An Evening with Saeen Zahoor


Written by Randeep Singh

On May 31, 2014, Pakistani Sufi singer Saeen Zahoor performed at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, sending the audience into trance, dance and inspiring reverence throughout.

The evening brought together local Indian and Pakistani performers, organizers and audience members. Indo-Pakistani band Naqsh IPB opened the evening with their blend of modern Sufi, rock, classical and filmi musical stylings. Through clashing drums, pulsating guitar riffs and the soaring vocals of Daksh Kubba, Naqsh warmed up the crowd for Saeen.

He entered in his long black kurta embroidered in yellow, ghungroo bells jingling around his ankles, carrying his colourfully decorated ektaara (one-string instrument). “I am not an artist,” he began, “I am a dervish who recites the name of His Master.”

Saeen didn’t just sing: he performed in every sense of the word. The spirit of Bulleh Shah poured through Saeen, his songs, his dance, his story-telling. His two hours on the stage was a musical theatre on the life and poetry of Bulleh Shah.

After declaring his devotion to Bulleh Shah in “Ni Mai Kamli Haan” (‘Crazy I Am!’), Saeen sang “Aukhen Painde Lambiyaan Raavan” (‘Hard and Long are the Paths’), of how Bulleh Shah journeyed for miles in search of his teacher. On meeting his teacher, Shah Inayat, Bulleh Shah asks: “how does one find God.” Shah Inayat, planting spring onions, replies: “what do you want to find God for? Just uproot this from here and plant it there.”

Saeen then broke out ecstatically into “Nachna Painda Ae” (‘Dance One Must’) swirling on the stage in his ghunghroo bells just as Bulleh Shah had once for Shah Inayat.

Saeen also sang on Bulleh Shah’s rebukes to legalistic Muslim clerics in “Bas Kare O Yaara Ilm” (‘Enough of Learning, My Friend’). Saeen tells us, Bulleh Shah gave up the shariah for the way of Love just as Heer refused to marry another man according to the shariah because she had been wedded spiritually to her Beloved. On love’s path, Saeen sings “let’s go Bulleh to that place where everyone is blind” in “Chal Bulleha Uthe Chale.”

From his stepping onto the stage, the audience became disciples of Saeen. He sang with abandon, he whirled with frenzy and he ended the night to the boom of the dhol drum bringing the audience to its feet. The air was filled with passion, energy and devotion. People went up to the stage and paid their respects by touching their heads to the stage or folding their hands in reverence: the theatre became a Sufi shrine, a dargah.

Above all, Saeen ensured Bulleh Shah will live on as a shared heritage. His spirit and art were the spirit of love and unity. Says Saeen: “humanity is to love one another.”


Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize – Launch Vancouver Oct 8/13

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
The Golden Jubilee Room
(Irving K Barber Learning Centre)
UBC, 1961 East Mall
Free & open to the public
Poetry Readings in Punjabi/English
Fauzia Rafique and Ajmer Rode
DIPLP – Prize Program – Vancouver Launch

The Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize has been founded to celebrate the rich history and living present of Punjabi language and literature, around the globe. A cash prize of $25,000 CDN will be awarded annually to one ‘best book’ in either Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi. Two runner-up prizes of $5,000 CDN will be awarded, one for each script. Winners will be honored at an annual Gala, held in Vancouver in its inaugural year and at alternative host cities around the world subsequently.

The Prize will be awarded by Canada India Education Society (CIES) in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC). CIES has an over twenty-year history of success in leading educational, community development, healthcare and job creation projects in India. Guided by a strong interest in Punjab, the Society partners in this venture with the Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts at UBC, which is home to one of the largest and longest standing Punjabi language programs outside of South Asia. The aim of this partnership is to highlight the literature of a rich and passionate language that can speak not only to Punjabis around the world, but to all.

The success of the Scotiabank Giller prizes in fostering recognition of Canadian literature encouraged the formation of the Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize. The Dhahan Prize will expose a neglected cultural product to a new market – the global Punjabi population – and draw attention to transnational cultural production that crosses borders and community boundaries. It will not only directly benefit writers and inspire new writing in the language, but also bring new attention to writing in Punjabi in general, within a broader community. The Prize will entice new readership and ideally, the translation of works from Punjabi into English. It will also bring crucial material support to writers already active in the field.

Punjabi literature speaks in a language we can all understand; this Prize will give us a chance to hear it.

India Launch
November 11th, Evening
J.W. Marriott Chandigarh
Plot no: 6, Sector 35-B, Dakshin Marg · Chandigarh, 1600 35 India
The Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize
will be awarded on an annual basis to honor
the finest literary works produced each year in the Punjabi language.
Please RSVP by November 6th to

Pakistan Launch
November 14th, Evening
Hospitality Inn Lahore
(Formerly Holiday Inn Lahore)
25-26 Egerton Road Lahore 54000
The Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize
will be awarded on an annual basis to honor
the finest literary works produced each year in the Punjabi language.
Please RSVP by November 10th to

DIPLP – Prize Brochure

‘MaaN dee Matt – Mother’s Advice’ by Masood Munawer

Toon, lokaaN vich rehna putra
TooN, lokaaN nooN sehna putra

LokaN dee tooN boli bolaiN
jinna aakhhen, ona tolaiN

Hassa mangan, hassa dewaiN
Rattee mangan, massa dewaiN

LokaN nooN sach kaurra lagda
Bohta jhhooT ve thhorra lagda

Sachi gal kadi na dasseiN
Apna bhed luka ke rakhheiN

Ik jaali behroop bana lae
Rang branga roop racha lae

Loki khauf de ghar vich rehnday
Har ohlay dee chhawaiN behnday

Lok sangat ik kacha bhanda
Sukka, sarreya, teela tanda

LokaaN noon khush rakhna aukha
Zehr da moongar chakhna saukha

Peenda jaawaiN, hasda jaawaiN
Khhurda jawaiN, ghasda jawaiN

Eh jindrri ik khhoTa paisa
Chal janda sab aissa waissa

Aithay saadh sangat nahiN labhni
Aithay jindrri aiwaiN langhani

ماں دی مت

تُوں ، لوکاں وچ ریہنا پُترا
تُوں ، لوکاں نوں سیہنا پُترا
لوکاں دی تُوں بولی بولیں
جنّا آکھن ، اونا تولیں
ہاسا منگن ، ہاسا دیویں
رتّی منگن ، ماسہ دیویں
لوکاں نوں سچ کوڑا لگدا
بوہتا جھوٹ وی تھوڑا لگدا
سچّی گل ، کدی نہ دسّیں
اپنا بھیت لُکا کے رکھیں
اِک جعلی بہروپ بنا لے
رنگ برنگا روپ رچا لے
لوکی خوف دے گھر وچ ریہندے
ہر اوہلے دی چھانویں بیہندے
لوک سنگت اک کچّا بھانڈا
سُکّا ، سڑیا ، تیلا ٹانڈا
لوکاں نوں خوش رکھنا اوکھا
زہر دا مونگر چکھنا سوکھا
پیندا جانویں ، ہسدا جانویں
کُھردا جانویں ، گھسدا جانویں
ایہہ جندڑی اک کھوٹا پیسہ
چل جاندا سب ایسا ویسا
ایتھے سادھ سنگت نہیں لبھنی
ایتھے جندڑی ایویں لنگھنی


‘Dhol ڈھول ‘ – Punjabi poem by Zubair Ahmad

Milna ee taaN mil
ais jahanay
jewndi jaanay
haal gharri vich
aisay saaNheiN
aj de raateiN
aissay pal
milna ee taaN mil

Rooh de baNheiN
akhh de saaheiN
yaad gali vich
ossay nukarray
jithay chad aye saaN
milna ee taaN mil

Dharti ghumdi
badal nachday
paer hawa-eiN
udday udday
asmaaneiN gaye
milna ee taaN mil


ملِنا ای تاں مِل
ایس جہانے
جیوندی جانے
حال گھڑی وچ
ایسے ساہیں
اج دی راتیں
ایسے پل
ملِنا ای تاں مِل

روح دی باہیں
اکھ دی ساہیں
یاد گلی وچ
اوسے نُکڑے
جتھے چھڈ آئے ساں
ملنا ای تاں مِل

دھرتی گھُمدی
بدل نچدے
پیر ہوائیں
اُڈے اُڈے
اسمانیں گئے
ملِنا ای تاں مِل


From Zubair Ahmad’s new collection of poems ‘Sadd’ (Call), Sanjh Publications, Lahore 2012

Contact Zubair


‘YaaN koi oho jeha – یاں کوئی اوہو جیہا ‘ by Zubair Ahmad

A Punjabi poem by Zubair Ahmad.

Din khali se
sarrkeiN vug geya
dau tin var murr ke takeya
ik adh vaar khyal peya
yaaN taaN se oho
yaaN koi oho jeha

دِن خالی سی
سڑکیں وگ گیا
دو تن وار مُڑ کے تکیا
اک ادّھ وار خیال پیا
یاں تاں سی اوہو
یاں کوئی اوہو جیہا

زبیر احمد

From Zubair Ahmad’s new collection of poems ‘Sadd’ (Call), Sanjh Publications, Lahore 2012

Contact Zubair


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 different 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). 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) 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.


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).

East Punjab (India)

Amrita Pritam (1919–2005), Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936–1973), Surjit Paatar (1944–) and Pash (1950–1988) 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.

* First published by me in Wikipedia under “Punjabi literature”:


‘Dil De Tutti kandh Te’ – On the heart’s broken wall – by Mudasar Punnu


Dil de Tutti kandh te
Virlo virli chaRhdi rahndi
Yadan de vail
Pittal akhaaN paan lishkaray
Chann parchaaweyaaN lahndi
AasaaN de trel
Din pattar
Rattan reet hoyaN
Jekar aaway sajjan peyara
Hoye nawaiN swaal
Photo by Mudasar Punnu