Sohni Mahiwal or Suhni Mehar (Punjabi: سوہنی مہیوال, ਸੋਹਣੀ ਮਹੀਂਵਾਲ is one of the four popular tragic romances of Punjab including Sindh. In Sindh Sohni’s shrine is in Shahdadpur Town of Sangar District. The others are Sassi Punnun, Mirza Sahiba, and Heer Ranjha.
Sohni Mahiwal is a tragic love story which inverts the classical motif of Hero and Leander. 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 starts in a very dramatic manner in which cries of help from a young female are heard from the cold water, and she is being attacked by crocodiles. Rest of the narration is about the events leading up to this particular situation and then the tragic end, where the vessel collapses and is hoped by the readers that everything goes well, but at the end, Sohni, being faithful to her love for Mehar, goes through after life to unite with Mehar.
Sohni’s story has become one of the most favored folklores in India, Pakistan, Sindh and Punjab regions.
Love Story And Its Character
During the time of 18th Century, when Mughal period was prevalent, Sohni was born as a beautiful girl into a family of potters, named Tulla. Her family belonged to the caste of Kumhar, who were living in Gujarat, under the Punjab province of Pakistan. During those days, Gujarat was located along the banks of Chenab River and was basically serving the purpose of resting place for the caravans, which went for trading between Delhi and Bukhara.
When Sohni was grown up, she started helping her father by decorating the pots made by him. It is said that the shop of her father was close to the Rampyari Mahal along the river banks. When the water pitchers or Surahis as well as the mugs were took out from the rotating wheel, she used to put imaginative but beautiful drawings and designs and these were then put up for sale.
Izzat Baig of Bukhara
Shahzada Izzat Baig belonged to Bukhara, who was a rich tradesman from Uzbekistan and had come to Punjab, particularly for trade purposes and stayed for some time in Gujarat. During his stay here, he chanced to see Sohni and was completely in awe of her. The lore defines that this businessman went around with love in his pockets, instead of gold coins. Every day, he used to buy some of the mugs and pitchers, just to have a glimpse of Sohni.
At the same time, Sohni also fell for Izzat Baig. While she was structuring designs on the pots, she also lived in a dream world of love. When the time came for Baig to go along with his caravan, he chose to stay back and worked as a servant in Tulla’s house, the house of Sohni. He took the buffalos to the fields for grazing. He was then nicknamed as Mehar or Mahiwal, meaning buffalo herder.
After the news of Sohni and Mahiwal’s love went around, the local people in the community of Kumhar got disturbed. They couldn’t accept the fact that a daughter from Kumhar community would get married to an outsider and therefore Sohni’s marriage was immediately solemnized with another person of the same community.
Suddenly one day, the designated potter, along with his family arrived for marriage at the house of Sohni. She was quite lost and helpless but nonetheless went off to her husband’s house riding on a doli.
After this turn of events, Baig renounced the materialistic world and lived the life of a hermit or faqir. He started living in a little hut, in front of the house of Sohni, across from the river. For him, the earth on which Sohni lived was respectable as that of a shrine. In love for Sohni, he had forgotten everything, his land, people and his own world.
When the darkness sets in and people were asleep, both the lovers would meet by the side of the river. Izzat waited for Sohni along the river banks, while she swam across, sitting on an inverted pitcher, which was hard baked, so as to prevent it from sinking. Everyday, he would bring a fish which he caught. According to folklore, once Mahiwal couldn’t catch a fish due to high tide and therefore he baked a piece of his thigh muscle. On tasting it, she didn’t find it having the taste of a fish and when she kept her hand on his thigh, she could know what Mahiwal had done and cried a lot.
As days passed, this rendezvous between Sohni and Mahiwal spread out. One day, Sohni was followed by her sister-in-law and came to know about the place where she hid her earthen pot to swim across. She replaced it with the one which was unbaked. The same night, when Sohni went on the pitcher which was unbaked, she started drowning. Mahiwal saw this from the other side and immediately jumped into the water, but both of them drowned, meeting the same fate hand in hand.
Sindhi Version of Sohni Mehar
In the version of Sindhi, a slightly different story is heard, in which Sohni was a girl, who belonged to the tribe of jat and lived on Indus bank on the western side. Husband of Sohni, Dam, lived on the eastern bank and belonged to Samtia clan. The love between Mehar and Sohni blossomed when Sohni gave some milk to him to drink, while her marriage procession was going across the river.
According to legends, the dead bodies of both Mehar and Sohni were later on found from the Indus River, near the city of Shahdadpur in Sindh, which was located about Pakistan’s Hyderabad city. In Shahdadpur city, presently the tomb of Sohni is found.