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Sohni Swims to Meet Her Lover Mahinwal

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 2:22 AM
Sohni Swims to Meet Her Lover Mahinwal, Outh, c. 1750
These two paintings illustrate the tragic tale of Sohni and Mahinwal, two young lovers who are said to have lived during the early seventeenth century in a small village in the Panjab, an area famous for its association with great lovers. Both paintings feature the key identifying motif of Sohni floating across a river on an overturned earthenware pot for her nightly tryst with her lover. The set imagery used to illustrate the romance usually includes Mahinwal tending his buffaloes on the far bank and his ascetic companion seated by the river's near edge, as in the Oudh example (A), but these features are curiously absent in the Mewar painting (a) where, uniquely, Mahinwal is represented as waiting for his nightly tryst in a small thatched pavilion decorated as an elegant bed chamber. The text above painting a conveys Sohni's apprehension about attempting the perilous river crossing. In painting A both Sohni and Mahinwal are portrayed with sheathed swords graced with golden hilts. Although not explained by any literary narrative, this feature is typical of most paintings of the lovers and may pictorially suggest their popular elevation to noble heroes in their ultimately futile struggle against rigid social mores.

According to the legend, Mahinwal, whose given name was Mirza Izzat Beg, was the son of a wealthy merchant-ruler in Turkestan who was returning home with a merchant caravan after traveling throughout northern India. After passing Lahore, the caravan stopped near the town of Gujrat, where Izzat Beg chanced upon a radiant young beauty tending her father's pottery shop. Her name was Sohni, meaning "beautiful." Izzat Beg was so overwhelmed by her loveliness that he abandoned the caravan to remain with Sohni, who soon came to reciprocate his ardor. Izzat Beg then managed to be hired by Sohni's father and was put to work tending the family's buffaloes across the river. Thus he acquired his more popular name, Mahinwal, meaning "buffalo herder."

Sohni Swims to Meet Her Lover Mahinwal, Mewar, C. 1750-75Sohni and Mahinwal's clandestine affair continued until it was discovered by her mother and Mahinwal was ordered to never again see Sohni, who was quickly married to another potter's son and sent to her husband's family home. The distraught Mahinwal went to live with an ascetic near the river, but after accidentally meeting one day, the couple decided to resume their illicit relationship. Every night thereafter Sohni swam across the river using a large baked earthenware pot as a float. But Sohni's sister-in-law soon discovered the lovers and switched an unfired pot for the one used by Sohni to cross the river. That night a fierce storm hit, yet Sohni ignored the danger and jumped into the raging river with the deadly pot. The pot dissolved in midstream and Mahinwal leapt into the river to save his beloved, but the current was too strong and the lovers sank into legend.

Contrary to the illustrations of literary romantic themes and the loves of Krishna, which are all of Hindu cultural origin, paintings depicting Sohni and Mahinwal are based on a supposedly historical incident and are primarily associated with various Muslim and Sikh literary traditions that narrate the tragic fates bf hapless lovers. These often repeated love stories, especially those from the Panjab, typically involve couples whose affairs of the heart generated universal appeal and ennobled them with a poetic and courtly stature. Sohni's act is analogous to that of the heroine who braves the perils of the forest on a stormy night to be with her lover, and the same emotional charge of heedless desire must be understood as underlying the legend and its representations.

The romance of Sohni and Mahinwal was popular at most of the major courts across northern India, with the majority of the tale's illustrations dating from the third quarter of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century some illustrations of Sohni and Mahinwal achieved a new level of cultural relevance with the sudden trans-formation of Mahinwal and his associated imagery into that of Krishna. This socio-logical and artistic phenomenon demonstrates Krishna's immense appeal and is another example of his cult's assimilation of diverse religious and romantic legends.

Writer Name:- Pratapaditya Pal

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