A Life Consecrated: The Story of Shams Faqīr

He was a remarkable Kashmiri Ṣūfī mystic, and his poetry continues to captivate and intrigue readers even today
"The story of Shams Faqīr has been preserved in numerous works, primarily in the Kashmiri language. In this account, we shall focus on providing a concise life sketch of this esteemed Ṣūfī-poet."
"The story of Shams Faqīr has been preserved in numerous works, primarily in the Kashmiri language. In this account, we shall focus on providing a concise life sketch of this esteemed Ṣūfī-poet."Screengrab

Poetry, throughout history, has been a powerful means of expressing experiences, ideas, and art. Within this realm, Muslim mystic poets have reached the pinnacle of poetic expression.

Drawing from their esoteric experiences, they endeavour to lead people back to the Word of God, making them revered as moral teachers in society. One notable figure from the nineteenth century is Muḥammad Siddīq Bhat (1843-1901), renowned by his pen name Shams Faqīr.

He was a remarkable Kashmiri Ṣūfī mystic, and his poetry continues to captivate and intrigue readers even today.

Through the skilful use of similes, metaphors, and idioms, he vividly portrays his religious experiences in his poems. Many of his verses illuminate the various states (aḥwāl) and stages (maqāmāt) that a seeker (sālik) encounters on the journey towards attaining presence of the Truth (al-Ḥaqq).

One of his renowned verses, “wanay-yo sīrr-i asrār, yinov āsakh wobeely” (Let me enlighten you with the secret of secrets, be not distracted, however), not only encapsulates the essence of his religious experience but also conveys the tender concern of a caring teacher.

The story of Shams Faqīr has been preserved in numerous works, primarily in the Kashmiri language. In this account, we shall focus on providing a concise life sketch of this esteemed Ṣūfī-poet.

Shams’ life was predominantly spent in Kashmir during the rule of the Dogras (1846-1947). He was born in Chinkraal Mohalla of Haba-Kadal, Srinagar, and his final resting place is in district Budgam’s Kresh-Pura village, now known as Shams-pura in honour of the Ṣūfī poet.

Afaq Aziz, one of the compilers of Shams Faqīr’s poetry, suggests that Shams Faqīr was born in 1839 and passed away in 1916. On the other hand, Moti Lal Saqi, another compiler of Shams’ poetry, contends that he was born in 1843 and died in 1901. The latter dates find support in an inscription on Shams’ tombstone, which states that he was born in 1843 and passed away in 1901. Consequently, it is reasonable to assert that Shams’ life mainly spanned the 19th century, and he departed for the eternal world in the early 20th century.

The attempt to closely examine Shams’ life is hindered by the scarcity of written records, and the available information remains fragmented. Ironically, instead of delving into historical records, people often prioritize sharing miraculous anecdotes about him. Despite this, biographical details gathered from oral and written sources offer some insights into Shams’ life.

Shams’ life was an embodiment of devotion, wisdom, and compassion, as expressed by many who follow his line of thought.

From a young age, Shams displayed a profound interest in spirituality and a desire to understand the mysteries of life. At a young age, he was involved in the shawl weaving profession, following in his father’s footsteps.

Though he lacked formal education, he found guidance at the Shawl factory from an informal teacher, Muḥammad Na‘īm, also known as Nyam-Saeb, who was a renowned Kashmiri Ṣūfī-poet of the nineteenth century.

Under Nyam-Saeb’s care, Shams not only learned the craft of shawl weaving but also began his journey into the esoteric dimension of Islam (Taṣawwuf). Besides Nyam-Saeb, Shams gained knowledge from various Ṣūfī teachers, including Sochh-Meliyār and Rasūl Shāh Hākih-Tsr.

At some point, Shams moved to Punjab, possibly seeking livelihood opportunities, a common practice among some Kashmiris, particularly during winters. In order to deepen his understanding of Taṣawwuf, it is said that a Ṣūfī teacher recommended him to visit Multan and seek Rasūl Shāh Hākih-Tsr, who had left the Valley and settled there.

After returning from outside the Valley, Shams married Aisha, the daughter of Abdul Azīz Bhat, a pashmina shawl merchant from Anantnag, Kashmir. The couple settled in Kresh-Pura village of Budgam, where they spent the rest of their lives together and had two sons and a daughter.

During his life, Shams sought spiritual discipline and closeness to God, spending some time in a cave at Qazi-Bagh, Budgam. Subsequently, he devoted the rest of his life to Kresh-Pura, Budgam, and eventually passed away in the same place.

Shams, recognized as one of the most celebrated Kashmiri Ṣūfī-poets, holds a remarkable influence over the people of Kashmir through his life and works. A Ṣūfī musical gathering (mahfil-e-sam‘ā) is considered incomplete without recitations from Shams’ love poems (ghazal) that are focused on God or his poems (na‘at) praising Prophet Muḥammadﷺ.

Despite this cultural significance, Shams’ poetry has not received as much scholarly attention, especially in English, as some other key figures of Sufism in Kashmir—a surprising fact given his importance in the history of Sufism in the region.

Some writers who have attempted to analyze and understand Shams’ mystical poetry argue that he initiated a new period in Kashmir’s mystic poetry by merging Sufism with Kashmiri Śaiva Darśana.

However, a closer examination of Shams’ poems raises doubts about the validity of these arguments, as the evidence supporting the claim that he synthesized these two streams of religious thought appears insufficient and weak.

In some of the works and within common understanding, it is suggested that Shams had an affiliation with the Qādiriyyah order of Taṣawwuf. This notion is supported by the appearance of the word “Qādirī” in Shams’ poetry, though it is mentioned only once, and in a few other instances, he indirectly refers to Shaykh ‘Abdul Qādir Jīlānīرَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ as “dastgīr” while narrating the heavenly journey of Prophet Muḥammadﷺ. However, some Taṣawwuf-oriented Muslims in the Kashmir Valley challenge this belief based on the following specific verse from his poetry.

Shamso aeshqas chhuni syilsyil;

hosh kar yuth nov gatshakh gāefil.

(O! Shams, love is beyond Ṣūfī orders;

Be cautious, not oblivious).

In the above verse, Shams makes a proclamation that has led some to believe that he did not wish to be affiliated with any Ṣūfī order, including the Qādiriyyah one. However, despite this, his poems reveal the significance he places on having a spiritual guide (shaykh).

Shams firmly believes that to attain spiritual discipline and closeness to God, one must follow a rigorous and systematic approach under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher (murshid), whom he even praises in some of his poems. According to Shams, elevating oneself spiritually necessitates adhering to the instructions of a teacher.

At the same time, Shams asserts that Islam itself is a comprehensive and orderly way of life. If one follows its principles diligently, it prevents the follower from going astray. As a devout Muslim, Shams attempted to not deviate from the path of Islam. He eloquently expresses this recognition in the following words:

Lā 'Ilāha 'Illā llāh sar tshīy kartan nafī-isbātaye.

(Recall, recognize and affirm, there is no Allah save Him.)

Al-Ḥamdu Lillāh Dīn Zorāwār.

(Praise be to Allah, firm the path of Islam is.)

The author is Assistant Professor in the International Centre for Spiritual Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology, Jammu and Kashmir.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir