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Fakir Shah Hussain and Madho Lal

  • Context (IE): The story of Sufi saint Fakir Shah Hussain, who fell in love with a Brahmin boy named Madho Lal, is celebrated during Pride month.
  • Hussain (1538-1599) faithfully followed Orthodox Islam but later shifted to believing that the world is an ephemeral playground.
  • Their name is taken as “Madho Lal Hussein“, inspired by the Sufi principle of fana.
  • The Sufi principle of fana involves a profound love for God, which merges the individual self with the Divine so that the lover and the Beloved become one.
  • Naved Alam (penned the Verses of “Madho Lal Hussein”) refers to them as “the Donysius of Punjab”.
  • However, scholars disagree on whether the relationship between the two was a spiritual bond of a Murshid (spiritual guide) and Murid (novice seeking enlightenment) or “transgressed” beyond it.
  • Hussain supported Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti (Dulla Bhatti), who fought the oppressive tax imposed on peasants and was hanged by Emperor Akbar.
  • Many versions claim that Hussain’s sayings were compiled in a secret book, “Baharia,” which is now lost.
  • Some scholars suggest he encouraged scandalous rumours because he followed the Malamati tradition of seeking opprobrium.
  • In ancient Greek religion and myth, Dionysus is the god of wine-making, orchards and fruit, vegetation, fertility, festivity, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.
  • Practitioners of Malamati tradition of opprobrium go out of their way to become disreputable and eschew the hubris that accompanies fame & acclaim and serves as a barrier between them & the Divine.

Love and folklore

  • Hussain’s poems, which remain popular in eastern and western Punjab, use a feminine voice, Heer.
  • He identifies as Heer, one-half of the star-crossed lovers of Heer-Ranjha.
  • His mention of Ranjhan referring to the Divine or Madho is open to interpretation.

Mela Chiraghan: The festival of lamps

  • Mela Chiraghan is an annual Urs (death anniversary) celebrated in March at the Saint’s shrine near the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore.
  • Mela Chiraghan was patronised by the Mughals, the British, and even the Sikh emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who famously merged the saint’s Urs with the festival of Basant.
  • The festival was said to be celebrated by people coming from Amritsar to Lahore, singing some vulgar verses called ‘Sakhnia’. Traditionally, the final day of the three-day festival was reserved for women.
  • The three-day festival attracts large crowds where devotees 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.
  • The popularity of the festival 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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