Raskhan - The Real Sufi

This is a glimpse of the impeccable love and devotion for Sri Krishna by Raskhan, one of the greatest poets India has ever produced. 

मानुस हौं तो वही रसखान, बसौं मिलि गोकुल गाँव के ग्वारन।
जो पसु हौं तो कहा बस मेरो, चरौं नित नंद की धेनु मँझारन॥
पाहन हौं तो वही गिरि को, जो धर्यो कर छत्र पुरंदर कारन।
जो खग हौं तो बसेरो करौं मिलि कालिंदीकूल कदम्ब की डारन॥

Raskhan, a Poet in the tradition of Sufi/Bhakti order was a Muslim by birth, with name Sayyad Ibrahim. He was of Pashtun origin, who became a devotee of Sri Krishna, and is known to have lived in Amroha, U.P.  Raskhan was his pen name in Hindi.

In his early years, he became a follower of Sri Krishna and learned the religion from Goswami Vitthalnath. He began living in Vrindavan and spent his whole life there. He accepted Sri Krishna as the Supreme God and became a Vaishnav. His creations describe the beauty of not only Sri Krishna but also his relations with his beloved Radha. His poetry is in the form of Doha, Padawali and Savayya.

Here it is noteworthy to quote that he was the one who followed the real spirit of Sufism in India but unfortunately he is not being propagated in this manner. He was a Muslim and also a follower of Sri Krishna. This unprecedented quality makes Raskhan an untouchable poet for the Islamists, who very rarely include him as a major Sufi Poet of India.


In this context, Raskhan is significant to be known and popularised as the greatest Sufi Poet in the medieval era.  Islamic mysticism has been an important movement in the medieval period and was propagated as the fountain head of the composite culture of India.


But this spiritual and mystic movement got transformed into a gruesome campaign under the reign of some fanatic Islamic rulers who gave patronage to these Sufi Saints who by goodwill or by compulsion aided and abetted these rulers in their mass conversion activities. The heinous ways adopted by them for this are sufficient enough to bring goose bumps. The Sufis main work was to provide spiritual solace to the persecuted population in the name of Islam and then motivate them to convert themselves to Islam. Due to their sinister aim to spread Islam silently and peacefully, they always wore the façade of religious harmony whereas; on the contrary they were the Islamic followers with no secular thoughts.


S.A.A. Rizvi in his book ‘A History of Sufism in India’, writes that there is a reference in the book, Jawahar-i- Faridi, written in 1627 to the fact that when Moinuddin Chishti reached near Annasagar Lake at Ajmer where a number of holy shrines of Hindus were located, his servants slaughtered a cow and cooked a beef kebab at the sacred place surrounded by many temples.


Likewise, in an example narrated by S.A.A. Rizvi in his book , The Wonder That Was India  it is pointed out that when the powerful Bengali warrior, king Ganesa, captured power in Bengal in the year 1415 A.D Ibrahim Shah Sharqi attacked his kingdom at the request of outraged Ulema and numerous Sufis of Bengal.


In the ensuing strife, the leading Sufi of Bengal, Nur Qutb-i-Alam, interceded and secured a political agreement to the benefit of the Muslim community and satisfaction of Sufis wherein, Ganesa’s twelve year old son Jadu was converted to Islam and proclaimed King as Jalaluddin. The dictate given by Sufi to the King of Bengal is an example of the intolerance towards the regime of the Hindu king, He says: 


“Oh believers, don‘t make strangers, that is infidels, your confidential favourites and ministers of state.” They say that they don‘t allow any to approach or come near to them and become favourite courtiers; but it was done evidently and for expedience and worldly exigency of the Sultanate that they are entrusted with some affairs.”


In the backdrop of such scenario, we have a Muslim mystic, who is overwhelmed with love of Sri Krishna who wrote profoundly on that divine feeling and emotion.


धूरि भरे अति शोभित श्यामजू तैसी,
बनी सिरसुंदर चोटी।
खलत खात फिरे अंगना पग पैजनी,
बाजति पीरी कछोटी।वा छवि को रसखान विलोकत वरात,
काम कलानिधि कोटी।
काग के भाग बड़े सजनी हरि हाथ सौं,
ले गयो माखन रोटी।

Adorned with a beautiful choti (a hairstyle), baby Krishna plays in the courtyard. He is full of dust and his painjaniya (an ankle-ornament with bells) makes beautiful noise as he runs around. Raskhan is mesmerised by the sight. He envies the lucky crow, who is able to snatch Maakhan-Roti (bread and butter) from the hands of Hari himself.

Raskhan's Khariboli writings are numerous, the five most important being the Sujana Raskhana, the Premavatika,  the Danalila,  the Astayama and a collection of Padas (rhymed couplets). Of these the most well-known is the Premavatika. It consists of fifty-three verses, most of which deal with the nature of Divine Love, using the love between Radha and Krishna as a model. He begins by writing:

प्रेम-अयनि श्रीराधिका, प्रेम-बरन नँदनंद।
प्रेमवाटिका के दोऊ, माली मालिन द्वंद्व।।1।।
प्रेम-प्रेम सब कोउ कहत, प्रेम न जानत कोय।
जो जन जानै प्रेम तो, मरै जगत क्‍यौं रोय।।2।।

And it makes Raskhan the true Sufi who devoted his entire life to the Bhakti of Sri Krishna, without caring for the consequences. During those turbulent times, when it was difficult for the Hindus to practice their religion and culture, a Muslim exhibiting his devotion to a Hindu God was a bold and daring act.


But the irony is that among the Sufi poets/saints in India, his name does not figure. The fact that is noteworthy is that Hindus visit Sufi Darghas without any biases considering them to be the epitome of Hindu–Muslim solidarity but the Muslims don’t feel any inhibition in disowning a remarkable saint-poet because of his leanings towards a Hindu- God.


The reason is that Sufism never disassociated itself from the Sunni Version of Islam and thus, talk about their being liberal and tolerant is a façade. Their poetry, whirling dances and alleged unorthodoxy were merely tools of 'taqiya' (Islamic treachery approved by 'holy' Koran) to deceive their trusting Hindu hosts. “In fact, anti-Hindu agenda was the characteristic of Indian Sufism in the pre-Mughal period. Leaders of various Sufi orders were active in converting Hindus to Islam and were acting as the king makers. Raskhan was exception to all this. His quintessential depiction of love, both in unison and separation left indelible marks on the hearts of the people in Vrindavan who loved him too much. He died in 1628 A.D. His Samadhi is at Mahaban, six miles east of Mathura.


In this way, Raskhan is the greatest poet of Sufism who though did not get much recognition from his Muslim brothers, but is highly revered by Hindus. It is this quality of Raskan which makes him a genuine manifestation of Hindu Muslim brotherhood in India. It is time he is promoted as such.



1. S.A.A. Rizvi, “A History of Sufism in India, Vol. 1 (MunshiramManoharlal, 1978, p. 117)

2. S.A.A. Rizvi, “The Wonder That Was India Vol II (Rupa & Co, 1993, New Delhi)

3. Excerpted from Eaton, R. M. (1993).  The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760. Berkeley: University of California Press. P. 54.

4. Madan, T.N. (1989). Religion in India. Daedalus, 118 (4), pg 132.  

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