The Love Of Hir And Ranjha : Waris Shah

Translated by Sant Singh Sekhon


Every Panjabi knows about the romantic poem, Hir and Ranjha. Sayyad Waris Shah, the great poet of the eighteenth century, made this romance immortal. The poem is so completely interwoven in the social fabric of the Panjab, comprising diverse castes, creeds and religions, that verses from it are quoted almost as from Ramayana and Mahabharata.

A deep knowledge of the social structure of those days as also the basic beauty of human nature is revealed in this great Panjabi classic. Such has been its popularity that for more than two centuries past poets have tried their talents in rewriting it, sometimes with additions to the original, suited, of course, to their own imagination. It was intriguing for me why this work had not been translated into English and made available to a wider readership even though it relates to an important sector of the history of the Panjab's rural life and culture.

Recently when I came to know that Professor Sant Singh Sekhon had translated this great poem into English, I got into touch with him. And when I actually saw the translation, which is done in verse, I was persuaded at once that it belonged in the spheric of cultural activity with which I am connected as President of the Old Boys' Association of the College of Agriculture, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, My proposal to bring it out as a publication of the association was enthusiastically supported by all the members.

When I put it to Professor Sekhon that it had an aspect other than literary, and that now when after retirement from his academic career he had settled as a farmer in the neighbourhood of this University, he should like to participate in the extension of its cultural activity, he readily accepted the idea.

Although I am not qualified to say much about the literary quality of this translation, yet I can feel the flavour of the original Panjabi in the verses. In fact, I am pleasantly surprised by the poetical flair of Professor Sekhon, which experience, I hope, will be shared by other readers. Professor Sekhon is not only well known as a writer of Panjabi in more than one genre but is the doyen of literary criticism in India. And it required a talent like his to reproduce in a foreign language the social insight, moral wisdom and religious catholicity of the great Waris Shah.

I hope that this translation will contribute to the building of cultural bridges not only among the peoples of India but throughout the world. I take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Sekhon for this massive effort and also thank him for giving his consent to the Association to publish it.

A. S. Atwal
Ludhiana 3rd April, 1978.


The translation of the famous Panjabi classic, Hir and Ranjha by Sayyad Waris Shah, into English was initially assigned to me by the Arts and Literature Section of UNESCO. Owing to delay on my part in completing this assignment the book missed its chance to be published as a subsidised production. All the same, I thank UNESCO for providing the stimulus and paying the honorarium to me. I am also grateful to Mr Baldoon Dhingra for making many valuable suggestions which, no doubt, improved the translation.

Even though Panjabi literature is not known to be a major literature of the world, yet works of the most sublime poetry do exist in this language. To the Panjabis, Hir and Ranjha by Waris Shah, is an immortal romance presented as a long narrative in verse. Since this genre has become almost extinct now I started this translation with some diffidence, but as I progressed I found to my relief that the long verse narrative was coming back into vogue and that even the novel in verse was emerging.

I believe that classic works of verse should be rendered in verse, for that is the best way to retain the spirit of the original. For me, to have changed the Panjabi verse into English prose would have been almost an outrage, for popular sentiment in my part of the country regards it as a sin to destroy a form.

The verse form that I have chosen is a double tetrameter, to parallel the long metre of the Panjabi original, and I have also used rhyme which may be considered a rather conservative practice. However I have tried not only to beat variations on the traditional rhyme patterns but also to strike a balance between the new and the old by using the modern idiom as far as possible, preserving a same time the eighteenth-century tone. I can only hope that I have not laboured in vain.

I present this great Panjabi classic to the English reader so give him the feel of the rich Panjabi heritage interwoven in the matrix of this romance. But he may find his way blocked here and there by references to Panjabi customs, proverbs, and socio-religious practices. I am afraid these could not be avoided, though brief footnotes have been provided to help the reader.

I take this opportunity to thank the members of the Old Boys' Association of the College of Agriculture, PAU, particularly its President, Dr A S Atwal, for undertaking the publication of this work.

16 Feb. 1978

Sant Singh Sekhon



THE love story of Hir and Ranjha presents an ideal of romantic love widely cherished by the Panjabi people. Dhido (Dahid?), youngest of the eight sons of Mauju (Muazzam) of the Ranjha clan of Jats, of Takht Hazara (in the present Gujarat district of Pakistan), is orphaned of both mother and father before he has quite grown into a self-dependent youth. When the ancestral land is divided among the brothers, he is given the least fertile part. Being unmarried yet, he is dependent on his sisters-in-law (as was the custom in old times and may occasionally be observed even today among the agricultural tribes of the Panjab) for his domestic chores, who, it may be presumed, cook and bring his meals to him in the fields by turns. He is ill-served, of course, and chided if he complains.

So he is obliged to leave home and hearth and go out in search of whatever may fall on his path, adventure, love or religious mendicancy. As on his journey he crosses the river Chanab (associated in Panjabi folklore with many romances) he falls in with Hir, the daughter of Chuchak, a squire of the river-side village, Syal (present Jhang in Pakistan). Hir has come to the river bank in the company of girls of about her age, who are in poetic parlance maids of her court as daughter of the village chief. Hir and Dhido fall in love at first sight, and the encounter ends with Hir taking Dhido home to her father for employment as a cattleherd.

Then, as is the common pattern of romance in medieval times, the love of Hir and Dhido gets good opportunity to thrive, unknown to Hir's parents, but only too well known to others in the village. The most perturbed of the whole clan of the Syals is one Kaido who, though living as a fakir is yet not dead to feelings of family honour and pride. He informs Chuchak of the intrigue between his daughter and his cowherd, and even brings him upon the lovers enjoying a rendezvous. He chides Hir's mother, Maliki, also for shutting her eyes to the enormity of what was happening.

Dhido, who is also known by his clan name of Ranjha, is in consequence, expelled from Chuchak's house, the most gentlemanly way of getting rid of such embarrasssments. But a difficulty (something rather naive) arises for the house of Chuchak. The cows and buffaloes are so attached to Dhido that they are just uncontrollable, whoever else tries to be their herdsman. Chuchak is obliged to call Dhido back, but not before Dhido has extracted from Hir's mother a kind of promise of Hir's hand.

This promise does not find fulfilment. Under the advice of kinsmen, Chuchak agrees to give his daughter in marriage to Saida, son of Aju, head of a leading Khera family of the village of Rangpur (at present in Multan district of Pakistan). In the eyes of the kinsmen who form Chuchak's social world, Dhido, ostensibly without any patrimony, is hardly eligible as a husband for a daughter of the Syals. Besides, he has lowered himself by employment as a servant of the very family whose daughter he aspires to marry.

Before Hir has to go away with her bridegroom, she calls Dhido to her side and proposes elopement. Dhido rejects this proposal as dishonourable, though by the irony of fate-of which Waris Shah and about all other narrators of this romance seem unaware, the whole story after this point is that of Hir's elopement with Dhido from the house of her in-laws and the subsequent complications.

At this juncture also the cows and buffaloes given as dowry to Hir come to the aid of romance. They are again unwilling to go with the new owners unless their old herdsman, Dhido, goes with them, too. The Kheras, not sensing the intrigue behind it, it may be presumed, take Dhido along. But Hir manages to be alone with Dhido once or twice during the journey, which arouses the Kheras' suspicion, and they turn him away before even reaching their home.

Dhido once again behaves as a gentleman and comes back to Syal to his old duties, Hir or no Hir. We are not told how he is finding adjustment there, when the message of revived hope comes through a woman of the village. Hir has not surrendered to her husband and has in her misery succeeded in winning the sympathy of her husband's sister, Sahiti. This young scapegrace is agreeable to help Hir run away with her lover if he comes to fetch her under disguise of a fakir to deceive everybody. The price of this help Sahiti would get later when, with the attention of her people diverted to the pursuit of the eloping Hir and Dhido, she would run away with her own lover, Murad, the Baluch.

Much of the story henceforward deals with the few days that Dhido spends at Rangpur, disguised as a yogi, visiting Hir in her husband's house, indulging in obstreperous fun and even fighting with the wayward and capricious Sahiti, who, refractory one moment, is the next moment tame as a lamb. Here, too, Dhido, manages to speak in privacy to Hir and satisfies himself about her unsullied loyalty.

Sahiti and Hir contrive between themselves to play a ruse to help the cause of love. They arrange a sort of picnic in the fields. All young girls and wives of the village are invited to join, for they would also help in picking cotton in Aju's fields. There Hir pretends to have been bitten by a snake and Sahiti is all anxiety for her life.

Hir is brought home. All available snake-charmers and other men of magic are called to her side. But no cure is in sight. When nothing else seems to avail, Sahiti advises her father to go to 'the new fakir' who is camping in the Black Park, a little way off the Village, to read his charms. She warns him that the new fakir would need much coaxing and humility on their part, and may not come unless Saida, Hir's rightful owner, goes and begs him to. Saida goes to Dhido, the new fakir, and beseeches his grace. The new akir first satisfies himself by interrogating Saida that Hir has not been ravished by him (for the ideal of romantic love needs this assurance) and only then agrees to accompany him to Hir's sick-bed.

Having examined Hir here in her husband's house, Ranjha advises them to bring her to a hut near the place of his meditations. Hir's snake bite being exceptionally deadly, he may have to read his charms continuously for many days and nights. Sahiti, of course, supports him and offers to stay with Hir as her constant nurse and guard.

From that hut they elope one night, Hir with Ranjha, and Sahiti with her lover, Murad, who has unobtrusively been taken into the plot.

The Kheras go in pursuit, but with greater keenness to capture Hir than, it may be presumed, their daughter, Sahiti, who in any case had to be married away. Also Sahiti's lover had an extremely fleet-footed dromedary to carry her away while Hir and Ranjha were on foot.

The Kheras overtake Hir and Ranjha near the town of Kot Kabula whose chief, called by the epithet 'just' in Waris Shah's story, and in about all other versions, is approached by both parties, and sends the dispute down to his kadi for settlement. The kadi, being naturally a supporter of the sharia or law, decides in favour of the Kheras and remonstrates with Ranjha for falling from the standards of his holy calling of a fakir into the tempting path of a house-holder.

The Kheras start, in jubilation, for their home, with the stupefied Hir in their escort. Ranjha is left behind to curse and imprecate. But his curses prove effective in as much as the whole town is now unaccountably set on fire. The townspeople flock in distress to their chief, seeing behind the sudden and devastating fire the hand of God punishing the town for the injustice its kadi had perpetrated.

The chief, reversing the kadi's decision, orders the Kheras and Hir to be brought back under duress. In the changed circumstances, the Kheras are content to be allowed to return home without their bride.

Hir who was only too willing earlier, now does not like to go with Ranjha to his paternal home at Takht Hazara. For such an unceremonious arrival will always remain a blot on her honour as a wife and subject of taunts and reproaches from the women of the village. She advises Ranjha to go with her to Syal, from where he should take her away as his bride with the consent and agreement of her parents.

The lovers are ostensibly well received at Syal. Ranjha is advised to repair to Takht Hazara and bring with him a wedding party composed of his kinsmen. The Syals will send Hir with him as his bride but not without proper ceremony and show. Ranjha, accordingly, makes for Takht Hazara where preparations are set afoot for his wedding, and invitations issued to kinsmen to join the wedding party.

But the Syals have all along been nursing treacherous designs. They poison Hir to death, and send the sad news to Takht Hazara. As he hears of it Ranjha utters a cry of final despair, and gives up the ghost.


This is one of many such stories of love and romance current in the Panjab and sung variously by poets and bards. These stories (and this, in particular) are likely to be interpretted in the west as expressions of a romantic revolt against the established social order and have in fact begun to be so interpretted by many westoriented people in the Panjab. Romanticism in the west expresses the idea of revolt by the individual against a social order that has got hardened into a strait-jacket, tending to smother his very being. The individual there seeks for his revolt no other justification than his natural right of self-expression as an individual. It is a question of emotion versus reason, of nature versus manmade law.

Oriental romanticism as expressed in this and other such romances Is something of a different order. It does not represent the revolt of the individual against society and its law as such. Of course, the rigours of the law are felt as destructive of true spirituality by a class of people who regard themselves as exceptional for having attained, through some kind of spiritual discipline or divine grace, the privilege of transcending social convention and restraint. This privilege is claimed by the Sufi fakir in Muslim society. The one condition for claiming this privilege is renunciation of the other good things desired by worldly men. It is, in brief, a privilege of the unworldly.

In his bid for freedom from social law and convention the individual renounces the world to which they apply. He does not claim anything as his natural right—to be united in life to the person of his choice. His claim is based on divine grace. The individual lover, man or woman, is in his or her single-minded devotion, a manifestation of the divine. His or her love is not the common human phenomenon of the flesh. It is some kind of a divine urge. For proof, lovers often claim this love to be untainted by sex, or at least so the bards and poets celebrating it are inclined to profess.

In the Panjab, there is a saying that there have been only two and a half instances of true love in the world of course in the world of the Panjab: the love of Hir and Ranjha and of Sohni and Mahiwal make two, and that of Sahiban and Mirza adds the remaining half. The last-named is not a full love for the reason that it was not free from sexual taint or that the lovers had not renounced the world.


The first extant version of the love story of Hir and Ranjha is some two hundred years older than Waris Shah's and it is by a Hindu poet, Damodar. Observing probably the canon of Hindu literary philosophy, Damodar does not give a tragic ending to the story. In his version, after the chief of Kot Kabula, the Just, has decreed Hir to be Ranjha's, the two lovers retain their guise of fakirs to go to the Mecca, where they live for many years as attendants on the grave of the Prophet. (Damodar, presumably, does not care to distinguish in this respect Medina from Mecca).

Incidentally, it may be mentioned, that in Triya Charitra, ascribed generally to the Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, Hir is mentioned as being in reality an apsara (dancer) of the court of Indra, the king of the gods, and Ranjha a gandharva (musician) of the same court; and the two were, for some fault, one may presume, of sensuality, expelled from Indra's court to live a life of penance in this world. Thus their love, far from being a romance in the Western sense of the word, was a kind of penance, a life of austerity for the sake of rehabilitation in divine grace.

Muslim poets, coming after Damodar, and indeed all later poets, have given a tragic ending to the story, in deference, one may suppose, to the social reality. But all of them. before Waris Shah, treat the affair as something mystic and too dignified to be spoken of lightly or with irony and sarcasm, much less profanely. It is Waris Shah who first of all brings in the secular and ironical note, though he also pays lip regard to the idealist, mystic theory. Indeed, he starts with praising love as an attribute of Divinity itself, and now and then in the progress of the story harks back to this quality of love; as a matter of fact, he could hardly afford to discard this pretence altogether. In the end also he tries to turn the whole story into a kind of moralspiritual allegory, but with little success, and that last stanza is often ignored by editors as not really belonging in the context.

Perhaps Waris Shah's secular and ironical treatment of this story is one reason of his greater popularity, apart from other factors, two of which are his uncommon gift of the gab' and manysided wisdom, qualities that he seems to share with other great poets of the world.

About his secular viewpoint it may be mentioned that nowhere in the story is he really at pains to avoid the sexual faint for his lovers. On the other hand, he takes every occasion to allude, even profanely, to pleasures of the flesh, hardly proper to their unmarried state. Thus in Waris Shah's hands the story retains little of its idealistic character, which in common folklore indeed it does. Perhaps it is his gift of irony and satire which saves Waris Shah from idealistic hypocrisy.

Ironical and satirical Waris Shah is, with a vengeance. To start with, he paints Dhido's seven elder brothers and their wives as quite devoid of fraternal sympathy. They lose no opportunity of cheating and maltreating the immature youth, as in the division of the paternal acres. Their wives seem never to have enough of criticising and rebuking their teenager brother-in-law. Nevertheless, as Dhido is leaving house and home, the brothers and their wives come out to dissuade him, and bewail his departure.

The next to come under Waris Shah's lash is the keeper of the mosque in a village where Dhido passes the first night of his self-chosen exile. The poor fellow has to pay amply for all the sins of omission and commission for which his class is notorious everywhere in the world.

On his aimless path, Dhido comes to the Chanab. He crosses it ostensibly with the help of the ferryman, Luddan, but Waris Shah seems to attribute it to the lust that he has awakened in the hearts of Luddan's two wives.

Hir comes to the river, in the company of her maids, and finds Dhido asleep on the couch reserved specifically for her. Waris Shah first makes her fly into a rage to the point of aiming her lash at the sleeping Adonais, and then at a single word and a smile from him makes her fawn upon him like a bond-slave. In all this Waris Shah is explicitly and implicitly aiming his shafts at the fickleness of womankind, whom he loses no opportunity, throughout the story, of decrying and deriding.

The Syals, whose daughter is thus shown as enjoying the pleasures of love with a servant of the family, come in for particular ridicule and denigration. Under pressure from a priestly kinsman, Kaido, and sagging under the weight of popular contempt, Chuchak decides to turn Dhido out. But then Warish Shah shows him truckling meanly to expediency; indeed he makes Chuchak remark that anyway Ranjha cannot do much harm to the girl, and may be made to work for them for some time more until she is married away.

Later in the context of Hir's marriage to Saida Khera, the whole tribe of Jats is subjected to calumny and abuse as breakers of troths, sellers of daughters, thieves, robbers and waylayers. Waris Shah is himself a Sayyad, the community to which the Prophet of Tslam belonged, and is for that reason quite overweaning in his attitude towards the lower castes and clans, towards barbers, water-drawers, bards, and others. The worst of his wrath and ridicule is, however, reserved for the Jats, who considered low by the higher castes in India, yet arouse their envy and spleen because of their social strength and importance. For most of the land, the basis of power and importance in feudal society, has for over one thousand years past belonged in the Panjab to the Jat tribes.

In the Panjab it was a feudalism of a different kind, though. The chiefs and lords of the land-owning tribes were generally of the same blood as their peasantry. They might exact heavy land taxes and rents, but the peasants would never cease to claim some kind of equality with them on the basis of community of blood. Thus, though Chuchak, the Syal, and Aju, the Khera, are named as chiefs of their villages, respectively, they are shown as constantly dependent on the opinion and support of their tribal kinsmen.

Dhido goes to the Yogi, Balanath, for initiation into his creed. But it is a strange kind of initiation that he seeks and obtains. We are told that Balanath has been affected by Dhido's good looks so much that he agrees to initiate him without delay and without any of the customary tests. And then when the Nath, seeking to lock the stable after the horse is gone. advises Dhido to stick to his vows of renunciation, the new initiate at once repudiates this advice and reveals the purpose for which he has become a yogi. All this of course throws a lurid light on the intentions that actuated many people to join religious orders of various kinds in the feudal age.

Dressed in a yogi's garb, Dhido repairs to Rangpur Khera Where Hir is living as an unwilling wife. In the pasture-land of the Village he meets a shepherd, who, reading Dhido's purpose in his face, quite flays him with his caustic wit. This is, of course, Waris Shah himself, pouring scorn on people who pursue their lust under the garb of religion. Legend has it that Waris Shah himself was the lover of a Jat woman and that his love met with even poorer success than Dhido's, and that is the main reason of his particular spleen against the Jat tribes.

The Kheras are presented in even worse colours than the Syals Taccepting in marriage a young woman of whose reputation they ere not unaware, solely for the sake of a good dowry. Saida, Hir's husband, is painted as an absolute imbecile; his sister, Sahiti as a profligate who is willing to singe her father's beard not only herself running away with a stranger unacceptable to her parents, but by becoming an unregenerate abettor of the same crime against them by their daughter-in-law.

A large part of the poem is made up of the very cynical, indecent and dishonorable passages-at-arms between Dhido, disguised as a yogi, and Sahiti, and it appears as if Dhido was romping there in Rangpur like a stud-bull among cows and castrated oxen. He gives and receives blows, in his quarrels with a Jat of the village with Sahiti and her maid, and none seems to be there to call him to account. In all this, and later in the village girls' jokes at Hir after her return from a meeting with Dhido in the Black Park, Waris Shah gives free rein to his sadistic obscenity, often met with, indeed, among people who have renounced the world under religious vows, as a substitute for the actual pleasures they have missed. Some of these verses are untranslatable for shear obscenity. (There are some others that have been left out in this translation, as they merely enumerate things, buffaloes, grasses, castes and creeds, sweets, jewelry and clothing, on different occasions, mere strings of names that have interest, if any, in the original only).

But these very qualities that have been described above in what may sound a 100 critical tone are among those that make for the popularity of this poem, It appeals direct to the rustic elements in the Panjab and to the latent rusticity of the urban and educated classes as well.

For all its rusticity, the irony, wit and humour of whatever Waris Shah has to say, a down-to earth wisdom and an indescribable gift of language make the poetry irressitible indeed for all but the very fastidious in the Panjab. How far these qualities have been brought out in the translation, the fate of this book may decide.

As Waris Shah himself reveals in the poem, he was born in a village, Jandiala Sher Khan, in the present district of Gujranwala in West Panjab. The year of his birth is put near 1738 A.D. and he is said to have lived to be a little over fifty years old. He seems to have received his education at Kasur, in the present district of Lahore, among Sufi fakirs, and to have passed most of his life in the village of Malik Hans, of the present district of Montgomery also in West Panjab.

Not much is known of the details of his life, except that he was born a Sayyad, a priestly class among Muslims, for being the clan of the Prophet himself, and that the name of his father was Balihar Shah. The legend about his unhappy love for a Jat woman may not be true. The epithet, 'Bhagbhari', often applied lovingly to Hir in Waris Shah's verses, is said to have been the name of that Jat woman. But that may also be apocryphal; for the word only means 'full of luck'.

There are many other references to places and contemporary events which because of their extremely local character are pretty nearly inexplicable. For these and other words and names kept in the translation as in the original, and not explained through foot-notes, reference may be made to the glossary at the end.

Sant Singh Sekhon

  • The Love Of Hir And Ranjha (Part-1) : Waris Shah
  • ਮੁੱਖ ਪੰਨਾ : ਕਾਵਿ ਰਚਨਾਵਾਂ, ਵਾਰਿਸ ਸ਼ਾਹ
  • ਮੁੱਖ ਪੰਨਾ : ਪੰਜਾਬੀ-ਕਵਿਤਾ.ਕਾਮ ਵੈਬਸਾਈਟ