Syed Waris Shah the creator of Punjab’s most popular legend is himself too, a legendary figure; a consummate artiste, deeply learned in Sufi and domestic cultural lore, his verse is a treasure-trove of Punjabi phrases, idioms and sayings
LOVE – THE BURNING PASSION
by Umair Ghani
[Note for WoP readers: Punjabi as a language has mostly not been recognized – not even by Punjabis themselves – as a language. Our young generation feels more convenient and sometimes honored to express themselves in Urdu, rather than in Punjabi their mother tongue. The elite mostly consider this as a language of the menials and illiterate rural folk. This in spite of the fact that Punjabi is as rich a language as any other advanced language in the world.
The classic poetry of Punjab has mainly been patronized by the Sufi’s and saints of Punjab. Waris Shah too, though a mystic or Sufi, has not been acclaimed and venerated as much the Saint poets like Khawaja Maood-ud-Din Ganj Shakar, Ali Hajveri alias Data Ganj Baksh, yet the richness of his poetry has always been unique and touched the heart and soul of a common Punjabi. The melodies reverberating in the rural heartland of Punjab always pay rich tribute to his genius as a poet of the Punjab.
WoP contributing editor Umair Ghani visited Jandiala Sher Khan, the birth place of Syed Waris Shah to cover this story for our readers. Nayyar]
“Heer Waris Shah is a symbol of poetic intensity, authenticity, critical faculty, deep and wide observation, wisdom gained through a full and rich life. It’s daring account of a romantic saga, of imagination, poetic vision, artistic excellence and natural grace. No poet could ever depict this grace in such passionate and a soulful manner as has been done by Waris Shah and such deep soulful pitch which was only possible after a deep moving personal experience”.
An apt tribute to the genius of Waris Shah, the mystic bard of Jandiala Sher Khan known for his literary epic, a monumental contribution to Punjabi language in form of Qissa Heer Rañjha.
Waris Shah was born in 1710 (some historians claim 1706 as his year of birth and some1722). It was a troublesome, chaotic period after the death of Aurangzeb and Shah Alam. Punjab witnessed utter confusion and suffering in those times. Waris had his own tragedy in boyhood when his parents died. He was very young and had to live in a mosque for some time. In order to try his fortunes outside his native town he moved out of Jandiala (another reason to move was the impending danger of attack from Afghan invaders) and to receive early education from Pir Makhdoom of Qasur.
This exodus at a young age left a lasting impression on the psyche of young Waris, to which Professor S. S. Hans refers as a ‘geographical and spiritual vilayat’. In his remarkable essay “The Idea of Country in Hir” says Professor Hans, ‘after completing education Waris moved to Malika Hans again, migrating from place to place which he later elaborated in Heer Ranjha wandering from country to country.
There he resided in an isolated place, a room adjacent to a mosque and fell in love with Bhag Bhari, the young village lass. His real life love that provided inspiration for his monumental epic written in 1767’. Prof. Kapoor alludes to this in these words“Bhag Bhari is cited as the passion inspiring Waris to sing his own unfulfilled love through the legend of Heer and Ranjha
In Malika Hans, Waris began work on Heer. He says
Hukam mann ke sajrhañ
Qissa ajab bahar da jorhiya ee
(Obeying the order of my dear ones
I have composed this tale of a marvelous spring)
Fiqra jorh ke khub drust kita
Nawañ phul gulab da torhiya ee
(Have fashioned the phrases so elegant
Like a blossoming rose comes to life)
Buhat ji de wich tadbir kar ke
Farhad paharh nooñ
(A labor within my soul has been so intense that am like Farhad and hewed the mountains to reach his love)
Sabh banh ke aj bana dita
Jehra atar gulab nachorhiya ee
(Blending it all, have adorned this with a style, like fresh rose water spreads its fragrance far and wide)
Frustrated by bitter realities of life and an unending personal suffering, with cruelty and injustice of the mighty making life miserable and hope for him, the great bard sought solace in Qissa Heer Rañjha. He could not ignore the hypocrisy of the age particularly of the clergy and elaborately flaunted them with jest and ridicule. Waris Shah presented Ranjha as an embodiment of universal loneliness that resides in every lover’s soul.
Najam Hussain Syed, a prominent Punjabi Critique quotes” In this world Ranjha is a lonely figure, an outcast. He is utterly disinterested in any material motives so he is out of place in a world where relationship is only based on utility and expediency”. A distant spectator to the massacre in Delhi by Nadir Shah, our mystic poet found his sublime senses deeply cut and he focused more and more on moral and spiritual issues. “Victim of this world, Ranjha puts to test the people who come into contact with him. “, writes Najam Hussain Syed, “the only person who survives this test is Heer”. Thus Waris Shah concluded his tale on the notion that love could save the world.
In view of K. K. Khullar through the voice of Heer, Waris Shah became spokesman of the Punjabi folk and touched every soul and that rendered his epic become immortal. Waris Shah died around 1790. He was buried in his native town Jandiala Sher Khan and since then his mausoleum has been a place of pilgrimage where thousands offer homage to Waris Shah’s rich literary genius and mystic imagination. His Qissa Heer Ranjha has lived through the times past and will live in the times to come with its myriad of mystique, historic social Freudian, astrological interpretation and for pure folk wisdom.
With completion of ‘Heer’ Waris Shah began the modern period in Punjabi poetry and became a household name in the subcontinent for more than 200 years now. He is regarded equivalent to Chaucer and Milton in English poetry. Qissa Heer Ranhjha became both history and verse and this is best elaborated in words of Urdu poet Sauda:
Suna jo raat wo qissa Heer Rañjha ka
To Ahl-e-Dard ko Panjabioñ ne loot liya
(Last night when Punjabis recited the love legend of Heer Ranjha, they stole everybody’s heart)
1. ‘Heer’ of Waris Shah: The Musical Renderings 2. Legend of Heer Ranjha 3. Folk Tales of Pakistan – Heer Ranjha 4. 1947, Agony and Ecstasy : Amrita’s Wailing over Partition of Punjab 5. A Soulful Evening at Alhamra
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