Punjabi resistance

December 20, 2020

The story of Punjabi resistance, narrated through five legends

On December 13, in a Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally held at Minar-i-Pakistan Lahore, Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai said in his speech that Lahorites had sided with the British in their bid to conquer Afghanistan.

I consider it necessary to set the record straight.

When the elite compromise, commoners register their protest in their folklore and in their oral history which becomes the true voice of people.

Baba Farid (1173-1265) had given an early warning of the challenges Punjab could face because of its rich, fertile lands and welcoming open heartedness: Sarwar pankhi haikro phahiwaal pachaas

(There is only one bird in the lake and there are fifty trappers)

But then he also tells us what to do in case such challenges are faced:

Fareeda, mann maidaan kar to’ay tibbay lah

(Fareed, flatten out your mind; smooth out the hills and valleys)

Punjabi commoners have been known to side with the weak and the underdog against the powerful. Punjabi folklore suggests that it doesn’t matter if you win against the powerful or lose; what matters is how you resist and how forcefully you fight. This is evident from the names of Punjab’s favourites, Panj Piaray. They fought against the tyrants and never feared death. Punjabis have always considered martyrdom in pursuit of freedom an honour.

Raja Poros is the first of the five. He resisted the Macedonian invasion led by Alexander in 325-26 BC. He fought so bravely that Plutarch said: “the battle depressed the spirits of the Macedonians”. In his book History of the Jews, Joseph Ben Gorion says, “...a great number of Alexander’s soldiers perished and those that remained took counsel together to lay hold of Alexander and deliver him over to the King”. Historians agree on at least one fact, that after this battle Raja Poros not only kept his kingdom but was also able to attach more area to his empire. Alexander’s forces were fatigued and devastated if not annihilated.

Dulla Bhatti of Sandal Bar (Pindi Bhattian) is our second hero. He resisted the rule of Mughal emperor Akbar. For this, he was imprisoned and publicly hanged in Lahore. Punjabi folk remembers the rebel hero in these words:

Vall vall maaraa(n) mughlaa(n) diaa(n) dhaaniaa(n)/ daiwaa(n) Puur day puur utthal/ main baddal bana diyaa(n) dhooR day/ Tay kotee(n) Umar, Tharthal / kon kameena Badshah aaway Dullay Jawan tay chal

(I lower the fortresses of the Mughals, I repulse the wave after wave of the Mughal troops/ I can raise clouds of dust and terrorise Umarkot (the birthplace of Akbar)/ What mean King will ever dare to attack Dulla).

The resistance of Punjabi Sikh Gurus against the Mughal empire is well known and needs a separate piece.

Our third hero is Rai Ahmad Khan Kharral of Gogera (Okara) who fought against the British. He was martyred while offering his prayers in 1857. There are a number of dholas (ballads) written about Rai Ahmad and his comrades’ bravery.

Khalyaa(n) Bahwaa(n) Kar kay rondeea(n) maimaa(n)/ Saada maarya gay ay bara companiaa(n) da sardar/ Jattaa(n) lutt liya ghar sarkari

(The English women weep and wail and say/ Our commander of twelve companies has been slain/ The Jatts have plundered the official residence).

The following lines speak of their commitment:

Asseen Waggay jaanay haai(n), kaafar maar dopehree(n), khush wasain o des asaadya

(We have killed our enemies in broad day light. We will die soon too. May you live long and prosper our country [Punjab]).

Nizam Lohar is the fourth among these heroes. He too fought and resisted the British. He joined the rebels Cheeto, Meeto (Chet and Milkeet Singh) of the Babar Akali Movement and made life a nightmare for the British forces in the forested and rural areas of the Punjab. Jabro Nai of Lahore and Cheragh Maacchi of Kasur also joined Lohar. These outlaws became the Robin Hoods of the Punjabi folklore. Nizam was eventually killed near Kasur, but the Punjab never forgot his brand of resistance and has kept it alive in ballads and war poems.

Mansab Vaikh Lohar Da/ Rukh Janglaan day khaRay Sees Niwai/Atthaara(n) Jawan naal Lohar day/Dullay Bhatti waangar Vakhri Fauj Banai

(The Lohar is an honoured man/ Even the trees pay respect to him/ He has a group of eighteen warriors/ And like Dulla Bhatti he has his own army).

Main LaRna Farangi Naal/Maira Dahwa Ferangi day naal/ Main jeena dihaaRay chaar

(I will fight the firangis/I have a claim against the English/ I know my life may be short)

Banga’s (Faisalabad district) Bhagat Singh is our fifth hero. He needs no introduction. Bhagat Singh di GhoRi (Songs of the Virgin Martyr) are sung all over the Punjab for the courage he showed against the British.

The Punjabis fought two major battles against the British colonialists. The first was fought at Sabhraon, Mudki and Ferozshah in 1845-46 and the second at Chillianwala (Mandi Bahauddin) in 1849. The Chillanwala battle was fought so furiously that it was called a graveyard of the colonial army in India. Then there were moments like PagRi Sanbhaal Jatta (Hold tight to your honour, O Farmer), Ghadar movement and the post-Jallianwala Bagh against the British forces. All religious communities were united in this resistance against the foreign rule.

Zaalim Firangiaa(n) diaa(n) chutRaa(n) tay laan lai/ Karray Seekhaa(n) laal/ Kaho Umray Lohar Nu

(Tell Umar the Ironsmith to sharpen the spears so we can kick British soldiers’ asses)

When Afghan king Shah Zaman’s eyes were put out by his own brother (Mahmud), his younger brother, Shah Shuja sought refuge in the Punjab. During the later part of his life, Shah Shuja remained under British protection.

There is a reason why Punjabi folklore denounces the loot and plunder of Afghan invaders in Lahore so forcefully:

Khaada Peeta Laahay Da/ Tay Baqi Ahmad Shahay Da

(Whatever we can eat or drink is ours/All the rest will be looted by Ahmad Shah Abdali).

I go back to Baba Farid to end my piece:

Fareeda, Khaak nah nindeay khaako jaid nah ko/ Jeondean pairaa(n) tallay, moeyaa(n) ooper ho

(Fareed, don’t slander the dust, nothing is as great as dust/ when we are alive, it is under our feet and when we are dead, it covers us).


The writer is a Dublin based Punjabi poet. He can be reached at [email protected]

Punjabi resistance