Historically the city of Lahore is called the Garden of Mughals or heart of Pakistan. It has a history dating back to 3,000 years. Ruled and plundered by a number of dynasties and hordes, the city has seen many good and bad times. However, during Mughal rule (1524 to 1752), it touched the zenith of its glory. Lahore has history, culture and an unrivaled charm. There is a popular saying, “He who has not seen Lahore, has not yet been born.”
Lahore is the capital of a most fertile and populous province, the Punjab. In its centre lies the famous Walled City which attracts tourists from all over the world. The Mughal legacy survives in the shape of Lahore Fort, Shalimar Gardens and Badshahi Mosque. Its main road, The Mall, is lined with colonial-gothic buildings, and its suburbs feature palatial mansions and trendy shopping districts.
I have lived in Lahore for about a decade in early seventies. Recently, I went there to attend a marriage ceremony and took this opportunity to re-visit some of the important sites and refresh the sweet memories of this fabulous city. First, I went to the shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain and later to other places to be described in subsequent hubs.
POETRY OF MADHU LAL HUSSAIN
The River is deep and the shaky bridge creaks as people step on it. And the ferry is a known haunt of tigers. Will no one go with me to the lonely hut of Ranjha?
These verses came to my mind when I was proceeding towards Shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain. He has immortalized folklore of “Heer Ranjha”. Through his poetry, Shah Hussain drew attention towards plight of Ranjha who had abdicated his throne, renounced material world, donned yellow robe, got his earlobes pierced , wore earrings and wandered everywhere in search of his beloved Heer.
The approach to the shrine was equally mesmerizing. Our car was going on the bank of Lahore Canal flanked by immense greenery; the wind whistled through the tall trees, the mist filled the side streets. It was not just a canal, it was picnic spot with young ones swimming or boating, some doing morning walk, some playing with drums and guitars. The ride was uninterrupted due to newly built underpasses and flyovers. We took a turn from Shalimar Interchange, a landmark bridge with sleek pillars and girders radiating in the sun.
Weaving through thick traffic of old Lahore, we entered the shrine. It was located in a vast compound to accommodate thousands of devotees who would trickle in at the time of his anniversary, only a month away. Compared to the ground area, the shrine was modest, a small marble-domed structure. We took off our shoes and offered a short prayer at the grave. Like others, it was laden with fresh rose petal, their smell mixing with incense burning. In a nearby building with colorful tile-work, there were sacred relics including footprint of The Great Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad (s.a.w.s.).
Many pious persons, the dervishes, had come from all over the country to pray at the shrine. Their ash covered faces, colorful dresses and expressions were very attractive. Devotees were honoring Madhu Lal Hussain by lighting oil lamps at his shrine. To light a lamp is like killing the darkness inside the devotees. They were invoking spiritual light for love to overcome worldly desires and attain the mystical state of union with their beloved ones.
There were a number of females covered in colorful shawls singing Sufi poetry and doing traditional dhamaal to pay homage to the saint.
BACKGROUND OF THE SAINT
Born in 1538, he started his school education at the age of 10. For the next twenty six years, he remained a devoted Muslim with a life of real austerity. A turning point came afterwards. He abruptly left the school (madras) and went about shouting and dancing in public. He became a Sufi and a wanderer exploring myths of the earth.
He believed in love for humanity and his disciples included a Hindu boy Madhu. The Hindu boy had left his family for the Sufi Lal Hussain, who loved him so much that he put the boy’s name before his own name and wished to be called Madhu Lal Hussain.
He was a great poet; his poetry consisted of short verses known as “Kafis”. These were designed as musical compositions. They contained the cycle of birth, blossoming, decay and death. They observed the play of human desire against the backdrop of this cycle, symbolizing despair and exultation, nostalgia and hope.His poems are so simple that one understands his message without any difficulty. “Knowing God by knowing ourselves” is the main theme of his poetry.
Madhu Lal Hussain died in 1599 at the age of 63 and was first buried at Shahdara, a place on the western bank of the River Ravi. But a few years later, the tomb was swept away by the floods. Then, it was shifted to the present site. Incidentally, the Hindu boy Madhu is also burried nearby.
Devotees dance around a fire lit in the courtyard and trying to get closer in the belief that their prayers would be answered as quickly as they are nearer.
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Celebrated on the last Friday of March, this is a three-day annual festival to mark the death anniversary of the Sufi. It starts after dusk; the devotees proceed in a procession singing on the beat of the drums. Rhythms of swinging bodies and exulting voices insist on being associated with the Saint. One is possessed by the drumbeat and feels like dancing dhamaal with other devotees and dervishes.
The festivities include the burning of hashish, singing of the saint’s poetry. Many pilgrims walk up to a fire at the shrine and throw candles into it. Everyone lights a lamp to pay reverence to the holy saint. He was a radical thinker and his poetry and writing spellbind the audience at the shrine illuminated by thousands of lamps and candles. It is one of the most cultural events in the city.
The last day is reserved for ladies. Thousands wearing colorful dresses, sing and dance to pay homage to the Saint. In a male dominated society, it is a rare occasion for the females to show their uninhibited affection for the saint.