Punjab Research Group

Amrita Pritam – Ode to Waris Shah

Posted in Partition, Poetry and Literature by Pippa on August 6, 2008
Amrita Pritam in 1948. Photograph courtesy of Amarjit Chandan Collection

Amrita Pritam in 1948. Photograph courtesy of Amarjit Chandan Collection







Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) was one the most distinguished Punjabi poets and fiction writers. She was born in Gujranwala and was living in Lahore when in 1947 she, along with the millions others, was forced to migrate during the partition of the Punjab. This poem, addressed to Waris Shah, encapsulates the tragedy and horrors of partition.


Translation from the original in Punjabi by Khushwant Singh. Amrita Pritam: Selected Poems. Ed Khushwant Singh. (Bharatiya Jnanpith Publication, 1992)


 To Waris Shah I turn today!

Speak up from the graves midst which you lie!

In our book of love, turn the next leaf.

When one daughter of the Punjab did cry

You filled pages with songs of lamentation,

Today a hundred daughters cry

0 Waris to speak to you.


O friend of the sorrowing, rise and see your Punjab

Corpses are strewn on the pasture,

Blood runs in the Chenab.

Some hand hath mixed poison in our live rivers

The rivers in turn had irrigated the land.

From the rich land have sprouted venomous weeds

flow high the red has spread

How much the curse has bled!


The poisoned air blew into every wood

And turned the flute bamboo into snakes

They first stung the charmers who lost their antidotes

Then stung all that came their way

Their lips were bit, fangs everywhere.

The poison spread to all the lines

All of the Punjab turned blue.


Song was crushed in every throat;

Every spinning wheel’s thread was snapped;

Friends parted from one another;

The hum of spinning wheels fell silent.


All boats lost the moorings

And float rudderless on the stream

The swings on the peepuls’ branches

I lave crashed with the peepul tree.


Where the windpipe trilled songs of love

That flute has been lost

Ranjah and his brothers have lost their art.


Blood keeps falling upon the earth

Oozing out drop by drop from graves.

The queens of love

Weep in tombs.


It seems all people have become Qaidos,

Thieves of beauty and love

Where should I search out

Another Waris Shah.


Waris Shah

Open your grave;

Write a new page

In the book of love.


Waris Shah (1706 -1798) was a Punjabi poet, 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.

Qaido – A maternal uncle of Heer in Heer Ranjha is the villain who betrays the lovers.

The Punjab – the region of the five rivers east of Indus: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej.     

Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly-formed states in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer took place in the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind.

The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths range around roughly 500,000, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000.

Tagged with:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: