a selection of the best folktales of Gujarat from Jhaverchand Meghani’s multi-volume Saurashtra ni Rasdhar
COMING IN SUMMER 2023
Publisher: Pan MacMillan India
Saurashtra, the western peninsular region of Gujarat, India, has always been a historically and culturally important region. Also known as Sorath and Kathiawad (after the Kathi clans that dominated the region for a while), it covers some 25,000 square miles of the western Indian border and connects with the rest of the world through the centuries-old Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea trade routes. Via northbound land routes through the Sindh desert and what is presently known as Rajasthan, Saurashtra is connected to present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. On its eastern side, it connects with mainland Gujarat, where agriculture has always been a major source of livelihood. This diverse ecology and the age-old trade and travel routes frequented by migratory tribes and clans of pastoralist warriors, pilgrims, and traders have allowed for a never-ending and wide-ranging set of cultural and linguistic influences since ancient times.
In the 1920s, the Gujarati litterateur and freedom fighter, Jhaverchand Meghani, became deeply concerned about Saurashtra’s disappearing folklore traditions, which had been passed down orally from generation to generation. During that turbulent time of India’s fight for independence from her British colonial rulers, there was also a growing emergence of a nationalistic identity in the state of Gujarat, which was marginalizing culturally distinctive regions like Saurashtra and threatening to subsume them. And, due to industrialization and commercialization, the loss of traditional livelihoods also meant the loss of artistic disciplines.
Over several years, Meghani traveled across the region, gathering many folktales, poems, and ballads from bards, balladeers, religious singers, storytellers, and women folk across various communities. He visited remote historical sites, near-forgotten monuments, and religious locations. His mission was to go beyond creating literary or historical archives. He wrote often about wanting to capture the soul or spirit of the region and its people, which the average traveler missed due to their “sightseeing” or “holidaying” approaches. He documented everything he heard, compared different versions for the most authentic ones, immersed himself by learning and performing folksongs and verses, and published hundreds of stories, poems, songs, and critical essays in newspapers and books. Written in a uniquely colorful, colloquial language, the most well-known of these, the multi-volume collection titled Saurashtra ni Rasdhar (The Essence Of Saurashtra; 1923-1927), is still well-known among Gujarati readers.