Vahora or Vohra (Punjabi: ਵੋਹਰਾ, Hindi: वोहरा, व्होरा) is a surname that can be found among Hindus and Sikhs, as well as Sunni Muslims. Bohra, Vohra and Vhora, are other variants of this surname.
The origin of the name is unclear, but popular etymology connects it with the Sanskrit word “vyuha”, which means “battle array”.
The Vahora community consists of eighteen sub-castes. Among the Sunni Vahoras are Bharuchi or Kanamiya Patel, Charotari, Chopada, Ghanchi, Kadival, Kathoria, Maniar, Patani, Suhravardi, Surti and Visnagari. Among the Shia Vahoras are Agakhani, Aliya, Daudi, Ismaili, Lotiya and Sulemani.
Bharuchi or Kanamiya Vahoras are known as Vahora Patel. Their main population is in the region north of the river Narmada in Gujarat, India. The geographical area between the Bharuch and Vadodara districts has agricultural land with fertile black soil known as Kanam, which is suitable for growing cotton.
Historical sources indicate that Vahoras have not originated from a single race. Three different branches have amalgamated to form the Vahora community.
1. Most researchers agree that Bharuchi Vahora Patels have a foreign element in them. There was a tribe called Bohara near Madina in Saudi Arabia. They were traders who sailed to Gujarat, India right from the first century AH (seventh century CE). The word Bahra means people of the coastal area. Vahora may be a corrupt form of Bahra. Some Arab tradesmen married Gujarati women and settled in Gujarat. Their progeny came to be known as Vahora.
According to a document published by the Bombay Geographic Society, some Vahoras have originated from the Israeel community of Arabia. Some of them claim to be the descendants of the Prophet Ismail (peace be upon him).
During the reign of Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), Hakam ibn Abi Aasi (may Allah be pleased with him) marched towards Bharuch. In Arabic books of that period, Bharuch is referred to as Baroh and Baros. These marching troops had pitched their tents at Tankari Bandar (Port) near Bharuch and established an Arab colony by conquering the areas around the river Narmada.
Abul Fazal has recorded that the Arabs reached Chanchvelvia Gandhar and Bharuch.
During the Umavi period (Umayyad Dynasty), the supporters of Ahle-Bayt – the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – migrated to Gujarat to escape persecution. These people settled in Bhadbhoot, Bharuch and Gandhar.
In 250 AH (870 CE) Suleman Basri visited India. In his travelogue, he has recorded the presence of Arab traders in Gandhar and Khambhat.
2. The second branch consists of the Sunni Vahoras converted from the Shia sect. Around 1100 CE, Shia preachers came to Gujarat attracted by the liberal policy of the Hindu rulers of Anhilvad (Patan). As a result of their propagation, many people embraced the Shia faith.
During the reign of Sultan Firozshah Taghlakh (1351-1388 CE), his commander Amir Zafarkhan conquered Gujarat in 1371 CE. He was accompanied by Sunni preachers whose influence encouraged some Shias to convert to the Sunni sect.
In 1391, Muzaffarkhan the 1st came from Delhi to Patan as the vicegerent of Gujarat. There were Sunni preachers in his entourage as well. Under the influence of these preachers, many Shia Vahoras became Sunni.
Mulla Jaafar Patani, who was born in a Shia family in the earlier part of the fifteenth century, was a learned man well-versed in Arabic and Persian. He suffered an injustice from Vali-e-Hind and Shia leaders. Therefore, he gave up his Shia faith and adopted the Sunni sect.
A large number of people followed him and also became Sunni. His companions came to Bharuch and converted Shia Vahoras to the Sunni sect. According to Deepak Bardolikar, the religious and social structure of the Sunni Vahora community were formed during the times of Mulla Jaafar.
As Shia and Sunni Vahoras originated from the same race, they maintained inter-marriages. But in 1535, Sayyed Zafar Shirazi put an end to this custom.
3. The third branch consists of the Vahoras converted from Hinduism.Vahoras are linked with the Hindus of Maarwar, Rajputana and Uttar Pradesh. According to a note in Raasmala, during the reign of Sultan Ahmedshah (1420 CE), many Banias and Brahmins embraced Islam.They were called Vahora. Even today the Vahora surname is common among the Hindu Bania and Brahmin communities. The Rajputs, who embraced Islam during this period, came to be known as Mol-e-Salam or Malek. The Hindu converts from the non-martial race were also called Vahora.
In 1818 CE, Captain Owens (official of the British Raj stationed in India) conducted the first survey of the Bharuch district. According to the information obtained by him from the Vahoras of Tankaria, it is understood that some Maarvaris were captured during a battle and enslaved by a Hindu King. In 1618 CE, Emperor Jahangir freed them from their bondage. Impressed by the generosity of a Muslim Emperor and Islam’s teaching about slavery, they willingly converted themselves to Islam. These freed and newly converted Muslim Maarvaris were settled on the waste lands of Gujarat.
The Vahoras of Sarod converted themselves willingly during the reign of Mehmood Begada. They are the descendants of a Brahmin called Manchha-ram from Morbi. Yakub Patel of Sarod who lives in London has a copy of the genealogical tree of his family. It indicates that the original name of Sarod was Sahil-e-Rud meaning village on the river bank. The first convert was a Naagar Brahmin named Bhusa-ram from Mooli.
In 1479, Mahmud Begada conquered Junagadh. The vicegerent Manchha-ram embraced Islam. His son was married to a girl named Roopa who was the daughter of a Kshatriya. They had a son named Amiji. Amiji’s progeny subsists even today.
According to Ibrahim Dadabhai “Bekar”, the famous humourist poet and editor of the “Patel Directory”, some Vahoras are converts from the Chamaar, Dhed, Khatri and Modh Ghanchi communities.
Baheramji Malbari notes: “Vahoras were originally Hindus” so they observe certain Hindu beliefs and customs. Their racial branches are in Maarvar, Rajputanaa and Uttar Pradesh and are known as Hindu Bohra.
Referring to the impact of the Hindu caste system, Fazal Lutfullah writes in his letter dated 14 September 1878, “those who claim to have converted from the upper caste Hindus do not give their daughters in marriage to the Vahoras converted from the lower caste Hindus.”
It is true that some Banias and Brahmins embraced Islam during the reign of Ahmedshah the 1st. However, Vahoras existed before that during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Taghlakh. When a famous traveller Ibn-e-Batuta reached Gandhar, he was received by the sons of a Vahora chieftain.
According to Kadam Tankarvi, a founder member of the Gujarati Writers’ Guild UK (1973), the regions around Bharuch were known as Laat in the olden days. Thus Vahoras residing there were called Laat Vahora. Even today a person living in pomp and luxury is called Laat Sahib (Sir). The Laat Vahoras are linked with the Kanbi Patels of the Charotar region of Gujarat. Their ancestors willingly embraced Islam and settled in poni baso gaam – the term used for the equivalent of one hundred and seventy five villages of the Kanam region.
Every Bharuchi Sunni Muslim family has the Patel surname. Having said that, it should be noted that some Bharuchi Sunni Muslim families have other surnames as well, indicating either occupations (Munshi, Talati, Ughratdar) or residence (Ghantiwala, Padarwala, Vadiwala).
Patel is the most common surname among Bharuchi Vahoras. About the origin of this surname, it is said that the Solanki king gave uncultivated land in the Petlad Taluka. This land was divided into villages and for each village a head was appointed whose job was to keep all records. Each village gave a portion of their crop to the king, as a form of tax. The book in which this tax was recorded was called the pat, and the act of writing it down was known as likh; hence the head of the village was addressed as Pat-Likh and the people of the villages became known as Patlikhs. Over time, changes in the vernacular produced modern variations such as Patel, Patidar and Patil. Other common surnames among Hindus and Bharuchi Vahora Patels are Amin, Bhuta, Dalal, Desai, Gati, Karbhari, Meja, etc.
Apart from surnames, the dialects used by Bharuchi and Charotari Patels have similarities too. They say poni for paani (water) and kon for kaan (ear). They use the vowel “o” in place of “aa”. Hence Ghandhi is pronounced as Ghondhi.
Among the Patels of Charotar, matrimonies are confined to clusters of villages such as chha gaam (six villages) or satyavis gaam (twenty seven villages).
Similarly the Bharuchi Vahora Patels kept matrimonies restricted to one hundred and seventy five villages. Like the Patels of Charotar, the Bharuchi Vahora Patels are adventurous and willing and ready to take a risk. Even today, chaalti vahorvi (to pick up a quarrel or invite trouble) is a common phrase among the Bharuchi Vahora Patels. Perhaps the Vahora identity has resulted from this trait.
The etymological root and literal meaning of the word Vahora also indicate their ancestry. The word Bohra is derived from the Arabic word Barahir used for commercial transactions and trade. In Arabic Behr means a fleet of camels, which indicate a trading caravan.
Another interpretation is that the root word is Bahurah, which means multiple paths, suggesting a community made of various races.
The Persian word Behrah means true path, which suggests a community on the right religious path. The Persian word Behraj is used for a wise businessman, which may have been taken from the word Vahora.
The words Vahora and Vepari (trader) might have been derived from the Hindi word Byohari. Both Hindu and Muslim traders came to be known as Vahora.
According to the book Taarikh-e-Gujarat (History of Gujarat), Bayasara means the guards of a ship. This word was used to describe the people who came to India as the guards of a cargo vessel and later settled there. With the lapse of time, Bayasara became Bahora and then Vahora.
It is recorded in the book Safarnaam-e-Gujarat (1887), that “the origin of the Vahora community is in Gujarat.” They are traders and craftsmen. The Hindi word for trade is Vyavahar. Many Vahoras have business links with Arabia through the sea route.
According to the “Patel Directory” (1954), the word Vahora is derived from Vahorvu, meaning transaction.
Bruhad Gujarati Kosh (Dictionary) gives the Sanskrit word Vyavaharak as the root of Vahora. It became Vivahara in the Prakrit language and Vuhura in old Gujarati. The meaning is, a Sunni Muslim Vahora community of traders.
The common surnames among Hindus and Muslims also give a clue to the origin of Vahora. Bhagvad Gowmandal lists Vahora – Vohra – Vora as surnames common among Bania, Kanbi, Nagar Brahmin and Muslim lenders. The surname Bhad is also found among the Bharuchi Vahora. According to the information provided by Umar Farooq Chamad of Tankaria, two brothers Bhima Bhad and Koda Bhad migrated from Dholaka-Dhandhuka to settle in Bharuch. Today’s Bhad families are their descendants. The Desai families of Dhandhuka, who were originally Rajputs, embraced Islam during the reign of Emperor Jahangir. They are also known as Vahora.