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Garvi Gujarat

Gujarat - From Far And Near *
by Prof. Niranjan Bhagat

Gujarat from far and near (page 2 of total 3)

In the 19th century it was again the people of Gujarat, especially the Parsis, who developed Bombay as a port, which till recently accounted for 40% of India's marine trade. It excelled over the other two ports of Gujarat including Surat. Lowji Nusserwanji Wadia, one of the world's greatest ship builders was famous throughout the world. He was a foreman in a dockyard in Surat and was invited by the British to Bombay in 1736. In Gujarati, Wadia, means a ship-builder. His sons and grandsons were also great ship-builders. One grandson, Jamshedji Bomanji Wadia has built a ship in 1800 A.D. which sailed the world's seas for years. Another grandson, Narowji Bomanji Wadia, built the battleships which the British engaged against Napolean, including Nelson's battleship at Trafalgar - the `Victory'. One of them still exists at Gosport near Southampton. Again, it was a Gujarati family which established the first Indian shipping company in Bombay in 1919 - the Scindia Steam Navigation Company.

In the early 20th century, the Bania community established 66 textile mills in Ahmedabad, making it 'the Manchester of India'. In the late 20th century, Gujarat has the biggest port in India, Kandla, which handles three million tones of merchandise annually. It also possesses 40 small and medium size ports, which handle about 2 million tones of merchandise annually. This is 70% of the total merchandise handled by all other similar ports in India.

Gujarat ranks first amongst the states of India in individual and infrastructural investment. Of the total investment of Rs.12,30,745 crore in 3700 units, Gujarat's share is 10.49% or Rs 1,33,763 crore in 430 units. Of the total investments in industry in Gujarat, the share of the chemical industry is 70%. Gujarat is poised to emerge as 'the chemical state' of India at the beginning of the next century. For centuries the state has fascinated foreign traders. Currently it has attracted investments of Rs.3,435 crore from multinational companies for trade, commerce and industry. Of the 1.5 million Indians who have migrated and settled in UK and USA, 50% are from Gujarat.

As the poet Nanalal says, 'Mahasagarnan pruthvivishal/ Sarovar Kidhan Gurjari ball' - the people of Gujarat have turned the vast oceans of the world into small lakes. A popular rhyme says, 'Jave je ko nar gayo, nave mandirmay / Jo ave pacho phari, pariya pariya khay!' - One who goes to Java, does not return. / If he does, he brings wealth which would last for generations. A popular phrase refers to 'Lankani ladi ne Ghogha no var' - the bride from Lanka and the groom from Ghogha. Such are the heroic tales of adventure and enterprise of Bania communit of Gujarat! Such is the sublime saga of the seafarers of Gujarat!

It is neither monarchs nor the generals, not the Brahmins or the Kshatriyas, but the Bania community and its culture which has socially dominated and economically dictated Gujarat for centuries. The land of Gujarat is fertile. But more than the land and agriculture, its prosperity comes from the sea and trade, commerce and industry, owned and organized by the Bania community.

Peace is pre-requisite for prosperity. The people of Gujarat, therefore, prefer compromise and cooperation to conflict and confrontation. They are gentle, generous, not aggressive or assertive, nor stubborn or obstinate. They are broad-minded and large-hearted, honest and hard-working. They possess not only common sense but also unusual wit and worldly wisdom. They can solve a problem or resolve crisis with patience and persuasion. They do not bear grudge or harbor a grievance against anyone. Gujaratis would rather forgive and forget. They are humble and hospitable. They are tolerant and yet tactful; courteous and yet calculating. They can write off and give up but without writing off their dignity and giving up their honor. They will meet the opponent or partner halfway for mutual benefit. 'I give up half, you give up half, but let us go ahead' is their way of life. 'Live and let live. Earn and let earn!' is their motto. In a word, 'kadado' (compromise) is the secret of the success of the Bania community.

Many immigrants and exiles, traders and invaders settled in Gujarat, which not only accepted but absorbed and assimilated them. The most striking example are the Parsis. Around 766 A.D. they fled Persia due to torture and persecution by the Arabs and migrated to Diu in Saurashtra, where they stayed for 19 years. Once again, around 785 A.D. they migrated to Sanjan in South Gujarat as a result of terror and persecution by the Portuguese. They sought asylum and Jadi Rana, the ruler of Sanjan, offered them a cup full of milk, implying that Sanjan was already overcrowded and there was no room for them. They added the sugar to the milk, and returned the cup to the ruler, suggesting that they would mix and mingle with the local people like sugar in milk. They were at once accepted and eventually settled in Navsari, Valsad, Udvada, Surat, Bombay and many other parts of Gujarat and India.

The spirit of Bania community and its Mahajan culture is embodied and expressed in one of the finest saying in Gujarati language: 'Kajiyanu mon kalu' - the face of the quarrel is black, as also in some other sayings: 'Vano Verine Vash Kare' -courtesy conquers all, even the enemy; and 'Vaniabhaini nichi muchh' - the Bania has lowered his mustache. In Nabhinandan's 'Jinnodhar Prabandh' Gujarat is glorified as Vivek Bruhaspati, a perfect example of equanimity.

The formal expression and the finest embodiment of the culture of the Bania community can be found in its mahajans (guilds). The history of the mahajans in Gujarat can be traced to the 16th century, though it could be even older, as old as the trade itself. The history of the mahjans of Surat and Ahmedabad is recorded in detail, including the names of their leaders - Virji Vora, Hari Vaishya, Abdul Gafur in Surat and Shantidas Jhaveri in Ahmedabad. Panchs, the artisans' guilds were caste-based, while the mahajans were not, being trade or profession-based. Their members were traders or financiers. There was no discrimination of caste, creed, color, race or religion and their members comprised Hindus, Muslims, Jains and Parsis.

The guilds were headed by 'nagarsheths' (city-heads), who formed a federation of guilds. They determined hours of work and wages, controlled prices, set hoidays and festivals and managed educational institutions. They protected the rights and interests of their members, settled quarrels between individual members or mahajans and protected themselves against the state and fought against its tyranny and injustice. for next page

Prof. Niranjan Bhagat

* Article published in October 1998 SEMINAR 470
- published here with due courtesy from the Author

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