Charan (plural Charans; Hindi:चारण; Gujarati:ચારણ) is a name of a caste living in Gujarat and Rajasthan states of India. They are highly revered for their unflinching readiness for martyrdom, bravery in war, high literary sense and deep loyalty to patrons. They are also known with surname Gadhavi (also spelled Gadhvi) and Barot (or Barath).
Community is considered to be divine by large section of society. Women of them are adored as mother goddesses by other major communities of this region. Many of the major goddesses worshipped in India across broad spectrum of society were born as daughters of Charan e.g. all shri Sachchai Ma, Karani Ma, Bahuchra Ma, Ma Bhut Bhavani, Hinglaj Ma (main temple is now in Baluchistan), Khodiyar Ma, Ma Bhavani, Sonal Ma, etc. This is one of the reasons Charan men are popularly known as “Deviputra” which means “son of goddess”.
In medieval age, presence of Charan in royal court was matter of prestige and pride for kings.While they are considered great warrior and extremely loyal, they equally revered by kings for high literary sense and love for poem. Because of their ability to form poems instantaneously, they are also called with title “Kaviraj” which means Great Poet. Historian Dr. G. N. Sharma writes about Charans “In between social order of the Rajputs and the status of the Brahmans there is a caste of Charans which exercises a great respectability and influence in Rajasthan.
The speciality of the caste is that it combines in its characteristics of Rajputs and Brahmans in an adequate manner”. Further he notes that charan was an equal partner of his Rajput chief both in war and peace.
Values and Belief:
Charans respect bravery, loyalty and truth more than life. Much of the respect and admiration they receive is because of their unflinching readiness to sacrifice their own life in order to honor these values. Their attitude is typical of warriors. Their war cry is “Jay Mataji” (Hail the mother goddess). This is also a greeting phrase among male members of Charan community. However, women Charans use words of blessings to great since they themselves are regarded Mataji (mother goddess) and hence technically shouldn’t hail their own name.
The moral values of Charans are best captured in a poem by the great poet Dula Bhaya Kag. The name of the poem is “Udi jao pankhi pankhu vada” (Fly away O birds, you have wings). The poem is a dialog between birds and an old banyan tree (on which they are living). There is a fire spreading fast in the forest. Seeing imminent death for him, the tree asks the birds to fly away to a safe place. The Birds do not comply with this advice and in the end they burn away with tree. Here, wings are symbols of freedom and the tree is symbol of a patron. The poem represents the deep rooted values in Charans that the freedom is to choose the tree, not to leave the tree.
Literature and poems are integral part of an identity of Charans. There are several stories popular in this region, which tells that how famous they were to write and recite poems e.g. many stories tell that a Charan was living in disguise in fear of persecution by King but had been identified immediately when he spoke poetry or completed half done poetry. The Dingal literature and dingal language largely owe to this caste. The Dingal literature is also know as as Charani Sahitya, which means literature of charans. Shri Zaverchand Meghani divides Charani Sahitya in thirteen sub genres described below.
1. Songs in praise of gods and goddesses (stavan)
2. Songs in praise of heroes, saints and patrons (birdavalo)
3. description of war (varanno)
4. rebukes of wavering great kings and evil powerful men (upalambho)
5. Mockery of a standing treachery of heroism (Thekadi)
6. Love stories
7. Laments for dead warriors, patrons and friends (Marasiya or vilap kavya)
8. Praise of natural beauty, seasonal beauty and festivals
9. descriptions of weapons
10. Songs in praise of lions, horses, camels, and buffalo
11. Sayings about didactic and practical cleverness
12. Ancient epics
13. Anguish of people in time famine and adversity