25
Oct
15

The Jakhs

“If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible colour you could imagine.” – Diana Wynne Jones

Kachchh is so wrapped in legends and folklore that one can continue to peel layer after layer of a story and still remain transcendent with a yen for more! And, one of the most fascinating legends found in Kachchh is that of the Jakhs.

Folklore has it, that a ship-wreck close to the Jakhau port brought 72 persons possibly of Iranian origin to Kachchh. These people were good Samaritans. Travelling with a lantern they went around treating people with medicines they carried in boxes. They rode horses to go around the region. This is said to have happened nearly 800 years ago.

According to some historians these people got the name of Jakh because they came to the Jakhau port of Kachchh. Others say that their name is derived from the word “Yaksh” which means divine persons.

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Whatever may be true about them, the Jakhs seem to have done good to the local people. They had come at a very opportune time for the people of Kachchh. For a very cruel ruler called ‘Pun-ara’ reigned over the region persecuting the populace. His wrath seems to have been directed specially towards people around the Nakhtrana region.

When people heard of these white-robed Jakhs, they went to them for treatment of their ailments and also for possible relief from the atrocities of the ruler.

As characters in such legends are said to have magical powers, this ruler Pun-ara was no exception. He had got a boon from the gods that he would be invincible as long as he wore an amulet on his arm. And he took care to have the amulet on his person all the time.

However, this ruler’s wife also had become the devotee of the Jakh horsemen. She told them that her husband kept aside the amulet only when he was taking a bath. So the Jakhs climbed a hillock near his palace and fired a missile which hit the bathing area, killing the cruel ruler.

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Naturally people were happy to be rid of a tyrant and started to worship the horsemen. They raised a temple on the hillock which has figures of 72 white-clad horsemen. People not only revered them but also started asking for wish-fulfilment from them. It is said that childless people often go to this temple to beget children.

While this temple draws people all round the year, it is at the time of its annual fair that thousands of devotees as well as sightseers and tourists gather in the plain of hill of the temple. The temple is situated in picturesque surroundings so it is a popular spot for sight-seers as well as foreign tourists who regularly visit Kachchh.

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Now, that is only one layer!

According to mythology the `Yakshas’ landed at Jakhau during the pre-historic period. The name of the port Jakhau is said to have been adopted from the term ‘Jakh’ derived from ‘Yaksha’. Jakhau remained an important port till a new port at Mandvi was opened in the 16th century. The port traffic of Jakhau was then lost to Mandvi.

In the Kachchh district there are many small safe havens, more or less abandoned, that display an alignment of statuettes representing seventy-two horseback riders, each holding a manuscript in one hand.  These are the Jakhs, who are said to have come from overseas to alleviate the misery of the poor, to look after the sick, and to deliver the country from the tyrant king Pumvrao. They are treated like gods. Their legend is known through heroic tales, which describe how they defeated Pumvrao, nephew of Kakha Phulani (at the end of the tenth century) and thereby thwarted the first attempt of the Samma Rajputs to control Kachchh. Several versions of the legend exist; they were first brought to light by Alexander Burns in 1826, and L.F. Rushbrook Williams gave an exhaustive account of what is known about the Jakhs and their stories in 1958.

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According to the legends seven holy men, called Rikhis (Rishis) or Samghars, came from somewhere near Byzantium. They worshipped their god Jakh on a hill not far from the fort of Pumvrao, called Paddhargadh. Their reputation for being able to make barren women bear children soon brought them to the attention of the queen. In some versions of the legend she is said to have given them access to the palace through an underground passage; in others, she is said to have been offended by them when they did not offer her the respect she felt was her due. In both accounts, the king becomes furious, in the one because they have violated the sanctity of his harem, and in the other, because they have insulted his wife. He has them arrested and condemns them to winnowing grain on a ground covered with nails. A compassionate barber freed one of them, who, from the top of a hill, called for the help of his god. Jakh is said to have arrived from Byzantium in the company of his seventy brothers and one sister. When Pumvrao refused to liberate the prisoners, Jakh and his company killed Pumvrao and cursed Paddhargadh, which was ruined and abandoned only two years after it was built. Later on, the seventy-two Jakhs were deified and worshipped astride their horses.

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Another tale was required in the eighteenth century to convince the ruler of Kachchh, Rao Desalji (1716–51), of the fact that the Jakhs actually existed. In this tale, they appeared from the sky on their horses near the gold market (soni bazar) at Bhuj, where a shrine, called Jakh Jar or Jakh Mandir, commemorates the event. Although it is not visited much today, it is still well kept: twenty-four whitewashed niches are aligned on a platform surrounded by small structures, each providing shelter to three manuscript scrolls, doubtlessly standing for the seventy-two Jakhs; two Jakh statues stand in front of the niches along with two white flags. Desalji and his successors are/were supposed to come here to celebrate the arrival of the Jakhs once a year.

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Rushbrook Williams quotes a more prosaic tale about the arrival of the Jakhs in Kutch which he attributes to the last royal bard. Seventy-one shipwrecked men and a woman are said to have reached Jakhau on rafts (on the West Coast, Abadasa taluka, an ancient harbour, the name of which recalls the event). They were supposed to have come from Byzantium and had clear skin, were tall in stature, and spoke a foreign language that was incomprehensible to the Kachchhies. They travelled throughout the country and taught their art of medicine and other sciences; in exchange they were rewarded with horses. Their popularity provoked the jealousy of the cruel Pumvrao, who imprisoned some of them. Their brother and sister, in order to free them, built a ballistic machine on a nearby hill, bombarding a part of the palace and killing the king. The queen organized a massacre of all the Jakhs in revenge. The people, grateful for their kindnesses, worshipped them as saints and even demigods in hilltop temples. At Jakhau, where there once were many Jakh images, the cult is in recession. The silting-up of the harbour put an end to the commercial activities of the Bhanushali, who moved to Bombay/Mumbai, following the independence of India. However, a small shrine was built between the small town and the sea; seven small images of the Jakhs on their horses, standing 30 to 50 cm high, can be seen there. Incense and coconuts bear witness to the existence of a cult.

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The liveliest temple is located at the village bearing the name Jakh, near the Paddhargadh ruins (Nakhatrana taluka), and near the ruins of a large Shiv temple called Punvareshvar.

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The shrine on the top of a hill can be reached by a flight of steps. It is an open terrace, partially covered by a dome under which stand in a row the seventy-two whitewashed statuettes of the Jakhs on their horses, freshly painted, with their characteristic orange turbans and their moustaches, and with manuscript scrolls under their arms; the image of their sister Sayari is different only by virtue of her smaller size. Earlier series of statuettes are removed and put aside but not destroyed, because when a series is replaced, the preceding one is kept nearby and continues to receive garlands and honours. It is interesting to note that gradually (and nobody knows since when), these statuettes have become more ‘Indian/Rajput’ in appearance. Pictures of other Hindu Gods and Goddesses were added during the restoration work after the 2001 earthquake.

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Local writers as well as English scholars have tried to find a plausible explanation for the origin of these strange benefactors from a foreign land. Many theories have been put forward, some of them quite fanciful: some scholars argue that their name, Jakh, is derived from yaksa, Hindu or Buddhist celestial beings; others argue that they were Greeks or Romans, or White Huns; some believe they were Jacobites; and even the Varangian (Scandinavian) Guards of the emperor of Byzantium!

Somewhat more convincingly, Rushbrook Williams proposes an Iranian identity: they might have been Zoroastrians who, fleeing Islamization from northern Iran (as did the present day Parsis, who reached the coast of Gujarat as early as the ninth century), were shipwrecked and sought refuge on the coast of Kachchh. Their peaceful ways and their knowledge would be in accordance with those attributed to the Jakhs.

For Dalpat Shrimali, a specialist of the religious folklore of the untouchables in Saurashtra and Gujarat, the god Jakh might be an avatara of Matang or Mataim Dev, one of the great gurus of the Mahamargi mythology, born from a Brahmin father and an untouchable mother, and famous for his astrological science. To others he is one of the great Hindu preachers of Nizari Isma’ilism.

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None of these theories can be proven, and the legend of the Jakhs does not seem to have crossed the Ranns of Kachchh. Never-the-less, every year large numbers of Sanghar/Samghar community visit Mota Jakh in memory of the Jakhs who have protected them from the oppressive role of Jam Pumvrao. Kakadbhit was made for Saira, the only women member of Jakhs.

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Bibliography/Sources:

  1. Saints and Sacred Places in Saurashtra and Kutch: The Cases of the Naklamki Cult and the Jakhs by Francoise Mallison from ‘Pilgrims, Patrons, and Place: Localizing Sanctity in Asian Religions’ (1941).
  2. Archives of the Parsiana.
  3. The Black Hills: Kutch in History and Legend by Rushbrook Williams (1958).
  4. Gazetteer of Bombay Presidency, Vol. 5 (1880).

 


2 Responses to “The Jakhs”


  1. October 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Where is this Paddhargarh? I have been to Manjal a few times, visited the Puvareshwar Temple, but the locals couldn’t tell me about Paddhargarh. Any help about the bearings will be highly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    • October 24, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      You can just imagine the condition of Kachchh if the ‘locals’ couldn’t or wouldn’t give you information about Paddhargarh/Paddhargadh! Were they really locals? Anyway, this neglected ancient site is very much part of what is Manjal. Practically next to the Punvareshvar Temple. If you are travelling from Bhuj, then on your left between Nakhatrana and the Bhoter Jakh Temple.

      Geo coordinates are 23.258461,69.381637.


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