PEOPLE OF GOD, IN THE LAND OF GOD: MEGHWALS IN GUJARAT

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Colors of Culture and Heritage, The NamoLeague Times
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AMID ALL OTHER GLORY, GUJARAT POSSESSES GREAT PRIDE IN BEING HOME TO DIFFERENT TRIBES – ONE SUCH IS THE MEGHWALS (HARIJANS).

Gujarat is a land that has absorbed lakhs of people, thousands of cultures and hundreds of communities into itself. It is a treasure to learn about all these. All have different religions, lifestyles, costumes, traditions, cultures, beliefs; yet they stay under one state as a family! There are about 290 distinct communities in Gujarat. And interestingly, as many as 206 of these are immigrants from neighboring Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh & Maharashtra – and even overseas! One such known tribe of Gujarat is the Meghwals – who came originally from Marwar in Rajasthan to Sindh in Pakistan in the 17th century, and then on to Kutch in 1971 after the Indo -Pak war. At present, its national population is nearly 4 lakhs. Of which, sizeable population is inhabited in the District of Kutch and large numbers of people are found in Saurashtra, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad districts of Gujarat.

PEOPLE OF GOD: HARIJANS

Meghwals were named Harijans by Mahatma Gandhi. Hari means God and Jan meaning people; they are God’s own people. The term Meghwal, also called Meghwar, is derived from the Sanskrit words megh that means clouds and rain; and war means prayers. Meghwar thus means people who pray for the rains.

A story goes that once a great ancestor of the Meghwals was not allowed to bathe in a nearby pond. Then the Brahmins had predicted a famine in Junagadh for twelve successive years. This ancestor climbed to the top of Mount Girnar convincing people that he would come down only when his beard will be submerged in the rainwater. Soon, the clouds started pouring so much that there was a fear of the entire place being flooded. The then ruler of Junagadh urged the ancestor to stop the rain and offered a vessel filled by the rainwater to submerge his beard. Hence the name Meghwal was born.

It is also believed that the the Meghwals are descendents of the Khod community of Rajputs in Rajasthan. An old man belonging to this community once removed a dead calf, as no one from a lower caste was available. People mocked at him and he was termed as impure. Meghwal means abrasht (impure) according to this belief.

LIFESTYLE AND CUSTOMS

Meghwals live in groups in the outskirts of villages. Classified as ‘Scheduled Caste’, they lived a humble life for centuries. Gradually, they have improved their lifestyles. They are peace loving and believe in humanity. They live mostly in small settlements of round, mud-brick huts painted on the outside with colorful geometric designs and decorated with detailed mirror inlays. Known as weavers of wool and cotton, their women do exquisite embroidery and patchwork. Leather embroidery is another of their specialties. Also, Meghwals are into agricultural labor, weaving Khadi and woodcarving.

Even today, women do not enjoy an equal or high status in the Meghwal society. She has no rights in inheritance and her life is often confined to the household. They however engage in embroidery and other such arts during their leisure time. They also play an important role in social, religious and ritual activities of the community. Meghwals have a social evil in the form of a system called ‘ex-communication’ of persons they do not like. This is practiced even in the cases of trivial matters. This further increases the social hardships for their women.

Marriages are arranged through negotiation between the families before puberty. Polygamy is allowed but polyandry is not practiced among the Meghwals. The marriage fire is fed with ghee or oil, betel nuts, corn and red Kanku powder. The couple walks four times round this light.

ELABORATED ORNAMENTS

Meghwal women are known for their colorful and exuberantly detailed costumes and jewellery. Married women wear an elaborate gold nose ring called ‘Velado.’ It is a sign of marriage and worn only on special occasions. Some nose rings are so heavy that the weight of it is suspended by a beaded chain, which is connected to her hair. Whereas unmarried girls wear three beads drop earrings in upper ear and a necklace with silver leaf-shaped pendant. Neckpieces can weigh up to three kilograms.

Meghwals’ work is distinguished by their primary use of red, which comes from a local pigment produced from crushed insects.

GOD FOR THE GOD’S OWN PEOPLE

Meghwals are Hindu by caste, though little is known about the history of their religion. They are believed to worship Lord Ganesha by preference. There are traces that the community believes in Lord Shiva, some say they worship King Bali as their God and pray for his return. Some follow ‘Pir Pithoro’ and worship his shrine near Pithoro village. Daily offerings are made by Meghwals to Chamunda mata in the village temples. Bankar mata is worshiped at weddings. They also worship Yakshas, Sitalamata or the Goddess of Smallpox and Kshetrapal snake God.

There is a belief that Baba Ramdevji is their chief deity and the Meghwals worship him during the vedwa punam (in August-September). Meghwal religious leader Swami Gokuldas claims that Ramdevji was himself a Meghwal, in his 1982 book Meghwal Itehas, which constructs a history of the Meghwal community in an attempt to gain respect and improve their social status.
The worships and the Gods differ as per the habitats of the Meghwals.

THE SCENARIO TODAY

Gone are the days of untouchables. Meghwals today have witnessed a qualitative and progressive change. Efforts are made to mobilize them and reconstruct their culture, literature and history so that they can claim for their identities.

Gujarat, no doubt, is a significant confluence point for different races and people. The social set up is such that the customs and lifestyles of different tribes are welcomed. Meghwals are one of these – it is a charm to the eyes and pride to the knowledge of the beholder to learn more about this rich and varied heritage of Gujarat.

Read original article at: http://epaper.namoleague.com/EpaperArticle.aspx?title=PEOPLE%20OF%20GOD,%20IN%20THE%20LAND%20OF%20GOD:%20MEGHWALS%20IN%20GUJARAT_484

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