Heer Ranjha is one of several popular tragic romances of Punjab. The others are Mirza Sahiba, and Sohni Mahiwal. 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 and her lover Ranjha.
Example from the epic poem
The invocation at the beginning, in one version goes thus
(The Legends of the Panjab by RC Temple, Rupa and Company, Volume two, page 606) Rag Hir Ranjha
“ Awal-akhir naam Allah da lena, duja dos Muhammad Miran
Tija naun maat pita da lena, unha da chunga dudh sariran
Chautha naun unn paani da lena, jis khaave man banhe dhiran
Panjman naun Dharti Maata da lena, jis par kadam takiman
Chhewan naun Khwaja Pir da lena, jhul pilave thande niran
Satwan naun Guru Gorakhnath de lena, pataal puje bhojan
Athwan naun lalaanwale da lena, bande bande de tabaq zanjiran
First take the name of Allah and second the Great Muhammad, the prophet (of God)
Third, take the name of father and mother, on whose milk my body thrived
Fourth, take the name of bread and water, by eating which my heart is gladdened
Fifth, take the name of Mother Earth, on whom I place my feet.
Sixth, take the name of Khwaja (Khizr, the Saint), who gives me cold water to drink
Seventh, take the name of Guru Gorakh Nath who is worshiped with a platter of milk and rice
Eighth, take the name of Lalanwala who breaks the bonds and the chains of captives.
Summary of the love story
Luddan ferries Ranjha across the Chenab
Heer is an extremely beautiful woman, born into a wealthy Jat family of the Sial tribe in Jhang, which is now Punjab,Pakistan. Ranjha (whose first name is Dheedo; Ranjha is the surname), also a Jat of the Ranjha tribe, is the youngest of four brothers and lives in the village of Takht Hazara, Pakistan 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 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 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 ‘jogi’ (ascetic). After meeting Gorakhnath, the founder of the “Kanphata” (pierced ear) sect of jogis at Tilla Jogian (the ‘Hill of Ascetics’, located 50 miles north of the historic town of Bhera, Sargodha District, Punjab), Ranjha becomes a jogi himself, piercing his ears and renouncing the material world. Reciting the name of the Lord (Rabb) 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. However, on the wedding day, Kaido poisons her food so that the wedding will not take place. 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.
Heer and Ranjha are buried in Heer’s hometown, Jhang. Love-smitten couples and others often pay visits to their mausoleum.
Waris Shah’s version
It is believed that the poem of Heer and Ranjha had a happy ending but Waris Shah gave it the sad ending described above, thereby giving it the legendary status it now enjoys. It is argued by Waris Shah in the beginning of his version that the story of Heer and Ranjha has a deeper connotation – the relentless quest of man (humans) for God.
Waris Shah wrote his poetry inspired by the folklore of Heer Ranjha love story among the people of Punjab approximately 200 years after the actual events took place near the town Jhang, Punjab during the Lodhi kings’ ruling period- 1451 A.D. thru 1526 A.D.- obviously before the Mughals came to India. Some historians say that Waris Shah wrote his poetry about Heer Ranjha’s love in 1766 A.D. It is also said by some historians that intensity of feelings and depth to his lyrics was inspired by his own love for a woman named Bhaag Bhari at the time. Waris Shah himself was born in 1722 A.D. and died in 1798 A.D.