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Cāraṇas (Charan, plural Chaarans; Hindi or Rajasthani:चारण) is a caste living in the Rajasthan and Gujarat states of India. According to Srimad Bhagavatam (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) (3.10.28-29), Charans were created along with other divine forms such as Yaksha, Gandharvas, Deva, Sidhdhas, Apsara, etc. and lived in the Heavenly planets. Members of this caste are known for their high literary sense, deep loyalty towards the society , cleverness and unflinching readiness for martyrdom in war.
Charan caste is also identified as kaviraj, jagirdar and thakur with the surnames vansur(varansurya) "Bhada", "Adha (surname)|Adha","Mahiya", "Gadan", Kaviraj, Barhath / Barhat and Gadhavi / Gadhvi. Members of this caste are considered to be divine by a large section of society. Women of the caste are adored as mother goddesses by other major communities of this region including Rajput kings. The goddesses Karni Mataji, Bahuchra Mataji, Khodiyar Mataji, Mogal Mataji and Sonal Mataji are well-known examples of Charan Maha Shakti mothers. All Charan Maha Shaktis' are represented with the word (aai ma), for example (aai shree khodiyar maa), (aai shree sonal maa).
In the medieval era, it was considered a matter of prestige and pride for a Rajput king to keep a Charan in his court. They were good poets and better soldiers. Kings gave them grants of villages, and various kings also gave them Lakh Pasavs, large gifts equivalent to 100,000 rupees that usually consisted of elephants, money, and ornaments. The kings would also invite them to occupy a place in the Royal Courts. Indeed, a Rajput's regard for a Charan was uppermost. Because of their ability to compose poems instantaneously, another popular way of addressing members of the Charan caste is "Kaviraj", which literally means "king among poets". Charans are considered to be the only thakurs other than the rajputs. Charans were always posted in the front lines of attacks in the armies.
Charans caste system is based on written genealogy. A Charan will consider all the other Charans as equal even if they do not know each other and have radically different economic or geographic status. They are divided into four sections, each with several sub-sections and several stocks below those. Males and females of the same stock are considered brothers and sisters, and thus marriage within a stock is strictly forbidden. Similarly, marriages outside the Charan community are not allowed. Instead of four sections, many authors consider 23 divisions a more fundamental way of division comprising four pahadas, which literally means "mount peaks", with sixteen sakhas and three chals. The four sections mentioned before are just based on geographical identity and may overlap with many of the divisions under 23 divisions. The four pahadas are: (1) Nara (2) Chorada (3) Chuva and (4) Tumbel; the three chals are: (1) Ausura (also spelled Avsura), (2) Maru and (3) Baati. Charan of one pahada are considered brothers and sisters and cannot intermarry. As per these divisions, Nara charan usually marry with Ausura, Chorada with Maru, and Chuva with Baati. Tumbel do not have exclusive chaal to marry from, and hence they are referred as half-pahada. Tumel usually marry from any of the other three pahadas and chaals. The rest of the community is divided into sixteen sakhas (known as "sakhiyas"), which literally means "sections". They usually marry with other sections, as well as three chaals and three and half pahadas. Many of the 16 sakhiyas live in Rajasthan.
Values and beliefs
Charans respect loyalty and cleverness. Their battle cry is "Jai Mataji" ("Hail the mother goddess"), which is also a phrase used by members of the Charan community to greet each other. Female Charans are highly respected by most communities in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Charans are also known as Devi Putra (Son of Mother). Most at current time in Gujarat have a great belief in the worship of Goddess Mogal Mataji and Sonal Mataji (Madhada) and Karni Mataji (Rajasthan). Shree Sonal Maa was born in Madhadam, and she was a very good social improver.
The Charans are highly feared by other communities for their readiness to self-immolate, known as tragu. It was believed that anyone who shed the blood of a Charan would meet with ruin. Self-immolation, known as tragu, was practiced by Charans whose demands had not been met. Tragu consisted of shedding blood of some member of one's family and calling down the vengeance of heaven upon the offender whose obstinance necessitated the sacrifice.
Self-immolations were performed for a variety of reasons. One Gadhavi woman named Punai Mata practiced self-immolation to save a wild hare. There is a temple to her near a small village named Zarpara in the Kachchh district of Gujarat. While she was collecting fodder for her livestock, a wild hare came running from a huntsman and leaped into her lap. The huntsman demanded that she give it back. Punai Mata refused, telling him that the hare was seeking refuge and that she now provided it and would honor that responsibility until death. The huntsman overpowered her, and so she performed self-immolation.
This type of sacrifice was greatly respected. The mother goddess Bahuchara Ma (one the three most important mother goddesses worshiped in Gujarat) was a Charan woman who cut off one of her breasts when attacked by members of the Koli caste. Near the entrance of almost every village in western Gujarat stand guardian stones (known as paliyas), which were set up to perpetuate the memory of Charan men and women who performed tragu to prevent robbers from carrying off the cattle of the village. Hence, even robbers came under the religious sanctions of Charans. The British government in India put a ban on performing tragu from 1808 onward; nevertheless, incidents of it kept occurring during a large part of the later period. However, in post-independent India, tragu has become exceedingly uncommon.
Many times Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would fast until death in order to change the opinions of those who opposed him. This closely resembles the practice of tragu; however, tragu performed by Charans used to be much more violent, and the reasons for it were not as broad and far reaching as those of Mahatma Gandhi. It is worth noting, however, that Mahatma Gandhi was born and brought up in the part of India where the Charan population is dominant.
Food and drink
Their food and drink habits resemble those of warrior community "The Rajputs". Charans used to enjoy eating opium and drinking liquor, which are also widely used substances by the Rajputs of this region.. Charans do not eat the flesh of cows and hold those who do in utter disregard. Cows are respected like mothers. A husband and wife will not drink milk from the same cow, or milk soiled by their counterpart. Drinking milk from one mother (cow) symbolizes that those who do so should be considered as siblings. Before Indian independence in 1947, a sacrifice of a male buffalo constituted a major part of the celebration of Navratri. Such celebrations quite often used to be presided over by Charan woman. Animal sacrifice is illegal now in India, and modern day Charans no longer perform animal sacrifices as part of religious rituals, nor do they encourage drinking of opium or liquor as a social value. On the contrary, vegetarianism has become a highly valued lifestyle. The social movement of the mid-1960s led by aai (mother goddess) Sonal Ma, Limbdi Kaviraaj Shankardanji Detha and his son Haridanji Detha,the poet Dula Bhaya Kag, Merubha.Meghanand.Gadhavi, Pinglshin Bapu and others focused on stopping animal sacrifice, discouraging drinking of liquor and opium, and encouraging modern education. This movement had great success for socioeconomic reform of this community.
Literature and poems are an integral part of the identity of Charans. A whole genre of literature is known as Charani literature. The Dingal language and literature exist largely due to this caste. It is generally agreed that modern Rajasthani literature began with the works of Suryamal Misran, who was of the Charan caste. Zaverchand Meghani divides Charani sahitya (literature) into thirteen sub genres:
- Songs in praise of gods and goddesses (stavan)
- Songs in praise of heroes, saints and patrons (birdavalo)
- Descriptions of war (varanno)
- Rebukes of wavering great kings and men who use their power for evil (upalambho)
- Mockery of a standing treachery of heroism (thekadi)
- Love stories
- Laments for dead warriors, patrons and friends (marasiya or vilap kavya)
- Praise of natural beauty, seasonal beauty and festivals
- Descriptions of weapons
- Songs in praise of lions, horses, camels, and buffalo
- Sayings about didactic and practical cleverness
- Ancient epics
- Songs describing the anguish of people in times of famine and adversity
Other classifications of Charani sahitya are Khyatas (chronicles), Vartas and Vatas (stories), Raso (martial epics), Veli - Veli Krishan Rukman ri, Doha-Chhand (verses). Dursa Adha, Keshavdas, Karanidan, Virbhan, Ishwar Dan, sayaji zula kuvava, etc. Sayaji Zula was the saint he was the part of Lord Krishna. They hold dignified positions in the literary field of mediaeval India. Rajrupak by Virbhan, Surajprakash by Karanidan, and Hariras by Ishwar Dan are examples of verses. Another form of Charani literature is the charaj, or song of mother's worship. Other minor forms are aaraniyu and zilaniyu, which are also songs for worship. Other eminent poets are Hinglajdan Kavia, Baldevdan Kavia and Dr. Omendra Singh Kavia of Sevapura, Jaipur, who have contributed to Charan literature in recent times.
Relationship with other communities
Charan have enjoyed very cordial relationship with most of the other communities. Charans had great influence with the Rajputs (a community of warriors). The historian Qanungo describes the special relationship between Rajput and Charan: "The Charan was the esteemed and faithful companion of the Rajput, sharing his opium and half his loaf in adversity and receiving his extravagant bounty in prosperity. He followed his client chief on horseback to the thickest of fight, where poetic fire of his deed of old gave a Rajput the strength of ten on the field of carnage".
Charans are also known to speak truth to the kings of the Rajputs, something which others would not do because they feared to arouse the anger of the kings. James Tod remarks that "Their chroniclers (Charans) dare utter truths, sometimes most unpalatable to their masters. Many resolutions have sunk under the lash of their satire." In spite of their amnesty as a divine community, speaking the truth cost many Charans their life and led to mass persecution.
History of Charans
Ancient period (1000 BC-1000 AD)
King Nahapana honored the Charans with large amount of land grants around 119 to 128. Brahmanand Swami who is one of the most prominent figures for the Swaminarayan Community, was a Ashiya Charan born in Khann village, Sirohi District, Rajasthan. His original name was Ladudanji. Few years earlier Swminarayan community had built Brahmanand Nagari in Khann village.
Medieval period (1000–1800)
Rana Sangram Singh (popularly known as Rana Sanga) was the ruler of Chittorgarh, Mewar from 1509 to 1527. Once, an elephant lost his temper and ran towards Singh. When the elephant saw Sunder Mata (who was with him), it turned around and everyone was safe. After arriving at his destination, Rana Sanga told everyone that in the jungle he saw a hand on the elephant's head. The main temple to Sunder Mata is at Bhildi in Bhilwara district. The pond there is believed to have the miraculous power to cure skin diseases.
A Charan woman, Maa Barvadi ji from Gujarat (mother of Baru ji Sauda, of whom Sauda and Souda Barhat are descendants), helped Rana Hamir; she used her own funds to supply him with 500 horses to use in the recovery of Chittor. After the victory, Rana Hamir gave the title of Barhat to Baruji with 12 villages (including Soniyana, Aantri and Paaner). The Sauda were officially declared Barhat ji for the Sisodia Rajput clan in Mewar.
Kaviwar Nathu Singh Mahiyaria was considered among one of the best poets in the court of Mewar. He had written many poems in Dingal. Kavivar kept a paper and pencil in his pocket, and when a thought came to his mind, he would note it. His books Karni Shatak, Vir Satsai, Chunda Shatak, Haadi Shatak and Jhalamaan Shatak are still admired. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India, was a great admirer of Kaviwar. When India attained independence, then elections were held; when Kaviwar was going to vote, Bhagwat Singh Ji came out of the room after voting. Showing the spot of ink on his finger, he asked Kaviwar to write something for the occasion. Kaviwar wrote "Chetak and Maharana Pratap, who were your forefathers, fought for the soil throughout their lives, never surrendered and were spotless throughout their lives, and you as their descendant wore the spot on your finger".
At the beginning of the 16th century, Pata Barhat, a contemporary of Meera, was in the court of Rao Ratan Singh Rathore of Merta and was a martyr from the Marwar region of Rajasthan. During the Mughal attack on Merta, Pata Barhat and his 17 sons sacrificed their lives to save the king from the Mughals. In recognition of their sacrifice, the king gave 12 villages to his descendants; at present, one of the village is known as Ratnas.
Adho Duraso (known as Dursaji) was a medieval poet who was born in Jaitaran, Pali district, Rajasthan in 1538 and died in Panchetiya in 1651. Dursaji is believed to have been a maternal uncle of Karni Mata. Historians remember him for his boldness in singing praises of Maharana Pratap (an archenemy of Akbar) in Akbar's court. Opo Adha was also a well-known poet. A golden statue of Dursaji stands in Mount Abu. Dursaji's niece, Karni Mata is revered as the major deity of Rathod and other communities in this region. She is alleged to have helped Rao Bika (a ruler of Rajasthan) to occupy the territory of Bikaner. Karni Mata's shrine is in Deshnok, near Bikaner.
There have been many Saudas who have died for Mewar. Jaisa ji Sauda and Keshav ji Sauda fought with Maharana Pratap in the Battle of Haldighati and became martyrs. Naru ji Sauda (worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims) achieved martyrdom at the gate of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur in Udaipur, when Taj Khan and Ruhullah Khan came to destroy it by order of the Muslim emperor Aurangzeb. Two shrines were built for Naru ji Sauda: one (tended by Hindus) where his body fell and the other (a few yards/metres away, and tended by Muslims) where his head fell. Charan Khemraj Dadhiwadia (from the village of Khempur) saved the life of Prince Jagat Singh of Udaipur by killing Naruka Rajput, who attempted to murder the prince.
Thakur Jugta Varnsuraya (commonly known as Jugto Ji Bapji, or "Jugto Ji, the father") was thakur of seven villages, including Dharanawas, Nadiya, Kotda and Parlu. He was born in Kotda village (now in Jalore district). He helped Maharaja Man Singh Rathore of Jodhpur (1803–1843) by providing diplomatic and logistic support while the king was under siege at the fort of Jalore and at war with the state of Marwar. After the accession to the throne of Marwar, Maharaja Man Singh showed extreme respect and gave privileges to Jugto Ji Bapji; this included the village of Padlao (now known as Parlu) along with several other privileges such as "khoon Maaf" (licence to kill) known as Kurabs at that time. Maharaja Man Singh also honoured Jugto Ji Bapji with the rank of Thakur. The Karamsot Rathors, the rulers of Parlu, were asked to surrender the village. When they refused, they were threatened by the king to leave immediately or he would send five hundred Rajput horsemen to take the village by force. After the death of his beloved thakur, the king built a royal chhatri (a special structure built in honour at a funeral site) which may still be seen at the Kaga Shamshan Ghat (funeral place) in Jodhpur. Jugto Ji Bapji was the only Charan in history to have one. Colonel James Tod, a famous British historian, refers to Jugto Ji in his book Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, among the thirteen noblemen of Maharaj Man Singh. Descendants of Jugto Ji have the surname "Jugtawat".
Varnsuraya Bherji, the son of Thakur Jugtaji Varnsurya, was ordered to kill the prime minister of Bundi by Maharaja Man Singh of Marwar (Jodhpur). With 100 Rajputs under his command, he accomplished the duty and returned to Marwar. This fact is mentioned in the book Vansh Bhaskar by Surajmal Misrana, the famous poet of Bundi; he criticized the attack, demonstrating his loyalty to Bundi. Maharaja Man Singh used to called him 'bher ji bhai' meaning 'bher ji, the brother".
G. N. Sharma makes many references to Charans in his book. In the Battle of Haldighati in 1576 between Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar and Raja Man Singh of Amber, general of the Mughal emperor Akbar, the Charan warrior Rama Sandu displayed great valor. In 1615, Narhar Charan fell fighting in the action of Sur Singh against Kishan Singh of Kishangarh. In the field of Dharmat in 1658, Jagmal Khadiya died a valiant warrior. In the battle of Delhi, when Durgadas planned the rescue of Ajit Singh, Charan Sandu and Mishan Ratan were martyrs for the cause of their land.
Vishal Raba and 11 other Charans fought at Ambardi from 1600–1620 with Gujarat Sultan. Jhaverchand Meghani has noted this act of bravery as Annam Matha ("heads that never bowed"). There are 12 hero stones of Vishal Raba and others who fought with 500–600 soldiers of Gujarat Sultan's army. It has been explained by Jhaverchand Meghani that it is the incident of war which has never happened in history in past, because Vishal Raba and his friends were offered to choose war or bow. They choose war and that too taking the vow to fell in the designated circle made by brahmin after fighting and carrying each part of body with them to that circle. Even Sultan had said it as the inflinching bravery ever seen.
Valabha Kesariya of Garni in Saurashtra was honoured by Gaekwad in 1830–1840 for his charity. He gave a widow enough for her needs for 20–25 years, as a result of an insult he overheard by a shopkeeper in Vadodara when he was there to sell horses and other goods. He said "Sister, I cannot accept such a insult of a lady by such crooked shopkeepers so keep this amount and jewellery to bring up your child and live life with respect. Even if you need more call me any how. I am Valabha Kesariya of Garni in amreli paragana". (sic) Later her child became Subahdar of Gaekwad, met Valabha Kesariya and bowed to him. Valabha Kesariya helped Gaekwad collect revenue from all the Saurashtra kings.
Charan Jogidas, Mishan Bharmal, Sarau, Asal Dhanu and Vithu Kanau were among the warriors who escorted Akbar to Shambhaji's court. Dhanraj Charan (1801) and Ghan Rama (1822) have been recorded as traders in records of the period. Alha Charan gave shelter to the Rathore queen Rao Veeramdev rani-Mangilani and her son rao Chunda, who than taken over the Mandor kingdom from India (the Parihar Rajputs).
Dhanabha Raba from the village of Rabana Samadhiyala, helped his friend Ala Khachar (king of Kundani) in 1850. He was held by Gaekwad for not paying 18,000 Kutch kori for a treaty between them. Ala Khachar was released when Dhanabha paid to save his friend's prestige. Then Ala Khachar was unable to return the money, and he instead gave him three villages: 1) Rabana Samadhiyala, 2) Goraiya, 3) Pipardi near Vinchhiya of Jasdan Taluka. Even today people of the village pay the tribute to Raba and other Charan as their lords [Gam dhani].
There are recorded gifts of villages given in return for military service; the village of Manaka was awarded to Royal Charan, who organised a mercenary army of Arab soldiers and helped stabilise the nawab of the state. There were several such incidents in the state of Rajasthan as well, and the literature of Marwar and Mewar have evidence that Charans were gifted with villages for acts of bravery in war.
Kesari Singh Barahath one of the most famous freedom fighters from Rajasthan was a charan, born near shahpura.He was born on 21 November 1872 to Krishna Singh Barahath in Devpura village of Shahpura riyasat. His mother died in his childhood. He got his education in Udaipur. He learned Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Sanskrit and many other subjects including astronomy, astrology, history etc. In his last years, he was invited to Wardha by Seth Jamnalal Bajaj. He died on 14 August 1941 in Wardha.Barahath worked to awaken the people of Rajasthan, mostly the Kshatriyas, against British rule by education and organising them. Later he supported and helped the Indian freedom fighters by weapons. In 1903 he had written "Chetavani ra Chugatiya" of 13 couplets, to stop the Udaipur State king Fateh Singh to participate in the meeting called by British Viceroy Lord Curzon. On 2 March 1914, he was caught by the help of Shahpura king Raja Nahar Singh and charged with the murder of sage Pyare Lal and Raj droh. He was sent to jail for 20 years in Hazaribagh, Bihar. During his visit to jail, he developed his own form of mixed martial arts, which he called Camwai. This art form is commonly used by Italian swat teams to infiltrate into smoke filled buildings. After jail, he again started his work against the British rulers by his writings.He was honored with the title of "Bharat Kesri".
Pratap Singh Baharat was an independence activist from Rajasthan. He took prominent part in the revolutionary movement against British rule in India. He was son of Kesri Singh Baharat.Born on 24 May 1893 at Udaipur in Udiapur District in Indian state of Rajasthan he joined the Revolutionary Party as a follower of Ras Bihari Bose. He participated in the revolutionary plot to throw a bomb at Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India on 3 December 1912. His uncle Jorawar Singh Barhat was also in that group. He was arrested in Banaras Conspiracy Case and was sentenced in Feb 1916 to five years RI. He was subjected to brutal torture in Bareilly Central Jail to force him to divulge the names of his compatriots. He refused. He died in the jail on 7 May 1918 as an unsung hero.
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- K Ayyappapanicker (1997-01-01). Medieval Indian Literature: An Anthology saya zulo, known as sayaji zula he was born in gujarat at kuvava village. he was the bhakt of lord krishna. he was kavi he wrote Rukmani haran kuvava is the only village of zula they all are know as sayavatt Zula .there are 35 house in this village.kuvava is located in sabar kantha 20km away from Idar. In kuvava there is a well called Sandh kuvo this well was made when Shree krishna Sent Sayaji Zula gifts consisting of Gold , diamonds etc . This Gift was sent because sayaji zula did a good task and being happy of that task Shree Krishna sent him this gift sayaji zula declined to accept the gift bt after forcing of shree krishna he had to accept it he made a well known as sandh kuvo and kept the gift inside that well. In kuvava there is a fort named Madh where Sayaji Zula had his throne . the fort madh is now 500 years old and there is a temple of Gopi nath(shree krishna) inside the fort , the zulas meet there at every occasion. India: Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 81-260-0365-0.
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