Sikhi’s Sufi connection

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"Sweet are candy, sugar, honey, and buffalo's milk. Yea, sweet are these but sweeter by far is the name of my Lord" Baba Farid

Baba Sheikh Farid – Sikhi’s Sufi connection

Sheikh Fariduddin ‘Shakar ganj’ (1173 to 1265) popularly known as Baba Farid, or Baba Sheikh Farid Ganj-i-Shakar is regarded as the prime mystic–poet of the Punjabi language. Baba Sheikh Farid Ganj-i-Shakar is not a ‘baptised’ name, but a galaxy of venerable modes of address with which Farid-ud-Din; who used Masud as his pen-name, began to be adored after his death by his devotees. With Baba Farid a new star blazed on the horizon of greater Punjab. By his mellifluous poetry he conferred an independent status upon Punjabi, especially in his doha format. Baba Farid’s dohas in inspiringly sweet poetry are highly revered and forever enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib.

  • Baba is used as a title of respect for male elders in Iran, Afghanistan and Northern India.
  • Sheikh (spelled Slwikh in romanized Urdu) is a reverential religious title among Muslims for sufis (mystics)-who are variedly referred to as khwaja, pir or sultan.
  • Farid in Arabic means ‘rare’ which indeed Masud had been.
  • Ganj-i-Shakar is an epithet which means ‘a treasure of sweetness’ which eulogises the modest and sympathetic temper of the seer.

Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Professor of History, Muslim University, Aligarh, in his well documented book, The Life and Times of Slwikh Farid-ud-Din Ganj-i-Shakar (1955) provides comprehensive-information about Shaikh Farid.

Farid-ud-Din’s grandfather was a part of the exodus, of scholars, artisans and of other such careerists who ‘considered it expedient to migrate to Northern India from Kabul when Afghanistan was trampled by hordes of Mughals during the eleventh century. The Mughals were given to mass plunder, carnage and arson leading to vandalism.

Iran (old Persia) has been the spiritual nursery of Sufism, which quickly found a congenial sanctuary in India – particularly in the Kashmir Valley. Sheikh Farid, acclaimed by all Punjabi scholars as the first great poet of Punjabi literature, was a Sufi who had his dynastic roots in Iran.1

Although Sheikh Faird is said to have composed verses in Arabic, Persian and in some local dialects which are found in Sufi literature, he is generally known as the foremost among Punjabi sufi poets.2 His compositions in the Adi Granth are the first recorded versions available in the Punjabi language.3


Much of the material concerning his life comes from hagiography. According to Siyar-ul-Aulia (1351-88), in one of the earliest such documents, Sheikh Farid was born in 569 (A.H.) corresponding to 1173 CE, at Khotwal (Panjab) in the family of an Islamic Jurist or Qazi named Qazi Shuaib, who was a sion of a onetime ruling house of Kabul. Shuaib's family had migrated to the Punjab in the middle of the twelfth century during the Ghuzz (Ghazni) invasions. After a short stay at Lahore and Kasur his family settled down at Khotwal, where Shuaib was was raised. "Lehandi" (western) Punjabi was the spoken language of the people of Khotwal. After completing his education Shuaib was appointed as a Qazi (Islamic Jurist) by the Sultan, Jamal-ud-din Sulaiman. Now a Qazi the young jurist married a Punjabi girl, Quulsum Bibi, the daughter of Sheikh Wajih-ud-din Khajendi of Khotwal.

Lineage and Religious Grooming

Farid-ud-Din was the second of the three sons born to them4 at Khotwal near Multan. (His year of birth is variously given as 1173 and 1175 by different writers). His early education had been under the strict supervision of his mother, Quulsum Bibi, a pious devout housewife. He later shifted to Multan to continue his education, but was soon advised to move on to Delhi , where the legend that Farid would one day become, ’began to unfold itself as the stem of the religious order Chishti Silsilah. His teacher Khwaja Qutab-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki, was an erudite mystic who preached and practised the gospel of oneness of God through selfless service of mankind. An authentic source which throws light on various aspects of Farid’s life is the book, Fawaid-ul-Fuad by Amin Hasan Sijzi which is a chronicle of conversation that Sheikh Nizam-ud-Din Auliya, next in the Silsilah succession to Baba Farid, had with his predecessor. Throughout this book Farid is referred to as Masud, his pen-name, which confirms that the honorific terms with which he has been adorned were added later. Even the city of Ajodhan, came to be known as Pattan , a Panjabi word for a place where a ferryman takes people across a river, after Baba Farid chose to settle there in his later years. After his death the place began to be called Pak Pattan , (ferry of the Pure) by ‘the pilgrims after his demise. All the tales about pebbles or mud getting sweetened in his mouth, the changing of gur into salt. etc. seem to be floated in due course by his devotees, as blind faith creates myths and worshippers, instead of worshiping God, bow before mortal men turning them into men with the powers of God or christen them as his Avatars with their actions or words.

Turmoil in Asia

The eleventh century marks a watershed in the history of India; the caste-based society of India, bereft of social equality lacking any Individual dignity had been stagnating under barren rituals and silly superstitions. Concepts such as social welfare had no place in that system. India had been divided into hostile princedoms which had even invited unscrupulously foreign invaders to settle personal scores. In due course the throne at Delhi was occupied by the Slave Dynasty of Turkish origin, which forebade the liquidation of native Rajput power and the gradual subjugation of Hindustan at large. Delhi began to be developed as a city of minarets, mosques and pleasure parks, with many khanqahs (preaching centres of Muslim mystics) dotted here and there in its suburbs.

Multan, near the confluence of the Chenab and Ravi Rivers, which had been a halting place for the migrants coming through the Bolan pass had acquired importance as a seat of Quranic learning and Muslim mysticism. It was the theological glimmering of Multan which had induced the ancestors of Baba Farid to move there, instead of becoming enamoured by the ever growing royal splendor of Delhi.

It was in Multan, that SheikhFarid came in contact with a visiting saint, Khwaja Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki, the spiritual successor (Khalifa) of Sheikh Muin-ud-din Chisti who had established the Chisti order of Sufism in India. In due course, Sheikh Farid became his disciple and was, himself, initiated into the Chisti Order. After the death of his master Khwaja Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki in 1235CE, Sheikh Baba Farid became the head of the Chisti order. He made the unique contribution of giving an all-India status to the Chisthiya order and disseminated its ideology far and wide. Soon it turned into a powerful movement for the Islamization of the masses.

Centre of Sufism

It is generally assumed that the Chisti order surpassed the other Sufi orders, such as the Qadiri, the Suhrawardi and the Naqshbandi, in popularity and influence in India. One of the main reasons for its success seems to be the fact that Farid used the local dialect, "Multani Punjabi" (Lehndi), to reach out to the masses with his preaching. The two main languages of Islam, the Arabic of the Qur’an and the highly sophisticated Persian of the literatti and officials, were unknown to the non-elite, who thus were excluded from higher religious institutions.

Baba Farid settled on the river Sutlej at Ajodham, where he established his Khanqah, the center of Sufi fraternity, to propagate his mission. There he remained from about 1236, until his death on October 17, 1265. His home has been known, ever since as "Pak pattan", literally "the ferry of the pure." A number of Punjabi tribes there still claim to have been converted to Islam by Baba Farid.5

The German scholar, Anne Marie Schimmel states that, "Farid-ud-din ganj-I-Shakar of Pakpattan is credited with having used a dialect of old Punjabi for his mystical songs."6

These songs were intended to be recited or sung as a part of religious music in Sufi worship. They influenced the population, particularly the women, who used to sing these simple verses while doing their daily chores.7

Thus, Baba Farid’s poetic compositions in the local dialect, i.e. Multani Punjabi, were transmitted orally to successive generations and these were written down, if at all, only at a very late stage. When Guru Nanak visited Pakpattan on his missionary tours he probably secured these compositions from Sheikh Ibrahim (d. 1552), who was the twelth in descent from Sheikh Farid. That Guru Nanak knew the works of Baba Farid is quite evident from the fact that in his own Gurbani he made corroborative comments on some of his verses.

The inclusion of Baba Farid’s poetic hymns in the Adi Granth does underline the high spiritual reputation and attainment that the Sufi poet must have enjoyed already in his own lifetime.

Secular Outlook

It is not the loftiness of Baba Farid as a theologian, but the soothing effect of his secular activities which is being stressed herein. Prof. Khaliq Ahmad Nizami in his publication ibid. epitomises the impact of Baba Farid on his followers as:

‘Muslim mysticism is, in its essence, a message of love. It aims at creating harmony in the discordant elements of society. True to these ideals, Baba Farid strove day and night to create that atmosphere of love and good-will which was, and even today is, the greatest desideratum of human society. A healthy social order - free from dissensions, conflicts, discriminations, hatred and jealousy - was the thing he longed for. In love, faith, toleration and sympathy which included even the enemy, he found the supreme talisman of human happiness. "Do not give me scissors", he told a visitor who had presented him a pair of scissors, "give me a needle. I sew. I do not cut".


The treatise of Prof. Nizarni interests primarily those who have a working knowledge of Persian. But the monograph-Baba Sheikh Farid - His Life and Teachings by Gurbachan Singh Talib, published by the Punjabi University, Patiala, in 1973 to commemorate the eighth birth centenary of Baba Farid, describes in a lucid style the prolific contribution of the seer to various aspects of human development.

Association with Faridkot

Gurbachan Singh Talib refers to the association of Baba Farid with Faridkot (then called Mokalhar) in 1225 as:

"…Faridkot would be on the road from Delhi and Hansi to Ajodhan... Here Sheikh Farid is reported to have been drafted into forced labour by the men of a Hindu Chief, Mokhal. But seeing the miraculous lifting of basket of sand a cubit over his head, the people fell at his feet, and the chief too begged for forgiveness. The saint blessed the place at the show of repentance by the chief, and in grateful remembrance the place was named after him, Faridkot (the fort of Farid). That name it still bears and its inhabitants deeply love and cherish the association of their town with the great saint…"


Pioneer of Punjabi Verse

In spite of his early education in Persian and Arabic, Masud (Farid) chose to communicate his precepts through the Multani dialect of Punjabi. This added to the efficacy of his preaching because his sweet expression in the language, which his congregation understood, made the impact of his precepts instantaneous and deep.

Guru Nanak Dev, almost three centuries after the demise of Baba Farid was impressed by the enlightening and fascinating aspect of Farid’s writings in Punjabi. The Fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan Dev, while compiling the Adi Granth included therein 112 shalokas (couplets) and 4 shabads (hymns) by Baba Farid. This had been a rare recognition of the teachings of Farid who sparkled as a bright star in the age of dreadful despotism, degrading social iniquity and debasing theological bigotry.

In the opening lines of his poem ‘Hindustani Bachhon ke Qaumi Geet’ (National Song for Indian Children), written as early as 1905, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal eulogises Baba Farid as:

‘Chishti ne jis zamin mein paigham-i-Haq sunaya. Nanak ne jis chaman mein wahidit ke geet. Gaya Mera watan wuhi hai, mera watan wuhi hai’

The land where Chishti preached his gospal of truth. The garden where Nanak sang about oneness of God. My motherland is that, my motherland is that.

(Bang-i-Dara, Part 1)

The Adi Granth happens to be the only source available for research on Baba Farid’s poetry. Recently Sayyid Babar Ali brought out in Urdu, Kalam Baba Farid Shakar-i-Ganj, (Pictures Ltd, Lahore, 1984). It includes within pictorial margins the shalokas and shabads of Baba Farid in Urdu script as they appear in the Adi Granth. In the next part they are reproduced in alignment both in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi scripts with comprehensive footnotes. This scholarly work has been dedicated to Sardar Harcharan Singh Brar (Chief Minister of Punjab 1995-96), the author’s classmate at Aechson College, Lahore during the pre-partition years. Some such exercise should be emulated in Gurmukhi and Devnagri scripts for the effective extension of the message of Baba Farid at the national level through universities having Baba Farid Chairs.

Baba Farid had been prominent among the seers who sanctified the secular practices through righteous conduct. The Khanqahs/Dargahs at Nizam-ud-Din near Delhi, Ajmer and Ajodhan (Pak Pattan) are the citadels of that unique cultural heritage which disapproves social inequality, human exploitation, and intolerance erupting from fanaticism. The menacingly growing theological obscurantism and the militant terrorism brewing in its lap are quite reminiscent of the vandalism which the Mongols perpetrated mercilessly a millennium earlier.

Whenever Punjabi is spoken even for a minute, some words from the Pre-Arabic sources albeit in popular, non-academic forms, must come popping up! Adi Granth, the holy scripture of the Sikh faith, would yield a large volume of vocabulary from this source. The result of this common bond of language is that a Punjabi in Iran, Afghanistan (or those parts of Central Asia where the cultural tongue is Persian) will find himself in a highly familiar fraternal atmosphere – complete with turban or Dupatta.

Based on an article in the [ Sikh Review] by

  • Prof. Hazara Singh, formerly Head, Department of Journalism, P.A. U. Ludhiana, Shahid Udham Sinh nagar, Ludhiana. 141001
  • Dr. Debabrata Das, Ph.D, author & Indologist. Add:19/5, Pottery Road, Kolkata 700015.

See also


  • 1. Indo-Iran Cultural Relations (712 AD to 1530 AD), in essays on Iran, Argentina and Korea, Dr. Debabrata Das, Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 2007, page 31.
  • 2. The Life and Time of Sheikh Farid-ud-din ganj-I-Shakar, K.A. Nizami, Idarah-i-Adabiyat-I-Delhi, Delhi, 1955, page 84.
  • 3. The Bhagats of the Guru Granth Sahib, Pashaura Singh, Oxford, 2003, page 45.
  • 4. Ganda Singh, "Baba Farid – A Real Saint" in Attar Singh, ed., Socio-cultural Impact of Islam, Punjabi University, Chandigarh, 1976, page 16.
  • 5. Ibid., page 15.
  • 6. Aunemarie Schimmael, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1975, page 384.
  • 7. Ibid., page 348.
  • 8. S.S. Kohli, Travels of Guru Nanak, page 158.

These are the 15 Bhagats of Sikhism

Bhagat Beni | Bhagat Bhikhan | Bhagat Dhanna | Sheikh Farid | Bhagat Jaidev | Bhagat Kabir | Bhagat Namdev | Bhagat Parmanand | Bhagat Pipa | Bhagat Ramanand | Bhagat Ravidas | Bhagat Sadhna | Bhagat Sain | Bhagat Surdas | Bhagat Trilochan