The Legend of Mirza Sahiban

Among the doomed love stories of North India is the story of Mirza and Sahiban. You must have heard the other love stories like Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu and Sohni Mahiwal. Most of these love tales have tragic end. But notice one thing: while the names of other love stories begin with the name of girl for example Heer, Sassi and Sohni, the order is reverse in Mirza Sahiban tale. While in other stories, the sacrifice made by female was supreme, in this case Sahiban became double minded and could not forego the love of sibling.
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The story is simple like others. In the village of Danabad lived Wanjhal the tribal head of Kharal Jatts community. Mirza was his son. In the nearby village, Sahiban was born in the home of Mahni Khan, also from Jatt community of Khewa sub clan. Both families were related and Mirza and Sahiban were cousins. As the fate would have it, Mirza lost his mother and was sent to live in the home of Sahiban. As they grew up, the bond of love also grew between them. There are stories of their school days where when teacher asked the class to write the first alphabet, Sahiban wrote Mirza instead and was punished by the Maulvi. These instances are added to reflect the deep bond between them.
After many years, Mirza who was now a handsome man returned to his home. But they the love kindled in their hearts was always there and they were longing for each other.
The parents of Sahiban fixed her marriage with another man. She sent a messenger to inform the news to Mirza on the day of marriage. Marriage of his own sister was to happen on that day itself. It was very difficult situation for him. But he rode on his mare called Bakki in local language and his quiver and bow to bring the Sahiban. With the help of a confidante woman and a rope, Sahiban was transported to his waiting mare and thus the gallant man dashed away to his village with the bride.
He rode very fast and decided to take rest under the shade of a Jand tree. He hanged his arrows and bow on the branch of the tree and placed his head in the lap of his lover. He soon fell asleep. Meanwhile, her brother, Khan Shah Meer and other village people came chasing them as soon as they found out the elopement of Sahiban. She heard the commotion and neighing of horses from afar. She was familiar with the prowess of Mirza and was sure that he would definitely kill her brothers with arrows. She became double minded. On one side was her love for Mirza and on other his sibling. She broke the arrows and then alerted the Mirza about the danger that was coming towards them. But Mirza was aghast to find all the arrows being broken. He was helpless and was killed by Sahiban’s brother.
The ballad is very popular in Punjab on both sides. It has been sung by numerous singers both from West punjab and East Punjab and made into movies.

Raja Asraj

There are stories which are popular in a culture as they appeal the masses. In Punjab, there are so many Quissas, stories told by Bards which have become permanently etched in the psyche.

Take for example the love tales. There are stories of Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Mirza Sahiban. All have tragic endings, these are stories of sacrifice in the love. The duos could not face the opposition of their families and society and ended their lives.

These ballads are sung in one form or the other. There is another genre in Punjab that extols the acts of bravery or chivalry of the heroes of the Punjab. The style is called “vaar”. It has simple unsophisticated verse tuned to few musical instruments and sung in highly charged pitch so that it could be easily understood by the village folks.  Some examples are Dulla Bhatti and Sikh vaars.

One such is the story of Raja Asraj. Not much is known about where he dwelt in his lifetime. But due to his honesty and pious and kind heart, his story is sung in the form of Vaar and the Dhun (tune) was so much liked by Guru Arjan Dev that he tuned the famous recital called “Asa ki vaar” to be rendered according to Asraje Dhun or tune.

Asraj was the son of King Sarang from his first wife. King fell for another woman and married her. Second wife was very young many years younger than the king. The story is somewhat similar to another story relating to Puran Bhagat which is also very popular. New wife of the king happened to see handsome Asraj and instantly fell in love. But Asraj did not took any interest and  stayed firm in his faith and beliefs. When the queen’s motivations did not succeed she accused the prince of sexual assault to have the revenge. The King did not see the truth and ordered his son to be done to death. He also ordered the executioner to bring back severed limb as a proof.  There might be another reason though. Step mother did not want her step son to become the future king and desired instead one of her own sons to succeed the king in place of Asraj.

King’s advisor was a wise man so he decided to cut off a hand of the prince instead of getting him killed. After his hand was cut off he was left alone in a jungle near a well. Some merchants passed from that place and one of those merchants took Asraj along and sold him to a laundry man in another town of different kingdom.

Asraj started spending his time working in his owner’s home. The king of that province passed away without leaving anyone to succeed him. Since the king did not have any children, it was decided by the advisers that whosoever comes to the door of the province first shall be crowned the next king. As the providence would have it, Asraj happened to the first person and was made the king of that province.

Since he belonged to the royal family, he managed the kingdom affairs very efficiently. Public was very happy. There was a drought in the region and people died of hunger but his populace was unaffected because Asraj has the wisdom to kept a large stock of food grains.  Merchants of other countries started coming to Asraj’s country to buy grain. The advisor of his father who saved Asraj from death also came and Asraj recognized him. Asraj met and served him with great love and friendliness. He also sent a lot of grain to his father without taking any price.

When that adviser reached his country he told the king the story of Asraj becoming the king and motivated him to transfer his kingdom over to Asraj. The king had also realized the reality so he accepted his adviser’s virtuous advice and sent an invitation to his son.

When Asraj’s stepson Sardool Rai found out his father’s plan, he along with his cousin Sultaan Rai took on Asraj. In the ensuing battle Asraj came out victorious. After winning Asraj approached to meet his father and his father transferred his kingdom over to him. Asraj then ruled over both countries.

Bards composed a Vaar in his honour. It is called Tunde Asraje ki Vaar. Tunda in Punjabi means without one hand since one hand of Asraj was chopped by the adviser when his father had ordered him to be killed. Famous Asa ki Vaar which is recited in every Gurudwara in the morning is based on the this raag.

Dr.Salam and Heer: Jhang Connection

Doctor Abdus Salam was awarded Nobel prize in physics in 1979 jointly with Glashow and Steven Weinberg. After Einstein, theoretical physicists all over the world are trying to unify all the physical forces like electricity, magnetism and forces residing inside a nucleus and gravity. They have succeeded in unifying all except gravity which is defying all the efforts. Just as in Hinduism we believe that God is one but it’s manifestation are many. They also got the Nobel in this area of research.

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He was born on 29 January 1926 in Santok Das in the Sahiwal District but grew up in Jhang at his grand parents place. Did the mention of the name ring bells in your heart. Yes it is the same place where Heer of Heer Ranjha immortal love belonged to.

The whole family was in the education. His father was an education officer in Punjab. The family had converted to Islam. They belonged to Ahmediyya sect which was declared by Zia-ul Haq as non Muslim.

When he was taken to be admitted into school, teachers found him fit for fourth class. At age 14, Salam scored the highest marks ever recorded for the matriculation examination at the Punjab University. He won a full scholarship to the Government College University of Lahore, Punjab State.
His father wanted him to join indian Civil Services. He could not because of his poor eyesight which was a mandatory requirement.
He won scholarship from Cambridge university and completed his BA degree with honours in Mathematics and Physics in 1949. Although he received offer to do research there but he returned to Jhang.
He taught is Pakistan both mathematics and physics.
He started teaching at the Imperial College, London which he accepted. The 30-year-old, youngest ever assistant professor of Imperial College, London, was a Pakistani now.
He was brought back by zayin Khan and made the scientific advisor. He drafted the scientific policy of Pakistan. Founded Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission of Pakistan. Although he was once a non entity in Pakistan due to his being from Ahmediyya sect, his heart was always in Pakistan and he arranged for scholarships, which helped hundreds of Pakistani scientists’ to educate themselves abroad. His contributions are innumerable.
Although, he was highly respected scientist abroad he was an outsider for Pakistan. All efforts were made by the future administrators who buckled under religion to ease out his memory from Pakistan.He was offered the nationality of all those countries whose asylum seekers, today, lead the criticism on his faith.
After he had received the Nobel Prize, he chose to visit Lahore, In a public gathering, someone commented that Jhang was initially famous for Heer and now will be famed for Abdus Salam’s Nobel Prize. He remarked that there are hundreds of Nobel Laureates but only one Heer.

Quissa Puran Bhagat

History of the undivided Punjab and adjoining areas on its western front is replete with stories of valour and love. This area acted like a conduit for those from the west who wanted to enter India. From the times immemorial, streams of people crossed into India in search of its rich resources. Some solely entered through this corridor for the purpose of looting and taking with the exploits back. Others like Aryans and Mughals came here and settled here permanently. Aryans are said to be the cattle raring people who were constantly on the move in search of green pastures for their livestock. First Mughal emperor Babur came this side because he was forced to by his cousins who had fully controlled the Western areas and did not allow Babur to get any hold there. He headed east and as luck would have it, he easily won Afghanistan. As he had heard about Hindustan, he drove down into plains of Punjab and adjoining areas. Even when he established himself in India, he longed to go to his native place as he found the weather here too hot. It was Akbar who however firmly established the Mughal rule in India.
Due to the continuous movement of the people including aggressors and traders, the cultures of many places diffused into culture of this area. Many forms of literature also entered this area. One such was Quissa or the oral story telling. The stories were of the religious type initially but took into their fold the folklore and other social forms. So quissa telling became very popular in the Punjab and many famous quissa are popular and people knew heard them again and again. For example, there were lovers tales like Mirza Sahiban, Sassi Punnu on one hand and religious stories on the other hand.
One such Quissa is named Quissa Puran Bhagat. Story is set in the Sialkot which is now in Pakistan. There a king ruled in older times and his name was Salwaan. He had two wives. First one was Ichhran and younger one was Loona. Loona belonged to Chamba and there was large difference of age between the king and her age. In fact, she was the age of his children. As she was the daughter of a very poor low caste man, there was no question of the poor man resisting the marriage although Loona was not inclined. But those were the olden days. She is said to be very beautiful. King was guest of Chamba Royality and saw her in fair and was mesmerised and wanted to make her the queen.
The king was blessed with a son from first wife. He was christened as Puran. Astrologers advised the king to keep the child away from the palace till he attains the age of twelve. So he was established outside with king providing all the facilities there.
After twelve years, he returned as a very handsome boy. He went to her mothers palace. As they days passed, he went to meet the second wife of the king as was the custom in those days. Upon seeing the handsome boy, Loona was bewitched and fell in love with him. But the boy resisted her advances and told her that she is like her mother being the wife of his father. He left the palace after extricating himself. But Loona was heart broken and out of jealously she planned revenge.
She called for the king and with tears told that Puran had tried to rape her. King without seeing the truth, ordered the limbs of Puran to be amputated and he be thrown into a well. Now here is the folklore part. Puran remained alive in the well for many years reciting the name of Gods. Once a wandering religious man called Guru Gorakhnath, a Jogi in local language happened to pass by the well and heard Puran’s voice from the well. With the help of his disciples he took him out and made him hid disciple and showered many spiritual powers on him. Thus Puran became a Bhagat-a religious person. He established him near the well. People began to flock to him for blessings.
In the meanwhile through these years, Loona did not get any children. She was very unhappy. She and the king decided to seek the blessings of Bhagat. Puran Bhagat blessed her with a son. But as the king and queen did not recognise him, he asked Loona that she might have done some terrible deed in the past due to which she had not got any children. She told the truth before the king and Puran revealed that he was the victim.
King was very repentant and beseeched the Bhagat to come home and take over the reins of Kingdom but he refused and told them that the child to be born shall be the next king.
The well in which he was thrown still exists. People even now come to seek blessings for having sons from all over Pakistan. It is called “Puran de Khuee” meaning the well of Puran.
The story has been told and retold for years. The famous Punjabi poet, Shiv Kumar, rewrote the epic by giving it a different interpretation. He says that what was the fault of Loona in desiring for Puran who was almost only slightly younger than her. Her only fault was to be born into a poor family which could not resist the king’s demands. Her parents thought it to be an honour that they have established relations with the mightiest person. But nobody saw into the heart of young Loona. She hardly knew Puran who as per the social norms of the time considered her his mother. She did not saw it that way. She surrendered to her suppressed feelings. Shiv’s argument is that the women was like slave and had no say in any matter. He attempted to bring the women at par with the men.

My Peregrinations

I have returned back to the place where we were born, grew up, went to school in our own village of Manimajra, then to college and university in Chandigarh. Graduation and post graduation became possible because of the proximity of Chandigarh. Had this not been the case, there was no chance of my getting higher education in science. Even at that time, some 60 years back, our village was the largest of villages around Chandigarh. There were agricultural lands all around the village. The fields were irrigated with the water from Ghaggar river which flowed nearby emanating from Shivalik hills. There are two very large temples of Godess Mansa Devi where people from all over the nearby places flocked during the annual fares. There are many historical Gurudwaras in the area. One is inside the village is called Mata Raj Kaur Gurudwara after the pious lady who left her husband Guru Ram Rai after she felt the her husband has tweaked some lines from Guru Granth Sahib during recital. Ram Rai established himself with his disciples and properties around Dehradun. Another famous Gurudwara is on the periphery of Panchkula and is called Nadda Sahib. Here tenth Guru Gobind Singh stayed during his journey from Paonta Sahib to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. The person who played the host was known as Naddu and after his name is the name of the place and Gurudwara. There is another Gurudwara called Bawli (step well) sahib located in the village Dhakauli. With the education which I acquired, I found a job in ONGC: India’s leading E&P petroleum company. Since it’s operations extend all over India, it provided me a chance to work in different places like Dehradun, Silchar jutting with Bangladesh and located in South Assam, Sibsagar in upper Assam which was once the capital of mighty Ahom kings which gave the place the name Assam and Mumbai the city maximum and economic capital of India. Assam the North Eastern state of India possesses unparalleled natural beauty. Since the industrialisation has not spread in that area, the region I dun polluted. When you fly over the area, you find tea gardens, Areca nut tress, bamboo groves running over miles and miles. There are rivers like Brahamaputra and Barak rivers which provide the best fish. Whatever vegetables are available are grown on the river beds and grown naturally and are thus purely organic. This provided me the opportunity to watch these diverse cultures and people from close quarters and try to understand their cultures in different points of time. Whereas the Assam took the mind to older quaint times with minimal pollution, natural beauty and innocent people, there was Mumbai which was so fast paced, situated on Arabian Sea with beautiful beaches, coconut palm trees, pav bhaji and bada pav and it’s incessant rains which never stopped in the monsoons. I for the first time came to learn that not only paper document are parcelled but eatables like food from hotels and coconut cream etc is also parcelled for home delivery. Mumbai has developed a peculiar practical language which is the result of mixing of languages from all over India which migrant people to Mumbai has carried along with them. A lot has changed here and it should not be any surprise. Change in Mumbai is minimal now as it has become saturated. Here a complete change in demography also seemed to have taken place. There has been influx of people from states around it and also UP and Bihar. Crime which was almost unheard of is now very rampant. This is due to the high aspirations, comfortable lifestyle and sky rocketing prices of living spaces, everyone wants to become rich overnight.