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I’d heard about the family-historians or Pandits in Haridwar many years ago.
Their sole work in life is to maintain records of families and they have been doing this as an ancestral profession for centuries.
This seemed unbelievable to me. And I assumed that like most other traditional & cultural professions, this one too must be vanishing.
For years I’d wanted to find out more about this subject but did not know where to begin. The elders – both from my side and my husband’s side – had no clue as everyone had gotten busy with the present and forgotten who the family pandit was.
But we must not give up before we start. So one foot after the other, I set off with a plan but with little hope.
The first ray of light was the answer given the owner of the homestay when I asked about this: “Ask the caretakers and they will guide you” he said very confidently.
As soon as I reached the homestay I explained my quest to the caretaker.
Within an hour, he had called in a Pandit who would be the first in a long chain of Pandits who would indulge me over the next few days.
They talked to me, answered all the questions that they surely saw as childish and trivial, and posed for photos with their registers.
Encouraged by this success I extended my ambition and decided to aim for the ‘stretch’ goal……. to find MY family pandit and family history.
As registers are maintained by geographical origin, the Pandits associated with Gujarat were sought out. Few in number, after a trail I managed to find the pandit associated with Surat, the city of my ancestors in the visible past. We found names of neighbours that I recognised. Godiwala and Shah. But sadly we did not find any of my own family. They said perhaps the register is maintained in another city – there are 2-3 other possible cities where this might be. My elders themselves had fewer answers than these Pandits. So I had reached a dead end.
Then, still not ready to face failure, I decided to pursue the ancestry of my children … from my husband’s side. To look for his family pandit. I was less hopeful (than I was for my Surat family) because his grandfather came from a small village outside Kanpur.
Mathematically thinking, I should have been more hopeful because it would be easier to find the record of one family from a village, rather than from a large city. But I wasn’t thinking very much – I was just flowing with the gushing junoon of the quest.
The trail went from one Pandit to another. The pandit I’d be sent to, would check his registers, not find the names mentioned and then watch me feel dejected. Then he’d phone another pandit and send me to the next and I’d go again with hope. Eventually we narrowed down and reached the pandit who handled the village records of my husband’s great grandfather’s village in district “Kanpur Dehat”.
Now we had to look through the register and see if the family names existed.
A few frantic calls were to my husband in the middle of his siesta to retrieve names of his grandfathers’s father and his brothers.
And with those, we had triangulated the data we already had in the family and the data present in the Pandit’s registers.
And we HAD ACTUALLY FOUND the records of my children’s ancestry.
Last updated 102 years ago, I narrated all the family additions to the Pandit and we now have a family record that goes back at least 300 years.
Now that the link has been established, I will go back another time and track and trace the records to see how far back they go – maybe 500 years – maybe more.
THIS is heritage.
I was sad that I could not find my own genealogy – but for my children, this is perhaps the greatest gift. A sense of where they have come from.
They say the records of every Hindu family are available in Haridwar and 2-3 other centres.
All Hindus go for a pilgrimage to Gangotri and on the way back, they stop in Haridwar from bathing in the Ganga. It is at this point that the family data is updated. As families are large, someone or the other updates this data. And records are usually as fresh as a decade or so.
But life has changed dramatically in the upwardly mobile middle class and old traditions are the greatest casualties. And so we see gaps like 102 years between one update and the next.
Let’s hope the next gap isn’t so long that, like my own family, the records though they exist are impossible to locate now. Immensely grateful for the universe cooperating to fulfill this quest for the sake of the next generation. Feels like I’ve settled the a part of the debt to ancestors by connecting the past to the future.
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