Retracing my Ancestral Roots in Osian – “The Gateway to the Thar Desert”

Last year I won a trip and the Post Office Travel and Food Blogger of the year 2018 award based on a blog piece that I had written about Retracing my ancestral roots back to India – my bucket list trip of a lifetime.

Although I am of Indian ethnicity, I was born and brought up in the East African country, Kenya. I always wondered how my community came to exist in East Africa and my fascination with finding out about my roots was further fuelled when I attended an exhibition at our community hall in London a few years ago.

They had displays of records from some of the Oshwals who had chosen to settle in East Africa, and on display was a photograph of a lady called Paanchi Shetani, who really stood out to me as she was a strong independent woman who was not afraid to speak her voice in a male driven community, unusual for the time.

It was said that she often hold meetings with the villagers in the Halar district and that she was feared and respected by the local bandits, who would often confide in her about their plans!

It was her who encouraged her sons to make that journey by sea from India to Kenya with the aim of seeking better prospects. Her first son made the journey in 1899 followed by her second son in 1900 and by 1901 they had set up a business in the coastal city of Mombasa.

This was my first inkling into a reason why they moved continent and the story was even more meaningful to me for she was my great great great grandmother and so a piece of the puzzle into how my family tree came to exist in Kenya.

I wanted to know beyond that of where my family’s community originally stemmed from as my nana is an active member of the community and very proud of it.
Having read up the subject lots it became apparent that I needed to visit a town in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan called Osian, also known as Osianor Ossiya, which is close to the Thar desert. According to records it was here that the roots of the Oshwal community is thought to have started. It is known as the “Gateway to The Thar Desert”and was a great trading centre between the 8th to 12th centuries.

I started my trip to India to visit Osian in March 2019 by flying into Delhi, and then exploring Jaipur before arriving into Jodhpur to some very intense heat – 42 degrees!

We drove one afternoon to the town of Osian, which according to history is said to have founded by Utpaladeva, who was a Rajput Prince belonging to the Pratihara Dynasty. In those times, the city had several different names such as Ukesha and Upkeshapur. During this dynasty Osian is believed to have been the major religious and cultural centre of the Mewar kingdom.

How our community came to existence in Osian has several myths and one of them is that King Utpaladeva, who ruled the city at the time with his minister Uhad had received some guidance from an Acharya, called Acharya Shree Ratna Prabha Suri, a leader of Lord Jain tirthankar Parshvanatha to convert to Jainism and turned the village into a centre for the religion

The king, his minister and more than one thousand Rajput soldiers gave up alcohol and meat and adopted Jainism and were named the Oshwal/Oswal Gaccha by the Acharya, forming a new Jain Corps.

While it is difficult to see what life would have been like for my ancestors in Osian as they left around the 10th or 12th century AD due to adverse natural conditions, it was where I wanted to start my journey in the correct order as this is where their story began. I still wanted to get a feel for the place and was so happy to be able to visit.

Wandering through the village of Osian, I noticed how colourful and vibrant it was, with a lot of the houses painted a blue-ish shade, I can imagine it was for the same reason as Jodhpur, to keep cool during the drier months, especially with the proximity to the desert.

As we walked through I noticed all the various shops, all so tidy, and it was a great glimpse into the daily life of the locals, who were so friendly. I noticed a lot of pickles on sale as well as spice shops in the village. I wish I picked some up! The village is clean and feels like a different era, and is so fascinating to see.

What I observed was how a lot of the chores were done in the traditional way and that women in this village covered their faces with a ghoonghat veil.

One of my wishes when visiting Osian was to visit the Sachiya Mata Temple, an ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Sachi Mata, who was the wife of Lord Indra, the Rain God, and was also known as Indrani. The temple complex has two other shrines that are dedicated to Chandi Devi and Amba Mata respectively.

The interiors of the temple are decorated with beautiful images and sculptures of deities from the Hindu pantheon, which you can see as you ascend its hundred steps. It is set on a hill and so has some lovely views of the desert and the village below it.

The temple is an example of the medieval architecture of the time and so fascinating to visit as it is like stepping back in time. Architecture from different eras, especially temples, palaces and forts always leaves me in awe!

As we left, I was happy to get some sweet prasad from the temple, which is a type of offering that you consume after worship.

We also visited the stunning Mahavira Temple, which is dedicated to the last of the Jain tirthankars  and has an open-air pavilion-style mandapa supported by stone carved pillars. It was so peaceful and tranquil when we got there and we were the only visitors and so we had a great chat with the Priest of the temple, who was amazed that we had come specifically to see the temple, and told us that lots of people from my community had come over the years to pay their respects. It was definitely my favourite of the two temples.

People mainly come to see the 32 inches high statue of Lord Mahavira in the padmasana posture, placed on a high platform made of sandstone. According to legend it is over 2000 years old and was found buried underground. It is made of sand and milk and coated in gold. I wasn’t allowed to take a photo of it but it was magnificent!

I loved this temple and would definitely recommend a visit if you find yourself in Jodhpur, as it under 2 hours to get to and so worth seeing.

It was a really eye-opening visit and I feel so grateful to have been able to go and see it in person and my my respects at two significant temples. It has further fuelled my desire to visit other destinations in India, specifically Gujarat, following in the steps of my forefathers, until I get to Jamnagar, which is where my great great great grandmother was settled before her sons made the trip to Kenya.

A big thank you to the Post Office for letting this dream trip come true and to Somak Holidays for helping with the itinerary.

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  1. Neha wrote:

    This is amazing Binny and so glad you got to track back your routes. It sure must have been rewarding

    Posted 4.20.19 Reply
  2. I remember your last foray into tracing your roots, Binny – really enjoyed hearing about your latest adventure. One of the abiding memories of my trip to India, some 20 years ago, are the incredible temples and mosques and their exquisite architecture and carvings. So loved hearing about these temples..

    Posted 4.20.19 Reply
  3. I absolutely love the idea of retracing your roots through travel.

    Posted 4.24.19 Reply
  4. Bejal wrote:

    Wow Binny what an experience this has been. I have read this in two sessions and just find it so emotional. It looked like a fab trip retracing your routes and heritage back so far.

    Posted 4.24.19 Reply
  5. Harpreet wrote:

    Such an amazing experience Binny! It has been fascinating to read about your roots. I am so glad you got to trace them and I hope you get to explore Gujarat and Jamnagar soon!

    Posted 5.6.19 Reply
  6. Laura wrote:

    I am so happy you won! What an incredible trip to trace your roots x

    Posted 5.11.19 Reply
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