tales are among the richest cultural heritage of a people. Folk tales reflect and project
a country's cultural traditions. The following folk tales have been told and retold with
such consummate artistic skill that they have become almost synonymous with Pakistani
story of Hir Ranjha is one of the most famous folk tales of the Punjab. The most popular
version is the Punjabi verse classic by Waris Shah. In the story as narrated by Waris
Shah, the elements of drama, tragedy, love and spiritualism have been interwoven with
family lived in Takht Hazara, an important town of Punjab. The family had eight sons, and
Ranjha was the youngest. He was very handsome and undoubtedly his father's favourite. He
was permitted to lead a life of ease, playing the flute while his older brothers looked
after the land. When Ranjha's father died, things changed. His elder brothers' wives
engineered quarrels with Ranjha, and many unforgivable words were uttered. His
sister-in-law taunted him. She challenged him to go and find himself a wife such as Hir, a
girl famed for her beauty.
paternal property was divided among the eight brothers. The qazi, who was bribed, awarded
the best possible land to the other brothers, while the barren and inhospitable land fell
to Ranjha's share, who had never worked during the lifetime of his father, now had to work
for his subsistence. Frustrated, tired and sad, he gave up everything and went wandering
in the jungle, where he was sustained by the five pirs
(holy men). He finally came to the bank of the River Chenab. He looked for a boat to
continue his journey and finally, a ferry-man, enchanted by Ranjha's flute playing, agreed
to take him across the river. Once aboard, Ranjha found that there was a bed on the boat.
Feeling exhausted, he asked if he could lie down. The boatman said that the bed belonged
to Hir, and that although she allowed him to ferry people across the river, she would not
tolerate people using her bed. Eventually, though, he gave his permission. Ranjha
stretched out on the soft, cool bed and went to sleep.
Hir came and boarded the boat, she was enraged to find a stranger lying in her bed. She
roundly berated Ranjha, who opened his eyes. On seeing her heavenly beauty, he replied
only, "Oh, Beloved." Hir was soon enchanted by the flute player. Her anger
vanished. It was love at first sight. Hir wanted Ranjha to stay near her, and so she
arranged for him to work as a herdsman, caring for her father's buffaloes. Every
afternoon, Ranjha would take the buffaloes down beside the river to wallow and graze. Hir
would slip away and bring him good food. They would talk of love, and he would play his
had an uncle named Kaido, a twisted, evil man. A cripple, he was nasty to Hir. He spied on
the lovers and carried tales to Hir's parents. As a punishment, Hir was shut up in the
house. Her parents decided to marry her off to Saeda, a man she had been betrothed to as a
child. Hir did not consent, but despite her refusal the marriage took place. She was
forcibly sent away with her husband. Ranjha was so distraught that he went to jogi Tilla
and decided to become a jogi.
the five pirs pledged to reunite the lovers, and Saeda's sister, Sehti, decided to help
the couple. When Hir pretended that she had been bitten by a snake, Sehti announced that
she knew of a young jogi who could cure snakebite, and she brought Ranjha. Then the three
of them laid their plans.
night Sehti and Hir crept out of the house. Sehti ran away with her own lover. Hir and
Ranjha also fled, but were soon caught. Hir's marriage to Saeda was declared invalid, for
she had not freely consented to it. It was agreed that she could marry Ranjha, who was
told to go and prepare his wedding procession. But meanwhile, Hir's wicked uncle Kaido
poisoned Hir. She fell dead. A message was sent to Ranjha, who hurried to find out what
had happened. He was taken to Hir's tomb. Unable to bear his grief, he fell dead upon her
story of Mirza Sahiban is one of the best known folk tales of the Punjab. Mirza was the
son of Vanjal, a Kharal chief of Danabad, on the banks of the Ravi. Sahiban was the
daughter of the chief of Khiwa, a small town in Jhang district on the road from Chiniot.
Mirza's mother was a sister of the chief of Khiwa. Mirza and Sahiban were thus cousins.
young Mirza was sent to Khiwa to be educated, he found himself studying in the same school
as Sahiban. As children, they studied and played together. As they grew up, their fond
attachment blossomed into love. The awakening of love brought about a crisis in the lives
of Mirza and Sahiban. Sahiban stopped coming to the school, and Mirza returned to Danabad.
They promised to remain faithful to each other and to wait for the day they could be
forced separation of Mirza and Sahiban failed to cool their love. As the years passed,
Sahiban grew into a beautiful young woman, and Mirza became a handsome young man. In the
words of Pilu, a Punjabi poet, Sahiban was so beautiful that when she went to the market
to buy oil, the shopkeeper was so confused by her beauty that he could not hold the
weights or adjust the scales, and instead of oil, he gave her honey. Wherever she went she
attracted attention for her flaming beauty.
pined for Sahiban, so his mother went to Khiwa to ask the chief for the hand of Sahiban
for her son. The chief's sister supported Mirza's proposal, but the chief bore a grudge
against the Kharals. He refused. The crisis deepened when Sahiban was betrothed to Tahir
Khan, a young man of the Chandar tribe.
fumed and fretted at her forced betrothal. Restrictions were placed on her movements, and
she was told to banish all thought of Mirza from her mind. Her father hastened to set the
date of her wedding. Distraught, Sahiban wrote a letter to Mirza and commissioned a young
man, Karmu, to carry the letter to Danabad. In the letter, Sahiban told Mirza that her
wedding was imminent and implored him to come to Khiwa and take her away in time.
Mirza received the letter, he told his parents he was going to Khiwa to fetch Sahiban.
Mirza's sister, who was to be married on the following day, insisted that Mirza stay back
until after the wedding, but Mirza was afraid of losing Sahiban. After getting his
father's blessing, he left to keep the promise he had made.
his horse onward, Mirza rode in haste to Khiwa. No one noticed when he arrived after
sunset. He went to the house of his aunt, Bibo, and took her into confidence. Bibo brought
Sahiban to her house, where the lovers were reunited and made plans for their escape. That
night the henna ceremony was performed. Sahiban's hands were dyed with henna, and the
wedding was to take place the following day. Sahiban did not resist, having already made
her secret plans. In the dead of night, Sahiban sneaked out of the house to meet her
was no time to be lost. Mirza mounted his horse and seated Sahiban in front of him. Soon
they were galloping toward Danabad. After a couple of hours, they grew tired and decided
to stop for a while. Mirza rested under an acacia tree and soon went to sleep, but
Sahiban's fear was too great to allow her to rest. She awakened Mirza, warning him that if
her brothers caught up with them, they would kill them both. Mirza boasted that his quiver
was full of arrows and bragged that as long as he could shoot, anyone who came near him
would court death. Then he promptly went back to sleep.
wondered what to do. Fearing they would be killed with Mirza's own arrows, she took the
quiver and hung it high in the acacia trees. Then she lied down next to Mirza and fell
asleep. She was rudely awakened by the sound of galloping horses. Seeing her brother, she
roused Mirza. He saw that their pursuers were within striking distance. He reached for his
quiver, but it was hung high in the tree. Turning to Sahiban, Mirza said angrily,
"You have played foul with me." Sahiban retorted, "Fate has played foul
with you. It overwhelmed you in the form of sleep, and thus precious time was lost."
rain of arrows fell from other side, and Mirza was struck dead. Sahiban fell upon his
body, heaping curses upon his murderers. In a fit of fury, her brother caught Sahiban by
the throat and strangled her.
the evening, news of the tragedy had reached Danabad. The Kharals were now on the warpath.
They killed Sahiban's father and brothers, then returned to Danabad carrying the bodies of
Mirza and Sahiban, who had honoured their pledge to remain together.
Gharo, 37 miles north of Karachi, are the ruins of the ancient city of Bhambore, the tenth
century capital of a chief known as Bhambo Raja. The ancient city came to a sudden end
following a violent earthquake around 1250 AD, but it still lives in the world of romance.
Bhambore is associated with the story of Sassi and Punnu, immortalized in beautiful Sindhi
verse by Shah Latif, the poet-saint of Sindh.
is related that a beautiful girl was born to a Brahmin family of Bhambore. When her
horoscope was prepared, it was predicted that she would come to grief because of her love
for a stranger of a different faith. This was too ominous a possibility for the
conservative Brahmins. Her parents decided to get rid of the girl. She was put into a
wooden box and cast into the river.
wooden box was picked by a Muslim washer-man, Muhammad. Although he had been married for
many years, he had never been blessed with a child. When he opened the box and found a
beautiful baby girl, he felt that God had finally heard his prayers and sent him this
mysterious gift. Overwhelmed with happiness, Muhammad and his wife named the child Sassi,
which means "moon-faced."At the age of fifteen, Sassi was known far and wide as
the Moon of Bhambore. She was a model of Sindhi beauty.
the desert, hundreds of miles away, was the principality of Kech Mekran. The chief had
four sons, of whom Punnu was the most handsome. He was a typical Baloch, tall and well
built. When Punnu heard about Sassi, the most beautiful girl of Sindh, he decided to go
and meet her. He joined a caravan to Bhambore. When he arrived, he set himself up at an
inn as a dealer in musk. The fame of his musk soon spread throughout the city of Bhambore,
and many women came to him to buy some. One day Sassi and a companion, Rakhi, came to the
inn to buy Punnu's wares. It was love at first sight. Then and there, Sassi and Punnu
resolved to live and die for each other.
father was dismayed to learn that his daughter wanted to marry a stranger, but Sassi was
adamant. Muhammad agreed on one condition: that Punnu should become a washer-man. Punnu
was willing to do anything for the sake of love. Although he knew nothing about being a
washer-man, he agreed to learn. He sold all his musk and became a washer-man, helped by
Sassi and her friend. He adopted their style of living and started wearing Sindhi dress.
When Punnu had mastered the washer-man's craft, he was declared a distant nephew of
Muhammad and given permission to marry Sassi.
an auspicious day, Sassi and Punnu were married. Punnu proved to be an ideal husband.
Meanwhile, the caravan which returned to Kech Mekran from Bhambore carried tales of the
intense love shared by Sassi and Punnu. When the chief of Kech Mekran learned that his son
had abandoned the Baloch way of life and was married to a Sindhi girl, he immediately
ordered his other sons to go to Bhambore and bring Punnu back.
Punnu's brothers arrived in Bambhore, they went to his house to congratulate him on his
marriage, bringing gifts for both Sassi and Punnu. Then they told Punnu that they had come
to take him back. Punnu refused to leave without Sassi, so his brothers decided to trick
him into going with them. When Punnu hosted a feast to celebrate his reunion with his
brothers, his brothers arranged for his drink to be drugged. Punnu fell unconscious, and
when Sassi went to sleep, Punnu's brothers picked him up, carried him off and sped towards
Sassi awoke at daybreak, she was shocked to find that Punnu's bed was empty. All the
guests were gone. Sassi soon realized that her Punnu had been snatched away from her by a
trick. In tears, she rushed to the edge of the city, where she discovered the footprints
left by the camels on the sand path leading to Kech Mekran. Instinctively, she began
walking, although Kech Mekran was a long way from Bhambore.
she continued her journey until her feet were blistered and her lips were parched from
crying "Punnu, Punnu!" When she was nearly exhausted, she saw a hut in the
distance. A shepherd came out and gave her some water to drink. Astonished by her beauty
and seeing her all alone, he tried to force himself upon her. She ran as fast as she
could, and ultimately fell down. When the shepherd reached her, she was dead. The shepherd
was greatly moved. He buried her and kept watch beside her grave.
next day he heard someone in the distance shouting, "Sassi, Sassi!" The shepherd
called out a reply. It was Punnu, who had jumped off his camel and begun running back to
Bhambore when he awakened from his sleep. In a moment, Punnu stood beside the grave of his
beloved. When the shepherd told him that Sassi had died in search of him, Punnu hugged her
grave and raved like a madman until he fell dead. The shepherd dug another grave for Punnu
and buried him by Sassi's side. When Punnu's brothers caught up with him, they wept bitter
tears of remorse and offered prayers at the graves of the lovers.
graves are still shown to travellers at a site known as Sassi Waro Chodo, about 40 miles
from Karachi on the road to Kech Mekran. A small monument has been erected here to
commemorate the two lovers.
city of Gujrat is the scene of the love story of Sohni and Mahinwal. The Chenab now flows
at a considerable distance from the city, but during the Mughal period a branch of the
Chenab used to flow near Gujrat. Chenab means "River of the Moon." The moon is
traditionally associated with love, and thus one of the most famous love stories of the
Punjab is associated with Chenab.
the reign of Emperor Shah Jehan, a caravan of merchants from Bukhara, while returning from
a trip to Delhi, halted in Gujrat. Among the merchants of the caravan was a young man
named Izzat Beg. He came from a wealthy and respectable family and was a lover of nature
and beauty. In fact, the merchants' journey to India had been prompted by Izzat Beg's urge
to discover beauty. When the caravan alighted in Gujrat, the place seemed familiar to
Izzat Beg. He went to the bazaar to see the city. Then, as now, Gujrat was a centre for
pottery. Izzat Beg, attracted by pottery, walked into the shop of Tullah, the foremost
master craftsman of Gujrat. While he was admiring the beauty, art and workmanship of
Tullah's earthenware, he looked up and was struck by the sight of someone even more
beautiful: Sohni, Tullah's beautiful daughter. Izzat Beg felt as if the heavenly beauty of
Paradise had come down to the earth. He bought a huge quantity of pots and promised to
come back the next day.
night, Izzat Beg could not sleep, disturbed by the image of Sohni. The next day, when the
caravan set off for Bukhara, Izzat Beg refused to join and said he would return later.
When the caravan left, Izzat Beg called on Tullah and told him he had decided to settle
down in Gujrat. Tullah welcomed him. He helped Izzat Beg set up a pottery shop and rented
a house adjoining his own. But Izzat Beg was a poor businessman. He paid too much for his
pots and sold them for too little, because his heart was not in his business,he was always
thinking of Sohni. Soon he was penniless, and he was forced to close his shop.
spoke words of comfort and asked her father to give Izzat Beg a job. He was employed as a
herdsman and told to look after the cattle. He agreed, only to be near his beloved. As a
herdsman, Izzat Beg came to be called "Mahinwal." The love of Sohni and Mahinwal
did not remain a secret for long. When Tullah saw them together one day, he dragged Sohni
home and locked her up in a room. Mahinwal was forthwith dismissed from his job.
a prince of Bukhara, Izzat Beg was now the beggar. He was forced to leave the city. He
built a hut for himself on the opposite bank of the river. Meanwhile, Sohni was betrothed
to Dam, a potter in another part of the city. Against her will, Sohni was married to Dam.
In protest, she refused to acknowledge Dam as her husband.
day Mahinwal appeared at the house of Dam asking for alms. Sohni came to the door and at
once recognized her Mahinwal. She promised to meet him. On that very night, she sneaked
out of the house to meet Mahinwal. The lovers began meeting every night. Sohni would slip
away from the house and swim across the river, using a baked earthen pot as a float. After
spending a few hours with her lover, she would recross the river and hide the pot in the
bushes, returning to her bed before dawn.
night her sister-in-law grew suspicious. She followed Sohni and discovered her secret. The
next day, to teach Sohni a lesson, she substituted an unbaked pot for the baked one which
Sohni used to cross the river.
night the weather was rough, and a strong wind was blowing. Sohni was undecided: Should
she go to her lover or not? ultimately, love triumphed, and she decided to go out to meet
Mahinwal. The night was pitch dark, and the river was full and swift. Sohni had a terrible
time finding her way to the bushes where her pot was hidden. She took it from its hiding
place and plunged headlong into the river. Suddenly, the pot began to dissolve, and Sohni
understood that she had been betrayed. As the waters began to close over her head, she
cried out to Mahinwal for help. Hearing her cries, Mahinwal leapt into the river and swam
until he was exhausted. The lovers drowned, and when the flood receded their bodies were
found side by side on the banks of the Chenab.
district of Tharparkar in Sindh is associated with the story of Umer and Marvi. The story
has been immortalized in verses by Shah Latif, the great mystic poet of Sindh. In the
mystic language of Shah Latif, Marvi symbolizes the soul.
was the daughter of a poor goatherd who lived in the small village of Malir. Marvi was a
rustic girl reared amid poverty, but nothing could sully her striking beauty. Marvi and
her family led a simple life. Marvi loved the people around her, and she especially loved
an orphan boy, lived with Marvi's family. As children, Marvi and Phog played together.
Attracted by Marvi's beauty, he wanted to marry her, but Marvi had always treated him like
a brother. She told him not to expect anything beyond that. Rebuffed, Phog sulked and
withdrew. Marvi found her ideal in Khet, a cousin who lived in a neighbouring village. He
was handsome and brave, and he was deeply in love with Marvi.
those days Sindh was ruled by Umer Sumru, whose capital was Umerkot. Umer Sumru was very
popular. He was known for his justice. He had only one weakness--he loved beautiful women.
His palace was full of beautiful damsels from all parts of Sindh. Phog left Malir and went
to Umerkot to seek his fortune. He managed to secure employment under Umer Sumru. He soon
won Umer's confidence and was put to work managing matters relating to women. One day he
told Umer about the most beautiful woman in Sindh. Curious, the Umer asked, "Who is
she?" Phog replied, "Her name is Marvi."
decided to go to Malir to see Marvi for himself. He and Phog disguised themselves and set
off for Malir. They found Marvi at the village well. Surrounded by other girls, she was
vividly beautiful. Umer was impressed, but as Marvi was already betrothed to Khet, he
could not approach her parents for her hand. So he and Phog hatched a plan to kidnap
Umer had Marvi in his clutches, he declared his love and offered to make Marvi his queen.
Marvi haughtily refused. Umer decided to give her some time to think the matter over. She
was lodged in the palace, and instructions were issued that she should be looked after.
But Marvi remained in a state of mourning. Umer was impressed with Marvi's steadfast
character. He told her that while he loved her, he did not wish to force his love upon
her. He said that if her feelings did not change after a little while, she would be free
to leave. He felt confident that in due course, Marvi would come round to loving him.
Khet learned that Marvi had been kidnapped, he was disconsolate. He asked his parents to
lodge a complaint with the king, but they were afraid. So Khet disguised himself as a
dervish (saint) and went to Umerkot. There he stayed at a shrine outside the city. His
reputation as a miracle worker spread quickly. One day Umer called Khet to the palace and
asked him to say a prayer that would win him his beloved. Khet told Umer, "The woman
you love is in the palace. Within a year you will wed her, and you will be happy."
Umer was impressed. He took Khet to the women's quarters, where Khet pointed out Marvi and
said, "This lady will be your Queen." Marvi soon realized that the dervish was
none other than Khet.
this visit, Marvi's attitude changed. This made Umer very happy. He attributed this change
to the blessings of the saint. One day, Marvi expressed a desire to go and see the dervish
at the shrine. Umer gave her permission and sent a maidservant along with her. At the
shrine, the dervish received them respectfully. He offered them a drink. After taking a
sip of her drink, the maidservant fell senseless. A camel was waiting outside the shrine.
Khet and Marvi mounted the camel and fled Umerkot. Not until late at night did Umer hear
the maidservant's tale of how Marvi had run away with the dervish. He sent his forces to
scour the countryside, but they could find no trace of Khet or Marvi. According to legend,
the couple settled in Kutch and lived a happy life as husband and wife.
Masud-ul-Hasan, Famous Folk tales of Pakistan (1979).
Syed Abdul Quddus, Punjab, the land of beauty, love and mysticism (1992).