Bulleh Shah lived in the same period as the Sindhi Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhatai (1689–1752). His lifespan also overlapped with the Punjabi poet Waris Shah (1722–1798), of Heer Ranjha fame, and the Sindhi Sufi poet Abdul Wahab (1739–1829), better known by his pen name Sachal Sarmast. Amongst Urdu poets, Bulleh Shah lived 400 miles away from Mir Taqi Mir (1723–1810) of Agra.
Bulleh Shah practised the Sufi tradition of Punjabi poetry established by poets like Shah Hussain (1538–1599), Sultan Bahu (1629–1691), and Shah Sharaf (1640–1724).
The verse form Bulleh Shah primarily employed is called the Kafi, a style of Punjabi, Sindhi and Saraiki poetry.
Bulleh Shah’s poetry and philosophy has never questioned the Islamic religious orthodoxy of his day but he did sometimes use metaphors to express his frustration towards the rigidity of Muslim clerics of his time.
Bulleh Shah’s writings represent him as a humanist, someone providing solutions to the sociological problems of the world around him as he lives through it, describing the turbulence his motherland of Punjab is passing through, while concurrently searching for God. His poetry highlights his mystical spiritual voyage through the four stages of Sufism: Shariat (Path), Tariqat (Observance), Haqiqat (Truth) and Marfat (Union). The simplicity with which Bulleh Shah has been able to address the complex fundamental issues of life and humanity is a large part of his appeal. Thus, many people have put his kafis to music, from humble street-singers to renowned Sufi singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pathanay Khan, Abida Parveen, the Waddali Brothers and Sain Zahoor, from the synthesised techno qawwali remixes of UK-based Asian artists to the Pakistani rock band Junoon.
Bulleh Shah’s time was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs. But in that age Baba Bulleh Shah was a beacon of hope and peace for the citizens of Punjab. While Bulleh Shah was in Pandoke, Muslims killed a young Sikh man who was riding through their village in retaliation for murder of some Muslims by Sikhs. Baba Bulleh Shah denounced the murder of an innocent Sikh and was censured by the mullas and muftis of Pandoke. Bulleh Shah maintained that violence was not the answer to violence. Bulleh Shah also hailed Guru Tegh Bahadur as a ghazi (Islamic term for a religious warrior) and incurred the wrath of the fanatic muslims at the time.
Banda Singh Bairagi was a contemporary of Bulleh Shah. In retaliation for the murder of Guru Gobind Singh’s two sons by Aurangzeb, he sought revenge by killing common Muslims. Baba Bulleh Shah tried to convince Banda Singh Bairagi to renounce his campaign of revenge. Bulleh Shah told him that the same sword which fell upon Guru Gobind Singh’s sons and innocent Sikhs also fell upon innocent Muslims. Hence killing innocent Muslim was not the answer to Aurangzeb’s reign of oppression.