Vachara Dada – The Folk God of Rural Gujarat

Conflict over resources is as old as humanity itself. Resources have always been limited and there are competitions among rival groups to acquire them. Sometimes when the rival groups fail through competitions they go for alternative ways. One such way is steeling or robbing. In the modern industrial world, there are sophisticated ways of stealing using technology. But in the grassroots system, there are simple raids, sometimes encounters become severe turning into killing fields.

So what are the resources that become so much cause for life taking conflicts? It depends upon the location. In coastal Odisha, especially in Chilika Lake region, it is the fish that cause conflicts. Likewise in a desert or arid region, it is water. And in pastoral Gujarat, it is the cows that cause conflicts.

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One fine noon, I reached Zinzuwada, a frontier village of erstwhile Solanki rulers located on the edge of Little Rann of Kutch, about 2 hours drive from Ahmedabad. My visit was not meant for exploring the folk life, but to appreciate its military architecture, a massive gate that stands as a mute testimony to the Solanki rule in Saurashtra. Close to the gate on the way to the temple, I a saw a paliya, a hero stone that looked unconventional. It depicted a local man, folk hero in a warrior gesture. A small ritual space was created around it. The accompanying villagers told me that it is the image of Vachara Dada, whose main temple in the area is located deep in the Little Rann, a drive of about 30 min. I was excited to know more about him as the local life revolves around his cult. I decided to experience the power of the folk religion that integrates lives of the locals.

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Vacahara Dada lived in the remote past, may be during the rule of Solanki Kings. He was an eminent warrior hero, who fought against the invaders to protect the cows, the key resource of the people inhabiting the region.

According to the folklore, Vachara was son of a Solanki Rajput chief named Chahchak, who ruled from a nearby village. On the day he was getting married, when he was taking the pheras, he had the news that some robbers were looting and stealing away the cows of the village. He left the pheras to fight the robbers, in which he attained martyrdom. The legend goes – even after his death, his body fought against the robbers and killed them all. Vachara’s wife Umade wanted to become a Sati but was stopped by a saint, who asked her to go her in-law’s house. Vachara was blessed by God and was asked to consummate the marriage in Vayu form. Twenty two sons were born to them. It is said that he was reborn seven times and every time he would de pheras, he would be interrupted by robbers taking away the cows. In his seventh life, he successfully killed the robbers and became free from re-birth as per Hindu myths and tradition. He then became a God.

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As we started driving down into the unknown land of the Little Rann, a vast stretch of salt desert, we came across many local pilgrims, going and returning from the abode of the God. While talking to them and listening, I realized that how the folk tradition dominant over the mainstream Hinduism in rural India. There was unique syncretisation of local issues, problems and main stream Hinduism. We were told that even Muslims also worship Vachara Dada. This led me to think that in rural India how formal religion does not matter. People worship someone, who lived historically and not only showed his concern for people’s plight but fought for them. He brought solutions to the problems and eventually became a God.

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After driving for 30 or 40 minute we reached at the beyt (an island) in the Rann, full of cows and a temple dedicated to Vachara Dada.

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Vachara Dada is shown sitting on a white Kathiawari horse with a snake at his feet and a flaming sword in his hand. When I talked to the Bhuva (the priest), I was told that he has the power of curing the ill live stocks. It is also because of Vachara Dada’s blessing. When a family member, a cow, or a buffalo falls ill or dies, it is believed that the spirit of an ancestor had been annoyed because of neglect of timely worship, lack of offering ritual food and respect.

When someone is harassed by an evil spirit, the bhuva is consulted. There is believed that the evil man is finally punished by the divine power of Vachara Dada.

After spending an hour I returned back to Ahmedabad. But I will always cherish the experience in the Rann and in the abode of Vachara Dada.

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