An Explanation of the Ismaili Ginan “Kesri Sinha Sarup Bhulayo”

by Shiraz Pradhan

Photo: Istockphoto.com

Photo: Istockphoto.com

With “Kesri Sinha” I want to continue the exploration of the Spiritual Dimensions of Ismaili Ginans. “Kesri Sinha” is a parable of a lioness, which as she jumped upon a flock of sheep, gave birth to a cub and died. The cub grew up in the flock of sheep, eating grass and bleating like a sheep. An old lion saw the majestic, saffron manned young lion behaving like a sheep and took it to a pool of water to show the young lion its reflection, so it could know its true identity.

This “Crisis of Identity” grips humanity. In reality, this Crisis has two dimensions. Man has not only forgotten his true identity but is also disoriented. Depth Psychology [1] recognizes this dilemma. Each individual, it says, has configured in his heart an image of his universe, what it calls “Imago Mundi”, upon the stage of which he is to play out his destiny. He is not conscious of it, and feels that this universe is imposed upon him and that he is held captive in it. In reality, the limitedness he feels, the sense of being imprisoned in the body and held captive by the five senses are the shackles he has put upon himself.

Each individual experiences ups and downs in his or her life. The pleasures of material possessions do not endure and neither do the buoyancy of youth and magic of beauty. Along the way, human relations falter, friends disappoint, love loses its luster and lovers become fickle and insincere. In these moments of disappointment, sadness and anger, we ask situating questions: What is this life all about? Who am I? And where am I?

Throughout history humans have grappled with this heaviness, this sense of being imprisoned in the body and in a world that is alienating. Architecturally, man’s religious symbol, the dome of a church, the minaret of a mosque or the rising spire of a temple, convex to the vast free space without, represents his prison and as he prays within this confined space, it continually reminds him of his captivity and encourages him to break this convexity and soar in the free space without.

How then to dispel this delusion? How to break the self-imposed shackles that confine us to the limitedness of the five senses. How to shatter the “Imago Mundi” that binds us, seemingly, to an immutable destiny?

The Ginan “Kesri Sinha” is thus addressing a universal theme. Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Vedantist, thundered from the podium of his first address to the Parliament of World Religion in New York in 1893 [2] “Come O Mighty Lion, give up this delusion that you are a sheep.” Pointing to the grand nature of Man, he said no man was impure; that his soul was pure and immortal.

The Urdu poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) touched upon this inner vastness of man, hinting on the higher realities beyond the sense world:

Tu shaheen hai parvwaaz hai kaam tera
Tere saamne aasmaan aur bhi hain

You are an Eagle, flying is your passion
Beyond the horizon, there are more skies for you to scale

Richard Lovelace’s poem, on the same theme says:

Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage…
…and in my soul am free;
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

These beliefs in Soul’s purity and its innate desire for freedom are universal. Evelyn Underhill [3] says, “We meet these persons in the east and the west; in the ancient, medieval and modern worlds. Their one passion appears to be the prosecution of a certain spiritual and intangible quest: the finding of a “way out” or a “way back” to some desirable state…”

Ismaili Ginans announce this same message [4]:

Unche thi aayo baande, niche kyu dhiyave,
Char din rhena,
bande juth kyu kamave

From high above you have come, why aim low?
Four days you have to abide here,
why accumulate this profit of untruth

These ideas of the soul’s purity and it coming from High Above, imply its pre-existence in a celestial place, high above, in a rarefied universe of light, in a place that Ginans call Asal Makan (true abode). The Fall from this High Place delivers the man to the world of senses, disoriented and with a loss of sense of identity. A reflective soul that grasps these facts becomes keenly aware that this world of senses is not its Asal Makan. Suddenly, the world that was so familiar becomes a strange place. His kith and kin, that were so close become strangers. Experiencing such a trauma, Suhrawardi (1155-1191), the Persia mystic, in his Recital of Occidental Exile [5], says, “There was I, sole and solitary, a stranger to the other dwellers at the inn”.

As it grapples with the regress of the Fall from above, the soul realizes that its true identity is grander, that it is an eagle, meant to soar far above the skies, that it is not a prisoner of this world. The dawn of this “Stranger Consciousness” marks a turning point in the destiny of man and gives him the meditative power to break the walls that imprison him. His situation and identity become clear to him. A way must be found to Asal Makan. The crust of earthly materialism that covers and prevents the shining forth of its true light must be removed. The remembrance of the stature that it enjoyed in its pre-existence tugs at its heart. Echoes of its former existence resonate in the depth of its core. This provides him the energy and resolve to undertake the difficult journey to Asal Makan. Forbidding walls of obstacles stand in his way. The path is difficult and the snares of the senses have not left the pilgrim. From time to time he falls into error and loses his way. This is the stage of Nafs Ammara of the Holy Qur’an:

“And I do not free myself from blame. Indeed the human self is inclined to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills).” 12:53

But the eagle is on its flight. With burning passion for flight to the County of Origin, the soul’s way is only upwards. At this stage a strange thing happens. Powerful Ginanic symbols give us hints of the momentous transformation that is happening. On the horizon there now arises a figure, that of a Guide. The soul has a powerful realization that it is not alone in its journey. At all times it is in the company of a shadow that is guiding it through mountain ranges of snow and ice, through deserts of sand, through ferocious storms. The steady hand of the Divine is holding him. In my previous article I had stated a maxim of spiritual life. It is worth repeating it.

“In as much as you have searched him, you have found him”

At no point is the soul far from its source. The notion of distance is an error of disorientation. The shadow of Divine never parted from the soul. The sense of separateness from its Source is the delusion that the soul has fallen in to. It is the culmination of the “Crisis of Identity”. As the feeling of being a stranger in the world thickens, the shadow of mercy that never left the soul now individuates as the Guide. In a Ginan [6] , Pir Sadardin says:

Eji sab ghat shah maro bharpur betha
Teme ghafal dur me dhekho

In your inner core, the Lord is present in all his totality,
In ignorance, do not see him as separate/far

Many other Ismaili Ginans are replete with the celebrated event of the individuation of Guide in the heart. Sayyad Mohammad Shah [7] says :

Paras sparse to loha raang palte
To zag mag joyte ujari.

At the mere touch of the Philosophers’ stone (divine Guide)
Base metal transforms and
Shines forth as brilliant light

Divine alchemy is at work here. The manifestation of the Guide in the heart simultaneously leads to a transmutation of the soul. At once the soul has recollection of its celestial origin. Eternity that stretched before him is consumed in the blink of an eye. Ruhani Roshni, Spiritual Light, irradiates the heart. The soul begins to acquire the luster it had lost due to the loss of “Identity”. Intoxicated with this ecstasy Pir Hasan Kabirdin [8] revels the inner splendor of the heart:

Eji tu(n) more man vase tribhovar Sami,
Sami mara ginan akshar sudh paaiye Ya Shah,
Manek moti laal javahir
choon choon kanak lagaaiye

You are ever-present in my heart, Oh lord of three universes
With manifestation of this knowledge, I see my heart resplendent with
Luster of pearls, red jewels
And plaster of pure gold…

This Guide who individuates in the heart, is no other than the divine counterpart of the soul. Kesri Sinha verse 4 has reference to the same theme as we shall presently read in its translation. But another Ginan, in this case Pir Shams’ Granth, Brahm Prakash [9, 10] , which is one of the most lucid and detailed map of the inner life in Ismaili Spiritualism, gives a further account of the individuation of the Guide.

Pacham disha hoi chade aakasha
Jayi dekhya agam tamasha…

From westerly path, I soared to the sky
And there watched a baffling play

Bin badal jaha barse meha,
Rehet purush jaha ak van deha

where it rained from a cloudless sky
and there I encountered an individual,
Yet no person I saw

This is the first hint in Brahm Prakash regarding the encounter with the guiding spirit, which is subtle, has no name or form (naam and roop), yet it is a presence that is felt in the heart with concrete certainty.

To emphasise the universal nature of this theme, I cite one example of the vision that appeared to Hermes [11], when he was in a state between waking and sleeping. It seemed to him that a being of vast magnitude appeared before him, called him by name, and asked. “What do you wish to hear and see, to learn and come to know by thought?”

“Who are you?” Hermes asked.

“I”, said he, “am Pomindres, the Mind (Aql) of the Sovereignty…I know what you wish, for indeed I am with you everywhere.” Hermes continues: “Forthwith all things changed in aspect before me, and were opened out in a moment. And I beheld a boundless view; all was changed into light, a mild and joyous light; and I marveled when I saw it….Later in the course of the vision, He gazed long upon me, eye to eye, so that I trembled at his aspect. And when I raised my head again, I saw in my mind that the light consisted of innumerable Powers …and had come to be a world without bounds… And when I was amazed, he spoke again and said. ‘You have seen in your mind the Original form, which is prior to the beginning of things and is limitless…I am your perfect Nature’.”

This now sets the stage for the translation of “Kesri Sinha” by Pir Shams, which outlines the “Crisis of Identity” and encourages the soul to correct its error, by remembrance of the Divine and recognize its true nature.

LISTEN TO RECITATION BY SHERMINA SAYANI

VERSE ONE

Eji Kesri Sinha swaru bhulayo,
Aja Kere sang bhai aja hoi rahyo

In delusion, the saffron maned lion,
In the company of sheep, bleats as a sheep

Aayse bharam mai Jiava kun bhulayo,
Bharam sab choodi bhai Ali Ali karna

Such an error besets your own soul,
Dispel this delusion my brother with remembrance
Of Ali

Hai bhi Ali ane hoi se bhi Ali,
Aasa vachan tame dil mahe dharna
Bharam sab choodi bhai Ali Ali karana

Ali is the present and he is the future,
Keep this truth in your heart,
Dispel the delusion of the heart with remembrance
Of Ali

VERSE TWO

Eji bharam ne varo to Sinha shudda hove,
Aaja kero bhav so dil su khove,
Aase bharam me fir nahi sove,
Bharam sab choodi bhai Ali Ali karana

My brother, break the spell of delusion
And the lion in you shall shine forth…
…erasing the identity of a bleating sheep
Never again will you fall into such an error
Dispel the delusion of the heart with remembrance
Of Ali

VERSE THREE

Eji avidha ma aavi padyo sab Jiva,
Aap pana ma khoyo haathe Piva (Jiva?)
Oochinto aavi ne kare re ghirab,
Bharam sab choodi bhai Ali Ali karana

Slumber of ignorance has overtaken the soul
By false ego it has lost its soul
And suddenly pride and arrogance rule it
Dispel the delusion of the heart with remembrance
Of Ali

VERSE FOUR

Eji Murshid Kamil ko sang kariye,
Aavi avidha sab jay Visari
Tab ta suuje dil ki gaali,
Bharam sab choodi bhai Ali Ali karana

Keep in the company of the Divine Guide
To melt the layers of ignorance
Then shall a path (to truth) open in your heart
Dispel the delusion of the heart with remembrance
Of Ali

VERSE FIVE

Eji Bharam ne taaro to Sanhi ne picaano,
Aaapnu aap Moman pichano,
Pir Shams kahe sohi tame paro,
Bharam sab choodi bhai Ali Ali karana

Enlightenment will come when delusion is dispelled
Irradiating you with self-knowledge
Pir Shams says follow the path I have shown
Dispel the delusion of the heart with remembrance
Of Ali

Date posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014.
Date last updated: Saturday, April 19, 2014 (ginan recitation added), 13:20 EDT

Copyright: Shiraz Pradhan. 2014.

___________

References

[1] Henry Corbin: Avicenna (Ibn Sinan) and the Visionary Recital, Page 7, Bollingen Series, LXVI, Pantheon Books.
[2] Complete works of Swami Vivekanada, Published by Advaita Ashram, Pithoraghar, Himalayas.
[3] Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, Dutton Press, New York, Chapter 1.
[4] Ginan, Pir Shams, Ginan Sharif, Part 1, Published by Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Karachi.
[5] Henry Corbin, Avicenna (Ibn Sinan) and the Visionary Recital, Page 19, Bollingen Series, LXVI, Pantheon Books.
[6] Ginan # 60, Aji Sab ghat shah maro, Pir Saddardin in a collection 72 Ginans, Published by Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Karachi.
[7] Ginan # 17, Jire Vala dhan re ghadi jo din sant, Sayyad Muhammad Shah, Ginan-e-sharrif, our wonderful tradition, Ismailia Association for Canada, 1977.
[8] Pir Hasan Kabir Venti, Aji aash tamari shree ho kayam sami.
[9] Brahm Prakash, Selected Verses, Pir Shams, Published by Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Karachi.
[10] Inner Odyssey, Shiraz Pradhan, Ilm, Ismailia Association for UK, 1974. Reproduced on this website, please click on The Inward Odyssey in Two Key Ismaili Ginans, “Brahma Prakash” and “Sakhi Mahapada”.
[11]
Poimandres, 2-4 and 7-8, A.D. Nock, Copus hermeticum, Walter Scott Edition, Sited in Avicenna and Visionary, Page 22 Bollingen Series, LXVI, Pantheon Books

________________

Shiraz PradhanAbout the author: Shiraz Pradhan is an international engineering consultant who has contributed to several engineering textbooks and engineering publications and has been awarded patents. In parallel, he has continued his ties with religious education (RE), teaching RE classes in UK, Canada, USA and Japan and delivering special lectures on the extracts of his Ilm contributions, especially The Inner Journey, Die before you Die and Man in the Universe.

Pradhan’s current interests cover a broader spectrum of Islamic and Ismaili thoughts and studies of other religions. He is concluding the script of a full-length play of the 10th Century trial of the Sufi Saint Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad based on historical facts. This trial was a cause célèbre in Islam which shook the foundations of the Abbasid Empire and resulted in the death by decapitation of this upright and pious Muslim. The other areas of his interest include the synthesis of the Khoja Ginanic tradition with the broader Ismaili philosophy and theology, the preservation of its gayki (singing) tradition, the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Christianity and the Vedanta.

Other articles by the same author on this website:
1. “Die Before You Die” – Journey Towards the Nur
2. The Inward Odyssey in Two Key Ismaili Ginans, “Brahma Prakash” and “Sakhi Mahapada”
3. Ismaili Spirituality in Pir Shams Shabzwari’s Ginan “Ek Shabada Suno Mere Bhai”, accompanied with recitation (includes author’s full profile)

About the reciter: Shermina Sayani is a paediatric doctor from London, UK. She enjoys reciting and performing Ginans and Qasidas within the Jamat.  Shermina also has a great passion for writing and directing plays. Shermina has produced a number of plays for the UK Ismaili community on secular, ethical and spiritual issues.

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