Down the Ages - An introduction to Sindhi poetry

From folk traditions and classical forms to poetry of resistance and contemporary innovation, Sindhi poetry remains firmly rooted in its history.

Dating back to the Indus Valley civilisation, Sindhi is one of the oldest languages in South Asia. It has a rich vocabulary and numerous folk songs that have been passed down generations through Sindh’s oral tradition of reciting and singing poetry. Among the earliest epics in Sindhi, Dodal Raso, written by the bard Bhagoo Bhaan, dates back to approximately 1000 AD. The Soomra period (from 1050 AD - 1350 AD) was an important period when Sindhi love tales became popular with the masses. During the Samma dynasty that ruled Sindh from 1351 AD to 1521 AD, Qazi Qadan was a prominent classical poet and was followed by others such as Shah Abdul Karim Bulrai, Shah Lutuf Ullah Qadri and Shah Inayat.

In the end of 17th century, the land of Sindh was graced with the birth of one of the greatest poets in the world, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. Shah Latif, as he is often called, is a poet who transcends time and space. His thought, imagination, diction, powerful content, and perfection of rhyme and rhythm, have made him unique and timeless. He has been admired for his universalism by many acclaimed scholars including Dr. H. T. Sorely 1 and Dr. Ernest Trumpp. Leading up to the 20th century, other major Sindhi poets include Sachal Sarmast, revered not just as a poet but also as a saint in South Asia. Then there was Sami, a great Vedanti poet and Khalifo Nabi Bux, who was among the last great classical poets of Sindh.

During the British period 2(1843 AD - 1947 AD), Sindhi was declared the official language of Sindh in 1848 by the Governor of the Bombay Presidency Sir George Clerk and with same reference by Sir Bartle Frere passed an order in 1857. This elevated its status to the main language for communication and paperwork in courts, the treasury and education. During this wave of literary awakening, many new Sindhi writers wrote novels, plays, short stories and essays. While Sindhi prose became the art of the century, Sindhi poets began experimenting with new forms in poetry: in addition to the typical Sindhi kalaams in kaafi, wai, and bait forms, they also began writing ghazals and nazms. This development also witnessed the embracing of mushairas 3 in which ‘tarahi 4’ ghazals were recited.

Sindhi poets mastered the Sindhi kaafi, wai, and bait: forms of poetry that belong to music rather than prosody. There were several practitioners of the ghazal; these poets were masters of Farsi, 'Behr Wazan 5', and many of them were called ‘Ustad ul Shura’ 6. Among them were Mir Abdul Hussain 'Sangi', Mirza Qaleech Baig, Akhund 'Gul', Ghulam Muhammad Shah 'Gada' and Hafiz 'Haamid'. Several 'Ghazalgo 7' poets followed in their footsteps and among these were Dr. Ibrahim 'Khalil’, Makhdoom Muhammed Zaman 'Talibulmaula', Ahsan ul Hashmi, Shabbir 'Haatif' and others. Among modern poets, too there were many who wrote the ghazal; Arjan 'Haasid', Arjan 'Shaad' and M. Kamal were purely ghazal poets with a modern style while Shaikh 'Ayaz', Imdad Hussaini, Tanveer Abbasi, Shamsher ul Haidri, and Zulfiqar Rashdi also wrote the modern ghazal. Masroor Pirzado and Muzamil 'Sair' are among the new, talented ghazal poets.

Partition (1947) paralysed Sindhi literature as educated Sindhis - prominent writers, scholars and poets included - migrated to India. Among these were poets Narain Shyam, Moti Parkash and Hari Dilgeer. Dilgeer's first book was published in Sindh in 1942 and even after his emigration in 1958, up to 1968, he maintained a strong connection with Sindh. There are many noteworthy poets writing Sindhi poetry in India even today.

Modern Sindhi poets faced the pressure of policies passed for shrinking the usage of the Sindhi language. Struggling to save their language and identity inherited from Mohenjo Daro's ancient civilization, they revived folk songs and filled them with new meaning. Thus, Mohenjo Daro became a symbol of culture and literature. They also reinvented forms of classical Sindhi poetry including the wai and bait. Topics varied from the love of Sindh, to the pain and joys of the people. Leading poets Abdul Karim 'Gadai', Shaikh 'Ayaz', 'Tanvir' Abassi, Imdad Hussaini, Ilyas 'Ishqi', 'Makhdoom Muhammad Zaman 'Talibulmaula' wrote beautiful baits and wais. Kafi, a lyrical form of poetry, has a direct link with music, requiring its practitioners to have an awareness of music and to be filled with ‘soz o saaz 8. Makhdoom Talibulmaula, Arif ul Maula, Hussain Bux Khadim, Imdad Hussaini and Mir Abdul Rasool ‘Meer’wrote beautiful and moving kafis.

The period from 1955 to 1975 is considered the golden period in modern Sindhi poetry. The Sindhi quarterly literary journal Mehran, first published in 1955, proved to be a catalyst. It helped spur new traditions, symbolism, social changes, with a newfound sensitivity to national and international issues. A strong movement of resistance poetry started after ‘One Unit’ 9 was imposed.

This era also saw a change in form, diction, content, imagery and style. Poets experimented with free verse, triolet, Haiku, and invented new forms of poetry. The poetry of this period was marked by a modern sensibility, brevity and control. Shamsher ul Haidri and Imdad Hussaini wrote free verse with great intensity. Abdul Karim Gadai, Hari Dilgeer, Shaikh Ayaz, Narayan Shyam, Tanvir Abbasi and Imdad Hussaini were the most prominent poets of this era. The youngest among them, Hussaini continues to mesmerise with his poetry even today and is considered a living legend. His epic, Shahar, is about the carnage of a city in Sindh. Other prominent modern poets include Bardo Sindhi, Zulfiqar Rashdi, Moti Parkash, Kirshan Raahi, Kala, Parkash, Harikant, Qamar Shahbaz, Taj Baloch, Altaf Abassi, Nand Javeri, Sahar Imdad, Anwar Pirzado and others.

The modern period in Sindhi poetry was followed by the 'Naeen Tahi 10' period with poets such as Ayaz 'Gul', 'Adal' Soomro, 'Naseer' Mirza, Ahmed Solangi, Tanya Thebo, Aijaz Mangi, Attiya Daud, Amar Sindhu, Masroor Pirzado, Amar Pirzado and Rubina Abro. However, poetry is a learning experience and they have much to learn.

The following nazms by Shaikh Ayaz and Imdad Hussaini have been translated by Asif Farukhi:

“Who can say there is no freedom here? 
Jackals are free;
Flies are free; 
Here the intellectuals are free; 
Poets are free to hold devotional recitations on TV 
The farmer is free
He can pick out lice from his head or not. 
Everybody is free on this land cracking-up
Where snakes hide in the crevices 
And wolves dig out dens for their cubs.”

(By Shaikh Ayaz; translated by: Asif Farukhi in Storm Call for Prayers)

The Attack 

“Time led the ambush and the dagger of black nights 
Was plunged to the hilt in the world’s breast 
And as usual all energy was spent. 
The call to the prayers from the mosque 
Cried and then became quiet, 
The figure of the Buddha Fell face down in the museum 
The flute was shattered to pieces All the tunes, songs silent.
The wise man from Greece Drank hemlock. 
A virgin Mary Left a fatherless child On the church doorstep. 
The city’s dead body was covered With a black chadar. 
The darkness of the grave Clung to every soul, 
From every direction advanced The monsters of pain and loneliness 
And in the lanes of city 
The desolation-dacoits and silence-thieves Have entered. 
Cold, fierce winds Knocked on doors 
So that some people at least Should join the mourning for the city 
And some screams should join the festival of Hell!” 

(By Imdad Hussaini; translated by: Asif Farukhi (unpublished))


  1. In his book Musa Pravagans, Sorely has compared Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry with great poets of other major international languages and has described Shah Latif as superior to these poets.
  2. James C. Melvill, ‘Scinde, a copy of a report of Sir George Clerk, Governor of Bombay, 1848, on the Administration of Scinde, East India, Sir George Clerks minutes on Sind, p.15
  3. ‘Mushaira’ is a gathering of poets, where they recite poetry before the audience.
  4. A line from a couplet of Ghazal of any poet is given, to write a ‘ghazal’ on same meter with same rhyme.
  5. Persian Prosody/Meter, used in Sindhi poetry
  6. A poet who teaches the technique of poetry to new poets
  7. One who writes ‘Ghazal’ is called Ghazalgo
  8. Pain and Pleasure
  9. ‘One Unit’ was an administrative order of ‘Parity’ that unified the four provinces of West Pakistan into a single province in 1954.
  10. Naeen Tahi is new generation

Dr. Sahar Imdad Shah is an Associate Professor at Arzu Center for Vernacular Languages, School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Karachi. An acclaimed research scholar, she has presented papers on various topics of Sindhi literature, especially on Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sachal, Sami, Sangi, Qaleech and other modern Sindhi poets. She is also a poet. She is a former journalist, and continues to write columns for various newspapers. She has published eight books.
Dr Sahar Shah