Khojas and Memons: Descendants of the Lohanas
Some of the Lohanas converted to Sunni Islam, and called Memon. Ismaili Dai’ Pir Sadardin converted many of them to the Ismaili sect of Islam and are known as “Khoja”
The Lohanas trace their roots in history right up to the emergence of Aryans, making theirs the oldest surviving community in the world.
Lohanas or ‘Master of Swords’ are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group and are a suryavanshi Kshatriya community of India that originated in Iran and Afghanistan. In India, they mainly reside in Gujarat, Mumbai and other parts of the country. They have also spread to all parts of the world. It is a Pashtun sub tribe of Ghilzai tribe.
Originally Lohanas were a prominent community of the Kshatriya Rajput caste (Sanskrit Kshatriya) that originated in Iran and Afghanistan, then in the region of Punjab and later on migrated to Sindh and present day Gujarat state in India around 800 years ago. As administrators and rulers, Kshatriya Lohanas were assigned with protecting the people, and serving humanity. Over time, however, as a result of economic and political exigencies, the majority of Lohanas are now mainly engaged in mercantile occupations.
Some of the Lohanas converted to Sunni Islam, they are called Memon.
Ismaili Dai’ Pir Sadardin converted many of them to the Ismaili sect of Islam. They are known as “Khoja” (ethno Khawaja).
The Lohanas, also known as Thakkar, trace their roots in history right up to the emergence of Aryans, a linguistic of Indo-Iranians in the Indian sub-continent (which then included today’s Afghanistan) making theirs the oldest surviving community in the world. According to Puranic (ancient Indian texts of lore and legends) sources the Aryan civilization was established by King Ishaku (Ikshvaku) some two or three millennia before Christ (BC). His 22nd descendant (Ref: Valmiki Ramayan; Balkand Sarg 70 shlok 38 to 43) was the great king Raghu, a great conqueror, who established the Rahguvansh Dynasty.
It is believed by Legend that the Lohanas are descendants of the mythical hero Rama (Son of King Raghu), who bore two sons: Luv and Kush.
Descendants of Kush are known as Kushwaha. His younger son Luv was given the North (uttar Kaushala) of his kingdom (Refer: Valmk Ramayan Uttar Kand sarg 107], which came to be, called Luvalka or Luv’s land consisting of present day Lahore (Pakistan) as its Capital.
Luv is portrayed in the Ramayana as a great warrior. In one of the episodes of the Ramayana even though he is a mere boy in the hermitage, he brings the entire army of his father Lord Rama (under the command of his uncle Laxman) to a standstill by the prowess at archery (of course along with his older brother Kush). His descendants too were cast in the same mould, but they were not satisfied with Luvalka and pushed to the west and annexed today’s Afghanistan and adjoining areas.
Around 580 BC when King Bimbisara ruled over Bharat (India), the society came to be divided into different communities based on their occupation. One of their communities was called Kshatriyas and King Luv’s descendants were classed with them and came to be known as Luvanam, which was also referred to as Luvana. The Luvanas from Loharghat became known as Loharana (masters of swords; or iron (“Loha”) chiefs (“Rana”)), which later became Lohana.
Chinese traveler Fa-hien, who visited India between 414 and 399 B.C., calls Lohanas a brave community ruling the northwest territory of India, in his diary. Another Chinese traveler, Kurmang who came in the eleventh century A.D. speaks of a Lohana kingdom as a mighty power. Historian Burton writes Lohanas were brave people and says they were spread over today’s Baluchistan (Pakistan), Afghanistan and eastern fringes of Central Asia. Col. Todd, who delved into history of Rajasthan, describes Lohanas as the oldest Kshatriya community.
The likely reason for this title of bravery is that they were the first line of defense for the Indian subcontinent in the direct path of invaders from northwest like Persians, Macedonians, Huns, Mughals, etc. Meanwhile, Muhammad established Islam. His followers spread out in different directions to preach his religion and in due course they turned east towards India.
Between the 7th and 11th century the Lohanas held their grounds in Afghanistan, blocking the advent of Islam eastwards. In the 11th century, they finally had to fall back and moved initially to the Sindh province of today’s Pakistan, where again for over two centuries they provided the frontline of defense against the invading hordes. Finally, at the turn of the 13th century, the Loharana king, Chahir Ray, was betrayed by his confidant Kualnger of the Brahmin Narsvat community, who turned traitor for a large fortune in gold and gems. The Lohana kingdom disintegrated into smaller segments. After the community split, a new leader emerged who again unified the Lohanas. Veer Jashraj, who is revered as Veer Dada Jashraj, was born in the city of Lohar (today’s Lahore in Pakistan), which was the capital of Lohargadh. His domain extended from Lahore to Multan (also in Pakistan today).
As the folklore goes, Mongol invader Changez Khan, attacked Multan and was killed by Dada Jashraj, Rana of Lohargadh. This finds mention in Mongol folklore, which say, “King of Mongols was killed by Mirana, the tiger of Multan fort”. His descendants who proudly carry the surname of ‘Mirana’ preserve the memory of this great warrior king. Dada Jashraj was also treacherously killed when only 28 – a life so short but full of heroic deeds.
After the death of Dada Jashraj, the decline of Lohana kingdom began and their reign at Lohargadh ended. King Dahir ruled for a while from Narayankot (today’s Hyderabad, Sindh). After his demise in a war against Muslims, Narayankot and Sindh fell to Muslims. It was around this time that some Lohanas converted to Islam.
In 1422 AD, 700 Lohana families comprising of some 6,178 converted to Islam at the hands of one Saiyed Yusuffuddin Qadri in Thatta Sindh – these are now known as Memons.
It was around this time, that Uderolal who is revered as Jhulelal (by Sindhis) or Dariyalal (by Gujaratis), son of Ratanchand Thakur and Mata Devki of Nasarpur, about 90 miles from Narayankot (now Hyderabad, Sindh) took on the mantle of Lohana leadership. Uderolal fought with Muslim chief Mirkshah, and initiated him into the true meaning of religion. Uderolal won the freedom of religion for Hindus from the Muslim rulers and devoted the rest of his life to spiritual and community service. Today Uderolal is revered as Jhulelal, the patron saint of Sindhis, both Hindus and Muslims who visit the site of his samadhi.
The Lohanas felt their identity was increasingly threatened in Sindh and they began to migrate towards Kutchchh, Saurashtra, and Gujarat and even as far as Thailand. In Gujarati, Lohanas performing the puja (ritual worship) of Dariyalal are known as Pujaras and Dariyalal’s descendants as Ratnani.
Famous warriors once, Majority of Gujarati Lohanas took to trade and business. However, their mettle as warriors past was again tested in 1764, when Gulam Shah Kora attacked Kutchchh and they had to account for themselves in the battle of Zora. Lohana women fought alongside their men in this battle and the land of Kutchchh is strewn with memorial stones marking the deaths of Lohanas. A saying in Gujarati eulogies Lohana women thus: Only Rajputani, Loharani and Miyanai bring forth gem of children.
Lohana culture has diverged over the centuries between different regions. Thus there are significant differences between the culture, professions and societies of Sindhi Lohanas, Kutchi Lohanas and those of Gujarati Lohanas.
Gujarati Lohanas gravitated towards trading since the eighteenth century. A large number of Hindu Lohana from Gujarat migrated to the British colonies of East Africa during the early part of the 20th century. Gujarati Lohanas in East Africa were great entrepreneurs. The Madhvani and Mehta families being the prominent industrialists in Uganda. Today in East Africa, post the Idi Amin period, new prominent Lohana families have also experienced similar success like the, Ruparelia family. The descendants of these East African settlers have moved to either Kenya and Tanzania or Great Britain in recent decades. Many of them can be found in North West London and Leicester.
Today, a good number of Gujarati Lohanas reside in Gujarat and in other parts of India. In Gujarat, many of them are in Rajkot, Jamnagar, Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat. Outside Gujarat, they can be found in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Bangalore, Mangalore and other major Indian cities. Also, Gujarati Lohanas own the majority of food businesses, especially “farsan marts,” in Ahmedabad and Vadodara. They also have a noticeable share in other businesses. A significant number of Gujarati Lohanas also reside outside India.
Sindhi Lohanas, including the Bhaiband community, were primarily engaged in Agriculture, Industries and Professional Services before the Partition of India. However, after the partition, Sindhi Lohanas dispersed throughout the world, and having lost their agricultural property, have focused on Industry, Trading and Professional Services. The Khudabadi Sindhi Swarankar (Sonara) community, also affiliated with the Sindhi Lohana faction of the warrior Kshatriya caste of Hindu society, were mostly in the jewelry business.
Lohanas are still to be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are now Islamic states. In Afghanistan, they still maintain their Hindu religious identity and are known as Lokhathra. The Lohanas who keep their Hindu identity in Sindh are known as Sindhi Lohana.
Those Lohanas who converted to Sunni Islam are known as Memons. Those who converted to Shia Ismaili Nizari Islam or became Ismaili Nizari Muslims are known as Khojas. Many of them retain their Hindu surnames from which many are ancient Persian surnames. Among them was the creator of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whose father’s name was Jinabhai Poonja and grandfather was Poonja Gokuldas Meghji, a Hindu Bhatia from Paneli village in Gondal state in Kathiawar.
(Gokals also originate from the state of Gondal, which is between Rajkot and Junagadh in Gujarat).
Not only Khoja Ismaili Muslims but Memon Sunni Muslims also retain their Hindu and Persian surnames, among the most famous of these is Lakhani. Some of the major groups derived from the principal professions they follow or the crafts they practice, for example, the cattle-breeding group takes the significant name of Gawli, derived from a Sanskrit word for cow. (GO-KAL or GOKUL has similar origins,” keeper of cows “which is also the name given to the deity KRISHNA).
The names of the shepherd castes seem to be derived from words meaning sheep. Such is at least the case with Gadaria from ‘gadar’, on old Hindi word for sheep. Many others of these major groups called castes bear merely tribal or ethic names. Such are for example: Arora, Gujjar, Lohana, Bhatia, Meena, Bhil, Dom, Oraon, Munda, Santal, Koch, Ahir, Mahar, Nayar, Maratha, Gond, Khond, etc.
Courtesy: Ismaili Heritage/Forum Ismaili (Posted on March 27, 2016)