Charan Community

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.

Charni Literature:

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


Charan Character

In India there is a caste-system, which originally was based not upon wealth but upon the functions that individuals carried out in Indian society. There is a caste in India called Charan which is predominantly found in the Rajasthan and Gujarat states.

They were known as “fathers” of Goddesses* as well as devout devotees and ‘sons’ of Goddesses who demonstrated extraordinary loyalty to their masters. They passed along their knowledge of history from generation to generation through the “spoken word.”
The traits of “Charans” character could be classified into the following five major categories:

1. Fearless and Tellers of truth :

One of the greatest virtues of Charans was to go by the dictates of their conscience regardless of the consequences. They never flinched to tell the truth however bitter it was. For this they had to incur the wrath of the related parties sometimes resulting in their own death. All the same they did not give up the truth.

2. Highly Trust worthy and unflinchingly loyal :

Historically, Charans were known as persons of very high moral integrity whose words could be taken as truth. They believed in being men of their word and always inspired others — particularly the Rajputs – to be so. Because of their trustworthiness, they were kept as the guardians of the ladies and children of Rajputs — particularly those killed in wars Charans treated the ladies of the Rajputs as their own mothers, sisters and daughters, reared up and educated their children as their own. For example, Rao Chunda, the founding father of the Marwar State, had been brought up and educated by a Charan family at a village called Kalau.

3. Learned scholars, great orators and heroic poets :

The entire community of Charans — particularly in North West India — is know n as ‘poet – community’. Many Rajputs address them with the mere title – Kaviraj– which means ‘Poet king’. In the so called good old days Charans were the community who through their extraordinary mastery of the local language were the source of entertainment of the masses as well as the ruling masters. They were the living radio/TV. In whichever village a classical Charan came, people would gather in hordes and listen to his infinite unending stories of heroism, sorrow and great past for many a whole nights together. Poetry used to be an essential part of his delivery. Kings and Lords used to reward Charans for their learned expressions and used to keep them as Advisors.

4. Devotees of Goddess Mothers :

There had been in all eighty four daughters of Charans who were considered and accepted as Goddesses — not only by their own community but by others too during the Ladies’ life-time and even afterwards. The most famous among them were the seven sisters led by the eldest – Mother Awar and their brother Khetal who lived over a thousand years ago. Their temples are found all over the desert of Western Rajasthan, particularly Jaisalmer District and Eastern Sindh province of Pakistan under various names – Ai, Ainath, Awar, Jogmaya, Jagdamba, Nagnech, Doongrech, Temdarai, Bhadriyarai etc. In the Gujarat and Saurashtra region Mother – Khodiyar — the second of the seven sisters — is more popular.

Mother Karani lived about 600 years ago. Her life span stretched over 150 years, covering about six or seven generations. She was a very, very important personality in her time; she laid the foundation stones of Forts of Jodhpur and Bikaner, wherein her temples are located even today. She is worshipped as a Goddess not only by the royal families of the above two former Kingdom States but by all other folks. Her most popular temple is situated at a place called Deshnok near Bikaner where she had spent most of her life time. This place is inhabited by descendants of her husband, but not her own decendents. She persuaded her husband to marry another Charan Woman, and never had a physical relationship with him. The temple of Mother Karani at Deshnok is also known as ‘Temple of Rats’ and has been shown on BBC TV several times. Mother Dewal and Raajal were the other prominent among the eighty-four.

5. Men of vision, wisdom and thoughts :

Because of the foregoing qualities — their vision, thoughtfulness and wisdom – Charans served as advisors to the Kings and Lords. Each Lord or King would keep at least one Charan as advisor in his court. Charans often used to be the mediators in the personal or inter-state feuds of the Rajputs. Other communities also respected Charans for their vision, sensibility and wisdom. They settled many disputes through peaceful negotiations, avoiding fights and wars; but they were, at the same time, instrumental in exciting the minds of the martial people — leading to war and destruction whenever they thought was the hour to defend the native land against the foreign invasion and to defend the honour of their women.