Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

The Virahini Motif in Sufi Lyrics of Shah Husayn of Lahore

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

The Virahini Motif in Sufi Lyrics of Shah Husayn of Lahore

Article excerpt

The sufis of the Islamicate world have sometimes articulated the transcendent experience of Divine love in their poetic compositions in an idiom of temporal human love. The woman-soul symbol abounds in Indo-Muslim literature, wherein the sufi poets employed gendered imagery of human lover and Divine Beloved, which necessitated the use of metaphorical and figurative language. By inversing their gender and acquiring a feminine persona, they spoke in the voice of ardent feminine lovers, while portraying God as a male Beloved. In bhakti or Hindu devotional literature, it is often expressed through the literary motif of virahimi, a bride-in-waiting or a devoted wife separated from her groom or husband, and thus waiting for his return and union with him. The sufi poets often evoked the metaphor of virahimi, borrowed from the bhakti literary traditions. These poets identified themselves with a virahimi, whereas the Divine Self was symbolized by a groom or husband. In Punjabi poetic tradition, Baba Farid evoked the metaphor of virahimi for the first time to depict the notion of separation of human soul from God. Later, Guru Nanak (d. 1539) alluded to it, but it was Shah Husayn of Lahore who further developed this motif during the sixteenth century in his moving sufi verses. The present study analyzes the deployment of virahimi metaphor in the verses of Shah Husayn by undertaking their poetic exegesis.

1.The virahim tradition in bhakti/Hindu devotional poetry

Virahimi is a trope of alienation and separation, which is quite popular in South Asian religious literature, and as a motif, it can be found in Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religious contexts (Asani 2002: 76). In addition to Hindi-Sanskrit, it has also been expressed in literature in regional vernaculars like Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marathi and Tamil, etc. The poets articulate their own emotions and feelings through the feminine voice of virahimi, as they depict the mystical urge of union with the Supreme Being. They put words in the mouth of a virahimi to depict the longing and suffering of human soul in separation from the Supreme Being. The virahimi motif is particularly found in bhakti or Hindu devotional literature. Bhakti (literally meaning devotion) refers to any tradition of Hindu devotionalism. The bhakti movement is considered a monotheistic reform movement (Prentiss 1999: 3), which originated in India during the seventh century. The preachers of the movement believed in the equality of all human beings as well as equality of all religions and unity of God. They were critical of excessive ritualism and ceremonialism in Hinduism, and also challenged the supremacy of the priests or Brahmans in the Hindu society. They also rejected caste discrimination, and believed in universal toleration. They emphasized on the doctrines of love of and devotion to God, and believed that only love and devotion could guarantee salvation for the human beings.

Bhakti is often referred to as the religion of love and devotion (Bhattacharya 2003). In bhakti, a devotee may express passionate devotion to a spiritual guide (referred to as Guru-bhakti), or devotion to an abstract, formless or unembodied Divine (referred to as Nirguna-bhakti), or devotion to a personal god having a form (referred to as Sagun-bhakti). However, more often a follower's intense devotional worship and extreme love are directed to Vishnu (or its incarnation in the form of Krishna) or Shiva. Historically, it was from the fourteenth through the seventeenth century that bhakti movement swept across the northern and eastern India. During the sixteenth-century, the Krishna bhakti devotional poetry in India became popular, and from Braj regions and Bengal, it spread to all parts of South Asia (Petievich 2007: 8). However, the Vaishnava devotional poetry in Bengali written in praise of Lord Krishna touched its creative peak in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Dimock & Levertov 1967: x). The term Vaishnava literally means devoted to Vishnu, whose most famous avatar (incarnation) is Krishna. …

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