Epic verse

When a Sufi poet composed one of India's earliest love stories in Hindi

Paintings from Mulla Da'ud's 'Chandayana' are on display for the first time at a museum in Mumbai.

A girl is married against her will to an older man who isn't not particularly good-looking. She runs back to her parents' home and falls in love with a handsome mercenary employed by her father. Several hundred verses later, they elope and might live happily ever after.

The skeleton of the story might seem similar to thousands of other romantic tales, but this is the story of Chanda and Lorik, the main characters of Chandayana, one of India's earliest Sufi love stories written in Hindi by a poet called Mulla Da'ud. Da’ud wrote in the time of Firozshah Tughlaq, between 1351 and 1388. He completed Chandayana in 1379.

Sixty-four folios of Chandayana are on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai in a show called Ek Tha Laurak Ek Thi Chand. This is the first of a series, called "Art Unseen", in which the museum will display some of its never-seen treasures to the public.

At the time, the story of Chanda and Lorik was an established part of folklore in east India, and was likely performed and sung from the Bengal delta to the forests of Chhattisgarh. Da’ud codified the story into verse and also modified it from a secular story to one with strong Sufi underpinnings.


Certified love story

The story is elaborate. Chanda is the beautiful daughter of a landlord who is married off young to a one-eyed man described as impotent. On the advice of her mother-in-law, Chanda flees her husband’s house and returns to her parents’, where she is hidden away in a room to avoid social stigma.

While Chanda is still in her room, a local king hears of her beauty and decides to kidnap her. Chanda’s father turns to a mercenary of the Ahir tribe for help. This is Lorik, the man who will become Chanda’s great love. In due course, after tests posed by Chanda and wars against other kings who  are unable to resist the stories of Chanda’s beauty, Lorik leaves his wife Maina and elopes with Chanda.


Da'ud's Chandayana is the first time a Sufi poet uses a description of 12 consecutive months to emphasise the passage of time. After Lorik abandons his wife Maina to elope with Chanda, Maina begins to pine for him. She describes her suffering from one Shravan to the next to a sympathetic Brahmin leader of a caravan of traders, in the hope that he will pass on her message to her estranged husband.

In one version of the story, the two wives eventually reconcile with each other and the three begin to live together. In another version, Lorik abandons Chanda as well and wanders for the rest of his life in search of truth.

Behind the art

Chandayana went on to inspire several sets of paintings, five of which are known to survive in fragments today. The 64 folios on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya are one of these five sets. They are in the Sultanate artistic style and were probably painted around the 16th century near Delhi and Jaunpur.

The paintings match the story’s intricate meanderings, as Chanda and Lorik go through various ordeals to first meet and then remain together. The story unfolds as much in text as in the paintings on the opposite page.


Although the script of Chandayana is Arabic, the language is Awadhi. Chandayana was one of the first significant Sufi poetries of love written in this language and tradition.

Here are some other images from the museum's collection.



All images are courtesy of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.


Ek Tha Laurak, Ek Thi Chand is on display till December 31 at the Curators Gallery on the first floor of the east wing of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

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It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

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The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.