My cousin Mrugesh was married in Dhrol, and through the days of pre-wedding preparations and celebrations I was able to tell my family about the team’s plans to go to Pakistan, and my plans to accompany as the filmmaker for Friends Without Borders. Sometime in October, my father reacted to the same news by getting extremely upset and agitated. He told me that he would not be able to sleep a single night that I was in Pakistan for fear that I would not return alive. Moreover, if I did pass through the experience unscathed, he said that he would have an equal measure of worry for fear that I would then consider Pakistan a safe and friendly country and would make repeated visits to the Islamic republic. Months ago, I had no choice but to tell my father that my plans to go to Pakistan were still under consideration, and that nothing was certain. Any other response would have resulted in endless lectures on the subject, most without much basis besides irrational fear and religious hatred.
However, the response I got from the Indian side of my family was markedly different than that of family in the United States. No fear, no worries, only one single-line lecture [“If you are not careful, they will convert you to Islam”]. Sometimes a few raised eyebrows. More often then not, many advised me to use the opportunity to go to a town in Baluchistan (a southwestern province in Pakistan) to visit the temple of Hinglaj Mata, the mother goddess of my caste. Interestingly, nobody could tell me exactly what the name of the town was, but said that it was some 80 miles west of Karachi, and that everyone in the area would know how to find the temple of Hinglaj Mata. The story of how Hinglaj Mata became the goddess of our caste is an interesting one, and has its origins in the dim antiquity of Indian lore.
Though I don’t subscribe to caste identification, much of my extended family very strongly clings to their caste moorings. They are brahmkshatriyas, the descendants of the last surviving ‘original’ kshatriyas (warrior-rulers) from ancient India. According the to legend, there was a sage name Parsuram who one day was deeply wronged by a kshatriya. Reflecting rather vengefully upon the experience, he concluded that all kshatriyas had grown egotistical, corrupt, drunk with power, or otherwise evil and went on a personal campaign of genocide to annihilate every last kshatriya from the face of the planet. If I recall correctly, his bloodlust lasted for 21 generations as he hunted down and personally executed warriors with his fearsome axe. There came a time when only 12 kshatriya boys remained alive, and its at this point that there are a few conflicting accounts of the story. According to one variation, those boys were sheltered by some brahmins (priests) in their ashram. Parsuram came to learn that a few boys remained alive, and arrived at the ashram to slaughter them. The brahmins declared that these boys were brahmin boys, but Parsuram did not believe this. As a test, he told the brahmins to eat with these boys, as the prevailing custom at the time was that brahmins would not eat with any lower caste. The brahmins ate a meal with the boys to alleviate Parsuram’s suspicions and to save the kshatriya boys under their protection. Thereafter, these boys were raised as brahmins, inter-married within the brahmin community, but secretly retained their identity as kshatriyas and passed on that tradition to their offspring. The other variation on this story, the one I’ve heard a few times in my extended family, is that Hinglaj was the name of the brahmin who protected those kshatriya boys (or perhaps Hinglaj was the name of his wife), and has since then become the goddess of the caste. Yet another variation of the story is that the boys were hidden in a cave somewhere in the area around the site of the present Hinglaj Mata temple, and various family members would also like me to go visit and photograph that cave.
Though the actual history may perhaps never be known, there are a few tidbits of the past that have made it into the present. Some time last year, I was able to locate a list of brahmkshatriya last names as they have evolved and branched out from the original 12 last names. To my knowledge, the translation I made is the only existing English translation of that piece of history [I may post it here in case anyone is interested in the details]. Another interesting tidbit is that there seems to be three distinct branches of the brahmkshatriya line: a Punjabi one, a Gujarati one, and a Muslim-convert one. Both the Punjabi line and the Muslim line retain the last names of the caste, and are aware that they are kshatriyas, but apparently don’t know the history of their origins, and don’t maintain any caste connectivity either within themselves, or with the larger brahmkshatriya community. Only the Gujarati line strongly clings to this legacy and lore, and maintains a high-degree of community identity, even publishing and distributing its own news and matrimonial magazine in many parts of the world where the diaspora is concentrated.
Of course, as an added dramatic element to the legend, the sage Parsuram is considered to be the 6th incarnation of Vishnu. Parsuram is not worshipped, especially by my caste [ 🙂 ], and his only apparent contribution to humanity was the genocide of my ancestors. Through all the caste pride and better-than-thou-ism I see in the brahmkshatriya community, nobody ever seems to conceptualize themselves as the descendants of a clan so corrupted that divinity itself had to incarnate to annihilate them!