The Gujarati are primarily classified as the inhabitants of the state of Gujarat, western India. For most of them, Gujarati is their native language. They are a complex people group, speaking various dialects and having many cultural distinctions. Some of these differences are based on region, while others are based on their “caste” (social class) or community.
Today there are significant Gujarati communities in some 27 nations. Many are in Africa but others can also be found in Myanmar, Iran, and Malaysia. Living conditions in these countries vary; however, the Gujarati who have emigrated are usually from the higher, wealthier castes and have maintained many aspects of their own culture. They are often involved in trade or in operating small businesses.
Gujarat is one of the most industrialized states in India. Its lengthy coastline and numerous harbors have made it a focal point of travel and trade. The Gujarati are known as being resourceful businessmen. This has helped them to successfully emigrate and thrive around the world.
What are their lives like?
The Gujarati are divided into a number of social groups. In Gujarat, villages generally lie in clusters and sub-clusters based on the “caste” system. The castes are actually culture groups, based not only on occupations, but also on such things as customs, manners, and habits.
The Hindus, who make up the largest group, are divided into a number of castes or jatis. The structure of their society is based on the principles of “purity and pollution.” The priestly class, known as the Brahman, is in the highest position, while servants and laborers are in the lowest caste. Unfortunately, despite various degrees of acculturation, most Hindus retain their strong cultural ties.
Most marriages in Gujarati societies are arranged. For the Hindu Gujarati, caste and social rank are very important considerations. The Muslim Gujarati are only allowed to marry those from selected groups. They also practice purdah, which means that the women are required to wear veils and remain isolated. Marriage is considered to be an alliance between two families, not just two individuals.
The folklore of the Hindu Gujarati reflects the mythology surrounding the Hindu deity, Krishna. Dances in honor of Krishna have survived in the form of the popular folk dance known as garaba.
Although textiles, plastics, chemicals, and heavy machinery are produced in Gujarat, the majority of the working class are farmers. Wheat and grain are staple crops, and rice is produced in wetter areas. Monsoons are the key to existence for the Gujarati farmers. They are not yet fully equipped with machinery, but the use of tractors has increased.
The state of Gujarat has long been an important center for trade, and their merchants have been sent all over the world. Because their commercial skills have been combined with their natural dedication, the Gujarati have become successful in business ventures internationally.
What are their beliefs?
The majority of the Gujarati are Hindus, regardless of their location in the world. However, a significan number of them have maintained their Muslim ties. The Hindu clergy are drawn from the highest caste, the Brahmans. Therefore, becoming a priest is essentially a matter of birthright, although not all Brahmans practice as priests.
Hindus worship many gods, some of which are animals. Cows are sacred, but they revere monkeys, snakes, and other animals as well. They teach such things as yoga and reincarnation (a continual cycle of death and rebirth). They believe that the soul may be reincarnated as an animal or as a human. The law of karma states that every action influences how the soul will be born in the next life. If a person lives a good life, his soul will be born into a higher state. Whereas, if he leads an evil life, his soul will be born into a lower state, perhaps even as a worm! The cycle continues until spiritual perfection is achieved. Then the soul enters moksha, a new level of existence, from which it never returns.
Hindu shrines contain sculptured images of their gods. Everyday priests wash and dress the images and bring them food. This is not considered idol worship since they believe the gods are actually present in the images.
The Gujarati Hindus hope to better their positions in this life and in the life to come by exhibiting charity, being devoted to the gods, and showing mercy to fellow humans and cows.
On the other hand, the Gujarati Muslims (usually Sunni), often despise the Hindus. The Muslims look down upon their worship of millions of gods and are not hesitant to express the prejudices they feel.
What are their needs?
In many countries where there are Gujarati communities, there are no missionary agencies focusing on this people group. The Bible is available in their language, but the Gujarati must see Christianity lived out. Only then will they understand that true freedom and peace are found in Jesus Christ alone.
Prayer alone has the power to release these Hindus from the bondage of worshipping many gods. Likewise, only intercession can break the strongholds of Islam.
* Ask the Lord to raise up missionaries who are willing to share Christ with the Gujarati.
* Pray that God will give the missions agencies wisdom, favor, and strategies for reaching the Gujarati.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Christians living among them.
* Pray that the Gujarati Christians will be bold in their witness for Christ.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Gujarati towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that Gujarati businessmen will be evangelized and take the Gospel back to their own people.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Gujarati.
Text source: Bethany World Prayer Center © 1999.