Anavils originated from Suarat and Valsad districts of South Gujarat (India). This was a very fertile region and therefore, Anavil Brahmins were traditionally agriculturalists. Although they are called "Brahmins" they are actually a sub-sect or "grahasthi" i.e. they do not perform priestly duties in temples. The favorite diety of Anavils is Lord Shiva (see picture at top left of this page).
The Word "Anavil" is derived from two Sanskrit words "Un" and "Avil". "Un" means "not" and "Avil" is "dirty". i.e. "not dirty" meaning clean or pure. In all probability, the Anavils were pure vegetarians who kept themselves and their surroundings very clean. It could also mean that they were a race that kept their mind and actions clean i.e. people who did not steal or participate in anything considered un-holy.
There are no records available as to when and how the Anavils came to have surnames such as "Desai", "Naik", "Mehta" and so on. One school of thought is that being farmers and therefore physically strong, they might have been recruited into the armies of the times and hence over a period of a few hundred years, they came to be known by the positions they held in the army or by the nature of work they might have carried out when in the army.
During the British rule in India, education was made available and the Anavil Community was quick to grab the opportunity. As the Anavils became more literate, they began to see the injustice carried out by the British and hundreds of Anavils joined the Freedom struggle. Eminent amongst these were Bhulabhai Desai
, Morarji Desai
, Dayalji Desai, Mahadevbhai Desai and Khandubhai Desai to name a few.
After independence, the Anavil Brahmins went back to their agricultural land where rice was and still continues to be a major crop. However, over the years, agricultural yield declined and the Anavil landowners of Southern Gujarat gradually converted much of their paddy and sugarcane fields into orchards. Post independence brought better education and urban employment opportunities so many Anavils migrated to the big cities. Those who remained in the villages have transformed themselves from cultivators to managers supervising their mnarian property. Those that migrated to the cities did fairly well for themselves and today occupy most of the meaningful and supervisory jobs.
Today, one of the most prominent Anavil Brahmins is Shri A.M. Naik
, CMD, Larsen & Toubro Limited, who was recently honored with the Padma Bhushan
by the President of India (2009).
Other prominent Anavil personalities of today include, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai (both eminent authors), Dr. Ketan Desai (eminent doctor and teacher), Manmohan Desai, Vaishali Desai (film personalities), Dr Suresh Desai, an eminent Histopathologist, Dr. B.M. Desai an educationist and so on. The list is simply too long to cover them all here but we certainly hope to throw the spot light on a few in our Spot Light Box
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The AnavilSamaj Mumbai thanks Mr. Jayendra Desai of Mississauga, Ontario for a major portion of this article.