Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Representations of the Romance of Suhni-Mehar in the Kalhora Tombs (1680-1783), Sindh, Pakistan

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Representations of the Romance of Suhni-Mehar in the Kalhora Tombs (1680-1783), Sindh, Pakistan

Article excerpt


The Kalhoras ruled over the province of Sindh for more than a century (1680-1783), leaving behind a large number of funerary monuments (Kalhoro 2010:215). These monuments are located in almost every district of Sindh. The distinctive feature of the funerary monuments is the use of ceramics and mural paintings therein (Kalhoro 2002, 2003, 2004). The tombs which are located in Upper Sindh (comprising the districts of Larkana and Dadu) are mainly adorned with paintings. Nevertheless, a few tombs are also adorned with ceramics. A few tombs which are located in the districts of Sanghar and Nawab Shah in Central Sindh are decorated with mural paintings that mainly represent folk romances. This tradition of decorating with folk-romance paintings spread from the districts of Dadu and Larkana to Nawab Shah and Sanghar. Both Larkana and Dadu were the first and second seats respectively of the Kalhora rulers who lavishly decorated their buildings in these newly-founded cities (Kalhoro 2010a; 2010b; 2010c). In this paper, I will discuss the paintings that depict the folkromance of Suhni-Mehar which are found in the Kalhora tombs. Prior to discussing these depictions, first it is necessary to describe the story of Suhni-Mehar that is contained in the text that follows.

The Romance of Suhni-Mehar

During the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan (1628-1658), there was a potter by the name of Tulla who lived in Gujarat (Punjab). He had a daughter named Suhni, meaning "beautiful." They lived by a river bank. Izzat Beg, the son of a rich Mughal merchant from Bukhara, chanced to come that way and was struck by the beauty of Suhni. He fell in love with her at first sight. Every day he came to purchase pots hoping for the opportunity of meeting Suhni, who returned his love. Spending all of his money in buying pots, Izzat Beg became penniless and asked to be employed by Suhni's father. He was engaged as a cattleman to look after the potter's buffaloes. He then changed his name from Izzat Beg to Mehar or 'herdsman' or 'buffalo-keeper'. The love between Suhni and Mehar continued to grow, but this did not please Suhni's parents, who forbade the lovers' further meetings to take place. In order to clinch the matter, they married Suhni to another potter's son who was named Dum (Khamisani 2003: 97) and they drove Mehar away.

Mehar, however, continued to herd the buffaloes and used to graze them on the other side of the river. Every night Suhni crossed the river on a baked earthenware pot. Her parents remonstrated with her and in order to dissuade her from further meetings with Mehar, they took away the baked pot and substituted it with an unbaked one. They thought that by this device she would never dare to trust herself to the water relying on a so-fragile vessel. However, when night came, Suhni launched herself upon the river on the pot and she drowned when the water caused it to disintegrate. Mehar, who had heard her screams when the pot collapsed, rushed into the river to rescue her but also drowned, just as did the girl he loved. Mehar is fondly called Sahar ("the helper") by Suhni (ibid:98). The following five episodes related to the above-detailed story are depicted in the Kalhora tombs that exist in several districts of Sindh:

1. Suhni's crossing the river to meet her beloved Mehar

2. the initial meeting of Suhni and Mehar

3. Suhni making las si (a beverage made from curd) for her beloved Mehar

4. Mehar grazing the buffaloes

5. A representation of the Suhni-Mehar shrine

The most frequently-depicted episodes are "The Meeting of SuhniMehar", "The Grazing of the Buffaloes By Mehar", "Suhni Making Las si For Her Beloved Mehar" and "Suhni's Crossing of the River to Meet Her Lover, Mehar". These representations in particular can be seen in the Jamali tombs in Shahdadkot, the Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro tombs near Garhi [Fig. 2], the Mir Allayar tombs at Drigh Bala, the Mureedani tombs at Phulji, the Rodhrani tombs at Thull, the Shahani tombs at Chhini in Dadu, the Abra tombs in Nawab Shah and the Marri tombs in Sanghar [Fig. …

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