Sohni Mahiwal

"What does Mahiwal mean?" I asked, having never heard of the name before.
"It's not a real name but it's the nickname given to a man who herds water buffalo," my mother answered and with that she began.


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In a village along the Chenab River in Punjab, there was a potter who created the most lovely earthenware pots in the region.  He went by the name Tulla.  His pottery was known in all the land and people would come from all over would to purchase his beautiful pottery.  The pots were well baked and sturdy while coming in various shapes and sizes.  All of the pots had wonderfully intricate hand-painted designs that would set them apart from any other pot. 

The day Tulla and his wife had a daughter was the happiest day of their lives.  She was the prettiest baby girl they had ever seen.  Others agreed, so they named her Sohni, meaning “beautiful” in Punjabi.  Their wonderful daughter only grew more and more lovely with age. 

 

Tulla had taught his daughter the art of painting lovely designs on his pots.  As she grew older and Tulla’s eyesight grew worse, Sohni was the only one who painted the designs.  She added her own style to them.  One day, a very wealthy young man from the great city Bukhara in Uzbekistan came to Tulla’s home to buy some pottery.  His name was Izzat Baig.  While he was examining which pieces to buy, he happened to see Sohni, in full concentration on a pot she was painting.  He could not take his eyes off of her.  She was bent with her head in tilted over a small pot used to store sweets in.  Using a small, fine brush, Sohni used meticulous strokes to achieve her desired pattern.  Izzat Baig was in love.  He asked Tulla if he could buy the pot that she was painting.  He replied that that pot needed to be baked still before it could be purchased.  Otherwise, it would be useless and fall apart without being baked.  Izzat Baig said he would return tomorrow for it.

 

After purchasing the pot the next day, he found excuses to return day after day just to buy more and more pots.  He had had his fill but his eyes had not drunk enough of Sohni.  They wanted more.  When it was time for him to leave, he told his fellow travelers to go on without him.  He was going to stay in this village for a while longer. Days passed and his money supply dwindled but he continued to visit Sohni at her father’s shop.  Tulla decided to hire Izzat Baig as a water buffalo herder.  Because of this, he became known as Mahiwal, or buffalo man.

 

Love, by nature, is an infectious disease.  If one is affected, others around the sickly cannot help but to feel the same symptoms.  This was the case for Sohni.  She saw Mahiwal day after day.  She knew he came only to see her and she had grown accustomed to it.  Whenever he was late, her heart sank but as soon as she would see him coming up the road, she felt like she was flying again.  Love had taken a hold of her, too.

 

The two lovers began to meet in secret.  Their union was blissful.  Their separation, intolerable.  But each day they would meet whenever they could, happily stealing moments just to be with each other.

 

Love never hides though.  Neither did Sohni and Mahiwal’s love.  This kind of love was forbidden.  It was arranged then that Sohni would marry another potter who lived nearby.  When the marriage ceremony was completed, Sohni moved to a neighboring house. 

 

Mahiwal, distraught, took up residence in a small hut across the river from Sohni’s house.  He renounced the lands he came from and believed that the earth under Sohni’s feet was his dargah, or shrine. 

 

Sohni’s husband was a pottery merchant who had to travel long distances that caused him to be away for days on end.  At night, Sohni would sit up and look across the river at her lover.  One night she got the idea of using a baked earthenware pot to aid her to stay afloat as she crossed the river.  Because she did not know how to swim, she held on the pot tightly.  Her life depended on it.  Mahiwal saw her coming and swam until he met her and they successfully made it across the river in each other’s arms.

 

Mahiwal, at this point in his life, was poor.  He did not have enough money to properly feed his Sohni.  On one such night when Sohni was going to come, Mahiwal realized that he had no food to feed her.  Without thinking, he carved a piece of his thigh.  Without telling his beloved of his pain, he swam a part of the way to her wearing dark clothes so the blood would not show.  Sohni ate the meager banquet laid before her with great relish that he prepared this meal out of love for her.

 

After Sohni returned from her nightly meeting with her love, Sohni’s sister-in-law saw her replace the earthenware pot that she had used to travel across the river in the bushes underneath a window.  She stood aghast and thought of a plan to wreck these unsolicited meetings.  Sohni’s sister-in-law placed an unbaked pot for Sohni to use the following night.

 

The next night, Sohni took the pot and began her journey to meet her lover.  When she was a quarter of the way across, she realized something was wrong.  The sturdy piece of pottery that served as her lifesaver was melting into the water.  She called for her Mahiwal.  Mahiwal heard his love’s cries.  He swam as far as he could with his limp leg.  He met her drowning body halfway through the river but he could not hold himself up against the current.  While holding on to each other, they both drowned in the Chenab River.


 Sohni Mahiwal.  Websource: Punjabi Lok Virsa Blog


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I glanced over at my children thinking that they would both be asleep but I was wrong.  Out of all the stories, this was the one that seemed to interest them the most.  It amazed me the things that actually grab a child's attention.  Both Reza and Mehru had not stirred from their place.  When my mother finished, she sat back and sipped on her chai, waiting for any remarks.

Abbu got up to take the children to bed but they would not budge. 

Seizing the opportunity, my husband spoke, "I have a story to tell." 

And with that he began to tell the last story of the night: Sassi and Punnu.




Author’s Note:  I was always intrigued with the story of Sohni Mahiwal.  This was the first story I remember hearing.  The part where Mahiwal cuts off a piece of his thigh just so his beloved can eat was something that slightly grossed me out but also made me feel the sense of devotion he had for Sohni.  It was this sacrifice that showed just how deep their love was.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include the part where Sohni gets married and meets Mahiwal on the sly because I don’t like this part of the story.  I think this adulterous act makes Sohni’s character flawed.  Unlike the other stories, I did not find many variants of this one.  The versions I found related the same details.  This made it easy to compile the story into one version.  When hearing this tale as a child, I enjoyed the setting of the tale and the rustic feel of the whole story.  I hope you enjoyed it too.  I included a picture that clearly shows how Sohni would travel with the earthenware pot because I had a hard time picturing this as a child.



Bibliography: Sohni Mahiwal. Websource: Wikipedia and Folk Tales of Pakistan
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