Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dichotomies in linking Gurjara Bhoomi with latter-day Gujjars

In the era of colonial British rule over India, a direct link was sought to be created between the province of "Gurjara", references to which are found in ancient inscriptions and texts, and the latter-day pastoral tribe of Gujjars. The colonial historians were not interested in the subject from the point of view of the Gujjars themselves, but from the entire populace of western and northwestern India, which to them appeared to be radically different from the Indians living in the east and south. The Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research gravely observed in 1912: "There are, moreover, special features of the structure and customs of Rajput and Jat and other northern communities in India which distinguish them from the Brahmanic masses of the interior, and may be attributed to difference of race, perpetuated by many generations of resistance to attacks from the outside."

The more enduring resistance of the Rajput clans in Rajasthan to the Islamic invaders was also attributed to their mythical Scythian ancestry, and as a convenient reason to explain why Rajputs were more "Brahmanical" than the other foreign descent communities. The Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research states: "The contests with the Muslim invader of a few centuries later had the effect of consolidating the Rajput devotion to the scrupulous observance of Brahmanic injunctions as to marriage and intercourse with other castes which specially distinguished them from their foreign oppressors; and to the present day, they stand out from the rest of the community in the high value they attach to these matters."

Dichotomies in linking Gurjara with Gujjar

  • The ancient inscriptions and texts for Gurjara all refer to a territory covering southwest Rajasthan and northern Gujarat. But the pastoral Gujjars live outside this territory: the main population in Punjab and the adjoining sub-Himalayan belt, followed by western Uttar Pradesh, and then the eastern districts of Rajasthan taking the third spot in total numbers.
  • The second dichotomy is that while these inscriptions refer to an orthodox Hindu kingdom, the main population of the Gujjars are either pastoral or agricultural.
  • The third dichotomy: even though the Gujjars reside primarily outside Gujarat and southwestern Rajasthan, they speak a language which is a cognate of Rajasthani and Gujarati.

The other dichotomies concern the Gurjara Brahmins and Gurjara communities who have no link with the latter-day Gujjars, and prove beyond a doubt that Gurjara was the name of a province, form which several communities emerged.

Oral traditions of the pastoral Gujjars point to their origin from Gurjara Bhoomi

In most places the oral traditions of the Gujjar populace point to a pastoral origin from Rajasthan/Gujarat. A minuscule population of Gujjars settled in Jhalwan, Balochistan, trace their ancestry to Delhi and speak the Sindhi language. In the same province, the Gujjars of the Makran region point to Mewar in Rajasthan as their original home. In NWFP the Gujjars speak Hindko and claim to be descendants of Hindu Rajputs. In the Punjab the Gujjars speak a mixture of Gojari and Punjabi and claim a Rajput ancestry....usually by the marriage of a Rajput chief of a particular clan with a Gujjar lady. They too trace their migration into Punjab from the south: Rajasthan or Gujarat. In the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri the 16th century Mughal ruler Jehangir describes how the district of Gujrat got its name: "I crossed the river by a bridge which had been built there, and my camp was pitched in the neighbourhood of the pargana of Gujrat. At the time when His Majesty Akbar went to Kashmir, a fort had been built on that bank of the river. Having brought to this fort a body of Gujars who had passed their time in the neighbourhood in thieving and highway robbery, he established them here. As it had become the abode of Gujars, he made it a separate pargana, and gave it the name of Gujrat. They call Gujars a caste which does little manual work and subsists on milk and curds."

There is a substantial Gujjar population in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The 12th century Rajatarangini which deals with the history of Kashmir and the neighborhood mentions a number of tribes, like Dards, Khasas, Bhuttas, etc who are still found there, but no mention is made of a Gujjar tribe. This can only mean that they migrated to the western Himalayas in a very late period. The Gujjars in J&K speak the Gojari language and state that their ancestors came from Gujarat...not surprisingly they are mostly vegetarians. From J&K the Gujjars have spread into Himachal Pradesh; first into Chamba and later into Sirmaur, where they are still called Jammuwala Gujjars. In all the places discussed above the Gujjars are Muslims and trace their conversion either to the invasion of Timur in the 14th century or to the reign of Aurangzeb in the 17th century. There is one intriguing point with regard to the Gujjar population in Punjab and the western Himalayas which cements the linguistic evidence of their Rajasthani rather than foreign origins:
  • It is significant that the Gujjars living in Punjab trace their connection more with the Rajputs of Rajasthan and not with the local Punjabi tribes. There are for instance no Janjua Gujjars, or Khokkar Gujjars, or Awan Gujjars.
  • Similarly Gujjars living in the western Himalayas do not share any connection with the locally prominent Rajput clans. There are no Jamwal Gujjars or Katoch Gujjars.
In western Uttar Pradesh the majority of Gujjars are Hindus. In this region too they trace a pastoral descent and a connection to Rajputs. They had a more warlike reputation than their brethren in the northwest; Gujjar strongholds were noted in the 18th century and Gujjars took part in the region's uprising against the British in the 19th century. Further south in Central India the minuscule population of Gujjars are primarily pastoral and unwarlike. Here some of the Gujjars claim to have migrated from Gujarat, others claim to have been created by Sri Krishna, and some others by Bhagwan Brahma. They share some clan names with Rajputs while others are called after villages, titles or natural objects.

It is in Rajasthan that the oral traditions of the Gujjars approach anything close to recorded history, even though their population here is less in numbers and restricted to the eastern districts. Here the Gujjars are closely associated with Rajputs and provide nurses for their families. Even in the case of the Jat rulers of Bharatpur the 1908 Imperial Gazetteer reports: "There are two main endogamous divisions of Gujars, namely Laur and Khari; and in Bharatpur the former has the privilege of furnishing nurses for the ruling family."

The Charbhujaji Temple in Chittorgarh was constructed in the 15th century by Maharana Mokal, the Sisodia Rajput ruler of Mewar, and it has been managed by the Gujjars living in the neighborhood. Gujjars are further associated with Mewar through the folk deity Devnarayan also known as Deoji.

The legend of Devnarayan: This Deoji was born in the now unknown Bagrawat clan, as an incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu, and is worshiped by Gujjars, by Kumhars (potters) and Balais (weavers). In Rajasthan his shrines are at Puvali and Bunjari while in neighboring MP there is a Dev-Narayana temple (built in the 17th century) at Dev-Pipaliya. There is also a temple of his father Sawai Bhoj at Asind in the Bhilwara district.

There are different stories about this Bagrawat clan; while all of them agree on the Bagrawats having a Rajput origin on the father's side, the mother's community is reported variously. According to a 20th century translation of the Dev Narayan phad rendered by Gujjar Bhopas, the clan originates from a Rajput warrior who slew a tiger (bagh) and married a Brahman woman. The Gujjars are depicted as following the pastoral profession and having been born from a holy cow; in this version they become associated with the Bagrawats through the marriage of Gujjar women with Bagrawat men.

An older version of this legend is given in the 1913 MSS of bardic chronicles: "The word Bagravat means bigra hua, that is, those who have become perverse. They are said to have been descended from the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer by their connection with Bania women. The Bagravats were 24 brothers and a sister.....They suddenly became very wealthy and spent all their money in wine, women and sensual enjoyments. Bhoj was the most celebrated of the 24 brothers. When a man lavishly spends his money in enjoyments he is compared to Bhoj Bagravat. Bhoj had a son named Deo, commonly called Deoji, who started a new sect called the Bhopas. The Bagravats had a settlement at the village of Harsa near Bilada where their temple and their embankments are still in existence. There is an inscription in the temple dated about 1230 VS."

 The version told to Colonel Tod in the 19th century puts the origin of the clan to a Chauhan Rajput father and Gujar mother. The subsequent tale of the Bagrawats also has different renderings, but to summarize: they are allied with the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer, and in conflict with the Parihar Rajputs of Ratankot (or Ran or Ran-Binai in other versions). This would date the legend to the 12th century; but Dev Narayan is also associated with the Sesodia Rajputs of Mewar and the founding of Udaipur, which took place more than 400 years later, and is evidently a later addition. The tale of Deoji has similarities to the tales of other folk deities of Rajasthan like Pabuji Rathod, who is worshiped by Rabaris or camel herders, and Ramdevji who is worshiped by the leather-working Meghwals. All these tales depict how Rajputs of poor means or mixed origins become associated with the lower castes.

Last rites of the colonial myths

As seen above, the highly speculative colonial hypotheses on the Gurjara province, the Gurjara Brahmins, and the pastoral Gujjars, are a mass of contradictions and are countered by textual references and linguistic evidence. The last remaining piece of the puzzle is the population distribution of the pastoral Gujjar tribe: what alternative hypothesis can explain why they are primarily found outside the ancient territory of Gurjara?

The oral traditions of the Gujjars leave no doubt as to their pastoral origins from Rajasthan. It can be speculated that a severe drought drove them to seek shelter in the relatively fertile eastern Aravalli Hills of Mewar. Here they were called Gujjars because they had migrated from that province, and it is here that their earliest historical memories are found. A pastoral people would primarily be in search of fresh grazing ground for their flocks; the densely forested and riverine tracts of the Gangetic plains do not afford such grazing. But the drier plains of Punjab do and it is here that the Gujjars have migrated in greatest number, absorbing along the way several other communities in their midst, but still preserving at the core a cognate of the Rajasthani language. The turmoil of the medieval Turk invasions would have compelled many to seek shelter in the western Himalayas where they still speak the purest form of this language.