આમુખ | Prologue

Download (pdf) Right click and choose "save" to download.

Prologue: “A Vaniyan of Morbi Goes to the Machhu’s Waters”

Morbi, a city on the banks of the Machhu River, was not particularly famous. In fact, it was little known outside Gujarat, the western Indian state in which it lay. To be sure, it had once been the envy of many princes on the subcontinent. After Indian unification and independence, however, it had declined in importance. It was a small city with a colorful royal past, a few notable industries, and a handful of imposing monuments. By the late 1970s, all but the most avid students of the Saurashtra Peninsula’s princely history had forgotten the names of Morbi’s kings—save one.

For nearly two hundred years, children all over Gujarat had heard the tale of how Jiyaji Jadeja, Morbi’s ruler at the turn of the nineteenth century, had wronged one of his subjects. “A Vaniyan of Morbi Goes to the Machhu’s Waters”—the song detailing the king’s indiscretion—was a standard in every Gujarati folk singer’s repertoire. It reminded listeners that indecent behavior often carried grave consequences.
King Jiyaji Jadeja ruled over Morbi from 1790 to 1827.3 He gained widespread fame for his bravery, his fierceness, and—above all—his insatiable lust. Despite possessing five wives, he often pursued beautiful commoners; fearing for their lives, most submitted.

But on one occasion—an occasion that would live on in the lore of the Gujarati people—a woman resoundingly rebuffed Jiyaji’s advances, speaking words that would haunt the kingdom long after his passing.
According to the legend, a Vaniyan (merchant woman) of Morbi set out one morning to fetch water from the Machhu River. Descending to water his horse, Jiyaji caught sight of the woman as she walked along the path to the riverbank. Struck by her beauty, the king drew close and leered at her. The ensuing exchange would become familiar to generations of Gujaratis:

He says, Vaniyan, what is the price of your water pots?
Forget about it, Thakor Jiyaji; let it be, King of Morbi. I refuse to set prices!
Your entire harem will be ruined for these water pots!
A Vaniyan of Morbi goes to the Machhu’s waters.

He says, Vaniyan, what is the price of your bangles?
Forget about it, Thakor Jiyaji.
Your elephants will be ruined for these bangles!
A Vaniyan of Morbi goes to the Machhu’s waters.

Then speak up, Vaniyan—the price of your hair-bun?
Your kingdom will be ruined for this hair-bun!
A Vaniyan of Morbi goes to the Machhu’s waters.

Tell me then, Vaniyan—the price of your feet?
Your head will be ruined for these feet!
A Vaniyan of Morbi goes to the Machhu’s waters.

In spite of the woman’s refusal, Jiyaji remained insistent. Left with no escape, the Vaniyan threw herself into the Machhu’s waters. From the shore, the stunned king heard her cry out, “For your indecency, King Jiyaji, you will pay! Seven generations from now, neither your lineage nor your city will remain!” Her curse cast, the woman disappeared under the waters and drowned.

The nameless Vaniyan’s words did not trouble the inhabitants of Morbi. The city went on to grow and flourish under Jiyaji and his descendants. Over time, successive generations of the Jadeja dynasty transformed Morbi into “the Paris of Saurashtra,” described by administrators throughout India as a “model city.”

Nonetheless, the minstrels of Gujarat did not allow the tale of Morbi’s Vaniyan to be forgotten. There would always remain the remote knowledge, shrouded in layers of legend, that the city of Morbi bore a curse that originated in the Machhu River.