Tag Archives: Punjabi Poetry

No Ordinary Sufi

shah hussain

“If you want your life, die before your death” (Shah Hussain).

This is my summary of Fauzia Rafique’s presentation on the life and poetry of Shah Hussain. The presentation was part of the Dead Poets Reading Series which took place at the Vancouver Public Library (Central) on May 6, 2018.

Shah Hussain (1538-1599) was a Punjabi poet from Lahore. He wrote 163 poems in Punjabi and introduced the kafi genre into the language.[1] His collected works remain among the top selling books of all time in Punjabi.

When he was thirty-six years old, Shah Hussain had a dispute with his religious teacher over the interpretation of the following verse:

“duniya khel tamasha hai” (‘the world’s a play and spectacle’).”

For the teacher, the verse meant the renunciation of the fleeting material world. For Shah Hussain, it meant that life is to be enjoyed. With that, he laughed, donned himself in a red cotton robe and became a dancing mendicant in the streets of Lahore.

Shah Hussain was a “malamti” Sufi, one who took pride in the “malamat” or “shaming” he was subjected to. He stood against the the political and religious establishment in support the common people. He identified himself with the julaha (weaver), the chuhra (sweeper) and the faqir. He associated with rebels like Dulla Bhatti who stirred peasant rebellions against the Emperor Akbar. His poetry reflected the folk rhythms and idiom of everyday Punjabi.

Shah Hussain was a rebel in another way. Unlike the male poets of his day who used the feminine voice (rekhti) to express the “feminine” emotions of grief and anguish, Shah Hussain wrote in the feminine voice to acknowledge and express his own self as a gay man.

If Shah Hussain’s love was transcendent, it was in the earthly sense of overcoming distinctions of class, gender, creed and sexual orientation. He belonged to no sect or lineage other than humanity’s.

Kafi 131

Swaying in ecstasy play on in the inner yard, all is near to those meditating
Rivers flow in this yard, thousands of millions of boats
Some are seen drowning, others have reached the shore
This yard has nine doors, the tenth is locked shut
No one needs to know, from where my lover comes and goes
This yard has a pretty curve, a hollow in the curve
I spread my bed in the hollow to love my lover at night!
A wild elephant in this yard, is struggling with the chain
Says Hussain the Beggar of His Beloved, (the elephant) is teasing the awake

(Trans. Fauzia Rafique)

Jhume jhum khaid lai munjh vehRay, japdeyaN nooN hur naiRay
Vehray de vich nadiyaN vagan, baiRay lakh hazar
kaiti iss vich Dubdi vekhi, kaiti langhi paar
iss vehRay de nauN darvazay, dusswaiN qulf chuRhai
tiss darvazay de mehram nahiN, jit shauh aaway jai
vehRay de vich aala soohay, aalay de vich taaqi
taaqi de vich sej vichaawaN, apnay pia sung raati
iss vehRay vich makna haathi, sangal naal khahaiRay
kahe Hussain Faqir SaeeN da, jagdeyaN kooN chehRay



[1] A kafi is a lyric poem of four to ten lines.











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Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman


Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.


Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma).

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.

Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.

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Modern Punjabi Poetry: Poetry from West Punjab

Translated by Randeep Singh

Punjabi poetry from Pakistan (West Punjab) include Sharif Kunjahi (1915-2007) and Ustad Daman (1911-1984) and poets who began writing after Pakistan’s independence in  1947 including Ahmad Rahi (1923-2002), Ahmad Saleem (b. 1945) and Mir Tanhai Yousafi (b. 1955).

Munir Niazi


Born in Khanpur near Hoshiarpur, now East Punjab, Munir Niazi (1926-2006) migrated to Sahiwal after 1947. A leading poet in Urdu and an acknowledged film song-writer, Munir wrote three books of poetry in Punjabi:  Safar Dī Rāt (‘The Night’s Journey), Char Chup Chīzāñ (‘Four Quiet Things’) and Rastā Dasan Vāle Tāre (‘The Path-Telling Stars’).

Paths (‘Raste’)

These paths
These winding paths
Where do they lead?
To ancient palaces
Into the arms of old friends?
Or into deep dark forests
Terrifying us, like a beast?
Or after making us wander aimlessly
Back to where we began?

Ih raste ih lambe raste
Kihṛe pāse jānde naiñ
Bahut purāne mahilāñ andar
Vichṛe yār milānde hain
Uchiyāñ ḍūngiyāñ jangle andar
Sherāñ vāng ḍarānde naiñ
ñ phir aiveñ ghum ghumā ke
Vāpas moṛ liānde naiñ

Means of Being (‘Honī de hīle’)

Some desire I had for a love not of this world
Some days I knocked on each door in search
Some friends never let go their faults
Some rivals stirred in their poison
Some company in separation I found
Some lovers gave me a pain profound
Some of my misfortunes withered away
Some distance brought love closer
Some of those paths were difficult
Some collars of grief I bore
Some townsfolk were tyrants to me
Some too I was fond to slay

Kujh shoq sī yār faqīrī dā
Kujh ishq ne dar dar rol dittā
Kujh sājan kasar na choṛī sī
Kujh zahar raqībāñ ghol dittā
Kujh hijar firāq da rang chaṛhīā
Kujh dard māhī anmol dittā
Kujh saṛ gaī qismat bad qismat dī
Kujh pyār vich judāī rol dittā
Kuch unj vī rāhvāñ aukhiyāñ san
Kuch gal vich gham dā tauk vī san
Kuch shahar de lok vī zālim san
Kuch maiññ maran da shauq vī sī


Najam Hussain Syed

Najam Hussain Syed (b. 1936) was born in Batala, East Punjab and moved to Lahore after 1947. He has written more than a dozen books of poetry in Punjabi (including Rutt Da KammChandan Rukh Da Vera and Bar Di Var) as well as plays in Punjabi and books on literary criticism, including Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry.



Colours (‘Rang’)

Come, celebrate colours
Colours of new leaves
Again and again
New leaves gleam
A message of warmth
Place the warmth in your heart
The gleam in your eye
Come celebrate, again and again
If winter’s arrived, spring shall too
If smoke smoulders, the fire too shall blaze …
Come, celebrate
Again and again
Those who every day decay
Without becoming new
Live a life of death
Reds and greens come out
When they cast off old skins
Come celebrate the colours
Again and again

Naviāñ pattrāñ de
Aāo rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de
Vāre vāre jāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ dī lishk sunehā
Lishk ‘cho’ simdā sek sunehā
Sek dil de andar dharīe
Lishk akhīñ nāl lāīe, rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de vāre jāīe
Chaṛiā māgh, vasākh vee āvsī
Dhukde rahe tāñ mach vī pavsī
Pelo pairīñ āondiāñ age
Dam dam tel chavāīe, rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de vāre vāre jāe
Mar mar nit jihṛe naveñ na hoe
Uh tāñ rahisan jionde moe
Sūhe sāve niklan tāhīoñ
Haḍ gae jad lāīe rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de vāre vāre jāīe


Zubair Ahmad

Zubair Ahmad (b. 1958) is a Punjabi poet, essayist, critic and short story writer. A former journalist, editor and previously active in Punjabi street theatre, Ahmad is currently a professor at Islamia College, Lahore. In addition to two short story collections, he has written two books of poetry in Punjabi: Koi Dam Yaad Na Keeta (‘A Breath Not Remembered’) and Sadd (‘The Call’) from which the following poems have been taken.

Feel Me Always, Like This (‘ Roz maiññ inj jāpe’)

Feel me always, like this
Like the evening
Creeping across the river
And the dawn
The quivering day
The furtive night

Roz maiññ inj jāpe
Jiveñ shām
Daryāoñ pār tūñ āve
Te savere dī
Darya darya din āve
Chorī chorī rāt

How Do I Tell Your Story? (‘Teri Kinj Kahānī Karīe’)

How do I tell your story, dear?
We’ve been apart for so long

We picked clean the cotton
Without spinning it into thread
We left with no goodbye
No candles on the sill
For the other to return home
How do I write this tale?
My words and speech have fled
We’ve been apart for so long

A strange evening came to town
When passing that final door
Closing its window to the world
I saw it all in a dream that night
Had my eyes hung on to that night!
But they broke under pain’s water
We’ve been apart for so long

Terī kinj kahānī karīe uṛīe
Rut purāne kar baiṭhe āñ

Pūnī pūnī kar jo katiā
Ohdā tān nā tanīā
Chaldiāñ vidā na kittā
Kakh bāl banere na dharīe
Kinj likhīe rām kahānī
Sabh sukhan zabānī kar baiṭhe āñ
Rut purāne kar baiṭhe āñ

Ajab shām nagar vich āī
Būhā pichlī jo langh āī
Os ḍhoī ḍar dī tākī
Sapan rāt akhīñ vich pāī
Ih raat akhīñ rakh lende
Akhāñ dardāñ pānī kar baiṭhe āñ
Rut purāne kar baiṭhe āñ



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Modern Punjabi Poetry – Shiv Kumar Batalvi


Translated by Randeep Singh

Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936-1973) was born in the Sialkot district of West Punjab moving to Batala after 1947. He published over half a dozen books of poetry, including the epic poem “Loona” for which he was awarded the Sahtiya Akademi Award in 1967. His poems, tinged with “birhā” – the anguish of separation from one’s beloved – earned him the epithet “birhā dā sultān” (‘the king of birhā’) from Amrita Pritam. His poems have been rendered musically by Surinder Kaur, Mahindra Kapoor and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

The Falcon (‘Shikrā’)

Mother! O, mother!
I made a friend of a falcon
His head carried a plume
His ankles adorned with bells
Pecking at feed he came
His beauty as sharp as sunlight
He pined for perfumes
His colour that of a rose
The child of a fair mother
His eyes, a sunset at springtime
His tresses, the rainy cloud season
His lips, a rising autumn sun …
A bed of love I strung together
Laying it out in the moonlight
The sheets and spread he spoilt
On his feet touching them
The corners of my eyes twinged
A flood of tears came
I spent the night thinking
What he had done to me …
The sweetmeats I crushed
He never ate
I fed him my heart’s flesh
He took with such a flight
Never to return

Mother! O, mother!
I made a friend of a falcon  …

Māe! Nī, māe!
Maiñ ik shikrā yār banāyā
Uhde sir te kalgī,
Te uhde pairī jhānjar
Te uh chog chungend āiā,
Nī maiñ vāri jāñ

Ik uhde rūp dī dhup tikherī,
Dujā mahikāñ dā trihāiā,
Tījā uhdā rang gulābī,
O kise gorī māñ dā jāiā,
Nī maiñ vāri jāñ!

Nainī uhde chet dī āthan
Ate zulfī sāvan chāiā
Hoṭhā de vich katteñ
Koī dihun chaṛne’te āiā
Nī maiñ vāri jāñ …

Ishqe dā ik palang nuārī
Assāñ chānanīāñ vich ḍāhiā
Tan dī chādar ho gaī mailī
Us pair jāñ palang pāiā
Nī maiñ vāri jāñ

Dukhan mere naināñ de koe
Vich haṛh hanjhūāñ dā āiā
Sārī rāt gaī vich sochāñ
Us ih kī zulm kamāiā
Nī maiñ vāri jāñ …

Chūrī kuṭṭāñ te uh khāndā nāhīñ
Uh nūñ dil dā mās khavāiā
Ik uḍārī aisī mārī
Uh muṛ vatnīñ nahīñ āiā
Nī maiñ vāri jāñ

Māe! Nī, māe!
Maiñ ik shikrā yār banāyā …


I Won’t Be Here Tomorrow (Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā)

O’ life
I won’t be here tomorrow
Let us embrace this song
Tightly in our arms tonight
And welcome its kiss
The moonlight won’t blossom
Nor will the jasmine bloom
The garden’s fragrance won’t wander
With its head uncovered
Nor like today
Will the branches bend
To touch the earth

The cranes will have flown
To lands far away
Tomorrow, time’s arms
Will have carried away my burdens
Nor will the spring remain
To adorn the neck
With the jewellery of flowers

Nor will my footprints remain
On the path of tomorrow’s dawn
Nor will my songs sew a robe
Of pain pure and true
Tears I shan’t shed like these
Under time’s shadow …

O’ life
I won’t be here tomorrow

Nī jinde
Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā
Aj rātīñ asīñ ghuṭ bāhāñ vich
Gītāñ dā ik chuman lainā
Nī jinde
Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā

Nā kalah khiṛnā chānan dā phul
Nā kalah khiṛnā chanbā
Nā kalah bāghīñ mahikāñ phirnā
Kar kar ke nī sir nangā
Nā aj vāgan
Lif lif ṭāhanāñ
Dhartī pairīñ painā
Nī jinde
Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā

Kūnjāñ uḍ puḍ jānā
Kidhre dūr disaurīñ
Kalah tak pīṛ merī nūñ samiāñ
Val lai jānā zorī
Nā ruttāñ gall
Kalah nūñ rahinā
Phullāñ dā koī gahinā
Nī jinde
Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā

Nā rāhvāñ dīāñ paiṛāñ kalah nūñ
Din chaṛhde tak jīnā
Nā mere gītāñ birhe jogā
Suchā jhaggā sīnā
Muṛ nā tārīkh dī chāveñ
Inj hanjhū koī bahinā
Nī jinde
Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā

Nā aj vāgan muṛ mil ke ral mil
ñ bahinā maiñ bahinā
Nā kalah edāñ sūraj chaṛhnā
Nā kalah edāñ lahinā
Sameñ de panchī dānā dānā
Sāhvāñ dā chug lainā
Nī jinde
Maiñ kal nahīñ rahinā …

To Become A Bird (‘Panchī Ho Jāwāñ‘)

I wish I could become a bird
To fly, to sing
To touch peaks untouched
To forget the paths of this world
To never return
To bathe in waters blessed
To drink water without halting
From the shores of a lake
And sing a melody broken
To alight in a blooming wilderness
And quaff perfume scented winds
I would warmly embrace
The dead peaks of mountains
Frozen from ages past
I’d nest amidst the mulberry trees
Or in desert trees, shrubs or cypresses
A cool easterly breeze would blow
And the branches would glimmer
As if someone swaying and playing
With her hair flowing from a swing
One day a storm would bellow
Hurling up twigs and grass
Without home or rest I’d wander
Drinking my life away in sweet sorrow
To pass my days in a drunken sway
I wish I could become a bird

Jī chāhe panchī ho jāwāñ
Uḍḍan jāwāñ, gāundā jāwāñ
Anchuh sikhrāññ chuh pāwāñ
Is dunīyā dīāñ rāhvāñ phul ke
Pher kadī vāpas nā āvāñ
Jī chāhe panchī ho jāwāñ

Jā ishnān karāñ vich zam zam
Lā ḍīkāñ pīāñ ḍān dā pānī
Mān-sarovar de bahi kanḍhe
Tuṭā jihā ik gīt maiñ gāwāñ
Jī chāhe panchī ho jāwāñ

Jā baiṭhāñ vich khiṛīāñ rohīāñ
Phukāñ paunāñ ittar sanjoīāñ
Him ṭīsīāñ moīāñ moīāñ
Yugāñ yugāñ toñ kakkar hoīāñ
Ghuṭ kaleje maiñ garmāwāñ
Jī chāhe panchī ho jāwāñ

Hoe ālahnā vich shatūtāñ
ñ vich janḍ karīr sarūtāñ
Aāun pure de sīt phurāṭe
Lachkāre ihoñ lain ḍālīāñ
Jioñ koī ḍolī kheḍe juṛīāñ
Vāl khilārī lai lai jhūṭāñ
Ik din aisā jhakhar jhulle
Uḍ puḍ jāvan sabhe tīle
Beghar bedar ho jāwāñ
Sārī umar pīāñ ras gham dā
Es nashe vich jind hanḍhāwāñ
Jī chāhe panchī ho jāwāñ

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Modern Punjabi Poetry – Amrita Pritam

Translated by Randeep Singh


Born in Gujranwala and raised in Lahore, Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) was a poet, short story writer and novelist and part of the Progressive Writer’s Movement. In 1947, she moved from Lahore to New Delhi where she worked for All India Radio and from where she continued writing in Punjabi and in Hindi.

Her poetry explores love and social morality among other themes. Her poem “Aj Akhāñ Vāris Shāh Nūñ” (‘Today, I call on Varis Shah’) is perhaps the most famous poem written in Punjabi on the Partition of India and Pakistan. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956 for Sunhere, the Bharatiya Jnapith Award in 1982 for Kaghaz te Canvas and, in her later years, an award from Pakistan’s Punjabi Academy.


The Bridge (‘Pul’)

Yesterday, you and I both burnt a bridge
Dividing our destinies like a river’s banks

Our bodies shaken –
And one body lay desolate on this bank
The other desolate on the other bank …

When spring returned and shared her flowers
And you plucked them from her body
I too returned them to the season
And like the leaves of autumn
We let the years float by on the water

The years passed but the waters didn’t dry
And in the flowing water, we saw our reflections
But couldn’t make out our faces

So before we perish standing apart from one another
Let’s go spread our slender frames on the water
You place your foot on your body
And cross half the river
I will place my foot on my body
And meet you halfway

Kal asāñ dohāñ ne ek pul jalāyā sī
Te ik dariyā de kanḍhiyāñ vāngūñ vanḍe

Badan chanḍe –
ñ ik pinḍe dī vīrānī es kanḍhe sī
Te ik pinḍe dī vīrānī os kanḍhe …

Pher ruttāñ ne jadoñ vī kuch phul dite –
ñ tūñ vī uh pinḍe toñ toṛ dite,
Te maiñ vī uh ruttāñ nūñ moṛ dite,
Te chaṛe patiāñ vāngūñ –
Kinne hī vare asāñ pānī’ch roṛ dite …

Vare muke ne, par pānī nahīñ sukke,
Te vagde pānīāñ vichoñ, parchāveññ vekhe,
Par mūñh nahīñ takke …

Te es toñ pahilāñ
Ki kuch vith te khlote asīñ muk jāīe
Chal! Khingrāñ jahe pinḍe pānī te vichāīe
ñ āpne pinḍe te pair rakhīñ,
Te adhe dariyā nūñ langh āvīñ!
Maiñ āpne pinḍe te pair rakhāngī –
– Tainūñ aggoñ dī milāngī.

My Address (‘Merā Patā’)

Today I erased the number from my house
I got rid of the street name from the top of the road
I wiped off the names from all the street posts
But if you really want to find me
Then go knock on the door of each house
Of every street, of every town in every country
This is a curse
This is a blessing
For wherever you come across a liberated soul
Think of it as my home

Aj maiñ āpne ghar dā nanbar miṭāiā hai
Te gallī de mathe te laggā gallī dā nāoñ haṭāiā hai
Te har saṛak dī dishā dā nāoñ pūnj ditā hai
Par je tussāñ main nūñ zarūr labhnā hai
ñ har des de, har shahir dī, har gallī dā būhā ṭhakoro,
Ih ik sarāp hai, ik var hai,
Te jithe vī sutantar rūh dī jhalak pave
– samjhnā uh merā ghar hai …


The First Melody (‘Aādi sangīt’)

I was – and perhaps you too were  …
An endless silence
Crumbling needlessly like dry leaves
Or dissolving like the shore’s sands
But that’s a tale of a lost time

I once called to you from a crossroads
And you returned my call too
A quiver arose in the wind’s throat
The soil’s particles awakened
The brook’s waters began to hum
The tree’s arms tensed slightly
The leaves began to twinkle
The flower bud’s eye flashed
And a bird puffed out its plume
This was the first melody the ears heard

The seven tones of the harp came much later

Maiñ ñ te shāid tūñ vī …
Ik anthīn chup hundī sī
Jo suke hue pate dī tarāñ phurdī
ñ ajāīñ, kanḍhe dī ret vāng khurdī
Par uh parā-itihāsik samiāñ dī gall hai.

Maiñ tainūñ ik moṛ te āvāz dittī
Te aggoññ moṛvīñ āvāz dittī
ñ paunāñ de sangh vich kuch thartharāiā,
Miṭī de kinke kuch sarsarāe
Te nadī dā pānī kuch gungunāiā,
Rukh dīāñ ṭāhnāñ kuch kassīāñ gaīāñ
Patiāñ de  vichoñ ik chanak āī
Phul dī ḍoḍī ne akh chamkī
Te ik chiṛī de kuch khanbh hille,
Ih pahilā nād sī jo kannāñ ne suniā sī,

Sapat surāñ dī sangiā tāñ bahut pichoñ dī hai


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Modern Punjabi Poetry – The Revolutionary and Anti-Colonial Poets: Ustad Daman, Diwan Singh and Ghadar Poetry

Inquilab Zindabad

Translated by Randeep Singh


Ustad Daman (1911-1984) was born Chiraagh Deen in Lahore. A tailor by profession, he was schooled in poetry by Ustad Hamdam. Ustad Daman soon began reciting nationalist poems at public gatherings. He wrote against British rule in India before 1947 and, after 1947, against military and political leaders in Pakistan. Latterly, he was arrested under the governments of Ayub Khan and Bhutto. His poetry, was compiled and published after his death in 1984.

Russians have Russia … (Rūs rūsīāñ dā cīn cīnīāñ dā)

Russians have Russia, China’s the Chineses’
Japan is the country of the Japanese
Conquering country after country
The English have England on top

The French hold France
Iranians take their seat in Tehran
As Afghanistan belongs to Afghans
So Turkey belongs to the Turks

So what a surprise it should be
That India belongs not to the Indian

Rūs rūsīāñ dā cīn cīnīāñ dā,
Ēdhar mulk jāpān jāpānīāñ dā.
Jagah jagah ute mall mār baiṭhe,
Inglistān nāle inglistānīāñ dā.

Hoiā hai frāns frānsīsīāñ dā,
Toṛe nāl tahirān tahirānīāñ dā.
Afgānistān hōiā hai afgānīāñ dā,
Turkistān nāle turkistānīāñ dā.

Ih kiḍī hai gall hairānīāñ dī,
Hindustān nahīñ hindustānīāñ dā.


Zindābād o Pakistān  (Long Live Pakistan)

Long Live Pakistan
As the petty child screams for a sweet
The elders watch on as it’s put in his mouth
We listen to qawwali on the radio
The one about God and the five saints
Wherever you look, cigarettes and paan
Long live Pakistan!

The hemp and opium stores open
Drink, eat and plunder in puffs!
Throw water onto your hearths
Sleep soundly under your quilts
Wherever you look, chickpeas and naan
Long live Pakistan!

The doors of the mosque are closed
The Mullahs lecture on intentions pure
Quarrels break out over rite and ritual
The pure and corrupt mingle and mesh
The common man ekes out his days
Long live Pakistan!

The Sunnis issue their edict
The whole world goes Wahhabi
Who is looking at us in the mirror?
Whoever speaks, it is in commands
New tunes there are on the breeze
Long live Pakistan!

Our country’s strapping youths
Weakened by hemp and hashish
Fashion has become their life
Singing songs of going afar
Our glory rolls in the mud
Long live Pakistan!

Zindābād ō Pākistān
Cījī mangaṇ bāl añāṇe,
ñh vich pānde vēkh siāṇe
Reḍīō utōñ suṇō kavālī,
Allāh rākhā panj tan vālī.
Jidhar vekho sigraṭ pān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.

Charas afīm de ṭheke khulhe,
Pīo khāo luṭo bule.
Pāṇī pā dio āpṇe culhe,
Sauñ jāo lai ute jule.
Jagah jagah te chole nān.
Zindābād o Pākistān.

Būhe band masītāñ de ne,
Mulāñ māre nītāñ de ne.
Jhagṛe pae hoe rītāñ de ne,
Pākāñ nāl palītāñ de ne.
Ḍagōñ ḍaga hoe insān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.

Sunīāñ valōñ hōiā ailān,
Vahābī ho giā kul jahān.
Kithe tur gaī aj pahchāṇ,
Jo bole so nā farmān.
Vakharo vakharī lage tān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.

Sāḍe mulk de naujavān,
Bhangī charasī te bhalavān.
Faishan hai ihnāñ dī jān,
Gīt hijar de gāundē jāṇ.
Miṭī rōldē apṇī shān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.



Diwan Singh (1894-1944), wrote free verse critical of religion and the colonial state. He earned the epiphet “kalapani” (‘black waters’) after being stationed in the Andaman Islands (traditionally a place where the British sent Indian prisoners and exiles) as part of the Indian Medical Corps. He remained on the islands until his death in 1944, after the Andamans had been conquered by the Japanese during World War II.

He published two books of poetry, Vagda Pani (‘Flowing Waters’) and Antim Lehran  (‘Winding Waves’).

O’ India (‘O’ Bhārat’)

Giver of the Buddha, Ashoka and Nanak,
Abode of Gods incarnate
Land of the gentle
What happened?
The die rolled out of turn
The wheel turned out of kilter
Who recognizes this new garb?
Having died, you still live
Having fallen, while still standing!

Fled is thine life, shame but remains
This weakness of a servant enchained
In superstition, touchability and caste
In illusion, in ghosts
Foes of reason, this foolishness and folly
How they’re stuck to you…
How did such power fall
To brahmins and mullahs?
To wastrels and free-loaders?
Those hungry are dying
Over crumbs fighting
For centuries you’ve slept
Serving at others’ beck and call
Rise, O’ India…

Budh de, ashok de, nānak de janam-dātiā ilmāñ
Avtārāñ dī janambhūmī
Sāūāñ diāñ desāñ
Kīh ho giā?
Ulṭ giā pāsā,
Giṛ giā chakkar ulṭā,
Pachātā nā jāndā terā ves,
Mar giā hai, phir jīndā hai
Gir giā haiñ, phir kharā haiñ!

Zindagī gaī terī, sharmindagī rahī bāqī
Ih gand balā qaid ghulāmī dī
Vahmāñ dī, chūtāñ dī
Bharmāñ dī, bhūtāñ dī
Akalāñ de dushmanāñ, ulūāñ, ūtāñ dī
Kiveñ chanbaṛ gaī tainūñ
Bholā bhāle tere bande
Brahman de, mulāñ de
Vehle muft khorāñ de
Jo bhuke pae marde ne
Tukṛiāñ te laṛde ne
Sadīāñ toñ sutiā
Chākarīāñ kardiāñ
Naukrīāñ bhardiāñ
Uth, o bhāratā

A Storm (‘Hunerī’)

A storm’s brewing, a storm
Its dark speech, dense, swift fog
The night shall remain, encircling, dense
The sun, moon and stars all obscured
The light of our worlds burnt out
A storm is brewing, a storm
Whatever came until now
No one saw, no one recalls

A storm’s brewing, a storm
Of revolution, destruction, change
Beyond the storm, there’s naught to see
No one will recognize anything
The worth of all things changing

Fruits, blossoms, boughs, branches, arms –
Even their dust shan’t abide
Sheds, shacks, mansions, all swept away …
The earth shall crack, the stars will fall
The planets into one another collide
Oceans shall take the mountains’ stead
And from the oceans shall rise mountains
The earth will be beyond recognition
The cloud shall spread a new sky

Hanerī ā rahī hai, hanerī
Kālī bolī, andhā dhundh, tez
Bas rāt ho rahengī, haner ghup ghare
Sūraj, chand, rāt, sabh kajje jāvsan
Sāḍe sāmān raushnī de sabh gull hovsan
Hanerī ā rahī hai, hanerī!
Ajehī agge āī hosī
Vekhī nahī, yād nahī

Hanerī ā rahī hai, hanerī
Inqilāb dī, tabāhī dī, tabdīlī dī
Hanerī ute jo jaegī, disegā kuch nā
Siān nā rahegī kise nūñ kise dī
Qīmatāñ sabh badalīā jāvsan

Phal, phul, shākh, ṭunḍ, ṭahnī
Kakh nā rahisī
Chappar, kule, koṭhe kul uḍ vahisan
Panchī, manukh, sher, hāthī
Uḍange, ḍigange, ṭuṭange, dhahinge,
Zamīñ phaṭegī, tāre, ḍigange
Garih bhiṛsan, āpe vich
Samundrāñ dī thāñ pahāṛāñ thāveñ samundar ho nikalsan
Dhartī de parkhare uḍ jāngeNawāñ akāsh-chandoā tanengā ghaṭ dā


GHADAR POETRY – “The Echo of Revolt” (‘Ghadar Dee Gunj’)


Ghadar Dī Gunj was a compilation of poetry composed by members of the Ghadar movement. It includes nationalist, anti-colonial and revolutionary poetry. The poems were published in San Francisco in 1913-14. Ghadar poetry ranks amongst the most fervent of revolutionary and anti-colonial Punjabi poetry of the time and is an early example of Punjabi diaspora poetry.

Coolies we’re called by the world
A flag-less nation are we
Are we slaves forever?
Why don’t we master politics?
A few birds laid siege to our pasture
Who will cultivate Hindustan?

Better to die than live as slaves
This saying may we never forget
China has awakened from slumber
The drums of India’s waking roll
What need of Pandits and Qazis have we?
What fondness have we for a sinking ship?
The time for prayers and meditation are past
The time to raise the sword draws nigh
The Ghadar paper proclaims so
The time for revolt has arrived

Kūli kūli pukārda jag sānūñ
Sāḍā jhuldā kithe nishān kiyon nahin
Kikūn bachānge sadā ghulām rah ke
Sānūn rājniti wālā giyān kiyon nahin
Dhāi ṭoṭrū khā gaye khet sādā
Hindustān dā koi kisān kiyon nahin

Marnā bhalā ghulāmī dī zindagī toñ
Nahīñ sukhan eh man bhulāvne dā
Mulk jāgāyā chīn jo ghūk sutā
Dhol vajāyā hind jagāwāne dā
Sānūn loṛ nā panditāñ qāziāñ dī
Nahīñ shok hai berda dubāvane dā
Jap jāp dā waqt batīt hoyā
Velā ā gayā tegh uthāvne dā
Paṛhke ghadr akhbar nūñ khabar lagī
Velā ā gayā ghadr machāvane dā

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Modern Punjabi Poetry: Mohan Singh and Sharif Kunjahi


Translated by Randeep Singh


Mohan Singh (1905-1978) was a Punjabi poet who, with Sharif Kunjahi, introduced modernism into Punjabi poetry.

Born in Mardan (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan), Singh was a lecturer in Persian. He published ten books of poetry in Punjabi, including Savve Pattar (‘Green Leaves’) in 1936 and Wadda Vela (‘The Late Morning’), which was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award in 1959. His poems bear the influence of Punjabi, English, Persian and Urdu literary traditions, at once sensual and socially thoughtful, exploring love, sex, nature, exploitation and inequality.

The Poem (‘Kavita’)

His own self veiling
The creator beauty made
Seeing beauty’s intense glow
Love seized Beauty intensely
When love’s spell struck
Passion danced in the heart
When that roused passion spoke
A flood of poetry it became

Apnī zāt vikhālan badle
Rab ne husn banāiā
Vekh husn de tikhe jalve
Zor ishq ne pāiā
Phuriā jadoñ ishq dā jadū
Dil vich kudī mastī
Ih mastī jad bol uṭhī
ñ haṛh kavitā dā āiā


The Spring (‘Basant’)

In the dream of spring I dwell
The pain of separation I tell
The river of tears its banks breaks
Seeing one who lent me solace once
Wipe your tears my voice says
“What God does is for the best”
Mohan! Had I not died
How would you have been a poet?

Dekh basant khwāb andar maiñ
Dasī pīṛ hijar dī
Hanjhūāñ de dariā phuṭ nikle
Dekh chirokā dardī
Pūnjh athrū mere bolī
“Jo rabb kardā changī,”
Mohan! Kinj bandā tūñ shāir
Je kar maiñ nā mardī

The fair maiden of beautiful spring
Who reached the prime of her youth
Whether in the beating hearts of nightingales
Whether the yearning eye of the bumblebee
Whether the mustard flower scattering gold
Whether the dew stealing a silvery hue
A queen is the spring, the Heer of legend
The town of Jhang Siyaal* rises anew
In this lovely spring season
I gaze at someone’s picture
Sorrows floating, my scarf falling
I adopt sorrows anew…

Husn bharī basant dī chail naḍhī
Sīgī sikhar juānī te aī hoī
Kite hik sī dhaṛakdī bulbulāñ
Kite bhaur dī akh sadharāī hoī
Kite sarhoñ ne sonā khilāriā sī
Kite tarel ne chandī luṭāī hoī
Sī basant rānī yā ih hīr jaṭṭī
Navīñ jhang siālāñ te āī hoī
Es sohnī basant dī rut andar
Aiveñ kise dī foṭo maiñ che baiha
Bahe ghamāñ toñ pallā chuḍān lagiā
Ulṭā sajre gham saheṛ baiṭha…

* Jhang Siyaal, the town of Heer in Heer Ranjha



Sharif Kunjahi (1915-2007) was  a Punjabi poet, lecturer and linguist. Born in Kunjah, Gujrat District, West Punjab, Kunjahi was a lecturer in Persian who later went on to teach Punjabi at the Department of Punjabi at the University of Punjab.

Kunjahi published two anthologies of poetry, Jag Raate (‘Sleepless Nights’) in 1958 and Orak Hondi Lou (‘The Dimming Light’) in 1995. His lyrical poetry draws on the metaphors and imagery in the classical Punjabi tradition to describe the more modern realities of the divide between the poor and wealthy and the change in social values. Along with Singh, Kunjahi is the founder of modernism in Punjabi poetry.

Passing by that village
(‘Use pinḍ koloñ‘)

Today, I pass by that village
From where I had never wanted to move
Where I found something to do everyday
What thing? In truth, to be where you were
A place of pilgrimage the village was

Aj us pinḍ de maiñ koloñ langh chaliāñ
Jithoñ kade hilaṇe toñ dil nahīñ si kardā.
Jithe maiññ nit piā rahindā koī kam sī.
Kam kī sī, sachī gal e jithe terā dam sī.
Tere dam nāl pinḍ hajj vālī thāñ sī.

What a beautiful name it had
To listen to its name gave one life
To look upon it brought one’s eyes peace
Gazing at its trees from afar relieved all weariness
Waving their branches they beckoned to us
To stand beneath their shade was to relish paradise
Today, I am passing by those trees

Kiḍā sohnā nāñ sī,
Uhdā nāñ suṇ ke te jān pai jāndī sī.
Dīd uhadī akhīāññ ṭhanḍ apaṛāndī sī.
Dūroñ rukh tak ke thakeveñ lahi jānde san.
Bāhīñ mār mār ke uha in pae bulānde san.
Suarg dā suād āve uhanāñ heṭh khaliāñ.
Aj jinhāñ rukhāñ de maiñ koloñ langha caliāñ.

Today, nothing tugs my feet
No breeze from your village comes
No one’s desires are there in my path
From the roof’s terrace no one waits
The acacia flowers veil me in my solitude
As if someone were passing a cemetery
Today, I pass by that village

Aj mere pairāññ nā khich koī hondī ē.
Pinḍ valoñ āīvā pinḍ nūñ nā ponhadī ē.
Kise diāñ chāvāñ merā rāh nahīñ ḍakiā.
Koṭhe ute chaṛh ke te kise nahīñ takiā.
Kikarāñ de olhe ho ke sabha toñ ikaliāñ.
Aj inj pinḍ de maiñ koloñ lagha chaliāñ.
Jivēñ koī kise gustān koloñ laghadā.

I Too Shall Think 
(‘Unj te maiñ vī sochāñ‘)

I too shall think as others all do
But what’s in my heart I shan’t hide

When the time came to hand you a ladle
Why was it from the server pried?

That flower blossoms which spreads its fragrance
That flower droops from whose tears time dried

What sin has your “Intercontinental” cooked up?
You shared not nor at morn the millstone plied

Better dirtied are hands than henna adorned, Sharif
Which with mud and water plaster the leaking roof-side

Unj te maiñ vī sochāñ jo soche har koī
Farq ainā ae, maiñ nahīñ apne dil dī kade lakoī

Velā jadoñ kade vī tere hath phaṛae ḍoī
Soch ki usne kioñ pahle vartāve hath khohī

Khiṛnā use phul dā jisne vanḍī mahik duāle
Jhaṛnā use phul dā jis te akh sameñ dī roī

Tere “inṭar-kānṭīnainṭal” toñ kī gunah pakāiā
Nā tūñ vanḍ chune taṛke uṭhe ke chakkī jhoī

Libṛe hath “sharīf” uh mahndī rangiā nāloñ change
Chondī chat lippan nūñ jihṛe hathāñ miṭī goī


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