Everyone is proud of his/her community since it is bestowed upon by birth. India is known for people of diverse religions, languages and communities. Indian history reveals that originally there were four groups of people following different vocations. They were Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Brahmins studied and preached religion, Kshatriyas ruled and protected the population, Vaishyas conducted business and farming, whereas Shudras comprised of most of the working classes including artisans and craftsmen such as janitors, blacksmiths, carpenters. These vocations were interchangeable. So, belonging to a group was determined not by birth but rather by profession. However, over a period of time, this interchangeability became limited due to many reasons. Thus, professional communities were established and one's community was determined by birth. Subsequently, each community was divided into smaller castes and each caste was further divided into sub-castes. We - Kapols - are basically Vaishyas - a Sanskrit word which means businessmen. In Gujarati, businessmen are called 'Vaniyas'.
The history of how the Kapol caste originated is really fascinating. There are a few mythological stories behind it, but the following one is the most well known. According to an ancient Sanskrit treatise called the 'Kundal Puran', King Mandhak conquered a major portion of North India. He then commenced pilgrimage. He visited His Holiness Sri Kanva Rishi who resided in the Papanod Ashram (Monastery) located near a town called Prabhas Patan in Saurashtra. It was a famous place of worship and was densely populated by Brahmins, Vaishyas and other communities. Due to the paucity of land and other natural resources, conflicts between different groups were common in this town. In order to resolve this recurring problem. King Mandhak planned to build a new town. It is customary to perform a religious ceremony called Bhoomi-Pujan (Ground Breaking) before a house is built. But when a whole new town is to be built. King Mandhak was advised to perform a Maha-Yagna. King Mandhak sought the blessings and assistance of Sri Kanva Rishi to conduct the proposed Maha-Yagna. H.H. Sri Kanva Rishi asked Gallav Rishi, one of the 18 Rishis who resided in his monastery to take this responsibility with the help of other Rishis. They made a lot of preparations and Brahmins from all over India such as Gupta Prayag, Kashi, Badrikedar and other places were invited. The Brahmins and Vaishyas ofPrabhas Patan were also persuaded to participate in the Maha-Yagna. It was a big success. King Mandhak and H. H. Sri Kanva Rishi were extremely pleased to see the quarreling groups of Brahmins and Vaishyas interacting peacefully with each other. They offered Sri Gallav Rishi a reward in recognition of his achievement. Sri Gallav Rishi prayed:
'Your Honor, due to your blessings, a number of Brahmins and thousands of Vaishyas have come to this new town to participate in the Maha Yagna. Please officially inaugurate this town at this most auspicious moment for their stay. If you are satisfied with my work and if your Honor wishes to reward me, I request that out of 36,000 Vaishyas who have assembled here, 6,000 Vaishyas who are wearing big earrings stretching up to their cheeks (Kapol, in Sanskrit), be known by my name'.
So initially these 6,000 Vaishyas were called Gallavas - named after Gallava Rishi. Subsequently they were called Kapols. The remaining 30,000 Vaishyas who mainly came from Sorath were called Sorathias. The Brahmins who participated in the Maha-Yagna and were wearing loop earrings (Kundal, in Sanskrit) were named Kandoliya Brahmins and they became the priests of Kapol and Sorathia Banias. The newly built town was called Kundalpur. The Gotras of Kapols are named after 18 Rishis who helped perform the Maha Yagna. This is probably how our community was named Kapol. The names of these 18 Rishis are: Gautam, Garg, Vatsat, Parashar, Upamanyu, Bandil, Vashishtha, Kashyap, Kaushik, Bharadwaj, Kapishthil, Saranggiri, Harit, Shandilya, Sankrat, Kutsa, Paulaksa,
It is evident from the above story that Kapols originally hailed from the southern tip of Saurashatra, especially from the districts of Bhavnagar and Amreli. Even in these districts they were predominantly concentrated in the bigger towns such as Bhavnagar, Amreli, Mahuva, Rajula, Sihor, Jafravad, Lathi, Savar-KundIa, Delwada, Talaja, etc. A few families also lived in villages surrounding these towns.
Our community is replete with various last names as you will find from this directory. Just as there is an interesting story behind the word Kapol, there are equally interesting anecdotes behind some of our last names. For example, with the blessings of Goddess Kankai, a son was born in the family of business tycoon Bhimshah and he was named Kankidas. The descendants of Kankidas are now called 'Kanakias'. The family of a leading person named Virpal moved from the village of 'Chhanjad' to 'Vala' and they were then known as 'Valias'. Kapols living in the village of 'ChitaT are known as 'Chitalia' and similarly residents of the village 'Gorakada' are known as 'Goradias'. Those who were grocers were known as 'Gandhi' or 'Mody' and those who were in the money lending business were called ‘Shroffs'. Those who were brokers were called 'DalaT and those proficient in
bookkeeping were called 'Mehta'. In Gujarati, 'Parakh' means analysis or testing.
Those who were proficient in testing were called 'Parekh'. 'Zaverat' in Gujarati means jewelry; those who were dealing in jewelry were called 'Zaveri'. 'Naanna' in Gujarati means money or currency. Those who were in that business were called 'Nanavati'. 'Sangh' means a group of people, especially 'Pilgrims'. All those who went on a pilgrimage in groups were called 'Sanghavi'. Those who were dealing in herbs grown in jungles were know as 'Jangia'. Those who were dealing in cloth (Kapad, in Gujarati) were known as 'Kapadia'. Those who were of joyful and carefree nature were called 'Laheri'.
India was the main source of supply of spices, herbs, mulmul cloth and other goods to Europe in the 14th and 15th century. Europeans, especially the Portuguese, French and British, were anxious to have their own trading establishments in India. The Portuguese captured a port town of Div in Saurashtra in 1592 and started their business. They badly needed some local suppliers. Kapol Baniyas, who were living in the neighboring towns and were already conducting similar business, moved to Div. They became major suppliers to the Portuguse and one family had a monopoly of supplying food grains to them. But there was not much law and order in Div under Portuguese rule. They forfeited the properties of Hindus who died without any heirs. They also converted Hindu orphan children to Christianity and started interfering in business. Then, Kapols of Div began thinking of leaving the area. During that very period, the British had arrived in India and had established in Surat. But the local rulers-first Mohmedans and then Marathas - were waging frequent battles with the British settlers.
After several years, the British moved their trading post from Surat to Bombay, which at that time consisted of a group of seven islands inhabited by local fishermen. There was not much business activity there. The British were anxious to develop Bombay into a big trading center, and started giving incentives to attract businessmen from surrounding regions to settle there. Shri Nema Parekh, a
prominent Kapol businessman of Div, saw a big opportunity in this. In 1677, he proposed ten stipulations to the British to consider moving to Bombay. They were:
i.) They should be given land to construct their houses.
ii.) They must have freedom to observe their own religion and there should be no religious persecution.
iii.) In difficult times, the British Government should take care of them.
iv.) British courts should not have any jurisdiction on them in certain matters.
v.) They should be allowed to build their own ships.
vi.) The Government should provide a few of them with horse carriages.
(N.B. It was a status symbol reserved for a privileged few in those days).
vii.) They should be permitted to deal in coconuts and other fruits.
viii.) There should not be any duty/tax on the items they import or trade.
ix.) In case they are unable to sell their imported merchandise for one year,
they should be permitted to sell them in other territories.
x.) They should be allowed to conduct business in tobacco.
The British Government accepted all conditions, except the last one.
In 1692, a Kapol bania named Sheth Rupji Dhanji from Ghoghia (near Div) came to Bombay in a small boat. Initially he encountered many hardships. But by dint of his business acumen and honesty, he prospered and brought many more families to Bombay. It is said that the entire stretch of land from Pydhonie to Dhobi Talao in Bombay then belonged to him. Shri Rupji Dhanji's son Manordas developed close business and personal relations with the British. He was appointed as 'Nagarsheth' of Bombay. Manordas' son, Devidas, was a founding member of the Native Education Society established in 1722 primarily to promote higher education amongst Indians. Another family, ancestors of Sheth Tulsidas, had also immigrated to Bombay in 1740. They conducted business with distant places like China and had very good business relations with the East India Co. In the latter part of 18th century, the East India Co. sorely needed money. At that time Putlibai, head of this family, lent a sum of Rs. 900,000 (in Gujarati, 'Nav-Lakh') to East India Co. Since then this family was nicknamed 'Navlakhi'.