• Patan dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • Peelu: The First Narrator of the Legend of Mirza-SahibaN

    12.02.2010

    Sohail Abid

    Na mar Qazi chhamkan, na de tati nuñ taa
    Padhna sada rah gaya, le aye ishq Likhaa

    نہ مار قاضی چھمکاں ، نہ دے تتی نوں تاء
    پڑھنا ساڈا رہ گیا ، لے آئے عشق لکھا

    Strike not, holy Qazi, beat not the wretched.
    All my studying is over, for Fate hath brought me love.

    ~Peelu [1]

    “Who was Peelu? When was he born and where? It’s hard to tell” [2] writes Baba Budh Singh (1878-1931), a descendent of Guru Amar Das and a fine researcher of the Punjabi language. [3] What we do know is that a poet who went by the name Peelu was the first to compose in verse the legend of Mirza SahibaN and that he lived during the first half of the 17th century. But as with most folk lore, the legend was transmitted from generation to generation by balladeers using the oral tradition. Indeed, evidence suggests that Peelu himself was probably a balladeer. The legend of Mirza-SahibaN was documented only around 1880 by Richard Carnac Temple, a Captain of the British Army in India with a deep interest in the folklore. [4]

    Peelu’s Mirza SahibaN is important for various reasons. It is a more realistic account of life in Punjab, with its treatment of love as a plainly secular phenomenon, not as something approaching the divine. [5]

    The version of Peelu’s kissa that reached us is not complete. While reading it, one recognises the missing pieces, especially at the end where it does not give a description of what happens to SahibaN. The story Peelu narrates goes like this: SahibaN was born in the house of the chief of Kheiwa and Mirza at Danabad in the house of Wanjhal Khan, the chief of the Kharal tribe. The story takes a jump here and they are studying at a mosque. From the later narrations we know that Mirza was sent to Kheiwa to complete his preliminary religious education. They fell in love while studying together.

    SahibaN parhdi pattian, Mirza parhe Quran
    Vich maseet de laggian, jaane kull jahan
    SahibaN learnt her letters and Mirza read the Quran
    And in the school they fell in love, so that the whole world knew (of it).

    Mirza is sent back to his village. Why? Peelu doesn’t tell us. Maybe it was because he completed his studies or perhaps because their love had become public. The next thing we know is that SahibaN’s father betrothed her to a man from the Chadhar clan. SahibaN then sent Mirza a message, all ready to save her from the wedding she certainly doesn’t want. But before Mirza could leave for Kheiwa, close members of his family entreat him to abandon his trip

    Sister:
    Hatt ke baitheñ Mirzya, ghar vich kareeñ salah
    Utte palang de beh ke, mere gatheeñ kaaj sanwar
    My advice, Mirza, is to come back and stay at home.
    Sit on thy couch and arrange for my marriage.

    Mother:
    Burre sialañ de mamlay, buri sialaN di raah
    BuriaN sialañ diañ aurtañ, laindiañ jadu paa
    Kadh kaleja khandiañ, mere jhaate tail na paa
    Evil are the dealings of the Siyals (the tribe to which SahibaN belonged); evil the way to the Siyals;
    Evil the women of the Siyals; be not bewitched by them.
    They will take out thy liver and eat it; lay not this trouble upon me.

    Father:
    Bath rannañ di dosti, khurri jinhaañ di matt
    Hass ke laundiañ yaariañ, ro ke daindiañ dass
    Evil is love for women, foolish are their ways.
    Smiling they make love and weeping they tell it abroad.

    By Anees Yaqoob, from the cover of Mirza SahibaN (of Qutub-ud-Din) edited by Dr Mohammad Shahad, Chamba Academy, Faisalabad.

    Mirza ignores them all and leaves. Upon arriving in Kheiwa, he manages to meet SahibaN and they elope to Danabad, more than 100 miles away. They are followed by her brothers and their companions. Mirza is so confident about his abilities as an archer as well as the speed of his mare Bakki, that he plans to take a nap, despite SahibaN’s consistent warnings of danger. It is worth quoting Peelu here:

    Mirza:
    Bakki tooñ daran farishte, methoñ daray khuda!
    Chobhay vich pattal, udd ke chadhe aakas.
    The angels fear Bakki and God fears me!
    She can penetrate into Hell and fly into Heaven.

    SahibaN:
    SahibaN MIrze di dosti jag na rehni lukk
    Le chal Danabad nu, jan lukave much
    Jand de hath jatta so rahiyo, uth surat sambhal
    The love (interestingly, the term ‘dosti’ is used seven times in this narration) of Mirza and SahibaN are not hidden in the world
    Take me to Danabad, this life irks me.
    Arise, O Jatt (Mirza is from the Jat caste, often called ‘Mirza Jatt’ in the oral tradition), sleeping under the acacia tree and be on thy guard.

    Mirza:
    Ajj di ghari saun de, dooji ghari varan Danabad
    Let me sleep this hour, we will enter Danabad the next.

    There is a long discussion between the two at this point. One wonders why Mirza is so stubborn and insists on resting when he knows they are on hostile Siyal land. Multiple reasons come to mind: One is SahibaN’s taunts about his mare Bakki, which is very dear to him. Another reason could be the traditional expectations of “masculinity”, which demands that he not run away, but face threats “like a man”. The verses suggest that he wants to kill her brothers and those accompanying them. In fact, right in the middle of this “rest-phase”, her brother Shumer arrives but is taken down by a single arrow aimed by Mirza, an excellent archer. But SahibaN thinks it an inappropriate time to display those qualities. It is not difficult for the present-day reader to understand the motives behind SahibaN’s action later in the legend that are considered betrayal by Mirza. She hangs his quiver up in the tree before others could arrive. They eventually do and then:

    Chutti kani ghazab di, le gai Mirze nu naal.
    Rooh Mirze di nikkal gai, laggi jandore naal,
    Manda keeta SahibaN toon, rall gai aen siyalaN de naal
    Kaani ghari kanghraN, phal kise ustakar, Dhoke mari meri SahibaN, na aar na paar.

    A small arrow pierced Mirza.
    And the soul of Mirza was about to leave him under the acacia tree.
    (Said he) “Thou didst practice deceit on me, SahibaN, and were joined to the Siyals.”
    (Said she) “A bowman made the shaft and a cunning workman made the tip. It hath gone through thee by no deceit of SahibaN”

    Peelu doesn’t tell us what happened to SahibaN (or maybe he did, but the account is lost in time) and ends the legend saying:

    Mirza maria malkul-maut da, kujh maria ohnu guman
    Partly the Lord of Death and partly pride slew Mirza. [6]

    Note
    This is a very celebrated tale in the Jhang and Montgomery Districts, and thence throughout the Panjab, because of the tribal feuds caused by the elopement of the heroine, SahibaN, with her cousin Mirza, which led to conflicts between the Siyals/Mahnis (SahibaN’s tribe) and the Chadhars (SahibaN’s to-be in-laws) of Kheiwa in the Jhang District and the Kharals (Mirza’s tribe) of Danabad. The story generally told is as follows: Mirza was sent to his relative the Chief of Kheiwa, who had a daughter SahibaN. SahibaN was betrothed to a youth of the Chadhar tribe, but before she could be married to him she eloped with Mirza. Before they reached their destination of Danabad, their pursuers, the Siyals and the Chadhars, overtook them, killed Mirza, and then strangled SahibaN. The Kharals thereupon attacked the Siyals/Mahnis and the Chadhars, defeated them and recovered the corpses of Mirza and SahibaN, whom they buried at Danabad.

    The feud, however, continued. Indeed, it was considered unlucky to give birth to daughters, thus leading to extensive female infanticide by strangulation, on the lines of SahibaN’s tragic end. The Siyals till date resent a reference to SahibaN as they do to Heer, the heroine of the tale of Heer and Ranjha (Heer, too, was a Siyal woman).

    This is a starter in our series of articles about different narrations of the legend of Mirza and SahibaN. We will present a comparative analysis of how the legend was interpreted and sung in later periods.

    A portrait of R C Temple (© Horniman Museum: London)
    Landscape between the Ravi and Chenab rivers. Danabad and Kheiwa (the villages of Mirza and SahibaN, respectively) are marked.
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