Dr. S.S. Hans
Professor of History,
Punjabi University,


References to geography 

                In a short work1 of 611 stanzas there are 82 references to mulk, watan and des; 24 references to geography in general; 8 references to spiritual or vilayat; 8 references to kinship-territory; 4 references to un-inhabited land; and 10 references to historical events. This calls for an explanation.
                        Waris Shah and Charat Singh (grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) were born in 1722. Charat Singh was carving a territory around Gujranwala. Jandiala, the birth place of Waris Shah, was in the jurisdicition of Gujranwala. It is very likely that the rise of Charat Singh was responsible for waris exile in Qasur. The town was under a constant threat from the sikh Chiefs after 1765 when Ahmed Shah Abdali was finally driven out of the Punjab. Waris shah wrote his Hir in Malika Hans in 1766 after his second exile from Qasur. Even Malika Hans fell to the Sikhs before his death in 1798. It was his (third) exile into the next world. Waris Shah, the exile, was unconsciously pre-occupied with the 'country'.
                    Wais Shah indistinguishably uses des, watan and mulk. There is some ambiguity about des and watan. Des can mean space besides 'Country'. Similarly watan can mean residence e.g. in watan sakhtan dashtan/griftan/kardan. To assign onbe a place of abode is watan dadan. It should also include some territory for the upkeep of the assignee like the 'seat' of the English aristocracy. Ram Sukh Rao used the word makan in this very sense in the early nineteenth century. Following contemporary historians H.R. Gupta often indicates the number of villages falling into the hands of a misal leader, conquering a township in the late eighteenth century. H.R. Gupta, History of the Sikhs (Vol. IV), Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1982, 60, 77, 103, 104.

Ranjha, the hero of the tale

                    Ranjha, the hero of the tale, threatens his sisters-in-law i.e. bhabis to leave their 'country' because of ill treatment.4 He leaves his watan. His brothers ask him not to forsake his des. Hir recommends Ranjha to her mother for the job of herdsman saying that such a servant is prayed for in the country. Custom is closely related to the country. Qaido is uncle to Hir and he pries into her affair with the result that her companions give him a hiding. Qaido complains loudly that the country, full of people, witnessed the outrage. Country has 'villages' and 'humanity' in parenthesis.
                        The sisters-in-law of Ranjha daily provoked him to go to the country of Hir Sial. Hir's letter to the sisters-in-law is interesting. She speaks of Ranjha leaving his country like a pearl falling from silk thread. Presumably there are numerous countries around like pearls on silk thread. Hir proposes to Ranjha to elope : "let us follow the long route, we are not getting to conquer a country". Presumbably the fall of a makan entailed the occupation of a number of villages traditionally assigned to it. Once Ranjha leaves the villages, this team around Hir's to go abroad. From her in-laws (Rangpur in Muzaffargarh) Hir sends greetings to her 'country' i.e. Jhang-Sial - a distance of 75 miles.

Tilla Bal Nath in Jehlum

                From Jhang Sial Ranjha goes to Tilla Bal Nath in Jehlum to join the order of Jogis - a distance of 70 to 80 miles. Ranjha describes his journey in a manner which necessitates the crossing of many countries of which the minimum is two. Hir's in-laws have the country of Kheras i.e. of their caste group. If they get to know of Ranjha's arrival they would be out to conquer Takht Hazara, Ranjha's place/estate/country in group. Hir enquires about the Jogi in her neighbourhood and wonders which of the six countries between the rivers Beas and Chenab he belonged to. The two rivers bound eight districts of Gujarat, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Lyallpur, Lahore, Jhang, TGurdaspur and Amritsar.
                    The connection between makan and country is explicity stated by Waris. Even the beggars are affected by the territory of their origin. For a bride the place of her husband lies in a foreign country. Oppression falls on a country, not on its centre alone. The rainfilled cloud may pass overhead to prosper another country. Normally, the horizon extends to thirty miles. The just king hands over Hir to Ranjha to take her to his village, which is in 'a' country. From there they can proceed to hill country. Thus the places of Ranjha (Takhat Hazara), of Hir (Jhang Sial) and of Saida (Rangpur) fall in three different countries-no side of triangle is more than 75 miles.

Boundaries of kinship network

                A country has boundaries of kinship network; the social character of space is prior to its abstract concept. Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Allen & Unwin, 1971, 1, 11, 441.It is as far as the scandal spreads. Inheritors of ancestral lands and extended kin network are dexcribed in apposition to country. A country is closely associated with the 'rule' of a Zamindar. The extent of the Zamindari of Hir's father-in-law is explicitly stated. It covers five villages.  At the local level a Zamindari is called 'raj'. Bhai Santokh Singh in the early nineteenth century states this very connection. Interestingly, his idea of country is equally limited. He speaks of countries around Hansi and Hisar Less than 20 miles a part. Hir calls her father raja. Ranjha's father is equally a Sardar of his kin group and a 'state' on the platform. Medieval historians are familiar with the connection between knship network and Zamindars, in refractory areas. Ranjha is a 'noble' son of a chowdhary. Hir explicitly connects country with chowdhari when making enquiries about Ranjha, the Jogi. Thus, along with kinship netwrom, Zamindari is also a dimension of the idea of country.
                    Besides the local idea of country people are familiar with places, famous for one thing or the other but lying outside their country. Dibipura is famous for its shrews; Majha, for cheats; Lahore, for bows and prostitutes; Kamrup, for magic; Dipalpur, for back-biting; China, for beauty; Khotan, for perfumes ; Bajwara, for turbans. Fatehabad and Vairowal are used as metaphors. There is hearsay information about far flung places. Punjab and Hind are two entities; people have heard of China, Kashmir, Bar Khazana in the north of Jhang, Kandhar, Ceylon, Ruim i.e. Byzantine (not existing in the eighteenth century), Sandal Bar, Kala Bagh (used aestheticeally like Moga and Jagraon in the folk songs of Malwa in the Panjab), Mathura, Delhi, Bengal, Dwarka, Jagannath, Ganga, Jamuna, Sindh Farang and Caucasus. Despite the limited lived-in reality of the country, the idea of geography is vaguely extensive. Spiritiual geography has altogether a different dimension. Panj Pirs and a Jogi establishment are constituents of the tale of Hir Ranjha. The idea of spiritual geography is not too familiar to the modern reader. Vilayat is a territory over which a Wali i.e. Sufi saint extends his protective influence. The Chisth is of Pakpattan have removed the pain and misery of the Punjab.

The spiritual geography 

                Whereas the physical geography of the country is limited by the kinship network adn zamindari administration, the spiritual geography is not contiguous with the country. Five Pirs bestow Hir on Ranjha both in promise and in in performance. They are Khwaja Khizr, a mythological patron saint of sailors and director of travellers, losing their way. Sheikh Farid (1175-1265) was born in Kathwal (Multan) and established himself at Pakapttan. Baha-ud-Din Zakria (1182-1262) was born in Kot Karor (Multan) and had his spiritual seat in Multan. Sayyid Jalal Bukhari (1307-1384) was born at Uch (Multan) and his centre was at Multan and Bukkar. He was famous as wanderer of the world i.e. Jahan Gasht. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar died in 1274 and established himself at Sehwan, a town between Bukkar and Hyderabad (Sindh). They respectively gave Ranjha tiara, handkerchief, stick, dagger and ring as tokens of their benediction. The sacred territory of the Sufi mysties falls between Multan and Sehwan. It is supra-chronic as well as supra-terrestrial.
                    The entry of Jogis in the tale is not entirely fortuitous. "These autochthonous people have religious power, the 'power of weak' as against the jural-political system with its internal segmentation and hierarchies of authority." 
                        One of the most revealing things bout Hir Waris is that the uninhabited places do not belong to the country. If kinship network is a necessary dimension of a country, want of population would make it into its opposite. The jungle is an 'essential' antonym of the country. Ranjha leaves his native des and mulk to hear the voice of wilderness. Ranjha, the Jogi, left the country to live like a crane or heron in the uninhabited place.  Ranjha tells this the pestering girls of Rangpur "Tigers, snakes, Fakirs, Crances, sparrows, have no country. The Farkirs have lost the distinction of caste, qualities, and denomination. My pneuma is my country; my caste, Jogi; I recognise no relations, family and mine. He who keeps the country and caste in mind is a man of the world, not a Dervish."
                    Like spirit, madness too has its foreign dimension. One should not share a scret with teh foreigners (outsiders), the Jogis and the mad. A settled country enjoins sanity on the inhabitants. Madness is a deviance from society and 'country'.Spirit, love and madness are homologus.It is not for nothing that Five Pirs meet Ranjha only in wilderness. Ranjha, a 'mystic' lover in mad pursuit of Hir, is destined for wilderness, symbolic of the world of spirit.

The bonds of communities

                Turner makes a distinction between the diurnal facticity of the community and communitas, a type of human bonding on the basis of liminality. "The bonds of communities are anti-structural in that they are undifferentiated, equalitarian, direct, non-rationa,... Structure is all that holds people apart, defines their differences, and contstrains their actions. Communitas is most evident in liminality i.e. any condition outside or on the peripheries of everyday life. It is often a sacred condition or can readily become one. For example, the world over, millenarian movements originate in periods when societies are in lininal transition between different social structuers." Interestingly, the community or 'country' in Waris Shah is strictly confined but the communitas is not only expensive but also heterogeneous. Besides the spiritual country of Panj Pirs (sufi) there are ones of Abu Bakar, Umar, Usman and Ali (Sunni); of Dhanna ; 360 Hindu places of pilgrimage, 9 Naths, 52 Birs, 64 Joginis and 10 incarnations.48

The Indian villages

                            Marx speaks of the Indian villages. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, 'The British Rule in India', Selected Works (Vol. I) Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 402."The family-communities were based on domestic industry, in that Peculiar combination of hand-weaving and spinning and hand-tilling agriculture which gave them self-supporting power." And "We must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies." In Waris Shah the village community is surround by a rarified density of human to constitute a 'country'. The constitutive factors are kinship-network and Zamindari get-up, not any handicraft production. The Great Transformation is yet to take place ..." in all previous human societies, the economy was submerged (embedded) in social relationships. Prior to the rise of industrial capitalism, markets were never more than accessories of economic life. In that regards, the generalized market economy of modern industrial capitalism stands revealed as an exception. In the course of the past two hundred years, economic life has been progressively disembodied from the societal and cultural matrix. "Karl Polanyi Levitt, Towards Alternatives : Re-reading the Great Transformation, Monthly Review Vol. 47, No.2, June 1995. Instead of being the solid foundations of oriental despotism, the characteristics of the village communities could be, to a very large extent, its consequence.

The idea of spiritual country

                            If my reading of Waris Shah is to the point, it suggests that before the advent of the British in India the local idea of the country was limited in extent. In contrast, the idea of spiritual country was far more extensive and heterogeneous to boot. The import of modern institutions of unified administration, transport, communications, Western education, newspapers, book publication novelistic fiction, representative assemblies and political parties, superimposed on the idea of the local country an idea of 'nationa' country. More importantly the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religious reformers of the nineteenth century purged the spiritual country of its heterogeneity, and made it shrivel into a petty personal denominational space. Hence the change from popular piety to communalism.
It also explains the denominational divide in our politics. The Namdharis are nationalists; Radhasom is, neutrals; the Sikhs, generally Akalis. Again the Shias have been by and large Congressmen; the Sunnis, Leaguers.
                    The idea of the 'country' is relevant even today. W.H. McLeod instinctively started from this in his work on Punjabi emigration. McLeod, Punjabis in New Zealand : A History of Punjabi Migration 1890-1940, G.N.D.U., Amritsar, 1986 Territory as Metapher of History is likely to change the very basis of the historical discipline. C.T. Smith, Cf. An Historical Geography of the Western Europe Before 1800, Longman, 1978. (Principal G.S. Premi, Samana has kindly supplied the following information : Takht Hazara to Chuckakana 60 miles Chuchakana to Rangpur 90 miles Rangpur to Takht Hazara 120 miles.
Dr.Satnam Singh Sandhu
Punjabi University, Patiala.INDIA

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