MORE THAN SEVEN CENTURIES after his death, Sheikh Farid remains a towering figure in the hearts, minds, and imaginations of the Punjabi people. His slokas in the Adi Granth are cherished, his words are sung by popular performers, and his sayings continue to be part of everyday conversation. Even very young children in the Punjab are able to recite many of his poems by heart.
Sheikh Farid: The Great Sufi Mystic is based on the extensive research done by the author for an earlier book, Bolai Sheikh Farid, published in 2002 in the Punjabi language. Incorporating additional contemporary research and new English translations, it has been prepared with the assistance of an accomplished team of researchers and translators.
This is the most recent volume in a series of books published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas presenting the perspectives of mystics from different traditions. Although Sheikh Farid was a Sufi mystic.from North India, his poetry is included in the Adi Granth, and his message clearly underscores the commonality found among the great mystics of the world and their mystic traditions.
We are particularly pleased to be able to publish the Persian and Multani verses translated into English, most of them for the first time. With these two additional collections of poetry, the multi-faceted Sheikh Farid comes into clearer focus: Sufi sheikh, love-intoxicated mystic, Arabic scholar, poet, and a native son of the Punjab.
BABAFARID (1173-1265 CB), the beloved thirteenth-century saint from the Punjab, is widely known by the unusual title of the Treasure of Sweetness (Ganj-i shakar). Among people who come from the Punjab, even a reference to Ganj-shakar or Shakar-ganj will immediately be understood to mean Baba Farid, also known as Sheikh Farid.
Over the centuries legends have developed giving miraculous explanations for Farid's title. For example, one of these legends has it that after fasting for forty days, Farid broke his fast with a lump of mud. In response to his extraordinary austerity, a voice from the heavens said, "You have been included in the category of mystics that spout sweet words, and from today you will be called Ganj-i shakar, the Treasure of Sweetness:' Another legend tells that when Farid tripped and fell on the road, a piece of dirt entering his mouth turned into sugar. His master heard of this and quoted a verse from Sanai: A stone turns into a pearl in your hand, The poison becomes sugar in your mouth.'
Balwant Singh Anand, a twentieth-century biographer of Farid, suggests a less miraculous explanation: It was probably "the sweetness of his words, the kindness of his actions and the warmth and affection he displayed towards one and all that earned him the title of Ganj-i shakar Certainly, all descriptions of Sheikh Farid's manner of living support Anand's conclusion. Many anecdotes that record his interactions with disciples, visitors, and even belligerent enemies refer to Farid's kindness, warmth, and affection. His generosity was such that he routinely starved himself while giving all he had to feed the poor. Seemingly tireless, he made himself available at all hours for those who sought his help.
Perhaps Sheikh Farid's humility and simple practicality also contributed to the ineffable sweetness people associate with him. Though well educated in Persian and Arabic, he reached out to the local Multani people in their own language - a language which up to that time had no written form. Far from confusing them with the ornate courtly images and complex, layered symbolism of the Persian poetry that seemingly flowed from his lips as easily as breath, Baba Farid spoke to them simply. In rhyming couplets, he used images from the parched landscape they knew: birds, river banks, trees, desert thorns, grass and dust underfoot, fire, crops in the fields, torrential rain and mud.
This book is the result of the efforts of an extensive team of researchers and translators. Finding accurate, historical sources for the life of this medieval saint is challenging. Our goal is to present a rich and vibrant picture of Sheikh Farid, as depicted in the most reliable sources. We begin sketching his life by piecing together anecdotes and recollections, relying particularly on the accounts of people who had direct contact with Sheikh Farid.
Next, we discuss his mystical teachings. Sheikh Farid was the third Sufi master (sheikh or pir) in the Chishti lineage in India:
In the verses and sayings attributed to Sheikh Farid, we can glean a few fundamental aspects of the teachings he passed on to his disciples. By going beyond his own words to include the teachings of other Sufi masters in the Chishti lineage - particularly Sheikh Farid's own pir, and the pir of his pir - our intent is to attain a clearer and more detailed discussion of his teachings. Throughout this book we refer to locations using the place names that were current during Sheikh Farid's lifetime.
Following a section on his life and teachings, we present two collections of poetry attributed to Sheikh Farid. Each poem includes a transliteration of the original language and its English translation. This format gives readers familiar with both languages an opportunity to enjoy them in their original version as well as in translation.
The first is a collection of the verses that are included in the Adi Granth, the seventeenth-century scripture that brings together the poetry of the first five Gurus and the ninth, in the line of Guru Nanak, as well as many other saints from different parts of India. Sheikh Farid's reputation as a poet rests over- whelming on this collection of verses. We present a phonetic transliteration of the original Gurmukhi script along with an approved Adi Granth translation.
The second section of poetry contains verses that are outside of the Adi Granth. All are in Persian or in the Multani language of the western Punjab. While Sheikh Farid is best known for the verses in the Adi Granth, Persian was the language he spoke with his disciples, his master, and his fellow Sufis. Like many other Sufis of his time Sheikh Farid loved to gather with his fellow Sufis for sama, the recitation and listening to the singing of mystical poetry in the Persian language. Some of the Persian verses presented here were composed by Sheikh Farid. Others are Persian verses he frequently recited which he mayor may not have composed himself Both those he composed and those he loved to recite add richly to our understanding of Sheikh Farid, his mystical insight, and his ardent love of God. For example, disciples report that he often recited the following poem:
I wish to turn into dust
and find my abode under Your feet
I wish to live in union with You.
I am weary of both worlds
and my sole purpose here is You -
to live for You and die for You.
It is said that the final lines of this verse, "to live for You and die for You," were continually on his lips.
Most of the verses in Multani attributed to Sheikh Farid were passed down orally for centuries before they were first recorded in writing. An early manuscript penned close to Sheikh Farid's lifetime contains only a few of them. Despite the uncertainty of whether each verse was actually composed by the historical Sheikh Farid himself, we find value in these Multani verses. They reflect the rich and vibrant ongoing spiritual and literary tradition that has grown up around his legacy. Sheikh Farid remains a treasure of sweetness - that was filled to overflowing in the thirteenth century and continues infusing life with its sweetness today.
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