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Cultural Back Ground

The Anavil Brahmins, the dominant caste of Surat district, originated between Surat and Valsad districts, South Gujarat. The area of 5000 Sq Miles is fertile and has many rivers like – Tapi, Purna, Mindhola, Ambika, Kaveri, Auranga and Daman Ganga. The area is fortunate to have proximity to coastal line which historically has been proved distinct advantage to the Anavils. Mogul and British arrived through the Arabian Seas. It is believed that; first Moguls and subsequently British Raj needed administrator and tax collectors in the Raj, they may would have picked up our forefathers to perform these services in the administration. The surname Desai derived from the Vedic Sanskrit words "desh sai", which mean "land lord". Desai was an administrative title; who looked after a region or area on the ruler's behalf and in return got ten percent share of revenue.

It may be possible that ancient Persian trade links associated with the west coast of India may have influenced the title and names for Anavils; mostly found in Goa and South Gujarat. The Word "Anavil" is derived from two Sanskrit words "Un" and "Avil". "Un" means "not" and "Avil" is "dirty". i.e. "not dirty" meaning clean or pure. Traditionally spread on the coastal line between Vapi to Tapi and though easy access to the sea world around, the Anavils were pure vegetarians. They kept themselves and their surroundings very clean, a race that kept their mind and actions clean i.e. people who did not steal or participate in anything considered un-holy. Anavil Brahmins were traditionally agriculturalists. Although they are called "Brahmins" they are actually a sub-sect or "grahasthi" i.e. they do not perform priestly duties in temples. The Anavils by and large pray Lord Shiva.

Anavils are usually fair complexion, good looking and strong build. Some of the distinct traits Anavils have are: strait forward, truthful, courageous, outspoken, loyal, broad mindedness and generosity. Easy gains for living being a land holders and closer to the costal lines, Anavils did not have to struggle for the basic living requirements. About their outspoken language expression; it is often jocularly said that the tongue of Anavil has no Hinges. Their colloquial language has atypical accent and may contain a few words which may otherwise be construed as abuses for third party who is not well versed with their language. It is possible that people who are not familiar with the language may get hurt least realizing that it is normal for Anavisl to use such language. Anavil though outspoken known to be not vengeful. It is believed that the language legacy may have been inherited being an administrative staff of British Raj and an agriculturalist, dealing with farm workers. Anavil forefathers may would have executed their authority on the field by usage of strong language to perform its duties.

During British Raj then it was one state Maharashtra and Gujarat one of the family members lived in Bombay while rest of the family looked after the ancestor agricultural land. Hence it has been observed that their colloquial language/food habits/ recipes/ and cultural rituals even today have influence of Marathi/Maharashtrians. Being in the British Administrative service in the role of Tax collectors and Administrators; Anavils were exposed to the British education system of Brittan and grab the opportunity to be educated with the fellow British colleagues. As a result Anavils today are well educated. They are well placed in the Education Department of State of Maharashtra and now Gujarat. As the Anavils became more literate, trained with British education system they began to see the injustice carried out by the British rule and contributed to a great extent in the QUIT INDIA movements. Mahatama Gandhi had support of hundreds of Anavils when they joined the Freedom struggle. Eminent amongst these were Bhulabhai Desai, Morarji Desai, Dayalji Desai, Mahadevbhai Desai and Khandubhai Desai.

Incidentally the manifestation of the Railways and higher education during the British Raj Anavils started migrating to the other parts of the country in search of better opportunities leaving their agriculture base in south Gujarat. When it comes to migration to overseas other countries Anavils started first to British Territories because of easier consular service accessibilities – like Mauritius, South Africa, East Africa, Fiji, Burma, Java and Sumatra and then to almost all countries in the world. During the formative days after British Raj left, already earlier exposure to the education and overseas travel worked tremendous advantage to the anvil community at large. Today the growth of south Gujarat is phenomenal. This can be attributed to the Anavils’ educational skills, road and port connectivity to the other parts of India and rest of world.

Researched and Compiled by Dr Saryu Rao Desai