Ras Khan - the Sufi Krishna Bhakta  

Om Vishnupad 108 Tridandi Swami Sri Srimad Bhakti Sravan Tirtha Goswami Maharaj ki Jai !!

India is blessed to have been enriched by the writings and thoughts of famous Sufi saints like Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti (Garib Nawaz) of Ajmer, Fariuddin Ganj-i-Shakar, Baba Farid, Bulle Shah, Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusro of Delhi and Lal Ded of Kashmir. The 13th century Persian mystic Sufi saint Rumi’s writings also greatly influenced Indian sufis.

Even today people from all religious persuasions pay their respects and adoration to these Sufi saints whose spiritual attainment is exactly like that of rishis and saints of Hinduism. Sufis performed a dual purpose: making their doctrines more intelligible to the masses and bringing Hindus and Muslims closer to each other in a shared space of spiritual and mystical experiences.

One of the lesser-known Muslim Sufi saints who wrote principally in the Krishna prema-bhakti mould was the 16th century saint Ras Khan. Much of the little that is known about his life is shrouded in myth and mystery. His actual name is said to have been Syed Ibrahim Khan and he was born in the village of Pihani in the Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh in 1578 or thereabouts. He later moved to Delhi. He belonged to a rich jagirdar family and received a good education in Persian and Sanskrit. He translated the Bhagavat Purana into Persian.

Scholars have differences about his birth, education and spiritual awakening. According to one version in the medieval text Bhakta-kalpadruma, he once travelled to Vrindavan along with his Sufi preceptor. There he fell unconscious and had a vision of Krishna. Thereafter, he remained in Vrindavan till he breathed his last.

Another version relates that once he got attracted to the daughter of a merchant. He was madly in love with her. One day, the story goes, he overheard a sadhu telling another, “One should have attachment to the Lord just as this Ibrahim Khan has for the merchant’s daughter. He roams around following her without fear of public slander or displeasure!”. The other sadhu turned up his nose in disgust and when Ibrahim saw this he drew his sword out in anger. The sadhu said: “If you loved God as much as you do that girl you would have attained Him by now”. Ibrahim’s curiosity was aroused, he began to sit among the sages and heard them relate their variegated experiences.

One Vaishsnav urged Ibrahim to travel alongwith them to Vrindavan. When he got there, he was refused entry into the temple on the grounds that he was a Muslim. After sitting on the banks of the lake near the temple having not had anything to eat for three days, Krishna, the story goes, appeared to Ibrahim, addressing him as Ras Khan or ‘the mine of aesthetic essence’, and directed him to seek the shelter of Goswami Vitthalnath ji of the Pushti marg.

From that day onwards, Ras Khan began living in Vrindavan, composing and singing the Krishnaite Sufi poetry for which he is still so fondly remembered. Ras Khan’s verses deal basically with the beauty of Krishna and the love between Krishna and his gopis. But the Krishna that Ras Khan refers to is not the anthropomorphic deity of the saguna bhakti school. Rather, his Krishna is the Supreme Godhead who actually has no physical form. In effect, he gave us a Sufi conception of Krishna.

Ras Khan’s Brijbhasha writings are numerous, the five most important being the Sujana Raskhana, Prema Vatika, Dana Lila, the Astayama and a collection of Padas (couplets). Of these the most well-known is the Prema Vatika  (The Garden of Love).

His writings focussed mainly on the various leelas of Krishna, Bal leela, Yamuna leela, Cheer ghat leela, Govardhan leela, Kunj leela and such.

Prema Vatika consists of fifty-three verses, most of which deal with the nature of spiritual love, using the love between Radha and Krishna as a model. Ras Khan begins the work by saying,

‘The dwelling of Love is Shri Radhika, 
the son of Nanda is Love’s colour’. 
But the path of Love is not easy, he tells us:
‘Everybody says: "Love! Love!" 
but nobody knows Love’, 
he adds, because 
‘If a person knows Love, 
why would the world weep?’ 

On the paramount importance of love, he writes:

"If you study the Shastras you become a Pundit, If you read the Quran you become a Maulvi, But Raskhan, without knowing Love, of what use is it"

One of the best known couplets of Ras Khan is:

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 धारन।
जो खग हौं तो बसेरो करौं मिलि कालिंदीकूल कदम्ब की डारन॥

If I am born again, make me one of the cowherds in village Gokul; If you are to give me an animal rebirth, may I be a cow grazing daily with other cows of Nanda: If you are to transform me into a stone, May I become a part of the very hill (Govardhan) which you lifted by your hand as one would an umbrella to teach a lesson to Indra; If I am to be a bird let me live as one on the boughs of the Kadamba trees on the banks of the Yamuna.

Ras Khan died in 1628 in Braj.  His Samadhi is located in Mahavan near Gokul, Mathura.

Jai Guru !!

Jai Jai Shri Radhey !!