Konkani Roots

Topic of Discussion: Saving Heritage: Roots of Konkani

Posted on May 10, 2003 at 04:05:24

I would like to comment on Krishnanand Kamat's article "Tracing the roots of the Konkani language" (May 5) The roots of Konkani are surely in the original dialect that the Aryan invaders brought with them from the north-west which in the course of time became Sanskrit and the various Prakrits.

One of the languages spoken in Nagar Haveli, called Kokni or Kokna in the 1991 census, surprised me a little, since I didn't expect Konkani to be spoken in an area which did not see Goan Konkani-speaking migration; this migration was mainly to urban areas, e.g. Mumbai. I have a feeling that we may not be talking about Konkani or a version of it, but a language spoken in Nagar Haveli with a similar sounding name. If the evidence of the movement of Konkani speakers is correct, then there was a migration southward, either from the north-west, or according to some theories from the Bengal area. It is hardly likely that Konkani-speaking tribes would move en masse northward. It is more reasonable to accept that the spread of Konkani from the Goan region was the result of invasions both Moslem and Christian and the result of economic necessities than some natural catastrophe.

However, as Kamat quite rightly says, it is about time research is undertaken on these areas in Nagar Haveli and in Gujarat among the Gamit tribals. Only then will we be able to leave the world of speculation and enter the world of facts.

Prof. Dennis Kurzon
email: [email protected]
Posted: 16th Aug 2003. Modified: 19th August 2003.
From: "P.J.M." <[email protected]>
Subject: Roots of Konkani
To: [email protected], [email protected]

Prof. Kurzon

cc. Navhind Times, Cybervoices


This is in reply to your letter which appears in the Navhind Times' Cybervoices. (Prof. Kurzon, Konkani Roots, http://www.navhindtimes.com/cybervoices/messages/512.htm)

I am a Goan living in Bombay.

Years ago, I had been reading a decades old book, written in about 1940-1950, The History of Christianity in Canara by a Severiano Pinto, though I am not too certain of his surname. (I have the book in my collection).

Anyway, the history he presents surprised me very much, for he quoted archaeological and anthropological (evidence) to show that the Konkan extends all the way north to the Narmada, and that the whole area was Konkani speaking until the time of the Khilji sultanate, when Allaudin Khilji invaded the Deccan, overthrew the Marathi empire centered on Devnagar (modern Daulatabad). The slain Devnagarian emperor's brother, Bhim, fled, accompanied by a large number of the social elite, to the western, vassal region of the North Konkan, to settle on an island and there he built his new capital. That city was Mahikawati, on the river by that name. That name is now corrupted to Mahim. And that social elite survives to this day as the Pathare Prabhus.

Following this book, I began to do my own research, and Severiano's account was found to be correct.

However, the North Konkan still remained Konkani speaking until the much latter rebellion of Shivaji Bhonsle, when there was an influx of Marathi into what is today the Raigad district.

The third wave came when under the latter Peshwas, the Marathi invaded and conquered the North Konkan from the Arabs and the Portuguese. The Lusitanized Konkani Christians were forced to assimilate to Marathi. The English called them the Bombay Portuguese. They renamed themselves the East Indians in about 1876, ostensibly in honour of the British East India Company, and purportedly to differentiate themselves from the Konkani speaking Goans immigrating into Bombay, and have forgotten their Konkani origins, although they speak a mixture of Konkani and Marathi.

In the far north, the tract of the Konkan was dominated by the Vasa Konkani, therefore called the Vasava Land. To its west, across the Gulf of Cambay (Khambatta) lies Saurashtra. This was organized into a Hindu kingdom that was called Sorath. Sorath was invaded by the Arabs, and conquered. However, the Sorathians fled across the Gulf to the Far North Konkan, and settled there. The native Konkani were displaced and reduced to tribals living in the forests. The Konkna and Dangis are descendants of these aborigine Konkanis of the Vasavaland.

The invading Sorathians built a new city, after the name of their ancient homeland, calling it Surat.

Another surviving community of Konkani speakers is that of the Samvedis in Vasavaland - the Thane district of Maharashtra state/province.

To the south, the Konkan extended only a little further than Goa's southern boundary - upto the Gangaveli river, and including the cities of Karwar (old Kadwad), Honavar, Gokarn, Hubli-Dharwad, etc. on the north side of that river. Beyond that river is Tuluva-Haiva or Tulunad, the land of the Tulu speakers.

The expulsion of Hindus from Goa brought the first, though comparatively small and insignificant groups of settlers into Tulunad and further sought into Kerala - the Malabar.

But a larger group of Konkani were invited into Tulunad from Portuguese India or Goa due to their reputation as excellent farmers by the Kings of Ikkeri who wanted to augment their tax base by opening forest land for agriculture. Later invasions of Goa by Shivaji and his son Shambaji forced further waves of Goans settlers into the Tulunad.

This is how the Konkani people came to be fragmented and with it the language.

Historians have unearthed that Konkani did have its own script at one time, the Candavi, until neighbouring invaders imposed their languages as state languages over the Konkan...

Prakash John Mascarenhas
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