Jodhpur: the city built around caste, and the vision and sacrifice of one great man

Jodhpur is famous for being the blue city and the old city indeed is a cool blue. The city is also designed around caste. There are five main caste groups, which sub-divide into sub-categories and many sub-sub-categories. The five main groups are the Brahmins (Priests and academics), the Kshatriyas (Warriors), the Vaisyas (Merchants), the Sudras (Unskilled workers), The Dalits (Untouchables). Each of the ‘top’ four castes lived and probably still do live in the city in an area sectioned for them. The city is encased by a wall as many ancient cities are. The untouchables lived outside the city’s walls, coming into the city only to do ‘lowly work’, for example, as toilet-cleaners. They were not allowed to sleep inside the city and had to take off their shoes and put them on their head whenever they passed the door of a Brahmin or warrior household.

As we stood in one of the high courtyards at the majestic Mehrangarh fort, our guide pointed to the Brahmin quarter “There is one exception. In the middle of the Brahmin quarter is the house of an untouchable”.

The King of Jodhpur consulted a holy seer on what he should do to protect the wealth in his treasure house. The Holy seer (must have been a sinister soul) said that he should bury someone alive under the treasure house and only then would his treasure be safe. The King gathered the city people and asked them ‘Who amongst you will do this for me?’ One untouchable man stepped forward. He said he would if the King fulfilled his three conditions.

The three conditions were 1) that his family would get a house in the Brahmin quarter and be allowed to live there without disturbance; 2) that they would not have to put their shoes on their heads when they pass the house of Brahmin or warrior; 3) that the Royal family would provide them some income every month.

The King agreed and the man was buried alive under the treasure house. To this day, his 150 descendants get 3000 rupees (equivalent of £30 or $50) from the royal family every month and some live in that house.

 I could not believe the cruelty of the seer and the King. It’s a pervasive idea in human history everywhere that to gain something, something must be lost. This is not untrue when you think about working hard to get results, but this type of horrific loss for an uncertain gain from a holy spirit is different. I cannot fully imagine what must have gone through the buried man’s mind as he lay in his grave alive, knowing he was going to slowly suffocate to death. Did he regret it? Had he brought poison for himself? Did he meditate? Did he pray?

Whatever he did, he made a huge sacrifice for his family. He was intelligent and visionary in his conditions.  He made a statement about how awful life was for the lower castes and how that type of life is not acceptable to anyone – the human spirit cannot be broken even if all you’re taught from birth is that you are worthless. We’re all human. We all deserve the same. They should make a temple in his name, in the name of the unsung understated Saint of Jodhpur, a temple for equality.

Jodhpur, the blue city in Rajasthan, India
Jodhpur, the blue city in Rajasthan, India
The majestic Mehrangarh fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. I just wish there wasn't some poor guy buried under it. Cruelty taints beauty a bit for me.
The majestic Mehrangarh fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. I just wish there wasn’t some poor guy buried under it. Cruelty taints beauty a bit for me.

 

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