Dr. Shaukat Mahmood

The stories of lovers who believed in each other and their love even if the whole world was against them still inspire us and make us sad as well. A closer investigation of the greatest love stories in history reveals that many of the most famous lovers met a tragic end. According to Greek mythology, the love between Paris and Helen provoked the downfall of Troy. The story begins with the Trojan prince Paris being chosen to decide which of three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite – is the fairest. He chose Aphrodite because in return she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. And the most beautiful woman was Helen of Sparta who, however, was married to King Menelaus. A few years later, Paris went to Sparta and took Helen to Troy by which he triggered the Trojan War. Paris was mortally wounded during the fall of Troy, while Helen returned to her husband in Sparta.

The ancient Greek mythological hero Orpheus is best known for his beautiful music which charmed everyone, even the stones and wild beasts. But he is also known for his deep love for his wife Eurydice. When she died from a snake bite, Orpheus decided to go to the Underworld and bring her back with his music. The love between the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra and Mark Antony is recorded in history for their tragic end. Both committed suicide after they were defeated by the Romans under the leadership of Octavian. Cleopatra and Mark Antony are said to have been buried together but the location of their tomb remains a mystery.

Love story of Tristan and Iseult has been popularized in the 12th century France. It is thought to be inspired by an older Celtic legend. There are several versions of the story about the adulterous lovers but they all more or less follow the same outline. Another love affair, the story of Lancelot and Guinevere is a part of the Arthurian legend. It is thought to have been inspired or influenced by that of Tristan and Iseult. Just like the latter, Lancelot and Guinevere are adulterous lovers. Guinevere is married to King Arthur who, just like King Mark does not suspect anything at first. He eventually finds out about his wife being unfaithful to him with one of his most loyal knights.

 Probably the most famous love story of all was written by William Shakespeare sometime in the 1590s. Shakespeare’s story of the tragic love between Romeo and Juliet is probably based on Arthur Brooke’s poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet that was published in the 1560s. The latter is believed to be an English translation of a novella of Italian writer Matteo Bandello. But even his Romeo and Juliet are not original. The story reveals a major influence of ancient tragic love stories, most notably of the Roman story of Pyramus and Thisbe whose families despise each other and prevent the lovers to be together. Just like Pyramus kills himself, falsely believing that Thisbe is dead, Romeo also commits suicide for mistakenly believing that Juliet is dead. Did Shakespeare commit plagiarism can be anybody’s guess.

The relationship between Napoleon and Josephine, a six years older widow with two children was turbulent from the very start. Only two days after their wedding day, Napoleon left on a military campaign in Italy. Josephine who stayed behind in Paris soon started an affair with Hippolyte Charles, a lieutenant in Napoleon’s army. Napoleon was infuriated when he found out about his wife’s infidelity and soon started an affair on his own. ‘Tu nahi aur sahi’.

The love between Alexander I of Serbia and Draga Mašin appears to have been stronger than themselves. The relationship between the young King and 12 years older widow and lady-in-waiting to his mother caused an outrage in the country. But nothing could stop Alexander from marrying Draga and making her queen, not even his mother who was banished from the country for opposing the marriage. There are many other love stories like Eloise and Abelard, Pyramus and Thisbe, Elizebeth Bennett and Darcy, Pocahonatas and John Smith, Marie and Pierre Curie and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Paolo and Francesca are made famous by the Dante’s masterpiece Gone with the Wind can be identified as one of the immortal pieces of literary works. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina  and Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary are the other famous adulterous love stories.

Another literary work, this time from Iran is from the famous poet Nizami, he gives us the love affair of Laila and Majnun. This is an Arab legend once again ending in a tragedy.

It is interesting to note that while in the west most of the famous love affairs were of adulterous nature in the east the affairs were lead by young maidens and unmarried youth. Laila-Majnu, Shirin-Farhad, Sassi-Punnu, Sohni-Mahiwal and Heer-Ranjah reflect the same image where love plays the lead role not the sex.

There is a famous legend about Anarkali and Prince Salim (Emperor Jahangir). Akbarnama and Tuzk-i Jahangiri both say not a word about Anarkali. However according to tell-tale stories Nadira Begum or Sharf al-Nisa’, was a slave girl believed to have migrated from Iran to Lahore, Punjab with a trader's caravan. By virtue of her beauty she was able to reach the Mughal court. She is said to have been buried alive by the orders of Akbar. This love affair was first mentioned by an English tourist and trader William Finch in his journal, who visited India on August 24, 1608. The story was originally written by Indian writer Abdul Halim Sharar and on the first page of that book he had clearly mentioned it to be a work of fiction. Nevertheless, her story has been adapted into literature, art and cinema.

Shahjahan and Mumtaz Mahal were Mughal Royal couple who shared a loving marriage until Mumtaz died while giving birth to their 14th child. Shahjahan was devastated by his wife’s death and plunged into deep grief that affected him both emotionally and physically. But his grief inspired him to build one of the world’s greatest architectural masterpieces to serve as the final resting place of his beloved wife.

The story of Heer and Ranjha belongs to Jhang. Jhang is one of the oldest districts on the subcontinent, having being populated even around 2,000 BC, when it was known as Jhagi Sial. Jhang District covers 8,809 km. almost all the area is cultivatable land except in the north near Rabwah and Chenab Nagar where the land turns rocky as it approaches the Kirana hills. There is also an area known as the Sandal Bar arising from Pabbarwala near the Gujranwala boundary. Bar, in the local language, means a forested area where there are no resources for cultivation, like water. Jhang District was agricultural region with forests during the Indus Valley Civilization. The Vedic period is characterized by Indo-Aryan culture that invaded from Central Asia and settled in Punjab region. The Kambojas, Daradas, Kaikayas, Madras, Pauravas, Yaudheyas, Malavas, Saindhavas and Kurus invaded, settled and ruled ancient Punjab region. After overrunning the Achaemenid Empire in 331 BCE, Alexander marched into present-day Punjab region with an army of 50,000. The Okara was ruled in succession by Maurya Empire, Indo-Greek kingdom, Kushan Empire, Gupta Empire, White Huns, Kushano-Hephthalites and Hindu-Shahi kingdoms.

In 1005 Sultan Mahmud conquered the Shahis in Kabul in and followed it by the conquests of Punjab region. The Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal Empire ruled the region. The Punjab region became predominantly Muslim due to missionary Sufi saints whose dargahs dot the landscape of Punjab region. The Sial family ruled over 900 years on the district, so their family heads were entitled as the Nawab of Jhang state.

Heer was an extremely beautiful woman born in a very rich Sayal (Sial) family. Ranjha was the youngest of the four brothers. His real name was Teedo. Ranjha does not do anything except playing on his flute. After several altercations with his brothers and sisters-in-law for being not an earning member, Ranjah left home and after wandering for several months he reaches village of Heer. Heer offered him a job to look after her father’s cattle. Heer was mesmerized by the way Ranjha played the flute. Eventually they fell in love. There secret meetings continued for several years till their affair was detected by Heer’s uncle Kaido and parents Chuchak and Malki. Heer is then forced to marry Saida Khera against the wishes of Heer. The mullah who performed the nikkah was bribed and coerced by Kaido to do the job.

Ranjha after Heer’s marriage was down-trodden, broken-hearted and crest-fallen. He roamed in wilderness for days and days till h met a sadhu. He became his disciple and eventually became a sadhu himself. Ultimately he reached the village of Heer, they both planned an escape. They were caught by the police of the maharaja who put Ranjha in Jail and sent Heer to her parents. It is believed that maharaja’s city caught fire and considering it retribution he freed Ranja and ordered that Heer should be married to him. Heer’s parents also agreed but Kaido poisoned Heer and before the marriage could take place Heer was dead. Ranjha thereafter sat on the grave of Heer and ultimately died there of thirst and hunger. Within this love story emerges another love tale that is of Sehti and Murad. Sehti is sister of Saida Khera, she falls in love with a Baloch camel driver Murad Bakhsh.

Not many details are available of this love tale.