Sohni Mahiwal: The Shrine Of Defiant Love

Star-crossed lovers Sohni and Mahiwal are doomed to be apart even in their graves, but their undying love still inspires veneration

1/31/2017 3:34:49 PM
written By : Reema Abbasi Print

She lies alone in stoic white granite, covered in red and orange traditional bandhinis, bequests of lovers who come to dress her as Mahiwal’s bride once their love conquers all. Even as graves, Sohni and Mahiwal are apart – some say it is for reasons of social sanction whereby they cannot lie in the same room; the more benevolent believe that they were buried where their bodies washed up.

Less revered than his beloved and unsung, Mahiwal is far from her – in a lonely tiled grave, in a small room. He is surrounded by the congested Sunaar Bazar of Shahdadpur. 

The route to Sohni is beatific and ironic – we travel on a thin sliver of a path that cuts through placid silver sheets of water where even geese seldom flap and dip. And then, past a warren of pitted, narrow tracks edged with carts, stalls and shops, is an old graveyard surveyed by the lofty but reticent mausoleum of Sindh’s Mai Sutthi, and the world’s Sohni.

In the gentle evening sun, an old peepal tree casts a cool interplay of shadows on the unpolished marble platforms before the prime doorsill. The almost 400-year-old memorial wears a mantle of calm and grace, set between lore and truth.

Veiled young women sweep the floors; enclosed in a low rock fence, the first 13-metre wide terrace has a well, an old hermit with a stick and two graves in a far corner. A step up, in a rough space, are five graves of faqirs and faqirnis who had forsaken the world to live here – two are covered with red chunris, another two are decrepit in ancient yellow stone and the last is a mound of congealed mud. 

Opposite these is an open hermitage; its rock ceiling held up by pillars of small, unchiselled stones. The only headstone here, a gift from the Persian artisan who fashioned the 6 by 4ft tomb, belongs to Sohni. Her epitaph is a Persian prayer for water and prosperity for the region. 

Commissioned as a rite of gratitude by deputy collector Hamid Ali, as his wish list of love and marriage came true, Sohni’s grave is charmingly imprinted with a verse from Bhittai’s Sur Sohni in neat black Sindhi. Her large room has a floor of intricately patterned ceramic tiles in ochre, pale green and sienna; walls painted emerald, with a low, aquamarine door beneath a vast, hollow inside of a dome in red and green. There are seven niches for oil lamps -- a young woman kisses the doorstep with her hand on her heart, then touches Sohni’s feet and lights an incense stick in the corroded brass holder on round stones by the gravestone. 

The tomb’s most curious feature is the entrance with a scalloped archway and some 12 spindly minarets of different sizes with a palanquin-like structure above the Kalima and the title of ‘Mai Sutthi jo mazaar’.

“Bhittai used to come here often and sang nights away. Even today his dua starts from here. This is a temple of love. So many come to her to pray for the success of their romance,” says the steadfast loner in the courtyard.

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