How Shah Hussain Became Madho Lal

The Punjabi Sufi saint reportedly fell in love with a teenage boy. Some deny it to this day, but his poetry tells a different story.

DP299968 Shah Hussain
A painting of a youth and dervish from the early to mid 17th century (The MET Museum)

Ayesha Le Breton


June 17, 2024


9 min

Legend has it that established Sufi poet Shah Hussain, well into his 50s, was passing through Shahdara in Lahore when a Hindu boy, Madho, a mere teenager, caught his attention. “This boy has set my heart out of control,” he said, according to a 1660 biography of Hussain. “With one look he has taken…the life out of my heart, and the soul out of my body.” 

Of course, that’s just one story. Some claim the two were more akin to a student and teacher. But Shah Hussain, who started going by the name Madho Lal Hussain, followed his own rules. What some consider so radical today — love across differences in age or religions — likely existed for centuries.

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