UK Lohanas

By Subhash Thakrar Monday 11th April 2016 10:56 EDT

I have always been fascinated about Lohanas and their history and very keen to find out as much information as possible. So much so that as far as 20 years ago along with friends like Hasu Manek and Vijay Thakrar, we had several meetings and interviews of Late Haribhai Samani, who was widely respected as a stalwart in the knowledge of the history of Lohanas. We still have those recordings. Haribhai Samani was the community leader, a very proud Lohana and was able to give us some anecdotal insights about the Lohanas.

What I will say in this article are things that I have heard from various sources and read whatever I came across over the years as frankly, there is no authentic recorded history. There lies a gap which I would want to fill one day!

Soon after our interactions with Haribhai, we proceeded to appoint a PhD at Cambridge University, a Dr Katherine Prior and Professor Rohit Barot at Reading University to do further research for us from whatever historical data that exists. Interestingly, we were able to find references to Lohanas in the British history books.

Combining all this knowledge and we continue to do further research, I have gathered very interesting information about Lohanas that make me proud of the clan I belong to. Some of this information may not be verifiable but it would be fair to say that when you put the various information from different sources together, there is semblance of some history that must represent what may have been the case.

I am sharing with you what I know so far! May be some readers will provide me with information that they know and we can continue to improve on what have.

Lohanas hail from a warrior class originating from the borders of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. This distinguishes Lohanas from today's other Gujarati communities like Shahs, Patels, Prajapatis, Kutchis etc. All these castes have always been resident of Gujarat and therefore true original Gujaratis. Lohanas are immigrants in Gujarat.

In the North West region of the old Indian empire, as was the case all over India( not even known as India as this a creation of the British), there were kingdoms. Lohanas represented 24 kingdoms each bearing a name like Thakar, Lakhani, Kotak etc. It is the names of these kingdoms that has given rise to Lohanas bearing their surnames. Over the years of evolution, a number of new surnames have come about. For example, from Thakar there arose Thakrar and from Kotak became Kotecha  and so on. Some developed their surnames from their business or profession. Examples of these names are Gheewala ( traders in ghee) and  Mehta ( accountants). Today, we probably have 40 to 50 versions of Lohana surnames.

Whenever I ask the question: how many Lohanas are there in the whole World, I hear figures like 20 m, 10 m and 5 m. Lohanas are only about 2 to 2.5 m in the World. Some years back, I did a census of the Lohana community of North London,  which probably represents the largest concentration of Lohanas in the UK, I estimated the number to be around 12000. I imagine this to have doubled. Leicester is the next biggest concentration in UK,  probably does not exceed 20,000. So all over UK will not exceed 100,000. If we estimate similar number in US and Americas and again 100,000 in the Far East, 50,000 in the Middle East, 100,000 in Africa, we get to an approximate number of around 500,000 Lohanas living outside India. Of course the largest number has to be in India. But these are concentrated more in Saurastra rather then all of Gujarat and in Mumbai  rather than in other Indian metros. These represent around 1.5 m. And so a world total of around 2.5 m is fair and reasonable.

Many Lohanas find it amazing when I say that we used to be warriors or Kshatriyas and involved in the protection of the northern frontiers of today's India. Today, I would be hard pushed to find any Lohana in the army or the police force! We are more accepted and respected as a shrewd business community. How could we have changed so much in what may be about 800 years?

This is what makes Lohana history fascinating as it distinguishes this particular caste from all other Gujaratis!

The Lohanas are a warrior class and believed to be the descendants of Raja Ram, who was also known as Raghu and his descendants called Raghuvanshis. So another description of Lohanas is Raghuvanshi. Lord Ram had two sons; Luv and Kush. The descendants of Luv were known as Luvanas and from that evolved Lohanas. Or the young Lohanas now shorten this to ' Luees'!

The warrior Lohanas or Kshatriyas have still got some traces in places like Kabul. Also, I have always thought that the city of Kandahar has some connection too. Kandahar can be split in to Kanda( onions or dungri) and ahar(eating). Well many people relate Lohanas to be onion eating or dungri!

A more probable explanation of the source of Lohana name is that Lohanas started to migrate from the North to what is now known as the Multan region of Pakistan. There was a place called Lahorghat. Lohanas were the protectors of Lahorghat and therefore called Lahoranas. This evolved in to Lohanas. All this is really fascinating.

For the doubters, one can point out the physical distinctions of Lohanas from other Gujaratis. Lohanas have fairer skin colour, more hair on their body and are broad shouldered. May be the style of speaking of Lohanas is more aggressive reflecting the warrior blood. By far the most important distinction of Lohanas is that they are the biggest carriers of a blood disorder called thelesimia. No other Gujarati community has this trace. Why?

Well, the story goes as follows. Alexander the Great was invading and conquering the world. He was known as Sikander. When he reached the Indian empire, he could not conquer it and died in the process. Many of his soldiers never returned to Greece and settled in the northern region. There must have been interactions between Lohanas and Greeks. This is probably the reason why Greeks are even bigger carriers of Thelesimia and Lohanas picked up this strain from them. This may also be the reason why the physical features of many Lohanas resemble the Greeks! Other Gujaratis do not have this blood disorder.

Isn't this fascinating? Here is even more evidence using modern technology. I paid a fee to National Geographic  to analyse my own DNA recently. I was amazed to find that 8% of me is African, 25% Mediterranean and the balance Asian. The 25% Mediterranean must relate to the Greek influence following the advances of Alexander the Great.

I have been interacting with a contact and friend in the Multan region of Pakistan to see if there are any Lohanas still living there. He has reported that there are quite a few who remember being Lohanas but are now converted to Muslims given that Pakistan is a Islamic state and it would be very hard to live there as a Lohana Hindu community.

Indeed all Ismailis( khojas) are converts from Lohanas. You can still find many Ismailis who keep similar traditions as Lohanas for wedding and other ceremonies. They also bear same surnames as Lohanas. So we can find surnames like Somani, Lakhani etc amongst Ismailis.

There is a possible theory that a number of Hindu Punjabis were Raghuvanshis. They bear surnames like Sachdeva and Thakral which are similar to Lohana surnames. It is believed that some of the Rahuvanshi settled in the present day Punjab instead of Multan. I have read that Guru Nanak was a Lohana and his original surname was Chandarana. He started a new Sikh army by calling for the eldest son of every family to join him in the fight against insurgencies from the Muslims. 

So after the Indian partition, many Lohanas moved to nearby Saurastra and Kutch regions of today's Gujarat and India. I know a number of Lohanas in UK who were born in today's Pakistan.

We are doing more research of the presence and life of Lohanas in Pakistan and hope new fascinating information will emerge in due course.

Lohanas have always been and continue to be a nomadic community. After settling in Saurastra in the 18 th century , many travelled by sea and settled in East Africa and South Africa. This happened in late 1800s and early 1900s. From Africa , a lot of the Lohanas have moved to UK, US, Europe and Australia. Interestingly  some young Lohanas are moving to Africa from Gujarat and Europe. 

Some of the notable Lohanas in the past include:

- Jalaram Bapa who was a Thakker

- Guru Nanak who was a Chandarana

- Yogi Maharaj, the founder of Swaminaryen movement

- Mohamed Ali Zina, the first president of Pakistan, who belonged to a Thaker family in Gondal but converted.

- Nanji Kalidas Mehta, one of the great business entrepreneurs and philanthropists 

- Muljibhai Madhavani, a highly successful business entrepreneur and founder of the Madhvani Group in Uganda

Of course the most famous royalty amongst Lohanas was Dada Jasraj. Many Lohanas still revere him during their religious ceremonies.

Today, the modern day Lohanas are highly respected as shrewd business people and very successful. They have their community organisations spread in many parts of the World. However, what you see in other communities like the Patels where there is strong community spirit and desire to help other community members is regrettably lacking in the characteristics of the Lohanas. They are much more individually progressive and may be reflective of the warrior class!

Many are moving in to professionals and even politics. Lohanas have also developed a reputation of being very generous philanthropists.

I will continue to study and research about Lohanas. A history worth sharing and a history to be proud about.

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