Translation: Rediscovering Bulleh Shah

Posted on July 8, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Culture & Heritage, Music, People, Poetry
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Adil Najam
A whole new generation has rediscovered Bulleh Shah. That is good.

Much of the credit for this rediscovery goes to the ‘sufi rock’ band Junoon and, more recently to the New Delhi singer Rabbi Shergill, and most importantly to the magnetic simplicity of ‘Bulla, ki jaanan mein koun.’ (I guess, Abida Parveen did for our generation what these guys are doing in interpreting Bulleh Shah for a new generation).

I must confess that I am a traditionalist and prefer more classical renditions of this timeless piece. My own sense, much like Deevan’s (of the blog ‘Rambling On’), is that Rabbi Shergill does a far superior job than Ali Azmat did. At least for me, Rabbi seems to ‘gets it’ more than Junoon did. But, in honesty, I am grateful to both; I also think that both should be grateful to Bulleh Shah.

So, why not judge for yourself. Here is the rendition by Rabbi Shergill. If you are new to Bulleh Shah, listen to it a couple of times before giving up on it. You can view it here by clicking on the play (arrow) button on the image below, or go to

For those who may want it, here is a version of the original and a translation by Kartar Singh Duggal:

I know not who I am

I am neither a believer going to the mosque
Nor given to non-believing ways
Neither clean, nor unclean
Neither Moses not Pharoah
I know not who I am

I am neither among sinners nor among saints
Neither happy, nor unhappy
I belong neither to water not to earth
I am neither fire, not air
I know not who I am

Neither do I know the secret of religion
Nor am I born of Adam and Eve
I have given myself no name
I belong neither to those who squat and pray
Nor to those who have gone astray
I know not who I am

I was in the beginning, I’d be there in the end
I know not any one other than the One
Who could be wiser than Bulleh Shah
Whose Master is ever there to tend?
I know not who I am.

‘Ki jaanan mein koun’ is the best known and most elegant of Bulleh Shah’s work and is itself an adaptation/translation from the works of earlier Persian philosophers. I wish that more people and singers will start looking at the rest of Bulleh Shah’s repertoire. Some have. For example, Shoaib Mansoor has already done a wonderful rendition of ‘Teray ishq nachaya kar thai-ya thai-ya’ as part of the Supreme Ishq series. And Noori has a song that seems inspired by ‘Kuttey tain-to uttay’.

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.

Followup post on Bulleh, Jugni, Shergill & Junoon, here.

78 responses to “Translation: Rediscovering Bulleh Shah”

  1. Mehar says:


    people who pray in a direction towards a particular city… to the one who bow before a book… to the one who pray towards a particular river….to the one who keep hair and think they are closer to god…

    For those who think that Bulla gets offended by being called a punk don’t understand him…. he is too small to be belittled and is too large to be belittled… contradictory …. that is what he is…. oh kehra banda jehra rabb nu samajh sakeya… menu milaayo ohde naal…. and that is the point that these sufis were trying to convey to us… I would not be shocked to find out if these people were atheists in their own right…. i hope i did not offend anybody and sorry if i did…. as he says dilaan vich hi taan rabb vasda…..that is not my intention because you are very precious to me but don’t pigeon hole your thinking and let it go free…

    orthodoxy never serves anybody….

    BTW Vijay Bajwa Can you please tell us the phrase where Theenvey was used so that we can get you your answer….



  2. Yasir Afzal Rajput says:

    Bulley Shah, I thank you for your peotry and the wonderful ideas it conveys. I have come across several writings of Shah Sahib, each one is as wonderful as the other. His poetry is magical and I am totally absorbed whenever I read its charm.

    Thank you
    Yasir Afzal
    Khi – PK

  3. Vijay S. Bajwa says:

    What is the meaning of the word “TheeNvey”
    I heard this at Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s concert, in the context of a Bulley Shah Kafi.


  4. Human says:

    @Rafay Kashmiri

    “tusi Bulleh nun samjeya hi nein !!!!

    You never understood Bullah !

    As he never knew God, thats why he lived and died like
    any one.

    Do we know Ar-Raab ? (not Greek Gods)

    I feel BULLEH SHAH understood self and God and in “Bulla Ki Jana mein kaun” he doesn’t say Bulla na jana main kaun.

    He clearly states what he is not in the begining and What he is at the end

    “I was in the beginning, I’d be there in the end
    I know not any one other than the One
    Who could be wiser than Bulleh Shah
    Whose Master is ever there to tend?”

    There no one other than the “One” and that he was there in the begining and he would be there in the end as there would be nothing or no one else.

  5. John says:

    Thankyou for this BEAUTIFUL Music. I HOPE & PRAY that ALL of us Human Beings will Continue to UNITE Through ALLAH, YAHWED, BUDDHA and ALL Other Cultures’ Interpretations and Expience of GOD’S LOVE Expressed through Such Creative Souls !

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