Settlement of Oshwals at Navagam, Kathiawad/ Saurastra, Gujarat, India

The following information about the settlement of Oshwals at Navagam, Gujarat, India has been translated into English from an article written by the late Somchand Ladha Deva Gudhka. The article was included in Part 18 of the Oshwal Community History published in a monthly magazine titled: The Oshwal/Halari Bandhu. This magazine was printed in Mumbai and edited by the late Tarachand P. Shah until his death in 1995. Publication of the magazine has been discontinued. Please note that I have tried to literary translate Somchandbhai’s article without making any additions or changes. If you would like to add or change anything please contact me at the following address:

Satish Panachand Bharmal Shah (Gudhka)
4648 Hinton Drive
Plano, Texas 75024, USA
Tel: 972 618 9509

Navagam is located about 15 miles southwest of Jamnagar on the banks of River Amravati, on the outskirts of Lalpur District. Its area is approximately 2 square miles. Water flows in the river only during monsoons when it rains, otherwise during winters and summers the river is dry. The river flows westerly and then northerly. After passing through the village of Achhiya, it meets River Panna, which first passes through Rafudad then flows north of Navagam, and River Sasoi near Chhikari. River Sasoi originates in Dalasa Mountains and flows into the Bay of Cutchh. Dams have been built on both Sasoi and Panna rivers, and retained water is provided for irrigation through canals to nearby villages.

Mithoi was the oldest and most famous village in the former kingdom of Jamnagar. Kathiawad/Saurastra was divided into several kingdoms like Jamnagar. The rulers of several kingdoms banded together with the Nawab of Junagagh and sent their armies to fight against Jamnagar’s ruler, Jam Raval. The battle took place on the outskirts of Mithoi. Jam Raval’s army defeated the aggressors. At that time, Ganga Kheta of Gudhka family, Hirabhai Nongha of Dodhia family and Manek Padamshi of Nagda family, who were living in Mithoi, decided to settle in Navagam. This took place in circa 1850 AD.

Nongha Deghar Dodhia was the father-in-law of Ganga Kheta Gudhka. Nongha Dodhia had five sons: Hirabhai, Ranmalbhai, Mayabhai, Dharamshibhai and Raishibhai. Hirabhai Nongha Dodhia had three sons: Dharamshibhai, Deparbhai and Dharabhai.

Ganga Kheta Gudhka had four sons: Devshibhai, Jivrajbhai, Murabhai and Nagparbhai. When they came to settle in Navagam, these four brothers used to live together.

Navagam was established on Magsar Sud 8, Vikram Savant 1908 (circa1852 AD). Dharamashibhai Hirabhai Dodhia performed the opening ceremony. During that year, the 17th Ruler Jam Ranmalji died and the 18th Ruler Jam Vibhaji 2nd came on throne.

Members of the Halari Visa Oshwal community, also known as Mahajans, who founded Navagam, were able to attract Mahajans from other villages around Jamnagar. This resulted in a vast increase in the population of Mahajans in Navagam and members of other communities with technical skills, laborers, and cleaners also settled in Navagam. One family from each vocation such as potter, carpenter, blacksmith, barber, shoemaker, tailor, goldsmith, shepherd and two Brahmin families from the nearby Chhikari village settled in Navagam.

The people of Navagam were courageous, simple, strong, and united. There was sufficient rainfall, though sometimes a little less, for growing two crops. One was grown in monsoon and one in winter in nearby farms. As hay for cattle were available easily, farmers kept oxen, buffaloes, and cows and had an ample supply of milk, yogurt, buttermilk, cream and ghee (clarified butter). In nearby small fields/lots , people used to grow vegetable, grains and rye grass. On some fields sugar cane was also grown for its juice and to make molasses (gor).

During the idle periods when there were no farming activities, women and elderly people ginned cotton wool from which cotton thread was spun using hand-made spinning wheels. The thread was given to local weavers to make coarse cotton cloth (Khadi). This cloth was then hand sewed into garments or was given to a local tailor to make garments. Thus the villagers were able to survive using locally grown products and bartering them for an individual’s other necessities.

After Vikram Savant 1960 (circa 1904 AD), there was a famine every two to three years and this reduced the farmers’ crop yields. Also, there was increased interference in local affairs by the government administration. To survive, people started moving to other places. Some went to Mumbai. The first person to move to Mumbai from Navagam was Devraj Devshi Gudhka, son of Devshi Ganga Kheta Gudhka. He was probably the first Oshwal to settle in Mumbai.

Oshwals who settled in Navagam were Jains and they followed Jain principles. In the beginning there were no Jain temples or a prayer halls in Navagam to serve the community.

In Vikram Savant 1958 (circa 1902 AD) Muniraj Gautam Sasarji came to Jamnagar from Kutchh, and from there he came to Navagam. He encouraged the community to build a Jain temple and an Upashray (a hall). The Oshwal community accepted his suggestion. A decision was made to collect fund from the local Oshwals and those living in Mumbai to pay for construction materials and labor.

A Jain Swetamber Murtipujak Sangh (association of idol worshippers) was formed. Devraj Devshi Gudhka and Virji Depar Dodhia went to Mumbai to collect funds. After collecting funds from the Oshwal community of Navagam living in Mumbai, they met Meghji and Devshi Khetshi, originally of Sathra village in Kutchh, who owned a shop in Mumbai. The brothers agreed to pay the entire cost of construction of the Jain temple. The funds would be provided as the construction progressed and they advised the fund raisers to return to Navagam and start the construction. So they returned to Navagam and fully briefed the Jain Sangh (group) about the commitment from the two brothers. The Sangh accepted the offer. Some preliminary work had already begun with the help of farmers and now with the commitment, the work on constructing the temple was started in earnest. As the work progressed, reports were sent to the two brothers in Mumbai and they provided funds as needed. However, after about 75 percent of the work was completed the brothers were unable to honor their commitment because of their adverse financial condition. The construction work was halted for sometime. With money donated by local Jains the construction of the temple and the hall were completed. It took sixteen years to finish the project. The idols were officially installed on Sunday, Vishakh Sud 1, Vikram Savant 1976 (circa 1922). The idols consisted of Shree Chandraprabhuji in the middle as the principal deity and Shree Parshvnathprabhuji on either side. After several years, marble was laid inside and outside with the funds that were collected over the years in the temple as offerings to the deity. In 1955 AD, the temple was redecorated and murals were painted. This additional work has made the temple extremely beautiful and worth a visit.

The Jain temple was managed by Rupa Virpar Dodhia and he was assisted by Nathoo Deva Gudhka, Bharmal Kachara Gudhka and Motichand Depar Gudhka. After the death of Rupa Virpar Dodhia, his son, Devchand Rupshi Dodhia took over the management and Kanji Hirabhai Modi and Somchand Khetshi Savla assisted him. After India became independent, an act was passed that required that all religious organizations should be registered, that they should elect trustees and that the management should be under the elected trustees. Therefore, since then, seven trustees manage the temple, but their names were not available.

As monks and nuns (Sadhus and Sadhvis) started spending more time at the temple, it became necessary to have a bigger place for their lodging (Upashray). The original Upshray consisted of two small rooms and one bath. The management was able to acquire an old house across from the temple. The house was replaced with a new large Upshray. The temple has now enough facilities for monks and nuns.

Residents of Navagam moving to Mumbai and Africa:
To earn a living, some residents moved to Mumbai and some to Africa. The first person from Navagam to move to Africa (Kenya) via Mumbai was Nathoobhai Anand Mura Gudhka in 1911. He was later followed by his family members and several Oshwals from Navagam.

Both in Mumbai and Africa (Kenya), they initially worked for established businesses and after gaining experience and finances they opened their own retail shops. As they continued prospering they expanded into wholesale business and small industries. These people did not forget their homeland. They continued to provide support to their families and other residents of Navagam whenever they could.

Navagam Mitra Mandal – Africa (Navagam Friendship Circle) was established in Nairobi during the early period of the settlement and after completing whatever work needed to be done, it was disbanded. Later, the residents of Navagam living in Nairobi met on June 13, 1941 at Lakhamshi Nathoo’s shop and decided to re-establish the Navagam Mitra Mandal – Africa. The following office bearers were elected: President, Kanji Nathoo; Vice President, Hemraj Samji; Treasurer, Velji Khimchand; Secretary, Rupchand Hirji and Assistant Secretary, Somchand Kumbha. In addition, seven committee members were appointed.

The Mitra Mandal decided to raise money to start a Girls’ School, an English School, and a Dispensary in Navagam. The project consisted of renting three buildings, repairing the existing government Gujarati School and providing support to the needy. To carry out all of these activities, a decision was made to set up a Working Committee in Navagam. Approximately Kenya Sh.23,000 ($3,000) were collected. The funds were loaned to ten firms, Sh.2,000 each, and it was decided that interest income generated would be sent to Navagam to start the above activities.

The English School classes were started on March 1, 1943 in the government -owned Navagam Gujarati School on a part time basis. The Girls’ School was started on July 15, 1943 in a rented house, and the Dispensary was started on October 27, 1943 in a warehouse owned by Bharmal Kachara Gudhka. All these activities continued for about five years at a cost of about Sh.4,000 per year.

At the same time, the Navagam Gujarati School building and roads were repaired, and general cleaning of the village was also undertaken.

There was an expectation that once buildings for the English School, Girls’ School and the Dispensary were built, the Government would take over the management of these facilities. A Working Committee in Navagam decided to seek the government’s support. When the Committee inquired with appropriate Government Department in Jamnagar, they were told that there was a government-managed dispensary in Sapur, a nearby village, and therefore even if Navagam provided a building for the dispensary, the government would not take over the management. The Committee was also disappointed that it did not receive a satisfactory response from Government Departments regarding the management of the English School and the Girls’ School. Therefore, the three activities were closed down after five years. In the meantime, Navagam Jain Mitra Mandal (Navagam Jain Friendship Circle) was started in Mumbai to support activities in Navagam.

The land for building the Girls’ school and dispensary was donated by an individual (could not remember the name of this person). Hemraj Nathoobhai Gudhka provided the funds, in accordance with new government regulations, to build the Girls’ school and with Premchand Vrajpal Shah’s efforts, the school was accepted by the government. This school has highly improved girls’ education.

In 1954, Hemraj Nathoobhai established a charitable trust in Kenya. The interest income generated from this trust is used for the benefit of the people of Kenya. This trust provides financial contributions to support several educational institutions and hospitals. It also provides funds to poor Kenyans regardless of religious or community affiliations for school fees, scholarships, food, clothes, rents, etc. In Nairobi, both the Cutchhi Gujarati Primary School and High School have been supported by the trust. In India, he provided financial support to the Mumbai Mahajanwadi, Navagam Mahajanwadi, Palitana Oshwal Yatrik Gruh (hostel), schools in Mumbai, disaster relief funds and Kunvarbai Dharamshalal (Rest House) in Jamnagar. He has also supported a blind school and eye camps and several other institutions.

Navagam Primary Gujarati School:
The residents of Navagam had started the first rural school in the kingdom of Jam Bapu. Because of the residents’ demand, a primary Gujarati school was started in a rented house in 1908 (Savant 1964) and in 1927 (Savant 1983), the government built a new school building. At first, the school had classes to Standard (Grade) 5 and later on Standards 6,7 and 8 were added.

Navagam Nursery School:
The nursery school was built with the financial support of Devji Jethabhai Dodhia, Popatlal Virpal Dodhia and the government.

Navagam Animal Shelter (Gaushala):
This was built with the financial support of Meghji Kanji Bid.

Raid on Navagam by Outlaws (Highway Robbers):
Sometime after Savant 1960 (1904 A.D.), two famous outlaws, Charan Karia and Bhuriya, were raiding villages in Halar. They raided Dabasang around Savant 1968, and at that time another outlaw named Ratadi was also making raids on villages. One of the outlaws with his gang raided Navagam one evening (the exact month and year are not known). They entered the village by hiding in the herd of cattle returning in the evening after spending the day in outskirts grazing. As soon as the villagers heard about the outlaw gang, they closed their main gates leading to their houses. At that time there were several brave farmers like Depar Patel and Dhara Patel. They started shouting at the top of their voices and asked villagers to climb on the roofs of their houses and attack the robbers with stones and tiles. As soon as the robbers, who were hiding, came out in the open, the villagers started attacking them and some robbers were injured badly. The robbers left the village taking with them the injured members. As the gang left without much damage the villagers became fearless of outlaws. When this news spread to other villages in Halar, they applauded the courage and efforts of the people of Navagam.

Followers of Jain Religion in Navagam who took vows to become Ascetics:
1. Shah Depar Hira’s son’s widow Sonbai got an inclination for taking the vow of nunhood. Her brothers, Raisinh and Virpar Lakhani, who were living in Dabasang happily gave consent and arranged the ceremony for taking the vow in Dabasang. On Viashakh Sud 5, Savant 1959 (1903 A.D.), she took the vow, became disciple of Nun Kanakshreeji, and took the name Shumatishreeji.

2. Shah (Dodhia) Gosar Raja’s daughter Hirabai took the vow for nunhood on Magsar Sud 16, Savant 1981 (1925 A.D.), in Navagam from Monk Gautam Samarji Maharaj and she took the name Harakhshreeji.

3. Five ladies from Motichand Depar Gudhka’s family took the vow for nunhood at various times and they took the following names: (a) Jaibhadrashreeji, (b) Jaidharmashreeji, (c) Jeetpadmashreeji, (d) Jeetkalpashreeji, and (e) Jeendharmashreeji.

4. Other three ladies who took the vow for nunhood took the following names: (a) Padmayshashreeji, (b) Mahendraprabhashreeji and (c) Surendraprabhashreeji.

5. Hansraj Kara Savla took the vow of monkhood and took the name: Muniraj Harvijayji.

Original Residents of Navagam built Bhivandi’s Jain Temple:
The grandson of Devraj Depar (Gudhka), who was the first person from Navagam to settle in Mumbai, Ramji Meghji Gudhka, and his family built Shree Suvithinath Jain Temple in Bhivandi. The ceremony to install the idols was performed from April 27, 1985 to May 1, 1985. On May 1, when the idols were installed, Ramji Meghji Gudhka and his family arranged a grand feast for all Halari Visa Oshwals living in Thana District and Swetembari Jains living in Bhivandi.

Shree Visa Oshwal Jain Mahajanwadi, Navagam:
Nathoo Deva (Gudhka) offered to donate money to buy land and to build a boundary wall, two rooms, one dining hall and kitchen, and to equip it with needed utensils for a Mahajanwadi, but this offer was rejected because of an objection by an individual. When Premchand Gosar Dodhia from Kenya came to Navagam in 1955 and offered to donate money to build the Mahajanwadi, it was initially rejected, but later the villagers agreed to accept the offer. He bought land, built a boundary wall and a gate. There was still need to build other facilities such as rooms, a dining hall and kitchen and equip it with utensils. After some time when committee members of the Navagam Jain Mitra Mandal – Mumbai and others came to Navagam for a religious ceremony, they decided to work on completing the other facilities. They set up a sponsorship program. Hemraj Nathoobhai and several other donors provided funds. With the help Africa’s Navagam Mitra Mandal, Nairobi, who transferred all the funds they had, the construction and equipping of Mahajanwadi was completed. Africa’s Navagam Mitra Mandal (Nairobi) was dissolved around 1963 A.D.

Navagam Chhari Palit Religious Pilgrimage Organizers:
Originally of Navagam, but now residing in Mumbai, Popatlal Virpar Dodhia and his sons – Mansukhbhai, Rameshbhai, Sureshbhai and their family organized a Santrujay Tirth Chhari Palit religious pilgrimage. The pilgrims left from Navagam on February 8, 1987 under the leadership of Achariya Shree Vijay Jinendrasurji. Several monks and nuns and about 550 Jain devotees including organizers and volunteers joined in the religious pilgrimage.

The pilgrims were received in Palitana on March 1, 1987 with a tremendous reception. The one-kilometer long procession passed through the royal thoroughfare. Many foreign guests, devotees and local Jain leaders joined the procession. Members of the Navagam Jain Mitra Mandal – Mumbai and several other organizations received the pilgrims and honored the leaders of the caravan. In the evening, prayers and sacred songs were recited. About Rupees 18,000 were collected. On March 2, 1987, at 10 A.M., Achariya Shree Vijay Jinendrasuriji conducted a religious ceremony in the Dada’s courtyard and at 11.00 A.M. he was garlanded in the presence of a large crowd of devotees.

Murder of Two Mahajans in Navagam:
There is an old saying that “grain, farm and house are the roots of all disputes in villages”. Accordingly, one cruel incident took place in Navagam in mid-1980. One farmer from Mer community had bought a farm from Bharmal Lakhman and Amritlal Velji. Next to this farm, Vaghji Hirji owned some land. Vaghji Hirji filed a law suit against the Mer farmer to restrain him from using the water from the well located on the land owned by Vaghji Hirji, and to deny him passage through his land. The Mer started threatening Vaghjibhai who had to ask for police protection. This upset the Mer.

On November 22, 1985, in the early morning, Vaghjibhai and his wife Maniben were going to a bus station in a bullock driven cart. The Mer and his companions met them on the way and killed Vaghjibhai with a sword. Maniben started shouting for help so Velji Samat Dodhia came from the Mahajanwadi. The culprits started attacking him with swords. Veljibhai was taken to Jamnagar Irving Hospital for treatment but he died there. This incident shocked and scared the villagers. The attackers ran away, but they were eventually caught, tried in a court and sentenced.

Devchand Khimchand Gudhka, First Oshwal to settle in Kisumu, Kenya
Born in Navagam and died in Jamnagar in 1995, Devchandbhai completed education to Standard Five in the Navagam Gujarati School and then attended school in Sapar which had facilities for Gujarati classes Standard 6,7,and 8 and English classes Standard 1,2, and 3. Sapar is 3 to 4 miles from Navagam. He walked to the Sapar School every day for some time in the company of Lakhamshi Ladha, Hemraj Nathoo and Punja Hirji and then left for Africa.

In 1924, Devchandbhai joined Wali Hasan Company in Kisumu as an accountant. This was the beginning of settlement of Oshwals in Kisumu, the third largest town of Kenya.

In 1925, Devchandbhai left the employment and started his own shop in Kisumu. Any time after that all Oshwals who came to Kisumu looking for a job or business used to stay with Devchandbhai. He helped them find job or business, and thus more Oshwals started visiting Kisumu in search of jobs and businesses, increasing the number of Oshwals residents in Kisumu.

In 1929, he started a wholesale produce business in partnership with Fulchand Keshavji and Premchand Vrajpal.

In 1930, many other Oshwals came from other parts of Kenya and started business in Kisumu. Meghji Khimji Gudhka came from Nairobi to work for Devchandbhai in Kisumu.

In 1931, with the efforts of Fulchand Keshavji and Devchand Khimchand the Visa Oshwal Jain Community Mandal of Kisumu was started. The following office bearers were elected: President, Fulchand Keshavji; Vice-President, Devchand Khimchand; Treasurer, Tarachand Fulchand; Secretary, Jethalal Ghela; Asst. Secretary, Meghji Khimji. Also several committee members were elected.

Devchandbhai was an active social worker and was an executive committee member of several political, business and educational Associations of Kisumu

In 1932, Devchandbhai became a partner is the firm of Lakhamshi Nathoo of Nairobi and he moved to Nairobi. He closed his Kisumu firm, Devchand Khimchand, in 1933 and on October 1, 1933, Meghji Khimji Gudhka started his business in Kisumu. After Devchandbhai moved to Nairobi, Meghjibhai took over his place as the social worker and he became an active member of Oshwal and other public associations. In 1951, Meghjibhai moved to Mombasa and there also he participated actively in several Oshwal and public associations.

Jain idols have been installed in a room of Community Hall of the large Oshwal Mahajawadi in Kisumu. The foundation stone laying ceremony of the Community Hall was performed by Meghji Khimji Gudhka and the opening ceremony was performed by Devchand Khimchand Gudhka. About 350 Oshwals reside in Kisumu who are mostly industrialists and businessmen.

Meghji Rupshi Dodhia of Navagam becomes Nyeri (Kenya) Social Worker:
Born in Navagam on September 13, 1909 and died in Nyeri on May 4, 1964, Meghji Rupshi Dodhia after completing his education to Standard Five in the Navagam Gujarati School worked as an Assistant for a little while in the school. He left for Africa in 1925.

At first, he worked for Kanji Mepa Company of Muranga (Fort Hall), and then opened his own produce business. He ran the business for ten years. In 1937 he worked for four years with Kenya Cotton Produce Company at Karatina. He left the employment in 1941, and opened a shop in Nyeri. With his dedication and hard work he became a very successful businessman. He took interest in several social activities of Indian, Oshwal and African associations and became well known as a public worker.

Meghjibhai was a very generous donor of the Visa Oshwal Community Mahajanwadi in Nyeri which has a small Jain temple (Ghar-Derasar). His donations to several healh related, educational and religious organizations are as follows:

· Provided building materials for the construction of Ithuru Primary School located five miles from Nyeri.

· Provided financial support for building an Asian Wing at the Nyeri General Hospital. The wing is named after him – Meghji Rupshi Ward.

· Provided funds for the construction of a ward at the Mount Kenya Hospital. The ward is named after him – Meghji Rupshi Ward.

· Construction of Hindu Mandir (Temple) and Rest House was made possible because of his untiring efforts, dedication and financial support. The opening ceremony of the rest house was performed by Meghjibhai.

He was an active supporter and a Committee Member of the Oshwal Education and Relief Board and after his death, his son Maganbhai has taken his place. Maganbhai has served as Chairman of the Board for two years. He is also active supporter of Oshwal community and other several associations in Nyeri.

Note by Somchand Ladhabhai Gudhka:
Oshwal community members of Navagam have settled in Jamnagar, Mumbai, Bhivandi, Indore and several other places in India, and overseas in several towns and cities of Africa and England for business purposes. Some of them have been active social workers of the Oshwal community and public associations and also have provided generous financial support. I have tried to present here a summary of the information I was able to collect. There may be some shortfalls. This article is already ten pages long and there has to be a limit on how much can be included in the article. I apologize if I have failed to mention about social work and donations of any Navagam Oshwal community members.

In the above article, Somchandbhai did not mention about his work in connection with improving welfare of all Oshwals. Therefore, we believe it would not be out of place to write a few word about him.

Somchand Ladhabhai Deva Gudhka
Somchandbhai was a leading member of our community with interests in social reforms, education and religion. He was also a historian and wrote many articles in several Oshwal magazines.

He was born in 1913 at Navagam, Jamnagar District, Gujarat, India and after a few years of schooling, he left for Kenya in 1926. He married Raniben Dhanani at Chela in 1931. After working with his relatives at several towns of Kenya including Mombasa, Nairobi, Muragwa, Fort Hall, Saba Saba and Thika, he started business in partnership in Nairobi in 1941. He moved to Mombasa in 1948 and ran his own business until 1974 when he migrated to UK. In UK pursued his main interest of reading and writing about the Halari Visa Oshwal community. He passed away on 20th April 2000 at Harrow in UK.

Somchandbhai was a very active social worker. He was an ardent supporter of the re-marriage by young widows in our community and against the practice of ‘LAJ’. He was Secretary of the Visa Oshwal Vanik Community, Mombasa in 1939 and Chairman of the Oshwal Youth League, Nairobi in the years 1944-45. After moving to Mombasa in 1948 he worked in various capacities in the managing committee of the Visa Oshwal Vanik Community, Mombasa and became its Chairman in the years 1972-73.

He took deep interest in Jain religion and participated in the activities of Shree Svetamber Deravashi Jain Sangh, Mombasa for twenty-one years. He was a member of the managing committee from 1951 to 1971 except for a few years in between. He served as Secretary, Vice-Chairman and in 1968 became its Chairman. He was one of the driving forces behind the construction of the new Shikarbandhi Derasar and the successful celebration of Pratistha Mahotsav in 1963.

His love for education is well known. He played a crucial role in the establishment of the M.M Shah Jain Primary School, M.V.Shah Nursery School and Oshwal Academy in Mombasa. He was Chairman of the Oshwal Academy Committee from its inception in 1968 to 1974. Within a short period of time, the Academy established its reputation as one of the best secondary schools in Mombasa.

At one time in 1940’s he was Editor of the community magazines ‘ Aagal Dhaso’ and ‘Jyotsna’. Since 1974 until his death his main interest was to write history of Oshwal. He traveled widely in India in search of information about the origin of Oshwals and their adoption of Jain religion, and met historians of various other Oshwal and Jain communities . He then wrote many serialized articles in ‘Oshwal Abhyuday’, ‘Halari Bandhu’ and ‘Oshwal Samachar’ published in Mumbai, and ‘Oshwal News’ published in London.