Islamic and Persian Influences on Sassi Punnun

Kaaf Seen
4 min readFeb 5, 2022


Exploring Sassi Hasham, a romantic epic between a Sindhi princess, Sassi, and a Baloch prince, Punnun

In my previous blog, I discussed a folktale from the lower Indus, present-day Pakistan. It is a romantic epic between a Sindhi princess, Sassi, and a Baloch prince, Punnun.

Variations in Sassi Punnun

Like all folktales, Sassi Punnun also has multiple variants. The verse based narrative I shall be discussing in this blog post is by Hasham Shah, a Punjabi Sufi poet of the Qadriya order.

Besides Hasham’s narration, which came around to be known as Sassi Hasham, associating the name of the heroin with that of the poet, the most famous rendition to date remains to be that by Shah Abdul Latif.

Both these versions vary considerably from the ones collected by Richard Burton, also transcribed from variants in Sindh, the Gujarati version collected by Marianne Postans, and the variant which is popular among Punjabi Sikhs, transcribed by Bhai Mani Singh.

Islamic Influences in Sassi Hasham

In the third stanza of his poem, Hasham writes: “listening to the story of Punnun and Sassi, one reaches perfect love”.

It talks of the mystical path where love, the lover and the beloved become one. This in itself is an influence from ideas of Sufism.

Besides this, Sassi is cast away in a chest on the Indus, to be adopted by a washerman. As we know, the Prophet Musa (A), was cast away in a chest on the Euphrates, and a water carrier found him on the shores to bring him up as his own son.

Persian Influences in Sassi Hasham

In an epic of Homay and Dareb from the Shahname, a skilled carpenter is summoned, a chest is finely assembled and richly adorned, jewels are added to it, before the infant prince in the chest is given up to the river. A launderer rescues the baby and offers the child a good life. Having come of age, both the prince refuses to live as launderers. Sassi too, in Hasham’s narration, is sent floating in the Indus in a richly adorned chest, to be rescued by a washerman. Knowing the truth of her birth, she too, when comes of age, refuses to live and marry amongst them.

In Khosrow o Shirin, Nezami creates unforgettable characters. There is Khusraw, the king torn between his love and the throne, much like Hasham’s prince, Punnun.

Shirin and Sassi, women from royalty and nobility, are both the dominant characters in their respective stories, a benchmark of the incarnation of fidelity and love.

Furthermore, Khusraw becomes enamoured with Shirin by hearing his friend Shahpur singing her praises, whilst Shirin falls in love with Khusraw after she sees a sketch of him drawn by Shahpur, which he cleverly stuck to trees in places where she goes for walks with her friends.

Interestingly, Sassi also falls in love with Punnun, after she sees a picture of him in an exhibition of paintings of royal figures in the garden of a rich merchant.

In order to attract Punnun to Bhambor, Sassi pleads with her biological father to keep the first caravan of merchants coming from Kech to Bhambor as hostages.

So it goes, and one of the two leaders of the caravan is dispatched to Punnun’s father, Hot ‘Ali, to request him to send his son to Bhambor. The king refuses, approved by his wife, but Punnun, hearing from the merchant about Sassi, and how lovely she is, falls for her. Against the wishes and advice of his parents, he crosses the desert riding on a camel and joins his beloved.

In the Farsi version of Laila Majnun (Layli o Majnun) there is again the idea of the sketch of the perfect lover.

Lastly, let’s talk about the merchant’s garden and its gallery of royal portraits. Sassi had “heard it was as fine as Khotan fabled musk”. Hafez uses this smell to refer to the smell of the gateway to paradise in one of his poems. The famous Ghazal 373 of Khanlari’s Classical Edition goes:

Berha goft-e-am o bar-e degar mi guyam,
Gowhari daramo saheb-e nazari mi juyam…

This translates to:

Times I have said, and again I say,
I own a jewel and seek a master of vision…

The allusion to the musk of Khotan in Hasham’s poem may not be a mere chance. Sassi is on the verge of entering the universe of pure love, that jewel which the Qadiri Sufi Hasham wants to share. Hasham may have intended to make his reader a “master of vision”, with the reader following their own internal master, the heart. As Hafez called it, the pir-e-gulrang, or the rose-coloured master in his ninety-ninth Ghazal.



Kaaf Seen

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