Compiled By: Rtn Gangaram S. Purswani (PHF)
Sohni Mahiwal or Suhni Mehar (Urdu: سوہنی مہیوال, Punjabi: سوہنی مہیوال, ਸੋਹਣੀ ਮਹੀਂਵਾਲ; Sindhi: سهڻي ميهار) is one of the four popular tragic romances of Punjab. Sohni Mahiwal is a tragic love story. The heroine Sohni, unhappily married to a man she despises, swims every night across the river using an earthenware pot to keep afloat in the water, to where her beloved Mehar herds buffaloes. One night her sister-in-law replaces the earthenware pot with a vessel of unbaked clay, which dissolves in water and she dies in the whirling waves of the river. The story also appears in Shah Jo Risalo . Shah begins the story at the most dramatic moment, when a young woman cries out for help in the cold river, attacked by crocodiles. The whole chapter (Sur Sohni) is merely an extension of this dreadful and yet hoped-for moment when the vessel of her body breaks and she, faithful to her pre-eternal love-covenant with Mehar, will be forever united through death.
During the Moghul rule in India, there was a prosperous potter named Tula Kumbhar, whose vessels were used by aristocrats and kings. His only daughter was called Suhini (Beautiful).
During this period in the city of Bukhara in Turkistan, there lived a businessman named Mirza Ali. Though he was rich and renowned, he had one unfulfilled desire – to have a child. Once, when a holy man visited his city, he confided this and was granted the boon of a baby, but with it came a warning that at the age of 16, the son would be separated from his father.
When Izzat Beg was born, his father showered him with all the luxuries, and as the boy grew, he learned about the riches and wisdom of India, and wanted to satisfy his curiosity and visit the country. Mirza Ali tried his best to restrain him, but the boy was adamant. He took some merchandise and set sail.
In Delhi, he indulged in all sorts of luxuries and then thought of going to Lahore. On his way, when he saw the beautiful city of Gujarat at the confluence of Ravi and Chenab, he decided to spend some time there. He befriended many people of nobility here, and learned of Tula Kumbhar’s beautiful pottery. When he sent his servant to Kumbhar’s house to purchase a souvenir, the servant saw Suhini and told his master about the beautiful girl. Izzat fell in love with her, without setting his sight on the girl; the next day he visited her home and instantly, the two were entranced by each other. Izzat decided to settle down in Gujarat, where he opened a shop to sell Tula Kumbhar’s wares.
Seeing his oblivion to everything else, his servants soon took away his money and Izzat was forced to take earthenware on credit from Tula Kumbhar. When it reached a point where he could no longer pay his debts, he asked Tula to employ him as a servant. Izzat, however, was not used to this rigorous life of bringing clay from the river bank and Tula took pity on him; he asked Izzat to look after his buffaloes, thus earning the name of ‘Mehar’ (caretaker of buffaloes).
When Suhini came into the buffalo shed on the pretext of having milk, she came to Mehar and soon their relationship blossomed. Her mother learned of this and tried to dissuade her daughter but Suhini would not listen; Tula Kumbhar sacked Mehar and got his daughter married to Damma, a young man of the village.
Suhini prayed to God to remain untouched and miraculously every night Damma would fall into a deep slumber. Suhini and Mehar continued to think of each other; eventually Mehar renounced the world, and became a fakir. Searching for Suhini, he found himself outside her home one day. Suhini came out to meet him on the pretext of giving him food and told him she had been pining for him all this while and had remained virtuous.
Mehar, recognizing the reality of the situation, decided to go away into the jungle, where he came upon the guru Gorakhnath. His appearance and good manners impressed the guru and as Mehar was admitted into their fold, he was granted a boon – that he would be able to meet his beloved.
Mehar settled as a Jogi on the banks of the Chenab on the other side of the river from Suhini’s house; soon his fame spread and reached Suhini’s ears. From the description of the Jogi, she was sure he was Mehar. When they met, they were both very happy and soon, Mehar would cross the river every night to meet his lover, bringing a fish for them to eat. Suhini’s friends tried to dissuade her from this dangerous behavior.
One day, a severe storm raged and Mehar was unable to get any fish. He did not want to go empty-handed, so he cut some flesh from his upper leg, cooked it and took it as a gift to her. The loss of blood and the exhaustion of swimming in the river made him almost unconscious. Suhini took to meeting Mehar, floating to him on a baked pitcher at midnight, and returning before dawn.
Her sister-in-law found out about this, followed Suhini and informed her brother about the situation. When Suhini still did not listen, they decided to do away with her, and the sister-in-law replaced the baked pitcher with an unbaked one that would dissolve in the water. The unsuspecting Suhini made her way into the swollen river in a raging storm and found herself drowning when the pitcher dissolved. Mehar’s attempts to rescue her proved futile, thanks to the wound in his leg and both went down embracing each other under the water.
Shah Latif wrote:
While on the banks many call out for the beloved,
Only those who dare to pay with their life would take the plunge,
The Beloved will meet only those who enter the river without support.
In the 18th century (late Mughal period), the beautiful girl Sohni was born to a potter named Tulla (Toolha). They were from the Kumhar caste, and lived in Gujrat, Punjab. At the time, Gujrat, on the river Chenab, was a caravanserai on the trade route between Bukhara and Delhi.
As Sohni grew up, she helped her father decorate his pots. Their shop is said to have been near Rampyari Mahal by the river. As soon as the Surahis (water-pitchers) and mugs came off the wheel, she would draw artistic designs on them and set them up for sale.
Izzat Baig of Bukhara
Shahzada Izzat Baig, a rich trader from Bukhara (Uzbekistan), came to Punjab on business and halted in Gujrat. Here he saw Sohni at the shop and was completely smitten. Just to get a glimpse of Sohni, he would end up buying the water pitchers and mugs every day.
Sohni too lost her heart to Izzat Baig. 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. He would even take their buffaloes for grazing. Soon, he came to be known as Mehar or “Mahiwal” (buffalo herder).
The love of Sohni and Mahiwal caused 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. On the day the “barat” (marriage party) of that potter arrived at her house, Sohni felt helpless and lost. She was sent off to the husband’s house in a Doli (palanquin).
Izzat Baig renounced the world and started living as a faqir (hermit). He eventually moved to a small hut across the river Chenab from Sohni’s new home hamirpur. In the dark of night, when the world was fast asleep, the lovers would meet by the river. Izzat would come to the riverside and Sohni would come to meet him swimming with the help of 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 at first but then she told Izzat that this fish tastes different. When she kept her hand on his leg, she realised what Mahiwal had done and this only strengthened their love for each other.