Saurav Sharma: 'Zabaan E Sohni: Rise of Mahiwal'

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As an artist, night has always been my time. When everyone falls asleep, my thoughts walk out of the window, spread their wings and fly in the open sky.

Just like one of those nights, I came across a beautiful folk tale, ‘Sohni-Mahiwal’ and believe me, the story hit me hard like a meteor! Unlike other stories where the valor of the male protagonist is highlighted, here the courage of Sohni and sacrifice of Mahiwal changed the whole perspective of a typical love story.

Sohni Mahiwal or Suhni Mehar: The story originated in the 18th century by the Chenab river in Gujrat, Punjab (now a part of Punjab, Pakistan). At that time, Gujrat, was a caravanserai on the trade route between Central Asia and Delhi. The love story blossoms in a village of potters in Gujrat, where a wealthy trader of Uzbekistan, Izzat Baig, falls in love with the daughter of Tulla, a potter. A merchant’s caravan going to Delhi took a halt at Gujrat where Baig stopped by the potter Tulla’s shop, to check his famous pottery. At the shop, Baig saw his beautiful daughter, Sohni and instantly fell in love. Lovestruck Baig left the caravan and decided to stay in the village. Later, he was offered a job of ‘herding water buffalos’, by Tulla, which gave him the name, Mahiwal.

They say it rightly, love is contagious, as Sohni couldn’t stop herself from falling in love after a glimpse of Mahiwal. In those times, girls were forbidden to marry outside their caste and realizing that Sohni-Mahiwal’s love story was becoming the talk of the town, Tulla made her daughter marry a man from another potter’s family. After Sohni’s marriage, the heart-broken Mahiwal left the village to live in a small mud hut across the river from Sohni’s house.

Lovelorn Sohni, who used to assist her in-laws in pottery during the daytime, used to swim across the river Chenab every night to meet her beloved Mahiwal with the help of an earthenware pot. One day, her sister-in-law replaced the pot with an unbaked one, that could not float, which eventually became the reason for Sohni and Mahiwal’s death; and this gave birth to the famous folklore song ‘Kandey Utthey Meherma Ve’.

Since 2016, I have been performing ‘Sohni-Mahiwal’ at various festivals across India, in my patent style with narration of this heart-wrenching love-tale. This time when I was collaborating with Sarthak Pawar (music producer) and Hardeep Sahota (Bhangra artist from UK), for the India-UK Creative Industries at 75 project, I got an idea to experiment with the traditional music of Sohni-Mahiwal. As a team, we decided to re-visit the tale and created a version which has the essence of Sufism along with a grief-stricken theme supported by heavy rock music.

‘Kandey Utthey’ is a conversation during the night between the ‘Unbaked Pot’ and ‘Sohni’ which started after Sohni completed almost 70% of her journey and realised that the pot had started melting. I have seen many performances of this song but never came across the one where Mahiwal is shown dancing on this mighty conversation between Sohni and the pot. And here our creation of Sohni-Mahiwal gave birth to a version where Mahiwal, who was partially limping at that time, was shown dancing for his lover where Sohni is pleading to the pot.

By the time we reached the stage of finalising this creative output, ‘Kandey Utthey - Zabaan E Sohni’, the entire perspective of this folktale changed. In our version, Hardeep is performing a beautiful Sufi-Bhangra which clearly shows that Mahiwal on the other side is dancing and praying to God, while Sohni, in the middle of the sea, is pleading in front of the pot.