In Rajasthan, deep inside its deserts, the kingdom of Pugal was troubled by a long famine. Dry and barren the land yielded nothing but hardship and pain. Finally, unable to live there any longer, the king of Pugal, Pingal and his wife left the palace in search of greener lands. They walked a long way before they found themselves far away in the kingdom of Nala (no link with Mahabharata).

Narwar was a rich and bountiful kingdom and Nala welcomed them warmly. They spent a happy time there. One day Pingal’s queen, as she walked the palace gardens, saw a handsome prince playing in the sun. She immediately decided that this would be her daughter’s husband. Her daughter Maruni was just a few months old at the time and the prince, Salhakumar also known as Dhola had barely turned three. But the queen was adamant and finally the kings came around too and the children were married.

A few years went by and prosperity returned to Pugal. Pingal took Nala’s leave and with his queen and his child, Maruni, headed back home. The unspoken understanding of course was that when the prince and the princess reached a respectable age, they would be reunited.

Years went by; the princess grew into a beautiful young girl. The brads in her father’s court praised her grace and charm. She had the face of a moon, breasts like the Sriphal fruit and the eyes of a warbler, they sang. One night, as Maruni lay asleep in her chambers, she had a strange dream. She saw her husband Salhakumar in the distance and her heart seemed to ache like it never had before. She felt as if she had seen a god in person. And the pangs of viraha struck her with such force that even when she stumbled out of bed the next morning, the pain of her separation clung to her soul.

When the queen heard about her daughter’s state, she summoned the king who sent his messengers to Narwar. A hundred different ways were employed to get word of the princess’s state across to the prince but not a single message reached Dhola, for by that time the prince had married a princess called Malvani.

Malvani, the princess of Malva was besotted with her husband Dhola. She would not let any message get to her husband. And Dhola too was in love with her and had eyes for none other. It seemed like all was lost for Maruni and the lovers would never ever meet again.

Meanwhile a merchant arrived at Pugal. He was being entertained in Pingal’s court when he saw the young princess and asked the king who that was. The king told him all, about his daughter’s childhood betrothal and her current state of eternal pining. The merchant told the king about Dhola’s marriage, his life with Malvani and how the two had settled into a life of marital bliss.

Maruni overheard the merchant and slipped into a state of depression. She felt that there was no end to the separation between her and Dhola and a wave of hopelessness swept over her. The king and the queen were determined, more than ever before, when they saw their daughter’s state to find Dhola and bring him to her. So the king summoned his priest. But the queen restrained him, saying that instead of the priest, the king ought to send his singing mendicants who would be able to charm the prince and bring him back to them. And so the king sent for the dhadhis or the desert wanderers who sang the most haunting songs ever and who could go anywhere and win over the hearts of their staunchest enemies with their tunes.

The dadhis travelled to Narwar and they pitched their tents close to Dhola’s palace. The guards did not pay them much attention because they were dressed in tattered clothes and looked like harmless beggars. The dadhis then wasted no time in breaking out in song. All night they sang outside Dhola’s window of the beauty of Maruni, her lament and her lovelorn state.

Dhola tossed and turned and tossed and turned all night, trying to sleep. But the songs put him in a state of restlessness and he could not rest. In the morning he begged the dadhis to tell him everything about the princess and their songs. They told him how Maruni was waiting for him, how she had kept him in her heart all these years and how she would die if her were to not go to her.

Dhola’s heart ached at these words. And he went back to the palace and his wife Malvani with a heavy step. Malvani was quick to understand that her husband was not his usual self and she asked him the cause of his anxieties. When he told her, she was distraught. He said that he could not stay in the palace any longer and that he would have to go and find Maruni. She begged and pleaded with him, beseeching him to stay just one more month and another and then yet another until one day Dhola left in the dead of the night while she was still asleep.

Finally after a series of adventures he reached Pugal where Maruni rushed to meet him and the two wed in great pomp and splendour. The young couple made their way back to Narwar. But their journey home was not a smooth one. First a snake bit Maruni, leaving her dead body in the arms of Dhola who refused to leave her side or cremate her. A yogi and a yogini helped bring her back to life when they saw that Dhola would burn to death on account of his grief.

The couple encountered many other enemies too; some who desired Maruni’s hand and some who had been sent by Malvani to destroy the young princess. But they fought them all and finally reached the palace. Malvani was extremely jealous and angry but she had to accept the new bride. And the ballad goes, Dhola managed to keep both his wives happy; he spent two nights with Maruni for every night he spent with Malvani. Peace and prosperity came to rest within the palace of Dhola and the kingdom of Narwar from that day on.

STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
TEXT SOURCE: Myths, saints and legends in Medieval India, Charlotte Vaudeville
LOCATION: Rajasthan
IMAGE: Dhola and Maru on a camel, Jodhpur 1830
IMAGE DETAILS: Opaque watercolours and gold on paper, Indian Art Special Purpose Fund
Copyright: Wikimedia Commons