A Pakistani Folk Tale about Ali Mardan Khan

Folk tales are stories that for centuries have been preserved orally, being handed down generation after generation, as there was no other means of safekeeping them. Folk tales are not only entertaining and engaging, but they are an invaluable method to pass along traditions, reiterate cultural and religious values as well as share common histories. They are also a way of teaching morals to children and even adults, for scholars have discovered that they represent people’s wisdom and experience of life. Ali Mardan Khan and the Lamia is one of those interesting stories that have been handed down generation after generation.

Pakistani Folk Tales

The region that today is called ‘Pakistan’ is very significant; historically. It is home to many ancient civilizations such as Indus, Gandhara and Mehrgarh. And since the Afghans, Arabs, Aryans, British, Greeks, Mongols, Persians and Turks have inhabited this land, thereby we find that Pakistani folk tales contain elements of all their cultures. Also the languages, religious beliefs and customs of the various ethnic groups that are residing here have a great influence as well.

A common theme in most stories is that good is rewarded and evil is punished. Social practices and taboos are also showcased. There is a strong belief in the unseen/supernatural and that white magic is for good and black magic is for harm. Furthermore wizards, fairies, witches, jinns, jogis with great powers within themselves and in their accessories such as caps, carpets, sticks, rings and cloaks are featured prominently. Whereas our folk love stories are mostly tragic. The usual premise is that the couple has to face difficulties due to social customs and family values. Still these have remained very popular through all ages.

Six Main Categories of Enchanting Folk Tales From Pakistan

Pakistani folk tales can be categorized as:

  1. Baluchi
  2. Kashmiri
  3. Pashtun
  4. Punjabi
  5. Sindhi
  6. Saraiki

Ali Mardan Khan and the Lamia

The following is an old tale from Kashmir and revolves around Ali Mardan Khan; who was the Governor of Kashmir, Kabul and Lahore during the reign of Shah Jahan. His services earned him a very high position in the Mughal Court. His tomb is opposite Gulabi Bagh Gateway in Lahore.

The Mesmerizing Lady from China

One day Ali Mardan Khan went hunting. He rode into the valley that was bursting with brilliant colors and the air was fragrant with saffron. In the middle of the valley was a gleaming lake, and on the embankment he saw a beautiful lady. He was very surprised to see her there, so he went up to her and asked who she was. She told him that she was the niece of the Emperor of China, and had been on a trip with her father. However she was separated from her group because her horse had gotten scared and bolted. They eventually ended up on this valley, and now were lost. Ali Mardan then ordered his attendants to take her to the Palace. Over the days he became quite besotted with her and eventually married her.

Ali Mardan Khan Meets the Disciple of Holy Jogi

One day the disciple of a Holy Jogi passed by the palace, as he was on his way to bring water from the sacred Spring of Gangabal (it is located on the foot of Mount Harmukh, north of Srinagar). However he was drawn to the splendor of the lush garden, beautiful flowers and sparkling fountains. He sat down to rest and soon fell asleep. Ali Mardan Khan happened to stroll through the garden soon afterwards and came across the sleeping man. His attention was drawn to a box in his hands, so he slowly took it from him and opened it. Inside was a very sweet smelling substance.

The man awoke suddenly and was dismayed to find the box in Ali Mardan’s hands. Ali Mardan was surprised and asked the reason. The disciple told him that it was a very special thing, as it could heal many ailments and assisted him in traveling long distances in a short time. This greatly interested Ali Mardan, so he told him that he would return the box only if his master would come and visit him.

The Hidden Identity of Captivating Lady

The man could do nothing but agree, so after collecting the water he travelled back to the valley where the Jogi lived, which took him a year. Upon arriving he told the Jogi what had happened. Now since Ali Mardan Khan was so well liked and respected, the Jogi immediately set out to meet him.

When he reached there, Ali Mardan treated him with utmost respect and courtesy. The Jogi then asked him if he was feeling alright, to which he replied that for quite some time he felt as if there was a weight on his heart and that he could no longer laugh. Then the Jogi asked if there was an unusual woman on his premises. Ali Mardan Khan told him about his wife and how he had met her.

Upon hearing this, the Jogi told him that she was a ‘lamia’, which in reality was a 200 old snake that had assumed a woman’s form. And when such a person got married he/she would suck the blood of his/her spouse till they became stone. Ali Mardan was perturbed to hear this, but the Jogi assured him that he could help. He would just need to follow his instructions.

Ali Mardan Khan Finds out About the Lamia

That evening the Jogi ordered for a special Pillaou (a rice dish) to be prepared. One portion would be sweet while the other would be very spicy and salty. The spicy and salty would be presented to the woman. If she objected to eating it she was a normal human being, and if not then indeed she was a ‘lamia’.

And it so happened that she ate it with great enjoyment. At night she got very thirsty, but there was no water in the room, according to the orders of the Jogi. At one point she could no longer bear the thirst, thereby she changed into a snake and glided out of the room to go to the lake. Ali Mardan Khan was awake and witnessed this, and so what the Jogi had said was indeed true.

The Lamia Meets her End

The next day he told him what had happened. Upon which he advised him to get a big strong oven made with heavy padlocks, and to have it placed in a corner of the garden. Then Ali Mardan was to invite her for a private meal. So he set about to prepare a special bread, and then he asked her if she could place it in the oven for him. As she bent forward to put it inside, he pushed her and then locked the door. She tried to break free, but was not successful.

The next day they both opened the oven door, and the Jogi found a small stone in the ashes. This was the source of her transformation he told Ali Mardan. Furthermore whatever it touched could turn to gold, so he offered it to Ali Mardan. However he refused to keep it for it would bring nothing but misery in the form of greed, jealousy and hatred, and threw it in the deepest lake….


Mahmud, Sayyid Fayyaz, ‘There Was Once A King’, Lok Virsa Publishing House, Islamabad.