‘No Heer please, we’re Sikhs!’

Singing Heer not allowed in Khalsa College!

idu-sharif-muktsar-240309-pic-subhash-pariharIdu Sharif at Khalsa College, Muktasar
Photo by Subhash Parihar

Singer Idu Sharif of Malerkotla gave a performance at Khalsa College Muktsar in India yesterday evening where someone from the audience requested him to sing Heer but the organisers said that singing Heer can not be allowed in Khalsa College.

Both audience and singers were ‘disappointed’, shares Photographer Subhash Parihar (who was present at the occasion) with Author Amarjit Chandan in an email message.

Heer Ranjha is the ever-living folk story of the Punjab presented over ages by various writers including Damodar Daas, Mukbaz and Ahmed Gujjar but when a Punjabi just says ‘heer’ it means Heer by Poet Waris Shah.  Written in 1766, Heer Waris Shah is perhaps one of the most endearing and enduring literary feats of Punjabi language and culture. It also has its own ‘gaiki’, a specific mode of singing, and Punjabi folk singers ‘test’ each other on singing Heer.

Not just that. The legendary devotion of Heer and Ranjha to each other that cut across class and tradition, is one of the strongest symbols of spiritual transcendental love in the sufi poetry of the Punjab. The Sufi poets, especially Malamti Sufis such as Madhulal Hussain and Bulhe Shah who made extensive use of the story and characters of Heer and Ranjha, were also avid critics of religion/s.

Heer herself challenged the laws of tradition in the local court, and ‘mullahs’ (Muslim priests) were held in contempt by both Heer and Ranjha.

As well, its a love story, the religious frameworks are too harsh for it to unfold.

This incident reminds us again to be mindful of allowing any religion be it Sikh, Muslim, Hindu or Christian to take charge of language development efforts. If Khalsa College is intolerant of Heer-singing in a music concert, we will find even worse examples of what may or may not be allowed in a Muslim college. To begin with, singing itself is not allowed in Islam unless the songs are ‘hamd’, ‘naat’ or ‘qawwali’ the three accepted forms of singing to praise Allah and Prophet Muhammad.

Weary of ‘Sikh’ chairs in North America, i am dreading the ‘Sufi’ chairs that are being formed in the universities in Pakistani Punjab because Sufism’s stronger and influential streaks do not adhere to Malamti sufis but sufis of demagogic religious beliefs.

Our religions, whenever possible, will ‘develop’ a stern Punjabi language bound by a culture of righteous suffocation to promote a form of Punjabi literature and art that may not be much to look forward to.

Fauzia Rafique
Subhash Parihar
Amarjit Chandan

(Title inspired by stage play No sex please, we’re British‘)

Contact Uddari

15 comments on “‘No Heer please, we’re Sikhs!’

  1. Please send me a complete version of the book by Waris Shah in pdf at darmendar_singh@yahoo.com.


  2. Aman Singh Gill says:

    Correction: Fauzia ji, the poem that appears beneath my comments is by Shah Hussain ji, not Shah Muhammed.
    I made a mistake in jaldbaazi,my apologies to all readers:))


  3. Aman Singh Gill says:

    Dear Fauzia Rafiq ji
    I take your point on board,but still feel I was right in pointing out what I did.It’s not because of any religious sensitivity but more due to the misunderstandings that are so common amongst Panjabi people regarding their own mother tounge.A recent UNESCO report concluded that Panjabi will cease to exist as an language few decades on.As to my own experience I am a British born Punjabi who had the good fortune to do some of my schooling in East Punjab and adjoining states.My love for languages started as a result of reading literary magzines in Panjabi and reading Sufi Poets,Divine Gurbani and modern Panjabi writers.This interest later extended to Hindi,Urdu and English.I am happy to note one thing that most notable Panjabi literature of India,Pakistan and other countries is available in Gurrmukhi.However I fear most quality literature written in Gurmukhi is not available in Shahmukhi thus Pakistani panjabis are not aware of it. This is a sad fact.The other sad fact is that Panjabi has almost nil quality exposure in electronic
    media both in India and Pakistan.Pakistan does not have a single daily Panjabi newspaper.At College back in England I found many Panjabis did not have respect
    for Panjabi language and they regarded it as a joke.
    This is why I was so “discomforted”.I think its a great tragedy that a language spoken by over 120 million people should be in such a sorry state.I think misunderstandings that already exist between Panjabi people are so numerous that we owe to be very careful about what we say.I fear most Pakistanis reading your comments may form a totally false perception about Khalsa Colleges which in actual fact
    have all Sufi Panjabi poetry in their Panjabi literature curriculum.Hope you will understand my
    concern.I will end with the first poem that I memorised as a child:
    dil atkia beparvah de naal
    uss deen duni de shah de naal
    kaazi mullan mattan dende
    kharre siaane raah vikainde
    ishqe nu kee ai rah de naal…….dil…..
    nadion paar ranjan da thanna
    keeta kaul zaroori jaana
    minta.n karran malah de naal……dil……
    Shah Muhhamed faqir nimmana
    dunia chor akhr tur jaana
    orrak kamm Allah de naal……….dil…….
    Within Panjabis and within Humanity we need to clear misunderstandings instead of creating new one’s.
    Rabb Rakha!


  4. fauzia rafiq says:

    Aman Singh Gill Jee,
    Your comment brings into focus an aspect of this post that may have been causing more discomfort than was anticipated.

    I agree with you that the title may give ‘an entirely wrong impression about Sikh Peoples’s attitude…’ when read on its own and outside of its context. Please refer to the bottom of the post: ‘Title inspired by stage play ‘No sex please, we’re British‘. It was a hilarious play that still may be cracking the box office somewhere in Britain.

    In my view, Aman Jee, it comes down to this: If British can take it, we can too!


  5. Aman Singh Gill says:

    I find this difficult to beleive arn’t we Sikhs supposed to be broad minded.All Punjabi poets are
    taught in East Punjabi Education institutes so I am surprized.In general I think your title gives an entirely wrong impression about Sikh Peoples’s attitude towards Poetry written by Muslims as it is
    widely read in East Punjab.


  6. […] Recent Raves ‘No Heer please, we’re Sikhs!’ […]


  7. […] It is important for the health of languages and cultures to take shape in non-restrictive creative environments, and so we must find, support and create secular spaces to develop Punjabi MaaNboli literature, languages and cultures. An interesting example of this came out last month where a folk singer was not allowed to sing Heer when requested by the audience at a music concert in a Khalsa College in India. […]


  8. Subhash Parihar says:

    I wonder why we are so keen about religious affiliation of a person which is otherwise decided by default, the chance of birth in a particular family. What I wanted to bring to notice was the narrowness of thinking of our so-called “religious people”. Kabir, Nanak, Waris, Bulle Shah, Puran, all are parts of our common heritage.


  9. Judging by this my writings will bee seen as too libertine!! Maybe i should return to English, where literature is used to express all ideas!!


  10. rw says:

    Subhash: Thanks for responding. For all due respect to this blog that I read regularly, I fail to see why this post should be so alarmist. After all, the fact that a Sikh college invited a Muslim singer to sing a folk qissa about a Hindu bhagat is a positive thing. The reason, therefore, that the Heer was not allowed to be sung was not because “we are Sikhs” but on possibly other grounds where someone there held a mistaken view about Heer being a romantic tale while Qissa Puran is ostensibly a religious or moralistic tale.

    Maybe it’s a question of saying whether the glass is half- filled or half- empty.


  11. Subhash Parihar says:

    He was allowed to sing Qissa Puran.


  12. Amarjit Chandan says:

    This sort of philistinism is not the monopoly of religious fundamentalists. Worse things happened in ’scientific socialist’ Stalinist and Maoist regimes all over.

    We brag about Punjabiat day and night – the reality is not that romantic.

    Local men folks of Donanabad (district Jarhanwala) want the tombstones of Sahiban, Mirza and his bakki (mare) demolished because they see them as a curse and bad role models for their women and won’t even let them go near the derelict four-walled tomb.

    Fauzia’s commentary is balanced and puts the problem in the right perspective. We are crying in the wilderness.


  13. Prem Singh says:

    Simply ridiculous


  14. balvinder says:

    i am not surprised. for these fools can go to any extent. only recently they disallowed wearing of jeans in SGPC run educational institutions, saying it is anti sikh. but mind it the ban is exclusive only to girls and not boys!

    Not so strangely i have heard girls gyrating and singing in a youth festival held at a khalsa college ” tu ni boldi rakaney tera yaar bolda”. Perhaps only such things are well tolerated bu our today’s ‘masands’!


  15. rw says:

    I am curious to know if there was any reason given by the organizers for not allowing Heer to be sung. Also, it would be interesting to know what Idu Sharif *was* allowed to sing.


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