Apr 17, 2010

Origin of Chaturth Community

-Mahavir Sanglikar

Origin of Chaturths
The word Chaturth is a Sanskrit word. This is not the original name of this community, as it is not found anywhere in old documents, literature, copper plates and inscriptions. This name has created confusion and many scholars have assumed that the meaning of this word for a community is Shudra (Chaturth= of the fourth Varna= Shudra in the Varna system). But it is a very wrong assumption based on the name, which never existed in older times. In fact, the word Chaturth is a corrupted form of the word Kshatraru. The word Kshatraru is Kannada form of the Sanskrit word Kshatriya or the Prakrit word Chhatri/ Khatri. So it is clear that the name Chaturth is a corrupted form of the word Kshatriya. (Kshatriya>Kshatraru> Chhatar>Chatar>Chatur>Chaturth). It is notable thing that Chaturths traditionally claim that they are Kshatriyas.

In Konkani language, the Kshatriyas are called as Chardo. There is a community called Chardo in Goa and according to some scholars, Chaturths and Chardos are the same people.

It is notable that Chaturths are known as Jains and not as Chaturths in general.

It is notable that the Chaturths are living in Southern part of Maharashtra and Northern part of Karnataka for many centuries. The Nandani Jain Mutt is related to Chaturths. This Mutt was founded by Acharya Jinsen (10th Century). Acharya Jinsen was the Guru of the Rashtrakut King Amoghvarsha.. This region was ruled by various Jain dynasties, namely Kadambs, Rashtrakuts, Ratts, Chalukyas, Kalchuris and Shilahars.

Every Chaturth family has a recorded genealogy, which is preserved by the Helavis, a community that keeps genealogical records of various families in South Maharashtra and north Karnataka. According to the Helavis, their forefathers were told to keep the records of genealogies by King Bijjal, a Jain King of Kalchuri clan. (13th century). These records give lineage of the forefathers of Chaturth families, usually containing record of 20 to 40 generations.

Moreover, most of the Chaturth family names (Surnames) are related to the higher posts in village administration system. Patil is one of the famous family name in this community, which was used for village chieftain. Another family name found in Chaturth is Desai, which was used for the chief of regional group of villages. The main duty of Desais was to collect tax from the villages of his specific area. There are some other such surnames in Chaturths, like Magdum (Record Keeper) Chougule (Assistant of Patil), Khot (Village Chieftain) etc., which show designations. The designation name Patil was given by Deccan Muslim rulers, before that we find the words Gowda, Gaund, Gounda and Gawada for village chieftains. The notable thing is that these words except Gawada are found as suffixes to the first names of men in all genealogies of Chaturth families. The words Gowda, Gaund and Gounda are also found in various Jain inscriptions, even in the inscriptions at Shravanbelagola.

Historical records of Maharashtra and Karnataka show that forefathers of Chaturths were high profile Civil and military officers in the reign of Ratts, Shilahars, Devgiri Yadavs, Adilshahi, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Sambhaji, Rajaram and Shahu Maharaj.

All this suggests that there is no reason to believe that Chaturths are Shudras. It also totally discards the belief that Chaturth means are follower of Chaturyam Dharm (Four ford religion preached by Teerthankar Parshwanath), as the word Chaturth is a latest one for this community, and they never followed Chaturyam dharm, but Panchyam Dharm.

According to some scholars, Pancham was the only caste of Jains in south India, which was later divided into 4 castes namely Chaturths, Panchams, Kasars and Saitwals. This is a wrong statement based on just assumptions. There is no inscriptional, genealogical or literary proof for it. The scholars, who invented this theory, have written that there is no Chaturth caste in Veershaiv Lingayats. This is a false statement as we can see many Chaturths in Veershaiv Lingayats.

The Saitwals find their origin in North India and there are no links between Saitwals and others communities mentioned above. Moreover, some surnames of Saitwals suggest that they are the oldest Jains of Maharashtra. It should be noted that they are not bilinguals and we can call them Pure Marathi people. Their physical features are also different from that of Chaturths and Panchams. On the other hand, although Kasars are some time called as Panchams, their recorded history in Kalika Puran shows that they are not Panchams.

Although there are some similarities between surnames of Chaturths and Panchams, it should be noted that these surnames are designation names and not clan names. Chaturth is purely a cultivator caste, while Pancham is a Merchant caste. Panchams are descendents of Bir Banij, the famous merchant group of Medieval Deccan. Further, in the genealogical records no same origin of Chaturths and Panchams is traced.

Chaturths are Gowdas
In South Karnataka, there is a cultivator community famously known as Gowdas. There are many similarities between these Gowdas and the Chaturths. Most of the Gowdas were following Jainism until recent past. Still now, some sections of these Gowda people are strictly vegetarians and some are following Jainism. Some Gowdas are being reconverted to Jainism. This occurs mainly in the Gangatakar/ Gangadikara and Namdhari subcastes of Gowdas.

The word Gowda is used as a suffix to the first name in Gowda community. On the other hand, as I have written above, we can find the word Gowda, Gaund, Gounda (which have the same meaning) in all the genealogies of Chaturths. These words are still used as suffixes in rural areas in Chaturth community. One of my friends Mr. Rajendra Paygonda Patil residing at Samdoli, a Jain village near Sangli, has a genealogical record of 25 generations of his forefathers. Out of the 61 names found in that genealogy, 58 names have been suffixed by Gowda,Gownda or Gonda. The notable thing is that in first 19 generations, only Gowda suffix is found. After 20th generation only the suffix Gownda or Gonda occurs. I have seen many of the genealogies different Chaturth families and found the suffix Gowda everywhere.

It is notable that Gowdas are known as Vokkaliga Gowdas, and the Chaturths also were known as Vokkaligas a century ago

There are many other similarities between Chaturths and Gowdas. Both the communities are traditionally cultivators. Gowdas are Kannada speaking, and Chaturths too. Although the Chaturths in Maharashtra have adopted Marathi language, they are originally Kannada speakers, and now speak both Kannada and Marathi at home in rural areas. Both the communities have high rank designations in village administration system. The most important thing is that both the communities have similar body structure/ physical features like complexion, height, head size and nasal index.

An interesting thing is that the Jains of Kerala, which are mostly found in Waynad district, are known as Gowdars. They have matrimonial relations with Jain Gowdas of South Karnataka.

So, I am sure that the Gowdas and Chaturths are the same people. Gowdas of North Karnataka are now being known as Chaturths..

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