Compiled By: Rtn Gangaram S. Purswani (PHF)
Heer Ranjha (or Heer and Ranjha) is one of several popular tragic romances of Punjab, other important ones being “Sohni Mahiwal“, “Mirza Sahiban” and “Sassi Punnhun“. There are several poetic narrations of the story, the most famous being Heer by Waris Shah written in 1766. It tells the story of the love of Heer Sial and her lover Dheedo Ranjha.
Summary of the love story
Heer/Ezzat Bibi is an extremely beautiful woman, born into a wealthy high caste family of the Sial Rajput in Jhang Punjab, Pakistan. Ranjha/Murad Bukhsh (whose nickname is Dheedo; Ranjha is the surname, his caste is Ranjha), a Jat of the Ranjha tribe, is the youngest of four brothers and lives in the village of Takht Hazara by the river Chenab. Being his father’s favorite son, unlike his brothers who had to toil in the lands, he led a life of ease, playing the flute (‘Wanjhli’/’Bansuri‘). After the death of Ranjha’s father, Mauju Chaudhry, Ranjha has a quarrel with his brothers over land, Ranjha leaves home. In Waris Shah’s version of the epic, it is said that Ranjha left his home because his brothers’ wives refused to give and serve him food. Eventually he arrives in Heer’s village and falls in love with her. Heer’s father offers Ranjha a job herding his cattle. Heer becomes mesmerised by the way Ranjha plays his flute and eventually falls in love with him. They meet each other secretly for many years until they are caught by Heer’s jealous uncle, Kaido, and her parents Chuchak and Malki. Heer is forced by her family and the local priest or ‘Maulvi‘ to marry another man named Saida Khera.
Ranjha is heartbroken. He wanders the countryside alone, until eventually he meets a Shaiva Jogi (ascetic). After meeting Gorakhnath, the founder of the “Kanphata” (pierced ear) sect of jogis at Tilla Jogian (the ‘Hill of Ascetics’, located 80 kilometres north of the historic town of Bhera, Sargodha District, Punjab), Ranjha becomes a jogi himself, piercing his ears and renouncing the material world. While reciting the name of the Lord, he wanders all over Punjab, eventually finding the village where Heer now lives.
The two return to Heer’s village, where Heer’s parents agree to their marriage – though some versions of the story state that the parent’s agreement is only a deception. On the wedding day, Kaido poisons her food so that the wedding will not take place, in order to punish the girl for her behaviour. Hearing this news, Ranjha rushes to aid Heer, but is too late, as she has already eaten the poison and has died. Brokenhearted once again, Ranjha eats the remaining poisoned Laddu (sweet) which Heer has eaten and dies by her side.
If Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, our very own Damodar Das Arora, a poet from Jhang in pre-partition Pakistan wrote an epic poem about Heer and Ranjha, the immortal lovers. If the historical records are anything to go by, Damodar lived during the reign of Emperor Akbar, and so did the two lovers. Perhaps, Damodar witnessed the love story take its course during his lifetime.
While Damodar wrote the poem in the form of a secular love epic, another wandering Sufi saint, Shah Hussain, went a step ahead and modified the poem into a spiritual legend. Hussain gave a spiritual twist to Heer’s love for Ranjha by comparing it with a devotee’s love for Almighty God, who is the creator of love Himself. Later, mystics like Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah joined the league.
The story of unsanctioned love
The legend of Heer and Ranjha is as interesting as it can be. Heer, originally named Izzat Bibi, was a brave daughter of Chuchak Sial and Malki from Jhang. Ranjha, who was born as Mian Umar, was the youngest sibling of his brothers in Takht Hazara, a nearby village. He left home after a tiff with his brothers over parental inheritance and wandered with his flute to seek fortune until he landed on the shores of Heer’s village. Bards have sung that Heer was captivated by Ranjha’s words when he said, “life is a dream, and pride of youth and beauty must be abandoned to get ready to leave the world.”
The two fell in love, and to make sure her love stays close, Heer employed Ranjha in her cattle farm. They went about nurturing their relationship until Heer’s wicked uncle caught them. Consequently, Heer was forced to wed another man, and Ranjha left the place to resume his wanderings until he found solace in the shelter of a yogi (mystic saint). Heer, however, refused to accept another man for her husband. She broke off from the familial bonds and wrote to Ranjha to return to her. Abiding by his ladylove’s wishes, Ranjha returned to Jhang and eloped with Heer in tow.
The joy of reunion was short-lived as the lovers were beckoned by Heer’s parents, who promised to unite them in matrimony on their return. As fate would have it, on the day of their marriage, Heer was poisoned by her evil uncle and buried even before Ranjha could bid her adieu. Unable to bear separation from his beloved, Ranjha cried before the grave of Heer, and lo and behold! The grave opened up magically and in went the heartbroken lover to unite with his sweet beloved for good.
A mecca for young lovers
Today, the grave of Mai Heer and Mian Ranjha is sought by young lovers, who want to get married to the partner of their choice. They offer prayers by tying threads at the iron gates at the dargah, and young girls offer colourful bangles at the tomb of Mai Heer. Women also tie up tiny cradles at the shrine and pray for progeny. And then, there are heartbroken lovers and sheer admirers of Heer and Ranjha, who visit the tomb to get peace of mind or out of pure devotion.
The believers have experienced a sacred presence at this shrine. So, if you are lucky to be in this part of Pakistan, you know where to go to experience that.
Legacy and influence