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 Kapol - Our Roots (History)

Ancient Background of Communities

Everyone is proud of his/her community since it is bestowed upon by birth. India is known for people of diverse religions, languages and communities. Indian history reveals that originally there were four groups of people following different vocations. They were Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Brahmins studied and preached religion, Kshatriyas ruled and protected the population, Vaishyas conducted business and farming, whereas Shudras comprised of most of the working classes including artisans and craftsmen such as janitors, blacksmiths, carpenters. These vocations were interchangeable. So, belonging to a group was determined not by birth but rather by profession. However, over a period of time, this interchangeability became limited due to many reasons. Thus, professional communities were established and one's community was determined by birth. Subsequently, each community was divided into smaller castes and each caste was further divided into sub-castes. We - Kapols - are basically Vaishyas - a Sanskrit word which means businessmen. In Gujarati, businessmen are called 'Vaniyas'.

The Origin of the Term Kapol

The history of how the Kapol caste originated is really fascinating. There are a few mythological stories behind it, but the following one is the most well known.  According to an ancient Sanskrit treatise called the 'Kundal Puran', King Mandhak conquered a major portion of North India. He then commenced pilgrimage. He visited His Holiness Sri Kanva Rishi who resided in the Papanod Ashram (Monastery) located near a town called Prabhas Patan in Saurashtra. It was a famous place of worship and was densely populated by Brahmins, Vaishyas and other communities. Due to the paucity of land and other natural resources, conflicts between different groups were common in this town. In order to resolve this recurring problem, King Mandhak planned to build a new town. It is customary to perform a religious ceremony called Bhoomi-Pujan (Ground Breaking) before a house is built. As when a whole new town is to be built, King Mandhak was advised to perform a Maha-Yagna. King Mandhak sought the blessings and assistance of Sri Kanva Rishi to conduct the proposed Maha-Yagna. H.H. Sri Kanva Rishi asked Gallav Rishi, one of the 18 Rishis who resided in his monastery to take this responsibility with the help of other Rishis. They made a lot of preparations and Brahmins from all over India such as Gupta Prayag, Kashi, Badrikedar and other places were invited. The Brahmins and Vaishyas of Prabhas Patan were also persuaded to participate in the Maha-Yagna.   It was a big success. King Mandhak and H. H. Sri Kanva Rishi were extremely pleased to see the quarreling groups of Brahmins and Vaishyas interacting peacefully with each other. They offered Sri Gallav Rishi a reward in recognition of his achievement. Sri Gallav Rishi prayed:

 'Youíre Honor, due to your blessings, a number of Brahmins and thousands of Vaishyas have come to this new town to participate in the Mahan Yang. Please officially inaugurate this town at this most auspicious moment for their stay. If you are satisfied with my work and if your Honor wishes to reward me, I request that out of 36,000 Vaishyas who have assembled here, 6,000 Vaishyas who are wearing big earrings stretching up to their cheeks (Kapol, in Sanskrit), be known by my name'.

 So initially these 6,000 Vaishyas were called Gallavas - named after Gallava Rishi. Subsequently they were called Kapols. The remaining 30,000 Vaishyas who mainly came from Sorath were called Sorathias. The Brahmins who participated in the Maha-Yagna and were wearing loop earrings (Kundal, in Sanskrit) were named Kandoliya Brahmins and they became the priests of Kapol and Sorathia Banias. The newly built town was called Kundalpur. The Gotras of Kapols are named after 18 Rishis who helped perform the Maha Yagna. This is probably how our community was named Kapol. The names of these 18 Rishis are: Gautam, Garg, Vatsat, Parashar, Upamanyu, Bandil, Vashishtha, Kashyap, Kaushik, Bharadwaj, Kapishthil, Saranggiri, Harit, Shandilya, Sankrat, Kutsa, Paulaksa, and Sanaki.

Our Home-towns

It is evident from the above story that Kapols originally hailed from the southern tip of Saurashatra, especially from the districts of Bhavnagar and Amreli. Even in these districts they were predominantly concentrated in the bigger towns such as Bhavnagar, Amreli, Mahuva, Rajula, Sihor, Jafravad, Lathi, Savar-KundIa, Delwada, Talaja, etc. A few families also lived in villages surrounding these towns.

Our Last Names

Our community is replete with various last names as you will find from this directory. Just as there is an interesting story behind the word Kapol, there are equally interesting anecdotes behind some of our last names. For example, with the blessings of Goddess Kankai, a son was born in the family of business tycoon Bhimshah and he was named Kankidas. The descendants of Kankidas are now called 'Kanakias'. The family of a leading person named Virpal moved from the village of 'Chhanjad' to 'Vala' and they were then known as 'Valias'. Kapols living in the village of 'Chital are known as 'Chitalia' and similarly residents of the village 'Gorakada' are known as 'Goradias'. Those who were grocers were known as 'Gandhi' or 'Mody' and those who were in the money lending business were called 'Shroffs'. Those who were brokers were called 'Dalalí and those proficient in bookkeeping were called 'Mehta'. In Gujarati, 'Parakh' means analysis or testing.

Those who were proficient in testing were called 'Parekh'. 'Zaverat' in Gujarati means jewelry; those who were dealing in jewelry were called 'Zaveri'. 'Naanna' in Gujarati means money or currency. Those who were in that business were called 'Nanavati'. 'Sangh' means a group of people, especially 'Pilgrims'. All those who went on a pilgrimage in groups were called 'Sanghvi'. Those who were dealing in herbs grown in jungles were know as 'Jangia'. Those who were dealing in cloth (Kapad, in Gujarati) were known as 'Kapadia'. Those who were of joyful and carefree nature were called 'Laheri'.

Kapols Before a Few Centuries

India was the main source of supply of spices, herbs, mulmul cloth and other goods to Europe in the 14th and 15th century. Europeans, especially the Portuguese, French and British, were anxious to have their own trading establishments in India. The Portuguese captured a port town of Div in Saurashtra in 1592 and started their business. They badly needed some local suppliers. Kapol Baniyas, who were living in the neighboring towns and were already conducting similar business, moved to Div. They became major suppliers to the Portuguse and one family had a monopoly of supplying food grains to them. But there was not much law and order in Div under Portuguese rule. They forfeited the properties of Hindus who died without any heirs. They also converted Hindu orphan children to Christianity and started interfering in business. Then, Kapols of Div began thinking of leaving the area. During that very period, the British had arrived in India and had established in Surat. But the local rulers-first Mohmedans and then Marathas - were waging frequent battles with the British settlers.

Pre-conditions for Immigration to Bombay

After several years, the British moved their trading post from Surat to Bombay, which at that time consisted of a group of seven islands inhabited by local fishermen. There was not much business activity there. The British were anxious to develop Bombay into a big trading center, and started giving incentives to attract businessmen from surrounding regions to settle there. Shri Nema Parekh, a prominent Kapol businessman of Div, saw a big opportunity in this. In 1677, he proposed ten stipulations to the British to consider moving to Bombay. They were:

           i.)      They should be given land to construct their houses.

           ii.)     They must have freedom to observe their own religion and there should be no  religious persecution.

          iii.)      In difficult times, the British Government should take care of them.

          iv.)      British courts should not have any jurisdiction on them in certain matters.

          v.)      They should be allowed to build their own ships.

          vi.)     The Government should provide a few of them with horse carriages.

        (N.B. It was a status symbol reserved for a privileged few in those days).

          vii.)     They should be permitted to deal in coconuts and other fruits.

          viii.)    There should not be any duty/tax on the items they import or trade.

          ix.)     In case they are unable to sell their imported merchandise for one year,

        they should be permitted to sell them in other territories.

           x.)     They should be allowed to conduct business in tobacco.

        The British Government accepted all conditions, except the last one.

First Immigrants to Bombay

In 1692, a Kapol bania named Sheth Rupji Dhanji from Ghoghia (near Div) came to Bombay in a small boat. Initially he encountered many hardships. But by dint of his business acumen and honesty, he prospered and brought many more families to Bombay. It is said that the entire stretch of land from Pydhonie to Dhobi Talao in Bombay then belonged to him. Shri Rupji Dhanji's son Manordas developed close business and personal relations with the British. He was appointed as 'Nagarsheth' of Bombay. Manordas' son, Devidas, was a founding member of the Native Education Society established in 1722 primarily to promote higher education amongst Indians. Another family, ancestors of Sheth Tulsidas, had also immigrated to Bombay in 1740. They conducted business with distant places like China and had very good business relations with the East India Co. In the latter part of 18th century, the East India Co. sorely needed money. At that time Putlibai, head of this family, lent a sum of Rs. 900,000 (in Gujarati, 'Nav-Lakh') to East India Co. Since then this family was nicknamed 'Navlakhi'.

Further Immigration

It seems that migration of Kapol families to Bombay was slow and sporadic until 1860ís. Then modern facilities such as railways, post office, and telegrams were first introduced and migration gathered momentum. The famines of 1856 and 1900 in Saurashtra also contributed to a mass migration of our community members to Bombay. The wealthier members of our community in Bombay played a pivotal role in settling the newly-arrived Kapols. They offered them inexpensive housing in dozens of Kapol Niwas spread throughout Bombay and grants to educate their children.

They also helped then by offering jobs or loans to start new businesses. The establishment of Bombay Municipal Corporation and Bombay University resulted in marked improvement in civic amenities and college education, which also contributed to further migration.

 

During the famine of 1900, Shri Kalayandas Vithaldas Kapadia, a prominent Kapol, not only donated huge amount of money and food, but personally worked very hard to oversee the famine relief efforts. In recognition of his humanitarian services, the Government of Bombay appointed him the Honorary Magistrate of Panchgini, which was a favorite resort town for the British. This is recorded in a book titled ďImperial Coronation Durbar, Delhi 1911.

Kapols in Other Parts of India

 

As stated earlier, Kapols originally lived in the southern tips of Saurashtra. Then they began relocating to other parts of India for better prospects. During the last century, Mumbai has been the single major point of destination from our hometowns. But apart from Mumbai and other large towns of Gujurat such as Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot, Surat, Bharuch and Khambhat, many Kapol families have also moved to far off towns in India for several generations. They include Calcutta, Chennai, Delhi, Cuttack, Banglore, Hyderabad, Poona, Nagpur, Indore, Gwalior, Cochin, Adoni, Gadag, Kanpur, Akola, Amravati, Navapur, Jaipur and many other cities. In some of these towns, there Kapols Samaj is conducting community activities.

 

Kapols around the World

 

Kapols are blessed with sharp business acumen and an enterprising nature. Kapols were ever ready to immigrate to foreign lands even when there were no airplanes, traveling was hazardous and settling in unknown places was extremely difficult. You will note from the following even in those days, Kapols had settled in different part of the world.

 

          1. Desai Family of Chogath  in Burma since 1910ís
          2. Gandhi Family of Mahuva in Burma since 1910ís
          3. Mody  Family of Savarkundla in Sudan since 1920ís
          4. Bhuva Family of Chalala in Kenya since 1920ís
          5. Doshi Family if Mahuva in Zanibar since 1920ís
          6. Sheth Family of Mahuva in Kenya since 1930ís
          7. Parekh Family of Mahuva in Kenya since 1930ís
          8. Sanghvi Family of Rajula in Burma since 1930ís
         10. Bhuva Family of Mahuva in Sudan since 1934ís

 

Apart from these, many Kapol families have immigrated all over the world in the last 50 years.

 

Immigration to the United States

 

Some Kapols like Dr. B. V. Bhoota, Mr. Vasant Dalal and Mr. Manordas Sanghvi came here for higher studies in the 1940s, but they were exceptions. It was only in the late fifties and early sixties that Kapols started coming here in big numbers for higher studies. After completing their studies, many of them settled here to pursue vocations in their respective fields. Around 1970, when the United States needed more professionals such as medical doctors, paramedics, accountants and engineers, the immigration requirements were eased. This relaxation attracted many Kapol professionals to the USA. After 1975, most of the Kapols have come through blood-relations category such as brother, sister or parents. Kapols who first came here to study or those who came here as professionals, brought their spouses and families later.

 

Acknowledgement

We wish to mention the following publication as the primary source of information on which the above article is compiled.

1) Shri Kapol Gaurav Granth 1982, Bombay

2) An Article published in June 1981 issue of a Gujarati magazine Chitralekha Bombay

 

This article is compiled by Vasantrai Mohanlal Gandhi and Mukund Gordhandas Mehta with the help of Bhavanidas Jadvji Vora, Anant Ratilal Sanghavi, Jaswant Bhailal Mody and Chandrakant Chhotalal Mehta. We hope the readers -especially Kapol youths raised in North America will find this information interesting.

 

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