A recent trip to Ranikot Fort had me question the motive behind its creation. Its 26-km circumference defies all logic. It stands, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere and somehow there are no historical records detailing why this fort was built, and why it was built on this location.
There are multiple myths attached to Ranikot Fort. Locals narrate that the surrounding mountains are home to fairies, who descend from the skies to drink water from the Paryun Jo Tar. Another tale claims that these fairies descend during Ponam nights to bathe at this same spring, near Karo Jabal. There is also a spring from where splashing water can be heard; this is called Waggun jo Tarr. It whas been named after the crocodiles it once hosted.
In a piece, I explored desi urban legends that my generation grew up with. After this excursion to Ranikot Fort, my friends and I exchanged narratives attached to historical sites in Pakistan. We realized that our country has an incredibly rich folklore history; but many aren’t familiar with these stories. Let me elaborate:
Pooran Da Kho, Sialkot
The legendary Pooran Da Kho well reflects Sialkot’s epic historical significance. It is frequented by Pakistanis and Indians alike. Interestingly, there are no reliable writings or records of the well. A general belief links the well to Pooran Bhagat, the celibate son of Rani Achran and Raja Salawan, the second century ruler.
Legend holds that soon after Pooran’s birth, priests advised his parents to send him into exile for 12 years, otherwise the family could lose their status. The child was sent to live in a forest, during which period Raja Salawan never saw his son and married Luna, a lower caster Hindu cast.
When Pooran returned after 12 years, he fell in love with his young stepmother, Luna and this is where the story starts. Luna offered to marry him, but he refused because of the unacceptable nature of their romance. This refusal angered Luna, who told Raja Salawan that his son tried to harass her. In anger, the ruler ordered his soldiers to kill Pooran. The soldiers did not want to kill the prince, so they amputated his limbs and left him near a well in the forest. Other sources, say that his legs and arms were severed and then thrown into the well.
Another version of this narrative says that the childless Raja Salawan and Luna were advised to visit a yogi who lived in the forest and pray for a child. Shocked to learn that the yogi turned out to be Pooran, Luna admitted that she lied about Pooran and sought forgiveness. Pooran forgave the couple and prayed for them to be blessed with a child. He spent his remaining life in the forest as an ascetic. To date, many childless couples visit Pooran’s well where women bathe in the well water, tying their scarves to a tree near the well and pray for a child.
The Haunted Makli Tombs
Situated in interior Sindh is one of the world’s oldest and largest graveyards: Makli. The necropolis hosts over 1,000,000 graves, including those of royals, Sufi saints and esteemed scholars. Dating back over 400 years ago, Makli was marked as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1981.
The legend goes that a hajj pilgrim once experienced a sense of spirituality at the site, declaring it a Makkah for him. The reigning Sufi Saint, Sheikh Hamad Jamali upon hearing this story entitled the site as Makli.
But another more known story is that of a local guard. It is said that on his first day of duty, he heard some children playing nearby. As the noise became clearer and clearer, he unsuccessfully went looking for them. In a state of frenzy, he absconded his post. Another account also involves a guard; locals say that while he was on his routine rounds, he saw a child emerge from one of the graves. The child slowly turned into an old man before ultimately just vanishing, in a matter of seconds.
The Caves of Gondrani
Alternatively known as Shehr-e-Roghan, Shehr-e-Mai Gondrani and Puraney Ghar, Gondrani is an archaeological wonder located near Bella. It is known for its mysterious ancient caves that hold traces of an unknown civilization.
Tour guides use the story about Gondrani being inhabited by jinns to attract travelers. In a battle against these demons, the elderly Mai Gondrani sacrificed her life, saved the locals and killed the flesh eating monsters. She is buried near these caves and her burial spot has become a famous local shrine.
Another local folklore says that King Solomon’s daughter, Badiul Jamal was haunted by six jinns, each of whom wanted to take her off with them. To free his daughter from these jinns, the king invited seven heroes. They all tried their luck, but none was successful. Prince Saif-ul-Muluk made the last attempt, killing the jinns and releasing Badiul Jamal. This same story is somehow more commonly attached to Lake Saif-ul-Muluk, located in Naran’s Kaghan Valley.
Pir Chattal Noorani Gandhawa
Right in the middle of Jhal Magsi, about 294 km ahead of Quetta, is a freshwater oasis. It is known for its abundant 2-feet long fish and the resting place of the revered Pir Chattal, a local saint. The fish are sacred to this saint and it is commonly believed that anyone who caught, ate, or harmed them would face a dreadful death. The fish would kill the perpetrator and then come out of the dead bodies alive. The story is a myth; but considering these fish have been around since forever, chances are that this legend may have some weight.
Katas Raj Temples
40 kilometers south of Chakwal, on the Kallar Kahar-Choa Saidan Shah Road, is the revered Katas Raj Temple, also called Sat Garha. Residing within the complex are seven temples: a Buddhist Era stupa, the Hari Singh Haveli, ruins of several other temples and a police fencepost erected around the holy Ishnan.
Legend holds that the pond was formed when Lord Shiva cried after his wife, Sati’s sudden demise. The teardrops created two ponds: one in Chakwal and the other at Pushkar in Ajmer, India.
Hindu pilgrims bathe in the Ishnan, seeking forgiveness of their sins. They worship the Linga Stone, that symbolizes the Lord Shiva, seeking to end their suffering and the praying for the fulfilment of desires and to reverse infertility. According to the Mahabharata, the Pandava brothers spent four of their 14 years in exile here.
Why are these tales not more famous?
These are some of the more known stories. But other lesser known tales include myths surrounding the Mum of Quetta and the fables of Lahore Fort’s secret tunnels. There’s the fascination behind the underground tunnel at Mohatta Palace and the location of Aitchison College that was originally intended to be in Dehli. How many of us know about Karachi’s Freemason’s Lodge and Mohen-jo-Daro’s atomic war? Other narratives describe the legends of Koh-i-Chiltan and Shireen Cinema.
But coming back to our original realization: why are these legendary tales not more famous? Is it because these stories aren’t as mainstream as Sassi Pannu? Or is it because these fables are strictly specific to their geographical locations and the art of their preservation is either absent or dying?
This makes me feel that there is still so much to explore in Pakistan. If we don’t respect and understand our past, how will we honour our present? Pakistan will always have a rich and unique history, regardless of how much we change as a nation. We should own our uniqueness, as an integral part of our history and hold on to it tightly.