Love and nothing but love is my name [Heer painted by Abdul RahmanChughtai, the master painter of Pakistan]
MY NAME IS LOVE AND LOVE ALONE!
by Umair Ghani
First praise be to my Lord
Creator of us all,
Who created Love – foundation for us all
The overloaded passenger van was moving at rocket speed when the wailing voice of Allah Ditta Lonaywala “Assañwich Ishq de rull gyay haañ” struck my ears. Coming out of a noisy car stereo it makes me think of the spiritual reunion; of Heer and Ranjha and wonder if it were we who are lost in love!
I got off from the van a few kilometers ahead of Jhang city as the young conductor pointed towards a dusty street surrounded by a thick cluster of shrubs, “that will lead you to the tomb of Heer Ranjha”. I adjust my worn out travel bag on weary shoulders as I delve into another spiritual quest, into the realm of unrequited immortal love between the two legendary lovers of Punjab, Heer and Ranjha.
A deep hush greeted me when I glimpsed the green colored doom across a dense cluster of wild shrubs scattered in the adjoining graveyard. Climbing a few concrete steps I reached a marble floor guarded on all sides by iron fence and the white, blue, green tiled tomb stood humbly in the middle of it. Had I been here before in another place and time? A déjà vu engulfs my being! Everything looks so familiar, the environment, the canteen and the white and green colored mosque with its abandoned grace, a deep and pure silence occasionally broken by the sobbing young girl who placed her head on the marble slab of Heer Ranjha’s grave perhaps seeking some solace for the pain that her lost love caused. On right side of the tomb’s main entrance a limestone plaque reads, “Darbar Ashiq-e-Sadiq Mai Heer wa Mian Ranjha”. I read on and on, “Asihq-e-Sadiq [True Lovers] and felt some very sacred presence all around the place. Jo bhi kuchh hae, muhabbat ka phailao hae [everything here…is nothing but a span of love].
Annemarie Schimmel, a renowned orientalist writes “Heer Ranjha has been elaborated in more than a hundred versions, in Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi and Persian. Originally some characters depicted in the Heer were from Punjab’s socio-religious mix, however, gradually the work took on more of an Islamic assertion and by the time version of Ahmed Gujjar came on the scene (1693) Ranjha got portrayed as a Muslim defending Sufi concept of love against asceticism of the Naths. Sufi poets elevated mortal love to the level of spiritual love and the qissa of Heer Ranjha took a pre-eminent place in Punjabi literature, the Syed of Jandiala, Suzanne McMahon writes, “Waris Shah’s Heer is widely regarded as the most brilliant rendering of Heer Ranhja.”It is the story of a young man and a young woman deprived of a societal sanction”.
[[Right] Here at this hujra (quarters) attached to a little mosque in village Malka Hans, wrote Waris Shah the qissa Heer Ranjha. Malka Hans is a town in district Pak-Pattan, previously a part of district Sahiwal]. Photo courtesy ATP
Heer [Izzat Bibi] was a courageous and daring young girl, the daughter of Chuchak Sial and Malki from Jhang. Her courage was elaborated in a qissa, a narration: Sardar Noora from Sambal community had a slave named Luddan. Due to maltreatment meted out to him, Luddan ran away with Sambal’s beautifully crafted boat and begged shelter from Heer. Heer helped him. Sardar Noora enraged by the incident approached her who gathered her friends and confronted Sardar Noora. Heer ultimately triumphs. When Heer’s brothers learn of this incident, they are furious and express their concern, “you fought alone sis, why you didn’t send for us?” Heer replies, “Why should have I? It was not Emperor Akbar who attacked us”.
Ranjha [Mian Umar] was the youngest of his brothers in Takht Hazara. After a row with his brothers, probably over distribution of inheritance; he left home and to seek his fortune wandered with a flute under his arm; finally reaching Heer’s village. On the way he encountered a narrow minded Mullah who didn’t allow him to spend the night in the mosque [saying ashiq, bhor, fakir te kutay – lovers, the insects, beggars and dogs were not allowed to enter the mosque]. Luddan, the former slave too refused the penniless wanderer to take him across river Chenab. Ranjha lured Luddan’s wives and Luddan agreed to take him across the river to get rid of the situation. On boat Ranjha slept on a comfortable couch which was the property of Heer. When she learnt that her couch had been defiled by some unknown Jat, she rushed to river Chenab to taunt Ranjha, but her anger evaporated with Ranjha’s words, “Vah Sajjana!” and they were lost in each other’s eyes.
“Ah Waris, nothing can help when eyes meet on the battlefield of love!”
Ranjha murmured to Heer “life is only a dream and you must abandon the pride of youth and beauty and be prepared to leave the world”. Heer was hypnotized by the way Ranjha spoke and while he played the flute, eventually she fell in love with him. Ranjha asked Heer to pledge for love and become immortal.
To claim nearness to her lover, Heer offered him a job to take care of their cattle. She promised to sacrifice everything for love and even to lay down her life.
Rañjha Ranjha kar di niñ maeñ
ape Rañjha hoi
Ranjha maeñ no har koi akho Heer na akho koi
Rhyming Ranjha Ranjha in my mind,
I myself have become Ranjha
They would meet secretly until they were caught by Heer’s jealous uncle Kaido who conspired with her parents and Heer was forced to marry one Saida Khera. On her wedding day Heer talked to Mullah [who was heavily bribed by Kaido to perform wedding ceremony] in presence of everyone, “I was married in presence of the prophet. When did God give you the authority to perform my marriage again and deny me the first marriage? You are bribed to sell your faith”, she added, “but I’ll keep my faith till my death. “You cannot wean away an addict from the drug. It is not possible for me to walk away from Ranjha. If it is our destiny to be together then who, other than God, can change it?” And then she adds rather philosophically: “True love is like a mark that a hot iron burns on to the skin or like a spot on a mango fruit. They never go away.”
[Right] The little mosque, which has hujra attached to it, exists even today]. The photo courtesy: ATP
Broken hearted, Ranjha left on his own until eventually he met a Jogi. Wherever he looked, he could only see his departed love and being emotionally scared he voluntarily became an ascetic too. Heer could not forget Ranjha either. She sent a message to him and he came in guise of a Jogi to take her away [they escaped with help from Saida’s sister Sehti]. When Heer’s parents became aware of the elopement they repented and asked her to come back so they could arrange her marriage to Ranjha. The lovers returned to Heer’s village, where her parents agreed to their marriage. On the wedding day, Kaido, the sinister uncle poisoned Heer so the wedding wouldn’t take place. She was buried in Ranjha’s absence. Ranjha learnt of her death, grieved and dejected he rushed to his love’s grave and prayed to be with her. Miraculously the grave parted and Ranjha laid himself down beside his beloved Heer in their eternal sleep. The beginning of Ishq-e-mijazi led them to the status of Ishq-e-Haqiqi and they were declared Pirs and Fakirs at the young age of 32 and 36 years respectively.
Syed Abid Hussein, caretaker of the tomb, finished the legend of Heer Ranjha and I recovered from the trance of an enchanting tale of love. A simple man, Syed Abid looked at me with gloomy eyes, “Is God not a lover?” he said, “Is universe not created out of love? Ishq has uncountable colors and forms. Is everything not Ishq?” I agreed. Ishq was everything, it was everywhere.
“Can my love for a woman lead me to God?” I asked.
“Sure it can! But only if it is true. Ishq is always divine in its essence. If you enter the realm of Ishq, sure it will lead to unknown dimensions. I’ve seen people coming here everyday for many years now. Few of them are true and commit to be burnt, bruised, tortured, and tested by their love. Very few, I assure you!”
A few paces away the young girl sat curled up with her head against marble slab of the grave. She had stopped sobbing somewhere in the middle of caretaker’s narration of Heer Ranjha, but her eyes were still soaked with silent tears flowing down across her neckline. She kept staring blankly into something unseen.
“Everywhere I searched for my love”, her choked voice echoed inside the tomb, “I was betrayed. I come to tell mother Heer [Mai Heer] only she can understand!”
With my back resting against the tiled wall I witnessed everything.
A bare-footed old woman walked in. Went to the grave and kissed it affectionately. Wrinkles filled her face like cracked lines over a parched soil. She performed some secret ritual by closing her eyes and clasping her hands for several minutes. Then like a whirling wind she began to dance in a trance. Her bare feet struck the floor with a loud thud, providing beat for her dance, yet I could see the rhythm was from within.
“Two bodies in one grave but body is nothing”, she talked as she danced. “Soul is everything. Soul is dance. I am a soul and I will dance!” Another loud thud and another swirl within her soul and another thud of the feet and so on. “Only two bodies are here!”
“And where are their souls?” I asked.
“Their souls have become Ishq and spread everywhere!”
“Why do you take my photos?”
“I am trying to capture Heer-Ranjha’s soul.”
“I know where you can find it” she said with a mysterious smile. “I am Mai Saleem, from the family of Heer [her maternal grand parents]”. She dropped down her dopatta and threw her thin hair in the wind. “Look! The women in our family never tie their hair.”
“Ishq is God!” She said and whirled around like a feather in the wind. Only a woman could know better, I thought. Annemarie Schimmel in her book “My Soul is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam” describes the spiritual experience of a woman’s love, “Women setting out on a long journey during the course of which they are separated from the world more and more everyday until their entire being is transformed into their lovers.”
Outside the darbar women prayed for offspring’s, love, happiness and prosperity. Some tied pieces of cloth (strips) to the iron bar above entrance gate as a reminder of their wish to Mai Heer. Young girls brought many colored bangles and strings and tied them to the wooden structures all around the Heer Ranjha’s grave, so they ask God to help them win their love. Sun gently went down the distant horizon, shedding golden light on everything in a blissful adieu kiss. I placed my bag on my back and stepped down the dusty trek. Abandoned course of river Chenab that once flowed close to darbar stretched far and wide. Echo of Heer’s eternal song reverberates all across the land:
Maaey niñ Maaey maenooñ Kherhian di gal naa aakh
Rañjhañrh mera, maeñ Ranjhañ di, ….
I know not but my Ranjha;
To whom I belong and who to me belongs.
Oh, poor folks!
You say: am crazy,
But am happy
Because he knows
Only he knows
What am I.
Umair Ghani is a Pakistani freelance photo-trekker & writer. Umair enjoys freedom of the road & the joy & thrill of adventure. Stung by his wanderlust and a passion for everything that’s beautiful, he began wandering in the Himalayas and the Karakorums and quit teaching for photography and writing.
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