The False God Laqa An Excerpt from The Tilism-E-Hoshruba
Translated from Urdu by Shahnaz Aijazuddin

Excerpted and adapted, with permission, from Tilism-e-Hoshruba: The Enchantment of the Senses, Penguin Books India, 2009.

Tilism-e-Hoshruba is an epic narrative of the adventures of the legendary Persian hero Emir Hamza – the protagonist of the Hamza Nama – and of his sons and grandsons. The epic opens with the commander-in-chief of the Islamic army, Hamza, pursuing Laqa, who makes false claims to divinity. Laqa takes refuge in Kohistan, adjacent to the enchanted land of Hoshruba, ruled by the formidable King of Sahirs, Afrasiyab Jadoo. Afrasiyab reveres Laqa and deputes his sahirs or wizards to help him fight Hamza. Hamza’s grandson Asad then sets out to conquer Hoshruba, assisted by the clever trickster Amar, who possesses divine artefacts such as a cloak of invisibility and a magic pouch containing parallel worlds. Aided by powerful allies and beset at every step by magical snares, dangerous enchantments and seductive sorceresses, Hamza’s army finally conquers Hoshruba.




Let it be stated that the dastan of Emir Hamza has seven daftars in all. This narrative should be read as part of that whole to understand the roles of Emir Hamza, Amar bin Ummayah, Zamurrad Shah and Bakhtiarak.


Emir Hamza is the son of Syed Khwaja Abdul Muttalib, the sardar of the Khana Kaabain Mecca. Amar bin Ummayyah is his ayyar or trickster. Emir Hamza has appointed his grandson Saad bin Qubad as the badshah-e-lashkar or the king of his army. All of Hamza’s sons and numerous grandsons pay homage to Saad as their king. There are several other kings with equally large armies who will also be mentioned during the course of this narrative. One of them, a Persian king of considerable stature, claimed divinity and expected to be revered as a living god. He is Zamurrad Shah Bakhtri, also known as Laqa.


Emir Hamza fights Laqa so that he can be prevented from spreading such a false claim. Emir has defeated Laqa several times, but Laqa always manages to flee to countries where the rulers and their people are prepared to acknowledge him as a living god and fight on his behalf. Laqa is supported by Faramurz bin Nausherwan, son of the great Persian king Nausherwan, who has earlier fought many battles with Emir Hamza and is now allied with Laqa against Hamza.


Divinity requires the counterforce of a Satan or Shaitan. Therefore, Faramurz’s vizier, Bakhtiarak bin Bakhtak, has been appointed the Shaitan in Laqa’s durbar.

Laqa is in Kohistan where he had earlier fled.


Thus, the narrative begins …


Chapter 1: Tilism-e-Hoshruba and the Story of Laqa


The cupbearers of the wine of storytelling and the imbibers of the wine of thought from the goblet of paper describe it this way …


When Zamurrad Shah Bakhtri, better known as the false god Laqa, escaped from the Tilism of a Thousand Faces, his resourceful vizier, Shaitan Bakhtiarak suggested that they both take refuge with the ruler of Mount Agate in the Garden of Sulaiman. The wily Shaitan advised the great oaf Laqa that the mighty ruler of Mount Agate, Sulaiman Ambreen, maintained a huge army with many famous warriors and wrestlers. This kingdom also shared a border with Tilism-e-Hoshruba. The ruler of Tilism-e-Hoshruba, Afrasiyab Jadoo, was the king of wizards; the mighty sound of his sword made the rebels of the earth tremble and quiver; and the followers of the great magicians Samri and Jamshed were in awe of his magical skills. Bakhtiarak advised his master that Afrasiyab would be an invaluable ally.


Zamurrad Shah departed with his followers for Mount Agate and reached it after a journey of several days through the steep mountains of Kohistan. Its ruler Sulaiman Ambreen came out of the walled city of Agate to receive Laqa, and welcomed him with gold trays heaped with precious stones. The city was illuminated in Laqa’s honour. Laqa was visibly delighted with the pomp and ceremony. He was invited to sit on a jewelled throne in the royal palace where all the viziers and high-ranking nobles kneeled before him to pay him homage. Saqis, young cupbearers, sang melodiously as they poured wine for the guests assembled in the durbar.


Ravi, the legendary narrator, tells us that when Laqa fled from the Tilism of a Thousand Faces, his adversary, the mighty Emir Hamza Sahibqiran had sent his fleet-footed spies to follow Laqa in order to bring news of his movements. After the conquest of the Tilism, the Shah of the Islamic army, the badshah of the lashkar, Emir Saad bin Qubad, and his sardars relaxed in the pavilion of Sulaiman or Solomon, whose flaps had been drawn up to provide a view of the verdant plains around them. He was on the throne of Solomon when Hamza’s spies returned from their mission. Exhausted from the long journey, their lips were cracked and parched. They first made a mujra greeting to the Shah and kissed the ground before him, then raised their hands and praised the Shah and gave him a detailed account of Laqa’s latest hideout.


The Shah looked inquiringly at his commander-in-chief, Emir Hamza, who directed Amar bin Ummayyah to prepare the lashkar to move. The soldiers were excited at the prospect of another campaign; army bazaars packed their wares and pack-mules were loaded with tents and other equipment and necessities of war. The army travelled all day and camped in the evening in a pleasant meadow. The pavilion of Sulaiman was erected, its pillars soaring to the skies. Bazaars reopened and platoons set up their tents in neat rows.


One of Hamza’s sons, Prince Badi-uz-Zaman, tempted by the temperate climate and the verdant plains around him sought permission to hunt and the Emir assented graciously. The next morning, the noble Badi-uz-Zaman set off with his men. There was an early morning breeze, the lamps glimmered in the camp and blossoms smiled while bulbuls trilled noisily, peacocks danced in the jungle, and birds sang in praise of the one true Lord. Suddenly, a deer as winsome and beautiful as a beloved mistress leaped into sight. The deer captivated Badi as it frolicked and he ordered his companions to capture the animal alive. ‘I am warning you,’ he cried, ‘it is not to be harmed at any cost!’


The prince’s men tried to ambush the deer but it eluded them. Leaving his group behind him, Badi rode hard after it. When he realised that he could not capture the deer alive, the prince reached reluctantly for his bow and arrow, aimed at the deer and released the arrow that soon found its mark. As the deer died, a fearsome voice that shook the Cow of the Earth cried out, ‘O Son of Hamza! You have done grave harm by killing Ghazzal Jadoo! This is the land of Hoshruba – it is impossible to escape from here!’ The lush green plains were darkened by a mighty dust storm and the prince fainted. When he finally opened his eyes, he found himself in iron shackles and was mortified by his plight.


The Great Name

Ummayyah bin Amar, Badi’s childhood friend and ayyar or trickster, had been following him. Ummayyah waited for the dust storm to settle and saw that the prince’s body was lifeless on the ground, his moon-like face covered with blood. He tore his robes in grief and hugged the limp body, weeping bitterly. After a while, he lifted the prince and gently placed him on his horse. He returned to the camp with the prince’s companions who had smeared their faces with dust in sheer grief. Emir Hamza and his army wept on seeing the body of Badi-uz-Zaman and his mother collapsed at the sight of his bloodied face. In cold fury, Emir Hamza ordered the ayyar Amar bin Ummayyah to saddle his horse Ashqar so that he could find his son’s murderer and return with his head.


Amar bin Ummayyah implored the Emir to stay calm, and said, ‘O ruler of the world! I have heard that no man murdered the prince. The desert suddenly went very dark and then this corpse was found.’


Emir exclaimed, ‘By Allah! There is a mystery here. Call the sons of the astrologer Khwaja Burzurjhmeher, the Vizier of Nausherwan!’


The astrologers were duly summoned. Emir received them respectfully and sought their advice on unravelling the mystery of Badi’s murder. Khwaja Buzurg Umeed, Khwaja Siahvash and Khwaja Darya Dil, sons of the legendary Buzurchmeher, cast astrological charts and after studying them declared, ‘O Sheheryar! The prince is still alive, but he is in captivity. This corpse is a dummy. Sprinkle some water of the Great Name, the Ism-i-Azam, over it and you will witness the miracle of Allah!’


Emir recited the Ism-e-Azam and breathed on some water. He sprinkled it over the corpse, which was revealed to be nothing more than moulded lentil flour. Emir fell on his knees to thank Allah for His mercy. He rewarded the astrologers with costly robes of honour and had the dummy corpse thrown away. Everyone in the camp rejoiced at the revelation that the prince was still alive.


Later, Emir Hamza summoned Amar, and after bestowing gifts of gold and precious jewels on him, bade him find his son, Prince Badi-uz-Zaman. Amar returned to his tent where he armed himself with the tools of ayyari and the divine gifts of the prophets.


Ravi tells us that when Emir Hamza decided to conquer Hindustan, Amar had spent a night at the tombs of the prophets to pray for victory. During the night, he was blessed with visions of several prophets who spoke to him and revealed treasures (each of which had enchanted properties) hidden in their tombs. The first prophet told him, ‘Zambil is a pouch with several worlds within it. Whatever you require you can draw out from it.’ The second said, ‘Jaal-e-Ilyasi, the net of Ilyas, has the property of converting any weight, be it crores of maunds, so that when you cast the net over it, it will weigh only a seer and a half.’ A third spoke of the enchanted umbrella of Nabi Danyal. ‘It will protect you from all magic. It can expand as wide as you like and reduce likewise.’ The fourth mentioned the Asifi Kamand or whip of Asif ‘It will extend and reduce to any length you require.’ A fifth described a Devjama that reflected the seven colours of the rainbow. Amar awoke from his trance to find these items lying beside him and since then he always carried them on special missions.


Princess Tasveer and Sharara Jadoo

Thus equipping himself, the honourable Amar, moon of trickery and star of swordplay, set forth on his search for Prince Badi-uz-Zaman. When he reached the place where his son had discovered the substitute body, he saw a group of maidens emerging from a grove of trees. Amar hastily dove behind a bush. The maidens milled around a beautiful princess adorned with rich silks and wearing precious jewels.


As the maidens walked past the bush where Amar was hiding, he ambushed one of them who had fallen behind to relieve herself. He stuffed a ball in her throat to prevent her from screaming and rubbed an unguent on her face to render her unconscious. After dragging her behind the bush, he took out a hand-mirror from Zambil and used special paints of ayyari to transform his face to look like her. Finally, he stripped her of her outer garments and wore them. After a reassuring look in the mirror, he ran to catch up with the rest. One of the maidens looked at him in surprise and exclaimed, ‘Shagoofa, you took a long time! Where have you been?’ Amar mumbled back, ‘It did not take that long!’


The princess and her group were walking towards a walled garden. The doors of the garden were open like the eager eyes of a waiting suitor. As they entered, Amar marvelled at the beauty of the garden, which was like paradise on earth. Its pathways sparkled with crushed jewels and its trees and plants gleamed with flecks of silver thread. Henna bushes and grapevines were adorned like new brides, and a soft cool breeze wafted across the garden. In the middle of all this splendour, on a marble platform covered with rich carpets and a velvet, gold-embroidered masnad, reclined a middle-aged woman with bowls of betelnut, and flowers and perfumes laid out before her.


The woman was the powerful sorceress Sharara Jadoo, who had lured the prince using the beautiful deer as bait; the young princess was Tasveer, the daughter of Hairat Jadoo, wife of Shahanshah Afrasiyab of Hoshruba. Tasveer was also Sharara’s niece.


Sharara greeted the princess with affection and sat her down on the masnad next to her. As beautiful young dancers performed for the princess and wine was being served, Sharara asked her niece, ‘My daughter, what brings you to this wilderness?’ Tasveer responded eagerly, ‘I have heard that you have captured a son of Hamza. I am keen to see Muslims as I am told that they have conquered several lands and have reduced powerful Tilisms to ashes.’


Sharara laughed and ordered an attendant witch to fetch her prisoner. Badi-uz-Zaman was dragged forward with his magical shackles weighing him down. Tasveer beheld a young man of radiant beauty, with heavy iron chains virtually eating into his body. She felt a sudden rush of love for the prince and fainted because of the intensity of her emotion. The women gasped and Sharara anxiously sprinkled rosewater on her niece to revive her.


The prince looked up and on seeing the lovely Tasveer, felt that he could lose a thousand lifetimes for her love; his heart yearned for her but he controlled his feelings and remained silent.


Sharara revived the princess with rose and musk waters. Seeing her distressed, she immediately ordered her handmaidens to remove the prince: ‘My poor daughter has never seen anyone in such a dire plight and has fainted as a result; she has the delicate disposition of an unmarried girl; her body-blood is very light!’


Tasveer woke up and her eyes searched for that rare flower in the garden. When she could not find him, she sighed deeply but remained silent. Sharara asked, ‘My daughter, how do you feel now?’ Tasveer replied, ‘Aunt, what can I say? My heart seems to be sinking and there is a feeling of dread at the thought that people go through such suffering!’


Sharara murmured sympathetically, ‘O my daughter, you are a royal princess. You should have a stouter heart. So many sinners are captured every day. Some are hanged and others forgiven. This is a prisoner of Afrasiyab. He is the enemy of all magicians and wizards, and he cannot be allowed to escape. Otherwise, I would have released him for your sake and even rewarded him with money. Return to your garden and blossom again. Think no more of him.’


That full moon Tasveer rose and bowed to Sharara so gracefully that she formed the shape of a crescent. Sharara made the traditional gesture of taking on the princess’s troubles upon herself and bid her farewell. The handmaidens who had been strolling in the garden presented themselves when they heard that the princess was leaving. Amar, still disguised as her maid, thought to himself, ‘I should kill this wretch Sharara and rescue my prince.’ Approaching Sharara with folded hands, he pleaded with her, ‘Huzoor, allow me to remain with you. It will be my singular honour to entertain you tonight and to earn your appreciation.’ Sharara graciously invited the false Shagoofa to stay for as many days as she liked and requested Tasveer to leave Shagoofa with her.


As Princess Tasveer left the garden, she encountered the real Shagoofa, naked and wailing about the loss of her clothes. Though Tasveer was puzzled, she told her companions to provide clothes for Shagoofa and said, ‘Look at this slut! She pretended to stay back with Sharara but who knows where she went to be stripped!’


Poor Shagoofa tried to relate what had happened to her but the princess refused to believe her and returned to her garden with a heavy heart, her thoughts still absorbed by Prince Badi.


Now hear about the slayer of wizards and apostates, the incomparable Khwaja Amar. Disguised as the handmaiden Shagoofa, he mingled with Sharara’s other maids, teasing and flirting with them, pinching one on the cheek, caressing another and all the time quietly hiding silver betelnut holders and gold vases into Zambil.


After dinner, Sharara had the marble platform in the garden adorned with carpets and silk cushions. Her attendants illuminated the garden with crystal chandeliers, lamps that shed the light of heaven on every tree. Praise be to God for that place – the marble fountains and water channels flowed, their spouting waters gleaming with gold and silver glitter. Then, Sharara sent for Shagoofa, who came wearing a costly peshwaz and dancing bells sewn to her anklets, and Shagoofa asked the musicians and singers to provide the accompaniment to Shagoofa’s dance.


Amar took out his flute and tucked a flask of wine under his arm. Then he held a goblet in his hand and started dancing. The false Shagoofa’s dancing was so skilled that she looked like a flame leaping in the twilight. There were loud cheers of appreciation from Sharara and her companions. Enthralled with the ghazal that Shagoofa sang for her, Sharara cried, ‘You have entertained me royally tonight, O Shagoofa! From tonight, you will be one of my special companions. Come here and serve me some more wine!’


The false Shagoofa offered five gold coins as homage to Sharara who, in turn, awarded her with a costly robe. Shagoofa donned the robe, arranged the green and red cut-glass wine flasks in a bouquet, and while doing so, slipped a strong narcotic into the wine. After impressing all present with her skills as a cupbearer, she filled a wine cup and served it to Sharara even as she danced. As Sharara leaned forward to take the cup, Shagoofa tossed it and caught it on her head without spilling a drop of wine.


‘Huzoor, nobles and royals are served this way!’ Shagoofa announced, and bowed low to offer the wine cup to Sharara. Sharara extended her hand towards the cup but the wine burst into flames. Sharara realised that Shagoofa was an ayyar in disguise. She swiftly muttered a spell and the paint of ayyari evaporated to reveal the real face of Amar. Sharara cried out, ‘You wily wretch, you would have killed me! Now see how horribly I execute you!’


‘Listen witch!’ Amr retorted, ‘Where will you escape from me? Wherever we go, we fulfil our purpose. Now watch how I send you straight to hell.’


The Empire of Hoshruba
Ravi tells us that when Sharara captured Prince Badi, she had alerted her magical spirits to protect her if any ayyar came to rescue the prince. That was how the wine had turned into flames, exposing Amar. On realising that Amar was unrepentant, Sharara had him tied to a tree. Then she sent a detailed note of the evening’s events to Afrasiyab through her trusted companion, Shola Rukhsar.


The empire of Afrasiyab Jadoo, ruler of the Tilism-e-Hoshruba, included sixty thousand countries populated by powerful wizards and witches, the rulers of which were his subjects and vassals. Tilism-e-Hoshruba consisted of three distinct areas – Zulmat or the Veil of Darkness, the hidden Tilism of Batin, and the visible Tilism of Zahir. Afrasiyab’s elders, including his grandmothers Mahiyan Zamurrad Rang and Afat Chahar Dast lived in Zulmat, the Veil of Darkness. Nobles and aristocrats of the court such as Malika Hairat lived in the invisible Tilism of Batin, while the public and officers of the state lived in the visible Tilism of Zahir.


Between the visible and hidden Tilisms was the River of Flowing Blood, spanned at its breadth by the Bridge of Parizadan. Two lions conjured out of smoke guarded the bridge, which had a three-tiered tower of smoke on the Batin side. Parizads played trumpets and flutes in the first tier of this tower. In the second tier, more paris or fairies stood with armfuls of pearl, which they tossed into the river, where silver fish leaped to catch the pearls. In the third tier, naked African warriors fenced with each other. Blood spilled out of their wounds onto the water, giving the river its name. Shahanshah Afrasiyab had access to all three Tilisms and there were monuments and gardens in each one that he had conjured with his magic.


Sharara’s messenger flew to the River of Blood and standing on its banks, cried out, ‘O King of Wizards! I have been sent by Sharara Jadoo and request an audience with you!’ It was said that Afrasiyab was so powerful that if anyone called out to him from any corner of his vast empire, he would hear the call. Also, he possessed the magic Book of Samri, which could reveal every secret to him. Besides, an army made up of clay and iron puppets carried out his commands. The puppets could snatch anybody Afrasiyab needed with a swipe of their hands.


On hearing Shola Rukhsar’s call, Afrasiyab sent his magic panja to bring her to his court in the Garden of Apples. The panja brought her to him in a flash and disappeared. Shola found herself in the baradari of the garden that was furnished with chairs studded with priceless rubies and crystals. Seated on these chairs were the nobles of Tilism. The empress and her entourage were also in attendance. There was a respectful hush in durbar.


Shola performed the mujra greeting and presented Sharara’s note to Afrasiyab, who read it and wrote back a terse message: ‘Kill Amar.’ He sent Shola back to the other side of the River of Blood, from where she flew back to Sharara.


Meanwhile, the nightingale of the garden of trickery, Khwaja Amar, lay tied to a tree while Sharara slept in her baradari. Amar was thinking of ways of escape when he noticed a maiden walking by. He beckoned her with the words, ‘O daughter of Laqa, please hear my plea!’ Weeping bitterly, he continued, ‘You know, I will be killed in the morning and the executioner will take all my possessions. I will give them all to you if you fulfil my last wish.’


The maiden Saman Azar tempted by the mention of wealth, trotted up to him and asked, ‘What is your will then and how much wealth do you have?’ Amar said, ‘Untie my arms so I can hand it over to you.’


Eagerly, Saman untied his left arm and immediately Amar pulled out his pouch of ayyari. Then he asked her to help him unpack it. As she unpacked the contents of the bag, he explained the use of each item to her. ‘These are the tools of my trade. This is how I can transform myself into a woman, a beggar, or even a king. These sweets, for example, are drugged and these are doctored fruits.’ He took out a bag of gold coins and some gems that he gave to Saman, who greedily rummaged for more. She found a carved cornelian box that Amar hastily snatched from her.


‘What is in that box?’ Saman asked Amar. ‘My life is in it!’ Amar replied. ‘Whatever I have earned is in it!’ Saman pleaded, ‘O Amar, you will surely die tomorrow! Give this to me as well, and I promise to do well by your family.’ Finally, Amar relented, but asked her to open the box and show its contents to him for the last time. When Saman tried to open the box and could not, Amar urged her to press it to her bosom and to use both hands to open it with force. As she did so, the box snapped opened and released powerful narcotic vapours, causing her to sneeze and faint.


Amar quickly freed himself from the tree, painted his face to resemble hers, and then painted her so that she looked like him. He exchanged his clothes with her and applied toxic oil to her tongue, so that it swelled up and prevented her from speaking. After tying Saman to the tree, he found her bed and quietly lay down on it.


Sharara woke up with light of the morning sun. Her companions and maidservants prepared the baradari for her. Meanwhile, Shola Rukhsar had returned with Afrasiyab’s reply. Sharara declared that Amar was to be executed in her presence. Saman (now disguised by Amar to look like him) was therefore dragged before Sharara. Although she wept and did her best to gesture, she could not speak because of her swollen tongue and no one could understand her. She was beheaded with one stroke of a sword, but because she was a witch, there was uproar from her magical spirits as she died. ‘Alas!’ they cried, ‘You have actually murdered Saman Azar Jadoo!’ Darkness descended on the garden and taking advantage of the confusion, Amar (still disguised as Saman) ran and hid in a secluded corner.


The ill-fated Sharara was horrified when she realised that the tree of Saman Azar’s life had withered and that Amar had escaped. She went to her room and took out a gold bracelet from a magic box. The bracelet was enchanted and could expose any impostor who wore it. Sharara made all her companions and handmaidens try the bracelet on, but no one was caught. Eventually, she proclaimed, ‘Amar is obviously not amongst you! Return the box to its place. I will awaken my magic tonight so that we can find him.’


Amar watched all this from his hiding place. Looking around the garden, he spotted a gardener’s hut in a far corner. Darting behind trees, he reached the hut where he saw an old woman lying on a string cot. ‘Who are you?’ Amar asked. ‘My name is Champa,’ the old woman replied. Amar easily overcame her with a narcotic bubble that he burst in her face and that caused her to faint. Depositing her in Zambil, he disguised himself this time as Champa, and supporting himself with a walking stick, hobbled to Sharara to pay homage.


‘How are you Champa?’ Sharara asked the old woman kindly. The false Champa replied, ‘I can forfeit my life for you, my mistress. I have heard that there is a thief in the garden and you have tested everyone here. I have come to be tested as well.’ On hearing this, Sharara laughed and exclaimed, ‘Champa, you don’t need to be tested! My magic will bring Amar himself to me tonight.’


Champa however insisted on being treated like the other inmates of the garden. Indulging her, Sharara asked her to bring the magic box from her room. Champa shuffled off and upon finding the box, quietly filled it with a sleep-inducing dust and walked slowly back to Sharara. Watching her painstakingly slow progress, Sharara asked her handmaidens to help the infirm old woman and finally took the box from her.


As soon as Sharara opened the box, the dust in it made her and all those near her sneeze and fall into a faint. Champa, really Amar, swiftly decapitated Sharara and it was as if the skies had fallen – there was thunder, lightning and a downpour of stones. Amar quickly donned Galeem, his cloak of invisibility and called out loudly to everyone else in the garden, ‘Run away quickly, lest the rest of you are killed!’


Sharara’s guards and her other servants panicked and ran out of the garden. Becoming visible again, Amar slaughtered Sharara’s unconscious companions. There was yet more thunder and darkness. Finally, the skies cleared and Amar saw that the ground was strewn with the corpses of dead witches. All the trees and buildings in the garden conjured by magic suddenly disappeared, leaving only the original houses and trees. In the distance, Prince Badi, who was now free, stood watching Amar’s antics with interest.


Badi-uz-Zaman and Amar met and embraced with joy. Suddenly, there was a sharp gust of wind in the garden. It whipped up sand from the ground into a whirlwind that spun around Sharara’s corpse so that it rose and started spinning as well. The whirlwind blew out of the garden carrying Sharara’s corpse.


Badi and Tasveer Meet at Last
Amar said to Prince Badi, ‘My son! You should leave quickly. It appears that the corpse will be taken to the ruler of Tilism, which means there will be trouble any moment!’ The prince replied thoughtfully, ‘If I had a mount, I could leave faster.’ Somewhat slyly, Amar said that a horse could be made available, but that it would cost him dearly. Badi-uz-Zaman pledged to pay him one lakh rupees, at which Amar immediately pulled out a pen and paper, saying, ‘Then write that down! You are a young man, and if you do not keep your word, at least I will have something to sue you with!’


The prince laughed heartily and wrote out a pledge, promising to pay Amar once he had rejoined his army. Amar carefully folded the letter and put it in his pocket. Leaving the garden, he brought out a saddled and harnessed steed from Zambil. This he presented to the prince, claiming he had just acquired it from a merchant.


As they rode out of the garden, the prince said to Amar, ‘Respected elder, I cannot return to the army because I am in love with Princess Tasveer. What will she think of me if I desert her now?’ Amar looked hard at Badi and cried, ‘You idiot, what nonsense is this? Get going, or by Allah, I will flay you alive!’ Badi-uz-Zaman pleaded with Amar to find a way of uniting him with his beloved. He even offered his valuable jewelled armband to Amar. Eyeing the precious amulet, Amar pretended to become angrier. ‘Just what kind of a pimp do you think I am? However, I suppose, as she is a princess, I could try, for her sake. Hand over that armband!’ The prince untied his armband and gave it to Amar, who then led him in the direction of Tasveer’s garden.


Now hear of the plight of Princess Tasveer. She had been pining for the prince and was constantly restless and tearful. Seeing her condition, one of her handmaidens said, ‘Princess, may I die for you! I know that you may be angry with me, but the fact is that you have been in this state of melancholy ever since you saw that prisoner.’ Another one said, ‘That rogue was so beautiful! Even I have been in a state ever since I saw him. My heart is entangled in his winsome locks; I cannot sleep at night and can think only of seeing his face again.’


Listening to their expressions of solicitude, the princess confessed her love for the prisoner. She asked her handmaidens to transform themselves into pigeons and doves and fly to Sharara’s garden. ‘Bring me news of him as soon as you can!’ she pleaded with them. They returned the next morning and brought her news of Sharara’s death. Tasveer laughed like a bed of blossoming flowers and told them, ‘The prince must now be returning to his lashkar. Pray, find him and lead him to me!’


The handmaidens went in search of the prince. Meanwhile, the prince and Amar were walking towards the garden when they came across five fairylike young damsels, their hair parting reddened with vermilion, who seemed to have emerged from a river of jewels. They greeted the prince respectfully and said, ‘Our Princess Tasveer sends you salaams and greetings. She invites you to rest in her garden for a while before you return to your people…’


Amar interrupted scornfully, ‘We do not consort with witches. We will not allow you to help us even with our ablutions!’ At this, the maidens looked in his direction and saw a thin, reedy-looking man sneering at them. Giggling amongst each other, they began teasing him and continued doing so until they reached the garden that had been bedecked to welcome Prince Badi. The soft-eyed Princess Tasveer waited at the entrance to receive him. Supported by her maidens, she came up to the prince and held his hand, ‘Prince, by coming to my garden you have graced this humble abode. You honour me!’ The prince looked deep into her eyes and sighed, ‘My princess, I am besotted!’ Thus whispering to each other, they sat side by side on a velvet masnad in a pavilion by the lake. Crystal goblets of wine were laid out on silver trays for them.


Amar sat in front of them and looking closely at Tasveer, exclaimed, ‘O Badi-uz-Zaman! Just look at this woman, how ugly she is! She is cross-eyed, and her hair is moth-eaten!’ The beautiful Princess Tasveer felt acutely embarrassed at hearing this unflattering description of her but the prince whispered, ‘My dear princess, this man is very greedy. If you give him something, he will surely sing your praises as loudly as he has criticised you!’


At once, Tasveer offered Amar a chest of jewels. Seizing it, Amar declared, ‘O Badi-uz-Zaman, you have done well! She is truly a princess of the realm! How lucky you are that you, a son of a lowly keeper of the Kaaba, can consort with her!’ Everyone laughed to hear Amar change his tune so quickly.


Filling a goblet of wine, the princess offered it to the prince. ‘This is an offering of love, pray accept it!’ The prince replied, ‘Nightingale of this garden! You are a sorceress and I am a Muslim. Only if you promise to forswear magic can I drink with you, and even be your slave forever!’ The princess responded gently, ‘Sheheryar, I have not yet learnt to use magic as I am young, but I do wish to adopt your faith.’ Thus, the princess converted to Islam and the festivities began. Wine flowed freely and dancers entertained the gathering with a mujra performance.


But just then, the waters of the nearby lake began to boil. There was a loud noise and a huge black ogre rose out of the water. Calling out to the prince, he cried, ‘Come forth you intruder, you are my victim!’ The prince drew his sword and slew the ogre in half with one swift cut. Immediately, both parts of the ogre’s body fell into the lake. Moments later, he re-emerged intact and whole again. Vizierzadi Nairang whispered to the princess, ‘Huzoor, this ogre will emerge out of the lake seven times in all, and can be slain each time. But the eighth time, he will not die!’


The princess exclaimed, ‘Nairang, if you know how he can be killed, tell me now!’ Nairang replied, ‘I just know that this ogre was kept here by Sharara Jadoo for your protection. She had also kept a bow with three special arrows that can kill him in a hut in the garden. If all three miss him, he will not die. Sharara had made the hut invisible with her spells, but as she is dead, I am sure we will be able to see it.’ The princess and Nairang then searched the garden and found a hut near the baradari, which no one had seen before. The princess quickly rushed in, found the bow and arrows, and ran back to the lake where she handed them to the prince.


By this time, Badi had already slain the ogre five times whenever he emerged from the lake. Urged by the princess to use the enchanted weapons, Badi waited for the ogre to appear again for the sixth time, and as he emerged, Badi charged towards him and shot an arrow straight at his chest. Where the arrow pierced the ogre, a flame sprang out and within moments, reduced his body to ashes. There were fearsome noises and a disembodied voice called out, ‘You have killed Muhafiz Jadoo!’


The prince kneeled down in gratitude to Allah Almighty. He then embraced the princess. Amar, emerged from Galeem, his cloak of invisibility, and pleaded with the prince to leave before there was more trouble. The prince turned to Tasveer to say farewell, but before he could speak, she said, ‘I must go away with you. When Afrasiyab learns of this, he will surely kill me!’ So Badi-uz-Zaman sent for his horse and mounted the princess on it. He then addressed her handmaidens, ‘You are servants, and will not be blamed. You are free to go, or you can join us in Mount Agate!’


The prince, the princess and Amar left the garden together for the Islamic camp, leaving her handmaidens in tears.


Meanwhile, Afrasiyab was waiting in the Garden of Apples to hear of Amar’s death when the whirlwind blew Sharara’s body into the garden. Her ghostly spirits cried out, ‘King of Wizards, Sharara has been killed!’ Trembling with fury, Afrasiyab opened the oracle Book of Samri, which informed him that Amar and Badi-uz-Zaman had slain both Sharara and Muhafiz Jadoo.


Afrasiyab summoned Azhdar Jadoo, a wizard with flames pouring out of his nostrils, mouth and eyeballs. Clay idols adorned his arms from the elbows to the shoulders. Afrasiyab ordered, ‘Go in haste, Badi and Tasveer are on their way to the Islamic camp with Amar. Arrest the two of them, but do not arrest Amar. He must be left free to warn Hamza and to make him fearful of attacking us!’


While this was happening, Badi and Tasveer had already travelled several miles from Tasveer’s garden. Suddenly, from behind a bush, a large python reared up, emitting flames from its mouth. Amar ran away, leaving the prince to defend himself and the princess against the python. The python incinerated the arrows shot by the prince. All of a sudden, it breathed in, and swallowed both Badi and Tasveer.


Realising that he was now alone, Amar emerged from his hiding place and tried to kill the python with huge stones that he fired from his catapult. They missed the python that called out, ‘O Amar! Go and describe this mishap to Hamza. This is the sacred land of Tilism-e-Hoshruba. Be warned that no one should enter it. It will now be difficult for anyone to rescue Badi-uz-Zaman!’ The python then disappeared. Amar wailed in grief at losing his prince and returned to the Muslim camp.


Emir Hamza was seated in the durbar when Amar walked in. He paid appropriate homage to his master and sat on the Chair of Hud Hud. Hamza Sahibqiran, the badshah of the lashkar and all sardars asked, ‘Khwaja, how are you faring?’ Amar related all that had transpired. Emir heard the news calmly, ‘Praise be to Allah, my son is alive! We must find a way to conquer Tilism, but at this moment, we are facing Sulaiman Ambreen Kohi. We must plan a strategy for this battle and will worry about who to send to Tilism later.’ Then Emir became absorbed in his battle plans.



Shahnaz Aijazuddin has spent several years researching the Tilism-e-Hoshruba and is deeply interested in Urdu and Persian. She has been a columnist with a leading Pakistani newspaper and has written for several other publications in India and Pakistan. A collection of her articles, Lost from View, was published in 1994. Shahnaz Aijazuddin is married and has three children. She lives in Lahore, Pakistan.