Heer – Ranjha is a tale of woe and despair written by Waris Shah, telling the tragic story of two young lovers. Deedo lately known as Ranjha was a lucky man in some ways, but unlucky in so many others. As the youngest of four brothers in a small farming community, he was exempt from the duties that his brothers were responsible for. His father favoured him over the others and so he allowed Ranjha to live a peaceful life, playing the flute while his brothers toiled day and night on the farm. Naturally this caused resentment between Ranjha and his three brothers.
The four of them argued bitterly over the question of who would inherit the land on the farm when their father died. Ranjha, being the favourite, was of the opinion that he deserved his fair share. His brothers thought differently, telling him that he did not deserve any of the land because he never helped them work on it. Unfortunately, his father eventually died, and the sons divided the land amongst themselves. The older brothers never thought much of the youngest, so when they divided the land they gave Ranjha the worst, most infertile part of the property.Eventually, his brother’s wife poisoned his mind and began refusing to prepare food for him so he left the village of Takht Hazara in search of better fortunes. Unfortunately, his journey would only bring him heartbreak and sorrow in the end.
The going was hard, because Ranjha was used to the good life on his family’s property, and now he had to beg for scraps to live — not always successfully. But he must have been a good person at heart, because heaven looked after him.
One night Ranjha took shelter in a mosque. To pass the time, he played his flute. His playing attracted the villagers, who all came to listen to the beautiful music. It also attracted the attention of the mullah in charge of the mosque. The mullah tried to stop Ranjha from playing, scolding him for desecrating the mosque with his music. Ranjha turned on him, saying that a little music was nothing compared to the hypocrisy of the so-called holy men.
The mullah was furious, naturally, but there was nothing he could do — the villagers refused to back him up (perhaps they secretly agreed with Ranjha). Finally, the mullah left, and Ranjha spent the night in the mosque, and then traveled on the next day.
Eventually, Ranjha reached the banks of the River Chenab, just as the sun began to set. He asked Ludan, the ferryman, to take him to the city of Jhang on the other side. But Ludan refused, because it was getting dark and he suspected Ranjha of being a thief or highwayman who planned to rob Ludan as they crossed the river. Thinking that he had no choice except to camp out on the side of the river, Ranjha sat down on the river bank, pulled out his flute, and began to play a low, melancholy tune. The sound was so beautiful that everyone who heard it felt moved to pity, and between their intercessions on Ranjha’s behalf, and the lovely sound of the flute itself, Ludan’s heart softened and he agreed to take Ranjha across.
After Ranjha boarded the ferry, he made himself comfortable on a luxurious red and white couch on the ferry. At first Ludan tried to stop him — the couch belonged to Heer, the daughter of Mihr Chuchak, the head of the Siyal clan. But Ranjha continued to play his flute, and Ludan, spellbound, let Ranjha sleep where he would.
The next morning, Heer and her girlfriends arrived at the river, sweeping down on the ferry “as a hailstorm sweeps over a field.” Noticing Ranjha asleep on her couch, Heer castigated Ludan loudly, then threatened to have Ranjha beaten for his insolence.
But when Ranjha opened his beautiful eyes, Heer changed her tune. And Ranjha fell in love with Heer at first sight, too.
At this moment, he decided that all of this would be worth it if he would make her love him as much as he loved her. Her name was Heer. Her father offered Ranjha a job herding cattle and he stayed with the family. He did manage to make Heer fall in love with him by playing his beautiful flute music to her. She loved those subtle melodies so much she knew that she had to be with the man who created them.
They began a secret affair for they knew Heer’s father would not approve. For a few wonderful years, they enjoyed their time together, not minding that they could not tell anybody of their love because they had each other. But this could not last forever.The gossip reached the ears of Kaidu, Heer’s uncle, who began to lurk in the forest, trying to catch the two together. One day Kaidu found Ranjha alone in the forest, and came up to him, pretending to be a beggar. Ranjha, remembering the days on the road when he, too, had to beg for food and shelter, gave Kaidu half a pastry — a pastry that Heer had made for him. Kaidu took the pastry and brought it before the village elders as proof of Heer’s disobedience and wanton behavior and told her parents of it.
Heer’s mother and uncle brought Heer before the qazi, the judge, who reminded Heer of her duty to respect her family and their position in the village. It was beneath her to consort with buffalo herders. Heer refused to give up Ranjha. They decided to force her into marrying another man and Ranjha was banished from the village. After much back-and-forth, the qazi still couldn’t change Heer’s mind. Frustrated, he told the Siyals that Heer was too stubborn, and to avoid further scandal they should marry her off right away. The Siyals called a clan meeting.
Chuchak wanted to marry Heer to Ranjha, but his kinsmen overruled him. Even if the buffalo herder were noble-born, he was only a Ranjha of Takht Hazara — too lowly a family to marry a Siyal. The family decided to marry Heer off to Saida, of the Khera clan.
The Siyals and the Kheras arranged the match, but on the day of the wedding ceremony Heer refused to say “I do,” saying loudly (at the wedding!) that she had been betrothed to Ranjha and that their union had been blessed by Heaven and the saints.
But it was no use. Heer’s parents signed the marriage papers anyway, and the Kheras took Heer back to Rangpur, to Saida’s house.
In the meantime, a heartbroken Ranjha had returned to Takht Hazara, but he couldn’t forget Heer. Resolving to search for her, Ranjha made his way to Tilla Jogian, the temple where the jogi Gorakh Nath lived. Bowing before Gorakh Nath, Ranjha asked to become a jogi, a beggar monk. At first, Gorakh Nath refused, as he recognized that Ranjha was noble-born; he doubted (correctly) that Ranjha had the humble nature of the true jogi.
So Ranjha stole Gorakh Nath’s conch, the one Gorakh Nath used to call his followers in for their evening meal. He buried the conch, committing it to the care of Mother Earth and Saint Khizar. Without the conch, Gorakh Nath couldn’t summon his jogis. To keep his followers from starving, Gorakh Nath agreed to let Ranjha become a jogi.
Then Ranjha dug up the conch and blew it, once to the east and once to the west, to summon the jogis to their meal (he kept the conch, too). Then Gorakh Nath rubbed Ranjha with ashes, shaved his head, pierced his ears, and gave him a begging bowl. He told Ranjha, “Call the young women ‘sister’ and the married women ‘mother.’ Beg throughout the city and bring no shame on the profession of begging.”
But Ranjha threw away the begging bowl and earrings and rubbed off the ashes. “I was right about you!” exclaimed the guru. But Ranjha only laughed.
At first, the guru was angry, but then he realized how deeply in love Ranjha was, and how desperate. Moved to pity, Gorkah Nath blessed Ranjha and prayed that he would achieve his desire. At Ranjha’s request, Gorakh Nath sent forth his crow, to search for Heer.
The crow flew from town to town, from house to house, until it arrived in Rangpur and found Heer, wasting away in Saida Khera’s house. After telling Heer of Ranjha’s faithfulness (yes, the bird talked), the crow returned to Tilla, bringing the news back to Ranjha.
Ranjha made his way to Rangpur, disguised as a jogi, begging at each village on the way. When he arrived in Rangpur, all the women noticed this beautiful young jogi and flocked to him. They poured out their troubles: with their in-laws, their husbands, their neighbors. Ranjha listened to it all and counseled the women, while he searched for the Khera household.
When he found the right house, he knocked on the door, pretending to beg for alms. Heer’s sister-in-law Sehti answered. Watching Heer’s and Ranjha’s reactions when they saw each other, Sehti quickly figured out who this handsome jogi really was. She agreed to help them — if they would help her escape to her lover, a Balochi camel driver named Murad.
Heer and Sehti hatched a plan. Heer cut her own foot as the two women walked in the garden, and pretended that she had been bitten by a snake. Sehti told the family that there was a wise jogi staying in the village, and convinced Saida, Heer’s husband, to bring the jogi to the house to cure Heer. Saida agreed. The lovers reunited as Ranjha “cured” Heer of the snakebite.
Afte a few weeks, the couple planned their escape. Sehti asked to go with them, and begged Ranjha to help her find Murad. Ranjha blew on his conch. The sound reached out, far and wide, and Murad heard it as he slept. He dreamt that Sehti called him, asking him to come to her. When he woke, Murad set out at once for Rangpur.
On a Sunday night in June, the three escaped. They met Murad, who put Sehti on his camel. The two of them escaped over the River Chenab, while Heer and Ranjha fled to Qabula, the city where Raja Adali ruled.
The next morning one of Heer’s maids told the family what had happened. The Khera men set off to find them. They caught up to Murad and Sehti. But the couple had made it safely back to Murad’s people, and the Balochi forces drove back the Khera pursuers. Heer and Ranjha weren’t so lucky. The Kheras captured them and beat Ranjha unmercifully, then brought him before Raja Adali, demanding that Ranjha be put to death. Heer’s uncle Kaidu also came to testify against Ranjha. But Chuchak testified that he had betrothed Heer to Ranjha. So Adali called Heer in to testify. When she walked into the court, unveiled, Adali saw how beautiful she was and lost his head. And he took Heer away to his palace.
Heer prayed to God for protection. When Adali tried to come to her bed that night, he burst into flames! Luckily, he managed to douse himself with water and save himself. Ranjha also called out to Heaven, playing his flute. Heaven heard.
The Raja’s advisors told him to restore Heer to Ranjha, to save the city. So Raja Adali sent for Ranjha and agreed to marry him to Heer. Then Ranjha blew on his conch.
Different Versions of the tale
In this version of the story, Raja Adali himself gave Heer away to Ranjha. The entire city attended the wedding. Then the two lovers rode away into the sunrise, and (like Sehti and Murad) lived happily ever after.
The most famous version of Heer Ranjha — the “official” version, you might say — is the epic 18th century poem by Waris Shah. My version, and one of my source versions, ends with Heer and Ranjha’s marriage; from what I’ve read older folk versions of the story had a happy ending. Waris Shah added a tragic ending to his literary adaptation:
Humiliated at their loss of face, Kaidu and his kinsmen plot to kill Heer. The family talks the couple into having a proper wedding, in Jhang (Heer’s hometown).Ranjha returns to Takht Hazara to fetch his family for the Baraat. The Sayals bring Heer back to Jhang, ostensibly for the wedding. Instead, they quietly poison her. One version says they gave her poison laddu, a sticky sweet dessert often served at weddings. When Ranjha realizes that Heer is dead, he eats the rest of the poison laddu, and dies, too.
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