By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Gwalior’s Sufi mystic, musician and an epoch-making philosopher Muhammad Ghaus Gwaliyari left behind an indelible legacy of syncretic Indian culture in his literature. His spiritual insights guided the lives and thoughts of Indian Muslims over a thousand years and are glaring evidence of how Sufi mystics engaged with India’s cultural practices, not only with their participation in art, culture and literature, but also through the experience of various forms of yoga. A lot of Indian Sufi practices based on self-awareness can be considered yogic in nature, although yoga is defined differently from myriad perspectives.
The 16th century Sufi saint Ghaus Gwaliyari was the earliest Indian proponent of Silisila Shattariyya — the 15th century Persian Sufi order founded by Sirajuddin Abdullah Shattar. Etymologically, shattar, an Arabic-origin Persian word meaning “lightning” denotes a code of spiritual practices that lead to a state of “completion”. No wonder then, the Sufi order of Shattariyya originated in Persia but was codified and completed in India, the land of thousands of mystics.
Besides a Shattari Sufi pioneer, Ghaus Gwaliyari was one of the first translators of yoga texts to Persian in the 16th century. Before Gwaliyari, Shaikh Abdul Quddus Gangohi (1456–1537), who ranks as an eminent Sufi poet from the Sabiri order, was familiar with yoga texts and traditions in India like the yoga of the Naths — a Shaivism-related yogic practice which emerged around the 13th century. Like the Hatha Yoga, the practice of Nath is particularly used to transform one’s body into a state of awakened self-identity with absolute reality (Sahaja Siddha). Through the lineage of the Nath yogis, the science of Kundalini Kriya Yoga has been preserved in India through the corridors of time.
Sufi philosophers like Gangohi and Gwaliyari endeavoured to uphold the age-old Indian legacy of yoga, though it drew controversy from a few fundamentalist clergymen who considered yoga to be incompatible with their puritanical religious moorings. On account of such syncretic ideas and practices, Gwaliyari was vehemently opposed by the orthodox ulema. But he did not give up and carried on with his hard work of translations of yoga texts into Persian, which were later rendered into Arabic, Turkish and Urdu.
One of the most notable translations of yogic texts rendered by Gwaliyari is Bahr al-Hayat or The Ocean of Life — a Persian translation and explanation of Amrtakunda — one of the key Sanskrit texts on yoga. This remarkable Persian translation was rendered in the city of Broach in Gujarat in 1550 and was basically aimed at explaining the Hawd al-Hayat (The Pool of Life), which is the first Arabic translation of Amrtakunda. It occupied a paramount significance in the oral traditions and teachings of the Shattari Sufis in India to the extent that it became a textbook for many of Gwaliyari’s followers.
Another work by Gwaliyari which highlights close resemblances between the Shattari Sufi practices and yogic exercises is Jawahir-e-Khamsa (The Five Jewels), which was later translated to Arabic by a Mecca-based Shattari teacher, Sibghat Allah. In this treatise, Gwaliyari dwelled upon his mystical experience of ascension which enabled him to hold conversations even with the Divine.