Before Iqbal’s ‘shikwa’, there was Soch Kral’s divine petition 

A Sufi musician of Kashmir. [FPK Photo/Muzammil Bashir.]

One Sufi song has been creating waves in Kashmir for years now, but its second-to-none poetic distinction remains a mystic mystery till date.

In a dull and drenched October day giving chilly vibes of the forthcoming chillai kalan, Rashid Hafiz is keeping the street mood warm in Nawab Bazar area. In this old Srinagar neighbourhood losing its heritage image to trendy façade, a music seller remains an old fixture. Despite 4G-driven YouTube mehfils ending dependency on music stores now, some enthusiasts, including snow-white bearded malangs and some fashionable freshmen, arrive to take home some rare Sufi collections in pen-drives and smartphones. 

Hafiz’s familiar voice turns heads towards the music store: Ajaz Cassette House. Sufi music lovers have a long association with this lasting landmark of urban melody. Mystics have been making rounds to buy kalam of some revered poets. However, before buying the spiritual songs—even in the form of obsolete cassettes and compact disks—these men play test doses and drift into some other world driven by clairvoyance.

For the day, Hafiz sings Soch Kral’s feted anthem—a divine petition—and turns buyers and passersby thoughtful. The singer’s vocals and the poet’s verses are even sending some in trance. Even the street shrill isn’t derailing this meditative moment at the store.

Dapyomai balyaaras yaer laagav
Taem dopnam bozwun chus kon laagav

(I told the Beloved, let’s start friendship
He said I’m all hearing, why wouldn’t we.)

The lasting address of music store in Srinagar. [FPK Photo/Tahil Ali.]

The buyers of Sufi songs aren’t bothered about the probing perceptions forbidding music. A wandering wayfarer—with a hawkish gaze and shimmering bulbous nose—details the Hafiz’s anthem in a very mystic manner. 

“Overwhelmed with the inauthentic self, unprepared, we imagine knocking the divine door,” he said in context of Soch Kral’s song. “Unprepared though, imagine the audacity of this ashraful-makhlukaat sense, that the miniscule finite dares hit a correspondence with the infinite. The infinite doesn’t point at your limited, unprepared self, it takes you through the journey of your limited, unprepared self, layer by layer so that you may find the liberation of your inner calling. The infant of your inauthentic self is in your lap, for you to nurture. But cleverly invokes the merciful on His attribute Al-Samee. So, I asked the Beloved, if we could start our platonic pledge? To take me through the journey of my inept self-wishing to break from the confines of this ineptitude, He listened and listened beyond my words and replied that He was all-Hearing, why wouldn’t we?” 

Much of what the mystic—a regular at the cassette store—said points towards an inauthentic self in search of a meaning which moves beyond the acceptable and identifiable to find its authenticity. A transcendental feeling, as the elder explained, will define itself, in its exclusivity. “A feeling felt beyond these acceptable and identifiables, of the ordinary,” he asserted. “For some, the self, knows it, feels it, to be unlike everything. The inauthentic self, loves the whiff of this feeling to float along in search of the authentic self.”

It could begin with a restlessness, the mystic continued, a desire to rebel, a longing to break free from the humdrum, a question that doesn’t go well with the norm of the day and many such questions leading to a correspondence with the Beloved, for everything unsettling within and outside.

Dapyomas boznavtam chus ba banday 
Taem dopnam boozmeti gayi sharmanday

(I told him, tell me of love I am your slave
He said those who heard were mortified.)

There’s a strange, laughable confidence in the restless self of a beginner in love, the musing continued at the music store. “It dreams to see beyond the visible. The restless-self cleverly imagines a station of love to attain. Confident, it asks for meanings beyond truths to be confided in with. The dazzling Beloved acquainted with seasoned lovers says that from confident newbies in love to timid seasoned lovers, the confidence of being confided in would rip apart in love eventually. So would the self still lay its life for love? I asked, why don’t you confide in me, I am your slave in love? He told me of the annihilation of the seasoned lovers with the knowledge they were confided in with.” 

For the Islamic world as Alama Iqbal epitomized this rebellion in love in his celebrated Shikwa where he seeks the response of the Beloved, a Kashmiri potter had hit this conversation with God way before the poet of east did. What madness, many wonder, must it take to hold the Beloved to question.

Born to a potter, Arif Kral of Pulwom, Soch Kral and his mystic madness would reverberate with people’s longing for the authentic self, for decades to come. 

A mere childhood melody in the voice of Rashid Hafiz, years later was a question of existence to be reckoned with by the unsettling, melancholic self, in search of an anchor, with the all merciful Beloved. 

Sufi Singer Rashid Hafiz during a mehfil.


Dapyomas myati baavtam panun aasun
Taem dopnam paen panas thorr chu kaasun

(I said, please tell me of myself
He replied, resolve your own constraints.)

Waiting intently, with the thought of transcending from the bounds of inauthentic to the authentic self, it wishes for miracles to happen, continued the mystic. “It dares to imagine the Beloved pouring elixir into the darkness of the chest and the self-manifesting itself,” he said. “But how would dying before death translate, if it never sought the physical remedy of its spiritual pain by self? How would the Beloved shower His scents onto it unless it didn’t purify itself? So when I conveyed Him to reveal Himself onto me, He again pointed at my ineptitude to move.” 

A blog on Soch Kral details a conversation about his poem between two celebrated poets, Alama Iqbal and Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor.

As Mahjoor mentioned Soch Kral to Alama in the pre-1947 meet inside Mughal garden, the poetic and mystic genius of Kral was acclaimed by the oriental bard who fuelled the mindscape of masses with his verses of Khudi.

From the legends of his wrath on the casteist peers of Pulwom to his message of love, what outstands is the genius of Soch Kral’s conversational poem, Dapiomai baalyaaras year lagav, sending the reader on waves-upon-waves of a melancholic being.  

Dapyomas kya chu andar kya chu nyabar
Taem dopnam yee chu andar ti yee chu nyabar

(I said, tell me what’s it that lies inside and what lies outside
He said, whatever is inside lies outside.)

In the constant struggle between the authentic and the inauthentic selves, the self keeps shifting its shapes, it keeps moving in waves of faith and faithlessness, belief and disbelief, hope and despair, the conversation continued as Hafiz sang his heart out. “A constant struggle,” said the mystic, whose hands are being kissed in reverence by his acquaintances at the music store.

“What resides inside clashes with what manifests outside, except for a controversial few, who manage to find Beloved, bending all contradictions of form. For malamati lovers, dichotomies converge. A rose will not seize to be a rose if it grows in an unlocated desolate garden. But when I asked Beloved what resided inside and what resided outside, he said, what brews within your chest will become your physical reality. The light you carry within your soul will become the light of your physical being eventually.” 

Mystic verses detail the deeper meaning of the holy scripture. [FPK Photo/Tahil Ali.]

Before his birth in 1782, it’s said that Soch Kral’s parents had waited for their first child for fifteen years. Their wait ended when a faith-healer gave them shirin—sweet-meatballs—on a condition that they would return their kid after twelve years.

The desperate-for-child parents agreed and eventually parented a son named Ismail. Ismail later became Soch Kral and embarked on his transcendent journey as soon as he stepped into his teens.

Dapyomas nokhta os nate aav katay
Taem dopnam pokhta sabdakh aashqe watay

(I said, did it not all begin from a dot?
He said, you will be adept only on the path of love.)

Isn’t a new lover always restive to know more of love, of the philosophy of love and the start point of being and then being a lover to a beloved, to reach the pinnacle of love, the mystic continued. “How many stages of restiveness till this restive-self settles down composed in love? The Beloved as if, loves the lover more, for his heightening restive self, but never answers plainly. What should a lover do with a mere knowledge of love, if he would never catch the fire of love? I asked Beloved to tell me of the beginning of it all, how the creation of lovers came to being and He answered that on the path of love alone, was recumbent all knowledge worth knowing about love.”

Right from the word go, Soch Kral’s poetic proficiency was quite palpable. To groom his literary skills, his father enrolled him in a school but he left it midway. He instead followed his father’s footsteps and became a potter. 

Apart from selling the terracotta pots for living, the prodigal son became proficient in Persian. He gave voice to people’s anguish in his couplets and emphasised on the truth of life. 

Dapyomas nokhte aashqun baav te myate
Taem dopnam bawayei chi thavakh katey

(I said, tell me of the philosophy of love
He said, I would confide in you, but how will you contain it?)

Tricky gets the path of love as the lover treads towards the Beloved with the fire of love in his chest, the conversation continued. “The more he treads forth,” the mystic said, “the more he burns his self on the way. Did they not tell the lovers that love was an eternal pain of the lover and that there was never a union between the finite and infinite? What absolute, do the lovers seek, when the beloved of the Beloved even remained distant at the distance of two bows on the heavens? How could there be an absolute understanding of the beloved bond? My finite self still asked beloved to tell me of the philosophy of love and infinite beloved replied where would I keep the secrets, should He confide in me?” 

The mystic poetry influences the thoughts and actions of masses in the valley. [FPK Photo/Tahil Ali.]

During his lifetime, the potter-poet’s popularity had pestered peers of Pulwom. But Soch Kral handled hate and hostility with hospitality. 

His legend of reviving a dead bull had also earned him wrath of the high-caste. Later, the documented testimonies note, when the houses of his harassers went up in flames, they arrived next morning at his residence with folded hands.

Dapyomas chuk cha kunui la shareek
Taem dopnam ami gaseth chai myaen tareek

(I said, you’re one, all alone
He said, that’s what my style is made of.)

The straight path of love is of pure oneness—tawhid—of the Beloved, the mystic said. “Any station that the hapless lover treads, will increase his desire, however beyond that desire, the Beloved’s majesty resides. The lover keeps elevating, yet never finding complete union, because the path of love is endless and so must the desire, never fixate. To my beloved I professed of His oneness and He replied ahead the literal acceptance of His oneness, lies His love.” 

Among Soch Kral’s contemporaries is Mahmud Gami and among his disciples are Shaban Sofi of Tral, Khwaja Ambar of Shopian, Rahman Sahib of Pulwom among others. 

It’s believed that the bard may have visited the village of Devsar, Anantnag, where his descendants are still living.

Dapyomas ath tareekas hymai zaagai
Taem dopnam harne chashman saurme laagai

(I said, of this style, I’ll keep a note of
He said, He would put kohl in my deer eyes.)

A restive heart full of longing, with its wishes to move to the deeper essence of the Beloved’s tawhid finds its singular way of progressing on the path hence, the musical discourse went on. “Finally mustering the right words I mentioned to move beyond the literal of tawhid to imbue its higher essence. The Beloved then, promised me the blessing of a vision beyond literal, a sight beyond the limited seeing of eye.” 

Soch Kral led a simple life, avoided non-veg and survived on Haakh and Nun Chai. His transient married life ended on divorce.

On 29th November 1854, at the age of 80, the poet passed away in his birthplace. Before his death, legend has it, Soch Kral had bought a piece land with his savings for his burial. 

Dapyomas saurme lagith kya chu banaan
dopnam poz te apuz ade chu nanaan

(I said, what happens with kohl in eyes
He said, that’s what purges truth and lies.)

As the self, treads forth to more authenticity, it will be restless in the stations of progression to never fixate over one, the mystic said. “It gets wary of its reasons and the weariness of its inauthentic self purges it of reasons and its limited seeing other than the pure reason of love through the path of oneness which blesses it with the vision of seeing beyond the visible. So I asked the beloved what happens when He finally adorns eyes with the Kohl of His vision and He replied the contrasting shades of stark realities get manifested.”

In the poet’s honour and memory, Soch Kral Memorial College of Education was named in his hometown. A heritage structure in his name remains a work in progress till date. 

But being grouped among Lal Ded, Wahab Khar and Mahjoor, Soch Kral is hailed as the Sufi greats of Kashmir in general and Pulwom in particular.

Vanaan Soch Kral Alifas ma chi bandi
Vuchaan ghas Khuda saeben Khuda wandi

(Says Soch Kral, there is no restraint of the creator’s compassion
Keep observing the greatness of Allah.)

The straight road that connects the Lover and the Beloved is endless, the mystic said, yet it’s just the longing of the restive alone that gets it going towards the infinite. “Soch Kral, hopeful of the limitless mercy rests his case on the straight Alif, held in its ends by the lover and the beloved as the Beloved keeps confiding in his greatness in the breast of the ever desirous lover!”

It’s twilight at Nawab Bazar. Rashid Hafiz has concluded Soch Kral’s divine petition, while the mystic narrator is done with his platonic profiling. 

But the curiosity for the rare collection remains—and so, perhaps, remains the poetic justice.

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