Hindu Holi festival and Islam as described in two poems


These translations from different colloquial dialects of North India – which may be collectively referred to as Hindustani – engage with the festival from a tangent. The kaafi by Bulleh Shah asserts the Sufi’s right to celebrate Holi as much as any one else, while remaining steeped in his faith, even as it aligns itself with the Vrindavan traditions.

Amir Khusrau’s qawwali is an ecstatic jubilation of the colour and aura of his master Hazrat Nizamuddin’s presence. It comes from the ecumenical Chishti tradition that has always advocated generosity to all, irrespective of their religion. Both are hallmarks of the syncretic inheritance of India.

Kaafi attributed to Bulleh Shah

I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord,
saying bismillah.

Cast like a gem in the name of the prophet,
Each drop falls with the beat of Al-lah, Al-lah,
Only he may play with these colourful dyes,
Who has learnt to lose himself in Allah.

“Am I not your lord?” asked the Lover,
And all maids lifted their veils,
“Everyone said, yes!” and repeated:
“There is only one God.”

I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord,
saying bismillah.              

— Translated by Maaz Bin Bilal

Madan Gopal Singh explains and sings the verses attributed to Bulleh Shah 

The original in Roman script

Hori khelungi, keh bismillah.
Nam nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi Allah Allah.
Rang rangeeli ohi khilave, jis seekhi ho fanaa fi Allah.
“Alastu bi rabbikum”* Pritam bole, sab sakhiyan ne ghunghat khole.
“Qaloo Bala,”** yun hi kar bole, “la ilaha illallah”
Hori khelungi, keh Bismillah.

*Excerpt from Quran 7:172
** Excerpt from Quran 7:172

Qawwali attributed to Amir Khusrau

There’s colour today, O mother, there’s a glow today,
In my beloved’s home there’s new colour today.
I’ve met my beloved, I’ve found him,
In my own yard,
It’s radiant today!
There’s colour today, O mother, there’s a glow today.

I’ve discovered my saint, Nizamuddin Aulia,
Nizamuddin Aulia, he is my saint!
I have travelled far and wide, here and abroad,
It’s your person, your glow that’s tinged my heart.
You’ve lit up the world, the universe is lit,
Never have I seen such splendour,
Whenever I look around, he’s there with me.
There’s colour today, O mother, there’s a glow today.

— Translated by Maaz Bin Bilalal

Sabri Brothers perform “Aaj rung hai”, attributed to Amir Khusrau

The original in Roman script

Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri
Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri
Sajan milaavra, sajan milaavra, moray aangan ko
Aaj rung hai……..
Mohay pir paayo Nijamudin aulia
Nijamudin aulia mohay pir payoo
Des bades mein dhoondh phiree hoon
Toraa rung man bhayo ri……,
Jag ujiyaaro, jagat ujiyaaro,
Main to aiso rang aur nahin dekhi ray
Main to jab dekhun moray sung hai,
Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri.

Maaz Bin Bilal earned his PhD in English from Queen’s University Belfast for his thesis on the “Politics of Friendship in EM Forster’s work” in 2015. He teaches at Ashoka University, and is an avid translator and a poet.