Manpreet Kaur, Columbia University, PhD student

“Smitten, like Ranjha, they get their ears pierced”: The trope of the Jogi in Punjabi Sufi Poetry

In Waris Shah’s epic rendition of the Heer-Ranjha legend titled Heer, Ranjha takes on the garb of a Jogi so that he can visit Heer after she has been married. This episode has found immense spiritual currency among the poets of Punjab; many Sufis before and after Waris Shah have written about the beloved in the form of jogi, expressed desire in terms of the wanderings of this jogi, or compared his powers to those of the divine. Bulle Shah compares Ranjha to a Jogi and a thief in the same vein. In Shah Hussain’s compositions, the singer wants to follow Ranjha’s meanderings, and coaxes the listener to accompany them on the sufi path, for it is terrifying to be alone on the path of the jogi. Khwaja Ghulam Farid likens Ranjha to a magician with pierced ears and an ashen face. Folks songs abound where Ranjha shows up as a jogi. Ranjha in jogi-garb appears as a simple intertextual reference, just as frequently as he has long poems dedicated especially to him. In this paper, I would like to look at the popular circulation of this trope in the poetic literary representations with a view to understand the presence of the figure of Jogi in an pan-Islamic realm in the context of early modern Punjab. Asceticism, or fakiri, is itself an integral concept in South Asian Sufi thought and practice. Even as early as the 13th century, in the poetry of Baba Farid (some of the earliest extant literary compositions from the Punjab region), we find austere strains (though not the figure of the Jogi). How does this tendency towards asceticism, over the course of a few centuries, circulate and condense in specific ways, specifically in the figure of the Jogi? How then can we parse the asceticism of the Sufi pir as distinct from that of the jogi? What are the co-ordinates of this “force-field” of love in which this trope becomes so resonant? In the scope of this paper, I will look for internal evidence from the poetry itself to sketch a picture of the Jogi as it operates in the Sufi imagination.

Bio: Manpreet is a PhD student in the South Asia sub-field at the Department of Religion, Columbia University