India is a country of rich cultural diversity where 22 officially recognised languages and over 1650 dialects are spoken across 29 states and 7 union territories, as in 2019. The 2011 Census of India last listed 1369 ‘mother tongues’, however, our country has been a witness to a great number of tongues over the centuries. One such distinctive and culturally rich language is Kutchi.
In the midst of extensive salt marshes in the Thar Desert, swanked by the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of the Indus River opening into the southern tip of Sindh, lies the Great Rann of Kutch. Let us discover a fact or two about the language of the Kutchhi people, who are popularly known for their natural flair to pick up multiple skills at once, their exquisite embroidered handicrafts, vibrant colours and ethnic textiles. Let’s begin with busting a common myth: Gujarati is not their mother tongue!
The what, the where, the how many
Kutchi (alternative spellings being Cutchi, Kutchhi or Kachchhi) is an Indo Aryan Language spoken primarily in the Kutch region of western India, around Sindh and Gujarat. Often mistaken to be a dialect of Gujarati, it is a clear dialect of Sindhi and is in fact spoken by more than 11 million speakers worldwide.
It is specifically spoken by the Kutchi people, which would include the Rajput Jadejas, Bhanushalis, Lohanas, Bhuj Brahmins, Megvals, Visa Oswal and Dasa Osval (Oshwal) Jains, followers of Satpanth, Bhatias, Rabaris and various Muslim communities in the region as well, including the Muslim Khojas and the Kutchi Memons.
Where they come from
Until 1947, the Kutch region was merely seen as an extension of the Indus basin. Due to the proximity to the sea and general underdevelopment of the region, merchants started crossing borders regularly to other close-by countries for trade, dairy products, sweets or even brides. With a reputation of being natural seafarers, today, they are even found in far-flung ports of the Gulf and Africa.
Of scripts and peculiarities
Kutchi is a lot like Sindhi where most of its grammar and vocabulary is concerned. It is also said to be mildly related to Gujarati since Kutchh is located between Sindh and Gujarat. It is unique in the way it is spoken and has many common words with Punjabi and Marwari (Rajasthan) as well. Also borrows a substantial number of words from Persian and Arabic such as ‘duniya’ and ‘naseeb’, for example.
Its script is a slightly modified version of the Gujarati and the Devnagari script. In earlier times it was written using the Khojki script, which is extinct today. Since it is spoken in parts of Karachi, it can also be written in an Urdu script, especially by those in Pakistan.
The Kutch people are nearly all vegetarian and their diet essentially includes bajra and milk, especially buttermilk. That apart, they are also known for their creative textile art, the speciality of this region being embroidery work with different styles, one of those being with mirrors. The Kutchi folk dance is also quite popular, and the different forms of folk dance include Dandiya Raas and Kutchi Gajiyo.
Most Kutchis living in India are quite naturally bilingual or trilingual, owing to the exposure to neighbouring languages such as Gujarati. It is likely that such linguistic similarities are a result of migrations across the desert over the last so many centuries, right from present-day Sindh up to Rajasthan. So the next time you might want to surprise your Kutchi friends by unexpectedly asking them: ‘Koro thiyoh?’ (What happened?)
Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna