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Baba Ghor and the Ratanpur Rakshisha

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image of Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

As the patron saint of the Indian agate bead industry, Baba Ghor is very important in any reconstruction of its history. The facts about him are quite scanty; we can only hypothetically reassemble them and understand his myth. Abbas, or Habash, a scion of the Malwa Ghors, died in a skirmish near Ratanpur in the early 15th century, probably fighting Ahmed Shah of Gujarat. He was buried on the hill which had long been sacred and was once graced with a fine temple of Makkhan Devi, the Mother Goddess. Her temple was likely destroyed by Ahmed's troops, not those of the Malwa Ghors. Ghor's grave became a place of pilgrimage, first serving the waxing Muslim strength in the area by providing an approved focus of worship. In time it became even more important to the Siddis, who appropriated Ghor as one of their own. He gave the Ratanpur Siddis respectability: in turn they serve his memory. The legends of Baba Ghor and the Ratanpur Rakshisha are not mere fantasy, for they serve the truth as symbols. Ghor represents the coming of Islam, the loss of the old gods, the destruction of the temples, and the forgetting of the old ways. A new dispensation came to Ratanpur and the agate bead industry, and as a result the age-old commerce changed its focus as Cambay replaced Limodra as the lapidary center. Ghor is alive for the Siddis and other Muslims in whose hands the industry is still concentrated. In a very real sense Ghor did encounter the Ratanpur Rakshisha. The Indian agate bead industry has never been the same since, nor can it be understood without taking their battle into account.


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