By Sadia Dehlvi
Nov 07, 2012
Waris Shah is a famous Punjabi Sufi poet of the 18th century. He is best known for immortalising the love of Heer-Ranjha in the traditional folk story of Punjab. Heer is considered one of the quintessential works of classical Punjabi literature.
The story is believed to be a historical event that took place in the 16th century. Ranjha, the son of a landlord of the Sargoda district, falls in love with Heer, the beautiful daughter of the ruler of Jhang. Their families oppose the romance but the lovers continue to meet secretly in the fields. One day, Heer’s uncle spots the couple and informs her father, who places the young girl virtually under house arrest. A distraught Heer is forcibly married to a Rajput, but manages to send a letter to her beloved Ranjha. After a series of tribulation, the lovers die and various legends tell how they eventually became united in death.
Although the love story has been retold through the ages in different languages, Waris Shah gave it the classical form. Heer became a powerful commentary on the social, cultural and religious customs of the times the two lovers lived in. The verses of Heer are short and have been interpreted in a mystical sense. “Our soul is the tragic heroine Heer, Our body is the lover Ranjha, Our spiritual preceptor is the yogi Balmath, and the five helpful saints are our five senses, who support us in our adventures dread. Truth is our judge.”
Waris Shah came from Jandyala Sher Khan in Sheikhupura, a village in Pakistan. His family claimed lineage from the family of Prophet Mohammed.
The Sufi poet studied under the famous teacher Hafiz Ghulam Murtaza. In his youth he fell in love with Bhag Bhari, a village girl of Ajodhan, now known as Pakpattan. Waris Shah’s family belonged to the upper class so they did not accept his association with those whom they considered as lowly people. In an attempt to seek solace, Waris Shah left his home. He later travelled all over Punjab and it was during a stay at Malka Hans that he composed Heer in 1776. Here, he stayed in a room adjoining a mosque of which he was an imam.
It is believed that Waris Shah sublimated his own unrequited love in the poetic expression of Heer-Ranjha, which he wrote in 1766. The opening verses of tale mentions Allah and Prophet Mohammed, “First of all let us acknowledge God, who has made love the worth of the world. It was God that first loved, and Prophet Mohammed is His beloved.”
Although best known for Heer, Waris Shah wrote other books, including Ibratnama and Ushtarnama. The Sufi poet died in the year 1798 and his dargah is at Jandiala Sher Khan in Punjab.