Philosophy of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai | Leghari Abdul Karim

 Philosophy of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai

Philosophy of Shah Abdul Latif

Leghari Abdul Karim [ M.A (previous) ]

    Sometimes it is alleged that Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit is not a great philosopher although a great poet he may be; and that, even his poetry has no universal appeal on account of its religious outlook and under-tone.

   Such a grave misconception, however, is based upon a sad ignorance of, and a biased unfamiliarity with, the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif.

    Before we proceed to examine the statement, it is necessary to understand the meaning of poetry and the function of a poet; so that we may be able to understand Shah, his potery and even his philosophy.

    It is, no doubt, very difficult to give a comprehensive definition of poetry. But a few references from the writings of the great writers, I think, would help us in understanding the poetry and the poet. In the words of Augustine, poetry "if not asked I know if you ask me, I know not". (1) Wordsworth would define it as "the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge." (1) To Dante it is "the divine phantom of reality" (2); while Mathew Arnold defines it as "a criticism of life......." Thus, poetry is a criticism and even an interpretation of life, a treatment of its facts, experiences, and problems in which the emotional elements predominate." (1)

    Undoubtedly little poet think of little things and they may not be able to deal with the problems of life; but the great poets, as Shah, let us listen to him: He says.

      "See, saith Latif, the sombre cloud

Hath lowered and the big-dropped rain

Is fallen. Take the cattle out And make your way accross the plain. 

Desert your huts: your panniers fill Against the need of coming hours.

It is no time in God-despair

 To sit and idle. Lo! it showers". (3)

  And again:

'O sisters'. how the tinkling bell 

Has set my limbs to sprightly dance.

 To stranger folk how may I tell

The love that doth my heart entrance?'. (3)

    'It is in such songs'; states H.T. Sorley, 'that Shah Abdul Latif reaches his highest summit as a poet talking the Universal language of poetry, not bound by any restrictions of time, place or narrow mood'.(3)

       It is but a fact that the great poets come with prophetic mission, for giving new ideas and messages through their poetry. "Poet and Prophet", aptly said Carlyle,"differ greatly in our loose modern notions of them....Fundamentally indeed they are still the same; in the most important respect, especially, that they have penetrated, both of them, into the sacred mystery of the universe-" That divine mystery, which lies every where in all beings, 'the Divine Idea of the World, that which lies at the bottom of Appearance', of which all appearance, from the starry sky to the grass of the field, is but it vesture, the embodiment that rendered visitable". (4) Philosophers may not be the poets, but the poets must be philosophers. "No man was ever yet a great poet", says Coleridge, "without being at the same time a profound philosopher". Browning went on a step further and said, "Philosophy first, and poetry, which is the highest outcome, afterwards". (2)

      From all these quotations it is clear that a great poet must at the same time be a great philosopher. Regarding the charge against Shah, that because he is a religious man, therefore, he is not a philosopher, we would only say that "theism is the natural inborn belief of humaity," (5) and so far as philosophy and religion are concerned "there is a province where poetry, religion and philosophy all meet on common ground". (3) Shah's poetry, however, is not confined to Islamics only; but also "here there is an echo of Plotinus and Hellenism: there is Alexanderian Christianity with a hint now and then of something that springs from Budhaism and Vedants doctrines....Strange is that the mysticism of Christianity is not alien to the spirit of this Sindhi poet", (3) and this all, truely makes Shah a profound Philosopher.

      So the critics who say that it is wrong to speak of a 'Philosophy of Shah' because he never had one, are certainly unfair in their estimate of the quality of Shah's thought. It is true that there is no finished product in the shape of a clear-cut theory in the works of Shah; but he has given his readers many broad hints and suggestions on which a philosophy can be worked out. 'Philosophy  means both the seeking of wisdom and the wisdom sought'. (6) It will then really be unfair to look how the wisdom was sought for seeking wisdom. To say that the true philosopher is the man with a universal vision and, therefore, the last to look down upon those facts of 'mortal wisdom' which had no theoretical bearing, is quite ridiculous. (7) The philosophy of Shah Abdul Latif, therefore, imposes no restrictions upon us except only that we must not interpret or pass null and void  judgements upon his ideas without keeping in mind his thought.

        We have already said that Shah Abdul Latif never propounded any theory. He is an artist but his thought is philosophic, and He is we see that he touches almost all the main clusters (types) of philosophy. Here there are the subtlest and deepest ideas of 'metaphysics': the theme of which is the nature of reality; and of 'epistemology'; the theory of knowledge. Now it is beauty, now it is love and sorrow. Over and above all that it is self renunciation and hopelessness of the ideal and the unworthiness of man which absorbs the whole thought of the mystic. Attached to this we find suggestions of the beliefs of man's quest for eternal life, in the perfect love of God, which makes a pantheistic theory of the emanation of all things from God and their ultimate union with Him. All these traits are evident in Shah Abdul Latif.

      Many a stanzas can be quoted in this respect, but we insist upon a few only. As in Sur Marui, Shah deals with the abduction from her lover of a girl 'Marui' by Umar for whom she never felt love. The poem opens with the subtlest and deepest metaphysics. Shah in the words of Marui,, sings:   

  'When there fell on mine ears the word  "Am I not then your Lord"?

  And with "Yes" my heart gave assent, With the folk in the hedges pent. (3)

  And, again, in Sur Mazuri:

  'By dying live that thou may'st feel 

  The Beauty of Beloved. 

   Thou Will surely do the righteous thing

    If thou will follow this advice.

     They who so died before their death

      By death were not in death subdued. . .  Assuredly they live who lived. 

      Before their life of living was.

       Who lived before their living was

        From age to age will live for aye.

         They will not die again who died

        Before the dying came to them. (3)

        One would, perhaps, hazard to remark: "what about the rational grounds of Shah's beliefs". In fact this has become a general tendency in philosophy to rationalize upon all the beliefs or convictions that one possesses or expresses. This, indeed, is a limited view of 'philosophy'. In fact 'when we speak of a man's philosophy, we mean simply the sum of total of his beliefs and we refer in general to those beliefs which have the widest scope.. ; philosophy as a science, however, means the examination of beliefs. But it does not necessarily insist that every belief must be established by reason. For many a beliefs come to us by way of authority or suggestion the authority of parents and teachers; the suggestion of admired persons." (8).

    It must, therefore, be emphasized that Shah does not argue for anything he produces; for, it seems, he did never try to score cheap logical victories. But this does not mean that he was not capable of it. we find that whenever he was questioned, his answer was logically so pertinent that the questioner did always remain silent. (9)

    There is a well known line in the works of Shah which says:

اکر پڙھ' الف' جو ٻیا ورق سپ وسار

 (Read 'A'-forget other all).

But at the same time in Sur Suhini, we find:

    'For they that certain knowledge won    Where stands on barren hill the town.   Behind them empty thoughts they put To make them townsmen of Lahut. (3)

    This is a great diversity-diversity in the sense of philosophy, and truly volumes could be written on this. But any further discussion of these points is beyond the scope of this article. Its chief aim is expositive rather than critical.    


  "Thy love is in thy lap": then why from  travelers dost thou make thy quest? 

  "Thy love's within thee'. see'st thou not?"  This saying ponder well and know! 

  "Thy love is in thy lap": why askest thou

   like this for sign of him. 

   "Nearer then vein of neck is he". Thine own is with thy very self. (3)


  'O moon, such a paltry thing as thou art.  Would I ever compare to the Friend?

   His splendour gleameth for ever: and lo! only at night thou art bright! (3)


 'Within the heart red embers glow

 But never outward vapours rise

Heap up the fire and fan desire

That being burnt may make thee wise'. (3)


    'If a moth thyself callest,

    Turn not from flaming fire;

    Leap in love's bright light, and be

     A bridgroom on thy pyre.

    Thou dost not know entire

    O novice, the oven's mystery! (10)


    'Be patient, bow thy head and see.

     Lo! Anger is a mighty woe.

      In patience there abideth joy.

     O honest sir, this surely know! (3)     


       The poetry of Shah consists of a large body of verses. In addition to his philosophy, we find that many of his best known poems, which are written round folk stories, are full of psychological insights and interrogation. In fact 'the poetic eye of Shah Abdul Latif has been in these plain folk tales of long gone generations' material for the composition of psychological insight with the philosophical thought. (3) In these tales, more often the treatment is deeply psychological: "busy not with the fate of the lovers but with the effect, events have on lover's minds". (3) A few examples from Shah's verses will do more:-

    'O mother of his, hold not thou back 

      The trader son of thine.

    Till the twelfth month sere did he not appear;

    Then his gear on the shore he gathered once more,

    And sailed off over the brine.

    And again:

    'O heart within me, out sally and see

    The abode that the loved one doth know; .  

      And there on his threshold stoop thee down

    And kisses on kisses bestow'. (3)


  1. An Introduction to the study of Literature-Hudson page 63, 64, 66.
  2. Iqbal Review, April '60, pages 43, 46.
  3. Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit-Sorley H. T. pages 233, 234, 288, 287, 281, 284, 285, 326, 313, 318, 321, 234, 320, 364.
  4. On Hero Worship-Carlyle, page 313.
  5.  From Lap of the 'Brown Girl in Search for God'.Mr. & Mrs. I. I. Kazi.
  6. The Dictionary of Philosophy-Runes, D.D.
  7. Rabindranath Tagore-A philosophical Study-Naravana, V. S., page 5.
  8. Types of philosophy-Hocking, 9)W.Lutuf-u-Latif-Din Mohd Wafai.
  9. Quoted by Mehboob Ali in "DAWN", Karachi, August 22, 1959.

Note: This article is taken from the journal of "wisdom" magazine Volume,2,1963.

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