Bulleh Shah: The best rendition ever!

Posted on August 26, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Music, People, Poetry
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Adil Najam

The 249th annual urs of the great sage Bulleh Shah’s begins in Kasur today.

We here at ATP have paid tribute to the sage in two earlier posts (here and here). And even though I have been itching to write about the poetry of other greats such as Waris Shah, Khawaja Farid, Sultan Bahoo, Shah Hussain and others, the moment befits more mention of a sage who can never be mentioned enough.

On this wonderful occasion, I thought I would share with you the audio recordings of some of my favourite renditions of Bulleh Shah’s poignant kalaam. Including what is, at least for me, the single best rendition of a Bulleh Shah work ever!

Yes, I know that is a tall claim, and you are certainly more than welcome to your own opinions, but let me try to substantiate my view. For me Pathanay Khan singing this rendition of ‘Mera Ranjhan koi hor’ is the perfect voice, singing the perfect selection, with the perfect pathos, for the perfect depiction of the essence of a perfect Bulleh Shah experience. In case you missed the emphasis, I REALLY love this rendition. I have, quite literally, been pacing my study for the last hour and a half listening to this in a state of semi trance, physically unable to just sit still and type.

After having said all that, I hope you will give it at least one listen (here). If you do and if you have never heard it before, give it your full attention, give it time to seep in, and listen deeply to the passion in that voice as well as the power of those words. If you are one of the impatient types and can’t sit through the momentum building up, just push forward to around to minute 13 and see him getting into:

jaiN dil wich pyar di ramz nahiN
bass ouou dil kouN weeran samajh
jadouN pyar di jaan sujhaan nahiN
ouou banday kouN nadaan samajh
ee-o pyar aye dars waleeaN da
aye maslak paak nabeeaN da
anmool pyar di daulat aye
ee-koun uqba da samaan samajh
eee pyar di khatir arsh banney
eee pyar di khatir farsh banney
khoud pyar khudda wich wassda aye
meiN sach ahdaa, Quran samajh

Like all of the greatest poets – Faiz, for example – the beauty of Bulleh Shah is that in some ways it does not matter who is singing those words and how, the power of the words will carry through. At one level, I think that is the real power even behind the Shergill and Junoon versions. But as with Faiz (for example, Noor Jahan singing ‘mujh say pehli si muhabbat…‘ or Mehdi Hasan singing ‘gulouN meiN rang bharray…‘) there are some renditions that just perfectly blend music, voice and words. To me, this is one such renditions.

But I do understand this is a personal taste thing. I would love to hear what other folk’s favorite renditions are. There are many other renditions that are also tremendously powerful. For example:

Jumman Khan singing “Assan Ishq Namaz JadooN Neeti aye” (listen here). Its not the best recording, but note the opening verses:

jay rabb milda naataiN dhotaiN
tay rabb milda daddouaN maachiaN nou
jay rabb milda jungul phiraiN
atay rabb milda gaayaN wachiaN nou
way Bullayaa, rabb unnaaN nou milda
attay dilaiyan sachiyaN aachiyaN nou

Abida Parveen (listen here) brings a different sensibility to her rendition of the same song (here) but opens rather differently; by making fun of (as Bulleh Shah often did) of my profession:

paRh paRh ilm hazaar kitaabaN
qaddi apnay aap nou paRhiya naee
jaaN jaaN waRhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich waRhiya naee
aa-vaiN laRda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal laRiya naee

[yes, yes, you have read thousands of books
but you have never tried to read your own self
you rush in, into your Mandirs, into your Mosques
but you have never tried to enter your own heart
futile are all your battles with Satan
for you have never tried to fight your own desires]

Note how she also weaves in that other immortal verse about:

… kuttay, taiN touN uttay
mulla kanouN kuKKar changaaN
jehRa yaar jagaway suttay
taiN kan uttay…

[dogs are higher than you
and the rooster is better than the Mullah
for at least they wake friends who are asleep]

ATP had earlier written about how contemporary artists (Rabbi Shergill and Junoon) were rediscovering the work of this immortal poet and discovering — as so many earlier generations have — the vibrancy, political and social poignancy, and amazing musicality of the Bulleh Shah’s work.

For those who search for more contemporary renditions, here is another one. This one by Noori, based on Bullay Shah’s ‘Kuttey terray uttay’. I am a huge fan of Noori, but do not think this is their best work. Nor is it a good rendition of Bullay’s ‘Kuttey.’ But the social and political message is intense and the video, especially the first minute or so, is amazingly poignant. For those reason’s alone – and as an exhibit of the versatility and timelessness of Bullay Shah’s idiom – its worth watching.

Click on arrow at center, or view it directly here

The website DesiPundit had picked up on that post and, writing there, Neha mentioned something that has had me thinking ever since:

If others also paid Bulleh Shah more attention, they might find that in terms of his themes Bulleh Shah may be the most contemporary poet in South Asia today. Try looking at ‘Bass kar ji’ (Enough is enough) or ‘Moun aayee baat na rehndi hai’ (I must utter what comes to my lips) and you will find them resonating with your most contemporary political and social preoccupations.

I think Neha is exactly right. And much as I loved Rabbi’s version, and even as I have learnt to enjoy Junoon’s, I hope some of these audio selections will stand testimony that you don’t really need a guy totting a guitar and a fast-paced video to prove the eternal relevance and the deep ethos that is the poetry of Bulleh Shah.

P.S. My gratitude to APNA from where the audio is linked. The website is a tremendous public service and truly worth a visit; many visits.

23 Comments on “Bulleh Shah: The best rendition ever!”

  1. jugnoo says:
    August 26th, 2006 6:10 am

    He is a well known personality all around the world. I like his kalam too much. he was a true person & his poetry is been liked every where even punjabi or english translation. Many singers have sung his kalam in their own style.
    Bhula ke jana main kon i like most.

  2. Arvind says:
    August 26th, 2006 10:56 am

    Bulleh Shah is a remarkable poet. His poems have been translated into Gurmukhi script, used for Punjabi language in India. If Punjabi gained as a literary language in Pakistan, I believe people would be more familar with works of great poets like Bulleh Shah.

    The use of Urdu for official purposes literary and official purposes creates certain disadvantage for speakers whose mother tongue is Punjabi in Pakistan, which is about half of Pakistan’s population. It relegates Punjabi to the home sphere, individuals have to gain proficiency in another language if they hope to advance in government and other positions. Most importantly, since Punjabi Muslims have been unable to promote their own language like Sindhis, they have largely kept the impressive literature of Sufi poets like Bulleh Shah to largely an oral tradition.

    Has the development of Shahmukhi helped in making this literature more accessible

    Arvind Singh

  3. Adnan Ahmad says:
    August 26th, 2006 11:57 am

    My knowledge of Bulleh Shah is limited to what Abida has sung from his works. Once I heard somewhere on the web Shazia Manzoor sing “kee jaanaa’n..” and the notes were more than perfect; the best I ever heard any one sing.. different and effortless singing..

    Arvind, your points can very well be applied to Baloch and Pakhtoons.

  4. Aziz Akhmad says:
    August 26th, 2006 1:25 pm

    Arvind is right. Punjabi literature in Pakistan is handicapped by a lack of an apporpriate script. Reading or writing Punjabi in Urdu script is not easy. You lose certain sounds. Gurmukhi has solved this problem in Indian Punjab. Sindhis and Pashtoons in Pakistan have solved this problem by having their respctive scripts. I guess Baloch, too, have their own script.

    On a different note, a young Canadian poet of Pakistan origin, Rasheed Nadeem, perhaps inspired by Bulleh Shah, has written an interesting poem. I remember only the first four lines:

    Dunya saadhay hath na aayee,
    Assi charrh gaye deen day mathay
    Dunya mang, mang, tay dunya mang, mang
    Mang, mang ghis gaye saadhay mathay

  5. August 26th, 2006 1:56 pm

    Must confess that on the issue of keeping this poetic tradition alive I am an optimist. I am convinced that things are actually BETTER today on this count than when I was a college student in Pakistan and first got interested in this and I suspect they are also better than what they were, say, say 50 years ago.

    This was always an oral tradition and its vitality comes partly from being an oral tradition. Note, for example, how the Juman Khan and Abida Parveen versions of the same poem is so different – not only in rendition and the other selections they bring in, but also in the selections that are common. In some written precise traditions that might be sacrilege; here it is not only accepted and expected but encouraged. Which also keeps the kalaam contemporary. The inspiration behind these three posts is really the fact that the oral tradition has not only been kept alive (Rabbi, Junoon, Noori and others) but has been contemporized. Indeed, the more ‘traditional’ renditions are also alive and the vitality of the poetry just beats all odds. Indeed, the vitality of the oral tradition and the simplicity of the poetry itself means that this kalaam is well known and appreciated well beyond Punjabi speakers only. In fact, the same is true for Saraiki and Sindhi sufi poetry too.

    But beyond that, I think other things have happened. The resurgence of quality book publications happened in general in the 1990s (mostly thanks to Amina at OUP). Within this there was a rather striking resurgence of quality publications of Punjabi sufiana kalaam (Syed Akmal Hussain and others had at least something to do with this, I think). There is now a larger and better quality variety of publications available. I used to find reading Punjabi in Urdu was difficult (mostly because the experience was unfamiliar), I now find it less difficult. MY guess, however, is that for me and those like me reading it in Urdu script is still less of a task than trying to learn a new script. I think that the internet has also played a role in evangelizing the writing in Roman script. One did it out of necessity but over the years I can now read that fairly proficiently. Finally, great sites like http://www.apnaorg.com and the collections they have in all scripts proves that this is not a barrier to propagation.

  6. Naveed says:
    August 26th, 2006 3:45 pm

    It is wondefrul to see that true to its recent trackrecord, this post at ATP is generating comments that encompass so many important issues. I absolutely agree with Adil that 10 years ago, if one ventured out searching for information, there was so little. Thanks to the Internet and what he has hinted at, a sort of resurgence we have a lot at our disposal

    I think following the partition issue of language per se was not managed properly. The nationalistic bend of non-punjabis and symbolic use of language to lobby for their cause, resulted in continuation of the written literary tradition especially for Sindhi. But Punjabis have regained the pride in language & this resurgence is a positive development

    I am convinced that this pride was always part of its glorious history. Everyone talks about Faiz being the greatest poet after Iqbal, but there is innate sweetness and earthiness about his punjabi poems (kidray na paindeeyan dasaan, vay pardaysee-aa tairee-yaan) [Adil listen to this one by Nayyara which I am sure you have several times and you will pace in your room for couple of hours the trance being natural]

    There is a fantastic show on a local punjabi channel incidently with the same name as my favorite website APNA. This guy is sitting in a field reciting Sufi poetry and explaining the content for everyone to understand. Heck if I understand it then most urbanite punjabis can as well. That it leaves my family totally bewildered when i watch this show in another matter

    And it is the youth that are reason to give us hope that this resurgence has set into motion a process that is here to stay . The best “pop” album to come out in Pakistan by Meekal Hasan Band starts with “Sajan day hath baan asadee” by Shah Hussain. The followup album Andoolan which no one can find in the market but whose 1st video got a lot of air-play is another Shah Hussain Kafi “Jhok Ranjhar day jaana, naal mairay koee chalay”

    On the occasion of Bulleh Shah’s Urs, I have posted Muzafar A. Ghaffar’s poem on my blog. (He is also the translator of Bulleh Shah having come out with a 2-volume work on the poet] I believe it is a modern take by Mr. Ghaffar on “ik nuktay ‘ich gal mukdee ay”.

  7. Arvind says:
    August 27th, 2006 2:51 pm

    I am really impressed by the wonderful posts. The first writers in Punjabi language were Sufi poets and their stanzas resonate with a familiarity that is captivating and sincere, which is why my heart feels glad to hear that the youth in Pakistan and in other countries are reaffirming this tradition in song. I hope that in time a literary tradition will develop in Pakistan Punjab to support the rich oral tradition set to music.

    Punjabis in India and Pakistan have been divided by a border and along religious lines, though a cultural exchange will enrich both nations. If a rivalry exists between the two Punjabs, let it be a friendly one where we motivate each other to excel in the arts and all other fields, not one based on hostility and misunderstanding.

    India and Pakistan can be peaceful neighbours and Punjabis through their shared language and culture can plant the seeds of understanding. This is already happening with music where artists from India and Pakistan have an audience for their music that isn’t limited by national boundaries.

    Arvind Singh

  8. Sohaib says:
    August 28th, 2006 1:45 pm

    I first came across the Pathanay Khan version of “mera ranjhan hun koi hor” by visiting, I believe, Mr. Naveed’s blog casually and by mistake. Having listened to the song, I must say I agree with Mr. Najam that it is simply one of the best things one would ever hear.

    Now to add something constructive to the discussion. What is the value of the M.A. in Punjabi that a lot of universities offer here in Punjab and that a lot of people choose to do. Any insights on that?

  9. Zubair says:
    August 29th, 2006 12:17 pm

    The Pathana Khan recording is terrific.I had not heard before and first time did not like that much but listen again and again and its spells you. But I think over all Abida Parveen recording is still the best in these. And I don’t even understand half the words because I am not Punjabi and my Punjabi is not that good. But overall music is beautiful.

  10. Sanjay says:
    August 29th, 2006 1:55 pm

    I am an Indian and I must say ATP is one of my fav. blogs on internet. Also at times like these I wish I had at least learnt to read Urdu from my Grandfather.

    Keep up the great work. :)

  11. Naveed says:
    August 29th, 2006 3:37 pm

    Zubair – There are a few Abida CDs that are not available everywhere. Do do let me know which track you are referring to. Abida and Pathanay cannot be compared. Totally different styles. PK has a style that does not deviate too much. In terms of experimentation, his genre did not allow it too much. But tracks like “Sohni gharay no aakhdee, hun maira yaar mila gharay-ya” (Sohni pleading & praying for uniting with Mahiwal across the river) presents this exchange between the GhaRa and Sohni in a manner for which PK is not known otherwise

    The vocalization points to specific notions of Unity as in “Charkha bolay saeen saeen bayR bolay toon”. I picture a village and a spinning wheel and all the sounds made during the process of weaving thread into cloth and these sounds are pointing to the one-ness of God.

    Abida has variety and she has experimented more. For the past 1 year, I have listened to 2 of her CDs. It is appropriate that I mention it here since we are paying tribute to Bulleh Shah.

    CD 1 – Visaal (Has a orange colored cover with French translation of the Kafi titles)
    Track 1 – Royo Vaithee Royay (Sindhi Kafi – Shah Latif )
    (Sassui crying for her Love & vowing the search for Punnu”)

    Track 2 – “Mera Sohna Sajan Ghar Aya ay” (Punjabi Kafi – Shah Hussain)
    Track 3 – “Tatee ro ro vaat neharan” (Seraiki Kafi – Khwaja Ghulam Farid)
    Track 4 – “Ishq na darda moot kolon” (Punjabi Kafi – Bulleh Shah)
    Trach 5 – “Sajan day hath bahn asadee” (Punjabi Kafi – Shah Hussain)
    Track 6 – Aray Logo tumhara kya – (Traditional Urdu)

    CD 2 – Kafian Hazrat Shah Hussain by Abida
    White Jacket

    Track 1 – Nee Maira dil ranjhan raval mangay
    Track 2 – Raba mairay haal da mehram toon
    Track 3 – Sajjan day hath bahn asadee
    Track 4 – Mairay sahiba, main tairee ho mukee aan
    Track 5 – Raheeyay naal sajjan day raheeyay
    Track 6 – Maira Sohna sajjan ghar ayaa ay

    Both CDs are available at Radio City. Quality & production are superb. If I am not mistaken, these two are recorded outside Pakistan; most probably in India

  12. Talha says:
    August 29th, 2006 9:22 pm

    Like all of the greatest poets – Faiz, for example – the beauty of Bulleh Shah is that in some ways it does not matter who is singing those words and how, the power of the words will carry through

    I can not agree to this. You have to hear Abida Parveen sing Faiz to admit that she is not meant to sing Kalam-e-Faiz! I personally believe that it is a 50-50 poet and singer combination to make an artifact that is a masterpiece!

    But everything else, beautifully written and well said.

  13. Naveed says:
    August 30th, 2006 9:08 am

    Talha, I agree with you to some degree but the lady adapted to the ghazal genre much later.

    I find some of her ghazals rendered with extreme care. When she started with the ghazal genre, her kafi style did not appeal to me at all. She has since made what seems to be a conscious effort to keep ghazal within the traditional parameters.

    sample from “Tairay ghum ko jaan kee talaash thee” by Faiz sung by Abida can be accessed at


    This version is different from the one I recall which she performed at PTV. So if you listen to the above, imagine listening to it without the excess instrumentation which has made it a touch “filmy”

    The vocals are the same. Please listen to the whole thing especially when she goes “No sawal-e-vasl na arz-e-ghum na hikayatain na shikayatain”

    I have always enjoyed the complete abandon with which she has rendered this. She has probably taken a chance with several very difficult ghazals especially two from Nasir Kazmi that have impressed me a lot. One is

    kissee kalee nain bhee daikha naa aankh bhar kay mujhay
    guzr gaaee jaras-e-ghul udaas kar kay mujhay

    This is an absolute gem from Nasir Kazmi. I wish I was born 20 years earlier and in Lahore.

    I would have loved to know Nasir Kazmi & hang out with him :)

    ajeeb manoos ajnabee tha, mujhay to hairaan kar gaya vo

    I remember this ghazal sung by the late Pervez Mehdi. Absolutely the best ghazal and the best vocals that the late Pervez Mehdi was blessed with.

    The other Nasir Kazmi ghazal that Abida has covered beautifully is a chotee behar kee ghazal which goes “shehar sunsaan hay kidhar jain”


  14. June 19th, 2007 5:55 pm

    i want to listen talib hussain dard . please give me some information how can i listen him on net

  15. August 22nd, 2007 2:53 am

    saraiki zaban ty kam kran aaly har waseebi bhira koon mida salam saraiki zban dy wdhary sangy jitna kam keeta wnjy utna ghat a saraiki bahoon qadeem zban a jeenda koy sani kaini

    Dilshad mehwar karachi 0307-2850483

  16. basit says:
    August 27th, 2007 7:52 am

    I am really impressed by the wonderful posts. The first writers in Punjabi language were Sufi poets and their stanzas resonate with a familiarity that is captivating and sincere, which is why my heart feels glad to hear that the youth in Pakistan and in other countries are reaffirming this tradition in song.

  17. SIRAT says:
    November 2nd, 2007 11:47 am

    I am a huge fan of Baba Bulleh Shah and am glad that there are so many like minded people who share the same interests. Like they say music hasno boundries…I am from India where from the longest time as far as I can remember we had pakistan telecasts that were clearer than Indian Television telecasts. Nusrat was a regular feature then, younger and much slimmer with his brother he sung Bulleh Shah with such ardence and passion, one became intoxicated with the essence of the allmighty. Here are some of my favourite couplets..sorry for the roman, I might be off some words as they are translated from soundtracks…

    Raatin jagen taan sheikhakhvaven, Par raatin jaagan kutte, tain thi utte.
    Ratin bhonknon baaz naa ande, pher jaa raraan te suttee, tain thi utte.
    Yaar da booha mool na chad deh, paven maaro sau sau jutte, tain thi utte.
    Bulleh Shah uth yaar mana leh, Nahin taan baazi leh gaye kutte, tain thi utte.

    Sir te topi te neeyat khoti lena ki topi sar dhar ke?
    Tasbi firi par dil na firya, lena ki tasbi hath farh ke?
    Chilleh kite, par rab na milya, lena ki chilleh vich vadhke?
    Bullehah Jaag bina dudh nahin jamdah, paven lal hove karh karh ke.
    Na main pooja path jo keeti, Na main ganga nahayaan,
    Na main panj namazan padhyian, Na main tazba khadkaya
    Na main kiho roze rakhen, Na main chillah ghumaya,
    Bulleh Shah nu Murshad milya jinhe aiven hi jaan bakshaya.

    Makeh gayan gal bandi nahi,
    Jahe sau sau jumme pad aayeye.

    Ganga gayeh gal mukdi nahin,
    Paaven sau sau gote khah aiyeh.

    Gaja Gayan gal baldi naahin,
    Paaven sau sau pand padh aayeyeh.

    Bulle Shah Gal Tayon Mukdi,

  18. March 27th, 2008 11:36 am

    pathany khan jhaine lok sadina wich paida thindn

    kash maine pathany khan di zindgi wich wada sara hoonda tan unhan koon hik wari nal bahe ty suna ha

  19. November 6th, 2008 6:21 am

    I am very glad to visit Pakistaniat b/c in the side i able 2
    visit my value in the world.
    we are the ancient nation more than all b/c very the areins
    we are give the way 2 world who could not understand how they live in peace and happy. i have the formula.

  20. asma says:
    November 15th, 2008 8:52 am

    Though Abida parveen is making fun of your profession (through Bulleh Shah’s words, of course) her rendition is so classic and truly enchanting.

  21. asma says:
    November 15th, 2008 10:00 am

    Thank you Adil for this invaluable insight into the best renditions of Bulleh Shah. Pathaney Shah is simply superb and mesmerising.

  22. Saad Ahmed Baksh says:
    February 24th, 2009 1:01 am





    (S. A. Baksh)

  23. March 10th, 2010 4:55 am

    what a music real joy of music is this

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