KUTCH: The land of legends



Kutch is a fascinating land and no visit to Gujarat is complete without a sojourn to this peninsular district. Its remoteness has kept it a place apart for centuries. The people are very sturdy, business minded and seafaring. Kandla a major seaport of the country with its single point-mooring facilities happens to be the only free trade zone of India. Kutch produces some of Gujarat’s most exquisite crafts like embroidery, tie die fabrics, enameled silverware and other handicrafts.

The Great and Little Rann of Kutch are the breeding ground of Flamingo, Pelican and Avocet and the home of the rare Indian wild ass which is now a protected species. 

Kutch is also the largest district in Gujarat. The Great Rann of Kutch lies to the north and the Little Rann of Kutch to the south. 

Kutch is a desert region in the west of Gujarat State, bordering on Pakistan’s Sindh province. Bhuj is the capital of
Kutch.

Until the devastating earthquake in January 2001 the old walled city was a meeting and trading point for several semi-nomadic tribes. Hence Bhuj was a colorful hive of activity that spills from bazaars and temples into a labyrinth of small alleys and streets. Due to its climatic and geographic isolation, Kutch retained many aspects of local culture that have long disappeared from other rural areas in India.

Bhuj was an outstanding example of traditional Indian life, largely untouched by the rapid economic and social changes and the surge in tourism that had swept through India since the early 90s. The city was a melting pot of urban and rural musical traditions and home to a large group of musicians, both Hindu and Muslim. The tribes of Kutch still lived as their ancestors did centuries ago, and come to the city to trade. 

The region’s relative isolation contributed to the continuing presence of musical expression and dance, textiles, jewelry, tattoos and many other aspects of its history. 

Sadly, the giant earthquake on January 26, 2001 that tore through Kutch almost comple-tely destroyed Bhuj and many of its surrounding villages. The Kutch Museum and its large instrument collection are gone. Many of the master musicians are feared dead. It will take years until Bhuj will be able to return to any kind of normal existence and have the luxury to remember its rich historical and musical heritage.

While the recent riots and the criminal collusion in comm-unal strife by the state govern-ment have all but destroyed the economy in Gujarat, the unrest hardly affected Bhuj. The local government has made little progress in rebuilding a shatt-ered community and many of the people of Bhuj continue to live in tin huts and tents.

History
Discovery of several sites of the Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilization have now firmly established that in the ancient times the eastern branch of the Indus emptied itself into the Rann, making Kutch a kind of an extension of Sindh on the other side of a large freshwater lake that could be easily cro-ssed. However, due to some sei-smic disturbance, sometimes in the eleventh or twelfth century, the main body of the Indus water began to move from the eastern to the western branch. As a result the freshwater lagoon dried up, and salt water began to seep in. Nothing authentic is known about the period between the Indus Valley Civilization and the Bactrian rule which is referred to by Strabo (66 BC – 24 AD) who refers to Kutch as Tejara-shtra, with Tej or Tahij as its principal town. This period ended with Sakas’ invasion that set up Great Satraps in Malwa and Kathiawad. The great Rud-radaman drove the Satavah-ansa from Gujarat and Kathia-wad, and as his famous inscrip-tion of Girnar (150 AD) shows, extended his conquests thro-ugh Kutch into Sind. With the growth of the power of Magadh, Saka power declined and its rule ended in 395 AD with the victory of Chandra-gupta II
Vikramaditya. 

The Chinese traveler Fa-hien who traveled in India between 399 and 414 AD has noted about the prosperity in various parts of the country, however, there is no specific reference to Kutch in his accounts. This silence of the early Chinese traveler was to be broken more than two centuries later by yet another Chinese traveler Hiuen-tsang (399-414 AD). He refers to Koteshwar as lying on the western frontier of the country close to the river Indus and the great ocean, measuring five miles round and containing eight Buddhist convents’. 

He also refers to the glory of Maheshwar temple adorned with sculptures. In the inter-vening period Maitraka rule was established at Valabhi in Kathiawas, which supposedly ruled over Kutch. This was the direct result of the weakening of Gupta authority. With the Arab conquest of Sindh the sit-uation was to change dramati-cally. At about the same time the Chavda kingdom was rising at Patan in Gujarat. These Chav-das had to retreat westward before the advancing Vaghelas and settle in
Kutch.

History now takes a definite turn. Having failed to establi-shed themselves firmly in Sind, Arabs permitted limited suzer-ainty to Samma rajputs whose descendents Mod and Manai were to establish themselves in Patgadh, near Gunthli. The great grandson of these Samma Rajputs was, the famous Lakho Fulani, the hero of numerous folklores of Kutch. Born in 1920 AD he crossed the Rann to seek fortune at the court of the Chavda ruler of Patan. He won fame as a gallant soldier and astute politician. After the death of his father he returned to Kutch. At this time Mulraj ascended the throne of Patan subverting the Chavda rule and started expanding his terri-tories. His expansion was chec-ked by Graharipu, Chudasama king of Junagadh who was joined in his battle with Mulraj by Lakho Fulani. The epic battle of Atkot is remembered for the courage and valour of Lakho, who ignored astrologers’ advise to fall upon Mulraj, oblivious of his advancing age. Lakho died a death of a warrior and the eulogies of the battle echoes the words of Kutch bards that ages shall wear away, but this tale shall survive’ – the tale of Lakho Fulani and his heroic fight in the Battle of Atkot its place.

Punarvo, Lakho Fulani’s nephew and heir, shifted the capital from Kera to Padhar-gadh. Punarvo’s reign is known for the arrival of Jakhs. They were probably a shipwrecked group of Zoroastrians, 72 men and one woman who are even today worshipped in Kutch. As they were skilled in medicine they were liked by the villagers, however, Punarvo, his window hunted down all the Jakhs. There are temples commemo-rating Jakhs in some villages, which keeps alive the memory of this wandering tribe that mysteriously appeared in Kutch and met a tragic end.

After the death of Punarvo there is an obscure period of more than a hundred years followed by the arrival of the brothers Lakho Lakhiar. Lakho was adopted in childhood by a childless Samma chieftain named Jada. Lakho therefore got the name Jadeja, the founder of the longest reigning dynasty of
Kutch.

When the ancient kingdom of Anhilwad was destroyed by the generals of Alauddin Khilji in 1298 AD, Gujarat became a province of the Sultanate of Delhi. Kutch was not parti-cularly disturbed, as it must have paid tribute. Judea kings could therefore consolidate their kingdom. The most glo-rious chapter of the dynasty’s rule was to commence with Rao Khengar who had fled to Ahmedabad to escape from the vengeful arm of his uncle Rawal in his childhood. The story of the escape of Khengar had been handed down at great length in Bardic tales.

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