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Famous Pakistani Folktales: Tales of Woe or Wonder?

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Famous Pakistani Folktales: Tales of Woe or Wonder?

Who does not appreciate a great love story? Love has always been a popular theme for stories, movies, songs, and art. From Shakespeare’s infamous ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to Disney’s Cinderella and countless love songs by various artists, love stories have always enchanted people.

Pakistani folklore has a plethora of epic tales of love immortalized by poets, musicians, artists, writers, and filmmakers. However, these legendary folktales are not mere love stories, but are tales of courage, defiance, and passion that cost infamous lovers like Heer Ranjha and Sassi Punnu their lives. The rebellion against conventional norms of society in the name of love resulted in the perishing of lovers fighting for each other, and yet their deaths are lauded and enshrined in tombs visited by people from all over Pakistan.

Heer Ranjha: As narrated by Warish Shah, Ranjha, after his father’s death was run out of his village by his brothers and ended up in the Jhang district working as a cattle herder on a farm. There, he fell in love with the farm owner’s beautiful daughter, Heer, who was enthralled by the music he played on his flute. They had a secret affair for several years, until they got caught by Heer’s uncle Kaido who then exiled Ranjha from the village. After wandering around Punjab as a Jogi, now pious Ranjha returned to Heer’s village and asked for her hand in marriage, and her parents agreed. But a jealous Kaido poisoned Heer. Heartbroken, Ranjha ate the same poisoned food and died beside his lover.

Mirza Sahiban: Mirza went to study in Kheewa when he saw Sahiban and fell in love with her. Soon after, Sahiban’s family planned her marriage and she sent a message to Mirza. Mirza then came to Sahiban’s wedding, and the pair ran away together to hide in a forest. However, the bride’s brothers discovered them.

To avoid bloodshed, Sahiban broke Mirza’s arrows. She was hoping that her brothers could accept her love. But the brothers killed Mirza. Struck with grief, Sahiban killed herself by Mirza’s sword.

Sohni Mahiwal: Izzat Baig, an Uzbek merchant, fell in love with Sohni, a potter’s daughter in a village at the bank of Indus River. He took a job at Shohni’s home, taking her father’s buffaloes to graze grass and earning the name Mahiwal in the process. When rumors of their affair started to spread, Sohni was married off to another potter in a rush. Sohni would go to the riverbank at night, and Mahiwal swam across the river to see her. Legend has it that Mahiwal injured his leg so Sohni would cross the river on a Matti ka Garha to see him until one day her sister-in-law switched her pitcher with an unbaked one which dissolved in the river and Sohni drowned. In an attempt to save her, Mahiwal drowned and died too.

Sassi Punnu: Sassi, daughter of the King of Bhamboor, was put in a box and thrown in the Indus River upon birth, when an astrologer predicted that she was cursed and would bring shame to the royal family. A washerman found Sassi and raised her as his own. Sassi’s beauty became famous, and Punnu, son of King Mir Hoth Khan, went to look at her. Upon seeing Sassi, Punnu fell in love with her and asked the washerman for her hand in marriage. On their wedding day, Punnu’s brothers kidnapped him and took him back to Makran. Sassi ran barefoot across the desert with blisters in her feet when she came across a shepherd who threatened her. She prayed to God to hide her; the mountains split, and she was buried alive. When Punnu came across the same shepherd in the desert and found out what happened, he lamented, and the mountain swallowed him too.

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