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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 Mata, Bahuchara Mata, Khodiyar Mata, Mogal Mata and Sonal Mata 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).
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.
Values and beliefs
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 the goddesses Mogal Mata, Sonal Mata (Madhada) and Karni Mata (in Rajasthan).
The Charans practised a form of self-immolation, known as tragu. It was believed that anyone who shed the blood of a Charan would meet with ruin. 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.
Food and drink
Their food and drink habits resemble those of the Rajputs. Charans used to enjoy consumption of 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 Shankardan Detha and his son Haridan 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, Saya Zula Kuvava, etc. Saya 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.
History of Charans
Ancient period (1000 BC-1000 AD)
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.
(Most of the Charans at this period are criticizers of the Swaminarayan Sampraday as they derespect/not believe in Devi Prakriti (Jagadamba Durga) which controls the whole manifestation of the Universe according to the Hindu Vedas.)
Medieval period (1000–1800)
A Charan woman, Maa Barvadi from Gujarat (mother of Baru 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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