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We often encounter in our myths the mention of a love for which life is too fragile and finite a vessel. The perfect union this love seeks with its object is not for an imperfect world. It burns with a passion that snuffs out life, and transports both the seeker and the sought across death’s door into an absolute union.

In its numerous literary accounts, the 17th century Bijapur legend of Chandar Badan and Mahiar, and a parable from the mystical text Saba Sanabil (1561) of Mir Abdul Wahid Bilgrami, stand out for their esoteric beauty.

It is said that in the time of King Muhammad Adil Shah, a Muslim youth called Mahiar fell in love with a Hindu beauty named Chandar Badan. One day in the street he prostrated himself at her feet, and told her of his anguish in separation. From modesty she spurned his plea with the remark, “It’s a pity that the pangs of love yet keep you alive."

Chandar Badan then continued on her way, not caring to witness the effect of her words. But no sooner were they uttered than Mahiar’s soul departed his body.

After Mahiar’s last rites, as his coffin was being carried to the graveyard, the procession could not find a path except the one outside the house where Chandar Badan lived. There the coffin mysteriously stopped and could not be moved, which occasioned much remark among those present.

Hearing of Mahiar’s death now and the incident of the coffin, Chandar Badan recognized love’s work. She lay down drawing a sheet over her, and closed her eyes.

Outside her house Mahiar’s coffin could move again. When it was opened for the burial, people found both Mahiar and Chandar Badan’s corpses in close embrace within. “They were joined together like the paper sheets in a wasli," the chroniclers wrote.

Much as people tried to separate the two, it was impossible. The two were finally buried in a single grave, marked with two headstones.

The fusion of lovers was perfected in the other myth recounted in the Saba Sanabil.

It is related that a beautiful woman travelling with her retinue drew reins at a station to find reprieve from the heat.

She walked up to a tree and stood under its shade, and momentarily removed her veil, not noticing the traveller sitting there. The traveller saw and fell in love with her beauty, and his passion for her increased by the moment. Finally becoming aware of his presence, the woman veiled herself and left, resuming her journey. But she had seen and understood the look in the man’s eye, and witnessed his ardour.

On her return journey three days later she passed by the same place, and saw that under the tree there was a freshly made grave. She inquired who was buried there and was told that it was a traveller who had fallen in love with her beauty, and as she left, his soul also departed his body, and he was buried at that spot.

Upon hearing this account, the woman dismounted. Stepping towards the grave, she tore off her veil, and embracing the grave disappeared into it, without the ground showing a hole or any sign of entry.

The slaves and the attendants in her retinue raised a hue and cry and dug up the grave, but did not find the woman within. They noticed though that the traveller’s body sported her bracelets, anklets, earrings and necklace. As well, the lines of kohl that decorated her eyes, and the tinge of the betel-leaf on her lips, now adorned his eyes and lips. They cried and made laments, but were unable to do anything. In the end they covered the grave and left.

What is of wonder in these accounts is not only how the first death reverses the identities, with the one who was sought now becoming the seeker; or how the boundaries and obstacles of the physical world collapse to facilitate the lovers’ occult union. What is truly marvellous is the recognition that when both are finally across death’s door, there is no duality: neither the lover nor beloved exist. In the boundless and the eternal where all things merge there exists only love, whose earthly symbol is the lovers in union.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter @microMAF.

This monthly column will explore the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

Also Read | Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns

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