Centuries have been witness to love birds having loved and lost at the hands of the society. India has been ritual – honour killings, blackmail, sacrifices, forceful weddings, etc. This is the only country where honour killings are so prominent in the society that one wonders, if freedom of choice and right to live, breathe and exist are just mythical rights.
There were myths, legends and lores that started in the valley of Sindh. Among these, seven love stories found existence in Shah Jo Risalo, a composition by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, a famous Sindhi Sufi scholar, poet and musician. Sadly, each one of them ended tragically. The seven heroines of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai are Sassi Punhoon, Umar Marui, Sohni Meher/Sohni Mahiwal, Lilan Chanesar, Noori Jam Tamachi, Sorath Rai Diyach and Moomal Rano.
– Sassi was abandoned by her biological father, Raja of Bhambhore, because astrologers predicted that she was a curse to the royal family’s prestige. Subsequently, she was found by a washerman and raised as a poor child. Sassi’s beauty as a young growing girl became the talk of the town and reached Punhoon’s ears.
Punhoon belonged to the Baloch tribe and was the Prince of Balochistan. He set out in search of Sassi and when he finally reached Bhambhore and saw Sassi, they fell in love at first sight. Sassi’s father accepted Punhoon’s proposal for Sassi, but Punhoon’s family was against this marriage as Sassi was a washerman’s daughter. So they tried to play foul to separate Sassi and Punhoon. On the night of their marriage, under the pretext of celebrations, they forced Punhoon to drink too much wine and when he lost his senses, they took him away with them to Balochistan.
Sassi waited for her husband to come, and when he did not, next morning, she realized the foul play enacted by Punhoon’s relatives and was gripped with grief and pain. She thus set out in search of her husband across long stretches of the desert and hillocks. On the way, weak with thirst, she met a shepherd and begged him for some drops of water. He gave her water to drink but was attracted by her beauty and made lustful advances towards her. Sassi escaped from him but prayed to God to end her life. According to legend, just like Sita was taken into the earth, Sassi was also killed by the land slide in the mountains. Her body was found in the buried in the mountain valley.
When Punhoon came to his senses, he realized how his family had duped him and he set back in search of Sassi towards Bhambhore. On the way, he met the same shepherd and came to know about the death of Sassi. He also prayed for a similar death, and was killed by land slide in the same mountain valley as Sassi.
– Umar Marui is the story of the beautiful Marui who refused the overtures of King Umar Soomro to be made his queen, and chose to live the simple village life. The story is very simple. King Umar was known to be a just king. He fell in love with the beauty of Marui, who was a simple maid in the village of Khaur, SIndh and tried to woo her for marriage. Marui refused. Umar tried every method to explain to Marui that she would become queen and would be able to own loads of gems and jewelry and live a comfortable life in the palace. He brought her to the palace by force and gave her many gifts, which she kept refusing. She complained of the cruelty of Umar, and told him how she had lost her beauty in this forced captivity. She professed of her love of native land, and cried to be sent back to her home town. Marui refused every argument in favour of living the simple village life, and ultimately, because Umar loved Marui, he gave in to her wishes and sent her back to her village with lots of royal gifts.
Sohini Meher/Sohni Mahiwal
– In this tale of tragic love, Sohni, a potter’s daughter falls in love with Shahzada Izzat Baig. In order to be able to meet Sohni, Izzat Baig gave up his family and life and settled in the same town as Sohni, working for her father as a servant and buffalo herder. He thus came to be known as Meher or Mahiwal (buffalo herder). Sohni and Mahiwal both wished to marry each other. But because marrying outside the community was not allowed, Sohni’s father forcefully married her away to another man from the potter community. In grief, Izzat Baig renounced the world, and went and set himself up in a hut across the river where Sohni was now living. Sohni used to go and meet him every night by using an inverted earthen vessel to cross the river. One night, her sister-in-law saw her sneaking out and discovered her secret. So, she replaced the earthenware vessel with another unbaked clay pot. That night, Sohni, unaware of the danger, used the unbaked vessel to cross the river in the dark of the night. The vessel dissolved in water and Sohni drowned in the river. From the other side of the river, Mahiwal witnessed Sohni’s death and he too jumped into the river, thus giving up his own life to unite with Sohni in death.
– King Chanesar was married to Lilan, a woman who was crazy about diamonds and jewelry. There was another woman names Kaunru, who was very beautiful and was proud of her looks. She was taunted by a relative that she behaved as if she was the queen. So, Kaunru now decided that she would have to marry King Chanesar. With this resolve, she set out towards the palace along with her mother. Here, she tried to convince one of the minsiters to help her marry the King. The minister tried to talk to the King, but the King refused, saying he loved his wife Lilan and would never betray her. Dejected, Kaunru and her mother requested Lilan, who was oblivious of their real intentions, to give them a job as they had left their hometown. Lilan made them her personal servants out of pity.
One day, Kaunru told Lilan that she had also lived the life of a queen previously, and her room was lighted not by lamps and lanterns, but by the sparkle of her naulakha haar. (A diamond necklace costing 9 lakhs). Since Lilan was crazy about diamonds, she demanded to see the haar. Kaunru refused. Lilan was desperate to see it, and asked Kaunru what she wanted in return. Kaunru asker Lilan to let her spend one night with King Chanesar in return for the haar. Lilan agreed to it, and tried to convince the King. The King refused and was very angry. One day, when the King was very drunk, Lilan saw the opportunity and let Kaunru share the bed with her husband.
In the morning, when the King saw Kaunru in the place of Lilan, he was mad with anger, and found out from Kaunru’s mother that Lilan sold him for a naulakha haar. This made him even more livid with anger, as the King thought it was an insult for him to be exchanged for the price of a mere necklace. King Chanesar divorced Lilan and married Kaunru. Lilan protested but the King did not hear any of her rants. She went away to her home town to live in grief, solitude and repentance. One day, the king attended a wedding in which he got attracted and mesmerized by the beautiful voice of a veiled dancer. He wanted to see her face. Although she refused, he insisted and when he saw his wife Lilan there, unveiled, he fell down in shock and died. Lilan also died of shock when she saw her dead husband.
Noori Jam Tamachi
– The only story among the seven stories written by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Noori Jam Tamachi has a beautiful happy ending, with a moral that it’s humility and purity of innocence that makes all dreams come true.
Noori was the daughter of a fisherman, living along with other fisher folks on the banks of Lake Kinjhar in Sindh. Extremely beautiful, Noori was named so because she reminded everyone of the full moon.
Jam Tamachi belonged to the Samma Dynasty and ruled Sindh in the 14th century. He was out hunting one day and spotted Noori. He was besotted by her extremely sensuous beauty and fell in love with her. Subsequently, he asked for her hand, and the fisherfolk were more than happy to let her get married into the royal family. King Jam Tamachi already had 6 queens. He brought Noori into the palace, gave her all the luxuries and jewels and doted on her beauty and simplicity.
The other 6 queens were jealous of Noori. No amount of rich clothes and jewels would entice Noori to leave her simple and humble ways, and she was as she had always been – simple. This earned her the King’s special love, and the other 6 queens’ hatred. Thus, the queens hatched a plot to discredit Noori in the eyes of the King. So, they poisoned the King’s mind by saying that Noori was sending jewels to her folks through her brothers everyday. The king did catch Noori handing over a box to her brother sneakingly, but when he opened the box, he found some fish bones and bread crumbs. Upon being asked, Noori explained that she missed the simple home food and could not get used to the royal dining of the palace. So, her mother used to send her fish and bread everyday through her brother. Upon hearing this, the King was very happy and felt respect for her humble self.
The queens, however, continued to harass Noori. One day, the King decided to test them all.. and he announced that he would be taking one queen out that evening. He did not mention which one. All the 6 queens spent all day trying to dress up and look beautiful to entice the King – except Noori. Noori was waiting for him in her simple dress, without any ornaments. She won the King’s heart and he not only took her out that evening, but also declared her the reigning queen thence. Thus, Noori’s simplicty and humility won her great honour and respect, in addition to the King’s love.
Sorath Rai Diyach
– This is the most complicated of the 7 stories and holds a lot of morals within itself. King Rai Diyach of Junagadh had a sister who had no children. One day, she was granted a boon by a saint and it was prophesied that the child would be a baby boy, who would result in the death of the King. So, when the boy was born, the mother put the boy in a basket and set him afloat in the river. The basket floated and reached the kingdom of King Annirai, where the baby was picked up by a childless shepherd called Damo. Damo named the baby Beejal, meaning ‘gift of water’. Beejal grew up to be a master of musical instruments.
The King Annirai had 60 daughters. When another baby girl was born to him, he placed her in a basket and set her afloat in the river. She reached King Rai Diyach’s kingdom and was picked up by a potter named Ratno, who raised her as his own child. He named her Sorath. Sorath grew up into a beautiful maiden, and news of her unmatched beauty reached the ears of King Annirai. Annirai asked for Sorath’s hand in marriage, and on the night of the marriage, as Sorath’s procession proceeded towards Annirai’s kingdom, King Rai Diyach also heard about Sorath and her beauty, and the fact that she was being married away to King Annirai. Furious and insulted, King Rai Diyach intercepted the procession and forcibly married Sorath himself.
Upset and angry, King Annirai announced that whoever brought King Rai Diyach’s head to him would be rewarded with lot of jewels. Beejal’s wife knew that only Beejal’s mesmerizing music would be able to capture King Rai Diyach so much so that he be beheaded. So, in her greed, she convinced her husband Beejal to go and have this task done.
Unhappy but forced, Beejal went to King Rai Diyach and played his musical instrument all night. Completely intoxicated and mesmerized by the sweet music of Beejal’s instruments, King Rai Diyach granted Beejal a wish. Beejal asked for his head and the King agreed, amidst sorrow and shock of his ministers. As he prepared to give his head, King Rai Diyach sang,
“If I had millions of heads on my shoulder,
I would behead myself millions of times over,
That also be not measure to the ecstasy of your string!” (Shah Latif)
And thus, Beejal took King Rai Diyach’s head back to Annirai. Annirai was not happy as he thought that having Beejal in his kingdom posed the same risk to his own life as that to King Rai Diyach. So, Annirai rebuked Beejal.
Completely filled with remorse and having been tricked into doing something against his conscience, Beejal ran back to King Rai Diyach’s kingdom and flung himself into the sati pyre in which Sorath was preparing to immolate herself as Rai Diyach’s widow.
Thus, Rai Diyach, Beejal and Sorath all got killed. Beejal became a widow and renounced everything. The story displays Sorath’s love and commitment towards her husband Rai Diyach, Rai Diyach’s popularity and Beejal’s wife’s avarice that led to Beejal’s death.
– There was a king named Nand in Sukkur district of Sindh, and he had 9 daughters. Among them, Moomal was the most beautiful daughter. One day, when the king was out hunting, he noticed a swine with magical powers, that would part the waters of a canal by entering into it. The King followed it across the canal through the parted waters. After reaching the other side, he killed the swine and brought with him, its tooth. Using the tooth, the King brought all his treasure and buried it under the bed of the canal.
A magician came to know about this tooth through his magical powers and came to the Kingdom in search of the tooth. As soon as he reached the palace, he turned himself into a beggar and started begging for alms at the palace. Moomal went out to see who was calling and the beggar told Moomal that he was suffering from a disease which could be cured only by a swine tooth. Unaware of its magical secret, Moomal lent him her father’s swine tooth, which the beggar promptly took and fled. When Nand came to know of this, he was so furious that he wanted to kill Moomal. But his elder daughter Soomal intervened and promised to him that they would restore his lost treasure.
Soomal wasn’t as beautiful as Moomal, but was more intelligent and knew the art of magic. She used the illusion of Ludano and built the maze-filled ‘Kaak Castle’, which was a castle of illusions and contained a mirage of a lake with water made of glass and artificial lions guarding it. The lions though illusory, were so fierce and ferocious that their roars would shake the earth and the skies. The living room in the castle had 7 beds which looked exactly the same, but only one was real. They sent out a message to everyone saying whoever crossed the hurdles in the castle and reached the sisters residing in the castle would win Moomal’s hand in marriage.
Since Moomal’s beauty was well-known, princes from far and wide came to the castle to try their luck. Once they reached the castle, their possessions would be taken away and most of them would lose their lives in the maze or the deep endless wells hidden beneath the 6 illusory beds. One Rano, who was a part of escorts of another prince, was able to cross all hurdles and he won Moomal’s heart. But the prince was jealous that his servant Rano would be the one marrying Moomal and not him. So he went back to Umarkot and had Rano imprisoned. The King of Umarkot, however, freed Rano on the condition that Rano would forget Moomal forever.
Meanwhile, unable to bear the separation, Moomal was distraught and implored Soomal to dress up like Rano and be with her, so that she could make herself believe that Rano was with her. Rano, as soon as he was free, came to visit Moomal and saw her with another man. He was aghast and went away, leaving his walking stick behind so that Moomal would know of his visit. Next morning, Moomal found out what had happened and repented.
After waiting for Rano relentlessly, Moomal decided to go to Umarkot and built a palace opposite to Rano’s, pretending to be a rich merchant. Ultimately, both became friends but when Rano discovered that it was not a rich merchant but Moomal in disguise, he was very furious. Moomal, aggrieved that Rano should treat her like that, even after knowing the truth, built a pyre right there and immolated herself. It was only then that Rano believed her, and jumped into the fire himself too. Thus both the lovers attained immortality in death.
What was strikingly obvious and perhaps slightly a bit condescending in all the 7 stories, was that the lovers would unite in death. And in most cases, the death came from self sacrifice or suicide. In fact, in the case of Sassui and Punnuh, a prayer was said and God acted on it. None of these stories talk about survival, and none of them showcase the fighting spirit. They only show the easy way out. Another common thread linking them was the fact that society was against love. That marrying within the community was the only ‘graceful’ act for a lady and nothing else was ever an option. Yet, maidens did fall in love – they did dare to let their hearts get stolen, they did dare to love outside the community. For years and years, lovers have been separated in this way, and perhaps Shah Abdul Latif set a mindset that further strengthened this kind of orthodox thinking.
I sometimes wonder, had he written at least in a few of his poems, that society helped lovers unite; had he written that marrying out of community was okay; had he written that beautiful women did have the right to choose their suitors, and not be sacrificed in the name of community honour, would that have brought a change in the society? Would that have set a precedent to the coming generations that it was okay to love? That it was okay to be united in love while alive? Or would it have led to the ostracization of Shah Abdul Latif? Would it have led to his being labelled as a rebel? A La Salman Rushdie?
One would never know. I would never know.