KONKAN CULTURE INFORMATION GUIDE
The Konkani culture is essentially, a coastal culture; fish, coconuts et al. The Konkanis call the coconut tree as the KalpaVriksha (Universal Provider). If one studies the living habits of the community, it easy to understand why. Coconut pancakes, curries and chutney's are staple diet of Konkanis. The tender coconut is both a greeting fluid as also health supplement (and is used in pre-natal care, post-surgery recovery etc.). The roofs were traditionally thatched with coconut leaves and the shell and the sheathe work as a wonderful fuel. Even children's toys are made with coconut tree parts. (teru- made with baby coconuts and the ribs of a coconut leaf, coconut leaflets woven as wrist watch, snake, dragon etc). Hence we are calling the land of Konkanis as the Coconut Nation!
Q. Where does the word Konkani come from ?
A "Kum" represents mother earth and "Kana", dust or an atom (from Sanskrit). Over years, worshippers of mother earth were recognized as Konkanis. One can safely say that the early generation of Konkanis were farmers, a profession that predominated the community till recent times.
Q Why the term Saraswats ?
A River Saraswati is mentioned frequently in Rig Veda and the tribe of Aryans who resided in the large valley of the Saraswati River were known as Saraswats. Saraswati was a mighty river in ancient times and dried up some 4000 years ago. The lost courses of the river have been recently traced by satellite imagery and extensive excavations conducted in western region of the subcontinent. The large region is referred to as Saraswati Mandala in Vedas and was a home to learned Brahmins who specialized in vedic studies, astrology, mathematics, navigation, medicine and mainly metaphysics. When the river dried up, and agriculture, their main profession suffered, they moved to different regions. Hence we find Saraswats in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir (they are known as Pundits, but essentially they are Saraswats), Uttara Pradesh and the South. They came to Goa and western Maharastra (today's Konkan belt) via the sea route. Over centuries the Saraswats localized and hence the diversity in their language and traits. Saraswats are recognized even today for their intelligence, hard work, resilience and accommodative spirit throughout India.
Q Why the term Gowda (Gauda) Saraswats ?
A Gowda Saraswats have their prefix because of the great Guru (teacher) Goudapada. His disciple Govinda Bhagawatpada was the Guru of Sri Shankaracharya who revived Hinduism and advocated the Advaita (monism) philosophy of Goudapadacharya. The first Matha at Kavale (Goa) was built in the 9th century in honor of Goudapada. At one time, all Konkani Saraswats followed Advaita taught by Goudapada and Shakara and came to be known as Gowda Saraswats.
Q How come Konkani Brahmins eat fish ?
A Fish eating is probably due to their proximity to the vast waters of Indian subcontinent. Like Bengali Brahmins (who are not Saraswats), the Konkani Brahmins have always consumed fish except on religious functions. Fish eating can also be attributed to the very flexible and open minded (developed ?) faiths the Konkanis have followed.
Q What is Konkani faith ?
A At one time, all Konkani Saraswats followed Advaita taught by Goudapadacharya and Shankaracharya. They were Shaivaites and worshipped Lord Shiva and his wife Shakti (a.k.a. Durga, Mahalasa and Parvati). Later, many became followers of Madhvacharya, who advocated Dvatism and started worshipping Lord Vishnu, while keeping their Shaivaite rituals. This is the reason why you notice Konkanis offering prayers to all deities, including Ganapati and Surya (the Sun God).
A large number of Konkanis today practice Islam, Roman Catholic and Protestant religions.
Q Whither Konkani Culture?
A It is a well established fact that the Saraswats scattered throughout the world are westernized. With rapid globalization, there is hardly a future for smaller groups and languages. Konkani is no exception. Younger generations of Konkanis living outside of Konkan belt hardly speak Konkani at home. In old times, due to poor transportation in India and social isolation, the Konkanis adhered to their language, deities, and customs which made them aware of their identity. Now there is no dire need for unity in the community and the culture has suffered.
There are some efforts to rejuvenate the Konkani heritage. I have seen some Konkani web sites. A publisher from Goa has volunteered to publish Kamat's book in Konkani! At the request of Sunaparanth in 1995, I had painstakingly collected Konkani vyovyo (traditional wedding poems- it is available for researchers. please contact), which is a fast dying literary art. But no art forms can survive when there is no patronage.
Konkani Stands out among Indian languages by its multireligious, multicaste and multidialectal character. Today it is represented by no less than 3 religious groups that include more than 20 castes, subcastes and sects, each speaking a distinct dialect of its own - a remarkably large spread in proportion to the population (approx. 5 million).
The largest group consists of the Hindus. Among them are the Saraswath Brahmins who claim their ancestry to the Vedic period. The Chitrapur Saraswath Brahmins and the Gauda Saraswath Brahmins(GSBs) belong to this group. Another Brahmin group is the Daivajna Brahmins who are basically jewellers.
Then there are the Vaniyas, a merchant class with their origin traced upto Kochi. Another distinct group is the Kudmis (construction and field workers) who, being untouched by formal education until recently, appear to be the only subgroup to have retained the purest strain of Konkani.
Chaptekars (cooks and caterers), Gudikars (drama props suppliers and puppetry artistes), Konkani Chamgars (cobblers), Maesths (stonecutters), Bhandaris (barbers), Kharvis (fishermen), the Guravs of Goa, the Marata Konkanies and the Rajapuri Saraswath Brahmins of Maharastra are the other important Hindu sects.
The next largest Konkani speaking religious group is the Christians. Among these are the Goan Christians. Seperate from them are the Mangalorean Roman Catholics who were originally converts from among the GSBs in Goa. They are believed to have fled Goa with their GSB cousins during the Inquisition, possibly under the emotional pressure of blood relationships.
There are also the Gowde Christians of South Kanara who were originally peasant converts and hold a distinct identity in relation to the Mangalorean Roman Catholics.
A unique denomination is the Nosters who were the early converts before the Portuguese (A D. 1200 - 1300 by early missionaries). Most of these were driven away by the kSulkars - the neo-converts of the Portuguese - and are now settled in Bombay, Ratnagiri, llttar Konkan and North Goa.
Among the Muslims few groups have retained the Konkani language and culture. Chief among them are the Navayets who are mainly settled in Bhatkal and the Kufis of North Kanara and Ratnagiri.
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