Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya (also known as Mistri or Mestri) are a minority Hindu and one of the Socially and Educationally Backward Class community of Gujarat in India, whom claim to be Kshatriyas. They are an artisan community related with Kadia works. Most are employed as laborers under construction contractors  They are known for their artistic and master craftsman skills  in constructing forts, temples, palaces, ornate decorations, idols and other buildings and statues that led to them being referred to as Mistri by the Portuguese. This term was later used to refer to them as a separate caste known as the Mistri a.k.a. Mistris of Kutch.
|Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mistri, Gurjar Kshatriya Kadia, Salaat, Chunara|
The community is believed to be from Kota and first entered into Saurashtra and founded 36 villages in the area, while others moved further into Kutch. Around 1177–78 AD (VS 1234), a major group migrated to Kutch from Saurashtra under the leadership of Patel Ganga Maru. They settled in the village of Dhaneti. There are several Parias of the community, located near village pond of Dhaneti, standing as memorials of the war that was fought in 1178 AD. The community members still go once every year to offer pooja and their respects to their fore-fathers.
This group, later, made their distinct identity not only by building historical forts, palaces, temples and architects in Kutch but also all over British India, primarily in the fields of railways and coal mining.
The Kutch Gurjar Kshatriyas left Dhaneti and went on to establish eighteen villages in Kutch which were granted to them by the King: Anjar, Sinugra, Khambhra, Nagalpar, Khedoi, Madhapar, Hajapar, Kukma, Galpadar, Reha, Vidi, Jambudi, Devaliya, Lovaria, Nagor, Meghpar, Chandiya and Kumbharia.
Over the centuries, they have been known or identified by names like Mistri, Mistry, Mistris of Kutch, Kutchi Contractor, Kadia, Kadia Kshatriyas, Gurjar Kshatriya Kadia, Kumar Gnati, Kutch Gurjar Kshatirya, Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya Samaj, KGK Samaj, Kgk community, etc.
They are a Hindu community. Some are followers of Swaminarayan and Pranami sect of Hinduism, They are vegetarian in diet and avoid consumption of alcohol. The staple food is khichdi, vegetables, pulses and butter-milk.
The community consists of clans like Rathod, Chauhan, Yadav, Chawda, Jethwa, Padhiar, Yadav, Chudasama, Parmar, Taunk, Khodiyar, Solanki, Sawaria, Vegad, Varu, Maru, Bhalsod, etc., who enjoy same status. However, most of people prefer to pre-fix Mistri to their name.
The community are an endogamous community who practice the principle of clan exogamy. Dowry is generally not asked for, neither practice of bride price is there in community. Divorce is generally not encouraged; however, divorce can be claimed in certain cases.
The Kutch Gurjar Kshatriyas were master craftsmen, architects and contractors and have played a major role in erection and construction of the majority of forts, palaces and architecture of Kutch. It was because of this quality that around the mid 16th century they came to be known as Mistri in Kutch.
The word Mistri (or Mistry) means "skilled artisan" in Gujarati. The Portuguese were present in Gujarat from around 1500 AD and the Battle of Diu was fought in 1509 where the Portuguese later built Diu Fort. They also acknowledged the community's expertise in building fortress and called them mestre. Even the Muslim rulers accepted the expertise of the Kadias and were always sought after for building forts and fortress. The community was also known to travel far and wide for building such forts, palaces, etc. Their original roots were in Kota in Rajasthan. The community members who were expert builders were patronized by kings of Cutch for their ability to design fort and some members of the community holding the post of Gaidher or Raj Mistry.
Not only the community members were expert and specialized in stone cutting and construction of forts, palaces, temples and buildings but they were also skilled architects and artisans who could do articulate carvings of doors, windows, pillars, and statues of gods and goddesses and ceilings.
Mistry Pitambar Padma was Gaidhar in the 18th century. Later his son 'Gaidher' Jagmal Pitamber of Anjar was Gaidher of the Kutch Raaj in early to middle of the 19th century during time of Deshalji II, when the forts of Bhuj, Anjar, Mandvi, Lakhpat and Mundra were constructed under Jagmal Pitamber and other Mistri of the eighteen villages.
The Mistris of Kutch were also involved in construction and erection of Vijay Vilas Palace built on sea-beach of Mandvi by Khengarji III, as summer palace for his son and heir Vijayaraji. The carved stone works of Jalis, Jharokas, Chhatris, Chhajas, murals and many other artistic stone carvings, colored glass work on windows and door panels all have been done by them, an art in which they were expert. The architect and craftsman from other places like Jaipur, Rajasthan, Bengal and Saurashtra, were also involved. The construction started in 1920 completed in 1929.
The major migration of KGK from Kutch began when the British started laying railway lines in India. The KGK community which had been skilled in construction works decided to move out of Kutch and try to adapt their skills to railway lines and allied constructions for which the British needed a skilled workforce. The community were expert in stone-cutting, lime-paste making and brick manufacturing as well as in the construction of buildings and forts for centuries and decided to cash in on these new opportunities as there was a dearth of new jobs and opportunities in Kutch. Kutch was also going through a famine in those years. The KGK made a major contribution to the history of Indian railways, laying railway lines throughout British India.
Many families also migrated to other British Colonies, such as Aden, East Africa, Zanzibar, South Africa, Fiji, Burma, Ceylon and the Maldives during the middle of the 19th century. They were encouraged by the British as these countries lacked skilled persons. They have worked in building the Aden railway, the Ceylon Government Railway, for the Burma Railway Company, Sittang Valley State Railway, Mu Valley State Railway, Thaton-Duyinzaik Railway, Irrawaddy Valley State Railway, East African Railways Corporation, Uganda Railway and the South African Railways. Today their descendants are found in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, etc. Although at present many have moved out of East Africa and settled in the United Kingdom, the USA or have returned to India after the political uncertainty during 1960–80. This was especially true during the Zanzibar Revolution in the mid-1960s and during the rule of Idi Amin in Uganda.
It was during 1850 to 1930 AD that the KGK migrated outside Kutch and were involved in the construction of major rail-bridges and the laying down of railway tracks in almost all major rail routes of undivided British India doing the "Railway Thekedari" (Railway Contractors also Thikadari) and as Thekedar (or Thikadar) in Irrigation projects and Forest Department and Public Works Department. They have also done major roadway, road bridges, canal works, irrigation dams and barrage work throughout British India from 1850 to 1980. The communities largest contribution is in the building of the early railway lines and bridges throughout British India. Their works in Railway construction span from 1850 to 1980 for more than one and a quarter of century.
Starting as small-time masons in railway construction in the 1850s and later working as sub-contractors or agent to British engineers, they rose to a level of first class railway contractors by 1880. By 1900 they had established their monopoly in various divisions of railways throughout north, south, east and west of British India, and by 1920 they became masters in this field that many of them were given title of Rai Bahadur by British exclusively for their engineering feats in erection of railway bridges and laying lines in most difficult terrain. Their feats are amazing also because almost all of the early pioneering Mistri contractors could only write in Gujarati and had hardly studied up to third standard in vernacular schools of their dusty villages, still they managed to build bridges and lay railway lines, which required scientific measurement and calculation and could manage to work and speak with British Railway officers and engineers.
They preferred to work as a syndicate, where the railway contracts would be taken by them and sub-let to fellow Mistri contractors belonging to their 19 villages. Thus they held sway in many divisions of Railways in British India. There was dearth of skilled persons in India who were ready to work in difficult terrains of mountains and jungles due to the risk of being killed by diseases like malaria, cholera, plague and by wild animals or gangs of robbers and outlaws. The early British records of many railway companies have noted that many British engineers and labour resigned, left or even perished due to killer diseases like malaria, cholera and from the effects of the heat and sun while laying the railway lines. Working as a railway contractor in these early days meant staying away from home for many months, or even years. In these difficult circumstances the KGK were the pioneers, laying lines as far as Assam, Chittagong, Peshawar and Madras, thousands of miles away from their homes in Kutch. Before the arrival of the railways the main means of transport were horse-cart, bullock-cart or moving on foot. They used to travel with their families and children and there are many records of their children being born in remote jungles.
The laying of the railways needed a lot of physical labor and stamina for jobs like leveling the earth, the cutting back of the jungle, blasting of mountain passes and cuttings, laying ballast along tracks and walking several of miles daily. Mechanical knowledge for track interlockings, switching, and advanced engineering calculations for building bridges and their arches and abutments, laying foundations in river beds, deep well-sinking, laying spans and many such technical jobs. Similarly they built the platforms, the station buildings, the station master's room, ticket counters, rest rooms and other facilities such as over-head water tanks, the digging of ponds nearby for an uninterrupted supply of water, building the signal cabin, rail yard and staff quarters.
The railways needed an uninterrupted supply of bricks, boulders and lime-paste for building of the infrastructure in those early days between 1850 and 1900. The KGK also known as Chunaras (lime workers) for many decades, cashed in on this opportunity and many of them started brickworks and lime-kilns in remote, forested and inaccessible areas of British India to supply the materials. The railways needed bricks of specific sizes and dimensions which were a little bigger and stronger than the ordinary bricks used in house construction. It should be noted here that in those days lime-paste was used for construction. The community were also expert in the art of stone cutting that they had inherited from their fore-fathers, who were masters at building forts. These cut-rocks have been used in most old bridges and platform buildings and can still be seen surviving today.
In history of India, Mistris of Kutch are probably the only community, whose migration out of their home land Kutch, was attributed to construction of Railways in British era. This is a unique fact about association of Railways and Mistris of Kutch
The KGK contributed to the building of docks, dams, barrages and irrigation canals between 1850 and 1980, and they in the eighteenth century had been among the communities who built the first ports of Bombay and Hornby Vellard. Other docks were developed in Bombay during 1870–1895 (Prince's Docks built in 1885 and Victoria Docks built in 1891) in which many Mistris of Kutch and Kadia Kshatriyas of Saurahstra worked.
In the regions of British India known as Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, the Kutch Gurjar Kshatriyas pioneered Indian involvement in coal mining from 1894. They broke the previous monopolies held by British and other Europeans, establishing many collieries at locations such as Khas Jharia, Jamadoba, Balihari, Tisra, Katrasgarh, Kailudih, Kusunda, Govindpur, Sijua, Sijhua, Loyabad, Dhansar, Bhuli, Bermo, Mugma, Chasnala-Bokaro, Bugatdih, Putki, Chirkunda, Bhowrah, Sinidih, Kendwadih, and Dumka.
The East Indian Railway in 1894-95 extended its line from Barakar to Dhanbad via Katras and Jharia. Messrs. Khora Ramji in 1894 was working on railway lines contract of Jharia branch line and with his brother Jetha Lira was also building Jharia Railway Station, when he discovered coal in Jharia belt. The location of his three collieries named Jeenagora, Khas Jherria, Gareria is mentioned also in 1917 Gazetteers of Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Orissa.
Other Indian communities followed the example of the KGK in the Dhanbad-Jharia-Bokaro fields after the 1930s. These included the Punjabis, Kutchis, Marwaris, Gujaratis, Bengalis and Hindustanis. Encyclopaedia of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa -1920 mentions:- "Out of 92 collieries belonging to Gujaratis in Jharia Coalfields Area during 1920s - 50 belonged to Mistris of Kutch with Seth Khora Ramji as Head of them all." Seth Khora Ramji of Sinugra was also honored by King of Kutch by giving him a Paghdi.
Arjan Ladhha Rathod and Varjang Harji Rathod of Kumbharia founded the manganese ore mines at Chaibasa in 1910 and Arjan Ladhha Mines sometimes misspell as Arjun Lodha Mines at Balagoda. Lalji Jhina of Anjar also owned manganese ore mines in Chaibasa. Rai Sahib Mulji Jagmal Savaria of Kumbharia and Rai Bahadur Jairam Valji Chauhan of Kumbharia owned manganese, dolomite and limestone mines at Jairamnagar, Akaltara, Tirodi, Katni in Central Provinces. Jeevram Jairam Chawda of Sinugra owned minerals mines in Saraikela. The community members also owned slate and granite mines in Markapur and minerals mines in Keonjhar. Rai Bahadur Jagmal Raja Chauhan of Nagor owned Silica mines in Shankargarh. Hirji Premji Parmar of Kukma and Deoji Jairam Solanki of Madhapar owned soap-stone and kaoline mines at Asansol and Hazaribagh.
Apart from laying the first railway lines and building docks of Bombay, the Mistris of Kutch and Kadias of Saurashtra were also involved in construction of Victoria Terminus for Great Indian Peninsula Railway, Bombay Central and Colaba Terminus both for Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, Bombay High Court, Taj Hotel, J. J. School of Art, Town Hall, Wilson College, Apollo Bundar to name a few in city of Bombay. Cutch Castle of Bombay, the royal palace belonging to Rulers of Kutch was erected by Rai Bahadur Jagmal Raja Chauhan of Nagor of KGK Community for Maharao Shri Khengarji Bawa, who shared a personal friendship with Jagmal Raja.
In Calcutta apart from building Docks of Calcutta Port and railway lines and building complex of Howrah Station for East Indian Railway and Sealdah for Eastern Bengal Railway, the community were involved in construction of Howrah Bridge. Many Victorian buildings in Kolkata have been built by the karigars (artisans) of the Mistri community of Kutch, says Pramod Jethi[nb 1], an authority on Kutchi art. They were also involved in construction of Victoria Memorial.
In 1923 by request of Commissioner, Kadia Bhanji Dhanji Rathod of Devaliya had done repair and rehabilitation of Dwarakadheesh temple with Ranchhod Ramji Chauhan of Nagalpar, as per tablet in Temple's records.
In 1932 upon completion of Bally Bridge, Rai Bahadur Jagmal Raja Chauhan of Nagor was recommended by the erstwhile Viceroy of India, The Earl of Willingdon to Rana of Nepal, Shree Juddha Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, who needed a contractor of repute to do renovation and rehabilitation of his palaces and temples. He was given the contract for the same and Parbat Harji Chauhan, Karaman Devji Chauhan both of Kukma and Manji Shivjee of Madhapar were delegated by Jagmal Raja to go to Kathmandu, Nepal, with a team of artisans and masons to supervise and complete the work. It took about two and half years for the job to be completed.
Members of the KGK community have funded the construction of and also built many temples, Dharamshalas and schools. These buildings include the Kutchi Ashram at Haridwar in 1954–56, the Kutchi Kadia Dharamsala in Mathura, the Gujarati Jalaram Dharamshala in Amarkantak, and the Ram Temples at Kharagpur and at Bilaspur. In 1920 a charitable trust for promoting education called Jharia Vidhhyotejak Fund was started by Mistri Colliery owners at Jharia. This Fund started the Jharia Gujarati Primary School in 1920 and also gave scholarship to the children of their society. At Cuttack, a school named Gujarati Pathshala started in 1928, which was renamed as Anglo Gujarati School in 1941 was started by Rai Saheb Kunwarji Karsan Rathod of Madhapar. A public library was also started by him in 1931. Jairam Daya Chauhan of Kumbharia, who built Muktidham Temple at Nashik Road also donated a large sum to start a college in Nasik named J. D. Bytco Commerce And N. S. Chandak Science College and D D Bytco Boys High School and Jr College both at Nasik. Rai Sahib Mulji Jagmal and Ranchhod Jagmal Savaria built a hospital in Ratanpur. Nanji Govindji Tank of Hajapar built the existing Hindu Cemetorium and also a Ram Temple both at Jamshedpur and was one of the founder-trustee of the "Gujarati Sanatan Samaj" Community Center at Bistupur. Kanji Daya Chawda of Sinugra, built a Dharamsala in Keonjhar now named Kanji Daya Dharamsala for public and charitable use in 1934.
The majority of the once-prosperous KGK community living in Kutch and Saurashtra today are devoid of agricultural land and have been included in the list of Socially and Educationally Backward Class community in Gujarat. Those who migrated from the state cannot take advantage of this reservation.
KGK community members are found throughout India, notably near to the major rail routes and junctions associated with the work of their forebears. Communities exist in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal.
KGK associations exist today in various Indian states, and there are meetings and events organised at local, state and national level. These include match-making events, called Sagpan-Sanmmelan, and the traditional dispute resolution by elected community elders continues with the Panch. There is an annual gathering in Kutch, their native state and their national President is elected every three years by way of voting.
They also have a woman's wing called Mahila Mandal at state and national level. Every three years a woman president is also elected by ladies of the community. The woman's wing works independently and in co-operation with the president of the community. The national level women's body of Kutch Gurjar Kshatriyas is called Akhil Bharatiya Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya samaj Mahila Mandal. The woman president of this wing then appoints her working committee members. The Mahila Mandal was founded in 1976 and first Mahila Mandal Pramukh or President of Women's Wing of Kutch Gurjar Kshatriyas was elected. In 1996 the community elected a woman to be Mahasabha Pramukh, or President of the community.
Similarly, they also have a youth wing at state and national organizational levels called All India Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya Samaj Yuva Mahamandal. The young generation helps in organizing major national and state level events and the youths also organize a sports event every three years called Kutchyad, taking cue and inspiration from the Asiad of 1982 Asian Games. The event also coincides with Dance, Music and match-making event. Every year a mass-marriage event is also held called Samuh-Lagna where the marriages of financially weak families or couples are held with blessings and financial co-operation of the whole community. The first such event by the community was held on 10 May 1966, with six marriages at Dhanbad and later on a larger scale in 1972 at Raipur. It continues to be held every year since then at different locations in India.
Community members are still carrying forward the religious customs and beliefs embedded in them since many centuries ago and continue to follow Hindu religious customs. They are still followers of different sects of Hinduism.
The newly wed couple come at least once to bow to their Kuldevi at the temples which are located in the eighteen villages in Kutch founded by their ancestors. The newly weds also go and offer their respects at the Parias of their Satis and Shurapuras located in Kutch.
There is a custom to offer special prayers and pooja called Kar to their Kuldevis whenever a boy is born in the family.
Other than being referred to as the Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya, the terms "KGK Community" or "Kgk Samaj" are more often used acronyms for the community in present-day India at a national level. "Mistri", which was mostly used during the last century and before is nowadays only used in Kutch and Gujarat. However, the Other Backward Class Certificate as per the Bakshi Panch report are given in the name of the Mistri only.
The Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya community have not practiced the system of compulsory or forced dowry for many years. In addition, widows were in general allowed to remarry by community elders, i.e. the "Moti Naat" and the "Community Panch", on a case to case basis for more than two centuries – much before the Widow Remarriage Act was brought into British India in 1856. The word used for such widow remarriage was "Ghar-gharana". Even the young widows having infants were also allowed to remarry in case the second husband guaranteed to take care of child born from first marriage. There was a word called "agandiyaat" used for the young boy which came to his stepfather's house holding the finger of its mother. The word "angadi" in Gujarati language means finger and "angadiyaat" means the one who has come holding the finger. Sometimes, when the family of first husband, wished that son born from her first marriage should carry the name and title or surname of his deceased father, such arrangements were also given.
In 1968, a Samuh-Lagna (mass community marriage) event was held on experimental basis by the Dhanbad Ghatak (unit) of the KGK community. Six couples were married in this first such mass-marriage event and the KGK were probably one of the first Indian communities to arrange such a thing in post-independence India. In 1972, another Samuh-Lagna for financially weak families of the community was held at Raipur. There are now Samuh-Lagna held annually at different locations in India.
Around 1942 onwards the historic "Naat" and "Patel" system came to an end due to some internal problems as well as national level turbulence including World War-II, the Indian Independence movement, the partition of India, merger of the princely states and formation of the Union of India. The community, most of which were involved in railway "Thekedari" and lay scattered across the various states of India could not re-organize themselves and for almost three decades the Kutch Gurjar Kshatriyas lost their unity and leadership. The Patel system and Moti-Naat started to collapse around 1945 and was ended by 1950.
In Raipur a community organization called Kshatriya Seva Sangh was established in 1935 and later a greater organization called Shree Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya Ganti Samaj was established in 1948 and in 1954 the community center was built in Raipur.
Although the Moti-Naat went into a state of limbo around 1950 the Dhanbad and Raipur organizations were considered an extended part of Moti-Naat and were given the status of Gaam or village in addition to the 18 villages of Kutch. This status was given to them in view of the large population of KGK members living in both cities. Until 1960 both Dhanbad and Raipur units continued to pay their community taxes and subscription to the Moti-Naat in Kutch.
Later on a Yuvak Mahasabha, or Young Man's Association, of the community was formed in 1954 in Dhanbad. This Yuvak Mahasabha worked until 1968, with blessings from elders of the community, to bring a form a unity in Samaj but it could not replace Panch, Naat and the Patel system of historic times and the need for a greater organization was always needed. A community center was built by members of community during 1959–60 in Dhanbad at which later a Samuh-Lagna event was also organized by them in 1968, which can be said to be first such mass-marriage event before much publicized 1972 event held at Raipur.
Finally in 1971 the community re-organized themselves and first some leaders with good wishes of elders of community, met at Jaipur and a resolution was passed to contact all families of the community spread throughout India and unite to elect a new leader by the next year.
Accordingly, in 1972 the community again got together at Raipur and at a huge gathering at their Samaj Bhawan on 3 June 1972, they unanimously elected their first President – Mahasabha Pramukh of post-independence India. The pre-independence Moti Naat was re-christened as Mahasabha and Patel was rechristened as Pramukh and the Panch system was re-established. The new constitution of the community, charitable trusts and state and national level units were formed. A detailed a census with a list of community members was carried out. The community name Shree Kutch Gurjar Kshatriya Mahasabha was registered under The Societies Registration Act with its registered office at Calcutta in 1972.
In the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, which had its epicenter in Kutch, the following villages of Mistris were largely affected and destroyed – Anjar, Sinugra, Khambhra, Devaliya, Chandiya, Nagalpar, Lovaria, etc. Many heritage houses and havelis belonging to rich Mistri families, built almost 100 years ago, with ornate facades, intricate door carvings and metal grill windows and verandas depicting the life of Queen Victoria were all razed to the ground. There were also huge wall and ceiling paintings depicting scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana which are no more. The majestic interiors, doors and window panels of some of the houses were similar in design, which can still be seen in Prag Mahal.
Along with other communities of Kutch, the KGK suffered significant casualties as a result of the earthquake of 26 January 2001. In many cases whole families of the KGK community were buried alive. The houses built by their fore-fathers were also lost, all being razed to the ground.
MESTRI: They are also known as Mistri. Kota in Rajasthan is believed to be their native place from where they came to Kutch in vs 1234 in search of livelihood. In Gujarat, the community is distributed in about eighteen villages of the Bhuj and Anjar
It was the existence of coal that first attracted the railway authority to extend the railways and with them came the Gujarati people as an expert railway contractor with an experience of railway construction work at Thana. They then met Raja of Jharia and purchased some having underneath wast wealth in shape of coal.
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Rathor, Kalyanji Ramji. The Managing Director, the Raipur Flour Mills Limited. Age 29 years. Belongs to family which came from Cutch first to Bihar in 1914 and did coal business and later established at Raipur in 1934. Has landed properties worth..