Culture & History

Sultan Bahoo: The Poet of the Hook*

Sultan Bahoo: The Poet of the Hook*
Published On: 30-Oct-2023

Article by

Imran Khan

Punjabi Sufi poetry, a mesmerizing tapestry of spiritual expression, reflects the intricate interplay between culture, society, and politics. Within this vast tradition, Sultan Bahoo shines as a poet of resistance, daring to challenge the shackles of unjust authority, question established religious norms, and confront the societal ills that plagued his time. He censures the so called religious scholars of this time in these words; 


You memorize the Quran but the “veils” were not lifted-Hoo

You became a scholar even then you seek riches-Hoo 

You studied thousands of books but the tyrant “Nafs” did not perish-Hoo 

Nobody could kill this inner thief Bahoo, except the “Faqeer”-Hoo 

Sultan Bahoo, born in 1630, emerged as a spiritual luminary and a prolific poet. His early life was touched by a profound spiritual awakening. Inspired by his spiritual mentor's teachings, Sultan Bahoo embarked on a poetic journey that would forever challenge the established norms of his time. 

One of the paramount themes running through Sultan Bahoo's verses was the resistance against unjust authority. During his era, the Mughal Empire cast a long shadow over the Punjab region, and its rulers often imposed tyranny and oppression upon the people. Sultan Bahoo's poetry emerged as a potent voice of dissent, calling for justice and equality in the face of ruthless imperial power. His verses were a clarion call to resist the unjust authority of the time, offering solace and courage to the oppressed. He says, 

Yet, Sultan Bahoo's resistance was not limited to temporal power alone. He dared to confront religious orthodoxy, including the clergy, mullahs, qazis, and faqeers, who often wielded considerable influence within society. His central argument was that many religious leaders had deviated from the core teachings of Islam, becoming preoccupied with empty rituals rather than the spiritual essence of the faith. In his poetry, Sultan Bahoo fearlessly challenged their hypocrisy, urging a return to the true spirit of Sufism, which emphasized inner spirituality over ostentatious displays of piety. 

He criticizes even the so called sufis, 

They themselves are not truth seeker but they motivate others-Hoo 

Like laborers, they demand reward for toil, they fear not the wrath of Lord-Hoo 

They profane proclamation is a slippery game, such pseudo lovers step clumsily-Hoo

On the day of judgment Bahoo, they will feel ashamed of themselves-Hoo 

 Then he says, 


If moving beads of rosary does not move heart, what is the use of it-Hoo 

If acquisition of knowledge does not include respect, what is the use of such knowledge-Hoo 

If going into hermit(Chilla-forty days) does not help get anything, what is the point of this solitude-Hoo 

The milk can’t turn into butter without a litter ferment(curd) even if you boil it red-Hoo 

Where he criticizes the fake faqeers, he also tells us the quality of the true faqeers as well, 


Follow the mentor who gives happiness for both worlds-Hoo 

Firstly eradicates the fear of poverty then guides to Rabb(Lord)’s path-Hoo 

He turns the saline patch into pure silver-Hoo

Mentor who did nothing here Bahoo, makes false promises-Hoo 


Sultan Bahoo's sharp critique of religious orthodoxy was a testament to his unwavering commitment to a purer, more compassionate form of Islam. He believed that faith should be a guiding light for the human soul, fostering empathy, kindness, and social justice. By calling out the deviations within religious practices, he aimed to steer society back towards a path of genuine spiritual awakening, free from the trappings of hollow rituals. He says, 


With study of alphabets, many scholars couldn’t learn about Reality-Hoo 

Many who studied Reality, couldn’t attain excellence-Hoo 

Fourteen realms are illuminated but blinds couldn’t see-Hoo 

Without unification with Allah, Bahoo, rests are tales and stories-Hoo 


At another place he says, 

Arrogance increased by knowledge, though intellect turned out to be dull-Hoo 

Neither knowledge nor logic were profitable; so the Real way was lost-Hoo 

Beyond his critique of religious authorities, Sultan Bahoo's poetry delved into the heart of societal ills. He was deeply concerned about the pervasive inequalities and injustices that afflicted his society. His verses acted as a mirror, reflecting the plight of the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the impoverished. Sultan Bahoo's poetry was an impassioned plea for compassion, for a society that embraced brotherhood and community, transcending divisions and prejudices.

In the grand tapestry of Punjabi Sufi poetry, Sultan Bahoo's influence was profound and enduring. His poetic style was characterized by its simplicity and directness, making it accessible to a wide audience. His message of resistance, spirituality, and social justice resonated deeply with the masses, transcending linguistic and cultural boundaries. His verses, which possessed a timeless quality, were recited and sung by generations, echoing through the annals of history.

Sultan Bahoo's impact extended far beyond his own era. His emphasis on the inner journey, the profound love of the Divine, and the rejection of materialism became recurring motifs in Punjabi Sufi poetry. The subsequent poets of Punjab, followed in his footsteps, adopting his approach of using poetry as a tool of resistance and social commentary. Sultan Bahoo's legacy lived on through their verses, a testament to his enduring influence. He is always critical towards any hypocrisy running in society. He says, 


Blackened face is better than a darkened heart, if anyone understands it-Hoo 

Pure heart despite dark face, will recognize Friend-Hoo 

Even in contemporary times, Sultan Bahoo's poetry retains its relevance. In an era marked by political turbulence, economic disparities, and social injustices, his words continue to inspire individuals and movements advocating for social justice and resistance against unjust authority. His verses serve as a source of solace and strength, a reminder that the power of words can challenge the status quo and ignite change. For him, piety is the name of the constant goodness. When someone loves Allah, nothing else than Allah matters for him. 

He says, 

A moment of negligence is a moment of heresy, the perfect guide told me this-Hoo 

I was enlightened with his saying and I concentrated my whole attention upon Lord-Hoo 

I surrendered self to creator, such is my love-Hoo 

We died before death Bahoo, only then attained the objective-Hoo  


*Hook means the sigh of pain and agony. 

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