Madho Lal Hussain of Lahore: Beyond Hindu and Muslim

Madho Lal Hussain

by Yoginder Sikand from Pakistan Christian Post, Oct. 31, 2005

`Shah Hussain! Shahadat Paye O Jo Maran Mitran De Age (Shah Hussain! He [alone] attains martyrdom who dies at the feet of his beloved)

Sufism has had a long and rich history in the Indian sub-continent. It is perhaps in Punjab, more than in any other part of this vast land, that Sufism has struck the deepest roots, producing many great exponents and exercising a pervasive influence on the minds of the common people. To this very day, the innumerable Sufis of this region are held in the highest esteem by millions of Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits and Hindus of the province and beyond.

Shah Hussain is one such mystic who is still fondly remembered by millions of ordinary Punjabis four centuries after his death. He was born in Lahore in 1539 A.D. into a family of the Dhatha Rajput tribe. This tribe had recently converted to Islam, hence the epithet “Shah” attached to his name. Even as a child Hussain showed a marked preference for red clothes, which explains why he was also called Lal (Persian for “red”) Hussain. Hussain`s strong mystical inclinations were apparent very early in his life. In childhood itself he managed to memorize the entire Qur`an under the guidance of his teacher, Shaikh Abu Bakr. Then, at the age of ten he was initiated into the Oadiriyah Sufi order by the renowned saint Bahlul Shah Daryai of Chiniot. For the next twenty-six years he lived under the strict supervision of his Pir (spiritual master), faithfully following all the rites and practices of orthodox Islam, and leading a life of great austerity.

ImageRenunciation Sufi Muslim Devotee at the Mela Charagan (Lamp Festival) Celebration of Madho Lal Hussain

At the age of thirty-six an incident occurred that was to completely change Hussain`s life. One day while at a madrasa studying a tafsir (commentary) on the Our`an under the tutelage of Shaikh Sadullah of Lahore, he came across the Qur`anic verse: “The life of this world is nothing but a game and a sport.” He asked the Shaikh to explain the verse and was told that it meant that the world should be shunned. Hussain refused to accept this interpretation and asserted, instead, that the words of the verse must be taken literally. He told his teacher that, in accordance with his understanding of this verse, he would spend the rest of his life in enjoyment. It was during this period of his life that Hussain met Madho, a Brahmin lad. The two men became so closely associated that in the popular mind the saint is most commonly known as Madho Lal Hussain, as if the two had been fused into one. The intensely close relationship that blossomed between them has been the subject of much speculation and controversy, starting in their very lifetime. John Subhan, an expert on Indian Sufism, writes that their contemporaries saw this intimate connection between a Hindu boy and a Muslim faqir of “questionable character” as “a disgrace”, though he himself sees this

Lovers of Madho Lal Hussain Circling Sacred Fire

“irresistible attraction” between the two men in terms of “fervent love”.  Like wise, the Punjabi historian Shafi Aquil speaks of the relationship between Madho and Hussayn as one of “boundless love” and for this employs language generally used to describe male-female relationships. Thus, he writes, “Shah Hussayn was in love with Madho and Madho himself, too, desired him” (Madho se Shah Hussayn ko pyar tho aur khud Madho bhi unko chahte the). He goes on to add that, “Under no condition could Shah Hussayn bear to be separated from Madho”.

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