A Sufi Celebration of Life, Inspired By Urdu
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Socho Toh Salwaton Se Bhari Hai Tamam Rooh
Dekho Toh Ek Shikan Bhi Nahi Hai Libaas Pe
— Shakeb Jalali
If you think about it, the soul is creased and crumpled
And yet, when you look, there is not a wrinkle on the robe
Of all the words that I have touched so far, Rooh is the closest to my heart, all puns intended.
Literally translated, Rooh means soul.
The idea of soul in itself is profound and fascinating, and has an unsurpassed spiritual allure. Soul is where our essence resides. Soul is the piece of the Universe that belongs to us, and makes us belong. Soul is the life force that is unique to every individual.
But to say that soul is only a life force is so very reductive. Because soul is so much more than just a lowly life-force. Soul is everything and nothing — the void and the infinite. Just like the Universe it belongs to. Because the way the Universe works, every soul is a piece of the Universe. But every soul is also the Universe.
Vast, unfathomable, profound, pure, untouched, rarely understood and even more rarely accessed — Soul is the spiritual core of our very existence. When there was nothing, there was a soul, and amidst everything, there is still the soul.
Nainam Chindanti Shashtrani, Nainam Dahati Pavakah
Na Chainam Klaidyantyapo, Na Shoshyati Marutah
— Chapter 2, Verse 23, Bhagwat Gita
It (the Soul) can neither be cut by a sword, nor be burned by fire
It can neither be drenched by water, nor be withered by the winds
Hinduism believes in the idea of a cycle of life and death, and reincarnation, based on the idea of indestructibility of souls. But even above and beyond the seemingly limiting religious ideologies (although the Universality of Bhagwat Gita’s spiritual principles is well documented and above religious considerations, but that is a discussion for another time), what is undeniable is that each of us holds a piece of this Universe within us — an intangible quintessence that is barely understood, and pretty much untouched by our conscious being. We can call it whatever we want.
Urdu calls it Rooh. And not just gives it a name, but elevates this already astral idea into another dimension altogether.
Ruuh Ka Lamba Safar Hai Ek Bhi Insan Ka Qurb
Main Chala Barson Toh Un Tak Jism Ka Saaya Gaya
— Hasan Nayeem
True relationship with even one person is a long journey to their soul
I walked for years, and yet only my shadow managed to reach them
Rooh is soul and something a little beyond. Because while soul is integral to our existence, it is Rooh that needs to be nourished for a fulfilling existence. After all, it is not for nothing, that each one of us is looking for Rooh ka Sukoon. The closest English equivalent for the phrase is respite and bone deep relaxation for the soul. But to be honest, it does absolutely no justice to the kind of calm and peace and serenity and tranquility and bliss that Rooh ka Sukoon embodies and conveys.
Dil Ka Sukoon, Rooh Ko Aaram Aa Gya
Maut Aa Gyi Ki Dost Ka Paigam Aa Gya
— Jigar Muradabadi
My heart is tranquil, my soul serene
Either it is death or a letter from my friend has arrived
It is no wonder that soul’s serenity, while desirable from an academic perspective, never really finds a place as a poetic wish. But Rooh Ka Sukoon or Rooh ka Aaram, are the stuff some of the most uplifting poetic gems are made of.
Soul is a step above materialism. But Rooh is a step beyond and galaxies away from all ideas of materialistic pursuit. The distinction between Rooh and our flesh and blood, mortal body (or the robe as the opening couplet calls it) is immutable. And while this body is a symbol of transience of our materialistic existence, Rooh stands for everything eternal and divine.
Rooh is the piece of divinity that all of us carry within ourselves. It is the zenith of human existence, the only thing that matters in the end.
Rooh is where our awakened, uplifted being is stashed, and the degree to which we can access it during our lifetimes determines the quality of life and level of fulfillment that we manage to achieve during our time in this physical body.
But Rooh is not just about spiritual highs and metaphysical aspirations. Rooh is also a delicate representation of the most beautiful human emotions. And why not? Emotions are the purest embodiment of this Universe’s intent and it is only fitting that our souls, our very essence is steeped in this Universe’s emotional core.
Rooh is all about emotions. So is soul. But Rooh has ring to it that seems to echo from within our very core. I am not exaggerating. Close your eyes and say Rooh out aloud. Listen to the sound bounce against your heart and feel the places its echo touches within you…and tell me if you still think I am exaggerating.
Rooh is one of those rare words which are phonetically so powerful, they can elicit true, visceral emotions. It is as if the very essence of the idea of Rooh has been distilled into that word to an extent that it is not a word anymore. It is a living, breathing, throbbing force.
No wonder, Rooh has fascinated the poets across board, not just in Urdu literary traditions but also in Bollywood. Perhaps because it is so easy to call for an emotional response by merely using the word Rooh.
Interestingly, Rooh does not have an equivalent for soulmates (which is a beautiful concept). Not that I know of anyway.
Rooh however has something else, something far more Universal and all encompassing. It is also my all time, absolutely favorite phrase.
Rooh me utar jana (meaning — to drown in the very soul, although that translation woefully insufficient)
When something is powerful enough that it steeps in your Rooh, something so important, so intense, so moving, and just so complete that it has the power to tear a hole in your soul and make space for itself…the kind of an emotional entwine one can only dream of — not just in terms of love or romance but even with respect to things/hobbies/ideas one is passionate about. It is the kind of power that can alter your Universe fundamentally and make your destiny pause and change tracks. It is also the kind of power that you are supposed to be scared of, and rightly so…because if something or someone has that kind of hold on you, it can go either way.
And yet, to be at the either end of that power. To be the one who steeps in someone’s Rooh; or to be the one whose Rooh makes space for something or someone…well…that is a kind of emotional and spiritual high that few things in mortal human life can match.
You may call it an aspiration, or a death wish. Either way, it is unsurpassed.
After all, to find something worth dying for, is perhaps the best definition of a life well lived. Isn’t it?
Rooh Ki Maang Hai Woh Jism Ka Saman Nahin
Us Ka Milna Mujhe Mushkil Na Ho Asan Nahin
— Fatima Hasan
They are a wish of my soul, not a desire of the flesh
Attaining them is bound to be tough, not easy
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