Portrait of a poet

Retracing the life of the Rumi of Pashto literature

Rahman Baba is one of the most illustrious Pashto poets. His poetry has been inspiring people for almost four centuries. He is the Rumi of Pashto literature in that his is about humanity, peace, love and tolerance.

The port’s given name was Abdur Rahman. He came to be called Rahman Baba on account of people’s veneration for him. Rahman Baba’s animated poetry is considered the finest in Pashto literature and his message still relevant. His contemporary, Khushal Khan Khattak, too, enriched Pashto literature by contributing dozens of books in poetry and prose. However, Rahman Baba secured his place in literature with a single Diwan in Pashto. His Diwan is the all-time bestseller of Pashto literature.

Born in 1632in Bahadur village of Hazar Khwani near Peshawar, Rahman Baba acquired his early education at his home town. He was from a Mohmand sub-tribe Ghoryakhel Pashtun. The family had migrated from Ghazni in Afghanistan to the outskirts of Peshawar. The poet likely lived peacefully in the area as he never mentions his participation in the internecine tribal conflicts of the day. For a while his family provided the village chief. Later, he moved to Kohat and then left for central India for further studies.

An important factor in Rahman Baba’s universal fame is his unproblematic and fluent language. A literary scholar, a cleric, a politician and a lay reader can read his poetry with equal ease and understand it.

Also, Rahman Baba’s themes are close to human life and experience. Advocating a peaceful and humane life, he requests people to do good deeds.

(Make the area around you green and lush by sowing the seeds of flowers

Refrain from planting the thorns that may prick your feet.

Don’t dig up a hole in the way of the people lest you should pass by it)

Some critics view Rahman Baba as a sufi poet, writing essentially about his inner self. However, the fact is that he also had an eye on political and social injustices of his time. He had stood with the truth and spoken against injustice.

(The mystics and the chieftains could not coexist,

Where is Aziz Khan (a tribal tyrant) and where is Sufi Abdurehman?)

Rahman Baba never allowed his poetry to be controversial. He is above national, ethnic and geographical boundaries. This is evident from this couplet:

(I am just a staunch lover and this is my service;

By caste, I am neither Khalil nor Daudzai or Momand)

Rahman Baba’s poetry took the form of a self-styled school of thought that was pursued not only by his contemporaries Younas Khyberi, Mahin Khalil, Mazullah Khan Momand, Akhund Gadai and Najib Sarbindi, but also a large number of poets in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Rahman Baba was a true lover of divine. Therefore, his message received the greatest attention of the people.

Born in 1632 in Bahadur village of Hazar Khwani near Peshawar, Rahman Baba acquired his early education in his home town. Later, he moved to Kohat and then to central India for further studies.

(What if a rich man is proud of his wealth, lovers take pride in the cheeks of their darlings.

The joy that the rich derive from their wealth, mystics experience in their humble cloaks.

The luxury that God provided to a lawn’s nightingale, butterflies get the same in the lap of flames)

In his latest book: Kra Katana au da haghay zghamal (Research and its digestion), Professor Obaidullah Darwesh Durrani states that Rahman Baba planted just a seedling of his poetry under the dense tree of Khushal Khan, but it grew and eventually obscured Khushal Khan’s distinguished poetry from many people. Durrani continues: “Rahman Baba’s underlying paragon is not what he said but the impeccable way in which he said it.”

Durrani argues that his poetry is full of Pashto proverbs. We know that proverbs travel from house to house and people are more easily influenced by those than by books. For example;

(Once the water passes through an egress (drain) in the field

It cannot be returned. As well as, no one could inspire life into a dead by weeping)

Professor Taha Khan, a noted Pashto writer, states: “No poet is more reasonable than Mirza Ghalib; no one is as well-informed as Dr Allama Iqbal; and the most skilful in Urdu is Mir Anees. All these attributes come together in Rahman Baba at the same time. Rahman Baba has adopted some unique genres in his poetry like of which is not to be found in Eastern poetry.”

Several writers and poets have translated Rahman Baba’s Diwan into different languages especially in English and Urdu. Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) has translated excerpts of his poetry into English and has included it in his book [An anthology of world poetry] published 1928.

Henry George Racerty (1825-1906) has translated some select parts of Rahman Baba’s poetry and included those in his book: A selection from the poetry of the Afghans published in 1862. Jens Evald Enevoldsen (1907-1980) translated Diwan-i-Rahman into English in 1977 titled: The nightingale of Peshawar.

Munshi Mohan Lal Dehlwi translated some eminent Ghazals of Baba into English in 1834. Amir Hamza Shinwari translated Baba’s entire poetry into Urdu in 1963. Rahman Baba’s poetry has also been translated into Urdu by Professor Taha Khan. Altaf Parwaz, a famous Punjabi scholar, also translated Rahman Baba’s poems into Punjabi in 1989.

According to Zalmi Hiwadmal, at least 38 manuscripts of Diwan-i-Rahman have been found in the libraries of various countries. Nine of these manuscripts are in British library, eleven in Indian libraries, four in the library of Leningrad, three in the French National Library and 11 in the National Archive of Afghanistan.

This humane poet left behind no legacy except a distinguished anthology that would keep him alive till the day of resurrection.

Rahman Baba’s date of demise is unknown. He is believed to have been around in 1710 AD. He was laid to rest in Hazarkhwani, Peshawar. Every year in March an Urs is celebrated by people of various school of thought. Poets and musicians flock to his shrine to pay tributes by holding poetry recitations and Qawali festivals.

The writer is a lecturer at Government Degree College, Zhob, and a columnist. He can be reached at

Portrait of a poet: Retracing the life of the Rumi of Pashto literature