The Gujarati Community is independently described for the first time in this edition, having previously been included as part of the East Indian Community. “Gujarati” refers to both the people of the western Indian province of Gujarat and the language that they speak.The majority of Gujaratis follow Hinduism but many parctice Jainism, Zoroastrianism, or Islam. Zoroastrians who migrated from Persia to India are known as Parsi or Parsee. In Toronto, amongst the many who have maintained their cultural traditions, it is common to see a Parsi speaking Gujarati or an Ismaili or Muslim reading a Gujarati magazine.
During the 1940s many Gujaratis dispersed to the East, the Middle East, and Africa in search of a better livelihood. In short order they adapted to their new environments and became well-established, but with the political changes of the 1960s in East Africa many fled, often without their belongings, to England; a few returned to India. Of those who settled in Britain, large numbers later emigrated to Canada or America, and today there are about 60,000 Gujaratis living in the Toronto region.
Many young Gujaratis arrived in Toronto in the 1970s, then called upon their families to join them. In contrast to western individualism, Gujarati culture emphasizes “family” as the basic social unit; family members learn from each other, and values of warmth, sharing, caring for others, and staying together are emphasized.Dadaji (grandfather),Dadima (grand-mother),Ba (mother),Bapuji (father), and children will live together for long periods. As long as the Dada-Dadi and Ba-Bapuji are alive their sons will live together, even with their own children; unmarried daughters also share the household.
Adventurous entrepreneurs, many Gujaratis keep an eye toward lucrative business opportunities. Initially, many took jobs as engineers, teachers, 184 TORONTO’ S MANY FACES accountants, and medical doctors; later, others worked in import-export, wholesale and retail, local trade, IT, real estate, marketing, finance, and motels. Principles of non-violence and, by extension, vegetarianism have kept most Gujaratis out of the meat and wine industries, heavy duty manual labour, and the armed forces. Few work in government service or for the police, firefighting, or transport, and while they hold an appreciation for art, they tend to avoid careers in painting, dance, drama, music, and other cultural fields.
Gujaratis have not tended to live together near places of worship, as many other ethnic communities do, and as a result they are spread widely throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
Celebrations and festivals are integral to the Gujarati community. Religious festivals are characterized by excitement, joy, and solemn prayer. Since Hindus, Jains, and Ismailis follow the lunar calendar, their holy days do not fall on the same dates each year.
Gujaratis join other Canadians in celebrating this nation’s holidays, such as Canada Day, and other Indians in celebrating occasions like India’s Republic Day on January 26 and Independence Day on August 15. Gujarati-speaking Muslims of Pakistani origin celebrate that nation’s holidays.
NAVRATI, or “Nine Nights”, is a Hindu festival special to Gujaratis. Although a religious celebration, Navarti has increasingly focused on modern music, dancing, and entertainment, especially amongst younger Gujaratis. The exuberant celebration features garba (rhythmic dancing in a circle) in traditional chaniya choli and sari costumes, and raas, a dance with sticks. Many “introductions” take place during these nine nights, sometimes resulting in marriage.
Many other Hindu, Muslim, and Ismaili festivals and holidays are described in other chapters or in the Glossary of Holidays and Celebrations; important Jain occasions are outlined below. Jain festivals and observances are characterized by renunciation, self-restraint, learning, meditation, forgiveness, repentance, and expressing devotion to the moral values brought to life by the Tirthankars.
MAHAVIR JANMA KALYÄNAK, usually in April, commemorates the birthday of the 24th and final Tirthankar Mahavir of this era. “Tirthankar” means “spiritual victory”, one who has attained omniscience. Vardhaman was the last of these, and took the honorific Mahavir, meaning “Great Hero”. On this occasion Jains gather to read the life and mission of Mahavir and listen to his teachings.
PARYUSHAN PARVA, falling during the months of August and/or September, is the most important eight-day festival of Jains. During these days Jains fast and carry out religious activities. It is a period of repentance for acts done during the year, and austerities to help shed the accumulated karmas. On the eighth day, known as Samvatsari, Jains ask for forgiveness from family, friends, and foes alike for any harmful act they might have committed during the previous year. They in turn forgive others, and the next day all who have observed fasts are honoured.
Other festival days observed include Guru Purnima (day of reverence for Guru, or teacher), Gnan Panchami (day of obtaining knowledge), Dev Diwali (day of prayer), and Maun Agiyaras (day of fasting with a vow of silence).
GUJARAT ABROAD, Tel. 905-265-0984, www.gujaratabroad.ca. Weekly newspaper. Editor and publisher: Vipul Jani.
SWADESH, 713 Markham Rd., M1H 2A8, Tel. 416-996-7755 or 416-273-7075, www.swadeshmedia.com. Fortnightly newspaper.
GUJARAT EXPRESS, Tel. 905-457-2498, www.gujaratexpress.ca. Weekly newspaper.
VATAN NEWS, 695 Markham Rd., Suite 33, M1H 2A5, Tel. 416-486-0374.
ATN, www.asiantelevision.com. While there are no local television broadcasts and very limited radio programming available in Gujarati, the Asian Television Network provides programming from India’s Zee TV through Rogers digital cable, bringing news, entertainment, music, and religious programming.
FEDERATION OF GUJARATI ORGANIZATIONS. There are about fifty Gujarati associations and organizations in Toronto, from small to large, and many are linked with the Federation of Gjuarati Organizations (FOGA). Some groups are caste-based, like the Lohana Cultural Association, Vanik Samaj, Brahman Society, and Oswals; others center around locations, including the 24-Gam Patidar Samaj (Patidars of 24 Villages), 24-Gam Patel Association, or the Surti Samaj (People of the city of Surat). FOGA organizes annual raas and garba (folk dance) competions, and its many affiliated groups arrange annual picnics, sporting events, entertainment programs, conferences and conventions, and festive events. They also raise funds and provide aid in the event of natural calamities, and invite dance and drama troupes from India.
GUJARATI SENIORS’ SAMAJ OF MISSISSAUGA, is one of the few active Gujarati seniors’ associations.
YOUNG GUJARATI HORIZON, is a youth organization.
YOUNG GUJARATI NETWORK, Tel. 905-457-3649, is another group for young Gujaratis. Founder: Danny Mistry.
VISHWA GUJARATI SAMAJ, www.vishwagujaratisamaj.org, based in Ahmedaba, Gujarat, and with the backing of the government of Gujarat, is a worldwide organization that links Gujaratis across the globe. The Canadian chapter is based in Toronto.
SHABDA SETU, Tel. 905-770-8298, meaning “a bridge of words,” is a Canadian Gujarati literary group.