MASSACRE AT VARIAV
The movie Padmaavat depicts the ancient practice of `Jauhar’, where Rajput women commit mass self-immolation by jumping into the fire to avoid being captured and humiliated by invading armies. But not many know that around 900 years ago, Parsi women sacrificed their lives in a tiny village called Variav near Surat in Gujarat by jumping in the river Tapi.
The exact date is not recorded in history, but oral tradition says the incident happened towards the end of the 11th Century when Parsis, who had arrived from Iran to escape persecution, had settled in villages in Gujarat. The local Raja had levied a crushing tax and demanded a heavy tribute from the prosperous Parsi settlement in Variav. When they protested, the Raja sent his soldiers but were beaten back and made to retreat. The Raja did not give up and dispatched more troops after sometime. Unfortunately on that day, all the Parsi men had left the village for a feast, leaving the women behind. Instead of fleeing, the brave women put on the armour of their men, tied their hair, covered their faces and rode on horses to fight the army. Such was the ferocity, so the story goes that the Raja’s army was on the verge of defeat. But a fatal blow on the helmet, revealed a woman’s face. Shocked that they were being beaten by women, the soldiers returned with zeal and fought them. By now weary and tired, the women decided they would never surrender and rushed to the Tapi river and drowned. Subsequently, the army destroyed the entire Parsi settlement in Variav. The battle is popularly known as Jung Variav in Parsi history. The brave martyrs are remembered till today with special prayers and ceremonies held every year in the Zoroastrian month of Farvardin, day Ashishwang, which falls sometime in September.
Nauzer Bharucha; Courtesy:Jehangir Bisney
One of the most moving stories related to a Commemorative Gahambar, I have come to learn from my mother, Homai Wandrewala: That of the vaal-no-Gahambar, or the Variav behedin-nu-parabh. This is connected with the historic and heroic Jung-e-Variav,or the Battle of Variav, fought sometime during the late 11th Century, or early 12th century AD. The small village of Variav, near Surat, on the banks of the river Tapti, (now part of Greater Surat), had a largely Parsi Population. A Rajput Price who had suzerainty over Variav, the Raja of Ratanpur, was enraged with the Parsees of Variav, because they defied him, and refused to pay the unjust, excessive tribute / revenue (mehesul), which he would forcibly collect. In order to enforce his unjust demand, he would send mercenaries, (called garasias’), to claim the mehesul. Generally, these garasias were repulsed by the brave Parsi men of Variav. One day, the menfolk had gone off to a far-off village, for a vaal and toddy party, leaving behind the women and the elderly. It was on that fateful day that the garasias decided to pay another visit to Variav. The women, pre-warned of the impending attack from the clouds of dust across the river raised by the horses’ hoofs, decided to try and repulse the garasias themselves in the absence of the menfolk. Led by a brave lady named Navaz, the women donned their men’s riding attire, put on visors on their faces, and got astride horses with whatever arms they could lay their hands on. Indeed, they fought so bravely, that the garasias were repulsed and started riding back towards the bridge fording the river, when one of them happened to turn around and noticed the earring on the ear of a woman, whose visor had shifted askew during the fight. Realizing that they were being beaten by women, the garasias returned with renewed frenzy. The women, apprehending molestation by the garasias if caught alive, en masse jumped into the river and drowned. The garasias then forcibly collected the mehesul from the elderly folk of Variav, who narrated what had happened to the young men when they returned. It appears that on that day every year thereafter, the men of Variav, to commemorate the bravery of their women, held what they called the vaal-no-gahambar, or the Jung-e-Variav Gahambar, at which only vaal was served. Apparently, this was on roz Ashishvang, mah Ferverdeen. There is some uncertainty as to the historical authenticity of this story. Apparently however, there is mention of the Jung-e-Variav in one of the Disa Pothis (Family Death Register) unearthed by Dr. Sir Jivanji Mody, during his researches. It appears that most families then kept aDisa Pothi’ which, apart from giving details and genealogies of individual families, also was a repository of much historical information.