• Patan dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • Ghara: Songs of Sohni-Mahiwal


    Daljit Ami

     The ghara is as much a character in the legend of Sohni-Mahiwal, with much having been written, sung and painted about the humble earthen pitcher.

    Above, Sajida Begam (L) and Barkat Sidhu (R) sing ghara


        The drowning Sohni has captured the artistic imagination over all other aspects of the legend of Sohni-Mahiwal. This, the most intense episode of the lovers’ lives, is the ultimate expression of their commitment to love. The Chenab and unbaked pitcher have become metaphors, which provide the opportunity for creative expression in different mediums.  Painters have depicted Sohni struggling to cross the Chenab; poets have extensively written about this cataclysmic event; scholars have lent their interpretations to analyze different aspects of social norms, love and the fate of women.

    While poets have written about the roaring waters of the Chenab, the anxious Mahiwal waiting on its banks, and the imaginary dialogue of Sohni with her sister-in-law who propelled her to her death, it is the ill-fated pitcher, the ghara, that forms the core of several allegorical references.

    Sohni instantly realized that the ghara was unbaked. She was the daughter of a potter, after all, and had grown up with earthenware. It did not take her long to come face to face with the inevitable. There are only moments in which she can contemplate her fate and take a decision. These few seconds manifest her conviction to confront any obstacles in the path of love, be it death itself. Alone, she confronts not only a stormy river and a dark rainy night, but deep emotions within.

    In Punjabi popular songs the ghara is a common poetic device. It is almost synonymous with the love legend of Sohni Mahiwal as it has contributed to link all the characters of the love legend. Tulla, Sohni’s father, was a proficient potter. Mahiwal come to see Sohni on the pretext of purchasing earthenware.  Sohni crosses the Chenab on a ghara to meet Mahiwal on the other bank. Sohni’s sister-in-law swaps the baked ghara with the un-baked one on the fateful night. The ghara disintegrates in the water, leaving Sohni to die. The pitcher was an intrinsic part of her life, and her death too.

    The ghara symbolizes the community, or the network of social customs, norms and attitudes, that literally let Sohin down/drown. For Sohni, who, like most young women of the time, has spent her life around the making of gharas, or social ties and relationships, this is indeed in intense betrayal. Given this context, Sohni’s dialogue with the pitcher is multilayered, leaving fertile ground for poetic interpretation.

    Many singers have sung ghara, as even the song itself has become known by the same name, over the centuries, with many variations. Sajida Begam and Barkat Sidhu have sung different versions of the ghara. In these renderings the narrative is very complex as the interaction of Sohni with the ghara is interspersed with a consistent but subtle inclusion of Mahiwal or sometimes the narrator.

    Sajida’s version is brief, but embodies the conflicting emotions of Mahiwal, who wants his beloved by his side, but is also alert to the hazards of her crossing the stormy river. Ultimately, he exhorts her to take refuge in the teachings of the pir (mystic):

    ਖੜੀ ਵੇ ਕੰਢੇ ਉੱਤੇ ਮਹਿਰਮਾ ਵੇ, ਆਜਾ ਕਦੋਂ ਦੀ ਖੜੀ, …
    ਪਿਛਾਂਹ ਮੁੜ ਜਾ ਸੋਹਣੀਏ ਨੀ, ਉੱਤੋਂ ਲੱਗੀ ਆ ਝੜੀ,
    ਝੜੀ ਵੇ ਕੰਢੇ ਉੱਤੇ ਮਹਿਰਮਾ ਵੇ, ਆਜਾ ਕਦੋਂ ਦੀ ਖੜੀ, …
    ਜੇ ਤੈਂ ਲੱਗਣਾ ਏ ਪਾਰ, ਮੀਰਾਂ ਗੌਂਸ ਨੂੰ ਪੁਕਾਰ,
    ਫੜਲੈ ਪੀਰ ਦਾ ਤੂੰ ਪੱਲਾ, ਹੋ ਜਾ ਖੋਟੀਓਂ-ਖਰੀ,
    ਖੜੀ ਵੇ ਕੰਢੇ ਉੱਤੇ ਮਹਿਰਮਾ ਵੇ, ਆਜਾ ਕਦੋਂ ਦੀ ਖੜੀ,

    O my darling, come, I am waiting on the bank for long,
    O Sohni, turn back, the torrential rains are blinding,
    O my darling, come, I am waiting on the bank for long
    As you cross, pray to pir Gauns[1] ,
    Take refuge with the pir
    And transcend into purity

    Barkat’s version is longer and starts with an invocation to the ghara to conduct it itself properly, as it has been crafted meticulously. Moreover, Sohni the beautiful is relying on it — so it should not behave erratically.

    ਸਿੱਖ ਗੁਰ ਘਮਿਆਰ ਘੜਾ ਉਹਦੇ ਚੁਣ-ਚੁਣ ਕੱਢੇ ਖੋਟ
    ਅੰਦਰ ਸਹਾਰਾ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਰਸ ਬਾਹਰੋਂ ਮਾਰੇ ਚੋਟ
    ਚੰਦਰੀ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਦਿਆਂ ਚੰਦਰਿਆ ਘੜਿਆ
    ਕਾਹਨੂੰ ਜਾਨਾ ਏ ਢਾਕ ਨਿਵਾਈਂ
    ਚੂੜੇ ਵਾਲੀ ਬਾਹ ਸੱਜਣਾਂ ਦੀ
    ਕਾਹਨੂੰ ਜਾਨਾ ਏ ਗੱਲ ਵਿੱਚ ਪਾਈਂ
    ਕੰਢੇ ਉੱਤੇ ਮਹਿਰਮਾ ਵੇ, ਵੇ ਮੈਂ ਕਦੋਂ ਦੀ ਖੜੀ,
    ਦਰਿਆ ਠਾਠਾਂ ਪਿਆ ਮਾਰੇ, ਨਦੀ ਕਹਿਰ ਦੀ ਚੜੀ,
    ਘੜਿਆ ਮੌਤ ਤੋਂ ਡਰਾ ਕੇ ਮੇਰਾ ਹੌਂਸਲਾ ਨਾ ਤੋੜ,
    ਸਾਡੀ ਨੀਤੀ ਹੈ ਨਿਮਾਜ਼, ਸਾਡੀ ਨੀਤ ਨਾ ਤੂੰ ਤੋੜ
    ਜਿੰਦ ਯਾਰ ਦੇ ਹਵਾਲੇ ਅੱਖ ਜਿਹਦੇ ਨਾਲ ਲੜੀ
    ਚੰਦਰੀ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਦਿਆਂ ਚੰਦਰਿਆ ਘੜਿਆ
    ਚੰਦਰੀ ਵਟਾ ਗਈ ਮੈਂ ਚੰਦਰੀ ਨੇ ਫੜਿਆ
    ਜੇ ਤੈਂ ਲੱਗਣਾ ਹੈ ਪਾਰ ਮੀਰਾ ਗੌਸ ਨੂੰ ਪੁਕਾਰ
    ਦਿੰਦਾ ਆਜਜਾਂ ਗ਼ਰੀਬਾਂ ਦੇ ਉਹ ਕਾਰਜ ਸਵਾਰ …
    ਫੜ ਕੇ ਪੀਰ ਵਾਲਾ ਪੱਲਾ ਹੋ ਜਾ ਖੋਟੀਓ ਖਰੀ
    ਅਹੁ ਦਿਸਦੀ ਕੁਲ ਯਾਰ ਘੜਿਆ
    ਨਦੀ ਕਰਾ ਦੇ ਪਾਰ

    Skilled potter carefully removes the defects of the ghara,
    One hand lovingly supports the clay from inside,
    The other strikes from outside.

    O wicked ghara of wicked clay
    Why is your curve getting straightened?
    Oh bangled arm of the lover,
    Why do you wind yourself around the neck?

    O my darling, come, I am waiting on the bank for long
    The river is frothing with furious waves
    O ghara, don’t turn me away from death
    I have chosen the path to cherish
    Don’t test my conviction
    My life belongs to my love

    O wicked ghara of wicked clay
    A wicked swapped you for another ‘wicked’
    If you want to cross, then pray to pir Gauns,
    He helps the frail and weak
    Take the pir’s refuge
    And transcend into purity
    O pitcher, my lover’s hut is visible
    Help me to reach across.

    In the invocatory verse the word wicked, “Chandri”, has been used as a polysemy. It reads, “O wicked pitcher of wicked clay, A wicked swapped for another ‘wicked’.” These multiple meanings can also be read as “O wicked pitcher of treacherous soil, an evil (Sohni’s sister-in-law) swapped you to lie in wait for the ill-fated (Sohni).”

    Barkat’s video has another layer created by the many framed-photographs in his room. Portraits of Nusrat Fateh Ali, Baba Mardana (a companion of Guru Nanak) and another unknown Sufi saint along with pictures of himself are on prominent display. The multiple and complex meanings emerge through the layers: he sings a love-legend questioning social norms; he sings in front of his own photo and keeps crossing the boundaries of the frame. Indeed, he brings forth himself and his predecessors out the frame through his rendering, demonstrating that singers of folk songs and Sufi poetry are capable of rendering new interpretations to the traditional verse. He seems to underline, through his passionate compositions, that this improvisation and unpredictability cannot be contained in fixed frames.

    [1] Muslim pirs known to listen prayers sympathetically are called Gauns pirs. According to Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha’s dictionary (Mahankosh) Gauns is a special status accorded to the pirs who benevolently fulfill wishes of their followers.

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