IT’S an ode and tribute to lovers and also an apology to those who dare to love and are pushed to make choices like Sahiban had to, in the folk legend Mirza Sahiban. As part of the Balwant Gargi Centenary Celebrations by Panjab University, CEVA Drama Repertory Company Tuesday presented Balwant Gargi’s Mirza Sahiban — A Musical Love Qissa of Punjab — at Tagore Theatre.
“This play is dedicated to all those young people who had to face death because they loved. Even today love is sacrificed in the name of honour. We wish the young are not pushed to this path. Through this play, we tender an unconditional apology, one that carries the weight of 400 years. When Gargi was writing the script of the play, I was there, and this thought is exactly what he had in his mind,” reflected GS Chani, producer and director of the production, describing the love-lore a treasure of Punjabi literature.
One of the four popular tragic romances of Punjab, the other three being Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnun and Sohni Mahiwal, the most authentic available account about Mirza-Sahiban is written by poet Peelu ,who was the first to compose in verse the legend of Mirza Sahiban. Peelu lived during the first half of the 17th century, and as with most folk lore, the legend was transmitted from generation to generation by balladeers using the oral tradition, with evidence suggesting that Peelu himself was probably a balladeer. There are also accounts written by Hafiz Barkhurdar and Bhagwan Singh during 18th and 19th Century, with the legend documented around 1880 by Richard Carnac Temple, a Captain of the British Army in India with a deep interest in the folklore.
“In our play, we have incorporated texts primarily of Peelu on whose quissa Balwant Gargi based his script of the play. It has been evolved in about three months of rehearsals, in which we explored various possibilities of using folk musical traditions of Punjab, replete with traditional theatre conventions, using extensively folk motifs, sets, props and period costumes,” said Chani. Peelu’s Mirza Sahiban, he added, is important for various reasons. It is a more realistic account of life in Punjab, with its treatment of love as a plainly secular phenomenon, not as something approaching the divine.
The story Peelu narrates goes like this: Sahiban was born in the house of the chief of Kheiwa and Mirza at Danabad in the house of Wanjhal Khan, the chief of the Kharal tribe. The story takes a jump here and they are studying at a mosque. From the later narrations, we know that Mirza was sent to Kheiwa to complete his preliminary religious education and they fell in love while studying together and later the lovers were torn apart and killed by Sahiban’s brothers, punished for falling in love.
The stage was replete with colour, and also traditional tapestry of Punjab, with the designer, Sukhmani Kohli, using masks, puppets to add layers to the production. A group of musicians and singers, using traditional instruments, took the story forward through live music and verses of poets other than Peelu. “We designed the play in a way so that people can enjoy the folk traditions of theatre. The music, created by Tejie Gill, uses the traditions of Mirza gayaki. The qissa of Mirza Sahiban is the only folk legend in which the heroine is a divided soul. She cannot choose between her lover Mirza and her brothers. The tragedy is not so much on the outer social forces and environment, as within her own being,” added Chani.
Presented by the Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University, Chandigarh, Mirza-Sahiban’s second show will be staged at Tagore Theatre on November 2 at 7 pm.