Ibrahim Zauq was the teacher of the poet-emperor Bahadur Shah, whose rule ended in 1858. Zauq ranks as the second greatest poet of Urdu, the first place being held by Ghalib, his rival at the Court of Delhi.
It is evening in the red castle of Delhi. A wall of red stone, sixty feet high and stretching for more than fifteen miles, surrounds the Imperial Palace and its grounds. In the midst of a beautiful flower garden stands a marble palace. In size and outer magnificence it is comparable to Windsor Castle, but far surpasses it in its atmosphere of culture and refinement.
Within the. palace is a milk-white marble hall ; its walls are inlaid with shrubs and trees of precious stones, and its ceiling decorated with figures of nymphs and houris in pure gold. The room is about ninety feet long and forty- five feet wide. Its nine arched doors open onto the river Yamuna, and the breeze wafts the fragrance of blossoms through the hall. Multi-coloured carpets of wool and silk cover the floor, and flowers arranged in vases of moonlight porcelain, green jade and lapis lazuli, stand in the centre and at the corners of the hall.
It is about nine o’clock. Courtiers dressed in gold and silver begin to assemble. Bearded dignitaries, ecclesiastical scholars, poets and physicians have already occupied their seats. Silver trumpets sound, and the heralds announce the arrival of the Emperor Bahadur Shah. He is a thin, dignified and handsome figure, and his white hair is covered by a gold conical hat set with diamonds, jade, pearls and other precious stones. Holding a silver staff he enters the room, and all, bowing low, offer obeisance. The Emperor occupies a silver throne (a throne which could still be seen in Windsor Castle up till about ten years ago). It had been used by the great Akbar, Shah Jehan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, and other potentates of the Moghul line.
Behind the Emperor stand two chamberlains in gold embroidered cloaks and high turbans. At a given signal the assembly is seated. Four comely girls, tall, slender and
of sandalwood complexion, dressed in blue silk, appear from the four corners, holding silver vases filled with rose-water.
They bow to the Emperor, and then sprinkle the assembled company.
The Emperor says a few words of welcome : “ Salaam to thee, O my Teacher, Maulana Ibrahim Zauq ! ” A tall, thin figure, simply dressed, advances towards the throne and offers three bows to the great poet-sovereign. He says : “ What orders have you for your slave, O Majesty ?”
The Emperor takes from his finger a gold ring set with pearls and a ruby and says : “ Accept this ring from thy humble followers, O Bard of Heaven ! ” Zauq receives the gift, bows low and takes his stand to the right of the Emperor, holding a scroll in his hand. The great poet Ghalib is also given a token of the Emperor’s appreciation, and every courtier receives a silk-embroidered turban.
The Emperor bends forward on his throne, looks at Zauq and says : “ O honoured Teacher, O sweet-singing Nightingale, reveal the secrets of thy soul. We are eager to listen.”
Zauq bows low and reads his verses, some of which are here translated.
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Are there roses of pleasure in the flower garden of the world ? There are, but I care not for them.
He whose object in learning is not love, whose behaviour is not reckless, he may be a Plato, but he is not for my society.
Heaven revolves ; the Earth is in motion, and for me too there is no rest.
If at the time of my departing, when my lips are parched,
the Friend should pour a few drops of water into my –
mouth, the bitterness of death will be changed into sweetness incomparable.
The wood of non-existence adjoins my house of life. It is
open to me, but I walk not therein.
In this world of forms, O Zauq, there are a million appearances. All are the creation of the Supreme Artist ; none is inferior.
Within the revolving Cosmos my life passes like a boat on a moving river.
Let thy heart move on and on in the world ; do not localise
thyself. Standing water emits the odours of stagnation.
O Khizra, the tales of the infinite duration of the Universe are fictitious ; in this ever-changing world there is no stability.
In this assembly I am testing the quality of my heart. Towards whom will it turn first ?
If I recover my equanimity, I will give my wealth and my fame to the world, but never my heart.
The singing birds have borrowed the sweetness of my song ; in that orchestra the cry of the nightingale is lost.
Each grain is to us a symbol of the harvest ; in every drop there is the sea ; in the part we contemplate the whole.
From the ashes of my body roses will grow and bloom, for I have died in contemplation of the rose-faced Friend.
Full of the wine of love and forgetfulness of the world, I sit like a wine-jar, but there is a seal upon my lips ; I cannot express what I feel.
Do not bathe my dead body ; let the dust of the street of the Friend, which now decorates it, remain there for ever.
O misery ! My love demands that my heart be fixed on the cover of my letter in place of a seal.
It matters not whether the cup of wine touches my lips, for my heart is set on Ali.
O Zauq, be careful. Do not allow the juice of the grape to touch thy mouth. This infidel (the wine), if once allowed to kiss thy lips, will cling to them.
A small worm can bore a hole in a stone. Of what value is the heart of a man if it does not penetrate the heart of the Friend ?
So that I may not give thee cause for suspense, I will omit the reading of the chapter on Joseph in the Koran.
NOTE.—According to the Arab tradition, Joseph was the most beautiful person in the world. If the lover should read the chapter on Joseph in the Koran, then the object of his love might feel suspicious. Also no description of beauty is of any account to one who has seen the beauty of the Beloved. The delicacy of this verse is unsurpassable.
If I weep, I will create flowing rivers ; I am not content to imitate the way of the dew in weeping.
O Zauq, if one leaves one’s own home, one renounces good fame. The pearl, when taken from the sea, is sold publicly from hand to hand.
NOTE.—As long as the pearl is in the sea, it is secure within the shell of the oyster, but what happens to it when it leaves its home ?
To-day it is sold to a prostitute, tomorrow to a hoarder of wealth and so forth. In the same way, when a man repudiates his own divine nature and falls in love with the worthless things of the world, he becomes cheap, insignificant, vulgar and despicable.
Do not follow the counsels of reason, O Zauq ; the dictates of love are supreme and transcend all else.
NOTE.—Reason operates in the realm of duality, and reason will never advise self-sacrifice. It will recommend the selfish interests of the personality. Therefore those who are lovers of God should not listen to reason, but should follow the dictates of love. What are the dictates of love ? Sacrifice, renunciation, submission and so forth.
For the sake of the purity of thy heart do not allow the dust of aversion for any to mar the transparency of that mirror. If it settle there, it will dim the reflection in thy heart.
NOTE.—The heart is a mirror ; so long as it is transparent, it will reflect the Reality called God behind it. But if one hates anyone, then that transparency is marred and the image of God will not be seen in it. Only suffering, trouble, anguish and anxiety will be mirrored in it.
Now I go to the street of the Friend of the Face of Unfading Roses. Farewell, O Capital, O Court of Delhi!
In old age the follies of youth are as the tales of dreams.
Even by chance thou dost not remember me, but I, in thy remembrance, have forgotten all others.
O Saqui, take from the niche the flask and the cup, and put the Koran in the empty space.
NOTE.—The flask and the cup symbolise the divine Knowledge.
Have recourse to divine meditation and knowledge, and not to the traditional Scriptures.
How joyfully I pass my life in oblivion of myself and the world ! I deem self-forgetfulness far superior to selfremembrance.
NOTE.—Self-remembrance here means ahankara, egoity. It is the subsidence of egoity that gives the experience of ecstasy.
The morning breeze brought the dim rumour of the blossoming of the rose. The birds in the net of the fowler flew to the garden, carrying the net with them.
NOTE.—The morning breeze is the breeze of mystic inspiration, which brings to the Yogi the message that realization or
the identification of the individual with the cosmic is not far off. When this news came, so great was the enthusiasm it aroused that the birds caught in the fowler’s net, flew, still entrapped in it, to the garden. The net of the mind with all the karmas and limitations is taken to be absorbed in the miracle.
O heart, do not betray the inner secret of love and peace. See with thine eyes, but say nothing with thy lips.
NOTE.—Do not discuss your spiritual experiences with everybody. Keep them shut in your heart until you find a mystic friend with whom you can speak about them.
I am not concerned with Islam or unbelief. Since I surrendered my heart to Thee, I have been freed from all faiths and creeds.
O Zauq, better is a stone than the heart which is without love, for the stone conceals a spark of fire.
Now in fear you talk of taking your life. What will you do when after death you again face great restlessness ?
0 Zauq, take to the tavern for reform those boys who have been spoilt in school.
1 am not one who will charge thee with having killed me. When, on the Day of Judgement, God asks me if thou slewest me, I will deny it.
Life brought me here, and I came ; death beckons me, and I go. I did not come at my own wish ; I do not leave of my own will.
Even if I live a thousand years, at the hour of death my span of life will seem but one spring morning.
Knitting His brows, He may pelt me with a thousand abuses ; it will not disturb the repose of my love.
O Candle, thy span of life is but one night. It is for thee to pass it in tears or in smiles.
The Lover would not exchange his tear-drops for the stars of heaven. Who would accept empty shells in return for pearls ?
O Man, learn the spirit of chivalry from the mosquito. It warns its victim before it extracts his blood.
Not a sigh or complaint escaped thy lips when fate inflicted a thousand wounds upon thee. Well done, O Zauq, well done !
Do not ask me whether my heart is in joy or woe. I am oblivious of both, O Friend !
In this world keep to truth under all circumstances, O Zauq. It is a sword in youth and a supporting staff in old age.
As I was leaving the world, despair and disappointment whispered to me, on my death-bed : “Do not go alone ! We will accompany thee.”
If lovers could ever describe the delight of dying, Jesus Himself would wish to die of love.
NOTE.—The name ‘ Jesus’ here is synonymous with immortality. The meaning is: If lovers could describe the delight of dying for love of God, immortality itself would wish to become finite in order to experience such bliss.
If the flowers knew that they would be chosen and picked, they would never desire colour and fragrance.
I am sure that when, on the Day of Judgement, the lovers of the Cup of Wine awake from the sleep of death, they will rise crying : “ O Saqui, another and yet another cup ! ”
If thou hast discernment, O Zauq, escape from the world. This mad-house is no fit place for the wise.
0 awakened one, if thou slayest a helpless man, it is vain. Why kill the victims of anger and greed ? They are themselves dying by inches. Kill thine inner enemies ; their ashes are the elixir of life. It is a great victory to slay the harmful passions ; it is a better deed than the killing of lions, tigers and poisonous snakes.
1 will stay in the shadow of thy house ; what should a sinner such as I do in Paradise ?
I searched for Him far and wide, but in vain. When I found Him, I myself had vanished.
By refusing to offer a salutation to Adam, Satan lost all. Should he now make obeisance a thousand times, it were all in vain.
Long before the arrival of the carrier pigeon, my letter had reached Him on the wings of my restlessness and the eagerness of my love.