Bhagwati Shri Karniji Maharaj – A Biography – Part-1
Religion has profoundly influenced the Indian mind of all ages. Hindus have since time immemorial visualized the Supreme, Omnipotent, power as Shiva and Shakti. Shaivs worship the Universal Power as Shiva while adherents of the Shakti cult are called Shaktas, A Shakta obtains from Shakti the same affection, nourishment, and wish-fulfillment as a person gets from his mother. The Shakta, therefore, visualizes and worships the Supreme power as Mother.
On the authority of the Puranas and other holy texts, it can be said that Shakti has appeared in a human form whenever impiety exceeded limits and the world was in trouble. Praises of Puranic incarnations of Shakti are recorded in the Durga Saptashati which is a Veda for the Shakti Upasak.
Holy books envisage future incarnations of Shakti. Incarnations of the post-Puranic era worshipped as Lok Devis and Goddesses. One of the most important of them worshipped all over Rajasthan, Sindh. Kutch, Kathiawar, Gujrat, and Malwa is Bhagwati Shri Karniji Maharaj, enshrined at Deshnok, about 19 miles south of Bikaner, Rajasthan. Karniji affectionately called Karnal Kiniyani lived about 500 years ago at a crucial juncture in the fate of the Hindu dynasties of Rajasthan and played an important role in shaping the history of the region.
आलस मत आंणीह, बीसहथी लाजे विरद।।
Karniji’s life is recorded in numerous poems (dohas, geets, etc) and songs (chirja, bhajan, etc). Some of these were composed while Bhagwati chose to remain in human form, while others are a contemporary record of boons and miracles.
Since Bhagwati Karniji’s divinity manifested itself also as a historical personality, the need was felt, in different eras, for preparing Karniji’s biography. Of extant systematic record of Bhagwati’s life, the oldest perhaps are the poetic works of Vithoo Bhomji and Vithoo Charandasji. Considerable material is preserved in the record (bahi) maintained at Deshnok temple. Kaviraja Sri Dayal Das Sinhdhayach, the great Bikaner historian, attempted a biography (Karni Charitra) of which we find mention in Thakur Kishore Singh Vahrspatya’s comprehensive work Karni Charitra published in 1938 and now out of print. Some booklets were issued from time to time by other devotees for the benefit of the inquisitive. Rajkavi Shankar Dan Jethi Bhai Detha of Limbdi published a Gujrati version of Karni Charitra and named it Charan Devi Sri Karniji.
Aim of this Book
No specific need for a short life-sketch written in English was felt till independence. The devotee of Shakti could satisfy their curiosity by reading Hindi and Gujrati books. Moreover, devotees believe in worship and not in biographies. The Hindus do not believe in publicizing their faith or making converts by force or publicity. Hindu tolerance is proverbial. Even enemies of the faith have conceded this. On account of this general Hindu attitude, there is still no need for an English life-sketch of the Lady of Deshnok so far as the devotees are concerned. The need has however arisen on account of the mischievous adverse publicity by vested interests.
Some busy-bodies have written about the Deshnok temple in a manner that hurts the feelings of Hindus in general and devotees of Bhagwati Karniji in particular. Bhagwati’s temple has been called the rat-temple and some self-righteous pseudo-nationalists have taken exception to the sheltering of Kabas (which they call rats) at the shrine. The motives of a foreigner who comes to see and report the ludicrous and the exotic in this ancient land, that he heartily dislikes, are understandable but the satisfaction derived by some Indians (none of whom lives outside a glasshouse) in ignoring the truth, to emphasize the ridiculous, is condemnable. Can we not, even after more than 20 years of independence, rise above the slavish mentality of ridiculing our own culture by presenting it in ludicrous color? This practice was advantageously adopted by sycophants for pleasing foreign masters because perhaps there is no better way of humoring a master race than pampering its national vanity by deriding one’s own culture, religion, and civilization. We do not have to ingratiate ourselves anymore with anyone by stooping to sensationalism. India can count upon things other than snake-charmers for arousing interest. The appearance of a description of a sacred place under such eye-catching captions, therefore, deeply hurts, particularly at this juncture. Frankly, I cannot guess how anyone could give this name to Bhagwati Karniji temple at Deshnok. Was it the brain wave of an over-enthusiastic tourist department official expecting a fat tip from a sensation-loving modern version of Miss Mayo? Or is it the doing of a journalist who earned his income by disparaging religious beliefs?
The thoughtful and knowledgeable discarded such scurrilous writings with the contempt it deserved. Some mischief has nevertheless been done. A number of ill-informed people have inadvertently become victims of the evil designs of the irreligious. Some have unwittingly written further on the subject on the basis of these earlier mischievous articles. Friends in Rajasthan felt that such visitors and other inquisitive persons as are unacquainted with Rajasthani, Gujrati or Hindi should be able to read about the Goddess in English. For this, I have on the insistent demand of devotee friends, attempted this short English biography of Bhagwati Karniji. I relied upon late Th. Kishore Singh Ji Vahrspatya’s painstakingly written book Karni Charitra and where it suited the scheme and general concept of the book, I have in my own way translated the text.
Late Th. Kishore Singh Vahrspatya and before him Kaviraja Sri Dayal Das Sinhdhayach deserve the gratitude of the devotees of Bhagwati Sri Karniji for laboriously collecting facts, screening these with the eye of historians, and presenting them from the viewpoint of the initiated.
The temple is dedicated to Karniji and the huge beautiful building with delicate marble carving-the contribution of generations of devotees-is built around the inner sanctum constructed by the Goddess Herself. There are plenty of Kabas. For all animals and living beings – the Kabas included – the temple is a sanctuary. The temple is dedicated to the Goddess and it is Karniji and not rats that are worshipped there. A view of the white Kabi, like that of the white kite, is considered a good omen and gesture of divine pleasure.
Deshnok situated 19 miles south of Bikaner is the most important place of pilgrimage for the devotees of Bhagwati Karniji. Besides the main temple, near the Railway station, the other important religious places, in Deshnok, connected with Bhagwati’s life are Sri Nehriji temple & Temra Rai temple There are several other less important places. Indeed, every place in Deshnok is hallowed by memories of Bhagwati. Other important places connected with the Lady of Deshnok (Deshnok Rai) are Suwap-Her birthplace about 20 miles east of Phalodi and Dhineru on the boundary line between the erstwhile states of Bikaner and Jaisalmer.
Bhagwati Karniji was a historical personality. Mahashakti chose to tread the earth as Karniji in the 15th and 16th Century (Vikram) for 151 years. Karniji as a historical personality was intimately associated with the establishment of the hegemony of the Rajputs, the protectors of faith, who had lost rich lands to disunity, recklessness, and absence of political sagacity in Rajasthan. With Her blessings, they converted what was a mere foothold into a veritable stronghold, from which they sallied forth at the opportune moment to reconquer lost lands for their people.
It is almost customary among Indian saints to use their influence and religious appeal for herding their followers under the banner of a new faith, or sect, or cult, or school. Religious leaders of the 15th and 16th Centuries were no exception. Karniji, who was venerated even in Her lifetime, exercised much more influence and had a greater hold over the minds of her contemporaries than those who could not resist the temptation of attempting to perpetuate their names by founding new sects, did not believe in schisms. The tenets of the religion of Her forefathers required no modification. These were good enough for everyone.
Schisms weaken the parent religion. In a hopelessly strife-ridden land, another sect would have merely further confused the situation. Karniji never entertained any idea of founding a faith. Resisting moves to the contrary, she strove for the unity of Her people and worked for the strengthening of Hinduism. People were losing faith. Sects and cults were weakening the Hindu religion. Hindu society was losing dynamism, cohesion, and initiative. In North India, it was fighting its last-ditch battle, and its fate could well depend on the outcome. Faith needed rekindling and revival because defeats dishearten, and self-confidence is needed for victory. Karniji rekindled faith by Her miracles.
Occasion for Incarnation
Conditions in Rajasthan of the day were unstable. Internecine warfare among rival Hindu chiefs (mostly Rajputs), holding sway over small principalities was the order of the day. They had respite neither from their own quarrels nor from the mounting pressures from Mohammedan rulers surrounding Rajasthan. In a little more than two centuries the successors of those who dislodged the Chauhans and the Rathores from Delhi and Kanauj respectively, entrenched themselves in their conquests. The sense of insecurity and uncertainty that troubled them, on the first arrival, had been very nearly overcome notwithstanding the ample proof of valor and resistance that Indians gave on the battlefield–thanks to their several victories. The conquered had to unite and regroup under competent leaders, who had to be selected in the first instance. The Rathores who had newly came to the desert, and had wide experience of the battlefield, were the obvious choice for such leadership. Mahashakti chose them to establish a new equation and an equilibrium at a new level. Bhagwati Karniji’s importance as a historical personality lies in uniting the Rathores and the Bhatis by marriage bonds and eliminating the scope for strife. She acted as their friend, philosopher, and guide.
It is on account of such sagacity, respect for Sanatan Dharma, piety, and the readiness to help the devotee that Bhagwati Karniji endeared Herself to the pious and enjoys a unique place in the faith and beliefs of the people.
Chapter I – Shakti Cult and the Charans
देवि त्वं भक्तसुलभे सर्वकार्यविधायिनी।
कलौ हि कार्यसिद्धयर्थमुपायं ब्रूहि यत्नतः।।१।।
सर्वमंगलमांगल्ये शिवे सर्वार्थसाधिके।
शरण्ये त्र्यम्बके गौरि नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते।।२।।
सर्वस्यार्तिहरे देवि नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते।।३।।
Accessible to devotees, Ordainer of action, direct me O! Goddess to acts that can, in Kaliyug, by sincere effort, lead to success,
Ultimate good incarnate, O ! benevolent Goddess Gauri; O ! Narayani, I seek Thy benign shelter and offer humble prayers.
Saviour of poor Miserables seeking protection, obeisance to Thee O ! Narayani reliever of suffering.
Man, and Faith
Faith in the Supernatural and the worship of the divine power has held sway, since time immemorial, over human emotions. Maybe it is not correct to suppose, as often done, that prophets and Mahatmas deserve all credit for such widespread faith. They have their own place, of course, in the religious development of societies. Yet instead of giving them all credit for the belief of our race in divinity, God, and incarnations, we can more appropriately say that these chosen few merely acted as catalytic agents-protagonists of their own schools and simply gave voice to some aspects of general human experience. Their piety and status gave such credence to their experience as was needed for emboldening the masses to own their somewhat similar experience. Independently of what prophets and religious leaders declared, those eligible for the label ‘human beings’ on account of a certain minimum of intelligence have had a feeling that some omnipresent and potent power-a divine hand-controlled creation. All do not and cannot of course possess the ability of mathematician philosopher Sir James Jeans to describe such divine experience in his inimitable way and express it in understandable language but there are few who disagree with his observation that the very constitution of the working universe and existence of an intelligent design proves the existence of a Supreme Mind.
‘Revelations’, vouch the Mahatma and the prophets, ‘are more manifestation of this collective human experience’. God is not a creation of a few initiated individuals but the expression of an omnipresent cumulative experience. And again, God is worshipped not because some people vouchsafe His existence but because His presence manifests itself from time to time in a manner that appeals to the reason of the common man. Nothing perhaps has done more to convince the common man and sustain his faith than the ‘assumption of the human form by God whenever’, as revealed in Shri Gita by Lord Krishna Himself, ‘He considers it necessary’, Incarnations of God, the Gods and Goddesses, are therefore worshipped most reverently because of this conviction which is, in turn, strengthened by advantages derived from such worship.
Worship of Goddesses, both as a supplement to that of Gods and as the sole or principal form of worship, is widespread among Hindus. In our religious lore, all independent goddesses fuse into and are considered an incarnation of Uma the consort of Lord Shiva–the most venerated among the male Gods, of the warrior classes, Durga, an incarnation of Uma, identified fully with the latter is the predominant deity, worshipped through the length and breadth of the country in various forms This worship is particularly common among soldiers and castes with martial traditions, The psycho-analyst would perhaps explain this propensity of martial races by the hypothesis that the soldier identifies himself with Her in both of the two possible ways. He assimilates Her ferocity towards the enemy and he also assumes the attitude of the devotee achieving identification with Her and acquiring a will to undergo suffering and death. He identifies with the Mother. the ego-ideal and the inspirer of the effort to realize such ideal.
Faith in Divine Purpose
History records instances of men born in non-descript families, who, beginning from scratch, founded dynasties and empires holding sway over large areas and numerous people, These were people inspired by the belief that they were born to carry out the mission of replacing the old order by a new one and guiding the destinies of less fortunate, un-endowed hordes.
Confidence in self and faith in divine purpose are important props of kingdoms, props that sustain dynasties. “Faith”, according to Walt Whitman, “is the antiseptic of the soul. It pervades the common people and preserves them; they never give up believing and respecting and trusting. ” Founders of Kingdoms need it if anything, more than the common man and faith, in turn, needs a rallying point. Dynasties are founded by men fighting for a cause, by men imbued with the belief that they are meant to carry out divine will-the faith that they are the chosen. Indeed, the superhuman effort and will, the above-average tactical and organizational ability and the extraordinary good luck needed for changing old order and ushering new one, for founding Kingdoms and sowing seeds of an empire can rationally be best attributed to divine grace, resulting from such faith.
Ancient civilizations and cultures established harmony with the help of religious sanction, Religion gives purpose to life, satisfactorily answers most questions, and provides a rallying point for faith. Dynasties have to establish harmony with accepted religions and the institution of tutelary deities is religion’s gift to rulers in return for their loyalty to society’s accepted values, as enshrined in holy religious tracts.
Every kingdom in the country in general and the ancient kingdoms of Rajasthan, in particular, had their tutelary deities and while the proud Rajput may not bow and would not for long fail to challenge the suzerainty of mighty Emperors, he had entertained for centuries, since the founding of his dynasty, implicit allegiance to his tutelary deity. Ups and downs in the fortunes of his people or his family-and the nonchalant Rajput has had more than his share of them-have never diminished the intensity of his faith.
The Rajput even when he accepted his pains, pleasures, and defeats with a carefree heart, was aware of the divine hand which wielded his destiny. His devotion to religion helped him establish a state of harmony with the Gods, which, in turn, sustained and upheld the Rajput’s confidence in himself, his destiny, and the ultimate victory of good over evil. He considered himself the chosen of God, for carrying out His divine purpose as communicated through His incarnations.
One of the more important tutelary deities of the Rajput Kingdoms of Rajasthan is Bhagwati Karniji, enshrined in her premier temple at Deshnok, 30 K. M. south of Bikaner. Most of these Kingdoms have their own special tutelary deities, but by and large, Karniji is the tutelary deity of all Rajasthan Rajputs in general and of the Rathore Kingdoms of Jodhpur and Bikaner in particular.
Bhagwati Hinglaj and Shakti Peeths
On river Hingol of Las Bela-now in Pakistan, N. W. of Karachi, and separated from it by a distance of more than 250 miles,-is the shrine of Bhagwati Hinglaj. Partition fanaticism and political developments have very nearly erased this sacred shrine from the memory of Hindus. Not many know that Hinglaj, with its novel worshipping procedures and its Muslim priestess, is one of the four premiers Shakti Peeths of our religious lore. Since Bhagwati Awadji, the tutelary deity of the Bhatis of Jaisalmer and incarnation previous to Bhagwati Karniji, is the incarnation of Goddess Hinglaj, the Adhishthatri Devi of the West, we would do well to recapitulate the Puranic version of the establishment of Shakti Peeths.
Shakti assumed form when Creation was in serious jeopardy on account of Mahisasur’s reign of terror. Mahisasur, a demon, acquired blessings and boons by prayer and piety. But blessings and boons, power, and strength, conferred or acquired by a Kupatra-one who is by makeup and attitude unfit for divine benevolence-is usually misused. Emboldened, by the belief that nothing could harm him because of the boon, that he was virtually immortal, he permitted his baser, basic instincts and inclinations to take the upper hand. The campaign of destruction and terror that he loosened, to upset universal harmony and destroy peace, shocked Gods, and men alike and they prayed for salvation. Shakti alone could, in the circumstances of the case, effectively act within the four walls and limitation of the boon, to annihilate the nuisance, Answering prayers and supplications of Gods and humans Shakti assumed physical form as ‘Mahisasurmardini’ and put an end to Mahisasur and his reign of terror.
सुर नर जीत सुरेश, इन्द्र आसण अपणायो,
दखी भया सै देव, याद तद कीनी आई,
आप बिना नह और, मदत अब को महमाई
करै स्त्रोत वंदन करी, धजाबंध झट धावजो
असुराण मान मारण अबै, अंबा वेगा आवजो।
The need for continuing Her physical form ceased with the destruction of the demon. Shakti, therefore, divided Its physical form into four parts, and with a view to protecting the land implanted these at the four points of the compass-one part at each point; thus founding the four Shakti Peeths of Hinglaj (West), Meenaxi (South), Kamaxi (East), and Jwalamukhi (North).
Shakti worship was at one time widespread in our country. The Shakti cult held sway over large parts from Kashmir to Cape Comorin and from Baluchistan to Nagaland In course of time, it was integrated with Shiv and Vishnu cults and incorporated in Hindu religious lore as part of an integrated belief harmonizing with other old and new beliefs. Nevertheless, in some parts of the country, especially in the Western region i. e. in Rajasthan, Kutch, Saurashtra. Gujrat and Sindh, Shakti worship continued to be more important, it is noteworthy that these areas are the homelands of the Rajputs who took upon themselves the responsibility of defending the Hindu faith against relentless onslaughts by unscrupulous proselytizing faiths. Indeed, it is difficult to say whether the heroism of the Rajput is the cause or the result of his partiality for the Shakti Religion.
The contribution of incarnations of Shakti, worshipped as Lok Devi, in sustaining the Shakti cult in parts of the country, where it preponderates, is noteworthy. Belief in the prowess of the Mother and mutual love and affection, which people generally have for their mothers, are of course the foundation of such worship. Devotees, like children before their mother, feel free to relate their woes and troubles, disclose their heartfelt pleasure as also grief to the Almighty, conceived as Mother. While this is the philosophy and raison d’etre of the cult, its sway over large parts of the country in the face of rivalry from other established cults supported by powerful believers and rich endowments, is in no small measure attributable to incarnations of Shakti which appeared from time to time to destroy evil and to establish peace and tranquillity, While nothing definite can be said about other citadels of Shakti Upasana, we are in a position to assert that its dominance in Western India is primarily the result of miracles by incarnations appearing from time to time. These incarnations generally chose the Charan caste for birth and were worshipped as Devis. On account of these Goddesses and because of the special relationship between the two communities, the Rajputs have always extended great respect to the Charans. The respect which the Rajputs-the warrior rulers-have for the community in which Goddesses were born and the association of Shakti worship with prowess, courage, and chivalry are other important reasons for the Rajput’s adherence to Shakti Upasana.
Goddess Awadji and Bhagwati Karniji, successive incarnations of Bhagwati Hinglaj, were like several other Goddesses worshipped in Sindh, Rajasthan, Kutch, Kathiawad, Gujrat and Malwa and collectively called ‘Chorasi Charan’, were born in the Charan community found only in these parts of the sub-continent and well known for its magnificent contributions to the language and literature of Rajasthan and Gujrat.
The extent to which Rajput dynasties are beholden to Charan Goddesses is brought out in the following old couplet.
आवड़ तूठी यादवों, गीगाई गोड़ौंह।
श्रीबरवड़ शीशोदियों, करणी राठौड़ोंह।।
The Bhatis are beholden to Awadji and Gaurs to Gigai Mata in the same way as the Sisodias (Dungarpur and Udaipur) and the Rathores (Bikaner, Jodhpur, and Kishangarh) are indebted respectively to Barawadiji and Karniji.
Known by various names in various parts of Western India where it is found, the Charan community consists of 120 clans; and definite historic evidence of the community inhabiting these lands from before the 12th century is available. The total number of persons belonging to this community that has produced a large number of warriors, scholars, and intellectuals and a still larger number of poets is not large. They live in villages given to them in special grants by Rajput admirers and patrons. Such Charan villages are called Sansans.
The word Sansan is apbhransh of Swasasan meaning self-rule and was applied to special grants to Charans because the paramount ruler’s writ against fugitives from Justice did not operate in Sansan territory; no taxes could be imposed and by and large the holder of the grant managed affairs, within his jurisdiction, in his own way.
One of the Charan clans is called ‘Kiniya’. Some of them have been living in village Suwap of Hakumat Phalodi of the erstwhile State of Jodhpur from before the 15th century. The founder of this clan ‘Kiniya’ lived at Khod in the area of Kathiawar with his clansmen. His grandson’s grandson Bhimal left his ancestral home in the 13th century and like many of his caste proceeded to Jaisalmer and Marwar. He ultimately reached Janglu then ruled by Rai Sankhla from whom Bhimal received a grant of land. He founded a village named Kiniya-ki-Basti and lived there.
Meha followed Bhimal four generations later. He was a contemporary of Meha of the Mangaliya clan who ruled the area of Jodhpur State now called Magaliyawati. The Mangalias are an offshoot of the Gahlots of Mewar and are not many in number. Mangaliya Meha was a holy man and is included among the five holy men of Marwar viz. Pabu Rathore, Harboo Sankhla, Meha Mangalia, Ramdeo Tanwar, and Goga Chouhan. He granted village Suwa-Brahmin-Ki-Dhani to Meha Kiniya. The place was renamed Suwap and is to this day called by this name.
Birth of Karniji
Meha Kiniya married the granddaughter of Adha Mandha the lord of village Adha on the border of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. Her name was Devalbai. To this couple was born at village Suwap which is nearly 20 miles south-east of Phalodi; Bhagwati Karniji on Asoj Shukla 7th of Vikram Samvat 1444.
The birth was the long-awaited culmination of the prayers and piety of Mehaji Kiniya, the father of Bhagwati Karniji, and a great votary of Hinglaj. He had, in quest of the boon, undertaken the long and arduous journey to Hinglaj in Las Bela of present-day Pakistan.
Neither Meha nor his consort Deval Devi, were surprised or pained by this birth of the seventh successive girl child, as Adya Shakti had revealed Her decision, to reward their devotion by being born in their home, in a dream which Deval Devi had while she carried the child in her womb. Bhagwati Karniji who was, on birth, named Ridhi Kanwar was born after an abnormally long gestation period.
Customary Surya Pujan was performed at an auspicious hour on the seventh day after the birth. Relatives and friends assembled at Meha’s place had wished that the child would be a son and hoped that the birth would be celebrated with joy and festivity befitting the occasion and the status of the parents. Among them, the most important and also, as would be presently revealed, the most conspicuous was Meha’s sister. Eagerly she entered the newly cleaned and purified maternity chamber ahead of others before Surya Pujan to bless the child and claim long-expected gifts of ornaments and clothes, her due on the birth of a nephew.
Now, relatives and friends who had long and anxiously prayed for a brother for Meha’s six daughters born in a row were naturally grieved and dismayed and the newborn’s aunt could not make any secret of her disapproval. Being the nearest relative, she was naturally most disappointed by this unwelcome arrival and gave vent to her ill-concealed feeling by striking-more perhaps in anger than play-the unwanted, innocent Babe with the back of her fingers. The striking fingers were impaired to the wonder of all who saw and heard of it.
The light but well-deserved punishment that the aunt received for unjust physical violence to the Infant was the Incarnation’s first miracle. Grief and dismay among relatives and friends vanished, when witnessing the miracle, they realized their good luck. Incidentally, the incident provided an appropriate second and the more commonly known name for the Divine Child, as taking the clue from Meha’s remark that the child could do things and was in other words Karni, people began calling Her-Karni, the Doer. The occasion was celebrated with rejoicing and thus a day that had begun with a note of regret ended amidst joy and festivity.
Experience of divine power in a mortal is the result of purity of body, mind, and soul achieved by adherence to cherished traditions of a race. A society possessing such traditions and resultant purity alone can be chosen for receiving incarnations, and the Charans are, legitimately, proud of the fact that Bhagwati chose their community again and again for being born to redeem the pledge given by Lord Krishna on the eve of Mahabharat to appear, when the situation demanded, for establishing moral and spiritual values.
The Charan community has had the good fortune of being the special favorite of Maha Shakti. Incarnations of Shakti born in this community are worshipped all over Western India. While the worship of a large number of these Goddesses of the people is confined to small areas and distinct castes, the important ones like Bhagwati Awar, Karni, Khodiyar, Barwari, Bechra, etc. are worshipped all over the region, not only by Rajputs and Charans but by all Hindus, and till lately by some Mohammedans.
The special status enjoyed by the Charans and the favored treatment and patronage they received from Maha Durga is a fair reward for the single-minded devotion of the Charans to the Shakti cult. Every Charan, man, and woman, is a devotee of Bhagwati Shakti. Every Charan girl believes that she possesses more than average godliness. She well realizes the responsibility of living up to the best traditions of the community, chosen by Bhagwati Durga for fulfilling her promise of coming to the world’s rescue when the situation demands. The high character and the clean and pious life of Charans in general and Charan ladies, in particular, is the reason if there can be any, for the selection of this small community for this important favor.
Unfortunately, the little that is known about Charans, to people not inhabiting Western India, is not correct. Since some information about them is necessary for adequate knowledge about Bhagwati Karniji, it will be fit and proper to give important particulars about them.
The Charans are to be found in Western India and have on account of their erudition, loyalty and courage enjoyed a high status in the parts inhabited by them-status very much higher than their numbers warrant. The Charan inspired the Rajput in the face of adversity to live up to the high traditions of his race, fought his battles by his side, chronicled his martyrdom and valiant deeds in immortal verse, and generally acted as his friend and philosopher. The chosen of Saraswati he raised in an early era, centuries before some modern Indian languages acquired any form, the dialect of the desert to the status of a rich language, possessing in the opinion of most scholars the world’s finest Veer-Ras poetry.
On the authority of ancient texts, they claim descent from the Charans who accompanied King Prithvi Vallabh from the Swarga and settled in Telang Desh settled on them by King Prithvi. Col. Tod of Annals fame, impressed by their physique, nonchalant bearing, and handsome features, thought they were migrants from the West of our country. Dr. K. R. Qanungo in his article on ‘The Role of non-Rajputs in the History of Rajputana’ has inter-alia, said that:
“The Charan does not claim emergence from any limb of Brahma like other castes of Hindu Society. Surajmal Mishran, the great Charan Poet Laureate of Bundi Court in the second half of the 19th century, in his grand epic the Vansabhasker, traces the origin of the Charans to the Suta, referred jointly with the Maghadha in the Mahabharata; others of this fraternity claim that Charans came down to earth in the company of the Kshatriyas. ”
“Whatever the origin, the Charan, and the Rajput in historical times are found inseparable like body and soul. In the social fabric of Rajasthan, the Charan occupies an intermediate position between the Brahman and the Rajput and in character combines the characteristics of the Rajput with those of the Brahman. The Charan is not a beggarly Wandering minstrel as the general impression goes. The Charan was the esteemed and faithful companion of the Rajput, sharing his ammal (opium) and half of his loaf in adversity and receiving his extravagant bounty in prosperity. He followed his client chief on horseback to the thickest of fight where the poetic fire of his geet of old gave a Rajput ‘the strength of ten’ of the field of carnage. The post of honor at the main gate of the princely castle belonged to the premier Charan who haughtily demanded his neg there from the bridegroom’s party, and whose privilege it was to open that gate on the foe in times of sally and receive the first blow of the hostile sword.”
“The Charans as a class were always humored and honored wherever a Rajput, who cared for his reputation did ever live, because the Charan’s tongue would cut both ways, and cut deeper than the katar (broad sword) of a valiant foe. But for this eternal dread of satires and unsavory reflections, the Charan, as well as his counterpart in other climes, the minstrel and the chronicler, would have starved in the middle ages, whether of the East or of the West. ”
(i) Maharana Sanga placed Maheyariya Haridas on the throne of Chittor.
(ii) Maharana Jagat Singh gave Kaviraja Karnidan greatest respect
करना रो जगपत कियो, कीरत काज कुरब्ब,
मन जिण धोखो ले मुवा, शाह दीलीह सरब्ब।
The desire to get the respect that Karnidan received from Maharana Jagat Singh was carried by all the Kings of Delhi to their graves.
“The Charan was not the proverbial strife-monger between rival clans adding fuel to the fire of fray on a point of honor. He was rather an agent of peace in the feud torn land of the Rajputs. The typical Charan of Rajputana was fearless of speech, true of his word unto death, kindly and charitable to all, and genuinely devoted to his country’s good and the welfare of the Kshatriyas, particularly. The Charan, though as sensitive and proud as the Rajput excelled the Rajput in humane virtues, moral courage, and political morality. His weapon against the Rajput was only his moral force backed by a superstition; namely, the threat to kill himself and thereby bring upon the obdurate Rajput, the wrath of gods. The Charan was classed with ‘the cow and the Brahman’, whose slaughter was forbidden to the Rajput. Next to the Rajput, only the Charan enjoyed the privilege of giving sarna (protection) under his roof. When rival sects indulged in civil feuds, both sides would send their women and children to the houses of the Charans, which were a haven of refuge in a demilitarized zone, as it were, though within striking distance of skirmishes. Thus, the inviolability of the Charan’s home saved the seed of the clan when its adults were killed in insane feuds. A single determined Charan, rushing in between the ranks of fighting warriors, sometimes stopped the bloodshed. If the exhortation of the well-wishing Charan went unheeded, he would kill himself with his katar in the living faith that no Rajput would dare to cross the ban of a Charan’s blood. This was no fiction but a long-established institution in the code of honor and morality baked by a religious awe in that land of eternal vendetta. ”
“The Charan’s patriotism, courage, and devotion earned for his community a precedence over all other castes inclusive of the Brahman in the customary law of the land. Notable Brahmans, Vaishyas, and Kayesthas were some times the recipients of such distinctions of a first-grade chief as tazim and langar (reception by standing and the gift of gold anklet): but these privileges and distinctions were personal with them only, whereas in the case of a Rajput or a Charan the same honors once conferred were meant in perpetuity for their successors, unless definitely withdrawn by the ruling chief. ”
“The Charans were more liberal in their social outlook than the Brahmans. Unlike the Brahmans, they would join Rajputs in jovial gatherings, take flesh and liquor, and food cooked by other 0castes. Like the Rajput, they belong mainly to the study cult of Shakti worship. They are in general worshippers of Mataji (Divine Mother or Her incarnations). When two Charans meet, they greet one another not with the usual ‘Ram, Ram’ but with Jai Shri Mataji. Mata is an incarnation of Shakti and there are several shrines of more than one Mata or incarnations of saintly Charan ladies of old with miraculous powers. We have it on the authority of Guleri that the shrine of Karniji of the village of Deshnok near Bikaner is held in greatest reverence by the Charans and Rajputs. ”
Resisting the temptation of quoting in extenso from Dr. Qanungo, to provide the reader with an opportunity to acquaint himself with the views of an eminent scholar expressing himself in a masterly style. was well nigh impossible notwithstanding the slight digression and it is to be confidently expected that the reader shall pardon this.
About an illustrious Charan Kaviraja Karnidan, Tod has said as follows: ‘Karni Kaviraja. . . . . . . . was at once a politician, a warrior, and a scholar and in each capacity has left ample proofs of his abilities. In the first he took a distinguished part in all the events of the civil wars, in the second, he was one of the few who survived combats almost without parallel in the annals even of Rajpoot chivalry, and as a scholar, he has left us, in the introduction to his work, (entitled Suraj Prakash of 75000 stanzas) the most instructive proof, not only of inheriting the poetic mantle of his fathers but of the course he pursued for the maintenance of its lustre. . . . . . . . Those who desire to see, under a new aspect, an imperfectly known but interesting family of the human race, will be made acquainted with the qualifications of our bardic historians and the particular code of study which fitted Karma ‘to sit in the gate of Jodegir’, and add a new book to the Chronicles its Kings’
Reverting to the text, it may be said that though enough historical and epigraphical evidence of the Puranic version of the origin of Charans is as difficult to muster as evidence of the origin of the four varnas from the limbs of Brahmaji, there is unexceptionable evidence of the fact that whenever and wherever an additional Charan clan was needed, the initial stock was very often furnished by the Rajputs. Most of the present-day Charan clans, including the Kiniya clan in which Bhagwati Karniji was born, trace ancestry to Rajput stock. It is because of this intimate association, these ties of tradition and blood that the Charan and Rajput are culturally akin. Their customs, beliefs, behavior patterns, and values, and to a certain extent interest have over the past few centuries been identical.
This close affinity supplemented to a very great extent by the general qualities of Charans and the fact that Shakti chose this caste for its incarnation is responsible for the extraordinary and uncommon respect which every Charan, learned or otherwise, received, over the ages, from every Rajput-alike from mighty rulers at one end to dedicated humble soldiers on the other.
The chapter may appropriately be closed by quoting from Maharaja Man Singh of Jodhpur-the great yogi, statesman, musician, poet, and warrior, who was better qualified than anyone else, in that era of turmoil and war, to talk about Charan: and who admired their poetic excellence and steadfast courage :
अकल विद्या चित उजला, अधको धरमाचार,
वधता रजपूतां विचै, चारण बातां च्यार।
आछा गुण कहण बाणपण आछी, मोटव बुध में न को मणा,
राजां सुजश चहुं जुग राखे, ताकव दीपक छभा तणा।।१।।
भूपालां वातां हद भावे, शबद सवावे घणा सकाज,
देह दराज दीशता डारण, राजां बिच सोहे कवराज।।२।।
राजी सरब सभा ने राखे, सहज सभावों घणा शिरे,
धजवड़ हथां मारका घूतां, कव रजपूतां अमर करे।।३।।
आखे मान सुणों अधपतियां, खत्रियों कोई न करजो खीज,
वरदायक वहता मद वारण, चारण बड़ा अमोलक चीज।।४।।
The Charans excel the Rajput in four things namely brains, education, purity of heart, and religious piety.
The Charans, capable of discerning distinction describe it well and, thus, spread the fame of good kings around. They are highly intelligent and illuminate the Court by their presence.
Kings immensely relish their conversation; their impressive physique and handsome features give these poet-kings (Charans)
a regal bearing and as such they do not look out of place among Kings.
They keep the gathering in good humor and excel in good behavior. These poets immortalize the valiant Rajputs and are themselves, great warriors.
Listen to Maan, and resent not, O ! Kings, the Charans are verily invaluable.
On this community was conferred, appropriately, the honor and distinction of once again giving to the country another incarnation of Maha Shakti for blessing the foundations of mighty Rathore Kingdoms in the Thar Desert which, thanks to the heroic sacrifices of the Rajputs, beholden as always to Her blessings, saved Hinduism from the marauding treachery of proselytizing faiths and enabled it to claim its due heritage; and, once again, establish itself when the opportunity arrived. This incarnation was Bhagwati Karniji of Deshnok.
Chapter II – Early Life of Karniji
Suwa Brahman obtains a Boon
The village, in which Bhagwati Karniji was born came to be known as Suwap after Suwa, a Brahman, who had built a cottage and settled there. He was influential, prosperous, and pious and had adopted the then very lucrative profession of lending money to Jagirdars. Though he married thrice, none of his wives bore a son. Those jealous of his influence and prosperity made fun of the old man’s inability to beget a son predicting a troublesome death for the son-less millionaire. Pained by this whispering campaign, he sought the help of the Divine Child and prayed for the boon of a son. The child Goddess graciously granted a boon to the pious Brahman and a son was born to Suwa in due course.
Fortune began favoring Meha from the day of the new arrival. Providence smiled and day by day the ascending star of his great good luck brought him success and prosperity and saved him from death caused by a snake bite.
People, far and near, soon learned of the aforementioned and other miracles. The unhappy and the sick converged on Suwap in large numbers and returned satisfied and happy; their wounds healed, and prayers answered. An exhaustive list of all boons conferred by Bhagwati in Her incarnation as Karniji and miracles attributed to Her is indeed not available. Even the well-known miracles are too numerous to be narrated, described, or even cataloged here. We will, therefore, seek the reader’s indulgence and request him to be content with knowledge of a few of the outstanding events of Her divine life.
Pugal and Rao Shekha
Often associated, perhaps erroneously, with Padmini, Pugal-situated 50 miles west of Bikaner, was during Karniji’s childhood ruled by Rao Shekha, a mighty warrior and a proud Bhati Chieftain, whose small Kingdom was finding it difficult to stand frequent onslaughts by the hordes of the ruler of Multan, particularly because his East was now exposed to danger on account of the rising power of the Rathores rapidly expanding their domains.
Like a boar at bay, Rao Shekha made sallies against encircling opponents well aware of the limitation that in the thinly populated desert he could not hope to muster any large army. His followers made up for their number, however, by proficiency in handling arms and the speed of the sallies. He harassed Multan by frequent raids and protected his eastern rear by fortifications of sorts, by diplomacy and the support of other old dynasties who shared with him suspicion against the ascending Rathore star. The resources of his desert domain being insufficient to maintain even the small army that he needed, he was forced to lead plundering raids into the distant fertile and prosperous towns and villages of Multan and Sindh to obtain the wealth of rich merchants and jewelers. Indeed, it was because of these raids that he incurred the displeasure of the much larger Multan Kingdom and the ruler of Multan organized punitive raids on Shekha’s domains but had little success in chastising his clever and courageous opponent.
Rao Shekha’s Rani was a pious lady devoted to the Shakti cult. Like every Rajput lady, she prayed for the welfare of her warrior spouse. Convinced that Karniji was an incarnation of Bhagwati Awadji, the tutelary of the Bhatis-the clan of her husband-she exhorted her husband to obtain Karniji’s blessing.
Rao Shekha Pays Homage
While on his way to one of the frequent expeditions against his enemies, Rao Shekha made for Suwap to pay homage and obtain Karniji’s blessings. Just outside the village, he met a girl aged about 15 carrying a lunch basket and a small earthen pot filled with curds. Inquiries and intelligent guesswork soon revealed that the pedestrian was no other than the Devi Herself carrying lunch for Meha who was at the farm. Alighting from their horses and camels Rao Shekha and his warriors bowed and touched Her feet and sought blessings, and the prosperity of their line.
Feeding Shekha and his Troops
Karniji requested them to proceed to her father’s kotri (male apartment of a Rajput house, also used as a guest house) and await her till she returned after handing over the lunch basket to her father. The Rao begged to be excused on the plea that the fact that their wish of seeing Her had been fulfilled halfway made him conclude that the omens, when he left his territory, were good and he would be well advised to take advantage of these good omens and consequent blessings from Her to proceed forthwith to his destination and success.
“I do not want to stand in the way or disturb your self-confidence. Nevertheless, as your hostess, I must fulfill my duties.
I cannot allow you or your company to leave without partaking of lunch which I propose to provide, since you are in such a hurry, here and now”. “Please take your seats”, said Karniji. Shekha replied, “Esteemed Sister, we are about 140 persons ! How can you possibly provide lunch for all here and now, when all you carry is a small pot of curds and a few sogras (Bajra bread) ?”
“Dear brother, I will serve whatever I have. You will please accept my frugal fare as Lord Krishna accepted Sudama’s rice. Since you are unable to visit my house, I have to make do with what I have”
Rao Shekha instructed his warriors to take whatever was served and not to embarrass the hostess by requesting for a second helping.
The guests sat down and Karniji began serving meals. She would empty the curd pot and the basket in each plate and proceed to the next plate by which time the pot and the basket would again be full for being emptied in the next plate. To the wonder of all present, provisions available more than sufficed for each one of the 140 soldiers and their leader and they recalled a similar miracle by Bhagwati Barwadiji who fed Maharana Hamir and his army on way to the Dwarka Shrine from a single pitcher. Maharana Hamir consoled by such divine grace prayed for success and the benign Barwadiji graciously granted him the boon of victory over the enemies who had compelled him to leave Chittor with the help of horses to be provided by Her son Baru.
Rao Shekha lost no time in praying for a similar boon of victory over the more numerous enemy he was determined to engage for the benefit of Dharma, and this was granted.
His party was not, however, devoid of a doubting Thomas. The Omen-reader (शुकनी) shaking his head opined that good omens that they had at the time of leaving Pugal had been neutralized or rather fulfilled by their eating a sour thing-curds offered by Karniji-and he was very skeptical of victory. The Bhatis, who to this day excel in Omen-interpretation, have always placed uncommon faith in their Shakunis. Whispers begun by this prediction based upon the widely held belief that sour eatables, inclusive of curds, are a bad omen reached Rao Shekha’s ears in due course. He thought of keeping it to himself and of determining his future course as he considered best after taking leave of Karniji, He did not, however, succeed in keeping the prediction and his reservations secret from his Hostess. Reluctantly he had to communicate them to the Goddess. The Goddess informed him that blessings bestowed spontaneously by divine inspiration would stand notwithstanding the correct interpretation by the Shakuni. Having no desire to enter into an argument and having thus reassured the esteemed guest, Karniji bade him bon voyage. The Shakuni, emboldened by a part of the comment, refused to agree with the remainder and compelled Karniji by his obduracy to strike a balance between the blessings and prediction by ordaining that the Omen would apply to the Omen interpreter alone while the others would be protected by the boon and that hereafter curds would be a good Omen bringing success to the person who while commencing a mission omit meets someone carrying curds.
Post-haste Rao Shekha and his mighty stalwarts armed by this boon made for their destination, took their more numerous enemies in his own den by surprise, and won a convincing victory by putting them to the sword. The attackers suffered no damage except for the loss of the Shakuni. The Rao’s faith in Karniji was strengthened by this singular event. Considering it only appropriate to thank his benefactor before doing anything else, he repaired to Suwap.
Reaching his destination, Rao Shekha bowed and touched the feet of the Goddess and profusely thanking the Divine Being prayed.
“Since you are born a Charan and I am a Rajput by birth we of course, by custom, belief, and tradition, a brother and sister, but I would be very happy if, for my satisfaction, you kindly agree to tie a Rakhi on my wrist and accept brother’s presents according to our Hindu custom”
Karniji, who did not feel the necessity for this ritual and read in it Shekha’s desire for an impossible boon, was inclined to refuse. Her parents, however, prevailed upon Her to accept the request. This Rakhi ceremony put Her relations with the Bhatis of Pugal, the proud owners of the Bhati throne from Gazani which was one of their nine important capitals on a special footing.
Rao Shekha requests for Immortality
The Ruler of Pugal and his followers partook of Meha’s hospitality for three days and celebrated their recent victory by feasts and rejoicings. On the eve of his departure, he gave expression to his desire for the boon of immortality. This was at the back of his mind when he prayed for Rakhi and was the cause of Karniji’s hesitation.
The Sister on her part smiled at the preposterous prayer and said, “You are not my dear brother, talking sense. Men are mortal. How can I make you immortal when I am myself not immune from mortality and must depart when the time comes?”
Prepared to make the best use of available arguments, Rao Shekha pleaded, “Unlike other mortals, I am the Rakhi bandha Bhai of the incarnation of Bhagwati Awadji, our tutelary deity. I am an ardent servant in the cause of Dharma and entitled as such to special consideration. ”
Still smiling Karniji told him that Dharma was usually the first to suffer at the hands of the receiver of such boons as is amply proved by the conduct of Rawan, Hirnyakashyap, etc. , that the request cannot be granted and that he shall have to leave the world like all other beings when the conjunction of ordained circumstances and events takes place.
‘Then you can at least let me know the circumstances and events which would be the occasion for my death, so that if the conjunction of events is difficult, thus forewarned, I may prevent the simultaneous happening of these events. ‘
Prediction about Rao’s death
“You are again mistaken. To prevent events from taking place at the ordained time is beyond human competence. For instance, you are ordained to breathe your last (1) on an Amavasya (2) after partaking of the meat of a black ram (3) while sleeping in the shade of an aak tree on a (4) khimp string cot. And though like bystanders, you may believe it possible to prevent the conjunction of these circumstances and thus control your destiny, it will not be possible. You shall depart at the pre-ordained time and these circumstances would at that time obtain, your own strivings and the efforts of your well-wishers and friends notwithstanding. ”
Vithoo Bhomji of Deshnok has recorded the forecast about Shekha’s life in the following Rajasthani verse:
बल्यो शिखर बीनवै, आप तदरुपी ईश्वर,
करो अमर करनल्ल, करो छन मूझ कृपाकर।।१।।
इम करनल आखियो, अमर कुरण होय इती इल,
पालस्यो चत्र परेज, चार जुग रहस्यो अवचल।।२।।
तस खींप विछायत, आकतल, शरद तुंड हुड कृष्ण वर,
इकठी न चीज करस्यो इती, इल ऐते रहस्यो अमर।।३।।
Shekha prayed, “Bhagwati, you are an incarnation. Make me immortal, Kindly grant me your protection.”
Thus, replied Karniji, “Who is immortal? You shall live so long as you take precautions and do not allow the conjunction of these four circumstances/events viz. (1) Amavasya (2) khimp cot (3) shade of an aak tree, and (4) meat of black ram.
Rao Shekha was pleased. He thought he had got the best of a hopeless bargain because he believed preventing the ordained situation should not be difficult for a forewarned person with resources like his and he left in the belief that immortality was within his reach. Needless to say, that precautions taken by him were of little avail and he died in the predicted circumstances but of this at the appropriate time. For the present, suffice it to say that he left pleased and self-assured.
A Hindu mother begins to worry about her daughter’s marriage from the date of the child’s birth and nags her life partner into sharing the worry when the girl child is in her teens. Deval Devi and Meha, the mother and father respectively of Karniji, were no exception. Their worry about finding a suitable spouse for their divine child increased with the passage of time and knew no bounds when they found time had quickly slipped through their hands while they were with wonder and awe watching Her miracles and She had attained the age of 27, an uncommon age indeed for a Hindu girl to remain unmarried.
Neighbors and relations were not averse to use the old couple’s predicament for indulging in a whispering campaign. They accused Meha of callous indifference, lethargy, and miserliness and refused to consider the fact that the old father’s repeated searches had taken him nowhere near a young Charan, of an appropriate clan, fit to wed his daughter. The fact that his daughter’s fame as an incarnation had spread far and wide and that the parents had allowed 27 years to slip by were perhaps some of the reasons for his inability to find a suitable family willing to enter into the desired relationship.
Selection of Depaji
Karniji did not fail to notice the anxiety of Her parents. At the opportune time, She conveyed through Her friend, the daughter of Suwa, the reassuring message that Meha need not wander in search of a boy as She was to marry Depaji, the son of Kelu of Rohadiya clan and Jagirdar of Sathika. Kelu was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and his prayers for a son were answered by the Lord expressing a desire to take an amsha (partial) incarnation at the devotee’s house and such an amsha incarnation was Depaji. Only such an incarnation of Lord Shiva could have been considered for holding the hand of Karniji, an Incarnation of Uma. Meha was relieved. On an auspicious day, he proceeded to Kelu’s village with the offer of his daughter’s hand for Depaji. The very warm welcome he received made him feel as if he was awaited and his joy was great when the offer was promptly and gladly accepted.
Chapter III-Marriage and Sathika
As is customary the first reception was arranged at the boundary of the village. Meha with kinsmen and friends all riding bedecked camels or caparisoned horses awaited the bridegroom at the point where the Sathika-Suwap road entered the boundary of village Suwap. Music played and Meha’s drums kept time. All eyes were on the horizon looking for the marriage party. A hearty cheer went up when the much-awaited group was first sighted.
The party was substantially smaller than expected. This naturally disheartened the receptionists. Dampened spirits were however revived when amongst the chanting of mantras by Brahmans, singing by the Damamies, geet recitation by the Motisars, and Raos (Bhats), Meha applied tilak on the forehead of his prospective son-in-law and heartily embraced Kelu. Opium was affectionately and insistently offered and accepted. Negs (customary gifts) were given to the Brahmans, Motisars, Raos, Rawat’s, and Damamies as also to village servants like Suthars (Carpenters), Luhars (Blacksmiths), Kumbars (Potters), Meghwals (Messengers), etc.
The two sides were only waiting for the reception rituals to be completed to jump on their mounts and race for the village. Each side endeavored to beat the other-few holds being forbidden. Urging their mounts to breakneck speed and pulling riders of the other party from their mounts each was possessed by the desire to reach the destination ahead of others. Arriving at the village quadrangle they forgot all rivalry and warmly embraced their opponents. Wedding guests at this point parted company from the groom who rode towards the gate of Meha’s house leaving his companions to enjoy the warm hospitality and sumptuous fare provided by Meha.
Amidst the sounding of trumpets, beating of drums, and recitation of ballads praising the munificence of his ancestors, Depaji on a prancing stallion, tastefully covered with brocade cloth, colorful saddle, and weighty ornaments made for the main gate (सिरै डियोढ़ी). There Karniji’s mother awaited him at the head of kinswomen, all properly veiled and richly attired. In her hand, she carried a silver thal containing articles for the aarati and welcome. Depaji was warmly and affectionately received in the household where the divine Bride surrounded by Her friends and maids awaited him.
Nuptials, Dowry & Departure
The nuptials were solemnized in the prescribed shastriya way. The ceremony was dignified and formal. Thus, at the most appropriate pious moment on Asadh Sudi 9th of Samvat 1473 Meha gave his beloved daughter Karniji to the divine Depaji.
The groom and party partook of Meha’s hospitality and enjoyed rich and tasty dishes and rare asavs and wines for three or four days. Mehaji provided a large dowry of precious ornaments, rich dresses, and livestock. At an auspicious hour, Depaji bade goodbye to his host and left for Sathika accompanied by Karniji and her 200 favorite cows but leaving behind most of the other dowry consisting of 200 camels, ornaments, more cattle, and attendants for being collected later.
Revelation to Depaji
On the eve of the marriage, Bhagwati had told Her father and after the marriage, She told Her husband Depaji that She entered the marriage bond for the sake of Hindu tradition and out of respect for the feelings, beliefs, and wishes of Her parents and near and dear ones; that on account of Her special mission, viz: strengthening of Dharma which she had to fulfill Her physical form was impervious to common bodily feelings and desires and that for the satisfaction of these, for a conjugal life, and for the furtherance of his line, Depa would have to marry another girl.
We do not know if Depa ever intended to give expression to his desire to assert his rights Yet for his satisfaction, Karniji appeared to him in Her divine form while they were on the way to Sathika. The appearance of a dazzlingly handsome Goddess with a supernatural hallow in place of the plain-looking girl whom he had married was welcomed by the fortunate Depa as the culmination of all his prayers and pious life. He bowed and touched the feet of the revelation, thanked his great good luck, and became a new inspired man free of doubts and full of faith. In parenthesis, it may be stated here, though it will not be in chronological order, that latter in Samvat 1474, Depa married a second time and his considerable progeny now living in Deshnok around Karniji’s premier temple, are descended from the four sons born out of this second wedlock with Karniji’s sister Smt. Gulab Bai.
Contact with a pious soul gives joy and contentment. Karniji and the party en route to Sathika camped at a few wayside villages. People in large numbers gathered at Her camps. She helped them overcome their woes and troubles with Her wise advice and healing. She granted the boon of plentiful water in the village well at Keliya which is since then called Karanisar and gave a promise to the old mother of carpenter Karna that if her son who was an expert at constructing wells needed help in the event of an accident, she would come to his rescue.
Peace at Sathika
At the father-in-law’s place, Her exemplary pious life was a source of inspiration to others. Her advice and precept guided them on the path of rectitude and Her healing touch and consoling words were always readily available in times of woe and adversity. She dispensed justice to those who ought it, put the management of the village affairs on a sound footing, rebuked the unjust, encouraged the industrious, and improved public works.
Departure from Sathika
Not unlike other desert villages, Sathika suffered from a chronic shortage of potable water. Its single well had little water and residents pulled on with whatever little they could get. Not infrequently most people left the village, in years of poor rainfall in search of water and pastures. Water shortages worsened with the arrival of the large herd of about 400 cows and 200 camels as presents from Meha for his two daughters-Karniji and Gulab Bai married to Depa. The villagers feared that the available water would all be consumed by the newly added livestock and little if any, would be left for the rest of the village. Their fears and resentment soon developed into active opposition. The menfolk hesitated and thought the matter could be taken up when the situation worsened, but the ladies could not keep their hostility secret. A few of them faced Karniji and told Her that they could not tolerate the existing state of affairs, as the well would surely dry up if for the use of this large herd water in excess of the normal yield of the well was drawn for any length of time. They opposed the drawing of more water than was taken out in the past and insisted on Her herd satisfying itself with water equal to Her husband’s share in the village.
Karniji appreciated the apprehensions of the villagers. In Rajasthan’s desert villages potable water problem has ever existed and people have tried to solve it by sharing the inconvenience resulting from scarcity. She agreed to make other arrangements when the situation demanded. Her kinswomen were, however, not prepared to take any chance and postpone adoption of the system of drawing water by turns till late in the year. They saw no Injustice in limiting water supply to the consumer’s share in the well in disregard of the consumer’s requirements.
Finding that the hostile female deputation was adamant and not prepared to make even a small sacrifice for the sacred cows, Karniji was naturally somewhat annoyed and said, “Together with my family, cattle, and livestock I will leave your village tomorrow morning. I will go where my beloved cows get plentiful sweet water and good pasturage. You can stay behind, use My share also and continue to suffer the hardships of living in a village that has insufficient quantities of water. ”
At surprise next morning, Karniji prepared to leave Sathika bag and baggage. Simultaneously, the villagers to their consternation found that the availability of water in their well was fast diminishing and the salinity was on the increase. Realizing that the previous better performance of the well was attributable to the blessings of the cows and Karniji’s divine presence, they collectively begged pardon of Her, requested Her to stay, and prayed that the condition of their well should not deteriorate.
Moved by these prayers, she mercifully assured them that the water would become potable. She, however, declined to cancel Her departure and ordered Her servants to proceed to Janglu and await Her arrival and decision about the future course of action. Thus, on Jeth Sudi 9th of Samvat 1475, Karniji bade goodbye to Sathika for the sake of Her beloved cows.
Arrival at Janglu
Janglu a mere ten miles from Sathika had like it only one well with insufficient water. Karniji’s caravan reached Janglu in the afternoon, a couple of hours after the cattle. The herdsmen took the journey-tired thirsty cattle to the well. The men at the well asked the herdsmen to hold back the cows till livestock belonging to the village chief Rao Kanha drank their fill. Holding back thirsty cows from a trough full of water was no easy task for the herdsmen who were moreover not too willing to do so. The result was an exchange of hot words between the servants of Karniji and Rao Kanha, noise report soon reached the Rao.
Rao Kanha was at the time he got this news entertaining his guest and brother Rao Ridmal, son of Rao Chunda Rathore the founder of the Rathore dynasties of Rajasthan. Rao Ridmal, deprived of his patrimony, because of his father’s partiality for his favorite queen’s son and Ridmal’s stepbrother Satta, was biding his time at village Chundasar. On every Shukla Chaturdashi, he came to Karniji’s village to pay homage. Learning of Karniji’s arrival, Rao Ridmal suggested that he and his host should avail themselves of this opportunity to pay respects to the Devi. Kanha turned down the request saying he had no time to pay respects to such wandering Charanis. Ridmal was pained by these words but instead of starting an argument; repaired alone to Karniji’s camp and paid respects.
Prophecy for Ridmal
To Karniji Ridmal said that he was, thanks to her blessings as well and happy as a patrimony-deprived landless Rajput wasting his time in pursuits not befitting a prince, could be. Touched by the extent of the devotee’s frustration Bhagwati reassured him with these words, “As I see it these lands shall be yours, and you and your descendants shall conquer vast territories and rule happily for generations. ”
An overjoyed Rao Ridmal bowed and thanked Her from the bottom of his heart. Thus, was predicted for the descendants of Rao Ridmal, the founding of the kingdoms of Jodhpur and Bikaner, which have protected the western borders of India against aggression and religious bigotry.
The prophecy enraged Kanha, Rao Ridmal’s brother, and chief of Janglu, who was even otherwise not very amicable towards Karniji. This prophecy and the quarrel between his servants and those of the Charan Devi over water for the thirsty cows added fuel to the fire.
Karniji had declined Rao Ridmal’s request to send the cows to Chundasar which did not have any water problem stating that God-willing there would be no problem in the Johad (grassland) where they were. Rao Ridmal left for Chundasar and the same night, to the great good fortune of the cows, the area received good rains that solved the water and fodder problem.
Kanha who was, merely waiting for Ridmal to depart. sent his Rajputs Arjun and Vija Udawat to the Johad to turn out Karniji and the cows and save the grass for his horses. She requested the Udawats to convey the following message to Rao Kanha,
“Kanha, you are the son of Rao Chunda and a Rathore. Relations between Vithoo Charans and Rathore Rajputs are several generations old and very intimate, You have plenty of lands. This Johad is extensive and the grass will more than suffice for your horses and these cows even if they graze here till next monsoon. We are not putting you to any loss or inconvenience. You forbade your well to my cows Fortunately, thanks to Maha Shakti, they had water because of rains. As a Hindu, you are duty-bound to protect cows and, in the circumstances, there is no harm in allowing us to remain here. ”
Kanha declined to change his decision even after receiving this message. Karniji, however, refused to oblige him as there was no other proper place to take the large herd of cows and other animals and Kanha had no right to turn them out. Altercations between the two sides continued for about seven months when they came to a head.
Kanha sent his servants Arjun and Vija with about 10 others to drive out the cows together with their owners. Arriving at the camp they ordered Karniji’s servants to pack up and leave. They observed that the cowherds were not only disregarding their orders but also completely ignoring them. Enraged further by this response, they began abusing Karniji and her family. The old father in law of Karniji was pained to hear such evil words from the mouths of Rajputs for a Charan and his family. He felt the matter had passed the stage where it could be handled at the level of the servants of the opposing parties. Facing Arjun, he said “It seems you aren’t Rajputs. If you were, you would not abuse”
On Karniji’s intervention and request, however, Kelu agreed to overlook the insult and calmed down. The servants went about their work but Arjun and Vija would not give up abusing. Observing that they were in no mood to see reason and had exceeded the limits of decency, Karniji thundered, “Jackals, leave this place forthwith. ”
To the consternation of their followers, the even otherwise ugly faces of Arjun and Vija assumed similarity with those of jackal’s. Concluding discretion to be the better part of valor, the followers lost no time, first in urging their own innocence and second in leaving the place together with their now jackal-faced leaders.
When Kanha saw the plight of his trusted servants and received a report of the failure of the mission, his anger knew no bounds. Abusing and shouting, he said this obstinate Charan lady seemed to think that such magic tricks would Cow-down Kanha. “She is mistaken. I will teach her a lesson and revenge my faithful servants. Her audacity has exceeded all limits. ”
Rao Ridmal, who happened to be at Janglu on one of his regular pilgrimages to Karniji’s Shrine pleaded with his brother Kanha to see reason and desist from his evil intention of driving out the cows.
These pleadings were in vain. His advice was ignored. The next morning, Kanha at the head of about 50 horsemen, marched on Kelu’s camp. Karniji was in Her morning meditation. Arriving at his destination, Kanha loudly called out, “Where is that sorceress?”
His audience, apprehensive of the probable consequences of these utterances sadly shook their heads. Kanha’s evil ways, they thought were nearing their end. Kanha was not, however, fortunate enough to see the writing on the wall or take the cue from those who knew better. Further enraged by the silence which his query had met, he angrily addressed Kelu and haughtily enquired “Aye Charan ! where is that sorceress Charani? Ask her to dare come out and try her tricks on me?”
Hearing his insolent words, Karniji came out from Her meditation hut and said, “Kanha, I am here. What do you want?”
“Get out this minute, pack up and leave the Johad lock, stock, and barrel. ”
“How are you harmed, Kanha, by our staying here? We are not depriving you of what is legitimately your due, ”
“No, I cannot allow you to stay. Leave my Jagir immediately. ”
“Very well. I may agree but you know I am a devotee of Bhagwati Awadji, and I camped here, not on my own but impelled by instinct directed by my Aradhya Awadji. My prayer kit is in this vicker box (करंड). The simplest way of persuading me to leave is to put this box on my cart If Awadji permits you to do so and allows you to put it on the cart, I will conclude that I am desired by my patron deity to quit and would gladly do so.”
Kanha thereupon ordered one of his servants to put the box on the cart. The servant proceeded to lift the box but failed. Kanha put others also to the task. They too could not lift it. All his fifty followers alighted from their horses, a rope was tied to the karand (box) and all together they pulled, but in vain. The box had become a mountain Kanha alighted from his elephant and put the elephant to the task. Even the elephant failed to dislodge the karand which, in this process suffered some damage to one of its legs. Thereupon Karniji said, “The wishes of Awadji are clear. She does not want us to leave this place. You have been instrumental in damaging one of the legs of this venerable box. By knocking off a portion of the box, you have knocked off a part of your life. ”
“I have seen many a trick. Sorceresses capable of such tricks often come to me. Magic tricks do not impress me. If you are really an Incarnation, as people say, let me know when I shall die. ”
“Why are you obstinately pursuing the path of harm?”
“What harm can come to me from a sorceress? You should be able to predict the time of my death if you are a Devi. Your supernatural claims can be tested immediately. ”
“If you must know it, you shall be dead six months hence. ”
Kanha laughed and said, “You are keeping a long margin Charani ! I will not be able to rebuke you for your false prophecy if you die before the expiry of six months. ”
“Well let it then be two months?”
“Wonderful ! What a comedown. Evil woman, I am a Rajput. I may be called to battle any day and die in less than two months. You hope to make use of my death as proof of your supernatural powers. This is the usual trick of sorceresses. ”
“You are destined to die the day after tomorrow. ”
The foolish and conceited Kanha was adamant. His death called him. Wisdom and foresight forsook him. Haughtily he said, “Good ! this brings us down to three days. That is a long time to wait for ‘O’ Goddess and I do not intend to tolerate your presence in my Johad even for a moment. Aye ! witch ! Why not give a demonstration of your reportedly godly powers right now. ”
These remarks followed by abusive language, insolent behavior, and rough handling of the hungry and thirsty cows by Kanha’s servants at their master’s instance pained all present and the otherwise calm Karniji was exasperated. Drawing a line on the ground with a twig she solemnly said, “All right, if you insist upon proceeding to your doom, it is beyond this line. Cross this and you are dead.”
Kanha whom sense had left and who had forsaken all characteristics of a Rajput was yet left with the temerity to carry out the test. Jumping on his favorite horse, he spurred and urged it to cross the line. The obedient beast complied but as soon as it reached the line, there was a thunderous noise; a lion appeared and struck the death blow on the rider. Vomiting blood, Kanha fell on the line-stone dead.
Arjun and Vija could not stand the sight of the lion and the scene. They died of shock. Their followers ran helter-skelter. When they looked behind, they saw Karniji standing with a trident at the place where they had seen the lion.
Rao Ridmal gets Janglu
This happened on Falgun Sudi 14th of Samvat 1475. As already stated, Rao Ridmal had come to Janglu on his routine visit to Karniji’s shrine. Kanha had met his well-deserved fate by the time Rao Ridmal reached the Johad after tarrying at Janglu for some time. He attended the cremation of Kanha, bathed and then arrived at Karniji’s camp to pay respects. After bowing and respectfully touching Her feet, he sat down. Bhagwati declared him the Raja of Janglu and prophesied that he shall in due time be king of Mandore as well. She advised him to approach his stepmother Mohilaniji (mother of Kanha), to accept her terms of serving her as a son in her old age and ascend Janglu Gadi as her adopted son. Ridmal complied, was adopted, and accepted Raja of Janglu.
The new Raja of Janglu returned to the camp to pay homage to Karniji. He offered to share Janglu immediately and the Kingdom of Mandore when conquered with Karniji as patron deity. Declining the offer, Karniji informed him that acquisition of territories was not her mission. The Johad in their occupancy was enough for Her beloved cows. Governance of territories was the proper domain of Rajas and Rao Ridmal was fully entitled to the prerogatives & privileges of the Kingdom that he acquired with his arms and the blessings of Awad Mata.
Karniji stayed for some more time in the thatched cottages that had been put up when they first arrived. Situated around the point where now stands Nehriji Temple, this settlement was called Karniji’s Dhani. Experiencing need of a permanent settlement in the vicinity, a place with enough underground water about a mile east of the Dhani was selected and here on Saturday Vaisakh Sudi 2nd of Samvat 1476 she laid the foundations of a village which soon prospered and for which Rao Ridmal suggested the name Deshoat (Shield of the land) and hoped, that true to this name it would protect his kingdom.
“Kingdoms”, replied Bhagwatiji “depend for protection of their masters. As Rajputs, he and his descendants should depend on their own might not counting upon anything more than blessings and divine grace which will be theirs so long as they fought for moral values. Neither this seat of Bhagwati nor blessings can save sinners from downfall. It will be improper, therefore, to call it Deshoat. Let it be called Deshnak (Nose of the land) and let it be as important for the prestige and honor of your Kingdom as the nose is for an honorable man. ”
In course of time, Deshnak became Deshnok the present most Important center of pilgrimage for Shakti worshippers of Rajasthan.
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