About Anavils

The origin of the Anavils is traced to the period of Rama. According to the Skanda Purana, when Rama was returning from Lanka with Sita after killing Ravana, he came to the hermitage of Agastya which was situated in a dense forest on the southern slopes of the Vindhya hills. At a great rishi’s bidding, Rama decided to perform a solemn act of expiation at Anadisidha, for the slaying of Ravana. But as there were no Brahmanas there (without whom he could not perform the yajna) some Ajachak Brahmanas were summoned from Gangakulgiri in the Himalayas. Rama offered them a handsome dakshina but they would not accept it and insisted that they had merely performed their duty.

Displeased with their refusal, Rama deprived them of the privilege of teaching the Vedas and performing yajnas. Like the Vaisyans, their function in society became agricultural. It is said it was these Brahmanas who became the progenitors of the people of the Bhathela or the Anavala caste, the subdivisions of which are the Naik and the Vashi.

The word "Anavil"

The word "Anavil" itself it interesting! It is a combination of two Sanskrit words: UN+AVIL; UN, a prefix, means NOT in Sanskrit and AVIL means "that which is dirty or impure". The combined word therefore means VERY PURE!. It, therefore, seems that Anavils had a reputation of being a very upright and pure people and, from a historical perspective, that appears to be borne out.

During the early sixteenth century, when the Moguls' first came to the Surat district as conquerors, the Anavils were soldier farmers by all accounts. Why they were soldiering, besides farming, is not known for sure but one can guess. The word "DESAI" was not is use to describe these people then. In those days, they were popularly known as BHATELLAS rather than just ANAVILS. There are five interpretations for this sobriquet:

1. Bhatella is a combination of two Sanskrit words: (BHAT+EELA). BHAT means a soldier and EELA means earth. The word, therefore, means a soldier-farmer;

2. The word could also be a combination of BHAT+HATHILA. HATHILA means tenacious or obstinate and hence the word would be interpreted as a tenacious or obstinate soldier;

3. The word could have some BHAT meaning RICE + EELA meaning EARTH thus being interpreted as RICE CULTIVATORS. It is also true that they were the very first rice farmers in southern Gujarat; and

The first interpretation, that of a soldier farmer, appears to be the most likely interpretation because the word is a proper Sanskrit word and Anavils were certainly fighters. Other surnames (family names) that are common to the Anavils confirm this observation-NAIK VASHI and MEHTA- all of which mean professionals in the army or Royal administration. NAYAK means a platoon leader, e.g. GANANAYAK. The Sanskrit word "VASH" means to control and MEHTA was a title given to the prime ministers of the princely states in Saurashtra were called Mehtas. Today, the meaning of the word MEHTA has expanded to include accountants and teachers, possibly because of the heavy concentration on education in the last hundred years since the arrival of British influence and many Mehta families adopted a natural bent towards accounting and teaching which is what they did when they were advisors to the rulers of the princely states in earlier times.