• Patan dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • Love legends and Punjabi Sufi poetry


    Sohail Abid

    The love legends of Punjab represent several of the contradictions the people of Punjab have been living with; caste, religion, social status, and “honour” have kept lovers apart for centuries and this saga has not ended. The aim of our study is to analyse the developments of different narratives of these legends and how they represent the social and geopolitical contradictions of the time. This article introduces the use of love legends as a pattern or motif in Punjabi Sufi poetry. Love legends are a central theme in Punjabi poetry for several reasons. The primary being the fact that Punjabi verse was the medium the Sufis chose to communicate with the masses. In the words of Hamid Shah (1748):

    Haigi arabi farsi khasañ nooñ matloob
    Aamañ lokañ waaste he Punjabi khoob [1]

    Arabic and Persian are for the elite
    Punjabi serves well for the masses

    Punjabi Sufi poets have used characters and situations from the love legends to make, amongst others, two of their central points: The love of humankind (and god) and rebellion against the established social and religious norms.

    Shah Hussain

    Shah Hussain, a Sufi poet of 16th century, has used the motif of Heer-Ranjha in several places. For instance, take a look at this Kafi:

    Ranjhan Ranjhan kookdi mein, appe Ranjhan hoi
    Ranjhan menu sub koi aakho, Heer na aakho koi

    Remembering his name, I’ve myself become him
    Call me Ranjhan, do not call me Heer

    In this Kafi, Heer becomes a representation of the spiritual journey:

    Mein vi jhook Ranjhan di jana, naal mere koi challe
    Pairañ paindi, mintañ kardi, jana paya ikkalle

    Travelers, I too have to go; I have to go to the solitary hut of Ranjha.
    Is there any one who will go with me?
    I have begged many to accompany me and now I set out alone, travelers!
    Is there no one who could go with me! [2]

    Bulleh Shah

    And here’s one by Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) where he describes the hardships the lovers (of the legends) had to go through:

    Sassi thallañ vich rullai
    Sohni kache ghade rudhai
    Rode pichhe gall gawai
    Tukkde kar kar marya ai
    — Reh reh ve ishq marya ai
    — Keh kis nooñ paar utarya ai [3]

    Love has made Sassi wander in the desert,
    caused Sohni to drown with the earthen pitcher.
    It cuts you into pieces,
    tell me who has gone through safe and sound?

    These are just but a few examples from Punjabi Sufi poetry. The next article will examine the Punjabi Kissa, or oral storytelling tradition, of which love legends are an integral part.

    [1] Shafqat Tanveer Mirza (1995), Punjabi Adab. Lahore: Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board.
    [2] Najm Hosain Syed (2003), Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry. Lahore: Justin Group.
    [3] Muhammad Asif Khan (2006), Aakhiya Bulleh Shah Ne. Lahore: Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board.

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