Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Gateway to Sikhism








Punjab is not only great but is also vast and varied. Punjab, the land of five rivers, is very fortunate in having developed and cherished, since centuries, a long and glorious tradition of a composite culture. It seems to have been evolved and enriched by a galaxy of God-intoxicated men who belonged to various faiths and creeds, such as Hindu saints, Sikh Gurus and Sufi fakirs. Their mystical songs, in particular, are the pride of the whole Punjab and form a common and invaluable heritage of all Punjab's.

The lyrical effusions of those blessed men, incidentally, gave birth to a distinct stream of the poetry of this land, called Sufi Kavya-Dhara, which inherits a rich and long literary tradition. The content and form, scope and standard as well as the flow of masterly beauty of Farid Bani, which has come down to us through the grace of Guru Granth Sahib, is a proof of this 'Dhara' having been in vogue about seven centuries ago.

It was developed by Shah Hussain during the sixteenth century and raised to its pinnacle by Bulleh Shah during the eighteenth century. Its downfall began after Hashim Shah during the second half of the nineteenth century. It was, however, kept flowing by Maulvi Ghulam Rasul, Syed Miran Shah and Khwaja Ghulam Farid during the next few decades. 

Most of all major poets of Punjab have, more or less, been influenced by it. Its influence on the Non-Muslim mystic poets of the first half of the twentieth century viz. Sant Rein, Sadhu Daya Singh, Paul Singh Arif, Man Singh Kalidas and Kishan Singh Arif is quite evident. Even the poets of the modern period, including Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), the father of modern Punjabi literature, have also imbibed its impact.

Sheikh Farid-ud-din, (1173-1265) was the first Sufi poet who sang of his insatiable hunger for the love of the Lord in works of immortal beauty.

Farid's message had a wide humanitarian base and a broad human approach. In an age marked by the great brutality, he brought the touch of humanity and fellow feeling to all.

Farid was also the first poet of Punjab and Punjabi who used the symbol of human relationship between wife and husband to express his longings for union with the Divine.

The kafis (lyrics) of Shah Husain (1538-1599), the popular romantic Sufi saint of Lahore added to Sufi poetry its peculiar element of masti (rapture) and introduced enraptured dancing and passionate signing.

Hussain was also the first Sufi poet of Punjabi who adopted the popular measure of Kafi to express his mystic ideas. The credit of introducing the element of the popular love-legends of Punjab (Heer Ranjha and Sohni Mahiwal) to Sufi Verse and utilizing their persons, places, motifs and incidents as images, metaphors and allegories etc. also goes to him.

Sultan Bahu (1629-1691), one of the greatest mystics of India, who belonged to district Jhang, adopted the verse-form of Shiarfi (arostic) for the expression of his sentiments, ending every line of his verse with a lyrical tone of exquisite charm, pronounced as hoo. It was he who, preferring 'Ishq' (love) not only to 'Aqal' (wisdom) but also to 'Iman (faith).

Syed Bulleh Shah (1680-1758), was the most famous Sufi poet of Punjab. Bullah asserted his commitment forcefully and longed for his visit so feelingly, as under :

You are just a herdsman for the folk,
People call you by the name of Ranjha.
But for me you are my religion and my faith.
O come and do enter my courtyard.

Bhullah's earlier verses expressed theological ideas of Islam. But when he turned a pantheist under the influence of Vedant and Sikhism, he became so convinced of God's omnipresence and integrity of the universal soul that he began to experience and express that sort of cosmopolitan joy which knows no limits and divisions.

Bullha had also taken then the path of reconciliation and talked of peace and unity among the adherents of various faiths and denominations.

Syed Ali Haider (1690-1785) of Multan, was the first Sufi who poetized Heer Ranjha in the form of a Qissa (long narration), entitled Qissa Heer va Ranjha, and added thereby a new tributary to the stream of Punjabi Sufi poetry.

His Abyat (verses) are known for their grace, poetic flow and play with words. The first letter of the alphabet, viz. Alif, stands for God and the letter Meem for Muhammad, the prophet. While Bullha talked of the agony of Punjab in some of his verses, Haider grieved over the lot of Hindustan.

Referring to the invasion, slaughter and plunder of Nadir Shah in 1739, he reproached and cursed all those who were responsible for the loss and distress suffered by India and Indians.

Fard Faqir (1729-1790) who lived during the same time in Gujrat, also reproached the rulers of the day. But he did so, in verses as the following, for their ill treatment of laborers and workers belonging to various professions 

Being rulers they sit on carpets
And tyrannize the people.
They call the workers 'menials'
And keep on even sucking their blood.

His kasab nama broke a new ground by describing the process of wearing cloth for expressing his Sufistic ideas and beliefs. In his Siharfi, Fard did not spare even the ever hostile Ulama (doctors of law and religion) by expressing their hypocrisy and observing that it hardly avails if an ass is loaded with books. Punjabi Sufi Poetry got a new fillips with the advent of Syed Hashim Shah (1735-1843), a highly learned, prolific and multilingual writer who flourished during the Sikh supremacy in Punjab and who has been mentioned in terms of esteem even by eminent Western scholars.

In Punjabi, he versified the popular love-tragedies of Punjab to describe and acclaim the 'Kamal Ishq' (perfect love) of their heroes and heroines (viz. Sassi & Punnu, Heer & Ranjha, Sohni & Mahiwal, Shirin & Farhad).

Among the later Sufis of Punjab, Syed Ghulam Jilani Rohtaki (1749-1819), gave a deep Vedantic touch to his verses. Maulvi Ghulam Rasul, (1813-1874), took refuge under the tragic romance of Sassi Punnu to sing his own emotions and pangs of separations.

Sayed Karam Alim Shah (19th Century) contributed musical Khayals (thoughts) and loris (Lullabies) of Sufi effusions to this lore. The musical tunes in which he expressed his sentiments of Divine Love, are popular all over Punjab and more so in Sikh circles. Sometimes he employs even the works peculiar to the Sikh social and religious literature.

Syed Miran Shah (1830-1913) of Jalandhar like Sayid Hashim Shah also symbolized his mystic experience through love legends, his 'Guldasta' contains a large numbers of Kafis, Ghazals, Baramah & Satvara.

Syed Mir Hussain of Dinjwan, (Gurdaspur) best conveys the allegorical interpretations of Sassi Punnu, in his version entitled (Bagh-e-Mohabbat, that is, the garden of love. He interpreted almost all the characters, motives, sites, and situations of the tale in metaphorical and metaphysical terms. For his Sassi, instead of being the daughter of someone named Adam Jam was in fact, the human soul itself, and Punnu as the object of union of divine love, herdsmen as mediators of this union etc.

Sain Yatim Shah, another popular Sufi of the Punjab (Distt. Gurdaspur) had versified the same love relations, In order to convey its purport to the lovers by presenting in it's the struggle between body and the soul, Yatim Shah in this Qissa has woven the beads of mysticism, preached virtuous and moral values to all communities and has explained the way of ignoring worldly things and coming into living contract with the almighty.

The Sufi poets of Punjab, in the similar way, utilized only those poetical modes and verse-forms, for the expression of their emotions, experiences and yearnings which were quite popular and familiar to the people of the land. They composed Shloks, Dohe, Shabads, Kafis, Khayals, Baramahs, Athwaras and Sinarfis, etc.

As a matter of fact, the Sufi saints and poets of Punjab contributed so much and so well not only to the linguistic, literary and cultural heritages of Punjab, they also identified themselves, intrinsically, with its land and people.


Punjab has always combated invaders. Therefore the truth of life became a reality like blood in one's veins. All this inculcated in the lovers of Punjab not only an appreciation and periscopic sense of beauty but also the courage to gift life. The action became two dimentional: while on one hand mortal love gained the stature of worship of God; on the other hand, it lent courage to defy religious constraints. 

The beautiful truth is that for centuries the saga of the folk lovers which immortalizes the memory of Heer, Sohni, Sahiban, Sassi, and others has been handed down from generation to generation. Their memories are still alive as they had died for love and not because their lovers had died for them at the alter of love. They rebelled against the conventional norms of society. These women who loved did not treasure their body or soul: they sacrificed everything for love.

The roots of this philosophy are embedded in the poetry of Waris Shah, who believed that the world existed on love. He says:

Be thankful to God 
For making love the root of the world
First he himself loved
Then he made the prophets 
His beloved ones.

It is this belief which endowed the woman of Punjab with a romantic soul and filled it with the conviction of truth and gave her the courage to speak. Therefore we do not come across any love story which portrays a woman pining to death or quietly nursing her love within her bosom. In all the love tales the women are volatile and have dynamic characters.


Waris Shah's composition, the love story of Heer Ranjha takes a pre-eminent place, in what may be called the 'qissa' literature of Punjab. It is the story of the youngman and a youngwomen, which did not receive the sanction of society in the shape of marriage, a major theme of literature, music, dance and drama not only in Punjab, but everywhere in the world. 

The story prformed in the form of an opera as well as a ballet is very typical. Heer was the daughter of a feudal landlord Chuchak Sial from Jhang. Before her sacrifice for Ranjha, she proved herself to be a very courageous and daring young girl. It is said that Sardar (Chief) Noora from the Sambal community, had a really beautiful boat made and appointed a boatman called Luddan. Noora was very ruthless with his employees. Due to the ill treatment one day Luddan ran away with the boat and begged Heer for refuge. Heer gave him moral support as well as shelter.

Sardar Noora was enraged at this incident. He summoned his friends and set off to catch Luddan. Heer collected an army of her friends and confronted Sardar Noora and defeated him. When Heer's brothers learnt of this incident they told her,If a mishap had befallen you why didn't you send for us? To which Heer replied, What was the need to send for all of you? Emperor Akbar had not attacked us.

It is the same Heer who, when she is in love with Ranjha, sacrifices her life for him and says, Saying Ranjha, Ranjha all time I myself have become Ranjha. 

No one should call me Heer, call me Dheedho Ranjha.

When Heer's parents arranged her marriage much against her wishes, with a member of the house of Khaidon, it is Heer who plucks up courage during the wedding ceremony and reprimands the Kazi (priest). Kazi, I was married in the presence of Nabi (Prophet). When did God give you the authority to perform my marriage ceremony again and annul my first marriage? The tragedy is that people like you are easily bribed to sell their faith and religion. But I will keep my promise till I go to the grave.

Heer is forcibly married to Khaidon but she cannot forget Ranjha. She sends a message to him. He comes in the garb of a jogi (ascetic) and takes her away. When Heer's parents hear about the elopement they repent and send for both of them promising t get Heer married to Ranjha. But Heer's uncle Khaidon betrays them and poisons Heer. 

In this love tale Heer and Ranjha do not have the good fortune of making a home. But in the folklore sung by the ladies, Heer and Ranjha always enjoyed a happy married life. 

It was Heer's strong conviction, which has placed this tragic romantic tale on the prestigious pedestal along with Punjab's religious poetry.


Sassi was another romantic soul, the daughter of King Adamkhan of Bhambour. At her birth the astrologers predicted that she was a curse for the royal family's prestige. The king ordered that the child be put in a wooden chest with a 'taweez' tied on her neck and thrown into the river Chenab. The chest was seen floating by Atta, the washer man of Bamboon village. The dhobi believed the child was a blessing from God and took her home and adopted her as his child. Many, many years passed by and the king did not have another child, so he decides to get married again. When he heard that the daughter of Atta, the washer man, was as beautiful as the angels, the king summoned her to the palace. Sassi was still wearing the tabiz (amulet), which the queen mother had put around her neck when she was taken away to be drowned. The king recognized his daughter immediately on seeing the tabiz. The pent-up sufferings of the parents flowed into tears. They wanted their lost child to return to the palace and bring joy and brightness to their lives, but Sassi refused and preferred to live in the house where she had grown up. She refused to leave the man who had adopted her.

Sassi did not go to the palace but the king presented her with abundant gifts, lands and gardens where she could grow and blossom like a flower. As all the rare things of the world were within her reach she wanted to acquire knowledge and sent for learned teachers and scholars. She made sincere efforts to increase her knowledge. During this time she heard about the trader from Gajni, who had a garden mad with a monument, the inner portion of which was enriched with exquisite paintings. When Sassi visited the place to offer her tributes and admire the rich art, she instantly fell in love with a painting, which was a masterpiece of heavenly creation. She soon discovered this was the portrait of Prince Pannu, son of King Ali Hoot, the ruler of Kicham. 

Sassi became desperate to meet Punnu, so she issued an order that any businessman coming from Kicham town should be presented before her. There was a flutter within the business community as this news spread and someone informed Punnu about Sassi's love for him. He assumed the garb of a businessman and carrying a bagful of different perfumes came to meet Sassi. The moment Sassi saw him she couldn't help saying, Praise to be God!

Punu's Baluchi brothers developed an enmity for Sassi. They followed him and on reaching the town they saw the marriage celebrations of Sassi and Pannu in full swing, they could not bear the rejoicing. That night the brothers pretended to enjoy and participate in the marriage celebrations and forced Punnu to drink different types of liquor. When he was dead drunk the brothers carried him on a camel's back and returned to their hometown Kicham.

The next morning when she realized that she was cheated she became mad with the grief of separation from her lover and ran barefoot towards the city of Kicham. To reach the city she had to cross miles of desert land, the journey that was full of dangerous hazards, leading to the end of world.

Her end was similar to the end of Kaknoos bird. It is said that when this bird sings, fire leaps out from its wings and it is reduced to ashes in its own flames. Similarly Punnu's name was the death song for Sassi who repeated it like a song and flames of fire leapt up and she was also reduced to ashes.


Sohni was the daughter of a potter named Tula, who lived in Punjab near the banks of the Chenab River. As soon as the Surahis (water pitchers) and mugs came off the wheels, she would draw floral designs on them and transform them into masterpieces of art.

Izzat Biag, the rich trader form Balakh Bukhara, came to Hindustan on business but when he saw the beautiful Sohni he was completely enchanted. Instead of keeping mohars (gold coins) in his pockets, he roamed around with his pockets full of love. Just to get a glimpse of Sohni he would end up buying the water pitchers and mugs everyday.

Sohni lost her heart to Izzat Baig. Instead of making floral designs on earthenware she started building castles of love in her dreams. Izzat Baig sent off his companions to Balakh Bukhara. He took the job of a servant in the house of Tula, the potter. He would even take their buffaloes for grazing. Soon he was known as Mahiwal (potter).

When the people started spreading rumors about the love of Sohni and Mahiwal, without her consent her parents arranged her marriage with another potter.

Suddenly, one day his barat (marriage party) arrived at the threshold of her house. Sohni was helpless and in a poignant state. Her parents bundled her off in the doli (palanquin), but they could not pack off her love in any doli (box).

Izzat Baig renounced the world and started living like a fakir (hermit) in a small hut across the river. The earth of Sohni's land was like a dargah (shrine) for him. He had forgotten his own land, his own people and his world. Taking refuge in the darkness of the night when the world was fast asleep Sohni would come by the riverside and Izzat Baig would swim across the river to meet her. He would regularly roast a fish and bring it for her. It is said that once due to high tide he could not catch a fish, so he cut a piece of his thigh and roasted it. Seeing the bandage on his thigh, Sohni opened it, saw the wound and cried.

From the next day Sohni started swimming across the river with the help of an earthen pitcher as Izzat Baig was so badly wounded, he could not swim across the river. Soon spread the rumors of their romantic rendezvous. One-day Sohni's sister-in-law followed her and saw the hiding place where Sohni used to keep her earthen pitcher among the bushes. The next day her sister-in-law removed the hard baked pitcher and replaced it with an unbaked one. At night when Sohni tried to cross the river with the help of the pitcher, it dissolved in the water and Sohni was drowned. From the other side of the river Mahiwal saw Sohni drowning and jumped into the river. 

This was Sohni's courage, which every woman of Punjab has recognized, applauded in songs: Sohni was drowned, but her soul still swims in water.


Mirza-Sahiban, a love-lore is a treasure of Punjabi literature. It is a romantic tragedy. Sahiban was another love-lorn soul. Shayer Pillo raves about her beauty and says, As Sahiban stepped out with a lungi tied around her waist, the nine angels died on seeing her beauty and God started counting his last breath.

Mirza and Sahiban who were cousins and childhood playmates, fell in love with each other. But when this beauty is about to be wedded forcibly to Tahar Khan by her parents, without any hesitation she sends a taunting message to Mirza, whom she loves, to his village Danabad, through a Brahmin called Kammu.

You must come and decorate Sahiban's hand with the marriage henna.

This is the time you have to protect your self respect and love, keep your promises, and sacrifice your life for truth. Mirza who was a young full-blooded man, makes Sahiba sit on his horse and rides away with her. But on the way, as he lies under the shade of a tree to rest for a few moments, the people who were following them on horseback with swords in their hands catch up with them.

Sahiba was a virtuous and a beautiful soul who did not desire any bloodshed to mar the one she loved. She did not want her hands drenched in blood instead of henna. She thinks Mirza cannot miss his target, and if he strikes, her brothers would surely die. Before waking up Mirza, Sahiban puts away his quiver on the tree. She presumes on seeing her, her brothers would feel sorry and forgive Mirza and take him in their arms. But the brothers attack Mirza and kill him. Sahiban takes a sword and slaughters herself and thus bids farewell to this world.

Innumerable folk songs of Punjab narrate the love tale of Sassi and Punnu. The women sing these songs with great emotion and feeling, as though they are paying homage to Sassi with lighted on her tomb. It is not the tragedy of the lovers. It is the conviction of the heart of the lovers. It is firmly believed that the soil of the Punjab has been blessed. God has blessed these lovers to. Though there love ended in death, death was a blessing in disguise, for this blessing is immortalized.

Waris shah who sings the tale of Heer elevates mortal love to the same pedestal as spiritual love for God saying, When you start the subject of love, first offer your invocation to God. This has always been the custom in Punjab, where mortal love has been immortalized and enshrined as spirit of love.

Just as every society has dual moral values, so does the Punjabi community. Everything is viewed from two angles, one is a close up of morality and the other is a distant perspective. The social, moral convictions on one hand give poison to Heer and on the other make offerings with spiritual convictions at her tomb, where vows are made and blessings sought for redemption from all sufferings and unfulfilled desires.

But the Sassis, Heers, Sohnis and others born on this soil have revolted against these dual moral standards. The folk songs of Punjab still glorify this rebelliousness. 

When the sheet tear,
It can be mended with a patch:
How can you darn the torn sky?
If the husband dies, another one can be found,
But how can one live if the lover dies?

And perhaps it is the courage of the rebellious Punjabi woman, which has also given her a stupendous sense of perspective. Whenever she asks her lover for a gift she says,

Get a shirt made for me of the sky
And have it trimmed with the earth


In Punjab the birth of folk drama appears to have taken place with the birth of man.


Conscience-keeper of tradition Shri Ram Chander has always been the beau ideal of the Indians who suffered great hazards but established and maintained high principles. Two great epics, Maharishi Balmiki's Ramayan and Tulsi Das Ji's Ram Charitra Manas formed the womb out of which folk drama was born. On the basis of these epics Ramlila was designed as a play. Huge stage is setup and adorned artfully. The life of Lord Rama is depicted through authentically dressed character. Sometimes more than one episode is staged concurrently, like Sita's abduction from Ashok Vatika and the war between Sri Ram & Ravana. The characters impart unity to the action by reciting verses in the fashion of a Greek drama. 

Burning the effigies of Ravan, Meghnath and Kumbhkaran ends the Ram Lila and Sita Ji is rescued with honor signifying victory of good over evil. Ram Lila is played in all cities of Punjab every year with great gusto. 


Symbol of God-love, Bhagat Prahlad is venerated by the Punjab's on the occasion of Holi festival. Rasdhris (traditional dancers) dramatize the saga of Bhagat Prahlad's life with great respect. It is done through imitation roles and the interest in action is maintained through songs and music. Bhagat Prahlad, inspite of tortures does not move from his faith in God. In the end truth is shown as the victor over evil.


Baba Balik Nath was a super-being blessed with spiritual powers who is venerated in Jalandhar Doab. Saga of his life is delineated on the stage through music, song and dance which in dramatic parlance is called Lila and which highlights saintly values.


The story of the Guru's life is dramatized in a moving manner. Major events of his life have been versified which are acted through dance, music and song. This Lila is of recent origin and the Rasdharis of Jalandhar Doab are renowned for dramatizing it.


Rasdharis have made a beautiful endeavor to project the spiritual message of Guru Ravi Das's life. The Lila depicts the injustices heaped on him, his eternal faith and God-love and the great honor received by him eventually in a spirit of surrender and is put on show in almost every city of Punjab on the Guru's birthday.


It is a kind of song-drama which is played either in the open or atop of platform. The plot is based on the story of a great personality. In Punjab the Swangs of Puran Nath Jogi, Gopi Nath and Veer Hakikat Rai are very popular. In the first two, the life of detachment and in Kakikat Rai's Swant, the love of religion and spirit of sacrifice for its sake are highlighted and their popularity rests on the fact that they make one conversant with medieval life.


Naqal is the art of imitation. The Naqal imitate life in a manner that provokes violent laughter. Naqals entertain as they instruct also. Naqals exhibit their art through crisp conservation. The First : Why ! from where have you come ? The Second : Give me food I am starving. Don't you know that I had gone to meet my daughter and we do not eat anything at our daughter's house. 


They are the traditional entertainers of Punjab and entertainment is their whole-time profession. They are either invited or just gatecrash during marriages and produce lot of fun and frolic. Their music and dance are typical and they also evoke jokes through dialogue.


Oral literature compared with written literature has many distinct features of its own. Whereas written literature is the outcome of the cultivated faculties of the artists, oral literature is a spontaneous outburst of the innermost feelings which emerge from the depths of the unconscious mind of the community. It has its roots deep in tradition and is preserved in memory. It is ever fresh and ever on the move like a river.

All literature, oral or written, springs from life, but oral literature is a better projection of the innermost recesses of the social and cultural life of a society, its traditions, customs, habits, behaviour, rites, etc. 

Off and on the village-folk get together to hear a minstrel, a bard, or other folk singers who may have assembled to entertain them. Ras-dhariye perform etrical plays the theme of which centres round immortal lovers, heroes and saints. Very popular with the people are the baints of Waris Shah's Heer, sad of Pilu's, Mirza Sahiban, and dohre of Hashim's Sassi Punnu. These compositions are the workmanship of famous writers in Punjabi and form part of the written literature, but the love tales for untold generations have also been a part of folklore.

Folklore is so much a part and parcel of village life that the old and the young virtually live on it. On moonlit summer nights when people sleep in the open, or during the cold nights of winter when they are wrapped up in their quilts, all enjoy listening to these folk-tales. 

The daily conversation of the Punjabis is so replete with proverbs and sayings that almost every fifth sentence is a saying.

The different forms of oral literature popular in the Punjab are as follows :


If poetry is the expression of deeply-felt emotions, nothing can be purer than folk poetry The social, religious and cultural life of a community lies embedded in its folk-songs. Punjabi folksongs are varied and colourful. Laughter, happiness, pain, sorrow, all form ingredients of these songs. They are simple, charming, and full of the sincerity of emotion, and the purity of feeling. The entire Punjabi

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
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