Folk Tales of Gujarat (and Jhaverchand Meghani)

by Vandana P. Soni | 2014 | 98,532 words

This study represents an English translation of the Gujarat Folk tales composed by Gujarati poet Jhaverchand Meghani (1896-1947). Meghani was born in Chotila and left an important landmark on the history of Saurashtra and Gujarat folklore, Indian poetry, journalism and other literary sciences....

Life of Jhaverchand Meghani

Hu pahad nu balak”.

(I am the child of mountain)
   —Jhaverchand Meghani.

In 1918, in the shadow of the Russian revolution and during the advent of the Gandhian Era, a freshly graduated Gujarati young man migrated to Kolkata and found work in aluminum factory. For three years, he earnestly engrossed in diligent work. In his spare moments, he soaked himself in the torrents of the literary renaissance sweeping Bengal. He learnt Bengali, came under the direct influence of great litterateurs like Tagore and Dwijendra and institutions like Brahmosamaj. The impact of folklore on the Bengali intellectuals fascinated him and made him wonder about the possibilities of exploring the rich folk-literature of his native region Saurashtra, in his own words ‘a peninsula of hoary antiquity on the westernmost shores of India’. Unable to contain his zeal, one morning he handed in his papers of resignation to the owner of aluminum factory and bought a ticket back to Kathiawar, the region presently known as Saurashtra. This maestro was Jhaverchand Kalidas Meghani (1896-1947) he was felicitated with the dignified title of Rashtriya Shayar, a poet manifesting nationalism.

He was born in the Baniya caste at Chotila on 28th August 1896. The native village of author’s forbearers was Bagasara of Bhayani clan in Amreli district. His parents were father Kalidas Meghani and mother Dholiben Meghani. By profession, Meghani’s father was a junior officer of Kathiyawad Agency police force. The British administration in India formally assumed sovereign rights over the princedoms of Kathiawar land and set up its headquarters in Rajkot city in 1820. The seed of the mountain culture in Meghani was nurtured all along the intervening period because his father was frequently transferred from one outpost to another. Due to frequent transfer of his father, he studied at various schools of multiple cities like Rajkot, Bagasra, and Amreli etc. His bond with Nature became stronger as his father’s posting was most probably at forest or mountain as well as cataract surrounded zone. Meghani’s statement: ‘hu pahad nu balak chhu” (I am the child of mountain) is quite appropriate because right from the childhood; the deep pools of the rivers that penetrated the granite rocks flowed through the solitary canyons of the range were childhood companions of the author. The eerie hoo…hoo… blasts of howling gales gusting through the windows of Jhaverchand Meghani used to startle him awake and breathed into his soul as the call of the mountains. As a child, he was an ardent admirer of the duha -battles raging between young cowherds or between aged farmers. Like all mountain creatures, he feasted on the duha-soratha poetry as ravishingly as he relished Banyan figs and wild berries and other exotic dry fruit products of the mountains. During the childhood Meghani acquired popularity as Villapi because he was writing sad songs.

Mainly there were the two factors, which inspired him to sing and write sad songs:

1. He used to read sad songs contributed by Kalapi so Meghani became sensitive towards melancholic subjects which he naturally expressed in his writings of songs.

2. Mother’ s inspiration -Mother Dholi ben’s lamentations used to fill entire atmosphere with sadness. Meghani shared this quality with his mother. He often penned many sad songs and earned pen name ‘Villapi’

Meghani passed his matriculation in 1912 and acquired B.A., degree with the English subject in 1916. He served as a part time teacher at ‘Sanatan Dharma High school’, Bhavnagar. His wish to pursue M.A. remained unfulfilled as he rushed to Kolkata in search of job due to his elder brother’s illness. He gave up his job as a teacher at Bhavnagar. At Kolkata, he joined Jivanlal’s Aluminum factory as a personal secretary. His quest for literature became intense due to his close study of Bengali literature. The study of Bengali literature stirred him to undertake the research of literature of Saurashtra by returning to his native land.

One can sense Meghani’s ardent desire to return to his native Saurashtra in the following letter written to his friend:

It is getting dark. It is time for cows to return. Animals also come back from the forest. Sonorous voice of their harness bell sounds. Bronze plate of temple also rings. I will come back as soon as I will get bored with experience of this drudgery and mechanic type of life. I will also come back during the evening of my life. My master summons me. I will not miss the real path of my life. I recognize its call. Let me tell that I am not alone in lack of company. (Likhiten Hu Avu Chhu 94)

At the end of the letter to express joy, eagerness, and excitement for his return to literature he signed in a very innovative style- ‘likhiten hu avu chhu.”(I am coming back.) Driven by impulse to return to native, he came back to Bagsara by leaving his bright career in Kolkatta. In the beginning, Meghani fumbled in vain to get stability in his desirable career. During this crucial period certain decisive events occurred that were to shape his future. These are discussed as under.

1. Motivation by Vajsurwala

During the many intervening years, Meghani imbibed many a different literary culture; he did not know that the streams of delectable folk-delight had kept simmering in his innermost. In 1922, he met the one who could perceive those undercurrents. He was no one but Vajsurwala a childhood crony of Kalapi and a motivator and friend of Meghani. Vajsurwala was literati from Hadana. Vajsurwala and Meghani’ s bond became stronger after Meghani’s return from kolkatta. Durbar Shree Vajsur wala was influenced by middle-aged society as well as trained under the thought process of theosophy; motivated Meghani towards Folk literature. Vajsurwala was fond of telling stories to Meghani in spell bounding voice. Vajsurwala made deliberate as well as personal efforts to invite Charan and brought “ravno” to inspire Meghani. Daughters of ‘durbar”, used to sing marriage songs for Meghani. Thus, all these events spurred Meghani to delve deep in the study of folk literature.

2. Meghani’s Marriage and tour with his wife

During this period, another significant event was Meghani’ s marriage with Damyantiben. She belonged to a very cultured family. On the day of the marriage at the request of all friends Meghani sung ‘Chalo Dadaji na Desh ma” in his sonorous voice in the presence of his wife Damyanti ben.

The third significant event in Meghani’ s life was his journey soon after his marriage at various places with his wife Damyantiben and the family of Gulabchandbhai. This joyous family tour inspired him to pen creative works of literature namely,‘Moti ni Dhagliyo”,‘Amar Rasa ni Pyaliyo”, and ”Choro no pokar”. He sent his creative writes up‘Choro no Pokar” for publication at some auspicious moment. Amritlal Seth the editor of ‘Saurasthra’ was impressed by reading this article. It was soon published in the weekly magazine, ‘Saurashtra‘.

3. Beginning of desired career and creative use of weekends

Thinking of the rich folk literature of Saurashtra, Meghani’s soul cried out. Unable to ignore the call to pursue literature; he returned from Kolkata to his native land in 1921. Meghani sent two-three treatises to Amritlal Seth to get them published in ‘Saurashtra’. Amritlal Seth was fully amazed on reading Meghani’s scholastic and touching articles. Amritlal Seth got glimpses of Meghani’s tremendous energy as a writer of Literature. On recognizing Meghani’s talent as an illustrious writer, Amritlal Seth invited Meghani to give his service as a man of literature by joining the group of editors of the weekly named ‘Saurashtra. Meghani gave his consent by joining as an editor. The commencement of the publications of Meghani’ s writing happened soon by joining the newspaper ‘Saurashtra. The first book of the author that was published was his translation of Tagore’s ‘Katha O Kahani’ and very soon the first volume of Saurashtra Ni Rasdhar found publication. Later on the chain of his research works of Soarthi Sahitya consistently continued. Remaining volumes of Saurashtra ni Rasdhar, Radhiysali Rat, Chundi, Soarthi Baharvatiya, Halarda, Soarthi Santo, Dadaji ni vato etc were published. Amritlal Seth found talent in Meghani and he provided full facilities to ignite Meghani’s passion for literature. Due to comfortable arrangements made by Amritlal Seth; Meghani’s latent talent of creativity bloomed to its peak. Here he got ample opportunity to read and learn. There were very small but rich libraries in ‘Saurashtra’. He had to prepare all his write-ups by referring reference works offered by these libraries. The consistent usage of library books exposed him to the best literature of the world.

Meghani had an off for three days in a week i.e. Friday Saturday and Sunday. He utilized the slack interval of three days between the editions every week by travelling in search of the folklore and the oral traditions of Saurashtra. The consequence of this journey for research was creation and publication of Saurashtra ni Rasdhar,‘Misar no Mukti Sangram‘, ‗Hungeri no Taranhar’. In 1932, Meghani and his friend started‘Fulchhab‘, the news paper related to literature. After certain period, he left ‘Fulchhab’ as it got coloured with the politics of the time.

In 1934, Amritlal Seth started the daily named ‘Janmabhumi” Meghani joined the daily magazine Janmabhumi. In this daily paper there was one column of literature titled as Kalam and Kitab. The editorial responsibility of this column of literature named Kalam and Kitab was allotted to Jhaverchand Meghani. It was the beginning of his adeptness as a critical appreciator of literature. He started to write independent novels titled as Niranjan, Sorath Tara Vehta Pani Etc. The stories of Sheni and Vijanand, Ladakvayo, Tane Avdi lalap etc he got it dubbed in cassettes in his majestic voice. In 1936, Meghani accepted the responsibility of editorial ship of weekly Fulchab related to literature . This task of editorial ship of Fulchab gave glimpses of Meghani’ s new skill of writing. Due to noticeable impression of his new method of writing as a journalist; he started to contribute social novels namely Vevishal, Tulsi Kyaro etc. He also penned historical novels like Samragan, Ra” ganga jaliyo etc. In 1945 he gave up his service of writing in Fulchab and willingly took retirement after 23 years of his service to journalism.

4. Role of Dheli ben

His love for folk songs stimulated by mer woman Dheli ben. She inspired Meghani to study folk songs. Meghani yearned to hear live ras of mer community sung by mer women. He made many efforts to find any mer woman who could sing songs to him. Ultimately, Dheli ben fulfilled Meghani’s desire by singing songs. Dheli ben was an inhabitant of Bagvadar in Porbandar district. Neglecting their tiredness due to day and night hard work in the farm; both husband and wife remained awake during one whole night to quench Meghani’s cravings to listen Mer Ras. Dheli ben continuously sang Gujarati ras while Meghani went on jotting down songs in the dim light of lantern. Dheli Ben’s husband sat beside the two to inspire Art. All the three sat whole night in the open corridor during one chill cold night.

Inspiring factors that boosted Meghani’s career:

Inspiring factors that boosted Meghani’s career are as under.

a) Recollections of the days spent in Rajkot

Rajkot was the most endeared city for Meghani because his childhood was spent in Rajkot. Meghani’s emotional bond with the Rajkot was very strong because the important days of his childhood from the age of 2 years to eight years were spent in Rajkot. To Meghani Rajkot was his birth place because no memories lingered in his mind regarding his childhood before his arrival to Rajkot. The dawn of his sensible childhood period occurred at Rajkot. Meghani began his schooling career by joining formal school named Taluka School of Sadar in Rajkot. On the first day he went to school by carrying coconut in his hands. Throughout his life Meghani remembered deep mala of Jubilee, the cricket played on the ground of Jim khana and the prince Lakahajiraj of Rajkot. The personality of the Souter (who had been mentor of the author’s father, also a junior grade police official in the Agency police) was much remembered by Meghani. The most favorite character of Meghani when he was four year old was Souter sahib. The photograph of Souter Sahib was hung on the wall of Meghani’s house for almost thirty years in the house. Meghani in the article, ‘Hu pahad nu balak”, writes: ‗As long as I remember my father, the Souter cannot be forgotten by me.’ Dignities, self respect, audacity to undertake any venture, dauntless spirit to face any disaster were the attributes of Souter. Meghani wrote his novel Sorath Tara Vehta Pani, on being inspired by the whole group of Sepoys, Foujdars and Thandars (police sub-inspectors) of the Police outposts of his time. The Sorath Tara Vehta Pani is the lengthiest novel by Meghani. In this novel he has depicted the character of Souter. The author has documented his memories of Rajkot through various events of the novel. In his article ‘Hu Pahad Nu Balak” Maghani wrote; ‗I have noticed that since long in spite of facing tyrannies, the soul of Rajkot has throbbed with vitality and always pined for Art and Beauty.’

b) Influence of his birthplace Chotila

Meghani’s birthplace was Chotila, a town situated in the heart of Panchal region that has a topographical formation of vermilion-hued rocky soil. The author was born in a police outpost that was dreaded by the police constabulary as a bleak exile. It was situated in the foothill of mount Chotila, a hill believed to be the abode of Mother Goddess Chamunda.

Writing about the influence of his birth place Meghani states:

One great influencing factor on me was my birth place… ‘Chotila’, Chotila is the mountain region. I was born at the foot of mountain. In my childhood, my siblings used to carry me around the mountain. Later on, I saw Panchal district after 30 years but during my visit; I felt that my spirit was mountain spirit. I am thankful to my birth place for inculcating mountain spirit in me. (Meghani Vivechna Sandoh 3)

c) Meghani’s bond with the nation

Significant factor behind Meghani’s creation of literature was his love for Nation. He bestowed qualities of valor in his folk tales. He also set an example of bold journalism by his writing. He contributed national poems governed by natural emotions felt during national movement. Due to his participation in national movements; Meghani was imprisoned in jail. During his confinement Meghani came in contact with great-minded people like Shree Mahadev bhai Desai and Dr. Hariprasad Desai. Jhaverchand Meghani was a bard in its true sense, and became a legend during his lifetime. As a sensitive nationalist poet, he inspired his generation with his soul stirring patriotic poems. After Gandhi’s historic Dandi March, Meghani’s, collection of poems titled Sindhudo was banned by the British Government because it was powerful to stir spirit of nationalism of people. In 1929, when Gandhiji was pondering if it was worth an effort to go to London to participate in the parleys at the Round Table Conference offered by the British, Meghani wrote a poem, Chello Katoro a jher no pee jaje Bapu. It alluded to the feat of Lord Shiva in drinking the poison churned out of the ocean by Devas and Danavas. On reading the poem, Gandhiji had said that the poet had managed to penetrate his conscience and correctly read his dilemma. So profound was the impact of Meghani’s works on the minds of the young generation that Gandhiji described the author as Rashtriya Shayar, a poet of nationalism. The best fact of Meghani as a National poet was that he did not merely focus on splendor of India but also threw light of drawbacks of the nation.

d) Re-marriage

In 1933, his first wife committed suicide; because of which Meghani had undergone severe mental strokes. He was compelled to migrate. Later on, he settled at Mumbai and there he developed new vision. In 1934, he re-married Nepali widow. During this period, he developed soft corner for pain-ridden people. In 1943, as the part of Thakkar Vasanji Madhavji Vyakhyanmala‘he imparted five lectures on the topic ‘Lok sahitya nu samalochhan’ at the auditorium which was overcrowded with audience. In 1946, he received ‘Mahida Paritoshik’ for ‘Mansai na Diva’ (Earthen Lamps) an award winning work. During the same year, he accomplished the honor as president of literature section at Literature assembly of Rajkot.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: