By Mahlia Lone

You cannot separate the story of Heer Ranjha from that of the author who immortalized their love in Punjabi verse, Waris Shah. The Sayyidzada was an eighteenth century Sufi poet belonging to the Chishti order who settled in Pakpattan where he is buried. Perhaps in part inspired by his youthful unrequited love for a girl, Bhag Bhari, in 1766 he wrote the intricately detailed and lengthy poem replete with realistic and charming depictions of Punjabi village life set within the greater political situation of the day. In addition, the language he used is considered a veritable “treasure-trove of Punjabi phrases, idioms and sayings” passed down to coming generations. Last but not least, Waris Shah elevated the story of romantic love into “a poetic expression of the mystical love and unrelenting quest of the human towards God,” in the Sufi tradition. Like in all fine art and literature, his masterpiece in verse works seamlessly on several different level.

Historical Background

It is widely believed that the real life lovers of Heer Ranjha lived towards the end of the Lodhi dynasty (an Afghan dynasty that ruled the Delhi Sultanate from 1451 to 1526) before Shehnshah Babur supported by Rana Sanga, the Raja of Mewar, and head of the Hindu Rajput Confederacy in Rajputana, defeated Ibrahim Lodi’s 1,000 elephant and 100,000 thousand strong men massive army at the Battle of Panipat, using muskets and artillery never before seen in the Indian Subcontinent.

The story

Born into a wealthy Kharal Jatt family belonging to the Sial tribe in Sial Sharif, Jhang, Heer (named diamond for her astonishingly good looks) grew up to be a beautiful girl. Dheedo, a Jatt of the Ranjha tribe, hailed from the village of Takht Hazara (old name Khajjiyan Wala) by the Chenab River. The youngest of four brothers, he was spoilt and cossetted being his father’s pet. Though his older brothers were kept hard at work toiling on their ancestral agricultural lands, Dheedo led a life of ease. He whiled away his time playing his bansuri (flute).

Trouble began when Dheedo’s father died, leaving his sons to divide up his land at will between them. His brothers resented Dheedo’s idle ways and thought him a fool, so they gave him barren land and their wives refused to give him food. Ranjha tried but failed to work his land, fought with his family and left his village to find his luck elsewhere.

One night, Ranjha took shelter in a masjid (mosque), and started playing his or flute to help him sleep. Soon the villagers gathered round him listening to the melodious music. The maulvi (cleric) admonished him to stop playing his flute, saying he was desecrating the mosque with the haram (not sanctioned by Islam) music. Ranjha, as he began to be known as, replied boldly that his music was not a sin compared to the hypocrisy of the so-called holy men: “You and your kind, with your beards, try to pretend to be saints, but your actions are that of the devil. You run around after women in mosques… you are like curses clinging to the house of God.” The mullah was seething but the villagers refused to back him up, as from in their hearts they agreed with Ranjha. Dumbfounded, the maulvi let him stay the night if he left the next day.

In the morning, Ranjha wandered in the direction of Jhang. Spying a large, verdant field with lush crops and cows grazing, he decided to ask the landlord for work. The owner was Chaudhry Chuchak, chief of the Sayyal clan, who hired Ranjha and housed him in the stables as a hired hand. Heer, the Chaudhry’s fair daughter, had a full moon-shaped face considered pretty at the time, shiny eyes that sparkled like precious gems, jasmine white teeth, ruby red lips and a nose as straight and sharp as Imam Hussain’s sword point. She was delicately built, yet strong and fit.

From Love to Love is a postmodern, subjective short film , available for viewing on YouTube, about a girl who discovers the tale of Heer Ranjha and starts to question what love is as portrayed in contemporary media.

The 1st Century BCE Tilla Jogian Hindu Temple And Monatic Complex

“As a film director and a woman what pulled me towards the tale was the character of Heer, a girl living in the 16th century challenging traditions of a patriarchal society. Through her love for Ranjha, she stands against capitalism and class system prevalent in Punjab at the time. Even now, Heer is an archetype of a strong, resilient woman who stand against the status quo and epitomizes purity of love, often translated as Sufism. Heer’s tomb in Jhang, is still a symbol of love, devotion and spirituality,” said Sayeda Alina Ali, documentary filmmaker based in Lahore and an MA Graduate in Cultural & Creative Industries from King’s College London. She is an Assistant Professor at the NCA.

Heer checked out Ranjha. He had long hair, not an ounce of fat on him and was musical to boot. She was smitten. Both were at the age when one is ripe for falling in love. Always in proximity with each other and easily meeting up attended or in seclusion, “their love flourished, as did the crops.”

Years went by swiftly, with the two lovers enraptured with each other and no one discovered their feelings for each other, till one fateful day Kaido, Heer’s uncle, spotted them together canoodling. Incensed, that family respect and pride was at stake, he tattled to her parents who confronted their errant daughter. Though seemingly respectful towards them, she was a resolute and strong willed girl; she was determined that she was in love with Ranjha, their hired hand, and only he was the only man for her.

Not knowing what to do, Heer’s parents called the qazi who judged  village issues according to Sharia law. He reminded her that as a righteous Muslim girl it behooved her to respect her parents’ wishes and their honor.

Still Heer was adamant, saying that just as drugs and alcohol cannot be taken away from addicts, Ranjha could not be pried apart from her. Only Allah had that power. Holding up her hand, scarred with an iron burn, she said, “True love is like a mark that a hot iron burns onto the skin or like a spot on a mango. They never go away.”

“Ranjha, Ranjha kardi ve main aape ranjha hoyi

Ranjha, Ranjha saddo ni mainu heer na aakho koy” —A. R. Rahman

(Repeating Ranjha, Ranjha all time I myself have become Ranjha.

No one should call me Heer, call me Dheedho Ranjha.”)

Heer’s parents arranged her marriage to Saida Khairra without consulting their headstrong daughter. At the nikkah ceremony when Heer was asked by the qazi if she accepted this proposal, she defiantly replied in the negative. Frightened by the family dishonor she would bring them, her father went ahead and signed the nikaah papers anyway without his daughter’s consent. Heer declared that she was already married to Ranjha, with the nikaah witnessed by Allah and His prophets. But she was forcibly carried off by her relatives to Saida’s house in another village.

Hearing of this, instead of taking action, Ranjha started wandering aimlessly, distraught because he could not bear to think of Heer in another man’s arms. Reaching a wooded area forested with olive, pine, and Acacia trees, he met the famous Shaiva Jogi (ascetic) Gorakhnath, the founder of the Kanphata (pierced ear) sect of jogis at Tilla Jogian. The was the site of the 1st century BCE Hindu temple, monastic complex and sacred pond created, according to Hindu mythology, from the teardrops of the Hindu god Shiva and was located in the Salt Range near Bhera, Sargodha, in proximity to the Rohtas Fort, and the Katas Raj Temples.

Giving up worldly life, Ranjha too became a jogi and covered his body with ash, had several ear piercings and holding a begging bowl, went from village to village reciting “Allah hoo” and begging for food and alms. One day, he knocked unknowingly on the door of Saida’s house. Sehti, Heer’s sister-in-law, answered the door and saw the handsome, young jogi. Sehti had heard Heer’s entire story and believed that her brother had sinned by marrying an unwilling girl. Performing or participating a nikkah without the ready consent of either party she believed was haram (not sanctioned by Islam). So Sehti took it upon herself to right her brother’s wrong and help Heer escape with Ranjha.

Despite her best intentions, unfortunately, the two lovers were caught escaping by the Raja’s men who took them to their lord. The Raja appointed a qazi to deal with the trangressing lovers and the qazi decided to send Heer back to her husband.

Ranjha cursed the villagers in his fury, warning that Allah would not stand for injustice. Lo and behold the town caught fire. The townspeople and the Raja got scared of the wrath of Allah and allowed Heer Ranjha to get married and leave town together.

Heer’s parents acquiesced to the Raja’s order. But humiliated at their loss of face, Kaidu and his co-conspirators plotted to kill Heer. Ranjha returned to Takht Hazara to fetch his family for his barat (bridegroom’s wedding procession). The Sayals returned to Jhang with Heer to prepare for the wedding.

On the night of Heer Ranjhas marriage, the Sayal clan presented a basket of poisoned laddus (lentil sweetballs) to the newlyweds. Happy that her family had finally relented and had blessed her union with her beloved, just as Heer bit into a laddu, she fell down dead. Realizing what had happened; Ranjha took the half-eaten poisoned laddu from her limp hand and stuffed it into his mouth, dying next to his beloved Heer. The star crossed lovers were buried in Heer’s hometown, Jhang. Their tomb continues to be visited by sad souls seeking to marry their beloved.

The deeper meaning that Waris Shah conveyed in Ranjha’s search for Heer as a jogi was man’s quest to find and understand God. Just when he thought he had finally attained her upon the eve of their marriage, she escapes his hands through death. It signifies that the moment you think you understand Allah, your faith will be tested. It’s an unending journey to a higher self and greater undersanding.

The version with the happy ending popular in India

“According to Professor Indu Banga of the Department of History, Punjab University, in Chandigarh, India” wrote S. Conceicao “the earliest ‘kissa’ (story) in Punjabi was that of Heer-Ranjha, written by Damodar Gulati in 1605 during Akbar’s reign. His work was rewritten by Ahmad Gujjar in the 1680s and then by Shahjahan Muqbil in the second quarter of the 18th century and again by Waris Shah who built upon Muqbil’s work and the status of a classic was accorded to his 1766 composition.”

The following story has been concised by S. Conceicao and is based on folklore, transcribed from an oral rendition of the Jatts from the Patiala State, collected by R.C. Temple and published in the second volume of Legends of the Punjab in the 1880s:

Before she met Ranjha, the strong personality of Heer was illustrated by an incident. Ludan is an old ferryman employed by a landlord named Sardar Noora from the Sambal community to look after his fleet of boats, including his brand new stately river barge. One day without the landlord’s permission Ludan took some men aboard the barge. Noora was furious and publicly upbraided old Ludan who felt wrongfully disgraced after years of faithful service. When the Sardar was away from, in revenge Ludan took the flotilla and “sailed through the night like a vagabond and kept crying, ‘Is there a lord, born of a lady who can take me into his fold?’ The gentlemen heard him; silence was the response as nobody uttered a word. Why to enkindle the fire, why to start fresh feuds! It is inappropriate to do battle and get people killed for this flotilla. Hearing of Noora no one let the sailor drop anchor—.

Heer along with a bevy of girls hears the cry and acts like a mighty gracious queen, ‘cast your anchor along the side of our bank, you will not lack anything here. Who is this monster Noora, the owner of the vessels? No one can shelter you except me, the daughter of Chuchak.’”

Fearless, Heer gave the old man refuge. Sardar Noora was enraged at this incident. Summoning his friends and servants to his aid, he set off to catch and punish Ludan. On refusal of Heer’s father to return the boats and Ludan, Noora conducted a raid and to his utter surprise found females led by Heer ready to confront his party, which proved to be an even bigger disgrace for him.

When Heer’s brothers found out about the incident out they asked her in concern, “If a mishap had befallen you why didn’t you send for us?”

Without batting an eyelid she answered, “What was the need to send for all of you? Emperor Akbar had not attacked us.” This was the strength of character of the indomitable young Heer who acted defiantly in a repressive, patriarchal society.

In the story, having left his home, when Ranjha reached the banks of the River Chenab, the sun had begun to set. He asked Ludan to take him aboard and row him to the city of Jhang on the other side. But Ludan refused, thinking Ranjha was a thief who planned to rob him. Ranjha sat down on the river bank, and started to play a melancholy tune on his flute. Moved to pity, and cajoled by the young man, Ludan’s heart softened and he agreed to ferry him across.

Ranjha boarded and made himself comfortable on a luxurious red and white couch. Ludan admonished him saying the couch belonged to Heer, but Ranjha didn’t pay heed and soon fell sleep on it. The next morning, Heer and her girlfriends arrived at the river like “a hailstorm sweeps over a field.” Noticing Ranjha asleep on her couch, Heer blamed Ludan and threatened to have Ranjha beaten for his insolence. But when Ranjha opened his lovely eyes, Heer changed her mind. They spent the rest of the day together and Ranjha told Heer his life story. By the end of the day, Heer swore to be Ranjha’s forever.

The next day Heer brought Ranjha to her father, Mihr Chuchak, saying “Father, I have found someone to herd the buffaloes.” Her father was skeptical because Ranjha with his beautiful long oiled hair and smooth skin looked more like a rich man’s son than like a common herder. He hired him regardless to please his daughter. Every day, Heer brought Ranjha food that her family ate: Milk, bread, rice and sweets. They would spend as much of the day together alone in the forest as they could. Heer neglected her spinning and other household chores, and hardly saw her girlfriends.

The villagers started speculating about the mysterious buffalo herder who Mihr Chuchak’s daughter took food to and who herself oiled his long hair with a quart of ghee. The gossip reached the ears of Kaidu, Heer’s uncle, who began to lurk in the forest, trying to catch the two together.

One day Kaidu found Ranjha alone in the forest, and came up to him, pretending to be a beggar. Ranjha, remembering his days on the road when he, too, had to beg for food and shelter, gave Kaidu half a pastry, which Heer had made for him. Kaidu took the pastry and brought it before the village elders as proof of Heer’s disobedience and wanton behavior. “I have seen Heer and Ranjha in the forests, and I tell no lies. Ranjha will take away Heer, and there will be shame to the Siyals,” he said showing his proof.

The elders went to Chuchak and told him about Kaidu’s accusation. Believing in his daughter’s innocence and moral rectitude, Chuchak furiously refused to believe his brother in law, “Kaidan is a talebearer and a liar. He chases moths all day.”

Kaidan then went to his sister, Heer’s mother, urging her to use her influence to ward off the scandal. Chuchak finally called Ranjha to him one night after he had returned with the buffaloes dismissed him from his service.

“For twelve years, I have tended your buffalo and now you turn me away without wages!” Ranjha threw his staff down, turned on his heel and left.

They say you can never please everyone. The villagers now started criticizing Chuchak for dismissing Ranjha without even paying him his  wages. Heer was also crying inconsolably. Chuchak relented and took Ranjha back into his service and before 70 Khans and 72 nobles Chuchak betrothed Heer to Ranjha, saying: “As long as thou shalt live, she is thine, and when thou art dead she will not deny it. If anyone tears Heer from thee I will bear witness against him in the Court of God.”

Heer’s mother and uncle were not appeased however and brought Heer before the qazi who reminded her of her duty to respect her family and honour their standing in the village. But Heer refused to give up her buffalo herder, citing, “As wine-bibbers cannot desert the bottle, as opium-eaters cannot be without their drug, so I cannot live without Ranjha.”

The qazi finally told the Siyals that Heer was too stubborn, and to avoid further scandal they should marry her off right away. The Siyals called a clan meeting. Chuchak’s decision to let his daughter be married to the herder was overruled. Even if the buffalo herder was actually a Ranjha of Takht Hazara, he was from too lowly a family to marry a Siyal. Instead, the family decided to marry Heer off to Saida, of the Khera clan.

On the day of the wedding ceremony Heer refused to say, “Kabul hai” (I accept) when asked if she gave her permission for the nikkah to be performed by the maulvi. Instead the bold girl cried out that she had been betrothed to Ranjha and that their union had been blessed by Heaven and the saints. ”Muhammad (PBUH) formed the marriage procession and Brahma set up the posts of the marriage canopy. The angels sang songs of rejoicing and fairies brought the henna. The Panj Pir (Five Saints) performed the ceremony and the Khizar was the witness.”

Not heeding her cries, Heer’s parents signed the marriage papers, and the Kheras took Heer back to Saida’s house in Rangpur.

A heartbroken Ranjha had returned to his native village of Takht Hazara, but couldn’t forget his lady love. So he set off to search for her. On the way, he crossed Tilla Jogian, the temple where the jogi Gorakh Nath lived. Bowing before him, Ranjha asked to become a jogi, but Gorakh Nath doubted that Ranjha had the humble nature and ascetism of a true jogi. Ranjha stole the jogi’s conch with which he called his followers for their evening meal and buried it, committing it to the care of Mother Earth and Khizar. Without the conch, Gorakh Nath couldn’t summon his jogis and feared they would keep waiting for their call and thus starve. To prevent this, Gorakh Nath agreed to let Ranjha become a jogi. Ranjha dug up the conch and blew it, once to the east and once to the west, to summon the jogis to their meal. Gorakh Nath rubbed Ranjha with ashes, shaved his head, pierced his ears, and gave him a begging bowl. He told Ranjha, “Call the young women ‘sister’ and the married women ‘mother.’ Beg throughout the city and bring no shame on the profession of begging.”

Ranjha threw away the begging bowl and earrings and rubbed off the ashes. He didn’t want to call Heer either his mother or his sister.

“I was right about you!” exclaimed the guru.

Ranjha laughed at him, “We Jatts are cunning — we use all means to get what we want. What can I do with a beggar’s bowl, whose heart is set only on plowing? How can I call her ‘mother’ for whose sake I would become a jogi?”

At first, the guru was angry, but soon he realized that Ranjha was deeply and desperately in love. Moved to pity, he blessed him and prayed that he would achieve his heart’s desire.

Gorakh Nath sent his crow to search for Heer. The crow flew from town to town, from house to house, until it arrived in Rangpur and found Heer, wasting away in Saida Khera’s house. The crow talked to Heer and told her of Ranjha’s faithfulness to her. Then the crow returned to Tilla, bringing news of Heer’s whereabouts to Ranjha. He set off for Rangpur, dressed as a jogi, begging at each village. In Rangpur, all the women flocked to the beautiful young jogi and poured out their troubles to him. They complained about their in-laws, husbands, neighbors, etc. Ranjha listened sympathetically and patiently and counseled the women. He also kept looking for Khera’s pretending to be begging for alms. When Heer’s sister-in-law Sehti answered the door, she saw Heer’s and Ranjha’s reactions when they saw each other. Putting two and two together, she agreed to help them if they would help her escape and join her lover, a Balochi camel driver named Murad.

Together the two wily women made a plan. Heer cut her foot as the two women walked in the garden, and pretended that she had been bitten by a snake. Sehti told the family that Ranjha was a wise jogi who could cure her. Saida brought him to their house and Ranjha pretended to cure Heer of her pretend snakebite. The couple planned their escape. Sehti asked to go with them, and begged Ranjha to help her find Murad. Ranjha blew on his conch. The sound reached far and wide. Murad heard it as he slept. He dreamt that Sehti had called him, asking him to come to her. When he woke up, Murad set out at once for Rangpur.

The following Sunday night in June, the three escaped and met Murad who put Sehti on his camel and crossed the River Chenab. Heer and Ranjha fled to Qabula, the city where Raja Adali ruled.

When the next morning their escape was discovered, the Khera men set off to find them. Murad and Sehti had made it safely back to Murad’s Balochi tribe who drove back their Khera pursuers. Heer and Ranjha weren’t so lucky however. The Kheras captured them and beat Ranjha unmercifully. They brought him before Raja Adali, demanding that Ranjha be put to death.

Heer’s uncle Kaidu testified against Ranjha, while her father Chuchak testified on his behalf pleading that he had betrothed Heer to Ranjha, “I tell no lies. Before 70 Khans and 72 nobles I gave Heer to Ranjha. Ranjha grazed my buffaloes for 12 years and took no pay at all from me. My brethren thrust him away, and seizing Heer married her to the Kheras. If there be a lie in this ask Heer: She is in thy Court. If there be a lie in this may I be punished in the Court of God.”

Raja Adali called Heer to the stand. When she walked into the court, unveiled, Adali saw how beautiful she was and said to Ranjha: “Thou too art a liar: Heer was first of all betrothed to me!”

He took Heer to his palace to make her his. Heer prayed to God for protection. When Adali came to her bed that night, he burst into flames. But he managed to save his life by dousing himself with water.

Meanwhile, Ranjha played his flute in supplication to heaven. “The sound of the flute reached Mecca and 70 saints came from there. The sound of the flute reached Multan and the five saints came from there. The sound of the flute also brought the Mother, the Goddess Durga, on her lion to Ranjha. At the sound of the flute came Sakhi Sarwar the Warrior, galloping up on his mare Kakki. At the sound of the flute came Hanuman, the leader, with his army. The army cut down the garden of Adali and left not a tree remaining….All the saints collected took burning logs and set fire to Adali’s city. Burning went Adali into the reservoirs and water was thrown over the people. And when the water reached the fire it blazed forth twofold!”

The Raja’s advisors told him to return Heer to Ranjha and save the city. Raja Adali sent for Ranjha and agreed to marry him to Heer. In gratitude, Ranjha blew on his conch, and the goddess Indra made it rain. Raja Adali himself gave Heer a way to Ranjha, and the entire city attended the wedding.

Ranjha married his Heer because God willed it. Raja Adali stopped taking bribes and became a just ruler. All the people in Adali’s city lived in happiness. The two lovers rode away into the sunrise, and (like Sehti and Murad) lived happily ever after.


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