The first time I heard the song, I understood only 10% percent of the meaning. My Urdu was not very strong and the words sounded like Farsi to me. Even so, the constant repetition of key phrases, in the genius voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, threw me into a trance. Later, I looked up the lyrics and slowly understood the words more and more. Every time I listen to this song it’s a new discovery.
Here are a few verses from this song in no particular order, along with my running commentary. I hope the words stir your soul, just as they did for my soul. The Sufi wisdom behind this song is nothing abstract, it applies to all of us in our journey through life.
In this song, Rumi says:
“Na mein behuda girde koocha wa bazaar me gardam’
I do not wander aimlessly in the streets and bazaars, whirling round and round.
This very first line describes me to a T. I have lived in many cities in my life journey, in India and abroad. I am a bit of a wanderer, sometimes I will get into a car and drive nowhere in particular to nowhere in particular. These are not aimless journeys, they are part of my spiritual quest.
I have also travelled widely in holy places around the world, including many ashrams, temples and churches, with my wife . Most people on the spiritual path have done the same.
I have also travelled widely in the streets and bazaars of my mind, reading different books, imbibing different ideas, and expressing myself in different blogs from time to time. In a sense I am a wandering fakir, travelling through space and time.
If the journey is not aimless for Rumi, then what is its purpose? In the next few verses, the poet explains it a little further.
“Sharaab e shaukh me naasham, be girde year me gardam”
I am drunk with the wine of desire, I whirl round and round my beloved.
Again, this verse applies to me, and to many others. I have been intoxicated with various kinds of sharab from time to time. At the grossest level, it is alcohol. However, this is not the only nasha in this world. Some people are intoxicated by a desire for material things, or for worldly success and power in all its forms. Some people I know are very spiritual but they are intoxicated by their own good looks.
What is your nasha?
Rumi suffers from the highest form of intoxication -a desire to see the face of his beloved God. He wanders around the image of God in his mind,trying to get closer and closer. As Om Swami says in his book:
The soul wants to go back to the source.
‘Majaaz e aashiqui me daram paye deedar me gardam”
I have the temperament of a lover, I whirl round and round hoping for a glimpse of the beloved.
This verse applies to all forms of love and attraction. When I was growing I studied in a boy’s school; there was a convent school for girls in the adjoining building. We were not allowed to meet the girls, but sometimes, we would get a glimpse of them from a distance. That glimpse, or deedar, was enough to keep us happy.
Now that I am older, a glimpse of my grandchildren in person or on facetime brings great happiness. A glimpse of God, even once, would probably drive me crazy and I would just whirl round and round in ecstasy, like Maulana Rumi.
‘Gahe khandam Gaye giriyam gahe aftam gahe khejam’
Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I fall, sometimes I get up.
This line, again, is an exact description of my life and, perhaps, the life of everyone else. There have been times of great sorrow, and even today, the tears don’t stop within my heart. There have also been moments of great happiness and laughter, like the time when I got married, and, later, when my children were born, and when they had their own children.
I have fallen so many times, there have been many failures but then I get up and keep going. There is no success without failure and this, my friends, is the journey of life for all of us.
“Maseeha dard dilam paida man bimar me gardam”
The saviour is knocking at my heart, yet like a sick man, I wander.
Even at the moments of greatest despair, God is just a heartbeat away. Not realizing this, we wander in this world like sick people. Isn’t this an exact description of life?
‘Baya jaana inayat kun va Rumi ra”
O God please come and help Rumi
‘Ghulame Shams Tabriz qalandar war me gardam”
I am a slave of Shams Tabriz, like a madman I whirl round and round.
In the final two verses, Rumi asks for God’s grace. I think I have been in this state for a long time. Luckily, grace has never been far away, I had the privilege of meeting so many enlightened people in my journey through life.
The biggest blessing is that both my wife and have been on the same spiritual path for a long time. This is a very rare occurrence. We have met the same enlightened people, together we have journeyed to the same spiritual places. Even the lockdown and tele-work have been a blessing for us as we get to watch the same content on you tube. Most important of all, we both love watching Om Swami’s discourses and reading his books.
The Shams Tabriz mentioned here is Rumi’s mystic teacher. Rumi is totally devoted to Shams and at their very first meeting, Rumi went into a state of divine ecstasy.
This state of divine ecstasy is at the heart of all Sufi poetry. We can get a taste of it by listening to the Song of the Fakir in the voice of one of the greatest Sufi singers of all time.