reign of Rai Pithora or Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Rajput king of Delhi, whose kingdom stretched to Ajmer and beyond.

Shaikh Farid became the disciple of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, himself a disciple of Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chishti.He first met his future master at Multan and became deeply devoted to him. When the Khwaja was leaving Multan to resume his onward journey to Delhi, he adjured him to follow him to the city after completing his studies at Multan, and continued his Sufi practices under the guidance of the master he had adopted. This involved, in accordance with the tradition of the Chisti order, rigorous penance and constant prayer, to subdue the flesh and acquire spiritual illumination. Included in this discipline was chilla-i-makus, constant prayer with head hung downwards for forty days.

Shaikh Farid set up a centre of devotion at Hansi, in present day Haryana, later shifting to Ajodhan, now Pak Rattan in Sahiwal district of Punjab (Pakistan). This was then a wild and arid area, with few of the comforts of life, and here he came in obedience to Khwaja Qutubuddin's command: "Go thou and set up settlement in some wasteland." Ajodhan is close to the River Sutlej on its western side, on the banks of one of its tributary streams. The stream was served by a ferry called Rattan. Later, in honour of Shaikh Farid it came to be known as Pak Rattan (holy ferry). The place, now a fairly well developed town, is till tills day called by that name.

It is recorded that Shaikh Farid spent his entire life from his twenty fourth year on at Ajodhan, where he made a reputation for himself by his pious and austere living and his many beneficent works.As related by his disciple, the famous Shaikh Nizamuddin Awllya, who visited him at least three times at Ajodhan, there was more often than not very little in his home to eat and the family and disciples would feel blessed if they could make a meal on dela, a wild sour tasting berry growing on a leafless thorny bush.He maintained in the tradition of the Chishti saints, a khanaqah or hospice for itinerant Sufis and others, along with a prayer house where strangers would be provided food and shelter and spiritual instruction. Here Shaikh Farid also received visits from travelling scholars, other Sufis and dervishes and from large crowds seeking his blessing.

Some miraculous stories are related of him which illustrate the great faith he inspired and the veneration in which the people held him. That the Sufis brought the healing touch to the strife torn religious scene in those times is evidenced by an incident which bears a deep symbolic character. Once someone brought a pair of scissors. Shaikh Farid put it by and asked instead for a needle, saying: "I am come to join not to sever." Shaikh Farid, whose influence spread far and wide, had, according to a report, twenty khalifas or senior missionary disciples to preach his message in different parts of the country.

Out of these, three were considered to be the principal ones.At the head was the famous Shaikh Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi, followed by Shaikh Jamaluddin of Hansi and Shaikh 'Alauddin' All Ahmad Sabir of Kaliyar, in Rajasthan.The modern town of Faridkot, which is situated close to Bathinda and would in Shaikh Farid's time be on the road leading out from Delhi and Hansi towards Multan, is traditionally associated with his name. Ajodhan would be distant about a hundred miles from this place. A credible story connects the name of this place, Faridkot (Fort of Farid), with the forced labour that this saint had to undergo there in the time of the local chief named Mokal, then building his fort.

By a miracle Shaikh Farid's saint hood was revealed and, on the inhabitants showing him reverence, he blessed the place.The Guru Granth Sahib contains the spiritual and devotional compositions of certain saints besides the Gurus. Prominent among these are Kabir, Ravidas, Namdev and Farid. The poetry of Shaikh Farid, as preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib is deeply sensitive to the feeling of pity, the subtle attractiveness of sin, inevitable death and the waste of human life owing to man's indifference to God and goodness. His language is of an extraordinary power and sensitivity.

The tragic waste of man's brief span of life in frivolous pursuits moves him to lender expression of pity and reproach. Withal he is deeply human and man's situation moves him to deep compassion such as would be in a man with eyes who saw a blind man standing on the edge of a precipice, about to take the fatal step into nothingness.The voice of human suffering finds in him an expression heard seldom and only in the greatest poetry.His language is the authentic idiom of the countryside of southwestern Punjab, where he spent the major portion of his life.

Yet by a miracle of poetic creation this language has become in his hands full of subtle appeal, evoking tender emotions and stimulating the imagination. The main theme of Shaikh Farid's banis what in the Indian critical terminology would be called vairagya, that is dispassion towards the world and its false attractions. In Sufi terminology this is called tauba or turning away. The bani of Farid in the Guru Granth Sahib is slender in volume, but as poetry of spiritual experience it is creation of the highest order. It consists of four sabdas (hymns) and 112 slokas (couplets).

Guru Nanak, Guru Amar Das and Guru Arjan have continued the theme of some of Farid's couplets. These continuations appear in the body of Farid's bani. Guru Nanak has left a sabda in measure Suhi as a corrective to Farid's beautiful lyric in the same measure, which, however, appeared to view the future of the human soul in a rather pessimistic light.Certain recent writers, led by M.A. Macauliffe, have raised doubts as to Shaikh Farid Shakarganj's authorship of the bani, mainly on the score of its language which they think is too modern for his day. While in the course of oral transmission it may have at places taken on the colouring of subsequent periods, it is the authentic idiom of Multan Punjabi which that dialect retains to this day.

The language argument against Farid's authorship cannot be sustained. The Gurus would not have given this bani the place of honour they did, were they not convinced that it was composed by Shaikh Farid Shakarganj, the most revered Muslim Sufi of the Punjab. The high level of poetry, the sheer genius which has created it would make lie claim of a lesser man than Shaikh Farid to authorship insupportable. History does not know of any other man as famous as Farid, the name used in the verses included in the Guru Granth Sahib.

References :

1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1964
2. Gurdit Singh Giani, Itihas Sri Guru Granth Sahib. (Bhagat Bani Bhag). Chandigarh, 1990
3. Sahib Singh, Bhagat Bani Satik. Amritsar, 1959-60
4. Vir Sirigh, Bhai, Shabad-Shalok Sheikh Farid Sahib. Amritsar, 1909
5. Maculiffe, M.A., The. Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
6. Kohli, Surindar Singh, A Critical Study of Adi Granth. Delhi, 1951

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