Shah Latif’s Poetry: An Alternative Source to Study the History of Sindh

by Aman Memon, Samina Aman
Shah Latif’s Poetry: An Alternative Source to Study the History of Sindh
Aman Memon, Samina Aman
Pakistan Journal of History and Culture
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Shah Latif’s Poetry: An Alternative Source to Study the History of Sindh
Aman Memon
Associate Professor/Chairman, Department of Pakistan Studies, Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad.
Samina Aman
Assistant Professor, Department of Pakistan Studies, Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689-1752), the poet par
excellence of the Sindhi language and literature lived for 63
years during the last decade of the seventeenth century and
the first five decades of the eighteenth century. This was a
turbulent period in the history of Sindh and the Indian
subcontinent. Despite the fact that Latif belonged to an elite
class of his times, he never associated himself with this
class, which was involved in the worst kind of oppression of
the masses. On the contrary, he pleaded the cause of
oppressed classes of Sindhi society. Hence, Latif’s poetry
can be taken as an alternative source in the examination of
the history of Sindh. The purpose of this paper is to study
his poetry as a significant source of understanding the
socio-political and economic conditions of his contemporary
times. This is a study in historiography. We do not intend to
discuss historical events of Shah Latif’s period as the
independent variables but to interpret them in the light of
Shah’s poetry. Furthermore, this article tries to highlight
72 Pakistan Journal of History and Culture, Vol.XXXII, No.1 (2011)
Shah Latif’s message as an instrument to promote
resistance against political domination, economic
exploitation and social oppression.
Much has been written on the life and work of Shah
Abdul Latif Bhitai but a few authors have attempted to look
into his poetry in the light of socio-political history of Sindh.
The purpose of this article is to study Shah Latif’s poetry as
an alternate source of understanding socio-political events of
the poet’s epoch. H. T. Sorley, G. M. Syed and Muhammad
Ibrahi Joyo are a few names who have revisited and
reinterpreted Shah’s poetry in the shadow of socio-political
and religious conditions of his times. This paper is an
extension of the research and investigation patterns
introduced by these experts on Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.
Shah Abdul Latif belonged to that category of poets who
never praised the rulers. Instead, he advocated the cause of
the oppressed classes without any distinction of religion,
caste and creed. G.M. Syed in his work, Shah Latif and His
Message, has portrayed Latif as a nationalist and patriotic
poet because of his immense love and commitment to Sindh
and its people,1 S.Q. Fatmi, who agrees fully with Syed’s
views, argues that the Kalhoras —the rulers of Sindh — felt
threatened by Latif’s revolutionary thoughts and, therefore,
they ‘made a number of sneaking attempts’ on the poet’s life,
because they felt that his poetry enjoys popular support
against their tyrannical rule.2
Shah Abdul Latif traveled throughout the nook and
corner of Sindh and the surrounding areas. He met people
from all walks of life and observed their ways. Hence, his
poetry depicts a true picture of the socio-political and
1 G. M. Syed, Shah Latif and His Message (Sehwan: Sain Publishers, 1996).
pp. 75-83.
2 S.Q. Fatmi, ‘Shah Latif and East India Company’, in Abdul Hamid Akhund
(ed.), Bhitai: The Message of the Master, (Hyderabad: Shah Abdul Latif
Bhital Cultural Centre Committee, 1993), p.35. See also, Moulana Deen
Muhammad Wafai, Shah jey Resaley jo Mutaleo (Sindhi) (Hyderabad: Shah
Abdul Latif Bhitshah Saqafati Markaz, 1988), p. 18.
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Shah Latif’s Poetry: An Alternative Source to Study 73
economic conditions of Sindh during the eighteenth century.
Several biographers of Latif have written about his love for a
beautiful girl who belonged to an Arghun family. Latif
proposed to marry the girl, but her father Mirza Mughal Beg
rejected the proposal.3 The refusal broke Latif’s heart and he
left his home and joined the company of jogis and sanyasis.
He wandered from place-to-place with these Shaivite
mendicants. His travels across Sindh and its vicinity
provided him an opportunity to mingle with the masses and
experience their problems and pains. His monumental poetic
work, Shah-jo-Risalo, reveals much about his travels along
with the Hindu recluses. In his poetry, he expresses his
admiration for the Shaivite jogis and sanyasis, particularly
on account of their monotheistic beliefs. In the chapter (sur)
entitled Ramkali, Latif says:
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