The sixteenth century Shah Hussain of Lahore was one of the most accomplished Sufi saints of Punjab. Hussain’s mystical inclinations were apparent early in his life. As a child he memorised the Our’an and was initiated into the Oadiriyah Sufi order by the renowned saint Bahlul Shah Daryai, under whose supervision he lived for several years.
One day, while studying a commentary on the Our’an Hussain came across the verse: “The life of this world is nothing but a game and a sport.” It struck him that it was love, not bookish knowledge, that was the key to the spiritual path.
It was during this period of his life that he came in contact with Madho, a Brahmin lad. The two men became such close spiritual companions that in the popular mind Hussain is most commonly known as Madho Lal Hussain, as if the friends had been fused into one through the bond of love. Hussain’s relationship with Madho had a deep impact on his thinking, making him profoundly tolerant towards other religions. According to the medieval Persian text Hasanat-ul-Arifin, Hussain asserted that he was “neither a Muslim nor a pagan”, thus suggesting that he had transcended the conventional differences between Hindus and Muslims. Hussain also had close spiritual links with the Hindu mystic Chhaju Bhagat and the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev.
Hussain’s Sufi poetry stresses the centrality of love. Love, Hussain believed, can so unite two souls, or a human being with God, that they seem to lose their individuality and appear to merge completely into each other, in much the same way as Madho and Hussain became so inseparable that they became known by one single name. Referring to this final union, Hussain pleads: ‘Let everyone now call me Ranjha, not Heer for no longer am I Heer since I have become one with Ranjha”.
Hussain breathed his last in 1599 and was buried in Lahore on the banks of the Ravi. Madho survived him by forty-eight years, and he was laid to rest in a tomb next to Hussain’s. The shrine containing the graves of the two inseparable lovers –-united in death as they had been in life — continues to attract large numbers of faithful pilgrims to this very day.