Jaisalmer: Of curses and lovers
Opinion

Jaisalmer: Of curses and lovers

Scattered tombs, spring wells and tragic lovers - the golden sands of Jaisalmer shimmer with tales lost in time.

By Ambica Gulati

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The temple is cursed. No priest comes here, no devotee seeks blessings. A shivalinga replica lies in the sanctum. No one dares to remove it.

“Everyone is scared of the curse,” says my guide and host Nakul Hada, who manages Suryagarh, the hotel we were staying in. A movie was shot here a few years ago – the shivalinga, a prop for the movie, is no longer touched by human hands.

We were walking around the village of Kuldhara, abandoned overnight by the Paliwal Brahmins in 1825. Oscillating between history and legend, I discovered that residents from 83 other villages too had left the area. And now only ghosts lived in the remnants of homes, temples and ruins of a fort on a small hill. Paranormal experts had scanned the area around 2010 and had seen moving shadows and talking spirits.

The roots of the Paliwals go back to Maharaj Haridas. As the royal priests for Rukmani, they carried her love scripts to god Krishna, so says legend. After 6,000 years of living in the area, they were forced to leave as a mad diwan, Salim Singh, was obsessed with a beautiful girl in the village. Rather than subject the young girl to the hands of this devilish man, the villagers cursed the land and abandoned the area.

History’s version is that the water had depleted and got contaminated and the villagers were forced to abandon. Another study says the villages were abandoned due to an earthquake. No one knows their fate, but mysteries tingle the mind and the abandoned village sees many a curious traveller trudging through it in the sun.

Lost In Time

The sun is high now. There are no signs on the roads to guide us to the tombs of these royal priests. But before reaching the resting ground, we cross a village – Dedha, where lived the stonemasons. Unfinished yellow structures, coarse grass, a few homes and the sunlight bouncing off the small shrines in which rest gods resembling the fierce Bhairon; no one is around to confirm, though. The stonemasons built homes but their homes depended on meagre earnings. The structures will be completed as and when the money comes in, explains Hada.

We drive on to find a herd of sheep drinking water at an oasis. I think we surprised the rocky terrain, the harsh sun, the gentle sheep and the wrinkled shepherd with our curiosity to see their world. Around us are the tombs, the inscriptions scorched by the harsh sun, the figurines carved on stones commemorating the dead. But no one has bothered to cordon off the area or appoint a caretaker. History lies at the mercy of the weather gods.

On the ground, a distinct narrow bed marks the flow of the river Kakni. Legend says the famed river Saraswati had disappeared into the ground in Jaisalmer. But that’s another mystery for another day.

The Desert Home

The saga of curses continues. The drive now is to the home of the lone Bhil family living in the area. Goats, a mud hut, some fossils and the desert as their shelter – we gaze in wonder at the six inhabitants living in isolation, forgetting to ask their names. The old lady collects fossils and sells them in the market; the other two women stay at home; and the man, who rests with his goats, takes them for grazing and works as a labourer. The two children do not go to school.

A single Bhil family is left in Dedha.

A cursed tribe, their origins go all the way back to Goddess Parvati. Legend says the Goddess asked her husband, Shiva, to bless her brothers. Shiva said it was not their destiny, but at her insistence, he placed a silver pot in their path. But the brothers changed their path and missed the blessing. Parvati insisted and this time, Shiva gave them his precious bull Nandi who was to bring them prosperity. But the brothers thought the wealth was inside the bull and killed it. Finally, an angry Parvati cursed them that they would not own any farming land. While this lone family’s tribe has settled elsewhere, they live rooted in the desert.

Between curses and tombs, the Thar also houses a natural wonder. This was fresh, sweet water from the spring wells around Mundhari village. There are around seven such wells in that area and only the villagers know which ones have water. In went a bucket and hands cupped, I sipped like a thirsty nomad.

Waiting for bae

If anything can tide over time, it is surely love, even tragic love. Apparently Dhola and Maru aren’t the only famous lovers in Rajasthan. Tales of Moomal and Rano too were alive at Moomal ki Thadi (platform).

Karan Singh, president, MRS Group, was our guide to the platform in Ludhruva where Moomal waited for her lover Rano. Some say he was called Mahendru. There was a temple too there, which historians have dated to the Middle Ages.

This saga goes back to the mid-14th century and finds its way into the book of poems titled Ganj or Shah Jo Risalo written by Sindhi scholar and Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. A mix of Sindhi and Rajasthani folklore, it says that Rano Mendhro was a minsiter in the court of the king of Umerkot or Amarkot (now a district in the south-east of Sindh province in Pakistan).

On a hunting spree, the king and his ministers heard about the beautiful Moomal who lived in Ludhrawa. The family lived in a magical palace called Kak Mahal which had labyrinths, illusions, fake ponds and more. Along with her scheming sisters, she confused her suitors with puzzles and then robbed them.

Intrigued, the men went to find this beauty. But only the intelligent Rano Mendhro reached the palace and Moomal finally found her consort. Well, we all know the path of true love never does run smooth.

The jealous king could not digest this and ordered Rano not to meet Moomal. But love and disobedience go hand-in-hand. After work, Rano would leave for Ludhrawa on his camel and return to Umerkot by the morning. And one day he was caught and imprisoned. The king freed him, asking him stop the meetings. But Rano could not forget his beloved.

No priest or devotee ever comes to this temple in Kuldhara.

Then fate intervened. One day, he was late and Moomal asked her sister, Somal, to dress like Rano and lie down with her. When Rano came, he mistook the sister to be Moomal’s lover and departed, leaving behind his cane. In the morning Moomal saw the cane and realised her folly.

She waited for him at the ‘thadi’ for days. When he didn’t come, she went searching for him, disguised as a boy. Finally, she found him and begged for forgiveness, but Rano was unrelenting. The unfortunate girl jumped into a raging fire. A tragic Rano followed suit.

Another legend says that the young married man from Amarkot, Rana Mahendra, was enchanted by the beautiful Moomal. He visited her at night for 10 years, forgetting his wife. His parents flung him down a well and Moomal spent her days waiting at the ‘thadi’.

More to see

Jaisalmer is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses some amazing architectural structures.

  1. Ludhruva, known as the ancient capital of Jaisalmer, also has a famous Jain temple.
  2. Royal Cenotaphs at Bara Bagh.
  3. Gardens and lake of Amar Bagh.
  4. In the city – Gadisar Lake, Patwaon ki Haveli and Jaisalmer Fort (known as Sonar Qila due to its golden stone, it is facing ecological issues. Among the living forts in Rajasthan, it is overpopulated which has led to the weakening of the base.)
  5. Shopping can be done inside the fort as well in the streets outside.
  6. One can go for dune bashing at Sam Sand Dunes. There is paragliding too in the area.
  7. A war museum at the edge of the town is open for all.

How To Reach

  • There are flights to Jaisalmer from Delhi.
  • Alternatively, one can go to Jodhpur and take the four-hour drive to Jaisalmer which is quite a pleasure.
  • There are trains plying from major towns in Rajasthan and Delhi.

Best time to go: September to March

This story was first published in the Patriot.

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