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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 – 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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A Short History of Punjabi Literature

Punjabi literature refers to literary works written in the Punjabi language particularly by peoples from the historical Punjab region of India and Pakistan including the Punjabi diaspora. The language is written in several scripts, of which the Shahmukhi, the Gurmukhī scripts are the most commonly used.

Early Punjabi Literature (11-15th centuries)

Although the earliest Punjabi literature is found in the fragments of writings of the eleventh century yogis Gorakshanath and Charpatnah, the Punjabi literary tradition is popularly seen to commence with Fariduddin Ganjshakar (1173–1266). whose Sufi poetry was compiled after his death in the Adi Granth.

The Janamsakhis, stories on the life and legend of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), are early examples of Punjabi prose literature. Nanak’s own poetry was fused Punjabi, Khari Boli and Braj Bhasha, with vocabulary from Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as was much of the literature of the later Sikh Gurus.

Mughal and Sikh Periods (16th century to 1857)

Punjabi poetry developed through Shah Hussain (1538–1599) and the Sufi tradition of Sultan Bahu (1628–1691), Shah Sharaf (1640–1724), Ali Haider (1690–1785), and Bulleh Shah (1680–1757), pictured below. In contrast to Persian poets, who had preferred the ghazal for poetic expression, Punjabi Sufi poets tended to compose in the Kafi.


Punjabi Sufi poetry also influenced the Punjabi Qissa, a genre of romantic tragedy which also derived inspiration from Indic, Persian and Quranic sources. The Qissa of Heer Ranjha by Waris Shah (1706–1798) is among the most popular of Punjabi qisse. Other popular stories include Sohni Mahiwal by Fazal Shah, Mirza Sahiba by Hafiz Barkhudar (1658–1707), Sassi Punnun by Hashim Shah (1735?–1843?), and Qissa Puran Bhagat by Qadaryar (1802–1892).

Heroic ballads known as Vaar enjoy a old oral tradition in Punjabi. Prominent examples of heroic or epic poetry include Guru Gobind Singh‘s in Chandi di Var (1666–1708). The semi-historical Nadir Shah Di Vaar by Najabat describes the invasion of India by Nadir Shah in 1739. The Jangnama, or ‘War Chronicle,’ was introduced into Punjabi literature during the Mughal period; the Punjabi Jangnama of Shah Mohammad (1780–1862) recounts the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845–46.

The Colonial Period (1858-1947)

The Victorian novel, Elizabethan drama, free verse and Modernism entered Punjabi literature through the introduction of British education during the Raj. The first Punjabi printing press (using Gurmukhi) was established through a Christian mission at Ludhiana in 1835, and the first Punjabi dictionary was published by Reverend J. Newton in 1854.

The Punjabi novel developed through Nanak Singh (1897–1971) and Vir Singh. Starting off as a pamphleteer and as part of the Singh Sabha Movement, Vir Singh wrote historical romance through such novels as Sundari, Satwant Kaur and Baba Naudh Singh, whereas Nanak Singh helped link the novel to the story telling traditions of Qissa and oral tradition as well as to questions of social reform.

The novels, short stories and poetry of Amrita Pritam (1919–2005), pictured below,  highlighted, among other themes, the experience of women, and the Partition of India. Punjabi poetry during the British Raj moreover began to explore more the experiences of the common man and the poor through the work of Puran Singh (1881–1931). Other poets such as Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876–1957), Diwan Singh (1897–1944) and Ustad Daman (1911–1984), explored and expressed nationalism in their poetry during India’s freedom movement.

Amrita Pritam

Modernism was also introduced into Punjabi poetry by Prof. Mohan Singh (1905–78) and Shareef Kunjahi. The Punjabi diaspora also began to emerge during the Raj and also produced poetry whose theme was revolt against British rule in Ghadar di Gunj (Echoes of Mutiny).

Post-Independence literature (1947- )

West Punjab (Pakistan)

Najm Hossein Syed, Fakhar Zaman and Afzal Ahsan Randhawa are some of the more prominent names in West Punjabi literature produced in Pakistan since 1947. Literary criticism in Punjabi has also emerged through the efforts of West Punjabi scholars and poets, Shafqat Tanvir Mirza (b. 1932), Ahmad Salim, and Najm Hosain Syed (b. 1936). The work of Zaman and Randhawa often treats the rediscovery of Punjabi identity and language in Pakistan since 1947.

Urdu poets of the Punjab have also written Punjabi poetry including Munir Niazi (1928–2006).

Eastern Punjab (India)

Amrita Pritam (1919–2005), Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936–1973), Surjit Paatar (1944–) and Pash (1950–1988), pictured below, are some of the more prominent poets and writers of East Punjab (India). Pritam’s Sunehe (Messages) received the Sahitya Akademi in 1982. In it, Pritam explores the impact of social morality on women. Kumar’s epic Luna (a dramatic retelling of the legend of Puran Bhagat) won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1965.


Socialist themes of revolution meanwhile influenced writers like Pash whose work demonstrates the influence of Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz. Meanwhile, modern drama developed through Ishwar Nanda’s Ibsen-influenced Suhag in 1913, Gursharan Singh who helped popularize the genre through live theatre in Punjabi villages and Kartar Singh Duggal, and Balwant Gargi.

Diaspora Punjabi literature

Punjabi diaspora literature has developed through writers in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States, as well as writers in Africa such as Ajaib Kamal, born in 1932 in Kenya. Themes explored by diaspora writers include the cross-cultural experience of Punjabi migrants, racial discrimination, exclusion, and assimilation, the experience of women in the diaspora, and spirituality in the modern world. Second generation writers of Punjabi ancestry such as Rupinderpal Singh Dhillon (Roop Dhillon) have explored the relationship between British Punjabis and their immigrant parents as well as experiment with surrealism, science-fiction and crime-fiction.

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