Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The triumphs and tribulations over centuries of the Gohil Rajput dynasty of Rajpipla

That a dynasty with an unbroken line of 1400 years would have experienced many triumphs and tribulations is stating the obvious. The germination - which really was the resurrection - of the Guhilots or the Gohil Rajput dynasty was itself in the face of a massive defeat and the destruction of their ancient kingdom of Vallabhi.

They were also known as Guhilputra, the name derived from ‘guhu’, which means cave. The founder of the Gohil clan, Muhideosur Gohadit (Guhil) was born in a cave in 542 A.D. after the fall of Vallabhi, and so the dynasty came to be known as Gohil. His father, the King of Vallabhi, along with the rest of the kinsmen had been killed in the bloody battle. After giving birth, his mother handed over the baby to a Brahmin lady, and then committed sati.

From such traumatic circumstances sprung the mighty Gohil clan that gave rise to several lines of kings and rulers across Gujarat, Rajputana, Saurashtra, Madhya Bharat, Maharashtra and even the Deccan and Nepal.

Young Guhil became chief of a hilly tract of forests near modern Idar in north Gujarat in 556 A.D., and held sway till he died around 603 A.D. The clan consolidated and expanded its kingdom over the next two centuries.

It was in 735 A.D. that his descendant Bappa Rawal, or Kalbhoj, captured Chittor Fort and founded the kingdom of Mewar that survived the vicissitudes of history until the middle of the 20th century.

Long before that, however,  Salivahan, son of Narvahan, King of Mewar, and 11th in descent to Bappa Rawal, migrated with part of the Gohil clan from Mewar in 973 A.D., leaving behind his son Shakti Kumar with the rest of his people. They settled at Juna Khergarh, which they made their capital on the Luni River (present-day Bhalotra near Jodhpur) in Marwar. There is still a village there called ‘Gohilon ki Dhani’. For two and a quarter centuries, the Gohil dynasty thus ruled Mewar as well as Marwar.

The Gohils reigned in Marwar for 20 generations till the early years of the 13th century. They were displaced by the Rathores, who were driven out of Kannauj (in modern Uttar Pradesh) following the invasion of Muhammad Ghori and the establishment of the Slave dynasty. In 1211, the Rathores founded the kingdom of Marwar, which later came to be known as Jodhpur.

Under their chief Mohodas, the Gohil clan then marched back to Saurashtra after nearly five hundred years, to the court of the great Chalukya ruler Sidhraj Singh. They were granted a jagir in modern Gohilwar, thus becoming governors of the Chalukyas.

Meanwhile the Gohils of Mewar were attacked by Ala-ud-din Khilji’s army in 1303 in which all the women committed Jauhar and the men were killed in battle. Thereafter Hamir Singh Gohil, a descendant 13 generations apart, was brought from Mount Sisoda where he lived, and installed in Chittor. The Gohils of Mewar then assumed the name Sisodia. They shifted their capital to Udaipur in 1559.

To the Gohils were born valiant warriors like Maharana Sanga and Maharana Pratap, the rulers of Mewar who by then had assumed the name Sisodia, and the legendary Maratha King Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, all of whom refused to bow to the might of the Mughals. The kingdoms that stemmed from the Sisodias of Mewar were Dungarpur, Banswara, Pratapgarh and Shahpura in Rajasthan, and Barwani in Madhya Pradesh. A branch of the Sisodias also migrated north and became the powerful Rana prime ministers of Nepal. In Maharashtra the Gohils assumed the name Bhonsle and founded kingdoms like Satara, Kolhapur, Nagpur, and Sawantwadi. In the south they founded the kingdom of Thanjavur.   

The ‘Ruling Princes and Chiefs of India’ published by The Times of India in 1930 noted that: “No single portion of the vast and vulnerable land of Ind is wrapt deeper in the fascinating glamour of immemorial legend, tradition and romance than is Kathiawar, the ancient territory of the Vallabhi kings. To Kathiawar journeyed the mighty Gohils, that historic Rajput tribe whose very name signifies ‘the strength of the earth’, centuries before Norman William fought Saxon Harold at Senlac. Originally, as it would seem, vassals of the Vallabhi kings, the Gohils, by degrees conquered the greater portion of Kathiawar, until they permanently rooted themselves in the soil of Saurashtra. They were fighters ever, these men – warriors to the bone and marrow. Sejakji – Ranoji – Mokhdaji – what memories of raid and foray, of pitched battle, of fierce siege do these names not recall! It was Mokhdaji, it may be remembered, who took Ghogha from its Mohamedan defenders and made of Perim a royal capital. Mighty in physical stature as he was in deeds of derring do, he died fighting against Muhammad Tughlaq on Ghogha soil, leaving behind him a name never to be forgotten in the annals of Saurashtra.”

Sejakji (Sahajigji) was twenty-third in descent to Salivahan. He was chief of the Gohil clan from 1240, governor, commanding officer of King Kumarpal’s army and right-hand man of the Solankis, a branch of the Chalukyas. Sejakji befriended Rah (Rao) Mahipal, King of Saurashtra, whose capital was Junagarh, and married his daughter Valumkunverba (Amarkunvari) to Khengar (Kawat), the heir apparent (Jayamal) of Saurashtra. Sejakji received Shahpur along with 24 villages in jagir, in the midst of which he founded a capital in 1250, naming it Sejakpur after himself. He added 40 villages by force of arms, before his death in 1254.

Somraj succeded as chief after the death of Sejakji, whose other two sons Shahji and Sarangji received jagirs in Mandvi and Arthilla, which later became the kingdoms of Palitana and Lathi. Part of folklore is the stirring tale of Hamirji Gohil, a 16-year-old and newly-married chieftain of Lathi, who sacrificed his life in 1401 defending the Somnath temple from the attack of Muzaffar Shah. Hamirji Gohil’s cenotaph still stands at the entrance to the temple.

Mulraj, brother of Somraj, was governor of Sorath. He died in 1290, by when had also carved out an independent principality Ghogha, with capital at Piram (or Pirambet), an island in the Gulf of Cambay, near present day Bhavnagar.

Ranoji became Gohil chief in 1290. He established a new Gohil capital at Ranpur but was expelled from there and slain by Muslim invaders in 1309.

Mokhdaji succeeded his father Ranoji and conquered Umrala from the Kolis, and wrested back Piram (Ghogha) from the Muslims. A master of naval warfare, he controlled the sea trade, to the ire of the Delhi Sultanate. Eventually, he succumbed to sword wounds inflicted in battle by the army of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1347, a legend never to be forgotten in the folklore of Gohilwar.

Mokhdaji had married a Sarviya princess of Hathasani in Kathiawar. Their son Dungarsinhji succeeded as chief, and later his descendant Bhavsinhji founded the capital city of Bhavnagar in 1723. His second wife was a Parmar princess of Rajpipla, daughter of Chokrana, ruler of Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) in the western Satpuras, which was earlier part of the Imperial kingdom of Ujjain. The son of Mokhdaji Gohil and the Parmar princess, Samarsinhji, succeeded to the gadi of Rajpipla on the death of his maternal grandfather Chokrana, who had no male issue. Samarsinhji assumed the name of Arjunsinhji.

Arjunsinhji thus became the first Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla State around the middle of the 14th century. The Gohils of Rajpipla continued to worship the deity of the Parmars, Shri Harsiddhi Mataji. 

The Gohil dynasty retained a tenuous hold on the hill tracts of the Satpuras with the help of the Bhils, the local tribals, through diplomacy, grit, courage and, at times, submission. Whenever the opportunity arose, the rulers allied themselves with other Hindu chiefs to expand their territory. Through all the turbulent years the Gohil kingdom of Rajpipla survived despite being hemmed in by such powerful Muslim kingdoms as Gujarat, Malwa and Khandesh, and the Bahamani Kingdom, and later the Gaekwars.

The Gohils consolidated their rule over Rajpipla for a few decades under Arjunsinhji and his son Bhansinhji. Adversity though came in 1413 just when Gomelsinhji had succeed to the gadi. Rajpipla was overrun by Sultan Muhammad I of Gujarat. Gomelsinhji was forced to flee his capital. In 1416, there was defeat again at Modasa at the hands of Sultan Ahmad Shah I of Gujarat. Sultan Hoshang Shah of Malwa had invaded Gujarat on the invitation of Rana Gomelsinhji, who had allied himself with the rulers of Idar and Champaner against Ahmad Shah.

In the midst of such hostility, and barely able to exercise control over his territories, Gomelsinhji died in 1421. He was succeeded by Vijaypalji.

Again in 1431, during the rule of Harisinhji, Rajpipla was attacked by Sultan Ahmad Shah I of Gujarat. Rana Harisinhji was also forced to flee his capital, but he was a brave ruler and he reconquered the State in 1443, in alliance with Sultan Hoshang Shah of Malwa, despite being in exile for 12 years. This was at a time when Sultan Ahmad Shah’s successor, Sultan Muhammad Shah II of Gujarat, was occupied in fighting against Mewar and Champaner. Harisinhji died in 1463.

For nearly a century-and-a-half after the reconquer of the territories, the principality of Rajpipla held a very independent position. At this time the territory seemed to have been confined to the wilder and more hilly parts of Rajpipla and western Khandesh, Nandod (modern Rajpipla town), and probably including districts along both sides of the Narmada, and south to near the Tapti.       

Maharana Bhim Dev of Rajpipla helped Prince Latif Khan, half brother of Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. In the ensuing battle in 1526, Bhim Dev was killed.

To avenge the killing of his father, Maharana Raisinhji plundered Dahod. A punitive expedition sent to Rajpipla ravaged the area for several months without much success.  The submission seems to have been token as Rajpipla mercenaries (Bhil and Koli feudatories)  attacked Bahadur Shah’s troops, unaware that this army was taking Sultan Mahmud Shah Khilji of Malwa in captivity to Champaner after the capture of Mandu on 25 May 1531. In this attack, Sultan Mahmud Shah and his sons were also killed. The next year Bahadur Shah himself led the field and secured Rajpipla’s submission. Raisinhji died in 1543.

After the fall of Chittor in 1567, Maharana Udai Singh of Mewar sought and received shelter in Rajpipla which was then ruled by its eleventh Gohil chieftain Maharana Bhairavsinhji. Reference to this can be found in ‘Veer Vinod’.

Ironically, the next ruler Maharana Pruthuraj ji gave refuge to the last Sultan of Gujarat, Muzaffar Shah, incurring the wrath of Emperor Akbar. The Imperial troops led by Mirza Khan Khas took Gujarat in 1584. Akbar then levied a tribute of Rs.35,556 on Rajpipla, along with a contingent of 1,000 men to be furnished to the Mughal army. The district of Nandod was granted to Haider Kuli Khan. This arrangement continued till the last years of Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign when the payments not only became irregular but were altogether evaded when possible. Pruthuraj ji died in 1593.

The 26th Gohil ruler Maharana Verisalji I came to the gadi in 1705. With the weakening of the Mughal Empire, Verisalji I asserted his independence and the same year laid waste south Gujarat. A force sent by Aurangzeb was defeated in alliance with Maratha Damaji Jadhav at Ratanpur. Verisalji I also brought an incarnation of the Kul Devi or family deity of the Gohil clan Shri Harsiddhi Mataji from Ujjain.

After his death in1715, his son Maharana Jeetsinhji forged a treaty with Maharaja Peelaji Rao Gaekwar and succeeded in wresting Nandod (New Rajpipla in the plains on the banks of the river Karjan, now modern town of Rajpipla) in 1730 and transferred the capital there. He died at the Fort, Rajpipla in 1754.

Allies now turned foes during the rule of his successor Maharana Pratapsinhji as the Marathas under Damaji Rao Gaekwar overran Rajpipla and exacted tribute. Upon his death in 1764, the mantle passed on to his son Raisinhji. In 1764, a neice of young Maharana Raisinhji was espoused to Damaji Rao Gaekwar, who renounced part of the tribute. Raisinhji died in 1786 without male issue, and was succeeded by his younger brother Ajabsinhji.

It was a trying time as Umed Vasava, the Bhil chief of Sagbara revolted in 1793, and the Gaekwar raised the tribute. Internal power struggles led to interference and arbitration by the Gaekwars. With the intervention of British Agent Willoughby, Maharana Ajabsinhji’s third (and second surviving) son, Naharsinhji was appointed Regent, also in 1793. Ajabsinhji died on 15th January 1803.

He was succeeded by his second and eldest surviving son of Ramsinhji. Following differences with his father, Maharana Ajabsinhji, he had moved to Mandwa. Then with the help of the Chief of Mandwa had attacked Rajpipla but was defeated. He fled to Mandwa. On a promise of pardon, Ramsinhji returned to Rajpipla but was imprisoned at the Fort, while his younger brother Naharsinhji was appointed Regent. On the death of Maharana Ajabsinhji, the soldiers refused to accept as ruler the younger brother Naharsinhji. Ramsinhji ascended the gadi on 30th January 1803 at Junaraj.

When Maharana Ramsinhji died on 10th May 1810, Naharsinhji once again asserted his claim. A period of family intrigue followed. Maharana Ramsinhji’s widow Rani Surat Kunverba, daughter of the Chief of Mandwa, tried to place their putative son Pratapsinhji on the gadi. Meanwhile Naharsinhji had contracted smallpox in the epidemic of 1803, resulting in blindness and making him ineligible to rule, according to ancient Rajput tradition. Seizing the opportunity, Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda raised the tribute payable by Rajpipla and took over the administration of the State. The Gaekwar was in no hurry to settle the dispute and his officers mismanaged the affairs of Rajpipla. Ultimately the British authorities intervened again, and after a detailed enquiry decided that Pratapsinhji was not Maharana Ramsinhji’s son. They ensured that Naharsinhji’s son Verisalji succeeded to the gadi on 9th August 1821.

Barely 13 years of age, Verisalji II was installed as ruler on 15th November 1821 at Junaraj. He entered into an engagement with the British, binding himself and his successors to act in conformity with the advice of the British government. The Gaekwar gave up his claim. By 1825 a final settlement was reached with the Gaekwar. It was decided that a sum of Rs.7,30,000 (₤ 73,000) would be payable to the Gaekwar, and disbursed by 1833-34.

Verisalji II inherited a troubled legacy. His rule began in the backdrop of the great flood in the Narmada in September 1821. At the same time, a general uprising of the Bhils took place under the Chieftain of Sagbara, Rai Sinh of Rahooba, and Baiji Damia of Tilakwada. This was contained in 1823. Soon there was an uprising in Khandesh, which was quelled.

Rajpipla under Maharana Verisalji II rebelled against the British during the Mutiny of 1857. It is said that Tantia Tope was co-ordinating the revolt in the entire area comprising Rajpipla, Godhra and Dahod. Rajpipla State was out of control of the British for many months before the Mutiny was quelled.

In 1858, power passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. The Bhils of Sagbara rebelled yet again in 1859, and were finally suppressed in 1860. Verisalji II abdicated in favour of his son Gambhirsinhji on 17th November 1860. Apparently, the abdication of Maharana Verisalji II came about as a result of pressure from the British for the revolt during the Mutiny. A heavier price was paid by the Dewan of Rajpipla who was executed by the British. Maharana Verisalji II died at Nandod in 1868.    

Under the paramountcy of the British crown, the Indian rulers were relieved of the threat of external aggression and could devote their energies to development works and reforms. Maharana Gambhirsinhji, though, had an uneasy relationship with the British. Having reigned under a Council of Superintendence until he came of age, he was invested with full ruling powers in 1863. Unhappy with the financial management, the British placed the State under the joint management of its own officer along with State officials in 1884. A sole British administrator assumed charge of affairs in 1887. Be that as it may, during Maharana Gambhirsinhji's reign there was an improvement in the police, he built schools, a dispensary and a jail, and spent Rs.2,00,000 (₤ 20,000) on a road 34½ miles long from Nandod (New Rajpipla) to Ankleshwar railway station, which is a major link even today.  Rajpipla State had its own postal system during his reign.

Maharana Chhatrasinhji succeeded on the death of his father 10th January 1897. He vowed never to allow his State to be taken over again and set about instituting a programme of reform and development. Instrumental in saving thousands of lives during the epic famines of 1899-1902, he granted famine relief during this period amounting to Rupees 9,00,000. He built the 40-mile Ankleshwar-Rajpipla railway line.

The 36th and last Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Vijaysinhji, succeeded to the gadi on 26th September 1915. He condolidated the work of his grandfather and father, and has been hailed as the builder of modern Rajpipla. Granted the hereditary title of Maharaja by the British, his permanent salute was raised to 13-guns.

Maharaja Vijaysinhji carried out extensive administrative, judicial, police, education, health and agriculture reforms, and introduced numerous welfare schemes. He constructed a large high school, a modern civil hospital, maternity home, five regional dispensaries, and a veterinary hospital. A power house was set up to supply electricity and water to Rajpipla town. He was planning to build a dam across the Narmada to generate electricity, supply drinking water and for irrigation. The State was merged before this dream could be realized. But it was a precursor to the modern Sardar Sarovar Dam, which has become a lifeline for the people of Gujarat and south Rajasthan.

He extended the railway line from the old station to the new station right on the edge of Rajpipla town by building an iron bridge over the River Karjan. He also set up a 20-mile railway line between the Narmada bank near Jhagadia – on the Rajpipla-Ankleshwar line  – and Netrang, increasing the network to 60 miles. He had a 19-mile steam railroad and a tramway laid out connecting the towns along the river Narmada with villages in the interior.

An extensive network of good motorable roads was set up. He put up an airstrip on which small planes landed as early as the 1930s, and had plans to convert it into a 150-acre aerodrome.

The introduction of town planning methods were evident in a modern bazaar with a wide central avenue, town hall, public garden, congregation centres for various communities and guest house that were built during his reign of nearly 33 years.

Sports were made compulsory for students in Rajpipla State. The dhaba ground hosted several sports like cricket, football and hockey. The Maharaja built a club with tennis and indoor badminton courts, facilities for billiards and table tennis, and a polo ground.

When the winds of change blew, Maharaja Vijaysinhji was one of the first rulers to hand over his State to the forces of Indian democracy in 1948, thus bringing down the curtain on the 600-year-old rule of the Gohil Rajput dynasty over the principality of Rajpipla, and a 1400-year history of valour, strife and glory of the clan.

To keep intact such a long line and to retain their territories over this enormous period was a task of mammoth proportions. Uneasy does indeed lie the head that wears the crown. That kingship is not a bed of roses is a lesson re-learnt from the history of the valiant Gohil Rajput clan.