Waris Shah (1722-1798) was a Punjabi Sufi poet, renowned for his contribution to Punjabi literature. He is best known for his seminal work Heer Ranjha, based on the traditional folk tale of Heer and her lover Ranjha. Heer is considered one of the quintessential works of classical Punjabi literature. The story of Heer was also told by several other writersâ€”including notable versions by Damodar Das, Mukbal, and Ahmed Gujjarâ€”but Waris Shah’s version is by far the most popular today.
Waris Shah was born in Jandiala Sher Khan, Punjab, Pakistan into a reputed Syed family who claimed descent from prophet Muhammad. His father’s name was Gulshar Shah. Waris Shah acknowledged himself as a disciple of Pir Makhdum of Kasur. Waris Shah’s parents are said to have died when he was young, and he probably received his education at the shrine of his preceptor. After completing his education in Kasur, he moved to Malka Hans, a village twelve kilometers north of Pakpattan. Here he resided in a small room, adjacent to a historic masjid, now called Masjid Waris Shah. His mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage today, especially for those in love.
Shakespeare of Punjabi language
Waris Shah is also called Shakespeare of the Punjabi language because of his great poetic love story, Heer Ranjha. Some critics say that through this story of romantic love, he tried to portray the love of man for God (the quintessential subject of Sufi literature). He was a consummate artiste, deeply learned in Sufi and domestic cultural lore. His verse is a treasure-trove of Punjabi phrases, idioms and sayings. His minute and realistic depiction of each detail of Punjabi life and the political situation in the 18th century, remains unique. Waris Shah also sublimated his own unrequited love for a girl
(Bhag Bhari) in writing romance. Many verses of Waris Shah are widely used in Punjab in a moral context. One of the more popular is
“Waris Shah; Naa adataan jaandiyan ne, Bhavein katiye poriyan poriyan ji”
(Waris Shah says: A man never abandons his habits, even if he is hacked to pieces )