Umerkot, situated at a distance of 400 kilometers from Larkana, Benazir Bhutto’s hometown, is known for two main reasons; the age old love story of Umer and Marvi and for being the birthplace of the Great Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great.
In an attempt to trace the history behind Umer, Marvi’s love story I traveled all the way to Umerkot
January 2016 is when I began my journey across the desert of Tharparkar. I, along with 13 companions, reached Umerkot at maghrib time, after traveling a couple of days, stopping at various spiritual sites on our journey, from Lahore.
As luck had it, we couldn’t find a place to stay the night we reached Umerkot. There were hardly any guest houses in the city and the one that was present was all booked with some foreign delegation. The Soomro family of Umerkot heard about us and were kind and warm enough to lend us four of their rooms to stay in. After settling in, one of my companions, Mehlab Jameel, narrated the love saga of Umer and Marvi.
Umerkot is named after the king Umer Soomro, the man who fell in love with Marvi.
“The story of Umer and Marvi appears in Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s Shah Jo Risalo. Bhittai’s version is considered the most famous and authentic one.
Marvi, a beautiful maid in the village of Malir in Tharparkar, was betrothed to a local villager, Khet, whom she loved dearly. His rival tried to impress Marvi, overcome as he was by her beauty, but she chose Khet over him. Stung by jealousy, he went to the court of the local ruler and spoke of Marvi’s beauty. Sindh was being ruled by Umer Soomro at the time, with his capital in Umerkot.
Umer visited Marvi’s village in Malir, in search of the beautiful damsel that the commoner waxed lyrical to him about.
Upon setting his eyes on her as she drew water from a well, he was so struck by her beauty that he asked her to marry him. He offered her jewels and the temptations of life in a palace, but Marvi refused. Umer abducted Marvi from that well and imprisoned her in his palace in Umerkot.
Marvi, who was used to the majestic sand dunes and vast skies of Thar, was grief-stricken with a life in the king’s palace. Like a caged bird, she would weep everyday and long for her home. Every day Umer would try to convince Marvi to marry him but she refused him, every time.
Gradually, with each passing day, Marvi’s memories of her homeland grew more painful, and she continued to refuse. Overwhelmed by grief, she stopped eating and bathing and was living in utmost misery.
Upon hearing of her melancholic state, Umer visited her and begged her to marry him so he could make her his queen and relieve her from her pain.
She replied, “If looking to my native land, with longing I expire; carry my body home, that I may rest in desert-sand; if my bones reach Malir, in the end, though dead, I’ll live again.”
Moved by her unwavering love for her homeland, Umer let Marvi go after a year of imprisonment. His men escorted Marvi to her village with due protocol and a message that she was being returned in the state that she had been taken.
When she reached her village, the elders cast doubts about her chastity but her lover, Khet, took her back and the marriage was back on track. On the night of her marriage, as she waited for her husband, she thought of what she would say if her husband questioned her chastity. This thought was too much for her to bear, and she breathed her last at that very moment.
Regardless of the circumstances of her death, Marvi was immortalized because of her strong-willed and determined character, and her pure love for her homeland. She is remembered today as one of the bravest women in Sindhi history. It wasn’t her love for Umer that makes her immortal but her love for her own home, her steadfast nature and her conviction are what make her an icon in Sindhi folk history.
The well where King Umer first laid his eyes on Marvi is currently located in the Bhalwa village of Nagarparkar.
Nagarparkar is basically a small town in the desert of Tharparkar and is located at a distance of 200 kilometers form Umerkot.
The well stands there in all its glory but it now has a cultural complex around it, called the Marvi Cultural complex.
The cultural complex consists of several Ghopa shaped structure; each of them harbors various things from the life of Umer and Marvi.
One of them has sculptures of Marvi, her friends and King Umer Soomro while the others have Marvi’s bangles, utensils and clothes in glass frames. While one of the Ghopas has sofas for the visitors to sit and reflect on this beautiful love story.
If you’re tired of going up north every time you need a vacation, maybe it’s time to head to the south and the witness the beauty that is Tharparkar.
Cover image via: panoakil.wordpress.com