Sassi and Punnuh is a Great Folklore and Legend of Pakistan. The story is one of the few famous love stories that never seem to fade. It has been a part of Pakistani traditions for many centuries and is still passing down generations. Like all legends that exist, there is some truth to it. These characters truly existed and made a lasting mark on the way we look at love.
Like all stories, this one also begins with “once upon a time…”
The King’s Daughter
Far in the southern corners of the Sindh province of Pakistan, a king ruled the lands known as Bhambour or Banbhore. This ancient city existed in 1st century BC; situated in the east of Karachi, on lands that go by the name N-5 National Highway in the present era. This was a time when the Scythe-Parthian era existed in Pakistan when Muslims controlled the lands. However, that era lasted between the eighth and thirteenth century and ended when people abandoned these lands. There are remains of a mosque dating as old as 727 AD still lying on these lands.
The king had many children but he only had one daughter, whom he and his wife named “Sassi”, meaning “the Moon”. They thought she was as beautiful and perfect as the moon. However, when they went to an astrologer they learned that their daughter would bring shame to their family. Fearing dishonor, the king and queen decided that their daughter could not stay with them. They could not kill their child and so placed her inside a basket and let it flow down the Indus River. Before letting her basket float, her mother put a beaded amulet (Taweez) for her protection around her neck.
Sassi and Punnuh Meet
Downstream, the basket managed to get to a poor launderer (dhobi) who was washing clothes. He was a hardworking man with meager wages, named Atta. His wife was unable to conceive, and they prayed for many years for a miracle. On this fateful day, while he was almost closing for the day, he noticed something floating in the river, caught in the bushes. When he realized it was a basket, he quickly went over to get it out and found the precious baby girl. She was the most adorable thing he ever saw. The instant he saw her, the first name that came to his mind was “Moon”. Hence, he again named her “Sassi” and took her home to his wife. This child was the answer to their prayers.
As this girl grew older, she believed this was her family and never knew that she had another life. With age, she became even more pretty, and her charms were famous throughout the land. Soon news reached the king and he ordered to see Sassi. When she went to the palace, the queen saw the amulet around Sassi’s neck and knew that she was their daughter. They were happy to find their daughter after so many years, and the king insisted that she stayed with them in the palace, in her rightful place.
Secrets and Truth
Sassi could not bear the thought of separating from the parents she knew all her life, the launderer, and his wife. They raised her, fed her, and clothed her, and she loved them dearly. Nonetheless, the king tried everything possible to win his daughter’s love.
One of his attempts was inviting Sassi to a large garden that belonged to the king of a neighboring land. While exploring the lands, she came upon a spectacular painting of a young man. She found him noble and fell in love with his charming, strong stature. She knew she had to meet him. Word of this traveled fast and got to the handsome man in the painting, and that she wanted to meet him.
He was the prince Punnuh, but he disguised himself as a trader of art and went to meet Sassi. They fell in love, and within a short time, their love blossomed. Sassi had disregarded her biological inheritance and royal heritage. She did not know much about her past and did not dare to tell Punnuh because she did not want to lose him.
To Punnuh, she was merely the daughter of a launderer whereas he was a prince. To Sassi, he was merely an art trader. When Punnuh had to ask for her hand in marriage, he approached the parents she knew (the launderer and the wife). The launderer wanted to make sure the man asking for her deserved her and was humble enough to deserve her. Therefore, he tested the prince by asking him to wash a shirt for him. The prince had no experience with this and returned with the shirt torn. Although he failed the test, the launderer gave his permission for the wedding because he knew how Sassi deeply loved Punnuh.
The Disagreeing Families
On the other hand, Punnuh’s family did not agree to Punnuh’s request to marry Sassi because she was not from a noble family as the prince. Punnuh’s father, a king, would never accept a launderer’s daughter for his son. However, Punnuh did not listen and refused to accept his parents’ refusal.
Seeing that he had his heart set on Sassi, they pretended to agree and went on with preparations for the wedding. On the night before the wedding, Punnuh’s brothers tricked him by making him drink enough alcohol and make him pass out. In that state of mind, they took him far to another village so that there would not be a wedding.
News of this got to Sassi and with a broken heart and worried for the man she loved, she ran from the ceremony to look for Punnuh. Dressed as a bride she ran towards the village where Punnuh was, but nearly there she caught the attention of a shepherd who could not resist her beauty. He grabbed her hand and he would not let her go to her loved one. She called out to her Punnuh in distress.
Symbol of Love
In the village, at almost the same time, Punnuh regained consciousness and realized his family had tricked him. He quickly got up, and he ran towards Sassi’s village and heard her calling out to him. He called out to her too, and legend says the heavens heard her pleas for help and shook the grounds, splitting the earth. The ground swallowed Sassi and Punnuh, and today there lie two mountains symbolizing that they remain together for an eternity.
And this is how the legend of Sassi and Punnuh ended. There are other such stories that symbolize true love. But that is for another time.
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