Thursday, 16 May 2013

Sohni and Mahiwal

Shri Nathji would narrate two parables of the legendary lovers Sohini and Mahiwal. Devotion to God must be perfect; only then can it be real. To illustrate this, Shri Nathji used to tell the legendary story of the lovers–Sohni and Mahiwal. Theirs was not an ordinary love; it had the element of the divine in it. Sohni would cross the dark and dangerous waters of a river each night to reach her beloved, Mahiwal, on the other shore. She would carry an earthenware pot, a matka-with her, to help her float across the river. Her jealous sister-in-law replaced the matka with one made of weak clay. Sohni went across the river using this matka. In the middle of the river, she saw the vision of her beloved, Mahiwal. She saw the mole on his face. And it struck her that the mole should not have been there. At that very instant, the matka sank, and with it, Sohni.
The saints and sages were shaken in their meditation. Why did real love sink? Was it not God’s injustice? And the revelation was flashed across to them: Real Love had ceased to exist when Sohni saw the imperfection of the mole in her lover! Real love saw only perfection. The lane of love was a difficult one. It would not brook any insufficiency– not even of the width of a hair. A devotee had to see perfection in God. It was only thus that he could retain a lasting relationship with Him.
Whenever Shri Nathji gave examples of the lover and the beloved–like that of Yusuf and Zulekha, or Laila and Majnu, or Shereen and Farhaad–he would be referring to Divine Love.
"It was God that put the divine beauty into Laila, which attracted the heart of Majnu,"
he would say.
"The difference between ordinary love and divine love is that ordinary love takes one to a consciousness of the body and the senses, while divine love takes one above such a consciousness. Ordinary love is physical in nature, divine love transcends the physical. It is spiritual in nature. It is like the love between Radha and Krishna."

Shri Nathji would give the following definition of a genuine lover in Persian:

"Aashikee raa shash nishaan baashad ai pissar
Aahe sardo rang zardo chashm tar,.

There are six signs of Love, O Son!
Cold sighs, a paleness of the face and eyes wet with tears;

Gar turaa pursand cheh deegar kudaam
Kam khuro, kam guftano guftam haraam."

And if thou ask for the other three–
These are a giving up of food and talk,
And a giving up of sleep!

Shri Nathji would narrate another parable of the legendary Sohni going her way, lost in the thought of her beloved, Mahiwal. Along her path there was a Maulvi offering namaaz –prayers to God. Sohni was so completely absorbed in the thought of Mahiwal that she did not see the Maulvi and passed close to him. The Maulvi was at once enraged. The woman had disturbed him when he was in communion with God. He got up and shouted angrily at Sohni, telling her of the great sin she had committed by breaking his communion with God.
He said to her: “ I was absorbed in the thought of Allah but you passed close to me and disrupted my prayers. Woman you are surely accursed and deserve the fires of hell!”
Sohni was very apologetic and begged for forgiveness from the Maulvi. She said to him:
“ Maulvi Sahib, please forgive me for disturbing your prayers. But the fact is that I was so absorbed in the thought of my beloved that I did not even see you.”
But the Maulvi would not be placated. He continued shouting at her much to her great distress. Just then a thought occurred to Sohni and she said to him: “Maulvi Sahib, I was so absorbed in the thought of my beloved that I failed to notice you along my path– but, tell me, was your absorption in God so weak that you noticed me?”
The Maulvi was taken aback. He realized then how correctly the woman had spoken. He lacked the concentration and love for God which the woman had for her beloved. His was a life of mere preaching and moralizing, but the life of a woman was one of steadfastness and real devotion to the object of her love.


Sohni Mahiwal is a tragic love story. Here, the heroine Sohni, unhappily married to a man whom she despises, swims every night across the river where her beloved Mehar grazes buffaloes. One night her sister-in-law replaces the earthenware pot, which she uses to keep afloat in water, with a vessel of unbaked clay, which dissolves in water and she dies in the whirling waves of the river.
Around the 18th century (late Mughal period), the beautiful girl Sohni was born to a potter named Tulla They were from the Kumhar caste, and lived in the town of Gujrat now in Pakistan Punjab (Not to be confused with the state of Gujrat in India.) At the time, Gujrat, on the river Chenab, was a caravanserai on the trade route between Bukhara and Delhi.
Shahzada Izzat Baig, a rich trader from Bukhara (Uzbekistan), came to Punjab on business and halted in the town of Gujrat. Here he saw Sohni at her shop selling earthenware and was completely smitten. The song goes that instead of looking after the 'mohars' (gold coins) in his pockets, he roamed around with his pocket full of love. Just to get a glimpse of Sohni, he would end up buying all  the water pitchers and mugs everyday. Sohni too lost her heart to Izzat Baig. Instead of making floral designs on earthenware, she started building castles of love in her dreams. Instead of returning to Bukhara with his caravan, the noble-born Izzat Baig took up the job of a servant in the house of Tulla, Sohni's father. He would even take their buffaloes for grazing. Soon, he came to be known as Mehar or "Mahiwal" (buffalo herder).
When the people got to know about the love of Sohni and Mahiwal, there was a commotion within the Kumhar community.It was not acceptable that a daughter from this community would marry an outsider, so her parents immediately arranged her marriage with another potter. Suddenly, one day the "barat" (marriage party) of that potter arrived at Sohini's house. Sohni felt helpless and lost. She was sent off to the husband's house. Izzat Baig renounced the world and started living like a faqir (hermit). He eventually moved to a small hut across the river from Sohni's new home. The earth of Sohni’s land was like a shrine for him. He had forgotten his own land, his own people and his world.
In the dark of night the lovers would meet by the river. Izzat would come to riverside and sohni would come to meet him sitting in an inverted hard baked pitcher (inverted so that it would not sink) . He would regularly catch a fish and bring it for her. It is said that once, when due to high tide he could not catch a fish, Mahiwal cut a piece of his thigh and roasted it. Sohni didn't realise this first but then she said izzat that this fish tastes different and keep her hand on his thigh then she realised it was a piece of his thigh and cried.
Meanwhile, rumours of their romantic rendezvous spread. One day Sohni’s sister-in-law followed her and saw the hiding place where Sohni used to keep her earthenware pitcher inside the bushes. The next day, the sister-in-law removed the hard baked pitcher and replaced it with an unbaked one. That night, when Sohni tried to cross the river with the help of the pitcher, it dissolved in the water and Sohni drowned. From the other side of the river, Mahiwal saw Sohni drowning and jumped into the river and drowned as well.Thus their union was effected.
Legends has it, that the bodies of Sohni and Mahiwal or Mehar flowed down stream and were recovered from the River Indus near Shahdadpur, Sindh, some 75 km far from Hyderabad, Pakistan. Sohni's tomb is to be located in Shahdadpur. A photo of that is given here.

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