Dams · Indus

Rivers are Us

Above: Sindhu by Anoop Patnaik, Outlook Traveller

“To choose safe waters

is the route of imposters:

Those who love

take on the mighty river.” (Seeking the Beloved, translations of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s Poems)

Sohni
Sohni in modern art by Aparna Caur

In the inky, starless night, beautiful Sohni plunged into the flooded River Chenab to meet her beloved Mehwal, knowing well that she will never make it to the other side. Sohni is one of the seven heroines brought to life by Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a remarkable 18th Century Sufi poet, mystic and reformist living on the banks of Indus. Sohni was the wife of a potter, in love with Mahiwal, a cattle herder from the banks of the Chenab. Like all poignant love stories, Sohni-Mahiwal’s tale was short-lived, but 300 years later, the legend of Sohni flows through the Chenab and lives on in the songs of peasants. In Punjab, the land of five rivers, they sing of Sohni, of the roaring, helpless river and of mad, wilful love. The narrative is so unwrinkled and dewy that till this day, silent figures sweep the modest tombs of Sohni and Mahiwal, hoping that their love will meet a better fate. Like Sur Sohni (Sohni’s poem) from Shah jo Risalo (Poetry of the Shah) prophecised:

“Hundreds were by the river drowned,

But the river was drowned by this maiden.” Continue reading “Rivers are Us”

Dams · Rivers

Rivers of Stories

Above: Sohni in Chenab, painitng by Manjit Bawa

To say that rivers hold great cultural significance for South Asia is stating the obvious. Also obvious is that the cultural legacy of rivers overpowers the religious narrative… which too, is not tied only to Vedic Hinduism. All faiths in the subcontinent have a deep connection with rivers which manifests in stories, lore, songs and poetry. While Suktas in Rigveda eulogizing rivers are known, actually breathtaking is the lyrical beauty of the verses which describe Sindhu or Indus as a “wild, magnificent white stallion, roaring and galloping through the Himalayas into the plains” or sometimes as a “loving mother cow, its calves following her from the steep mountain paths”. Continue reading “Rivers of Stories”