“Damodar is my name, Gulati is my caste. I came to the fiefdom of the Sial my heart using its discretion led me to spend my days there,” Opening lines of Heer Ranjha by Damodar.
Surprise surprise – yes, Damodar is the original author of Heer Ranjha. He was the first to compose the legend of Heer Ranjha that captured the imagination of Punjabis.
Poets like Muqbal, Waris Shah and Charag Awan composed their versions based on Damodar’s narrative. Damodar’s radical writing and critical thoughts challenged the class and tribal norms of the 16th century via this classic tale.
Damodar was born in a village near Jhang ( On the road from Jhang to Shah Jewna) where Hindus belonging to the Gulati caste lived before 1947. No one knows his exact date of birth but he must be born in the last half of the sixteenth century. He lived in the reign of Akbar ( who by the way spoke fluent Panjabi) and Shah Hussain and this tale became so popular very quickly that even Shah Hussain refers Heer Ranjha in his refined Panjabi verse.
He was an early convert to Sikhism and is even mentioned by Bhai Gurdas ji in his writings. Often, perhaps more across the border, it has been thought by some that his writings are mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib – that is incorrect. But if he has been mentioned in the writings of Bhai Gurdas it shows he is an important person or an important Sikh of his times.
If it was not for Damodar we would not have the more famous lyrical composition by Waris Shah. Waris Shah took it like an artist takes a classic painting, learns from it and then takes it to another level – Waris Shah’s quotes are what I call – a spiritual book based upon which a person can learn and live a good life.