Compiled By: Rtn Gangaram S. Purswani (PHF)
Mirza Sahiban (Punjabi: ਮਿਰਜ਼ਾ ਸਾਹਿਬਾਂ, مرزا صاحباں, mirzā sāhibāṁ) is one of the four popular tragic romances of Punjab. The other three are Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punnuh. There are five other popular folklore stories in Punjab: Momal Rano, Umar Marvi, LiLa Chanesar, Noori Jam Tamachi and Sorath Rai Diyach. These nine tragic romances are popular in Punjab.
The popular story was written by Pilu. Mirza and Sahiban (caste hiraj) were lovers who lived in Khewa (Kheiwa), a town in Sial Territory in the Jhang District, which was Sahiban’s ancestral village. They loved each other and ran away together to live with each other and marry against Sahiban’s parents wishes. While eloping Mirza stopped under a jand tree and rested and fell asleep. Sahiban did not want to begin her new life with her brothers’ blood shed . She decided to break all the arrows of Mirza thinking she will beg her brothers for their acceptance so that nobody would get hurt. When Sahiban’s brothers reached them, Mirza woke up but discovered his arrows were broken and then he was killed by Sahiban’s brothers. Sahiban couldn’t bear this loss and chose to end her own life by stabbing herself with an arrow.
“Sahiban is the much decried beauty who betrays her lover, and he is killed by her brothers as far as the popular perception goes. But Gargi had reinterpreted Sahiban’s dilemma and she was established in all her grace and dignity as a tragic heroine of Greek theatre.” At this, she broke out into Sahiban’s song when she urged Mirza to move on: “Sahiban Mirze di dosti jag na rehni lukk /Le chal Danabad nu, jan lukave much/ Jand de hath jatta so rahiyo, uth surat sambhal” (Our love is not hidden from the world, Take me to Danabad for life’s sake/ Why are you asleep beneath the Jand, wake up, let’s move on.)
The tragic end takes place when the runaway couple has almost reached the safe abode of Danabad, Mirza’s village. Full of love, high on his dare and arrogant of his archery, he insists on celebrating the love beneath the old Jand (acacia) tree and then falls into ecstatic slumber resting his head on Sahiban’s thigh. Sahiban begs and pleads that he wake up and they reach their destination, only to be told that as long as he has his bows and arrows, he knows no fear. Then begins Sahiban’s predicament: should she let Mirza kill her kin? Hoping that she will be able to reason with her brothers, she throws her lover’s quiver up the tree where their hands on a branch beyond reach. It is then that the inevitable happens.
Take the famous four love legends of Punjab: Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Punnu, Sohni-Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiban, penned by Sufi poets. The first thing that strikes one is that the last legend it is the name of the man coming first, unlike the other three where the woman leads the way. Perhaps it is only the demand of the poetic rhythm of speech, yet the folk perception is that it is so because Mirza was wronged.
It is also said that Mirza-Sahiban was the last of the love legends because of the great betrayal as seen by the feudal patriarchal order of Punjab, which persists. Ironically, Sahiban is blamed for being partial to her brothers, but they in turn strangle her to death. Sohail Abid, a Pakistani scholar says, “This is a very celebrated tale in the Jhang and Montgomery Districts, and thence throughout the Punjab, because of the tribal feuds caused by the elopement of the heroine, Sahiban, with Mirza, which led to conflicts. 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 legend of Mirza-Sahiban was first penned by the poet Peelu in the 17th century. Such is the spell of the poetry that the dirges written to Mirza are still sung hauntingly and the macho men of the Land of the Five Rivers shed tears of blood as they drown the sorrow with alcohol. The legend of the star-crossed lovers is an integral part of Punjabi culture sung by many singers including Alam Lohar, Asa Singh Mastana, Kuldeep Manak, Surinder Shinda, Gurmeet Bawa, Harbhajan Mann, Saeen Mushtaq, Saeen Mahboob and Jinder Sharif. Some singers sing rather crude songs, inspired by Peelu’s poetry, blaming the beautiful Sahiban: “Jatti bann gayi bharavan di; Bhayian ton yaar mara ditta” (The Jat girl sided with her brothers; She got them to kill the lover).
Over to the legend that blossoms in a Madrassa in the village mosque where Mirza and Sahiban are classmates and childhood sweethearts as is told poetically by Peelu and translated around 1880 by Richard Carnec Temple, a Major of the British Army and deeply interested in folklore: “Sahiban parhdi pattian, Mirza parhe Quran, Vich maseet de laggian, jaane kull jahan” (Sahiban learnt her letters and Mirza read the Quran, In the mosque they fell in love, and to the whole world it was known). The legend was also written later by Hafiz Barkhurdar and Bhagwan Singh.
The story is that Sahiban was betrothed to a youth of the Chadhar tribe and when her family got wind of the romance with Mirza, they quickly arranged her marriage, timing it conveniently when Mirza had gone to his native village of Danabad to attend his sister’s wedding. Sahiban sends him a message: “You must come and decorate your Sahiban’s palm with the marriage henna.” Brave archer and chivalrous as Mirza is, he takes his mare Bakki and rides to be by his beloved sides. His sisters warn him of feminine frailty but he listens to none.
Amarjit Chandan, the London-based Punjabi poet, said: “The legend is basically misogynist; women who is always unfaithful; women are stupid, naïve and their brain is in their heels (“Khureen jinhan dee matt). Well, this is more of a reflection on the deep-rooted agrarian and male chauvinism especially in the contemporary pedestrian Punjabi music.”
Mirza rescues Sahiban and together they elope riding Bakki to Danabad. Sahiban is anxious to get to the village and cries out that she should be taken to his village for her brothers must be following her. Mirza pays no heed, so overjoyed he is to have his dear Sahiban with him that just short of the village he chooses to rest beneath the Jand. His overconfidence is evident in Peelu’s poetry: “Bakki toon daran farishte, methon daray khuda!; Chobhay vich pattal, udd ke chadhe aakas” (Angels fear my Bakki and God fears me! She can sink into Hell and fly into Heaven).
Commenting on these celebrations of love or consummation of the relationship, social-historian Ishwar Gaur, who considers folklore a vital source for history, said: “It is nowhere written in the poetic legend that Mirza stops to make love but it is implied and understood. It is here that Peelu falls short of the Sufi thought which recognises physical and divine love and does not make room for carelessness. Gratified, he falls asleep”. Sufi thought believes that any “ghaflat” or negligence, drowsiness or stupour on the road from physical love to divine love is to be denounced, and Mirza has to pay the price with for it with his life.
And Sahiban is but a pawn in the patriarchal struggle of controlling female desire and for Mirza, a prize that he has won and must possess at once. Punjabi poet Paul Kaur said, “It is Mirza, no matter how chivalrous and lovable, who is the architect not only of his own death but in a way that of Sahiban’s too. Let’s imagine if Sahiban had not thrown the quiver up the tree and Mirza had killed her brothers. The society would have still held her guilty. It is time to set her free.”
Mirza, a Kharal, jatt from Punjab, and Sahiban belong to Sial tribe. They were childhood classmates as well as playmates. Sahiban was the daughter of Mahni Khan, the chief of Kheewa, a town in what is now the Sial territory in the Jhang district Punjab, Pakistan.
Mirza is the son of Wanjhal Khan, a land baron of the Kharal tribe, a town in the Jaranwala area of what is now Faisalabad, Pakistan. Mirza is sent to his relatives’ house in Khivan to study, where he meets Sahiban and they fall in love. When, later in life, Sahiban is to be wedded to Taha Khan of the Chander family by arrangement of her parents, she sends a message to Mirza, living in the village of Danabad, through a Brahmin called Karmu.
Mirza’s sister asks him not to try to rescue Sahiban, as it is the day of her own wedding and she wants her brother to be there. His whole family warns him that the “Sials” (referring to Sahiban’s brothers) are aggressive and should be left alone, but Mirza pays no heed to this.
Mirza arrives on his Bakki (the name of Mirza’s mare) during Sahiban’s mehndi ceremony and carries her away. Sahiban’s brothers find out about this and decide to follow them. On the way, as Mirza decides to rest for some moments under the shade of a tree resting his head in Sahiban’s lap. Sahiban’s brothers and Chanders caught up fast with them.
Sahiban knew Mirza to be an accomplished archer who would not miss a target, and that if he shot at her brothers, the latter would surely die at Mirza’s hands. Thus, before waking Mirza up from his slumber, Sahiban broke his arrows so he couldn’t use them, and hoped that, on seeing her, her brothers might change their minds and welcome Mirza into the family. She thought that they’d understand their love that they had for each other, but they were not to be swayed and a fight ensued. Though Mirza fought with all his might, he is unable to defeat such a large number of people and killed by the blow of a sword to his head from behind. Sahiban did not want bloodshed from either side of her beloved ones and her love to be stained with her brothers’ blood. So she ended the fight with self-annihilation. When Mirza was gone, she killed herself with Mirza’s sword. Out of all the legendary stories originating from Punjab, Pakistan, Mirza Sahiban’s story is one of very few where the male’s name comes first. The legendary tale of Mirza Sahiban is now a part of Punjabi Culture in form of folk songs sung by many singers including Alam Lohar, Kuldeep Manak, Gurmeet Bawa,Harbhajan Mann,Noor Jehan and many more.Noor Jehan sang the super hit song ‘Mirza’ – the traditional Punjabi folklore song in the music of legendary Pakistani musician Khursheed Anwar in the Pakistani film ‘Mirza Jat‘ released in 1982.
Mirza and Sahiba grew up together in a small town, Khewa in erstwhile Punjab, now Pakistan. Mirza was the son of Fateh Bibi while Sahiba was the daughter of Khewa Khan. Mirza‘s parents had sent him to a nearby village for his education and that is how he came to live at Sahiba‘s house.
Everyone in Sahiba‘s family – except her father – was against him staying there. They were not comfortable with a stranger living in their midst. While the rest of the family was hostile towards Mirza, Sahiba was indifferent. She wasn’t rude towards Mirza, nor was she friendly. They were classmates and soon became friends.
As they grew up, Mirza became a valiant archer, the likes of whom had never been seen before. Stories of his unfailing aim spread far and wide, and everyone came to accept him as the mightiest warrior around. Sahiba, on the other hand, turned into a beautiful young maiden. Such was her beauty, that men around couldn’t take their eyes off her.
One fine day, when Mirza saw Sahiba buying vegetables from a local vendor, he was blown away by her beauty and fell madly in love. It was as though the entire world around him had ceased to exist. All he could see was her!
Soon, they fell in love. And the two of them were lost in their own world. Nothing else seemed to matter to them anymore. But as is the case with such love stories, this didn’t last long. There was a twist in the tale!
Sahiba‘s father and brothers found out about the two and they were furious. They were distraught with her for keeping them in the dark. They were upset with Mirza too, for whom they had opened their home. They sent him back to his village because they felt cheated.
The problem lay in the fact that as far as the families were concerned, Mirza and Sahiba were cousins. This was because Mirza‘s mother and Sahiba’s father had been nursed by the same woman. Hence, they were ‘milk siblings’ and by that logic, Mirza and Sahiba could not be together.
This broke Sahiba‘s heart and she wept inconsolably. But her family was unperturbed. They immediately planned her wedding with Tahir Khan. Sahiba resisted but no one would listen to her. The moment Mirza found out about this, he got on his horse, Bakki and he rode to Sahiba‘s village.
Dressed in a bright red joda, Sahiba looked like a dream. Her hands were covered in mehendi Mirza
Meanwhile, Sahiba‘s brothers realized that she was missing and they were filled with rage. They swore to kill Mirza and rode out looking for the couple.
Eventually, after riding for hours, Mirza got tired. He decided to take a nap under a tree even though Sahiba begged him to keep riding until they were far enough.
But being the mightiest archer around, Mirza was arrogant. He knew that no one could touch him as he would see them all off. He refused to listen to Sahiba and went off to sleep.
But Sahiba was worried. She knew that if her brothers arrived and attacked Mirza, he would kill them. So she took his arrows out of the quiver one by one and broke them all in half. She knew that she could plead to her brothers to spare him as she believed that they wouldn’t hurt the man who was the love of her life.
Unfortunately for Sahiba, that’s not how things panned out.
The moment her brothers caught sight of Mirza, they shot an arrow that pierced his throat. Waking up from his slumber, Mirza reached out for his bow and arrow, only to find them broken. He felt deceived. His eyes begged for an answer from Sahiba as another arrow came flying in Mirza‘s direction and pierced him in his stomach. Sahiba was speechless at the turn of events!
Aghast at what had happened, she jumped on to Mirza‘s dead body, letting the arrow pierce her as well. As the brothers closed in on them, both Mirza and Sahiba died a silent death.
The tale of Mirza-Sahiba is often regarded as the last love story known from Punjab. The reason for this is that Mirza‘s true love was betrayed by Sahiba, who broke his arrows.