The origins of Meghwar and Megh Rikh
By: Mohan Devraj Thontya, Ph.D. researcher.
Several aspects of Meghwar history and history of its literature are so shrouded into mist that we cannot differentiate the porous border of the historical events and the mythological beliefs where the Pauranic references have been diffused into the historical facts. So is the case with the great Meghwar personalities who lived historical lives in the mediaeval history of Indian Subcontinent. We encounter difficulties when the identity of Megh Rikh, Megh Dharu, Megh Mahya or Meghwar itself is questioned. In this article we will try to understand the historical identity of Megh Rikh and Megh Dharu. There is common belief that Megh Rikh was the prime ancestor of Meghwar. In the Meghwar traditional literature and oral stories he is considered as the most revered personality among all the Meghwars alike. Meghwar consider themselves as the descendents of this great saint. It is also said that he got divine knowledge directly from God Shiva and handed down to his son named Megh Dharu who later endowed it to the Meghwar Jati or Meghwar community. Literally, Megh means Rain and Rikh is a local Rajasthani or Kutchhi dialect meaning Rishi. Both the terms Megh and Rishi have come from Sanskrit language. As described, Megh means ‘rain’ but in the mythological context the term is usually attributed to the ‘Rain god’1. While another term Rikh, an abrogated form of the original Sanskrit term Rishi, which in the Hindu religious customs is referred to an ascetic or a seer. A Rishi is an ancient religious person who was often involved into the religious practices at a secluded place in the jungle or on the mountain. It has been noticed that the term Rikh in its local form was found or became famous first time into the Meghwar traditions and has now become an identity of this community. Similarly the term Rikhesar is also known which means the ‘Chief Rikh’ or ‘Chief Rishi’. It is probable that this terminology might have been used for Megh Rikh also.
The Meghwars belonging to different panths and religious orders have their own versions about the origin of Megh Rikh however a similarity lies in the deep to all the versions of the tradition. In the Megh Mahatamaya2 it is said that God Shiva uttered the Agama Nigama to Megh Rikh who handed down them to his son Megh Dharu. Megh Dharu endowed the divine words to the Meghwar Jati or members of Meghwar community for their religious life. Barmati traditional literature also tells that ‘Megh Rikh had directly descended from the Hindu god Brahma’.3 An eminent anthropologist Dr Dominique-Sila Khan4 who has done considerable research on Meghwar people and their different beliefs also expounds on this term in an explicit manner. She also traces the famous tradition about the origin of Meghwar Jati and points out that the members of Meghwar were previously known by this name and still the name is repeated in their religious texts as honorified name of ancestors of Meghwar Jati.
Generally the name Meghwar is composed of two words Megh meaning ‘Rain’ and War meaning one who wards off or stops’ hence ‘one who wards off or stops the rain. Numerous historical texts about the origin of Meghwars of Sindh, Kutchh, Gujarat and Rajasthan where members of this community live, mention the versions of the same tradition. For instance, Rose states that ‘The Meghwal claim descent from Megh-rikh who was created by Narain’.5 Enthoven states that ‘the one who stops or wards off rain is called Meghwal’.6 Mohsin Ali Mohsin tells about Meghwar that ‘Megh means rain + War means to fall it!’.7 But the question is who was Megh Rikh and when and where he lived? Some Meghwar traditions claim that Megh Rikh lived thousands of years ago. A hardcore Meghwar tradition states that Megh Rikh was Rikhesar or Rishi. In this regard, the tradition goes in such a way that:
‘In the Sat Yuga, a group of Rikhesars were engaged in the worship of god Shiva. Feared by their continuous worship, all the gods in the heaven gathered to determine to stop the worship. The god Vishnu in the guise of a Brahman along with a mysterious cow (Kavli Gaw) ascended on the earth and appeared before those Rikhesars. The god Vishnu asked them if they would care his cow for some time, however the god allowed them to drink its milk as much as they wanted. Everyday Rikhesars drank delicious milk from that mysterious cow. One day they thought that its milk is so delicious how much would be tasty its meat. Overwhelmed by that thought, they cut the cow and ate its meat. When Vishnu returned after few days, he could not find his cow and suspected that the Rikhesars had eaten it. Vishnu demanded his cow but Rikhesars lied that they did not know about it. At the same time, the parts the cow began to make sounds from their abdomens. By knowing this, Vishnu became furious, he cursed to the Rikhesars that they would be deserted into jungles for up to three yugas, but however in the fourth Kali Yuga their sin would be removed and be liberated when Matang Dev would come as an Incarnation of God Mahesh.’8 In this tradition it is however not known that who was Megh Rikh among that group of Rikhesars? Whatever the matter be, this is a mythological story and even Puranas do not support it. The most significant point in this tradition lies in the fact that Matang Dev is believed as the Tenth Incarnation of God Mahesh (Shiv).
Another Meghwar tradition seems more relevant and is often recounted in such a way that: ‘A certain Rishi named Ekal Shringi (who had grown one horn on his head) was busy in the deep meditation. All the year he remained in that condition but his meditation came to an interruption when it rained on the earth. He determined to stop the rain forever. Thus he captured the Twelve Meghs (the gods of Rain) and tied them into his horn. By this he could succeed in stopping the rain and the next year there was no rain on the earth. This situation created severe drought and due to scarcity of water the people and the animals began to die. Cultivation had completely destroyed. The people who survived went to the gods and vowed them to save their lives from the tyranny of Ekal Shringi. All gods and goddesses appealed to god Shiva to end the miseries of the human beings and got them relief by freeing the Twelve Meghs from the bondage of the tyrant. God Shiva agreed the request he took a guise of a mendicant and came into the colony of the low caste people where a person named Megh Dharu was living along with his wife and one daughter. It was the same Megh Dharu who was the son of great Megh Rikh. Megh Dharu like his father was truthful and honest. He had always spoken truth and had nothing done wrong in his entire life. Megh Mahatamaya tells that the Megh Rikh was a scion of a certain Parmar king. His previous name was Megh Singh but he sought protection and became a disciple into the hermit of the rishi Dadhichi after an attack on his own country, he came to be known as Megh Rikh’.9 The further detail can be seen in my Ph.D. thesis where I have described all traditions and their historical analysis.
Shiva brought him to the place where Ekal Shringi was lost into meditation. Shiva told Megh Dharu to take a handful dust from under his own feet and threw it on the horn of Ekal Shringi. As soon as he did so, the horn cracked and the Twelve Meghs were freed from the bondage. They instantly returned to the sky at their original place. Afterwards there was no drought and no scarcity of water or food on the earth.’10
However Baghvant states in such a way that ‘god Shiva asked from him three things: Roti, Beti and Langoti i.e. bread, a daughter and a piece of cloth which he immediately provided to the man about whose identity he did not know. Being pleased of his generosity and honesty, god Shiva appeared into his divine form only to show that he was his god, Shiva.’11
In the fourteenth century A.D. the king Ra Navghan (S.-/A.D. 1235?)12 who ruled the famous state of Junagadh, as the Barmati Panth sources in a Ginan, traces a tradition that ‘Ra Navghan was informed by one of his royal astrologers called Barot13 that a twelve years long drought is alarming at the doors of his country and he must be prepared for it. The king was influenced by the prediction and ordered his men not to carry any one the water from the country’s reservoirs. He employed there guards to check this. Near to a water tank, there was a colony of the low caste people who were followers of the great spiritual guide Shree Mamai Dev. The spiritual guru had been staying in the colony in order to preach his followers. In the morning, the followers told that the king had imposed order not to take a single drop of water from the water tank, due to which they could not maintain the purity.’14
‘Mamai Dev determined to meet with Ra Navghan and removed his apprehensions based on false prediction of the royal astrologers. Ra Navghan had already in contact with Mamai Dev and was familiar with the miraculous power of the guru of the low castes. When Mamai Dev reached at the court, he offered him a high seat and asked if he wanted to say something. Mamai Dev told him that his imposition on the supply of water and food reservoirs is not appropriate. He called him to open water and food to the public because there is no drought at all instead of it there would be a heavy rain. This time the king was under the influence of the royal astrologer and was not seemed to be agreed with the Mamai Dev’s prediction. Mamai Dev left the palace. He worshipped at a place near a village Dhandhosan and then mounted on the Girnar’s top hill where he initiated hard practices to please God to make it rain on Junagadh. In very melodious tone, Mamai Dev uttered Ginans and called the Meghs, the rainy clouds. Suddenly, the clouds began to gather over Junagadh and heavy rain began to fill whole of the city. The rain continued to fall for up to three days. King feared that if Mamai Dev would not stop uttering the divine song, the rain would continue to fall and the whole city would be submerged in the flood. So he along with his guards and Meghwars mounted on Girnar and began to call for the mercy of the spiritual guide to bring an end that heavy rain.’15
‘Mamai Dev however told that the rain could be halted only when his beard will be submerged by the rain water. Then, one of his followers moved forward and took some rainy water into a vessel and submerged his beard with it. Mamai Dev was pleased of this pretty trick as the condition had been fulfilled and as it was done by his own follower so Mamai Dev ordered to Meghs to return to their original place and as such rain came to a halt.’ This whole narration can been found in Megh Vinti16 of the Barmati Panth sacred scripture. For the first time, the title was bestowed as Meghwar to the Barmati followers by Mamai Dev himself.
The above historical event states that how the name Meghwar came into existence and that it is not only a name but a title to the followers of Barmati Panth. It is also known that the title Meghwar was coined into the times of Mamai Dev who frequently used it in his own Ginans.
From the above three examples we evaluate that mythological stories about Megh Rikh and Megh Dharu are the only depictions of the historical event which is attached with Shree Mamai Dev’s miraculous event mentioned above as about him a number of historical events may be confirmed from the history. Mamai Dev lived between the second half of the thirteenth century A.D. and the first half of the fourteenth century A.D.17 He was the great grandson of Matang Dev (11th century A.D.),18 grand son of Lurang Dev (12th century A.D.)19 and son of Matai Dev (13th century A.D.)20 He was the fourth spiritual guide of Maheshvari Meghwars – the followers of Barmati Panth. Thus it is now clear that the name Meghwar as previously supposed to be the ancient at least before the time of Mamai Dev is not correct. Rather from the different religious as well as historical evidences it may be established that the title Meghwar came into existence in the time of Mamai Dev. It is right that in the Ginans the word Meghwar has often been used with the narration of Shree Dhani Matang Dev, for instance, the Ginans Megh Vinti21, Guru Vaso22, Punje Purkhe Ji Vagat23. etc but it should be kept in mind that mostly these Ginans were composed by Mamai Dev in whose time the name Meghwar had come into existence and he therefore used the Meghwar title for followers of Matang Dev as well.
The identities of Megh Rikh and Megh Dharu will continue to be mysterious and hardly we can find any clue about their origin in history until we see their traditions in the Meghwar historical personalities which we have tried above. The inhibition of Megh Dharu, the son of Megh Rikh, as the weaver and his life as the low caste in the downtrodden colony helps to compare him with the low caste follower of Matang Dev or Mamai Dev. As we know that weaving was the main profession in which Meghwar people excelled to highest degree. An eminent anthropologist Dr Dominique Sila Khan24 informs that Matang Dev is also regarded as Matang Rikh in Rajasthan in except of the fact that Maheshvari Meghwars consider Matang Dev as their spiritual father (Dada) while Mahya vanshis25 call Megh Rikh as Megh Matang also.
1.Malsi Ladha Baghvant. (1991). Matang Puran ane Meghwar samaj ni utpati. (Matang Puran and Origins of Meghwar society). Kutchh: Printed by Jatashankar Baghvant. p.131. Please see also Unpublished Manuscript. Shree Mamai Dev. See also Unpublished Manuscript. Shree Mamai Dev. Ginan:Megh Vinti. Sur: Sindhoro. Total 7 verses. 14th century A.D. Originally written in Shastri Bhasha. Copied by Kheraj Velji Thonthya in Gujarati script under the same title of the Ginan. 1957. Note Book No.3; p.68. The Ginans of Barmati Panth. Personal collection. Also see Note Book No.3. p.145.
2.Jeevannathji Sadanand Nathaji. (n.d.). Shri Megh Mahatamaya: Meghwar Sant Bhakto na Jivan no tunk parichaya. Narmadateerath Brighu Rishi Ashram Niwasi Maharaj Shri Jeevan Nathji Sadanand Nathji.pp.143-158. It is also called Shiv Sarodha Gyan.
3.Versi R. Lalan, Matang Smriti. Printed by Ramji Mangliya. Mahesh Panthi Sahitya Prakashan. Gandhidham (Kutchh). 2004, p1.
4.See Dominique-Sila Khan, Conversions and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and Ismailis in Rajasthan, 1997, Manohar Publishing Co. Delhi.
5.H.A.Rose. A Glosssary of the tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier. Nirmal Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi.1997.p.148.
6.R.E. Enthoven. The tribes and Castes of Bombay, Vol-III.1922. Bombay Govt. Central Library, Rept. Vol-III, 1975, Cosmo Publications, Delhi, pp.43-52.
7.Tarikh-e-Alam. Printed by the author, Sanghar (Sindh),1991,p.204.
8.ibid. Baghvant,1991, pp.22-26.
9.ibid. Baghvant. P.14.
10.ibid. Jivannathji. n.d. pp.14-19.
11.ibid. Baghvant. P.42.
12.James Burgess. Antiquities of Kutch and Kathiawar, Sindhi Adabi Board, 1991. p.165. Hyderabad. According to the dynastic table of the kings of Junagadh given by James Burgess, he might be Ra Mahipal II (Sam.1421/A.D. 1371) who existed in the time of Mamai Dev.
13.A traditional genealogist who used to keep register to note down a family’s lineage and important facts.
14.ibid. Baghvant. 1991. p.122.
15.ibid. Baghvant. p.133.
16.See note 1.
17.Mohan Devraj Thontya. PhD Thesis titled History and Culture of Meghwar: From the earliest times to the modern age submitted in July 2009 at the University of Karachi for award of degree. p.177.
18.Thontya. ibid. p.180.
21.See above note 16.
22.See above note 16.
23.Unpublished Manuscript. Shree Mamai Dev. Ginan:Panje Purkhe Ji Vagat. Sur Sindhoro. Total 5 verses+Vel. 14th century A.D. Originally written in Shastri Bhasha. Copied by Kheraj Velji Thonthya in Gujarati script under the same title of the Ginan. 1957. Note Book No.4; pp.14-16. The Ginans of Barmati Panth. Personal collection.
24.See Dominique-Sila Khan. ibid.
25.See Jivannathji. ibid. p.94.
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