Jakhs of Kutch-Were they Jacobites?

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By Mr. P.I. Abraham

The Eastern Christian church came in contact with India from the very beginning of the Christian era. We know the St.Thomas origin of the Malankara church and the subsequent immigration and settlement of Thomas of Kana. Several similar settlements were said to have existed in several parts of India, such as Thane in Bombay and Bharuch in Gujarat.Of these settlements, that of Malankara coast is one that is marked by its survival to this day. Almost all others vanished from the face of the earth, either due to invasions or due to persecutions of the rulers. Some of them exist in historical records or folklores. Story of Jakhs of kutch is such a folklore which points to the existence of a Christian church in ancient times at that place.

Jakhs of Kutch

Before dealing with the story we should know a little about the geography and history of kutch. Kutch is a peninsular area on the northern end of the western coast of India .It is the largest district of Gujarat .Tropic of cancer passes through Kutch. As such it experiences severe heat in summer and severe cold in winter. More than half of the district is desert.  It is said that in ancient times the river Sindhu flew through Kutch and fell in to the Arabian sea As a result the soil was very fertile and the area was very prosperous. A rich culture existed in kutch even in ancient times. This fact has been established by the excavations made in Indus valley civilization sites viz. Dhola vira and Lothal. The peoples were very industrious and sea faring. They had trade relations with countries far and wide.

Kutch was ruled by the Indo Parthian dynasty in the first century A.D. Indo Parthians ruled the territory from Sindhu river in the north to Narmada river in the south. That means that the whole of Gujarat was in their sway. King GONDAPHOROUS was one of the kings of the Indo Parthian dynasty.(Gondophorus or Gondophernes was perhaps a title used by Indo Parthian kings) As we know, St.Thomas the deciple of Lord Jesus Christ had visited the palace of Gondophorous during his journey to India. This fact has found a place in the history text books of primary schools in Gujarat. Historian George Mark Moraes in his “History of Christianity in India” makes mention of a community called followers of Thumma Bhagat which once lived in the Kutch-Sindh area. It is believed that Thumma Bhagat was none other than St.Thomas.

Now let us come to the story about JAKHS. They are also locally called Yakshas, which means heavenly beings. The story is about a cruel king named Punvaro who ruled from a place which is presently called Manjal .It is about 34 kilometers away from Bhuj, the chief town of kutch district. It is believed that he was the brother of Lakho Phulani the famous king in the history of kutch who ruled from Kera, a place 16 kilometers away from Bhuj .The story has many versions, several of which are given in the “Gazettear of India,Gujarat State, Kutch District”. As per the most popular story, a large section of the people under king Punvaro was discontented with the oppressive rule of the King However, during his rule seven saintly and white skinned people, renowned for their virtues, came from “Rum-Sham”{Rome (Byzantine/Anatolia)–Syria} and settled on a hill near his fort .They helped the oppressed people by nursing the sick, spreading education and by doing all they could to alleviate their sufferings. They, there by, won the hearts of the people. Thus they came to be known as Jakhs or Yakshas meaning heavenly beings or messengers of God. Punvaro , finding it an intrusion in to his authority ,tried to check their activities. To save themselves from the tyrannical ways of the king Jakhs invoked the assistance of their God. Seventy two horsemen, there upon, came and established themselves on a hill, five kilometers from the fort of Punvaro, took the fort and killed the chief. Their followers installed their images on a platform near the fort of Punvaro (or “Punvaro no Gadh” as is called in Gujarati language).

According to another version, the childless wife of Punvaro herself had invited the Jakhs to her private quarters inside the fort in order to have their blessings. But the king having known this from his secret agents got them imprisoned .One of the Jakhs, some how, escaped with the help of a barber, who brought the seventy two including their sister Sayari to the scene.

The story is attached to the place name of “Jakhao” also. Jakhao is a sea port about hundred kilometers west of Bhuj. It is said that the name is in memory of Jakhs who did philanthropic activities around that place. Jakhao is also one of the five places of pilgrimage of the Jain community in Kutch, namely Suthari,Kothara,Jakhau,Nalia and Tera.

Who were these white skinned people? No one gives a convincing answer .Jakhs are defied and worshiped by its followers according to both Hindu and Muslim customs. The followers are called “Sanghars”. They are found mainly in Nakhatrana taluka though they are dispersed all over Kutch .They work as cattle breeders, cultivators and servants

On a hill near the place where the tyrant king Punvaro was killed, seventytwo terracotta images of the seventy two Jakhs have been installed with their faces towards south. The hill is called Kakad bhit A fair is held in the month of Bhadrapad (September-October) every year to commemorate the annihilation of the tyrant king Punvaro by Jakhs. Finding that the fair attracted huge crowed fetching good revenue to the organizers, king Khengarji, the then ruler of Kutch, tried to shift the venue of the fair to Bhuj, the capital of Kutch. But the effort proved futile.

Unlike most of the other writers on this subject Rushbrook Williams, an English historian in his book “The Black Hills of Kutch” suggested that the Jakhs were Byzantians. From the fact that some Indo Sassanian coins were dug out from the Kakad Bhit site some attach Iranian origin to the Jakhs. The popular view is that Jakhs were of either Hindu or Arab origin .The social and religious customs and practices of Sanghars who claim to be the followers of Jakhs are a mixture of Hindu and Islamic ones. What every one agrees is the fact that Jakhs existed historically.

As for the various theories about the origin of the Jakhs the one that put forward by Rushbrook Williams seems to be fitting to the historical circumstances, though is not the popular one .As we know, Byzantium was the east Roman empire which was established by emperor Constantine . Orthodox churches including the syriac orthodox church , flourished in the Byzantine kingdom. Syriac orthodox church later came to be called “:Jacobite church” in order to distinguish it from the Greek orthodox church which claimed the same Antiochian origin and shared almost the same liturgy. Jacobites were known for their intense missionary activities from the very early centuries of their existence. In an article titled “Religious Communities” in the May 1974 issue of the “Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient Vol. XVII / part 2” Michel .G. Morony says that “for their part Monophysites had begun to establish village schools and by the end of the third decade of the seventh century had come to form a community of their own in Iraq as part of the Jacobite church”. So, it will no be out of place if one assumes that these fare skinned saintly foreigners who helped the poor and nursed the sick, viz.Jakhs, were actually Jacobite missionaries.

We know that Sassanid kings of Persia favored either Jacobites or Nestorians at different periods of history according to their political convenience. Indo Sassanian kingdom was a branch of Sassanian kingdom of Persia which accommodated the eastern Christians most of the time of its existence. Kutch was once under the rule of these Indo Sassanians. Finding of Indo Sassanian coins should be viewed in this context Malakara church of Kerala had connection with Persian eastern Christian church in ancient days So a Persian Jacobite or Persian Nestorian connection can also justifiably be attributed to Jakhs.

Islam is not known to have their missionary programs based on philanthropic activities. Idol worship is forbidden for Islam. But Jakh story involves both philanthropy and worship of Jakhs or their images. So it appears that the story is not Islam oriented or Islam originated.

Some versions of the story say that the Jakhs came from Anatolia Syria. This matter has some significance in this discussion. Malankara Christian church has had connection from ancient days with the Syriac Jacobite church which has its head quarters in Syria. It is believed that after the establishment of the church by St. Thomas , immigration of eastern Christians took place at several times from Syria , Persia and west Asian countries.So one can reasonably guess that the migration of Jakhs was similar to that of Thomas of kana to Kerala coast or such other immigrations at other places. It may be noted that Anatolia is a region partly covered by Syria and partly by Turkey.

From the above discussion it appears that the story of Jakhs of Kutch has a Christian touch. No researcher on Christian history appears to have studied the story in a Christian angle. More over the story is a mystery in the annals of Kutch, yet to be solved. Hence it demands a detailed probe by historians with particular interest in the history of Christianity in India.

Note:-1.The term Syriac Christian is used to mean Orthodox Christians who use Syriac language for their liturgy.

Mr. P.I. Abraham is a statistician based out of Thotakkad, Kerala with an avid interest in Church History. His observation of the Jakh people of Kutch and a knowledge of their folklore has led him to propound his assertion that the Jakhs may indeed be the descendants or followers of the early Syrian Missionary activity in India’s West.

Comments (13)
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  • Nidhin

    What is interesting here is that the Jakhs say the 7 ‘whiteskinned angels’ came from ‘Rum-Shams’. Shams is the Arabic term for Syria,

    They say 72 warriors rode out to destroy the tyrant king. The 72 is interesting because Jesus sent out 72 apostles to spread his word. 72 families are believed to have migrated from Syria and the Levant to Kerala a couple of centuries post St. Thomas.

    Lakho Phulani, the Kutch King of that time as in the oral tradition is believed to have ruled between the mid 9th and 11 centuries. Could this be a group of Christians being pushed out by the expanding Islamic presence in the Mid East around that time?

    Jakh == Jacobite. They do sound similar. So, the Jacobite analogy.

  • george kalli-illath

    ” Kadal veray, Kadalaadi veray.”. Visudha Thomas Apostholan sthaapichathine DEIVAM Valarumaaraakki. Allaathatho pattu poi.”.

    Syria il enthu nadannu, Rome il engane nadakkunnu, muthalaayawa chinthikkathe Malankara Nazranikale ekopikkuvaan parisramikkuka.

    Kudumba sadassukalilum, avasarangalilum onnayirikkunna aalukal, palliyil pokumbol palathaakunnu. Ithu aarude thaalparyam .

  • k..verghese

    Names Syrian christian Names. can any of you enlighten me on the name ‘ UKKRU’- What is its corresponding biblical name? ( this name is not found in Travancore area- Understand it is
    used but not common in Trichur -Kunnamkulam area?

  • jacob

    Dear Varghese,

    I have also heard of this name ‘UKKUR’ (Its not ‘UKKRU, but ‘UKKUR’). As you rightly said, it is seen mainly among the Syrians of Kunnamkulam area (the Non catholic Syrians of Trichur district, basically). Well, i have no idea as to what biblical name it corresponds to. Guess it is just a random monosyllabic name that’s commonly used in Trichur side like ‘Paalu’, ‘Cheeru’, ‘Thaandu’ etc.

  • kurian

    Kerala Christian Names: Roots. The Kerala Christian Family Tree

    Also see:-Saint Thomas Christian names – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  • T. Cherian

    Dear readers
    Jakh has nothing to do with Jacobites. Jacobite is an English word. The correct middle eastern word is yakobaya. So that does not click. But I do agree Jakhs may be Christians.

    • John Mathew

      I doubt this. “Jacobite” is a term used by the Chalcedonian “enemies” of the Syriac Orthodox Church to refer to them: it is a pejorative term that is used accidentally in Kerala. No Syriac Orthodox in the Middle East refers to the Syriac Orthodox as “yakobaya” (which is Malayalam) or “Jacobite” (which is English). They call themselves “Orthodox” (which is what the Chalcedonians also refer to themselves: the Syriac Orthodox call the latter “Rum” — Romans).

  • Prince Kavalam

    its a new knowledge for me, indo-partian king, byzantine peoples in India all these are admitted facts, but jakhs requires more reserch.

    • P.I.Abraham

      That is what I wish.Some should study the subject.

  • Chandykunju

    What difference will it make to you if Jakhs of Kutch were Christians or they were related to Nazaranis of Kerala?

  • Rajesh

    Jakhdev means yakshdev, yakshdev is a god and yaksh dev tample via kakadbhit.

  • Rajesh sanghar

    i am not agree Jakh is Jacobite but, I dont know whats real history Jakh came indo-partian king, byzantine peoples in India all these are admitted facts, but jakhs requires more reserch.

    • P.I.Abraham

      I compleately agree with with Shjri Rajesh Sanghar.The matter needs further research.