Amrita Pirtam & Punjab Partition

On August 15, 1947 Punjab was cut in half and the land was divided between Pakistan and India. The governments mandated that all Sikhs must relocate to India and all Muslims to Pakistan. During that time, between 200,000 and 500,000 people were killed in riots, confusion, migration, and community violence.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 14 million Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims were displaced during the partition, making it the largest mass migration in human history. The Partition of Punjab has become part of many Sikh family histories; our ancestors lost their homes, their livelihoods,  their communities, and their histories.

Renowned Punjabi writer, Amrita Pritam (1919 to 2005) (born Amrit Kaur) lived through partition when she and her father fled Lahore, Pakistan for New Delhi, India when was 28 years old. She wrote about her anguish over the massacred in what became her most famous poem, Ajj Akhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I ask Waris Shah). Here, she addresses the 1700s Punjabi Sufi poet Waris Shah (author of the saga Heer and Ranjah). She asks him to rise from his grave, record the tragedy, and turn over a new page of love in Punjab’s history.


You can listen to Amrita Pritam recite the poem here:


Today, I call Waris Shah,
“Speak from inside your grave”
And turn, today,
the book of love’s next affectionate page

Once, one daughter of Punjab cried;
you wrote a wailing saga
Today, a million daughters,
cry to you, Waris Shah

Rise! O’ narrator of the grieving;
rise! look at your Punjab
Today, fields are lined with corpses,
and blood fills the Chenab

Someone has mixed poison
in the five rivers’ flow
Their deadly water is, now,
irrigating our lands galore

This fertile land is sprouting,
venom from every pore
The sky is turning red
from endless cries of gore

The toxic forest wind,
screams from inside its wake
Turning each flute’s bamboo-shoot,
into a deadly snake

With the first snake-bite;
charmers lost their spell
The second bite turned all and sundry,
into snakes, as well

Drinking from this deadly stream,
filling the land with bane
Slowly, Punjab’s limbs have turned black
and blue, with pain

The street-songs have been silenced;
cotton threads are snapped
Girls have left their playgroups;
the spinning wheels are cracked

Our wedding beds are boats,
their logs have cast away
Our hanging swing,
the Pipal tree has broken in disarray

Lost is the flute, which once,
blew sounds of the heart
Ranjha’s brothers, today,
no longer know this art

Blood rained on our shrines;
drenching them to the core
Damsels of amour, today,
sit crying at their door

Today everyone is, ‘Qaido’
thieves of beauty and ardor
Where can we find, today,
another Warish Shah, once more

Today, I call Waris Shah,
“Speak from inside your grave”
And turn, today,
the book of love’s next affectionate page