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Bagho Bahar (1803), Prelude

The following is the 'Introduction' from Mir Amman's Bagho Bahar (1803), translated by Duncan Forbes (1857). The translator's/editor's footnotes have been removed for the sake of easy reading (you can access an original with footnotes and links to facsimile of Urdu version at the website of Prof. Francis Pritchett, Columbia University).


I now commence my tale; pay attention to it, and be just to its merits. In the "Adventures of the Four Darwesh," it is thus written, and the narrator has related, that formerly in the Empire of Rum there reigned a great king, in whom were innate justice equal to that of Naushirwan, and generosity like that of Hatim. His name was Azad-Bakht, and his imperial residence was at Constantinople, (which they call Istambol.) In his reign the peasant was happy, the treasury full, the army satisied, and the poor at ease. They lived in such peace and plenty, that in their homes the day was a festival, and the night was a shabi barat. Thieves, robbers, pickpockets, swindlers, and all such as were vicious and dishonest, he utterly exterminated, and no vestige of them allowed he to remain in his kingdom. The doors of the houses were unshut all night, and the shops of the bazar remained open. The travellers and wayfarers chinked gold as they went along, over plains and through woods; and no one asked them, "How many teeth have you in your mouth," or "Where are you going?"

There were thousands of cities in that king's dominions, and many princes paid him tribute. Though he was so great a king, he never for a moment neglected his duties or his prayers to God. He possessed all the necessary comforts of this world; but male issue, which is the fruit of life, was not in the garden of his destiny, for which reason he was often pensive and sorrowful, and after the five regulated periods of prayer, he used to address himself to his Creator and say, "O God! thou hast, through thy infinite goodness blest thy weak creature with every comfort, but thou hast given no light to this dark abode. This desire alone is unaccomplished, that I have no one to transmit my name and support my old age. Thou hast everything in thy hidden treasury; give me a living and thriving son, that my name and the vestiges of this kingdom may remain."

In this hope the king reached his fortieth year; when one day he had finished his prayers in the Mirror Saloon, and while telling his beads, he happened to cast his eyes towards one of the mirrors, and perceived a white hair in his whiskers, which glittered like a silver wire; on seeing it, the king's eyes filled with tears, and he heaved a deep sigh, and then said to himself, "Alas! thou hast wasted thy years to no purpose, and for earthly advantages thou hast overturned the world. And all the countries thou hast conquered, what advantage are they to thee? Some other race will in the end squander these riches. Death hath already sent thee a messenger; and even if thou livest a few years, the strength of thy body will be less. Hence, it appears clearly from this circumstance, that it is not my destiny to have an heir to my canopy and throne. I must one day die, and leave everything behind me; so it is better for me to quit them now, and dedicate the rest of my days to the adoration of my Maker."

Having in his heart made this resolve, he descended to his lower garden. Having dismissed his courtiers, he ordered that no one should approach him in future, but that all should attend the Public Hall of Audience, and continue occupied in their respective duties. After this speech the king retired to a private apartment, spread the carpet of prayer, and began to occupy himself in devotion: he did nothing but weep and sigh. Thus the king, Azad Bakht passed many days; in the evening he broke his fast with a date and three mouthfuls of water, and lay all day and night on the carpet of prayer. Those circumstances became public, and by degrees the intelligence spread over the whole empire, that the king having withdrawn his hand from public affairs, had become a recluse. In every quarter enemies and rebels raised their heads, and stepped beyond the bounds [of obedience]; whoever wished it, encroached on the kingdom, and rebelled; wherever there were governors, in their jurisdictions great disturbance took place; and complaints of mal-administration arrived at court from every province. All the courtiers and nobles assembled, and began to confer and consult.

At last it was agreed, "that as his Highness the Wazir is wise and intelligent, and in the king's intimacy and confidence, and is first in dignity, we ought to go before him, and hear what he thinks proper to say on the occasion," All the nobles went to his Highness the Wazir, and said: "Such is the state of the king and such the condition of the kingdom, that if more delay takes place, this empire, which has been acquired with such trouble, will be lost for nothing, and will not be easily regained." The Wazir was an old, faithful servant, and wise; his name was Khiradmand, a name self-significant. He replied, "Though the king has forbidden us to come into his presence, yet go you: I will also go – may it please God that the king be inclined to call me to his presence." After saying this, the Wazir brought them all along with him as far as the Public Hall of Audience, and leaving them there, he went into the Private Hall of Audience, and sent word by the eunuch to the royal presence, saying, "this old slave is in waiting, and for many days has not beheld the royal countenance; he is in hopes that, after one look, he may kiss the royal feet, then his mind will be at ease." The king heard this request of his Wazir, and inasmuch as his majesty knew his length of services, his zeal, his talents, and his devotedness, and had often followed his advice, after some consideration, he said, "call in Khiradmand." As soon as permission was obtained, the Wazir appeared in the royal presence, made his obeisance, and stood with crossed arms. He saw the king's strange and altered appearance, that from extreme weeping and emaciation his eyes were sunk in their sockets, and his visage was pale.

Khiradmand could no longer restrain himself, but without choice, ran and threw himself at [the king's] feet. His majesty lifted up the Wazir's head with his hands, and said, "There, thou hast at last seen me; art thou satisfied? Now go away, and do not disturb me more – do thou govern the empire." Khiradmand, on hearing this, gnashing his teeth, wept said, "This slave, by your favour and welfare, can always possess a kingdom; but ruin is spread over the empire from your majesty's such sudden seclusion, and the end of it will not be prosperous. What strange fancy has possessed the royal mind! If to this hereditary vassal your majesty will condescend to explain yourself, it will be for the best – that I may unfold whatever occurs to my imperfect judgment on the occasion. If you have bestowed honours on your slaves, it is for this exigency, that your majesty may enjoy yourself at your ease, and your slaves regulate the affairs of the state; for if your imperial highness is to bear this trouble, which God forbid! of what utility are the servants of the state?" The king replied, "Thou sayest true; but the sorrow which preys on my mind is beyond cure.

"Hear, O Khiradmand! my whole age has been passed in this vexatious career of conquest, and I am now arrived at these years; there is only death before me; I have even received a message from him, for my hairs are turned white. There is a saying; 'We have slept all night, and shall we not awake in the morning?' Until now I have not had a son, that I might be easy in mind; for which reason my heart is very sorrowful, and I have utterly abandoned everything. Whoever wishes, may take the country and my riches. I have no use for them. Moreover, I intend some day or other, to quit everything, retire to the woods and mountains, and not show my face to any one. In this manner I will pass this life of [at best but] a few days' duration. If some spot pleases me, I shall sit down on it; and by devoting my time in prayers to God, perhaps my future state will be happy; this world I have seen well, and have found no felicity in it." After pronouncing these words, the king heaved a deep sigh, and became silent.

Khiradmand had been the Wazir of his majesty's father, and when the king was heir-apparent he had loved him; moreover, he was wise and zealous. He said (to Azad Bakht,) "It is ever wrong to despair of God's grace; He who has created the eighteen thousand species of living beings by one fiat, can give you children without any difficulty. Mighty sire, banish these fanciful notions from your mind, or else all your subjects will be thrown into confusion, and this empire, – with what trouble and pains your royal forefathers and yourself have erected it! – will be lost in a moment, and, from want of care, the whole country will be ruined; God forbid that you should incur evil fame! Moreover, you will have to answer to God, in the day of judgment, when he will say, 'Having made thee a king, I placed my creatures under thy care; but thou hadst no faith in my beneficence, and thou hast afflicted thy subjects [by abandoning thy charge.'] What answer will you make to this accusation? Then even your devotion and prayers will not avail you, for the heart of man is the abode of God, and kings will have to answer only for the justice of their conduct. Pardon your slave's want of respect, but to leave their homes, and wander from forest to forest, is the occupation of hermits, but not that of kings. You ought to act according to your allotted station: the remembering of God, and devotion to him, are not limited to woods or mountains: your majesty has undoubtedly heard this verse, 'God is near him, and he seeks him in the wilderness; the child is in his arms, and there is a proclamation [of its being lost] throughout the city.'

"If you will be pleased to act impartially, and follow this slave's advice, in that case the best thing is, that your Majesty should keep God in mind every moment, and offer up to him your prayers. No one has yet returned hopeless from his threshold. In the day, arrange the affairs of state, and administer justice to the poor and injured; then the creatures of God will repose in peace and comfort under the skirt of your prosperity. Pray at night; and after beseeching blessings for the pure spirit of the Prophet, solicit assistance from recluse Darweshes and holy men, [who are abstracted from worldly objects and cares;] bestow daily food on orphans, prisoners, poor parents of numerous children, and helpless widows. From the blessings of these good works and benevolent intentions, if God please, it is to be fervently hoped that the objects and desires of your heart will all be fulfilled, and the circumstances for which the royal mind is afflicted, will likewise be accomplished, and your noble heart will rejoice! Look towards the favour of God, for he can in a moment do what he wishes." At length, from such various representations on the part of Khiradmand the Wazir, Azad Bakht's heart took courage, and he said, "Well, what you say is true; let us see to this also; and hereafter, the will of God be done."

When the king's mind was comforted, he asked the Wazir what the other nobles and ministers were doing, and how they were. He replied, that "all the pillars of state are praying for the life and prosperity of your majesty; and from grief for your situation, they are all in confusion and dejected. Show the royal countenance to them, that they may be easy in their minds. Accordingly, they are now waiting in the Diwani Amm." On hearing this, the king said, "If God please, I will hold a court to-morrow: tell them all to attend." Khiradmand was quite rejoiced on hearing this promise, and lifting up his hands, blessed the king, saying, "As long as this earth and heaven exist, may your majesty's crown and throne remain. Then taking leave [of the king,] he retired with infinite joy, and communicated these pleasing tidings to the nobles. All the nobles returned to their homes with smiles and gladness of heart. The whole city rejoiced, and the subjects became boundless [in their transports at the idea] that the king would hold a general court the next day. In the morning, all the servants of state, noble and menial, and the pillars of state, small and great, came to the court, and stood each according to his respective place and degree, and waited with anxiety to behold the royal splendour.

When one pahar of the day had elapsed, all at once the curtain drew up, and the king, having ascended, seated himself on the auspicious throne. The sounds of joy struck up in the Naubat-Khana, and all the assembly offered the nazars of congratulation, and made their obeisance in the hall of audience. Each was rewarded according to his respective degree and rank, and the hearts of all became joyful and easy. At midday his majesty arose and retired to the interior of the palace; and after enjoying the royal repast, retired to rest. From that day the king made this an established rule, viz., to hold his court every morning, and pass the afternoons in reading and in the offices of devotion; and after expressing penitence, and beseeching forgiveness from God, to pray for the accomplishment of his desires.

One day, the king saw it written in a book, that if any one is so oppressed with grief and care as not to be relieved by [any human] contrivance, he ought to commit [his sorrows] to Providence, visit the tombs of the dead, and pray for the blessing of God on them, through the mediation of the Prophet; and conceiving himself nothing, keep his heart free from the thoughtlessness of mankind; weep as a warning to others, and behold [with awe] the power of God, saying, "Anterior to me, what mighty possessors of kingdoms and wealth have been born on earth! but the sky, involving them all in its revolving circle, has mixed them with the dust." It is a bye-word, that,

"On beholding the moving handmill, Kabira, weeping, exclaimed,
'Alas! nothing has yet survived the pressure of the two millstones.'"

"Now, if you look [for those heroes], not one vestige of them remains, except a heap of dust. All of them, leaving their riches and possessions, their homes and offsprings, their friends and dependants, their horses and elephants, are lying alone! All these [worldly advantages] have been of no use to them; moreover, no one by this time, knows even their names, or who they were; and their state within the grave cannot be discovered; (for worms, insects, ants, and snakes have eaten them up;) or [who knows] what has happened to them, or how they have settled their accounts with God? After meditating on these words in his mind, he should look on the whole of this world as a perfect farce; then the flower of his heart will ever bloom, and it will not wither in any circumstance." When the king read this admonition in the book, he recollected the advice of Khiradmand the Wazir, and found that they coincided. He became anxious in his mind to put this in execution; "but to mount on horseback, [said his majesty to himself,] and take a retinue with me, and go like a king, is not becoming; it is better to change my dress, and go at night and alone to visit the graves of the dead, or some godly recluse, and keep awake all night; perhaps by the mediation of these holy men, the desires of this world and salvation in the next, may be obtained."

Having formed this resolution, the king one night put on coarse and soiled clothes, and taking some money with him, he stole silently out of the fort, and bent his way over the plain; proceeding onwards, he arrived at a cemetery, and was repeating his prayers with a sincere heart. At that time, a fierce wind continued blowing, and might be called a storm. Suddenly the king saw a flame at a distance which shone like the morning star; he said to himself, "In this storm and darkness this light cannot shine without art, or it may be a talisman; for if nitre and sulphur be sprinkled in the lamp, around the wick, then let the wind be ever so strong, the flame will not be extinguished--or may it not be the lamp of some holy man which burns? Let it be what it may, I ought to go and examine it; perhaps by the light of this lamp, the lamp of my house also may be lighted, and the wish of my heart fulfilled." Having formed this resolution, the king advanced in that direction; when he drew near, he saw four erratic fakirs, with kafnis on their bodies, and their head reclined on their knees; sitting in profound silence, and senselessly abstracted. Their state was such as that of a traveller, who, separated from his country and his sect, friendless and alone, and overwhelmed with grief, is desponding and at a loss. In the same manner sat these four Fakirs, like statues, and a lamp placed on a stone burnt brightly; the wind touched it not, as if the sky itself had been its shade, so that it burnt without danger [of being extinguished.]

On seeing this sight, Azad Bakht was convinced [and said to himself] that "assuredly thy desires will be fulfilled, by the blessing [resulting from] the footsteps of these men of God; and the withered tree of thy hopes shall revive by their looks, and yield fruit. Go into their company, and tell thy story, and join their society; perhaps they may feel pity for thee, and offer up for thee such a prayer as may be accepted by the Almighty." Having formed this determination, he was about to step forward, when his judgment told him, O fool, do not be hasty! Look a little [before thee.] What dost thou know as to who they are, from whence they have come, and where they are going? How can we know but they may be Devs or Ghuls of the wilderness, who, assuming the appearance of men, are sitting together? In every way, to be in haste, and go amongst them and disturb them, is improper. At present, hide thyself in some corner, and learn the story of these Darweshes." At last the king did so, and hid himself in a corner with such silence, that no one heard the sound of his approach; he directed his attention towards them to hear what they were saying amongst themselves. By chance one of the Fakirs sneezed, and said, "God be praised." The other three Kalandars, awakened by the noise he made, trimmed the lamp; the flame was burning bright, and each of them sitting on his mattress, lighted their hukkas, and began to smoke. One of these Azads said, "O friends in mutual pain, and faithful wanderers over the world! we four persons, by the revolution of the heavens, and changes of day and night, with dust on our heads, have wandered for some time, from door to door. God be praised, that by the aid of our good fortune, and the decree of fate, we have to-day met each other on this spot. The events of to-morrow are not in the least known, nor what will happen; whether we remain together, or become totally separated; the night is a heavy load,  and to retire to sleep so early is not salutary. It is far better that we relate, each on his own part, the events which have passed over our heads in this world, without admitting a particle of untruth [in our narrations;] then the night will pass away in words, and when little of it remains, let us retire to rest." They all replied, "O leader, we agree to whatever you command. First you begin your own history, and relate what you have seen; then shall we be edified."

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