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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Marvi Jo Melo

The annual Marvi Jo Melo was inaugurated yesterday at Marvi Jo Khooh near Bhalwa village in Tharparkar, Sindh. This mela, a two-day affair, is arguably the biggest social and business event in the Thar area in which thousands of Tharis from various villages participate by putting up stalls under straw huts and shamianas to trade their arts and crafts and bringing their camels and horses to take part in the animal racing events. Other attractions of the mela include malakhra (wrestling competition), adabi conferences and musical programs in which various artists play or sing traditional folk songs.

The annual mela is a mark of tribute to one of the most well-known legendary heroines of Sindh, Marvi, famous for her purity and patriotism. The legend goes thus:

In the period of the Soomra rule there lived in Thar a poor shepherd named Palni, who had a beautiful daughter named Marvi. As Marvi grew older the fame of her beauty spread far and wide and reached the ears of Umer, the King of Umerkot and ruler of the Soomras. Off Umer went in search of her, disguised as a traveller and vowing to himself that he would find and make the beautiful girl his queen. On the fateful day they met, Marvi was filling water alone from a well. Looking at such beauty Umer was mermerized and knew this was her. He knelt down pretending to be a thirsty traveller asking for water, and as Marvi complied he swept her off her feet and forcefully on to his horse and made for Umerkot.

In Umerkot he tried to woo her but Marvi, who was engaged to her cousin Khet, held steadfast in her resistance and resolve to go back to her land and people. He tried to win her, proposed, begged, pleaded, offered her jewels and riches, confined her and eventually tortured and intimidated her, but Marvi did not relent. She shunned his advances, rejected his jewels, refused his velvet offerings and scorned his love - for she declared her love and longing for her land, her beloved and her people above everything else. As a fine translation goes,

My soul is sewn finely with my people
I miss the earth, the grass, the trees of my land
My heart dwells there though my flesh may be here
My breath is in the hut although my body to mansions bound

Seeing such sincerity and purity, Umer was heart-broken and finally sent for her people to come and collect her. Once back, Marvi walked on burning coal to prove her chastity and innocence, and lived happily ever after. This remarkable tale of Marvi's longing for her barren but beloved land has been immortalized in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

Coming back to the mela, the well where Marvi used to fetch water and was kidnapped from is today called Marvi Jo Khooh (the well of Marvi), though today the well, as most of Thar, has no water. The annual mela is the only time that the vast and desolated desert is in the news, in remembrance and celebration of the Thari Marvi's legendary patriotism.

In the words of Asif Farrukhi, all that is left of Marvi today is eternal thirst and longing for what is no longer there.

Cross-posted to chawkandi

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