Sayonee: Lamenting the Cruelty of Fate

AI-generated art depicting a camel in the deserts of Balochistan

About the Song

Year1997 CE
LyricistSabir Zafar
TypeSufi rock


Junoon’s hit song “Sayonee” is the definition of Sufi rock, a genre that combines spiritual poetry with modern musical compositions featuring the electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums. “Sayonee” is perhaps the Pakistani band’s most iconic song; it topped the charts across South Asia when it was released in 1997 and has never stopped being cherished by fans since. It was the first single from Junoon’s fourth album, Azadi. The band dedicated Azadi to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997), the legendary qawwal who passed away during that year.

“Sayonee” is lyrically simple, containing few words, but imbued with meaning.  The lyrics were written by Sabir Zafar (1949-present), a Pakistani poet who penned many songs for Junoon. Following the example of many other South Asian poems like “Zihaal-e Miskeen”, “Sayonee” is written in the feminine voice. The speaker is a woman who laments to her friends about the absence of her beloved and, more broadly, the powerlessness of humans to escape the cruelty of fate and mortality.

More specifically, “Sayonee” alludes to the tragic romance of Sassi-Punnu, a folk tale popular in Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan. There are many versions of the story, but the most well-known appears in Shah Jo Risalo by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (c. 1690-1752), a Sindhi mystic and poet. In the folk tale, Punnu’s family opposes the couple’s union, so they intoxicate Punnu and take him back to their hometown on the back of a camel. Distraught by his abduction, Sassi tries to cross the desert on foot to find him, but perishes in that journey. Later, when Punnu escapes his family to find her, he encounters her grave and prays to God to let him die there as well. His prayer is granted, and thus the lovers are reunited in death.

Junoon captured the anguish of Sassi in “Sayonee”. One can picture her reciting the words of this song to her friends before departing on the journey in which she would meet her demise. The song’s music video, though, does not depict Sassi-Punnu. It tells the story of a schoolboy in modern-day Multan who gets kidnapped and ends up homeless. Just as Sassi never gets to live in peace with Punnu, the boy never gets to meet his mother again. Perhaps the cruelest aspect of these stories is that despite such injustices, life on earth continues and the wheel of fate keeps turning – as the whirling dervishes, spinning top, and rotating tires in the video illustrate.

Featured Rendition

Official music video from the 1997 album Azadi

Text, Transliteration, and Translation

سیّو نی

सैय्यो नी
sayyo ni
O my friends!

چین ایک پل نہیں اور کوئی حل نہیں

चैन एक पल नहीं और कोई हल नहीं
chain ek pal naheeN aur koi hal naheeN
I have not a moment of peace, and there is no solution!

کون موڑے مہار کوئی سانول نہیں

कौन मोड़े मुहार कोई सांवल नहीं
kaun moRe muhaar koi saanwal naheeN
Who shall turn the camel’s reins? My beloved is no longer here.

کیا بشر کی بساط آج ہے کل نہیں

क्या बशर की बिसात आज है कल नहीं
kya bashar ki bisaat aaj hai kal naheeN
What is a human’s worth? He is here today, but not tomorrow!

چھوڑ میری خطا تو تو پاگل نہیں

छोड़ मेरी ख़ता तू तो पागल नहीं
chhoR meri khata tu to paagal naheeN
Leave my mistakes behind, for you are not also mad!

Further Reading and References

  • On Discogs, you can find basic information and metadata about the album Azadi. [link]
  • Mehreen, Fahmida. “Sayonee: A Timeless Melody.” New Age BD. 1 December 2019. This article details the successes that “Sayonee” achieved. [link]
  • “Sassi-Punnu Grave Neglected.” Dawn. 24 April 2013. This article summarizes the story of Sassi-Punnu and discusses the alleged location of their graves. [link]
  • Kazmi, Laila. “Where Islam Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Colorlines. 20 March 2008. This article provides an overview on the band Junoon. [link]

Further Listening

  • Live performance by Junoon at the UN General Assembly in New York in 2001 [link]
  • Coke Studio version from 2017, featuring Salman Ahmad, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, and Ali Noor [link]
  • Instrumental cover by the Leo Brothers, released in 2019 [link]
  • Arijit Singh and Jyoti Nooran version, released in 2020 [link]

Suggested Citation

Shad, Hamza. “Sayonee: Lamenting the Cruelty of Fate”. The Khusrau Circle. 9 April 2023.