Shishunala Sharifa (Kannada: ಸಂತ ಶಿಶುನಾಳ ಶರೀಫ, 1819–1889) was a saint poet, philosopher and social reformer from the state of Karnataka in India. His compositions of tatvapada (moral poems) are in Kannada language. Sharif is recognised as the first Muslim poet in Kannada literature.
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE
Shishunala Sharifa was born on 7th March 1819 in Shishuvinahala, a village in Shiggaon taluk (in Haveri district), Karnataka. He was the son of an Imam, who was a disciple of Hajaresha Qadri, whose dream it was to unite Hinduism and Islam. Hajaresha Qadri used to give “Linga Deeksha”, or initiation by tying a linga around the neck of a disciple, as per the Hindu Lingayat tradition. His father used to teach Him the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and even the teachings of Allama Prabhu. Legend has it that Shishunala Sharifa was conceived with the blessings of Gods.
Even when Shishunala was a boy, He was taught the tenets of both religions. In his birthplace Shishuvinahala, even today, both Hindus and Muslims revere him as a saint at the same temple.
MEETING GOVINDA BHATTA
Govind Bhatta, a Brahmin, was famous in the region as an unconventional Master. He cared little for caste or religion, and He used to spend time with anyone who invited him, and used to eat anywhere He felt like. Other Brahmins could not stomach His approach.
One day, Govinda Bhatta came to Shishuvinahala, and Sharifa’s father found Him seated under a tree. He asked Him to accept His son as disciple. In front of the father, Govinda Bhatta called the young boy and said, “Hey Sharifa, who is your father?” The villagers laughed, but were shocked when the boy brashly said, “What kind of question are you asking? Your father and mine are the same!”. Govinda Bhatta laughed, patted the boy on the back and said, “Excellent, Sharifa! The land is fertile, the seed will sprout well. O Imam, leave Him to my care! From today, He is my son!”
Sharif followed Govinda Bhatta back to His village.The boy was found to be curious about matters beyond logic and the world, and about the secrets of creation. These qualities were nurtured by Govinda Bhatt. Society was surprised by their closeness. In the eyes of Muslims, the Master was a Khafir (infidel) and for Brahmins, the boy was a Mleccha (outsider).
INCIDENTS DURING THEIR TIME TOGETHER
- The thorn bush
One day, Govinda Bhatta called all His young disciples to follow Him to the Temple. On the way, they were blocked by a thorn bush. Govinda Bhatta stepped on the bush with His slippers and climbed to the other side. The disciples, however, were bare-footed. Govinda Bhatta tossed His slippers across to them, but they hesitated. “A Master’s Padukas must be kept on the head, not worn on the feet”, they said. Bhatta looked at Sharif, and said, “Will you at least join me?” Sharif, without hesitation, puts on the slippers and crosses over. The two of them leave the others behind and go to the temple alone.
- Thread Ceremony
One day, Govinda Bhatta was seated with some Brahmins at the village crossroad. Just then, Sharif comes by. The Master calls Him to sit, and the two sit very closely. The others were offended, and say, “Does that Muslim look like a Brahmin to you? You have no sense of cleanliness or social status!” Bhatta laughs, saying, “Just because you are born a Brahmin, do you think you’ll become one? None of you is a greater Brahmin than this boy!”. He takes off His sacred thread puts it around Sharif, embracing Him tightly. Sharif, overcome with feeling, prostrates himself at the Master’s feet. The Brahmins were highly offended.
- The Mullah
One day, a Mullah asks Sharif, “So, I see you’ve stopped coming to the mosque! Do you even remember what Namaz is?” To this, Sharif calmly replies, pointing at His own body, “I dwell in this mosque, so why go and come? I am in constant worship of “I AM”, so what can be greater Namaz?” The Mullah was dumbstruck.
Sharif’s parents force Him to marry. Sharif goes to Bhatta and asks, “If i become a Samsari, won’t i get stuck in desire and illusion?” The Master replies, “Why are you worried? Even in the worst rain, does wind become wet? Does light become soaked? So go and get married!”
Sharif married, and had a daughter. He joins work as a schoolmaster in Karadagi, to support the family. However, His wife passes away shortly. Sharif’s neighbours adopt the child, and Sharif quits His job. He starts participating in folk dramas, teaching simple lessons through daily experiences. Sharif went through extreme poverty, often going without meals. However, Govinda Bhatta stood by Him through all His troubles.
After Govinda Bhatta left His body, Sharif lived on for another twenty years. When He started falling ill and realised His days were few, He decided to give up His body according to “Sharana” tradition, in which ash is smeared on the body, and the feet of a Jangama, or Shaivite monk, are worshipped. The monk’s feet are then placed on the head, and life is given up. Nobody agreed, but on His insistence, a Jangama by name Hirematta Karibasavayya agreed. Shishunala Sharif left His body in 1889 AD.
The people were left confused. Sharif was born a Muslim but lived as a Hindu. The leaders of both communities came together and agreed to perform the last rites as per both religions. The Quran was read simultaneously with the Hindu Mantras.
A Samadhisthan was constructed in Shishuvinahala, in a vast compound. There, statues of both Govinda Bhatta and Sharif are visited by both Hindus and Muslims, to this day. Shishunala Sharif is known as the Kabir of Karnataka.
- When the mind gets very involved in the world and becomes agitated, hit it with the hatchet and stop it.
- The Word of knowledge given by the Master annihilates the mind, and makes all difficulties vanish.
- As one would take good care of a horse, take care of the mind by feeding it with spiritual food. At times, whip it like a horse, so that it behaves in a manner pleasing to the Master.
- This house (the body) moves around so much, yet through proper discipline, in this very house one can experience Shiva.
- Jiva, like a bird in a cage, has freedom only within the cage of body and mind. But, by the Grace of the Master, the bird is able to spread its wings to fly through the entire universe.
- The Holy Feet of his Master may look small and ordinary; however, they swallow up the huge ego when the head is placed at them.
Shishunala Sharifa was known to compose poems as per the situation and sing them to spread the message. Though he never wrote down his compositions, by word of mouth many of them have been passed down to future generations.
- Kodagana koli nungitha nodavva thangi
- Gudiya Nodiranna Dehada
- Alabeda Thangi Alabeda
- Tharavalla Thagi Ninna
- Biddiyabbe Muduki
- Soruthihudu Maneya Maaligi
- Ellaranthavanalla Nanna Ganda
- Mohada Hendathi Theerida Balika
- Sneha Madabekinthavala
- gudugudiya sedu nodo
- lokada kalaji
Santha Shishunala Sharifa is a Kannada feature film directed by T.S. Nagabharana in 1990. The main character was played by the Kannada actor Sridhar, and supporting cast included Girish Karnad and Suman Ranganath
Sharif's songs have been sung by famous playback singers, notably C. Aswath and Shimoga Subbanna.
Raghu Dixit's work has been appreciated for spreading the words of Sharif's wisdom to the world. Raghu's self-titled debut album launched by the popular music director duo Vishal-Shekhar contains two songs "Soruthihudu Maniya Maligi" and "Gudugudiya Sedi Noda", which are compositions of Sharif. His next album Jag Changa also has 2 songs originally written by Shishunala Sharifa "Lokada Kalaji" and "Kodagana Koli Nungitha".