THE MINSTRELS OF KASUR
Kasur is a small sleepy town lying in the outskirts of Lahore, known for the tomb of the mystic poet BHULLEY SHAH and for the stench emitting tanneries which pose an environmental hazard to the people living nearby.
My first visit to KASUR was way back in 1969, when I was a first year medical student of Kind Edwards Medical College Lahore, when I went to witness the KASUR MELA. At that time on motorbikes it took us more than one hour from Lahore to reach the venue of the Mela, but nowadays because of good road conditions and organized traffic KASUR can be reached within half an hour’s drive from Kanchi (scissor’s) stop on the Ferozepur road.
KASUR is located adjacent to the border of Ganda Singh Wala between Pakistan and India, and is a tourist attraction because of the daily occurring like flags lowering ceremony. Also on your itinerary should be the savoring of the mouth watering delicacies of FALUDA local concoction of pulverized Iced mixed with highly condensed milk with sugar and AMRASA balls made of sugar, semolina and farina sprinkled with resins.
KASUR district is surrounded in the north by Lahore, on the east and south by India, on southern west by Depalpur tehsil of Okara district and at northern west by a small protuberance of Sheikhupura district.
The History of KASUR dates backs to old times and according to the great ancient Hindu scripture, the Ramayana, Lord Rama had a son named Kusha who was believed to be the ruler of a kingdom centered at KASUR in ancient times – and it is said the present city was founded by, and derives its name from Kush – whose twin brother “Lava” founded the nearby Lahore city.
Late towards the end of 2000 when I became involved in mysticism and Sufism, that I started reading the works of great Sufi poets like, WARIS SHAH, MIAN MOHAMMAD BUKSH and BHULLEY SHAH. The works of these saints so much inspired me that I made up my mind to visit the shrines of these great Sufi poet’s of the Punjab.
In the first week of April 2013 I had to go to Lahore in connection with a family wedding that I got an opportunity to visit the Shrine of BHULLEY SHAH in KASUR.
What struck me most was the performance and display by the MINSTRELS who form a regular feature of the courtyard of the shrine of BHULLEY SHAH.
The term minstrel in ancient times was referred to singers who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events.
Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. Frequently they were retained by royalty and high society. As the courts became more sophisticated, minstrels were eventually replaced at court by the troubadours, and many became wandering minstrels, performing in the streets and became well-liked.
Minstrelsy fed into later traditions of travelling entertainers, which continued to be moderately strong into the early 20th century, and which has some continuity down to today’s BUSKERS or street musicians.
When I went into the courtyard of the shrine after depositing my shoes with the care taker that I could see many groups of MINSTRELS sitting in the courtyard waiting for their turn to perform.
At one side under a big banyan tree was another group of ecstatic MALANGS who were performing DHAMAAL to the beat of the drums. Faster the drum beat the MALANG’s go into jerking fantasy of body swaying and twirling with fast steps and their hair which is exceptionally long swings from side to side.
After paying my respects, homage and offering FATIHA at the tomb of the great Sufi Saint Bhulley Shah as I came out of the Mausoleum, that the particular sacrosanct verse rang a bell in my ears which I had memorized attracted me and caught my attention. This was being repeated by the MINSTRELS.
THE VERSE BY BHULLEY SHAH SAY’S:
Rab rab karde budhe ho gaye, Mulla Pandat saray,
Rab da khooj khurra na Lubha, Sajde kar kar haare,
Rab te tere andar wasda. Wich Qur’aan ishaare,
‘Bulleh Shah’! Rab unho milsi jhehra apne Nafs nu mare..
Mullah and Pundit became old reciting the name of GOD
Despite many prostrations, they could not find any clue of GOD.
The HOLY QURAN indicates that in your heart dwells GOD.
Bhulley says only those who kill their desires find GOD.
This particular verse encapsulates the basis of Sufism, mysticism and holds the key to ones code of conduct in life that to find GOD you don’t have to go far just look inside yourself.
I became so engrossed in the performance of the MINSTRELS that I sat on the ground for a very long time to listen to their melodious performance coupled with the mystic music.
This made me go down the memory lane about ten years back when I had to consult one oneircritic (interpreter of dream) after another to satisfy my esurient quest for truth and inner contentment. This made me go into a state of trance and I remained aloof from my surroundings as if I was in a state of levitation for quite a long time as I tried to find a direct link with my creator.
These performers are more or less strong devotees and disciples of BHULLEY SHAH and as a homage and respect to the great saint perform without any rapacious needs or worldly desires.
However people do give some offerings in the form of money, which with great respect other devotees place in front of the performers. Some of the devotees who go into a deep trance of ecstasy move and sway their head from side to side while sitting and then slowly gyrate up like a mesmerized snake coming out of its basket and dancing to the tune of the music.
Such scenes are a common site at the shrines where these minstrels perform but the genuineness of the ecstatic trance cannot be fully judged because some mimic, others do for attracting attention but the real trance can only be judged by a very experienced and observant eye.
The legacy and the art of these performers are becoming rare and may soon become extinct because of financial problems and the lack of succession planning by the progeny of these performers who are now diverting to other occupations because of easy access to education and new vista’s of employment.
Such minstrels are the hall mark of all the shrines of the great Sufi poets of Pakistan and their art of performance needs to be commended and applauded with state recognition and sponsorship from the various corporate entities.
So next time when you visit some of the shrines where these minstrels are performing do take some time out to listen to them and also show your appreciation by your offerings of xenium (wail) in the form of money.
Dr. Babur Zahiruddin