Friday, 17 April 2015

The Question of Kashmiri Sufi Poetry

Our new generation is alienated from both traditional culture and religion. It means the idea of Kashmir, of pir waer, of the land of spirit, of the land of (transcendent) knowledge is in the danger of becoming incomprehensible. It has forgotten even names of certain artistic and cultural forms of traditional Kashmir. Now what is it that can help speak of the First Principles, of Divine Things, of wellsprings of culture and spirituality to restore to us faith and confidence in our culture, our tradition.
One thing that can be done is to have a better connect with Sufi poetry. In a secular age, art is said to be the alternative to help man find meaning in life. Here poetry and spirituality have been so juxtaposed that perhaps they can’t be separated. Poetry here has been a spiritual activity and it continues to be religiously invoked in Sufi gatherings. So even if we take secular age as given, Sufi poetry is there to stay and we need it for salvation of those who find theological language alienating.
We needn’t bother about relevance of Sufi poetry today–this can never be in question if we grant that love, relationships, beauty, mystery, ecstasy are never outdated and are able to show how these notions are linked to certain understanding of transcendence or implied in any serious conception of art or poetry. Sufi poetry is in almost every sense apogee of Kashmiri poetry and constitutes a part of our great tradition. The choice is only to creatively adapt it today and not to write it off as only historically important. If art is theology, Sufi poetry is a version of mystical theology that we need to better understand. So far we have only heard Sufi poetry; the challenge is to respond to it. If art alone can convert most people to seek transcendence that redeems in a post-theological world as is claimed by many thinkers in the West, we have to take resort to Sufi poetry in a big way. Kashmiri criticism is only beginning to take shape and our important critics are far from satisfied over the situation. This is particularly true about criticism of Kashmiri Sufi poetry. We need sound scholarship in religious, mystical and philosophical aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam to do justice to Kashmiri Sufi poetry. Failing this, there would be lamentable confusions in interpreting such notions as nirvana, kaenih, personal God, fana and we find them in abundance in our critics. And if we are engaging contemporary audience a familiarity with continental philosophy and major mystically inclined poets like Holderlin and Rilke is very important. Without knowing something of Heidegger and Derrida and of course great figures in Sophia Perennis our critical expositions would appear rather unsophisticated or out of date for postmodern audience.
 Dante can’t be profitably studied as mere “literature” as Coomaraswamy argued. It means Sufi poetry can’t be approached as a literature and formal criticism is hardly a criticism of it. Not even elementary Sufi terms such as Haq, zikr, pas-i-anfaas, zulf etc. can be understood from outside by academic critics. Big questions and controversies such as Rasul Mir as Sufi or romantic poet, folk narrative regarding Habba Khatoon’s mysticism, deeper meaning of folk tales as traditionalists or esotericism centric critics would emphasize, remain thus showing poverty of modern Kashmiri criticism of Sufi poetry. One needs to understand why Sufi poets like Ahad Zargar refused to easily give interviews or attend functions or talk to our modernist critics. Is this refusal comparable to refusal of Schuon to accept delivering lectures in universities? Schuon himself referred to Plato’s refusal to publicly speak for uninitiated or profane audience on the Good. In a traditional culture like ours (where revelation/metaphysics informs all cultural manifestations) the poet is a sort of sage. Poetry is a species of sacred activity akin to prayer. Poetry achieves something similar to what religion achieves. Our greatest poets have been mystics and even in the twentieth century the most beautiful poetry that has mass appeal is also mystical poetry sung by people at urs functions and regular functions associated with Pirs.
When asked how does he take the Sufi claim of being bestowed with a light of gnosis or breaking up of the wall of subjective prison that doesn’t seem to be in the lap of the transcendent principle that illuminates existential darkness, Rahi, our greatest living poet, once told me that he was not given the light of which the Sufis speak. But if we cleanse the doors of perception, the light that illuminates or transfuses everything and the perception of the infinitude of everything, metaphysical transparency of phenomena do follow according to saints, prophets and countless traditional thinkers from different cultures. There is a consensus amongst recognized adventures of Spirit or consciousness regarding accessibility of the Sacred or what Holderlin called “gleaming light.” If we discipline the senses and overcome laziness or lassitude that habitually rules us and prevents adventures into the higher realms of consciousness, the Spirit does get unveiled. And for artists this process is made simpler or less difficult.

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