Let’s travel to discover tales of eternal love that have inspired filmmakers, poets and artists
A young and brave Chandragupta is pulled between his love and his goal… Upset, he tells his guru Chanakya, ‘my heart pains…’ I am glued to the idiot box, watching the serial Chandragupta Maurya, based on the life of the first emperor of the Maurya Empire (321-297 BC), who falls in love with the daughter of his sworn enemy–king Dhanananda of Magadha. Sadly, Google did not help me with this love story, instead popped out Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Salim-Anarkali, Shah Jahan-Mumtaz Mahal, Bajirao-Mastani, Soni-Mahiwal, Radha-Krishna and more. Etched in time, carved on stone, written in words, painted on canvas, captured on film are these great love stories. And we are on a trip to find romantic places, where eternal love lives on. Unlike man-made borders, love does not know limitations, so many of the stories are centred in undivided India (before the Partition of 1947).
What is love? The dictionary defines love as a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Cultures and philosophers define this tenderness, affection in different ways. Some call it a gift from God while others say that it is an unexplainable mystery, much like a mystical experience.
1. Taj Mahal, Agra: A Wonder of the world
The mystical experience called love lives on in at the most beautifully handcrafted marble mausoleums in the world. The marble marvel is the final resting place of the romantic royal couple Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Emperor himself described the Taj in these words:
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.
(Muslim Rule In India by Vidya Dhar Mahajan)
Inspirations: The silver screen tried to capture this royal love way back in 1941, again in 1963, and in 2005 there was the much publicised film by Akbar Khan. The magical monument also has replicas in Bangladesh, Bibi Ka Maqbara in Aurangabad (Maharashtra), Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City (New Jersey) and the Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
How to reach: Agra is easily accessible from Delhi and the city can be explored in a day’s time. It takes 3 hours by road, 2 hours via train and around 4 hours by bus.
More to see: Agra Fort, Sikandar Tomb and other buildings from the Mughal era.
Love also lives on in the little village of Bijnore in Rajasthan, where the tombs of the iconic Laila-Majnu are visited every year by lovers and newlyweds on June 15. Folks say that the persecuted lovers found refuge here before breathing their last.
The villagers believe that Laila and Majnu were from Sindh and escaped to these parts. The romantic pair is mentioned in 7th century Persian literature in the writings of Nezami Ganjvir—the poet Qays loved Laila to the point of madness and was called ‘Majnu’ or ‘Mad’.
Inspirations: Filmmakers have been fascinated by Laila-Majnu from the silent era. Not many know that in pre-partition India, the first Pashto-language film was an adaptation of this story. In India, films were made in 1922, 1927, 1931, 1962, 1976 and the film Aaja Nachle (2007) has a 15-minute musical play on their life.
The love story has even found its way in books–Orhan Pamuk makes references to Laila and Majnu in his novel, The Museum of Innocence. In A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Rasheed often refers to Laila and Tariq as Laila and Majnu.
How to reach: Bijnore villiage is 11km from Anupgarh, Sri Ganganagar which is 412 km from Delhi. There is a railway station at Ganganagar. And the nearest airport is at Amritsar (about 4 hours drive).
About 35 km from Amritsar and Lahore, near the Wagah border, is the village of Pul Kanjri, a UNESCO World heritage site. Maharaja Ranjit Singh built a baradari (bara means 12, the place had 12 doors)here to stay while passing by with his royal troop.
A young muslim dancer (Punjabi word kanjri means concubine) Moran (meaning little peacock), hailing from Lahore was on her way to dance at the Maharaja’s baradari. Her silver shoe fell into the water channel on the way and she refused to dance until a pul (bridge) was built. So ‘Pul Kanjri’ came into existence. So much in love with Moran, the Maharaja even issued a coin in her name and was punished by the custodian of the Akal Takht Sahib Akali Phoola Singh for this.
How to reach: Amritsar is well connected by road and air to all the major cities in India. From there, this site is 35km and taxis can be hired.
There are several poetic narrations of Heer Ranjha, the most famous being ‘Heer’ by Waris Shah written in 1766. An extremely beautiful woman, Heer, was born into a wealthy Jat family of the Sayyal clan in Jhang, Punjab, Pakistan. Ranjha, also a Jat of the Ranjha clan, was the youngest of four brothers and lived in the village ‘Takht Hazara’ by the river Chenab. It is said that Ranjha left his home because his brothers’ wives refused to give him food. Eventually he arrived in Heer’s village and fell in love with her. Heer offered Ranjha a job as caretaker of her father’s cattle and was mesmerised by his flute.
They met secretly for many years until they were caught by Heer’s jealous uncle, Kaido, and her parents Chuchak and Malki. Heer was forcibly married to Saida Khera. And Ranjha wandered the countryside alone, until he meets an ascetic. After meeting Baba Gorakhnath, the founder of the ‘Kanphata’ (pierced ear) sect of jogis, at ‘Tilla Jogian’ (the ‘Hill of Ascetics’, located 50 miles north of the historic town of Bhera, Sargodha District, Punjab, Pakistan), Ranjha became a jogi.
Reciting ‘Alakh Niranjan’, he reached the village where Heer lived. The two returned to Heer’s village, where Heer’s parents agreed to their marriage. However, on the wedding day, Heer’s uncle Kaido poisoned her food. Ranjha rushed to aid Heer, but it was too late. Brokenhearted, Ranjha ate the poisoned laddu which Heer had eaten and died by her side. Heer and Ranjha are buried in Heer’s hometown Jhang. Lovers often pay visits to their mausoleum.
Inspirations: The epic poem has been made into several feature films with versions in 1928, 1929, 1931, 1948. Later Indian versions include the Hindi films Heer Raanjha (1971) directed by Chetan Anand and starring Raaj Kumar and Priya Rajvansh. Then came another Heer Ranjha in 1992. The Punjabi film Heer Ranjha (2009) starred singer and actor Harbhajan Mann.
The story of Sohni-Mahiwal is popularised by Punjabi poet’s Fazal Shah Sayyad’s qissa (long poem), Sohni Mahiwal. Fazal Shah also composed poems on Heer Ranjha, Laila Majnu and others. Sohni is unhappily married and swims every night to the island where her beloved Mehar grazes buffaloes. One night her sister-in-law replaces the jar, which she uses as a sort of swimming vest, by a vessel of unbaked clay, and she dies in the whirling waves of the river. It’s a sad end for the lovers.
Inspirations: Many paintings of Sohni Mahiwal are executed, attracting well-known artists such as Sobha Singh. Folk versions of these paintings, in the Kangra style, are found across both Punjabs in Pakistan and India. Two Bollywood film versions, named Sohni Mahiwal have been made, in 1946 and 1984.
Echoes of love can also be heard in the hilltop fort of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh. This once-a-monsoon-retreat of the Mughal emperors tells the romantic tales of Rani Roopmati and Baz Bahadur. Rewa Kund in the fort is where the love between the poet-prince Baz Bahadur and shepherdess Roopmati flowered. This reservoir was built by Baz Bahadur, equipped with an aqueduct, to supply Roopmati’s palace with water. Rewa is another name for Narmada, the river Roopmati would begin every day with obeseiance to. The prince turned an army observation post as her pavilion to get a view of the river. But on foggy or cloudy days, Roopmati could not see the river, so Rewa Kund was constructed. From the picturesque pavilion perched on a hilltop, the queen could also gaze at her paramour’s palace.
Unfortunately, their love had a tragic end when the Mughal emperor, Akbar, spurned by Roopmati’s beauty, attacked Mandu and Baz Bahadur fled Mandu leaving his lover to poison herself.
Inspirations: In 1599, Ahmad-ul-Umri Turkoman, while in the service of Sharaf-ud-Din Mirza, wrote the story of Rani Roopmati in Persian. He collected 26 poems about her also. The original manuscript passed to his grandson Fulad Khan and his friend Mir Jafar Ali made a copy of the manuscript in 1653. This copy reached C.E. Luard and in 1926 it was translated into English by L.M. Crump titled The Lady of the Lotus: Rupmati, Queen of Mandu, A Strange Tale of Faithfulness. This version also has a collection of 12 dohas, 10 kavitas and three sawaiyas of Roopmati.
In 1957, S.N.Tripathi directed a film Rani Roopmati, which had the soulful song Laut ke Aaja Mere Meet by Lata Mangeshkar.
How to reach: Mandu is about an hour’s drive from Indore, which is well connected by rail, road and air from major cities in India. From there, taxis can be hired for the day. But it’s a good idea to stay back and watch the light and sound show in the evening.
Son of the great Mughal emperor Akbar, Salim, was mesmerised by a beautiful courtesan Anarkali. But the emperor did not like this. He devised all sorts of tactics to make her fall in the eyes of the love-smitten prince. When Salim came to know of this, he declared a war against his own father. But was defeated and sentenced to death. Then Anarkali renounced her love to save her beloved from the jaws of death and was entombed alive in a brick wall right in front of her lover’s eyes. The Agra fort is alive with the love of the great Mughal.
Inspirations: Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar immortalised their love when she sung the soulful ‘pyaar kiya to darna kiya’ in the 1960-film Mughal-e-Azam, picturised on the love story of Salim-Anarkali.
How to reach: Agra is easily accessible by road and rail from Delhi.
A lesser known love story comes from the city of Nizams—Hyderabad. It revolves around Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah and his lovely begum. A charming girl of 14, Bhagmati—or Bhagyamati as she was also called—lived in the village of Chichlam, the area where Charminar now stands. Bhagmati was known as a great singer and Abu Muzaffar, the Prince of Golconda, also known as Mohammad Quli, fell in love with her when he heard her sing in the temple.
After the death of the king, Mohammad Quli became the sultan. He married the daughter of Mir Shah Mir, a Peshwa. Bhagmati was shattered, but continued with her daily rituals at the temple. After two months, Mohammad visited Chichlam and convinced Bhagmati that she was the one he truly loved. Mohammad Quli Qutub and Bhagmati were married. Everyone suspected that Bhagmati would join the Sultan’s harem. But that didn’t happen. Bhagmati remained his true begum as long as she lived.
Quli Qutub was so much in love with her that he built a new village for her. It was named Bhagnagar. The begum was given the title Hyder Mahal, after which Hyderabad is named.
How to reach: Hyderabad is well connected by air, rail and road to all the major cities in India.
In the city of Pune, we find remnants of love between Bajirao and Mastani in the legendary palace Shaniwar Wada. This 13-storey palace was the seat of the Peshwas and built in 1736. The young Peshwa was married to Kashibai but fate intervened. He fell in love with a warrior princess Mastani who left her father’s palace to marry the Peshwa.
The palace’s north-east corner held Mastani Mahal and had its own external doorway called Mastani darwaza. Because of his family’s intolerance of Mastani, Baji Rao later built a separate residence for Mastani at Kothrud in 1734, some distance away from Shaniwar Wada. The site still exists at the Mrutyunjay temple on Karve road. Mastani’s grave at Pabal village near Pune is known as Mastani Samadhi. Local lore goes that while in Pune, Mastani used to go for her bath to a lake, created specially for her on Pune-Saswad Road, with her entourage. That lake still exists.
Inspirations: Dhiruhbai Desai made a film on Mastani in 1955. A Marathi serial, Rau, was produced in the 1990s. A serial, titled Shrimant Peshwa Baji Rao Mastani, was telecast on ETV Marathi. More closer, the movie Bajirao Mastani made history with famous actors, now a couple, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.
How to reach: Pune is 3 hours drive from Mumbai. It is well connected by air and road to other cities of India.
Lovers say ‘pyaar ibadat ki tarah hai (love is like worship)’ and this is true for the famous Indian God, Krishna, whose spiritual love was Radha, a gopi. In the 12th century, Jayadeva Goswami wrote a famous poem Gita Govinda, which talks about the spiritual love affair between the blue god Krishna and his devotee Radha. Temples in Vrindavan and Mathura stand testimony to this eternal love, the most famous being Shree Radha Ras Bihari Ashta Sakhi Mandir.
How to reach: Vrindavan is two hours drive from Delhi.
If anything can tide over time, it is surely love, even tragic love. Apparently Dhola and Maru aren’t the only famous lovers in Rajasthan. Tales of Moomal and Rano too were alive at Moomal ki Thadi (platform), in Ludhruva. near Jaisalmer. Here, Moomal waited for her lover Rano. Some say he was called Mahendru. There was a temple too there, which historians have dated to the Middle Ages.This saga goes back to the mid-14th century and finds its way into the book of poems titled Ganj or Shah Jo Risalo written by Sindhi scholar and Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. A mix of Sindhi and Rajasthani folklore, it says that Rano Mendhro was a minsiter in the court of the king of Umerkot or Amarkot (now a district in the south-east of Sindh province in Pakistan).
On a hunting spree, the king and his ministers heard about the beautiful Moomal who lived in Ludhrawa. The family lived in a magical palace called Kak Mahal which had labyrinths, illusions, fake ponds and more. Along with her scheming sisters, she confused her suitors with puzzles and then robbed them.
Intrigued, the men went to find this beauty. But only the intelligent Rano Mendhro reached the palace and Moomal finally found her consort. Well, we all know the path of true love never does run smooth.
The jealous king could not digest this and ordered Rano not to meet Moomal. But love and disobedience go hand-in-hand. After work, Rano would leave for Ludhrawa on his camel and return to Umerkot by the morning. And one day he was caught and imprisoned. The king freed him, asking him stop the meetings. But Rano could not forget his beloved.
No priest or devotee ever comes to this temple in Kuldhara.
Then fate intervened. One day, he was late and Moomal asked her sister, Somal, to dress like Rano and lie down with her. When Rano came, he mistook the sister to be Moomal’s lover and departed, leaving behind his cane. In the morning Moomal saw the cane and realised her folly.
She waited for him at the ‘thadi’ for days. When he didn’t come, she went searching for him, disguised as a boy. Finally, she found him and begged for forgiveness, but Rano was unrelenting. The unfortunate girl jumped into a raging fire. A tragic Rano followed suit.
Another legend says that the young married man from Amarkot, Rana Mahendra, was enchanted by the beautiful Moomal. He visited her at night for 10 years, forgetting his wife. His parents flung him down a well and Moomal spent her days waiting at the ‘thadi’.
How to reach; Jaisalmer is well connected by rail, road and air to Delhi and other cities in Rajasthan. Taxis can be hired for a day trip to Ludruwa which is a famous Jain pilgrimage town.
Champion of the blind, Helen Keller said that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart. It’s love which turns the world around and creates eternal memories.
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