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.