Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Ooncha Re Kot: Explanation and Recitation, with Metaphoric Video Footages from Toronto’s Amazing Salmon Run

Chinook salmon leap  Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a 6 foot dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video by Malik Merchant/Simerg, see video of leap below.

By (LATE) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY

Introduced by Malik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

The transliteration and meaning of the popular Ismaili Ginan Ooncha (or Uncha) Re Kotfirst appeared on this website in 2009, accompanied by an image of a salmon swimming upstream and trying to jump over a steep rapid. The “borrowed” image was a metaphor for the first verse of the Ginan, where the “fish of the briny deep” seeks to overcome an obstacle — a high cliff — to return to its original abode — in the case of the salmon, the place where the mother had first brought it into the world by releasing the egg a few years earlier (a salmon lays between 1,000 to 17,000 eggs out of which only a few survive). It may be noted that certain species of salmon e.g. the Pacific Chinook, die after spawning, and the salmon that it has given birth to, swim to the lake or the ocean, where they reach maturity in about two to three years. After mating, the adult returns to its place of birth to spawn.

I have lived in Canada since the 1980’s and have on three occasions visited Hell’s Gate in British Columbia, a very popular spot to observe salmon going upstream to spawn. Unfortunately, however, I never got to witness this amazing phenomenon there.

A Chinook salmon swimmin g in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg
A Chinook salmon swimming in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I was not aware that Toronto rivers had salmon as well. Indeed, the Don River, only a few hundred metres from where I live, is active with Chinook Pacific salmon moving upstream in autumn. The Chinook were introduced into Lake Ontario in the mid 1960’s because the native Atlantic salmon had virtually vanished. Their introduction was an immediate boon to the province’s fishing industry. The Don River flows into Lake Ontario, and at the park close to me it does not have high rapids, so you don’t get to see salmon jumping that high.

An amazing video by a visitor to Etienne Brulé Park on October 7, 2021 of a salmon trying to leap unsuccessfully over a dam on Humber River, near the 13 Crosby Avenue entrance. Please watch upper section of the film for the salmon leap. Video provided to Simerg by Ms. Sze Thang of Toronto.

Google search located a great spot in Toronto where I could view the incredible show, referred to as the Salmon Run. I went to the recommended Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto’s west end, where the Humber River flows. A regular visitor here told me that the salmon activity was low on that day (October 5). I reached the man made dam on the Humber River. The crowd was very small. I began my video taking at one end of the river and was able to see the entire breadth of the river. I would keep my video on for around 30 seconds, turn it off and turn it on again within a second or two. I took about 70 videos, and seven of those provided me the images that I wanted. Some salmon repeatedly kept on hitting the cliff rock and falling back. A few nearly made it but fell back. It was painful to see that! But then a couple managed to leap high enough and continue its spawning journey. Wow! What an exciting and thrilling moment. I visited the site again a couple of times, and was able to capture more failures as well as two successful leaps with reactions from the crowd of hurrays and hand-clapping. The happy crowd apologized to me for making so much noise, but I was very happy they were cheering with every successful leap, and would have joined them in the celebration. For visitors who missed the successful jumps, my cameras became the centre of attraction, and numerous individuals asked me to forward them the videos so that they could show them to their children!

The effort that the salmon were making was painful to witness especially when they hit the wall of the dam, but they would not give up despite the setbacks. They had a set goal and objective: to reach the spawning location. And they had more rapids to overcome in their long journey.

This extraordinary effort by the fish reminded me of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan’s advice to his Jamat (community) in Congo in the early 1960’s that if we have faith it will give us the strength to start life all over again (naveen sharuat in the gujarati translated Farman), even a hundred times if necessary. There are two principles in life that Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to be guided by: To work hard and to have faith. Let us work hard, be strong and as eager as the salmon, in our life’s material and spiritual journey. As Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah said, “Struggle is the meaning of life; defeat or victory is in the hands of God. But struggle itself is man’s duty and should be his joy.” These notions of hard work and struggle, and then accepting success or failure define Islam: Submission to the Will of God.

Please enjoy the videos, the explanation of the Ginan by Esmail Thawerbhoy and the recitation by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji. And those who live in Toronto or close to rivers where there are salmon, please go and see the fascinating show called the Salmon Run.

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Eji Ooncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen

Freely rendered in English verse
By (Late) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY
(iambic tetrameter, rhyme scheme abab)

Verse 1

So high the fort and climbing steep,
And surging round its base the sea;
I am a fish of the briny deep,
Ah Love, haste Thou to succour me.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion,
Beloved come home, my Love return;
Forgive Thy slave his scant devotion,
Show me Thy face, to Thee I turn.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion.

Verse 2

This sweet-scented sandalwood home,
Enclosed with beauteous acts galore;
‘Tis Love that locks me in my tomb,
Beloved I pray Thee ope the door.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 3

Enmeshed in ties of kith and kind,
How few realize its fatal art!
My soul’s torment, my body’s grind,
Beloved come soothe my aching heart.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 4

Be not so wroth, O Darling mine,
And deign to grant Thy Sight sublime;
Pir Hasan Shah entreats divine
Redemption from the sea (of time).
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

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Must Watch Video 1: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Transliteration of Ginan

Verse 1

Eji Ooncha re kot bahoo vech-na,
Neeche vahe dariya;
Hoon-re dariya vandi maachhli,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri,
Baalam ghare aav, Saajan ghare aav;
Bando bhooli-yo taari bandagi,
Sa-yan soorat bataav,
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri.

Verse 2

Eji Agar chandan-ni kota-di,
Soofal rachi-ya kamaad;
Taara deedha chhe premana,
Sa-yan kholan aav
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 3

Eji Pinjar padi-yo pari-vaar no,
Koik boojat jann;
Merre tann-ki vedana,
Sa-yan tapat boojaav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 4

Eji Itana kop na keeji-ye,
Sa-yan deeje didaar,
Pir Hasan Shah-ni venati,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

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Must Watch Video 2: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Commentary of the Ginan

In this Ginan Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-deen speaks of the soul’s yearning for the Beatific Vision (Noorani Didar). The imagery employed by the Pir is the familiar mystical vehicle of human love and the pangs of separation. In mysticism human love is ennobled and elevated to symbolize divine Love.

The word ‘religion’ comes etymologically from the two roots ‘re,’ again, and ‘ligare,’ to bind. It thus implies a former union from which the soul was separated and seeks to be reunited again.

The Holy Qur’an has the Verse with the same signification:
Inna li-llahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon which means
“From Allah we come and to Him is our return.”

A famous Hadith of Prophet Muhammad says:
“Between Him and me there are seventy thousand Veils of Light.”

By ‘Veils of Light’ are meant the entanglements of the flesh which hinder the Soul from its meeting the Noor. It is in transcending the limitations of the flesh and establishing rapport with the Noor that the soul finds its ultimate fulfilment.

But this is no easy matter. Family ties, material gains, power and pelf distract man from his duty.

How difficult the task is, is allegorized by the Pir as the effort of the fish (soul) to swim to the edge of the sea, and then climb up a stiff and fortified fort. The soul is also symbolized as a bird in its cage which is enamoured of its cage, and is loth to leave it to find its true place.

Beatific Vision can only be an act of Grace; and no soul, however much it strives, can claim to be entitled to it. If and when Grace comes, it comes from above. It is transcendent, not immanent. That is to say, it must come from outside of our sense-perception, and cannot be induced from within our consciousness. If we can, in Ibadat, eliminate all consciousness of Space and Time, the soul untrammelled by ‘mortal coil’ could, with Divine Grace, hope for a glimpse of the Beatific Vision—Noorani Didar. But it is always an act of Grace, and man cannot claim to merit it on the strength of his effort.

To use the terminology of photography, a sensitized plate kept in a darkroom will not take an impression however long it remains in the darkroom. But if light from an object falls upon it, it immediately takes an impression. The soul, freed from its entanglements, is like a sensitized plate. It is ready to receive Noorani Didar. But this Light must come from outside. It may come in a few days, a few weeks, or months, or years. It may not come at all. Man’s volition cannot accelerate or ensure the moment. He must strive patiently, and hope for Divine Grace.

Redemption is a common motif in many philosophies. In Eastern philosophy the sea is the symbol of the cycle of life (bhava saagar). To be saved from the sea means release from the flux of life. In Neo-Platonic philosophy it stands for the Individual Soul’s relation to the Universal Soul. In Sufism it is fanna fillah baqa hillah (annihilation in God and then everlasting existence in God). In Ismaili philosophy it stands for the absorption of the individual soul into the Noor of Imamat.

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Must Watch Video 3: Salmon Leap — Successful…The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021 Please see near end for leap. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Must Watch Video 4: Salmon Leap — Successful… The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Recitation of Ginan by (Late) Alwaez Rai Shamshu Bandali Haji

Ginan Uncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na sung by (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Credit: Ginans Central

Date posted: October 8, 2021.

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Editor’s Note:

This article by the (Late) Esmail Thawerbhoy was published in the July 1977 issue (Volume 3, Number 1) of Ilm magazine, London under the title Ginan Sharif of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen.

The late Esmail Thawerbhoy, originally from Mumbai, India, was a lawyer by profession and lived in Bangladesh before making London, England, his home in the 1970’s. He participated actively in numerous research and study groups while he was in Mumbai and Dacca. The editor remembers him fondly for his immense interest and support for Ilm magazine, published by the Ismailia Association for the U.K, (now the Ismaili Tariqah an Religious Education Board) and for contributing an extensive article “The Concept of  Imamat in Ismailism and Other Schools in Islam” which appeared in the March, 1977 issue of the magazine (Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4).

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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Chinook salmon leap Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video. Malik Merchant/Simerg.

9 thoughts on “Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Ooncha Re Kot: Explanation and Recitation, with Metaphoric Video Footages from Toronto’s Amazing Salmon Run

  1. This is an excellent explanation, especially for the younger members of the Jamat who get upset depressed and upset over small failures in their lives. The inclusion of some practical examples from the life of a salmon made the explanation even more meaningful.

  2. This is so amazingly put together, relating the deeper aspect of this beautiful Ginan, relating to what we see right here is Canada! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Would you also kindly share the Ginan sung with a slightly different “raag” as in East Africa, where some of us come from? Thanks!!!

  3. Dear Malik,

    The article is really inspiring !. You mention that the crowd would cheer and hand-clap with joy when salmons were successful in their leap. This is also a metaphor of the happiness and cheering of the angels and ruhanis in Heaven, when they welcome the souls that finally reach their destination in Paradise, after having gone through all the trials and difficulties of life.

    And in Nature are the signs from Allah.

    The ginan has indeed a powerful meaning! Thank you for this article!!

  4. It was a true pleasure meeting you at the park on October 5th. Thank you for the amazing videos and for the deep conversation we had.
    Best wishes

  5. SubhanAllah this video provokes ones inner spark to try and try and will succeed, Hu re dariya wanti machli Sai ya Taaran har 🙏🏻😇🤲💐 ShukkarMawlaAli, 💐

  6. Absolutely soulful. Mubarak Malik thank you so much for putting in so much effort and love in this. Shukhar.
    Ya Ali Madad.

  7. This is an amazing post. Loved the unsuccessful and successful videos of the salmon leaps over the dam.

    The Ginan Oonchare kot bahu vechna…niche wahe dariyav.. has a powerful meaning and it is sung by my favourite reciter, the (Late) Shamshu Bandali.

    Thank you 🤲😍

  8. Dear Malik,

    This is a post that I read avidly and with great pleasure. Loved the metaphor and the very significant contents.

    Thank you also for the excellent material that I’m so privileged to receive from you.

    Warmest regards and Ya Ali Madad

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