The hues of ancient love

Observe how the celebration of love has always thrived in our country through folklore from different regions.
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.

Stories of love are as old as the hills. Eras may have passed, drenched in wars and natural catastrophes, but love in all shades blossomed amid it all. From young love unfolding in royal palaces to forbidden romances lurking bravely in disguises, history is replete with tales that tug at hearts. Valentine’s Day has been often dismissed as a Western import, Jitha Karthikeyan observes that the celebration of love has always thrived in our country as this folklore from different regions serves to prove.


The story of the love between Heer and Ranjha is one of the most popular tragic romances in Punjab. Heer was a beautiful, rich damsel while Ranjha was the youngest of four brothers, who lived a life of ease, passionately playing the flute while his brothers toiled in the fields. Quarrelling with his brothers after the death of his father, he left home and arrived in Heer’s village. Mesmerised by the music of his flute, she fell in love with him and they clandestinely met for several years, until her uncle discovered their love. As with most tragic romances, she was quickly married off to another man and the heartbroken Ranjha renounced the world and embraced an ascetic life. His wandering path eventually took him to Heer’s marital home and the lovers reunited and returned to her village where her parents finally agreed to allow their marriage. In a final twist to the plot, her uncle poisoned her food to prevent the wedding and, unable to save her on time, Ranjha too consumed the poisoned food and died by her side. The tomb of Heer-Ranjha is to this day, visited by love-smitten couples.


The entire world acknowledges the Taj Mahal as the grandest embodiment of love. Tourists flock from around the globe to be reminded of an affection that even death could not erase, simply by basking in the beauty of this grand monument built by Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz. Mahal. Yet, the poignant love story of Shah Jahan’s eldest daughter, Jahan Ara has been largely ignored. When an Englishman, Nicholas Ballantyne, arrived in India as squire to Sir Thomas Roe, the first English Ambassador to the Mughal Court during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, he instantly fell in love with Jahan Ara. It is believed that both spoke at length on many occasions and exchanged letters too. Obviously, this a clear case of forbidden love, back in the day, when royal women were not allowed to talk to strangers, especially to a commoner hailing from an alien land their relationship was bound for disaster. In the end, aware of his fate, Nicholas left the shores of India and returned to London, bidding his final farewell to his precious Jahan, never to see her again.


This love story from Gujarat has a noble cause as its backbone. The Adalaj stepwell in Gujarat built in the 16th century is one of the finest examples of Indian architecture behind which lies an extraordinary tale. King Rana Veer Singh started the construction, as his kingdom was often subjected to water shortages but the well was completed by his Queen, Rani Roopba. The story goes like this – the king was killed in a battle by the invading forces of Mahmud Begada who was so enamoured by Rani Roopba’s beauty that he proposed marriage. Desperately desiring the completion of the stepwell for the sake of her husband and her people, she accepted the proposal on the condition that Mahmud would undertake that task before the wedding. Happy that she had succumbed, the invader ensured that the well was ready in record time, only to discover to his shock that the woman of his dreams, Rani Roopba, had jumped into the well to end her life in memory of her true love for her lost husband. The Queen’s supreme sacrifice for her parched kingdom is still remembered today.

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” This Valentine’s Day, let us cherish the loved ones in our lives and remember that love is the only thing to hold onto to take us through life.


This story from Tamil Nadu begins about 2,000 years ago. While out on an evening stroll in his capital Puhar, the Chola King Killivalavan saw a beautiful woman and it was love at first sight. The courtship lasted a month until one day, the woman disappeared mysteriously. Not knowing her identity, the forlorn king was unable to trace her. Later on, a sage told the king that she was a Naga princess who would never return, but that their son would come back to him from the sea to carry on his legacy. On the birth of a boy, as prophesied, the princess sent the child on a boat with a garland of creepers (Thondai Kodi) around his neck for identification. The boat capsized but the boy survived to be united with his overjoyed father. The king went forth to name his kingdom Thondai Naadu and his son, who was carried by the waves to him, as Thondaiman Thiraiyar, who eventually ascended the Chola throne in the years that followed.


Rajasthan may conjure up visions of courage and honour, but the land is also known for ancient stories where love triumphs, the most famous one being that of Dhola and Maru. When the Narwar King, Dhola and the Princess of Poongal, Maru were married as toddlers, it was a marriage for a political alliance. The couple grew up oblivious to the other in their respective kingdoms. The death of the King’s father hurried his ascension to the throne and marriage to Princess Malwani. The royal household of Poongal however, awaited the king’s arrival to claim his child bride but in vain. Messages to him were intercepted by his second wife until a folk singer was dispatched from Poongal to trigger the king’s memory. The plan worked and the shocked king who then remembered his childhood promise, set off to bring home his bride. The return journey was difficult with many obstacles to be overcome, but the story has a happy ending with Maru reaching Narwar and Queen Malwani accepting her presence. Countless songs and couplets in the history of Rajasthan narrate this endearing story.

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The New Indian Express