In the 18th century (late Mughal period), the beautiful girl Sohni was born to a potter named Tulla (Toolha). They were from the Kumhar caste, and lived in Gujran, Punjab. At the time, Gujran, on the river Chenab, was a caravanserai on the trade route between Bukhara and Delhi.
As Sohni grew up, she helped her father decorate his pots. Their shop is said to have been near Rampyari Mahal by the river. As soon as the Surahis (water-pitchers) and mugs came off the wheel, she would draw artistic designs on them and set them up for sale.
Shahzada Izzat Baig, a rich trader from Bukhara (Uzbekistan), came to Punjab on business and halted in Gujran. Here he saw Sohni at the shop and was completely smitten. Instead of looking after the ‘mohars’ (gold coins) in his pockets, he roamed around with his pocket full of love. Just to get a glimpse of Sohni, he would end up buying the water pitchers and mugs everyday.
Sohni too lost her heart to Izzat Baig. Instead of making floral designs on earthenware, she started building castles of love in her dreams. Instead of returning to Bukhara with his caravan, the noble-born Izzat Baig took up the job of a servant in the house of Tulla. He would even take their buffaloes for grazing. Soon, he came to be known as Mehar or “Mahiwal” (buffalo herder).
The love of Sohni and Mahiwal caused a commotion within the Kumhar community. It was not acceptable that a daughter from this community would marry an outsider, so her parents immediately arranged her marriage with another potter. On the day the “barat” (marriage party) of that potter arrived at her house, Sohni felt helpless and lost. She was sent off to the husband’s house in a Doli (palanquin).
Izzat Baig renounced the world and started living as a faqir (hermit). He eventually moved to a small hut across the river from Sohni’s new home. The earth of Sohni’s land was like a shrine for him. He had forgotten his own land, his own people and his world.
In the dark of night, when the world was fast asleep, the lovers would meet by the river. Izzat would come to the riverside and Sohni would come to meet him sitting in an inverted hard baked pitcher (inverted so that it would not sink). He would regularly catch a fish and bring it for her. It is said that once, when due to high tide he could not catch a fish, Mahiwal cut a piece of his thigh and roasted it. Sohni didn’t realise this at first but then she told Izzat that this fish tastes different and kept her hand on his leg, then she realised it was a piece of his thigh and cried.
Rumours of their romantic rendezvous soon spread. One day Sohni’s sister-in-law followed her and saw the hiding place where Sohni kept her earthenware pitcher. The next day, the sister-in-law removed the hard baked pitcher and replaced it with an unbaked one. That night, when Sohni tried to cross the river with the help of the pitcher, it dissolved in the water and Sohni drowned. From the other side of the river, Mahiwal saw Sohni drowning and jumped into the river and drowned as well, so their union was completed.