In the land of Marvi

February 6, 2022

The village of Bhalwa, one of the major tourist attractions in Nagarparkar, is where the famous Marvi’s Well is located

In the land of Marvi

The vibrant colours of the Thari dresses, faces filled with joy, streams of fresh water burbling along the red granite rocks of Karoonjhar are some of the mesmerising attractions of Thar and Parkar. Travellers moved by the accounts of those already bewitched by the sights and sounds come in droves to witness the magic of Thar.

During Saavan, the desert becomes more beautiful than ever. The locals find themselves busier than usual, gathering water for the whole year, grazing their cattle and collecting the blessings of the season. It is the season to rejoice.

The road from Islamkot to Nagarparker offers captivating sights along the way including many historically significant places. The Bhalwa village, located near Nagarparkar, is considered an important cultural landmark. According to the Umar Marvi folktale, this is the village where the well, famously known as Marvi Juo Kho or Marui’s Well, is located.This is the well where Marvi spent time with her childhood friends. Bhalwa falls in Nagarparkar talukaof Tharparkar district.

The place is officially known now as Marvi Cultural Centre. Turning it into a tourist resort has helped attract tourists. However, going down this route sometimes dampens the essence of the place, that which attracts tourists to these sites in the first place. Many trees in the area, some of those centuries old,were cut down to erect the boundary wall of during the development of the Marvi Cultural Centre. The Centre is a modern structure with traditional Thari canopy architecture. A shaded pathway with marble flooring has been constructed from the building to the Well (Marvi Juo Kho). Within the Cultural Centre, there is a tiny museum with fibreglass statues of Marvi, her friends and Umar Soomro. There are some other artefacts as well. However, no information about the artefacts is available readily. Tourists are thus left to speculate on their history, some of them mistaking them for antiques from Marvi’s time.

The only things to show from that time are perhaps cavity stones and an old timber superstructure to draw water from the well. The Cultural Centre has a boundary wall and more than two dozen cornucopus trees. The kandi and lohiro trees that were planted earlier are unfortunately no more. Also, the local women no longer come to fill their pitchers at the well.

There is not a single restaurant in the area to offer hygienic traditional Thari food, not even a tuck shop to facilitate the tourists. Next to the main entrance of the Cultural Centre, there is a small tea stall that has never garnered favourable reviews from the tourists.

In his recently published book, Mithi:Whispers in the Sand, celebrated travel writer Salman Rashid reminisces about his travels to Sindh in early 1980s and then in 2017. Besides many details about the art, history, culture, geography, folklore and the architecture of Tharparkar, the book talks about changes that have occurred during this period. Rashid writes: “In Thar, and perhaps in all of Sindh, Marvi alone stands out as an extraordinarily rebellious heroine: a young and defenceless woman who resisted the overtures of an all-powerful monarch and regained her freedom. Marvi’s tale has long been sung as a love song. It is very strange that the intellectuals failed to look at it as it really is: a story of resistance to the powers that be.”

During the British colonial period, Charles Kincaid, the master collector and compiler of Indian tales, published Tales of the Old Sind. Besides other stories, he translated the folklore of Umar Marvi into English. In Sindh, Kincaid relied on two gentlemen, Hassomal and Tarachand, as his sources. In those days, there was an Educational Society that maintained publications carrying the folklore.

–– Photo by George Sadiq.
–– Photo by George Sadiq.

During Saavan, the desert becomes more beautiful than ever. The locals find themselves busier than usual, gathering water for the whole year, grazing their cattle and collecting all the blessings of the season. It is the season to rejoice.

The earliest records of Sindhi literature and folklore date back to the Soomra period (1050-1350). During this period, Sindhi became the common language of verbal narration. It was heavily influenced by Arabic and Persian. This is known as the romantic period of the history of Sindh. It was during this period that much of what is now known as the folk literature of Sindh, was written. In the early 18th Century, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai travelled across Sindh and collected folktales. Bhittai immortalised the tale of Umar-Marvi in Shah Jo Risalo, whichalso covers the socio-cultural conditions in the Eighteenth Century Sindh. This was when Sindh was witnessing social and political changes in the aftermath of Aurangzeb’s death and the consequent weakening of the Mughal Empire. Shah Jo Risalo is considered the greatest collection of Sindhi poetry and is revered by every segment of the society.

Bhittai told the story of Marvi around three hundred years ago. It is one of the tales of the seven females or the Sat Soormiyoon,that appear in Shah Jo Risalo. These are Marvi, Moomal, Lilan, Sassi, Noori, Sohni, and Sorath. These seven female characters, that the poet selected to convey his poetic message, have long been regarded as cultural icons.They are celebrated in Sindh for their bravery, passion, loyalty, commitment and strength of character. Marvi is famous, in particular, for putting up resistance, highlighting the importance of free consent and her commitment to tradition.

Bhittai praises Sat Soormiyoon in his verse, dedicating a sur (long lyrical poem) to each soormi. In many popular romances emerging from the Indus Valley, women are the real heroes; standing up against the oppressors and challenging their power.

In Sur Marvi, Bhittai portrays Marvi as a person of high resolve, for her preference of love over wealth and her commitment to freedom from oppressor. Consider the following lines from Shah Jo Risalo :

O Soomra! So long as I am alive I will not wear silken/garments you gave me. I love to wear my ancestral/head-cover. I will never marry you.

We,the poor people, do not barter our kinsmen for gold. I/ will not do anything unconventional in Umar Kot. I/ love my sheds. I will not exchange them with/luxurious buildings.

O Soomra! If I die in Umar Kot remembering my/native place, kindly send my corpse to my people. I/believe that the fragrance of the plants of Malir will/resurrect me.

(Excerpts from Shah Jo Risalo,aka Ganj-i- Latif Translated by Muhamamd Yaqoob Agha published by Shah Abdul Latif BhitShah Cultural Centre Committee Hyderabad, Sindh )

When Marvi finally escaped from the castle, the king, Umar, did not pursue her, giving in to her desire to live freely in her desert.

Bahru Mal Omrani, poet, writer and folklorist, has published a number of books on Thar. He writes that on March 6, 1968, the Tharparkar district council organised Marvi Ka Mela for the first time. The Sindhgovernment then organised it every year for decades. However, the event has been discontinued now.

In the land of Marvi

Purana Parkar by Mangha Ram Ojha, translated into Urdu by Sindhi Adabi Board, has more details about Marvi and Bhalwa in poetic prose. Ojha writes that during 1355 AD Umar Soomro II, took Amerkot from the Sodha Rajputs. His rule lasted till 1390.

No booklet or brochure is available for visitors to Marvi Juo Kho or the Marvi Cultural Centre. There are no bookstores in Nagarparker and Islamkot. However, Mithi, the district headquarters, has a wide range of bookstores where books on Sindhi and Thari literature are available. Thar Kitab Ghar (Thar Book House) is one such oasis. The best way to comprehend this and other folktalesis to learn Sindhi so as not to miss the nuances lost in translation.

The writer tweets at @Ammad_Alee

In the land of Marvi