Heer Waris Shah



The legend of Heer- Ranjha

In the tradition of Punjabi Qissa poetry the arrival of Waris Shah was an epoch making event, which changed the status, tone and tenor of Punjabi poetry. More than any other poet, it is Waris Shah alone who made Punjabi language enter every heart and hearth of Punjab. Heer is the supreme achievement not only of the poet but also of Punjabi poetry. Waris Shah is a model poet who inspired and guided generations of Punjabi poets belonging to the medieval as well as modern period. He borrowed the story and plot of the legend of Heer- Ranjha and structured it anew and contrary to early happy endings raised it to the level of tragedy of classic dimensions. The beauty of this epic poem is that it has attracted every critic worth the name and has led to a variety of interpretations and critical approaches. Some have interpreted this poem from a Marxist point of view whereas others have analysed it from Freudian the angle.


Expression of the Punjabi Psyche & Culture

Whatever be the conclusion of the critics, they are unanimous in their verdict that Waris Shah is the first secular poet of Punjab who sang full-throatedly about Punjab and Punjabiat and left a writing which is the soulful passionate expression of the Punjabi psyche, culture and aspirations. This poem can be viewed from the historical, sociological, mystical, artistic and poetic viewpoints.

One thing, about which there is no dispute between Punjabis across the borders, is their love, affection, regard and respect for Waris Shah. One can say that he is the most unique poet ever produced in Punjabi literature. His Heer is so popularly read and recited all over Punjab that people feel proud in owning Waris Shah as their very own bard whose poetry has already survived two centuries of criticism and scrutiny and will stand the test of time in future too.

He has left only one work behind. The immortal Heer, which has enthralled and fascinated generations of listeners and readers, is not only a great literary achievement but also a spiritual testament. The story of Heer and Ranjha had already become a great love-legend in a tradition of high romance and has been written by his predecessors like Damodar and Mukbal. In the hands of Waris this legend was chiselled and distilled in a verse around 1766 AD, which, became the great bard’s poetic destiny.

The poet was so passionately possessed by this work that when he had completed 600 odd stanzas of varying length, he had practically written down Punjab’s heart and soul for all times. After this great achievement, it became a tradition in Punjabi poetry that every budding and aspiring poet had to reproduce, in poetic form, the story of Heer and Ranjha so as to establish his poetic credentials but every poet accepted the superiority and nobility of Waris and adopted him as a model and an ideal.

Though not much is known about his life, historical evidence shows that Waris Shah was born in 1735 AD in a Sayyad family which enjoyed great respect and prestige in the village of Jandiala Sher Khan in the district of Sheikhupura, now in Pakistan. His father’s name was Gulshar Shah. Waris Shah has a acknowledged himself as a disciple of Pir Makhdum of Kasur. Waris Shah’s parents are said to have died in his early years and he must have received his education at the shrine of his preceptor.

Waris give ample proof of his grounding in Islamic lore through Persian and Arabic. He is also well versed in Hindu tradition and folk-lore. His writing clearly shows that the extent of his knowledge is wide indeed, so that whenever he chooses, and he chooses quite often, he gives astonishingly authentic details, for instance about astronomy, medicine, social rites, habits of men and women, clothes, kinds of horses and buffaloes, the items of the dowry etc. What surprises the reader is his range of emotions and feelings.


The Heer by Waris is full of poetic intensity

The Heer by Waris is full of poetic intensity, authenticity, critical faculty, deep and wide observation, wisdom gained through living a full and rich life, critical daring, romantic imagination, poetic vision, artistic excellence and natural grace of perfect execution. No poet can raise poetic grace of love at so passionate and soulful a pitch without a deep by moving personal experience. It is because of this fact that bhagbhari is cited as the woman who was the passion inspiring Waris to sing his own unfulfilled love through the legend of Heer and Ranjha.

As a bard of high order, his other achievements are his command over language and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the contemporary social scene. Rich vocabulary and his ability to coin new words, a penchant for colourful detail, similes, metaphors, phrases and aphorisms, distinguished Waris Shah’s style. Language by expanding its appeal and by digging deep into its natural, fresh, apt and befitting expressions. Waris Shah is at his best when he describes the scenes of separation, details of beauty, graces of nature, human feelings and sentiments. Hs witty, humorous, satirical and sarcastic musings and phrases full of poetic beauty have become quotations in Punjabi lexicon.

As a man of greet wisdom, understanding and experience, Waris delves deep write analysing his characters. Except for Heer and Ranjha he has made everybody else a butt of ridicule and criticism. He exposed the hypocrisy of the priests, the Balnath sect of yogis, besides being critical of the caste system and the cunning of men and women. Follies and foibles of social life are also focused upon.

High Romance and Tragedy

An overriding reason for the acceptance of his version of the legend of Heer and Ranjha has been his success in bringing the story closer to his vision of life and reality. He is the first poet to see the unique conjunction of high romance and tragedy in it. He had the insight and perception to see the Heer-Ranjha story as an eternal and ever fresh analogue of immutable love. That is why his poem ha attracted variant readings and interpretations and still has not lot its freshness and fragrance. By using the metre Baint, Waris has opened a new way of reciting his poem. What really gives strength and vitality of Waris’s style is the use of the folk-idioms.

He turns the every day language into a verse of beauty and splendour. No wonder his language, though two centuries old, comes close to our pulse even today and evokes an authentic response. A certain degree of stark realism has prevented if from becoming dated. The known and popular fold sayings and aphorisms are skilfully woven into the fabric of his verse. Not only this, Waris’s own style also lends it seek to epigrams and allusions. His in-depth understanding of life enables him to survey the vast expanse of human behaviour and sermonise on the affairs of life. It is because of these sterling qualities of a master artist that he still translates our deepest emotions and dreams. All those who wish to enjoy him, should search for him in his Heer. The experience will not only be rewarding but also enriching.

Narinder S. Kapoor
Professor of Punjabi University, Patiala.

Source: Punjab Heritage

 Back to Heer Page

Back to APNA Web Page