Fakir Shah Hussain and Madho Lal

Context

The story of Sufi saint Fakir Shah Hussain, who fell in love with a Brahmin boy named Madho Lal, is celebrated during Pride Month.

Fakir Shah Hussain (1538-1599)

  • Orthodox Beginnings: Initially, Hussain followed Orthodox Islam but later shifted his beliefs, viewing the world as an ephemeral playground.
  • Union of Names: Their names are often combined as “Madho Lal Hussain,” inspired by the Sufi principle of fana.
    • Fana: This Sufi concept involves a profound love for God, merging the individual self with the Divine, so that the lover and the Beloved become one.
  • Literary Reference: Naved Alam, who wrote the verses of “Madho Lal Hussain,” refers to them as “the Dionysius of Punjab.”
    • Dionysus: In ancient Greek religion, Dionysus is the god of wine-making, orchards and fruit, vegetation, fertility, festivity, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.

Relationship Debate

  • Scholars disagree on whether the bond between Hussain and Madho Lal was purely spiritual, as between a Murshid (spiritual guide) and Murid (novice seeking enlightenment), or if it transgressed beyond this.
  • Support for Dulla Bhatti: Hussain supported Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti (Dulla Bhatti), who resisted oppressive taxes on peasants and was executed by Emperor Akbar.
  • Lost Writings: Many claim Hussain’s sayings were compiled in a now-lost secret book called “Baharia.”
  • Malamati Tradition: Some scholars suggest that Hussain encouraged scandalous rumors because he followed the Malamati tradition, which seeks opprobrium.
    • Malamati Tradition: Practitioners deliberately seek disrepute to avoid the pride that fame and acclaim can bring, which they see as barriers between themselves and the Divine.

Love and Folklore

  • Poetry: Hussain’s poems, popular in both eastern and western Punjab, often use a feminine voice, Heer.
    • Heer-Ranjha: He identifies as Heer, part of the star-crossed lovers Heer-Ranjha, with his mentions of Ranjhan referring to either the Divine or Madho, open to interpretation.

Mela Chiraghan: The Festival of Lamps

  • Annual Celebration: Mela Chiraghan is an annual Urs (death anniversary) celebrated in March at the saint’s shrine near the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore.
    • Historical Patronage: The festival was supported by the Mughals, the British, and Sikh emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who merged it with the Basant festival.
    • Traditions: People traveled from Amritsar to Lahore, singing ‘Sakhnia,’ and the final day of the three-day festival was traditionally reserved for women.
    • Celebrations: Large crowds gather to sing and dance (called dhamaal) around a fire in red robes, evoking the image of a Sufi saint as a moth attracted to a candle’s flame.
    • Decline in Popularity: The festival’s popularity declined after Pakistan’s former president Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq banned the playing of dhol and the use of phallic symbols during the celebration.

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