By Aown Ali
Rickshawala agreed in 60 rupees to drop me at the shrine of Heer, locally known as Darbar Mai Heer, located off Jhang-Fasilabad road, about 1.5 km from Skyways Bus Terminal where I debarked that pleasant morning.
On the junction of River Chenab and Jhelum, this area of Sandal Bar is inhabited and cultivated since ancient times. Its long history also carries many popular legends, the story of Heer and Ranjha is dominant over all, although Mirza and Sahiban, a treasure of Punjabi folk literature, have also a pertinent association with the fertile land of Jhang and the Bar.
Today I am here to explore this bright aspect of Jhang!
From the main road, our rickshaw turned first right along the railway line and then to left beside the boundary wall of Mai Heer Stadium. This is an outskirt area of the city, poorly developed, abandoned and wrecked up.
The neighbourhood of Heer’s shrine has although been placed on Google map and in search engine’s top lists but not on the priorities of local elected and posted high-up’s.
The shrine is situated on a mound and bears all visible characteristics of a popular and frequently visited shrine i.e. stalls of handicrafts, sweets, books, candles and agrbattis, a mosque and graveyard in the surrounding.
The shrine is a single story small building with four turrets and oculus opening into a cupola. The Blue and white wavy is a hallmark of its structure. It’s in fact, a paint work but looks like tiles pattern.
The folklore of Heer Ranjha, like many other folklores, has various versions. According to one, as the affair of Heer and Ranjha became public, her family arranged her wedding in Khehra family of Rangpur, district Muzaffargarh and heartbroken Ranjha departed to Tilla Jogian in Jhelum.
Here he did his penance, subjugated his passions and became a jogi of the Kunphatta sect. Later he travelled to Rangpur where both souls met again and managed to flee. But rather departing to Takht Hazara, Ranjha’s ancestral village, Heer and Ranjha decided to go to Heer’s tribe and pray her father’s permission to tie their knot formally.
Here Kaido’s conspiracy worked again, Ranjha was asked to go to his village and following the tradition send his elders for Heer’s wedding. As Ranjha left, Heer’s uncle Kaido killed her with a poisonous sweet. She was buried at this place.
When Ranjha came to know about this terrible end of his beloved he rushed towards Jhang, passed away at the spot of Heer’s grave and was also buried here.
The Gazetteer of district Jhang published in 1929 also brings to us a sufficient account on the tomb of Heer. According to the gazetteer “Just north of the civil station of Jhang, east of the road to Chiniot, is an ancient square tomb half-roofed with an unfinished dome which reaches little more than a foot above the spring of the arch.
This is Heer’s tomb and the grave within is the grave of Heer. Heer is a Chuchkana Sial of the family which subsequently raised the Sials to its position of prominence and her father is given as Mahr Chuchak himself. The fair held at the tomb on 1st Magh is exceedingly popular with the womenfolk.
Following remark made by Swynnerton (Charles Swynnerton the writer of Romantic Tales from the Punjab) is to the point: ‘The women of the Punjab find in the story of Heer and Ranjha an expression of that reasonable liberty of action to which they vainly aspire, and a triumphant vindication of the inalienable rights of their sex of which centuries of wrong and oppression have deprived them’’.
This account of district gazetteer published some 87 years ago although makes it clear that the structure of Heer’s tomb has not gone through some major change during this period as its similarly a small square sized building with a half dome, however, the date of fare has altogether changed.
The gazetteer tells that it was held on the 1st day of Magh (Magh is the tenth month of the year in the Bikrami calendar and corresponds with January) but now here the Urs is held in Muharram. When and what caused this change? I could not find the answer.
Another practice which also did not change is the visits by hundreds of people, women and men, on daily basis to this tomb. At the occasion of Urs the number of visitors is even multiplied.
They come here across the country to beseech for the fulfilment of their desire, particularly the desire of love. Some of them even tie colourful threads showing their commitment for a follow-up visit on the accomplishment of their wish. At the shrine, you can see these colourful threads all around the grave, tomb’s entrance and on the branches of a banyan tree adjacent to the tomb.
Even some tie bangles, to express their utmost desire!
Author Bio: Aown Ali is a Lahore based photojournalist with interest in culture, architecture and history.
All Photos by the author.