Waris Shah – Ishq da Waris

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



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

piyaryañ da

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

phorhiya ee

(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)

Related Posts:

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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  1. The Punjabis, it appears to me, are the only people in the world, a sizeable number of whom are not proud of their own language.

    Just as this article points out, those who consider themselves ‘modern’, ‘advanced’ and ‘upwardly mobile’ among Punjabis, tend to try and hide the fact that they know the Punjabi language, at least in public, here in India as well and tend to communicate in Hindi in such situations. It is quite a different matter altogether though that their accent and vocabulary is often a dead give-away, as it often is in the case of Punjabis from Pakistan who tend to speak in Urdu for similar reasons. 😀

    Some of these people speak to their children only in Hindi/Urdu from the very beginning. The result is that when the children grow up, they are not able to speak Hindi/Urdu properly, since a large portion of their vocabulary (acquired from their parents) consists of Punjabi words and their accent is also derived largely from the way Punjabi is spoken. Needless to add, they can not speak the Punjabi language at all!

    As for Waris Shah, let me quote some of his own words:

    Waris Shah oh sadaa ee jewNdey neyN
    JehnaaN keetiyaaN neyk kamaaiyaaN nee

    (Waris Shah! Those who perform good deeds shall receive eternal life.)

  2. The need is that the coming generations of Punjabis, whether in Pakistan, India or somewhere else, should be groomed and taught to love their mother tongue because, come what may, identification of one’s persona is established only through one’s mother tongue and fortunately when our younger ones are explained in a proper way they do understand. Only problem is that on gevernmental level, here in Pakistan Urdu dominates (though its a beautiful language too but is distinct from Punjabi) and in India perhaps it is Hindi which dominates the scene. Nevertheless the beauty and richness of Punjabi is such that we can hope in time to come it will regain its place which is its due.

  3. waris shah’s peotry has been miss interpreted in many cases as for the words of a lover of his love (girl), but the meaning is much deeper than this, only sufi mystics can feel and reveal and understand the inner values of such peotry

  4. http://www.babajahangir.com
    Philophical Essence
    Know Thyself, that is the most celebrated philosophical essence of human race. Man, whose comprehension has expanded from the minuscule atomic world to the collossum details of the galactic bodies and who has exerted great influence upon nature through the mastering of engineering, is now facing the more important question of how much had we really learnt about our own self or how much self-control we could exert upon ourselves. In answering this we come close to Sufism which is an applied philosophy in the way to realize and communicate with the core driving force of our very existence.

    Man is made by God in the style of all the other living things making him a slave to his own instinct and tendency. However, he has not also been spared with the potential of overcoming this trend and tendency. He has been blessed with the power to win the incompliable hurdles of our nature. More often than not, we are misled by the tricky six senses playing within us. We have inside us the unbreakable link between fear and inertia. Sufism holds in our hand and takes us away free from the fruitless burden of these senses, namely, sex, pride and fear. It then allows us to settle down with the pure soul living dormant deep down in our heart.
    God exists in every soul that he has laid down to roam upon the earth. Man can attain the humane fulfillment by awakening the omnipotent Master in himself through focusing upon and purifying one’s soul. Because Creator is only the other name of that absolute soul.

    As goes in the Hadith-e-Kudsi: I was always there hiding from your eyes, I desired to express myself and I created All and expressed myself. Creator expresses himself through his Creation. We can find him in the non-living things in the qualitative form and in human beings as the living soul. He who has been successful in waking up that dormant soul is considered an `Olee’ i.e. a friend of God. What he says and what does becomes the saying and the doing of God. He is the possessor of all his attributes. We are advised merely to follow Him. Because He is the one who has been truly blessed.

    To ensure this self-purification and self-awakening we need an effective Guru or Murshid or Peer and attain self-knowledge, self-purification and self-satisfaction through sitting for a Morakaba or Meditation under his able guidance. The Prophet himself set an example before us by doing the same for fifteen years at the Cave of Hera.
    Sufism is an effective philsophy. It leads us to a peaceful and pragmatic life on this very dusty earth.

  5. Waris shah is the great innocent soul, the leader of Muslims in Malika Hans during his life in the reign of Mian Muhammad Hans. Waris Shah won the heart of every Muslim and non Muslim alike e.g. Sikhs who are much impressed by his poetry & love Waris Shah as much as we Muslims do.

    1. @Tariq Hans, Waris’s poetry is loved by all those who understand Punjabi. All of them love Waris irrespective of being Muslim, Sikh or a Hindu. I know many Christians in my native district [Faisalabad] who equally love W.S. As Shakespeare is loved by every English speaking individual whether a European, Oriental or from any other region, so is Waris Shah. Llike Shakespeare, Waris’ s poetry too is universal in nature and, therefore, Waris also enjoys a universal appeal, appreciation and love irrespective of the region, religion, country or culture.

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