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Laila-Majnu, Sohni-Mahiwal, Heer-Ranjha Under One Roof

Updated: October 9, 2010 10:29 am

From outside, Madhuram looks like any other upscale farmhouse, located in the suburbs of Gurgaon, the kind where the well-heeled of New Delhi host marriages, theme parties, New Year bashes and detain wild animals.

                But walk past its rusted gate into a two-storied haveli (an enclosed private mansion) and you will realise that a treasure trove is tucked within the jasmine and lemon greens of the farmhouse.

                Nestled in the foothills of Aravali range, about 50 kilometres from the Indian capital in Gurgaon-Jaipur highway, Madhuram houses Urusvati museum of folklore where the legendary tales of love from seven states of northern and central India are retold through dioramas, trans-lites, paintings and sculpture.

                The only one of its kind in the country, the museum exhibits exquisite love stories of Laila-Majnu, Sohni-Mahiwal, Sassi-Punnun, Mirza-Sahiba, Heer-Ranjha, Dushyant-Shakuntala and many others which have been part of the folklore in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar for long. To give the visitor a feel of ambience of old times, the museum also displays culture, folk dances, musical instruments, arts and crafts, costumes, a terracotta garden and even sells souvenirs on the heritage of the region.

                What makes it unique is that besides depicting the popular love tales of the northern, central, and parts of eastern and western India, it showcases several lesser heard yarns of romance and valour from the distant past. It is managed by Komal Anand, a former director general of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who was born on the banks of Chenab (now in Pakistan) the river which has been a source of many love legends.

                “My family came from Kunjah village of Gujarat (Punjab province in Pakistan). The place was witness by several love tales (people of Kunjah believe that Sohni of Sohni-Mahiwal belonged to their village). I want to preserve the rich heritage through the museum,” Anand, who is honorary director of the Urusvati Trust that runs the museum, says. The retired Haryana cadre civil servant first set-up the museum in Delhi. Initially it was funded by Ford Foundation. In 2002 she decided to take the museum to Shikohpur village in Gurgaon.

                The museum is housed on the first and second floors of the haveli. The first floor has miniature paintings of Laila-Majnu, Sohni-Mahiwal, Sassi-Pannun and life-size figurines of Heer-Ranjha depicting the scene where Ranjha came to meet Heer, his beloved, disguised as an ascetic.

                It also exhibits kavad, woodcraft from Rajasthan, musical instruments like algoja (an aero-phonic instrument), ektara (one-string musical device), phad paintings, ravanhatta (two-string stick fiddle) and bani-thani paintings from Rajasthan. It also puts on view love legends of Padmavati-Ratan Singh (Rajasthan), Himal-Nagrai (Jammu and Kashmir) and folk dances of various states. The second floor displays many other folk tales including story of how Panna Dai saved Maharana Pratap, Rupmati-Baz Bahadur (from Mandu in Gwalior), Gagaur dance of Haryana, Karma dance of Chhattisgarh, Heramal-Jamal, leather puppets and costumes of other gypsy dancers.

                Anand has developed the museum as a major art and craft centre where frequent workshops are organised for school children. She also conducts tours for recreation. “We teach the students basket weaving, paper craft, rangoli, pottery, tie and die patterns and also about herbal gardens etc,” she claims, sitting next to her chartered accountant husband.

                Today the museum is surrounded by under-construction skyrises as builders from Delhi and Gurgaon are building various apartments. There is pressure on Anand too from property sharks. But the couple is in no mood to part with the heritage, they have nurtured over the years. “We’ve somehow managed to pay the first installment (Rs 64 lakh) for change of land use fee to Haryana government. We’ll sell off a part of the farmhouse to raise rest of the money,” they confide in unison.

                Some of the love legends and folklore exhibited through miniature paintings, sculpture etc:

                Sohni-Mahiwal: Sohni, beautiful daughter of a potter called Tulla, was in love with Izzat Beg, a young aristocrat from Bukhara who traveled to India disguised as a cowherd to be with his lady love in 18th century during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The two drowned in Chenab, the river. Sohni would cross every night on a pitcher to meet him.

                Mirza-Sahiba: Another love legend from undivided Punjab, this is the only story where boy’s name comes before the girl. Mirza was killed by Sahiba’s brothers and the girl killed herself with a sword.

                Sassi-Punnun: A contemporary of Sohni-Mahiwal, Sassi-Punnun romance also had a tragic end as Punnun’s brother was opposed to his match with the daughter of a ruler of Binor. The two lovers found peace and reunion in a grave in the desert.

                Laila-Majnu: Laila, the only child of a chief of Basara, was in love with Qais (who later came to be known as Majnu), crown prince of Yemen. King Ibn, who pursued Laila, was largely responsible for a tragic end to the tale. But he could not separate them in death as Qais ultimately died on Laila’s grave.

                Nihal De-Nar Sultan: The legend is extremely popular in Haryana and is either sung in the form of a ballad or staged in the form of a folk-play. Nihal, princess of a kingdom called Kelagarh, got married to Sultan, son of King Mainpal of Kichakgarh dynasty, but for some reason the latter had to leave her. One version says they lived happily ever after while the other claims Nihal burned herself as Sultan failed to return to her.

                Chap Singh-Somwati: Chap Singh, born to King Angdhwaj, who joined Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan’s army in youth, was married to Somwati, a princess of Jammu. He had to leave Somwati alone immediately after marriage as there was a call from duty.

                Sher Khan, a noble in Shah Jehan’s court challenged that a single woman could not be faithful to her husband. He sent an old woman to Somwati to know certain intimate details about her body (a mole on her left thigh). Later he claimed to have slept with her. Distressed Somwati disguised as a dancer asked the emperor to hand over to him Sher Khan who claimed to have spent a night with her. Since Sher Khan had never seen her before, he objected to this. Sher Khan was hanged for his treachery.

                Shakuntala-Dushyant: The story of Dushyant’s encounter, marriage, separation and reunion with his queen, Shakuntala has been immortalised in Mahabharata epic and in recognition of Shakuntala by great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. He met Shakuntala in hermitage of Rishi Vasudeva Kanva. The couple had a gandharva marriage (marriage without formal rituals). He returned to his kingdom, Hastinapur, leaving his queen behind and forgets about her. How Shakuntala walked to the kingdom and reminded him of the marriage through a ring he had gifted to her is the crux of the story. Emperor Bharata, one of the ancestors of Pandavas and Kauravas, after whose name India is named, was son of Shakuntala-Dushyant.

                Himal-Nagrai: The mythical tale of Nagrai, a serpent who took human form in the house of a Brahmin Soda Ram and Himal, daughter of a King in Kashmir, is popular in Jammu and Kashmir. The myth goes that the two lovers married, got killed and were brought to life again by a holy man.

                Padmavati-Ratan Singh: The epic poem Padmavat, written by Malik Muhammad Jaisi in Awadhi dialect in 1540 is a fictionalised version of the historic siege of Chittor by Alauddin Khilji. Khilji attacked Chittor in 1303 AD after hearing of beauty of queen Rani Padmini, the wife of King Rawal Ratan Singh. Finding the Chittor fort highly fortified, Khilji laid siege of it. When the supplies were stopped, Ratan Singh had no alternate but to open the gates and fight to the finish. Queen Padmini and wives of Chittor soldiers committed jauhar (killed themselves) to protect their honour from Khilji and his men.

                Habba Khatun-Yusuf Shah Chak: Khatun alias Zoon was a 16th century Muslim poet from the village of Chandrahar of Kashmir. She was married to peasant boy who did not quite understand longings of her heart. She used to sing melancholic songs. One day, Chak who later became ruler of Kashmir, heard her songs. They got married. But Chak was arrested by Mughal Emperor Akbar and kept in confinement. The songs of Zoon are full of sorrow of separation.

                Aniruddha-Usha: Usha, the daughter of Bana, the king of Sonitpur (present Tezpur in Assam), was in love with Aniruddha, the grandson of lord Krishna. The two got married but Bana imprisoned Aniruddha and sent Usha into a secret hideout. Krishna defeated Bana and reunited the lovers.

By Narendra Kaushik

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