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Coming, a healing touch

Nirupama Subramanian

Lahore-based theatre group to perform at Thrissur

Play based on Bulleh Shah ’s life

“Message of Sufi saint has found instant response”

ISLAMABAD: Dark clouds of animosity and distrust are once again hovering over India and Pakistan, and there is uncertainty about where and how these will lift . Does Sufism hold the answer? Yes, says the Lahore-based Ajoka Theatre Group.

On Sunday, 22 members of the group will leave for India, hoping to take some ions out of the current charged atmosphere between the two countries with their acclaimed play Bullah about the great Sufi saint Bulleh Shah and his message of peace and tolerance.

“We hope in this small way we can help to resume the dialogue for peace between the two countries because finally, dialogue is the only way to end conflict, not war,” said Madeeha Gauhar, a well-known actor who is also Ajoka’s director.

The group is going to India at the invitation of the Sangeet Natak Academy to perform at the International Theatre Festival that begins on December 22 in Thrissur in Kerala.

Bulleh Shah’s early life coincided with the final decades of Mughal rule that witnessed conflict, political chaos and civil and religious strife, especially between Sikhs and Muslims. Through his verses, Bullah, as he is popularly known, called for tolerance and love in an atmosphere of hatred and bigotism, urging people to respect each other’s religious beliefs. At every turn, he challenged Islamic orthodoxy for which he was branded an infidel and attracted several fatwas.

The legend goes that when Bullah died, the mullahs of his native Kasur refused to allow him to be buried in the city graveyard. He was buried outside, but his followers turned it into a shrine that is even today Kasur’s main attraction. The play Bullah is a tribute to this famous mystic, and is based on the events of his life, through his poetry, historical records and legend. But his search for truth, his conflict with the intolerant clergy and corrupt rulers, his opposition to war and bloodshed in the name of religion, which are presented powerfully in the play, have a contemporary resonance.

This is not the first time that Ajoka is staging Bullah in India. It has been shown in Delhi, Punjab and Jammu. The invitation to the festival in Kerala came much before the Mumbai attacks, but according to Ms. Gauhar, the fallout makes the message of the play all the more important and relevant.

“Our experience with Bullah is that wherever in India or Pakistan we have taken it, the message of love and harmony and peace of Bulleh Shah and of Sufism in general has found an instant response among audiences,” said Ms. Gauhar. The play will show at the festival on December 26.