Bulleh Shah (1680–1757) was a Punjabi Sufi poet, humanist and philosopher. His full name was Abdullah Shah.
Bulleh Shah is believed to have been born in 1680, in the small village of Uch, Bahawalpur, Punjab, in present day Pakistan. His father, Shah Muhammad Darwaish, was a teacher and preacher in a village mosque. Little is known about Bulleh Shah's ancestry except that some of his forebears were migrants from Uzbekistan, and that his family claimed direct descent from Muhammad.
When he was six months old, his parents relocated to Malakwal. His father later got a job in Pandoke, about 50 miles southeast of Kasur. Bulleh Shah received his early schooling in Pandoke and moved to Kasur for higher education. He also received education from Maulana Mohiyuddin. His spiritual teacher was the Qadiri Sufi Shah Inayat Qadiri, who was a member of the Arain tribe of Lahore.
A large amount of what is believed to be known about Bulleh Shah comes through legends, and is subjective; to the point that there isn’t even agreement among historians concerning his precise date and place of birth. Some "facts" about his life have been pieced together from his own writings. Other "facts" seem to have been passed down through oral traditions.
Bulleh Shah practiced the Sufi tradition of Punjabi poetry established by poets like Shah Hussain (1538–1599), Sultan Bahu (1629–1691), and Shah Sharaf (1640–1724).
Bulleh Shah lived in the same period as the Sindhi Sufi poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhatai (1689–1752). His lifespan also overlapped with the Punjabi poet Waris Shah (1722–1798), of Heer Ranjha fame, and the Sindhi Sufi poet Abdul Wahab (1739–1829), better known by his pen-name, Sachal Sarmast (“truth seeking leader of the intoxicated ones”). Amongst Urdu poets, Bulleh Shah lived 400 miles away from Mir Taqi Mir (1723–1810) of Agra.
The verse form Bulleh Shah primarily employed is called the Kafi, a style of Punjabi, Sindhi and Saraiki poetry used not only by the Sufis of Sindh and Punjab, but also by Sikh gurus.
Bulleh Shah’s poetry and philosophy strongly criticizes the Islamic religious orthodoxy of his day.
A Beacon of Peace:
Bulleh Shah's time was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs. But in that age Baba Bulleh Shah was a beacon of hope and peace for the citizens of Punjab. While Bulleh Shah was in Pandoke, Muslims killed a young Sikh man who was riding through their village in retaliation for murder of some Muslims by Sikhs. Baba Bulleh Shah denounced the murder of an innocent Sikh and was censured by the mullas and muftis of Pandoke. Bulleh Shah maintained that violence was not the answer to violence. Bulleh Shah also hailed the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur as a Ghazi, or "religious warrior", which caused controversy among Muslims of that time.
Bulleh Shah’s writings represent him as a humanist, someone providing solutions to the sociological problems of the world around him as he lives through it, describing the turbulence his motherland of Punjab is passing through, while concurrently searching for God. His poetry highlights his mystical spiritual voyage through the four stages of Sufism: Shariat (Path), Tariqat (Observance), Haqiqat (Truth) and Marfat (Union). The simplicity with which Bulleh Shah has been able to address the complex fundamental issues of life and humanity is a large part of his appeal. Thus, many people have put his kafis to music, from humble street-singers to renowned Sufi singers like the Waddali Brothers, Sain Zahoor, Abida Parveen and Pathanay Khan, from the synthesized techno qawwali remixes of UK-based Asian artists to the rock band Junoon.
In the 1990s Junoon, a rock band from Pakistan, rendered "Bullah Ki Jaana" and "Aleph" ("Ilmon Bas Kareen O Yaar"). In 2004, Rabbi Shergill turned the abstruse metaphysical poem "Bullah Ki Jaana" into a Rock/Fusion song that became popular in India and Pakistan. The Wadali Bandhu, a Punjabi Sufi group from India, have also released a version of "Bullah Ki Jaana" on their album Aa Mil Yaar... Call of the Beloved. Another version was performed by Lakhwinder Wadali and entitled Bullah.
Bulleh Shah's verses have also been adapted and used in Bollywood film songs including "Chaiyya Chaiyya" and "Thayya Thayya" in the 1998 film Dil Se.., and "Ranjha Ranjha" in the 2010 film Raavan. The 2007 Pakistani movie Khuda Kay Liye includes Bulleh Shah's poetry in the song "Bandeya Ho". The 2008 film A Wednesday, included a song titled "Bulle Shah, O Yaar Mere". In 2009 the first episode of the second season of Pakistan's Coke Studio featured a collaboration between Sain Zahoor and Noori, "Aik Alif" while, in June 2010, episode one of the third series featured "Na Raindee Hai" and "Makke Gayaan Gal Mukdi Nahi", performed by Arieb Azhar.