Cheti Chand-Sindhi New Year
By Motilal L. Butani
“Whenever sins increase beyond a limit and religion itself is endangered, then I shall come in the form of an Avatar (incarnate) to mitigate the sufferings of my worshippers.”
– Bhagvad Gita
Faith has established Jhulelal as the Asht Dev (Community God) of Sindhis. His birthday ‘Cheti Chand’ – second tithi of Chaitra is auspicious for Sindhis and is celebrated the world over with traditional pomp and gaiety. But how, when and where in history was the Lord of Sindh born? The Hindu legend of Jhulelal or the River Deity has its historical or semi-historical beginnings in Sindh, an erstwhile province of united India and now a state of Pakistan.
During the days of Sapt-Sindhu (land of seven rivers), the mainstream Sindhu and its tributaries were considered life-givers to the people who lived on its banks and drew sustenance from its waters. It was precisely the lure of plentiful water that brought invading hordes of Muslim rulers from the neighbouring Arabian Kingdoms to Sindh and India. Having conquered Sindh and its adjoining territories, they spread Islam at the point of the sword.
In the 10th century AD Mirkshah, a tyrant and a fanatic, ruled Thatta. He was surrounded by sycophants who advised him to “Spread Islam and be granted ‘Janat’ or eternal bliss after death.” Swayed by the promise, Mirkshah summoned the ‘panchs’ (representatives) of the Hindus and ordered them “Embrace Islam or prepare to die.” The terrified Hindus begged Mirkshah for time to consider the ‘shahi firman’ or royal edict. The pompous Mirkshah relented and agreed to give the desperate Hindus forty days to plead with their God.
Faced with imminent death, the Hindus turned to God Varuna, the God of the River, to come to their aid. For forty days, they underwent penance. They neither shaved nor wore new clothes, praying, fasting and singing songs in the praise of God Varuna. They beseeched him to deliver them from the hands of their persecutor. On the fortieth day, a voice was heard from Heaven: “Fear not. I shall save you from the wicked Mirkshah. I shall come down as a mortal and take birth in the womb of Mata Devki in the house of Ratanchand Lohano of Nasarpur.”
The oppressed Hindus now anxiously awaited the birth of their deliverer. After three months, the second tithi of Asu month, they got the confirmation that Mata Devki had indeed conceived. The River God had incarnated himself in her womb. The Hindus rejoiced and praised the Lord. On Cheti Chand, two tithis from the new moon of Chaitra, Mata Devki gave birth to a bonny boy. A miracle hailed the child’s birth. The babe opened his mouth and behold there flowed the Sindhu with an old man sitting cross-legged on a "pala" fish. The "pala" fish as everyone knows is a tasty fish, which always swims against the current. To welcome the newborn avatar, unseasonal clouds gathered and brought down torential rains. The child was named ‘Udaichand’ (Uday in Sanskrit means moonbeams). Udaichand was to be the light in the darkness. An astrologer who saw the child predicted he would grow up to be a great warrior and his fame would outlive the child. Udaichand was also called ‘Uderolal” (Udero in Sanskrit means ‘one who has sprung from water’). Inhabitants of Nasarpur lovingly called the child ‘Amarlal’ (immortal child). The cradle where little Udero rested began to sway to and fro on its own. It is because of this that ‘Uderolal’ became popularly known as ‘Jhulelal’ or the swinging child.
Soon after the child’s birth Mata Devki passed away. A little later Ratanchand remarried. News of the birth of the mysterious child reached Mirkshah who once again summoned the Panchs and repeated his royal threat. Hindus, now quite confident that their savior had arrived, implored him for some more time. The maulvis pressed Mirkshah not to let the Hindus off the hook. But the very thought of the child proving more than a match for him amused the conceited ruler. He, therefore, told the maulvis to wait and watch. As a token of precaution, he asked one of his ministers, Ahirio, to go to Nasarpur to see things first hand. Ahirio did not want to take any chances. So he took along a rose dipped in deadly poison. At the very first glimpse of the child, Ahiro was astonished. He had never seen a child so dazzling or more charming. He hesitated; then mustering courage offered the rose to the child. The child gave a meaningful smile while accepting the rose. He then blew away the flower with a single breath. The flower fell at Ahiro’s feet. Ahiro watched stupefied as the babe changed into an old man with a long beard. All of a sudden the old man turned into a lad of sixteen. And then as Uderolal on horse back with a blazing sword in his hand. There were row upon row of warriors behind him. A cold shiver ran down Ahiro’s spine and he bowed his head in reverence. “Have mercy on me Sindhu Lord,” he prayed “I am convinced.”
On his return Ahirio narrated the miraculous happening to Mirkshah. But Mirkshah was not convinced. “How can a little baby turn into an old man?” he mocked, “It looks like you have been fooled by simple magic. “But in his heart, Mirkshah was afraid. That night he dreamt that a child was sitting on his neck. The vision changed to an old man with a flowing beard. And again to a warrior with a drawn sword confronting Mirkshah on the battle field. Next morning Mirkshah called for Ahirio and gave him orders to counter the threat posed by the child. Ahirio, however, advised Mirkshah not to rush.
Meanwhile, the child Uderolal grew in stature and spirit, performing miracles and comforting the sick. Residents of Nasarpur were fully convinced that God had visited them to fulfill the Gita. Uderolal also received the ‘Gur Mantar’ of ‘Alakh Niranjan’ from Gorakhnath. To earn money for the family, Udero’s step-mother would send him to the market to sell baked beans. Instead of going to the market, Uderoial would go to the banks of the Sindhu River. There, he would distribute half of the beans among beggars, the poor and the sadhus. The other half, he would offer to the Sindhu. He would then spend the rest of the day speaking to little children and the elderly about spiritual wealth. In the evening when it was time to go home, Udero would fish out from the river a container full of fine quality of rice. He would take this home and give it to his stepmother. Growing suspicious about her stepson’s behaviour, one day the stepmother dispatched Ratanchand to follow him. When Ratanchand witnessed the miracle, he bowed to Uderolal from a distance and accepted him as the Savior.
Mirkshah on the other hand was being pressurized by the maulvis to bring Hindu infidels into the fold of Islam. They gave him the ultimatum. “Order the Hindus to convert or be branded as an associate of Kafirs.” Fearing the wrath of the clerics, Mirkshah decided to meet Uderolal face to face. He asked Ahirio to arrange for a private meeting with Udero. Ahirio, who had in the meantime become a devotee of Daryashah, went to the banks of the Indus and pleaded with the Water God to come to his rescue. To Ahirio’s amazement, he saw the same man with white beard floating on a pala fish. Ahirio’s head bowed in adoration and he understood that Uderolal, the Water God, was in fact the other form of Khwaja Khirz. Ahirio then saw Udero leap onto a horse and gallop away with a sword in one hand and a flag in the other. Udero appeared before Mirkshah and explained to the stubborn ruler: “Whatever you see around you is the creation of only one God, whom you call ‘Allah’ and the Hindus call ‘Ishwar.’ The maulvis urged Mirkshah not to pay any heed to the infidel’s talks and to arrest him. Mirkshah ordered his soldiers to arrest Udero. As the officials of the court moved towards Udero, great waves of water leaped forth inundating the courtyard and drowning Mirkshah and his courtiers.
Fire too broke out and the flames consumed the palace. All escape routes were sealed. Udero spoke “Mirkshah, think it over. Your God and mine are the same. Then why did you prosecute my people? “Mirkshah was terrified and begged Lord Udero, “I realize my foolhardiness. Please save my courtiers.” All at once the water receded and the fire died away. Mirkshah bowed respectfully and agreed to treat Hindus alike. Before they dispersed, Uderolal told the Hindus to think of him as the embodiment of light and water. He also told them to build a temple in memory of transformation of Mirkshah.
“Day in and day out,” he said” light a candle in the temple and always keep available water for daat (holy sip).” Uderolal named his cousin Pagad as the first Thakur (priest of the religious sect that believes in Water God). Pagad followed Uderolal wherever he went. Uderolal gave seven symbolic things to Pagad. These seven form the elements of the Daryahi sect. He asked Pagad to continue the sacred work of temples and spreading his message. Selecting a place near village Thijahar, Uderolal gave up his earthly form. Both Hindus and Muslims were present in large numbers to witness this mysterious happening. No sooner Udherolal’s soul left his body, they wanted to build a ‘Turbat’ or ‘Qaba’ at the site according to the dictates of Islam. The Hindus wanted to erect a ‘Samadhi’ according to Hindu custom. While the debate raged, heavy rains came down and a voice said: “Behold! You shall make my shrine acceptable both to Hindus and Muslims. Let its one face be a temple and the other a Dargah (shrine). I belong to all of you.” Jhulelal continues to be the unifying force and the centre of all cultural activities of the Sindhi community. Sindhis all over the world greet each other with” Jhulelal - Bera Hee Paar”.