[In the context of the recent furore over my characterization of certain AIT-supporting writers as "racist/casteist", here is my article about my own caste, the Chitrapur Saraswats, written in November 2014 for the centenary volume of our society. This is for anyone who is interested, and of course those who want to look at it that way can also use it to brand me also as "casteist", even if a harmless pride in one's own community in itself is no sin. It is when ideas of caste interests and caste superiorities and prejudices come up in one's personal or ideological life that the problems start]
Our Chitrapur Saraswat Community, which was behind the formation of the oldest co-operative housing society in Asia, is one of the most interesting communities in India. It is one of a very few castes or communities in India which are 100% literate (probably the first community in India to encourage female education on a major scale), well organised (with a community organisation since 1911, and a community census since 1912), and socio-culturally progressive (a dowry-free community, among other things) and has been so since a long time.
History of the Community
The history of the community can be divided into different phases:
1. The Kashmir-Haryana phase: The Saraswat Brahmin community lived in the Kashmir-Haryana area in ancient times. The Saraswats of the south, known as the Dakshinatya Saraswats, migrated from this area to the south sometime before 700 AD.
There is plenty of evidence for this northern origin:
a) The very name of the community, Saraswat, which indicates its origins on the banks of the Saraswati river, and the fact that there are Saraswat Brahmin communities all over North India (including the Brahmins of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, and the Kashmiri Pandit community of Jammu and Kashmir).
b) The classification of Saraswats in the Puranas as belonging to the Pancha Gauda (the five brahmin communities of the north) when even the Maharashtra and Gurjara (Gujarati) brahmins are classified as belonging to the Pancha Dravida (the five brahmin communities of the south), and therefore the word Gaud in the name GSB, indicating the northern origins; and actual descriptions, in the Sahyadri Khanda of the Skanda Purana, of the southward migrations of the Dakshinatya Saraswats.
c) Saraswat tradition, which retains detailed memories of their ancestors’ migration from Kashmir and the Saraswati area.
d) The name given to Chitrapur Saraswat brahmins in Karnataka, bhanap, which is a combination of the common Kashmiri name, Bhan, and the southern appellation, appa.
e) The evidence of the Konkani language brought by the ancient Saraswats from the north, which, in spite of much more than a thousand years of close contact, interaction and mutual influence vis-à-vis the Marathi language, still preserves linguistic features testifying to its origins in the Kashmir-(Vedic) Haryana area, as we will see presently.
2. The Goa phase: The Saraswats had migrated through Gujarat and the Konkan coast already by 700 AD, and they were mainly settled in Goa. Their influence in the Konkan belt and its hinterland is evidenced by the influence of Konkani on the language of the Dnyaneshwari, as has been noted by many scholars.
In Goa, the Saraswats, who are believed to have migrated thence in waves, were generally divided into two groups. The first group consisted of the settlers in Sasashti (Salcette), Tisvadi (Tissuary) and Bardesh (Bardez), known as the Sasashtikars, the Tisvadikars and the Bardeshkars; and the second group consisted of the settlers in Kuthal or Kushasthali (Cortollim) and Keloshi (Quelessam), known as the Kushasthalikars and Keloshikars. All these Saraswats were called Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs), and all of them followed the Smarta tradition (where the external marks, such as the marks on the forehead, and the iconography of the murtis of the kuladevatas, were Shaiva, but the actual religion involved equal worship of five deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya and Ganesh). This is only to be noted because, later on, the first group largely converted to the Vaishnava tradition while retaining the name GSB, while the second group largely came to be known as Shenvi while retaining the Smarta tradition.
The first math of the Saraswats, the Gaudapadacharya math, later known as the Kavle math (established in 740 AD at Keloshi in Goa, shifted to Kavle in Goa in 1630 AD) was a Smarta math. After the influence of Madhavacharya led many Saraswats to convert to Vaishnavism, the second math, the Gokarn Partagali math (established in 1476 AD), was a Vaishnava GSB math. The southern GSBs established a third math, the Kashi math (in 1542 AD), also a Vaishnava math. Finally, the fourth Saraswat math, the Chitrapur math, a Smarta math, was established in 1708 AD.
3. The Kanara phase: All the Saraswats were mainly concentrated in Goa till at least 1300. The Muslim invasions of Goa from 1312-1378, and the resultant slaughters and temple destructions, led to the first small movements of Saraswats into Karwar to the south and into adjacent areas of southernmost Konkan to the north. In 1510, the Portuguese conquered Goa, and started forcible conversions to Christianity. This reached a climax in 1560 with the institution of the Inquisition in Goa. This sustained persecution led to larger waves of migrations from Goa to the Kanaras (and some northwards into southern Konkan). The migrants to the Kanaras included Vaishnava GSBs, Smarta Shenvis, as well as some converted Christian groups (who were also targeted in the Inquisition because they continued to hold on to some pre-conversion aspects of their culture). All these groups spread out in both North Kanara (Karwar) and South Kanara (Mangalore) areas, and some GSBs even migrated as far south as Cochin in Kerala.
In time, the communities in the Kanaras became more and more cut off from the communities still resident in Portuguese administered Goa. The conversion of most GSBs to Vaishnavism, the establishment of the Vaishnava Gokarn Partagali math in North Kanara in 1476 AD, and the establishment of a separate Vaishnava Kashi math by the Vaishnava GSBs of South Kanara and Cochin in 1542 AD, led to a consolidation of the GSBs outside Goa. The Shenvis of the Kanaras, however, slowly started drifting apart from the Gaudapadacharya math in Goa, and from the Shenvis of Goa. To add to this, the math itself became almost dysfunctional from 1564 AD-1630 AD: the Portuguese destroyed the original Gaudapadacharya math in Keloshi in 1564 AD. The 57th Swami of the math left Goa and took up residence in a math in Kashi, and the subsequent Swamis of the math (the 58th to the 62nd) continued to reside in far off Kashi, thereby completely weakening the links of the southern Shenvis with the Gurus. Finally a delegation of Shenvis from Goa travelled all the way to Kashi and tried to persuade the 62nd Swami to return to Goa. Instead, the Swami gave diksha to the leader of the Goa delegation, and ordained him the next Swami of the math in Goa. The delegation returned, and the math was rebuilt at Kavle in Ponda (Goa) in 1630 AD. However, many of the Shenvis of the Kanaras were put off by all these developments, and were disinclined to accept the new Swami.
The Shenvis of the Kanaras therefore drifted apart from the Shenvis of Goa and the parent math. However, they started developing as a separate community in the Kanaras. Other socio-political compulsions later led to the need for a math, and the Chitrapur math was established at Chitrapur in Shirali (North Kanara) in 1708 AD. This math became the focal point of consolidation of the community, who came to be known as Chitrapur Saraswats.
The Chitrapur Saraswats developed a very distinct culture and way of life in the Kanaras. Like the Gaud Saraswats, they also became differentiated into two groups on the basis of north and south: the Chitrapur Saraswats of South Kanara were called tenki, and those of North Kanara were called badgi. However, unlike the Gaud Saraswats, both groups continued to follow the same math, and (despite mutual suspicions) the mutual relations never reached breaking point.
4. The Bombay phase: A new phase in the Chitrapur Saraswat history started around 1870 AD, when a few Chitrapur Saraswats migrated to Bombay. Shamrao Vithal Kaikini was one of the first migrants, and he encouraged others to follow. But the bulk of the population still resided in the Kanaras. In 1886 AD, of a total Chitrapur Saraswat population of 11300, only 800 resided (i.e. had migrated in search of jobs, etc to places) outside the Kanaras. And they were not all in Bombay: the population in Bombay was still only 226 even by 1896 AD, and had increased to only 1252 by 1912 AD, and 2631 by 1932 AD.
But Bombay was to became the new centre of the Chitrapur Saraswat community: most significant was that after the establishment of the Chitrapur math in 1708 AD, the three other consolidating factors in the community were established in Bombay in the early twentieth century: the SVC (Shamrao Vithal Cooperative Bank) in 1904, the KSA (Kanara Saraswat Association) in 1911, and the Cooperative Housing movement starting with the society at Gamdevi in 1915. By 1956 AD, 8627 of the 18329 Chitrapur Saraswats resided in Bombay and its suburbs, and by 1971, a majority lived in Bombay: 11195 out of a total of 20932. The 2001 census still showed 11645 out of 22498 Chitrapur Saraswats living in Bombay and its suburbs: only around 1313 now lived in the native Kanaras. In Bombay, the community became even more integrated, with the tenki-badgi differences fading away.
With modernity, westernization, high incidence of inter-caste marriages, and growing migrations to foreign lands, it is difficult to speculate about the future; but, at present, Mumbai is still the centre of the community.
Chitrapur Saraswat Surnames
How do you recognize a Chitrapur Saraswat by his surname? Most of the surnames are actually the names of the villages in Karnataka from where their particular ancestors hailed, so it is sometimes possible that some non-Chitrapur Saraswats from the same villages may also sport the same surnames, but by and large the surnames are very distinctive. Of course, you also find some surnames which may be found among other Saraswats as well, or among other Brahmin communities in the rest of the country: Bhardwaj, Bhat, Haridas, Karnik, Koundinya, Koushik, Kulkarni, Nadkarni, Pandit, Sharma, Shukla, Wagle. Or, there is the erstwhile style of South Kanara, in which all surnames would be subsumed under a common ubiquitous Rao, where my own name for example would be written as T S Rao (Talageri Shrikant Rao).
Surnames ending in R: The largest category of surnames belongs to the types ending in R. The “ur”s: Adur, Aidur, Arur, Bailur, Baindur, Balehannur, Barkur, Basrur, Bijur, Biliyur, Hattikudur, Kachur, Kandlur, Kavur, Manglur, Masur, Mudur, Mundkur, Murur, Nalkur, Padambur, Panemanglur, Puttur, Saletur, Savkur, Savur, Sirur, Vokkettur, Yellur, Yerdur. The “pur”s: Gurpur, Haldipur, Kalyanpur, Kundapur, Mallapur, Yellapur. The “awar”s: Balsawar, Brahmavar, Chandawar, Honnavar, Kalawar, Nilawar, Pejawar, Udyawar. The “eshwar”s: Bangramanjeshwar, Bankeshwar, Dhareshwar, Manjeshwar, Murdeshwar, Nileshwar, Someshwar, Ubhayadhareshwar. The “ar”s: Nadgar, Nagar, Sagar. The “aar”s: Agrahar, Andar, Biyar, Bolar, Chittar, Gurkar, Karambar, Karwar, Madyar, Nettar, Philar, Satar, Tengar. The “eri”s: Badkeri, Bhandikeri. Dongerkeri, Gollerkeri, Golikeri, Kumbarkeri, Manikeri, Maskeri, Mogeri, Salukeri, Talageri, Talcheri, Vombatkeri, Yederi. The “re”s: Bellare, Katre, Kembre, Ujre. And the “bidri”s: Mudbidri, Padbidri. Other Rs are Chandragiri, Jajri, Kuber and Sujir.
Surnames ending in the cerebral D: The “aadi”s: Amladi, Bapadi, Charmadi, Gulvadi, Haladi, Hejmadi, Hemmadi, Jothadi, Kankanadi, Karampadi, Karopadi, Kathemmadi, Kilpadi, Kokradi, Kudyadi, Nirtadi, Sanadi. The “angadi”s: Aldangadi, Arangadi, Bailangadi, Beltangadi, Bolangadi, Hattangadi, Hosangadi, and a variant Matadgadi. The “idi”s: Honnemmidi, Yennemmidi. The “odi”s: Kesarkodi, Kuvekodi, Nirodi, Samrodi. The “od”s: Kadkod, Kalthod, Kasarkod. The “aad”s: Balnad, Kabad, Karnad, Kuchinad, Raysad, Shibad, Trikannad. And the “de”s: Bagde, Burde, Irde, Ragde, Sode, Shedde. A lone cerebral D is Mukud.
Surnames ending in the cerebral L: The “alli”s: Balvalli, Invalli, Jalvalli, Kalhalli, Malvalli, Marballi, Molahalli, Naimpalli, Vaknalli. The “al”s: Alekal, Amembal, Bajekal, Bhatkal, Dharmasthal, Karkal, Kaval, Mudbhatkal. The “aal”s: Bantwal, Bondal, Kodial, Mogral, Pangal, Savnal, Ullal. The “uli”s: Baddukkuli, Bobbuli, Narekuli. The “li”s: Gangavali, Gangoli. And the “le”s: Dumble, Heble, Kadle, Kumble, Sthale, Wagle. Other cerebral Ls are Bankikodla, Kel.
Surnames ending in the dental L: The “al”s: Benegal, Cherkal, Heranjal, Kelavittal, Keregal, Kodikal, Nayal, Pombatmajal, Sashital, Vittal. The “hittal”s: Janahittal, Kabbinhittal, Huvinhittal. The “il”s: Gundil, Kottebagil, Tarebagil. The “li”s: Puthli, Shirali. The “aal”s: Bellimal, Kagal. The “ul”s: Babul, Kudmul. Other Ls are Kalle, Kombrabail, Manel, Pherl.
Surnames ending in the cerebral T: The “te”s: Harite, Hervatte, Hoskote, Kerekatte. The “bet”s: Betrabet, Donkabet, Hirebet, Kantebet, Sherbet. And the “ti”s: Garati, Kati, Naikankatti, Nagarkatti. Other cerebral Ts are Nagarmath, Kumta.
Surnames ending in the cerebral N: the “an”s: Bedraman, Madiman, Mullerpattan, Ulman. The “ni”s: Agnashini, Kaikini, Kodkani, Nilekani, Upponi. The “kon”s: Khambadkone, Padukone (e silent). The “ne”s: Kone, Vine. Other cerebral Ns are Gokarn, Ugran.
Surnames ending in P: The “pe”s: Gersappe, Karpe, Kolpe, Ulpe. The “pi”s: Kopi, Udpi. Other Ps are Jeppu, Mukdap, Sajip.
Surnames ending in S: The “se”s: Balse, Kabse, Taggarse, Tonse, Vandse. Other Ss are Rayas, Trasi. A lone Sh is Samshi.
Surnames ending in J: The “je”s: Balje, Kailaje, Karanje, Kundaje, Panje, Tadgajje. And a lone J, Idgunji.
Surnames ending in K: The “ki”s: Karki, Manki, Mulki, Talmaki. The “dak”s: Kapnadak, Kundadak. Other Ks are Chitrik, Kolke.
Surnames ending in G: The “gi”s: Bilgi, Divgi. The “ge”s: Kavalige, Kodange, Mannige. And a lone G: Kalbag.
Surnames ending in V: The “ve”s: Mavinkurve, Mugve. And a lone V, Naravi.
Surnames ending in the dental N: The “mane”s: Chikermane, Gaddemane, Keremane. And a lone N, Mirjan.
Surnames ending in the dental T: the “vante”s: Cirvante, Gunavante. And a lone dental T, Tombat.
Other endings: The dental D: Jadagadde, Jamalabad, Surkund, Tavanandi. B: Kalambi, Sorab. M: Lajmi, Turme. Y: Labadaya, Ubhaya.
This is a more or less exhaustive list of Chitrapur Saraswat surnames. Many other similarities may be noticed among the names: Jadagadde and Tadgajje; Pombatmajal, Tombat and Vombatkeri; Balje and Balse; Kasarkod and Kesarkodi; etc. Sometimes, people add a Marathi “kar” to their surnames, and there are different spellings in English for each surname, neither of which has been counted above.
Eminent Chitrapur Saraswats
The Chitrapur Saraswats form a miniscule community: as per the 2001 Chitrapur Saraswat Census, there were only 22498 Chitrapur Saraswats in the whole world – as per earlier censuses, the figures had been 20932 (in 1971), 18329 (in 1956), 14763 (in 1932), and around 11300 (in 1886).
Yet, it has produced more eminent people than communities several times its size. In the last more than a century, it has produced luminaries in every field. The following list is only of a few prominent Chitrapur Saraswats, which will suffice to illustrate the importance of this miniscule community. The first four are particularly noteworthy:
Narayan G Chandavarkar: President of the Indian National Congress (1900), Bombay High Court judge (1901), Mayor of Bombay (1921), Chancellor Bombay University (1909), advisor to Mahatma Gandhi during the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Kamladevi Chattopadhyay (nee Dhareshwar): Head of the Congress Sewa Dal (1923-26), she recruited thousands of women to the Freedom movement. The first Indian woman to fight elections to a Legislative Assembly (Madras Legislative Assembly, 1926), she founded the “All India Women’s Conference” (1927). She was a member of the 7-member team announced by Mahatma Gandhi for the Salt Satyagraha (1930), and the President of the Congress Socialist Party (1936, a Congress faction, formed by Jay Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Minoo Masani, etc). She carried on a campaign in Europe for India’s Independence. She also carried on refugee settlement work, set up the township of Faridabad near Delhi (1947) and helped rehabilitate over 50000 refugees from Pakistan. She acted in the first Kannada silent film (Mricchakatika, 1931), and in some Hindi films (including Tansen, with Saigal and Khursheed). She headed the Sangeet Natak Akademi, founded the National School of Drama, the All-India Handicrafts Board, and the Crafts Council of India, and set up Central Cottage Industries Emporiums all over the country. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan (1955), Ramon Magsaysay Award (1966), UNESCO Award (1977), and Padma Vibhushan (1987), for being single-handedly responsible for the revival of Indian Arts and Handicrafts.
Benegal Narsing Rao: Drafter of the Hindu Code Bill (1941), Constitutional Advisor to the 7-member Constitutionl Drafting Committee chaired by Dr.Ambedkar (1947), he was also the President of the U.N. Security Council (1950), Judge at the International Court of Justice, Hague (1950-54), and Vice-Chairman, International Law Commission.
Benegal Rama Rao: He was the fourth (and, to date, the longest serving) Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (1949-1957), Chairman of the Bombay Port Trust (BPT), Indian Representative on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the High Commissioner for British India to England (1934-38) and South Africa (1938-41), and the Indian Ambassador to Japan (1947-48) and the USA (1948-49).
This miniscule community has had (as can be seen above) not only the Drafter of the Hindu Code Bill and Advisor to the Committee which framed the Indian Constitution, the longest serving Governor of the RBI, an Indian Ambassador to major countries, a judge at the International Court (Hague), a member of Mahatma Gandhi’s close circle, a President of the U.N. Security Council, a UNESCO award winner, a President of the Indian National Congress, the first Indian woman to fight elections to a legislature, a Chairman of the Bombay Port Trust, etc., but also:
a) the first Indian Chief Reporter in the Times of India (G.V.Sirur),
b) a Chief of Air Staff (Air Chief Marshall Laxman M.Katre),
c) an Inspector General of Police (of Maharashtra, M.G.Mugve),
d) a Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (R.S.Chikermane),
e) a Lt.Governor (of Arunachal Pradesh, R.N.Haldipur),
f) a M.D. of the Nuclear Power Corporation (S.L.Kati),
g) the creator of the Aadhar Card (Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani),
h) the Chief of Programs and Budget, UNESCO and Special Adviser to the Director General of UNESCO (1949-1999, Gollerkeri Vishvanath Rao),
i) a Controller of Currency in British India (Hattangady Shankar Rao),
j) a Chief of the Department of National Archives (Dr.B.A.Saletore),
k) a Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) (V.S.Hejmady),
l) the first director of the Overseas Communication Service (S.R,Kantebet),
m) a Chairman of the Forward Markets Commission (Amembal Sundar Rao),
n) several Mayors of Bombay (Sir V.C.Chandavarkar, B.P.Divgi, etc.),
o) a Vice-President of the International Universities Conference Board (S.R.Dongerkeri),
p) a Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (Subir V.Gokarn),
q) several Chancellors and Vice Chancellors (N.G.Chandavarkar and V.N.Chandavarkar of Bombay University, S.R.Dongerkery of Marathwada University and also Registrar for 23 years of Bombay University, Ms.Suneela S Mavinkurve of Goa University, M.V.Nadkarni of Gulbarga University, etc.),
r) Bank MDs and Chairmen (D.A.Bijur of Union Bank, Ramanand Nayampalli of State Bank of India and Central Bank, etc.),
s) the first director of ISRO Satellite centre, later ISRO chairman, only Indian to work on NASA's Pioneer and Explorer satellite projects, only Indian in the Satellite Hall of Fame, Washington, Padma Bhushan 1976, Padma Vibhushan 2017 (Udupi Ramachandra Rao),
s) the first director of ISRO Satellite centre, later ISRO chairman, only Indian to work on NASA's Pioneer and Explorer satellite projects, only Indian in the Satellite Hall of Fame, Washington, Padma Bhushan 1976, Padma Vibhushan 2017 (Udupi Ramachandra Rao),
and many more.
There have been many well-known Chitrapur Saraswats in the film industry. As directors: Pandurang S. Talageri (one of the pioneers of the silent film industry, though now only known as the writer of the iconic Chitrapur Saraswat Konkani drama “Chitrapur Vaibhav”), Sundar Rao Nadkarni (one of the early directors of Tamil cinema, and director of the record-breaking 1944 hit Tamil film "Haridas"), Guru Dutt (Padukone), Shyam Benegal, Anuya Palekar (nee Chitra Murdeshwar), Kalpana Lajmi, Bipin Nadkarni, Amit Masurkar (director of International awards-winning film "Newton"), etc. As actors: Guru Dutt, Girish Karnad, Anant Nag(arkatti), Shankar Nag(arkatti), Venkatrao Talageri, Leena Chandavarkar, Isha Koppikar, Amrita Rao, Deepika Padukone, Usha Nadkarni, etc.
In the related world of music, we have, to name only some of the most eminent names, the internationally Renowned Musicologist (also closely associated with the early days of Films Division and the IB Ministry) Vishnudas Shirali; the founder of the Akashwani Vadya Vrind, Amembal Dinkarrao (also the composer of most of the signature tunes of programs on AIR, of which he was almost whole and sole in the thirties and forties); the well-known music director Bhaskar Chandavarkar; eminent music critics in the media, Mohan Nadkarni and Prakash Burde; renowned tabla maestros like Pandit Taranath (Hattangady), Gourang Kodikal, Omkarnath Gulvadi, Yogesh Samshi and Sadanand Naimpally; eminent flautists like Devendra Murdeshwar and Nityanand Haldipur; eminent sitarists like Hattangadi Harihar Rao; and eminent popular or classical singers like Suman Kalyanpur, Krishna Kalle, Jayawanti Padukone, SCR Bhat (Shukla), Dinkar Kaikini, Kaushalya Manjeshwar, Chidanand Nagarkar, Lalith Rao, Vrunda Mundkur, Sushilarani Patel (nee Tombat), Bharat Balvalli; as also an eminent jazz singer Asha Puthli.
In the field of sports, there have been National champions in Table Tennis (Badakere Saikumar, Jayant Kabad, Jayant Kalyanpur), Badminton (D.G Mugve, M.G.Mugve, Prakash Padukone, Bala Ullal, Gajanan Hemmady), Tennis (Y.R.Savur), and Snooker-Billiards (Arvind Savur), as well as a member of the National Ladies Cricket team (Shobha Pandit).
Apart from a Chief of Air Staff (Air Chief Marshall L.M.Katre, see above), Chitrapur Saraswats have had, in the Army, 2 Lt.Generals, 5 Major Generals, 10 Brigadiers, 17 Colonels, 40 Lt.Colonels, 29 Majors, 46 Captains and 17 Lieutenants; in the Navy, 1 Vice Admiral, 1 Rear Admiral, 6 Commodores, 4 Captains, 14 Commanders, 7 Lt.Commanders, 7 lieutenants and 1 Sub Lieutenant; and in the Air Force, 3 Air Marshalls, 2 Air Vice Marshalls, 6 Air Commodores, 8 Group Captains, 16 Wing Commanders, 7 Squadron Leaders, 7 Flight Lieutenants, 4 Flying Officers and 3 Pilot Officers. Among the awards and medals won by them are 1 Maha Vir Chakra, 3 Vir Chakras, 1 Shaurya Chakra, 3 Sena Medals, 3 Naosena Medals, 4 Vayusena Medals, 15 Ministry of Defence Gallantry Awards, 7 Param Vishisht Seva Medals, 13 Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 1 Yudh Seva Medal and 15 Vishisht Seva Medals. All this is within the Officerial ranks alone.
Journalism has always been a popular field of activity for Chitrapur Saraswats: apart from G.V.Sirur (the first Indian Chief Reporter in the Times of India), we have had eminent journalists like Benegal Shiva Rao, D.R.Mankikar (GM of the Times of India, 1951-71, President of the Press Club, founder Secretary General of the Authors’ Guild of India), Udiavar Bhaskar Rao, U.G.Sirur, Vimla Patil (nee Gersappe), Som Benegal, Chaitanya Kalbag, Chaitanya Padukone, Meenakshi Shedde, etc. Today, in the world of visual media (television) we have nationally popular media stars like Shiv Aroor and top strategic defence analysts like Bharat Karnad.
We have had diverse Spiritual Gurus of eminence like Ramesh Balsekar, Kalavatidevi (Kalyanpur), Jaya Row, etc.; eminent scholars like S.M.Katre (Linguistics) and Ms.Krishna Bharadwaj (Chandavar) the internationally acclaimed Economist and Founder Chairman of the Centre for Economic Studies, JNU; and pioneers in a wide field of activities like the Cooperative Movement (S.S.Talmaki, G.P Murdeshwar), Publishing (G.R.Bhatkal, twice president of the “Federation of Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Associations”), Pest Control (Nalkur Shripadrao), Pharmaceuticals (S.N.Kalbag, Vishweshvarrao Kulkarni), Cotton Textiles (D.N.Shirur), etc. We may also mention artist Umeshrao Padukone, creator of the Air India Maharaja, and Dr.Arun B.Samsi, first doctor to be appointed Medical Officer to the Indian Cricket Team (also the Medical Officer of the Indian Badminton, Boxing and Kabaddi teams). Also writer Panje Mangesh Rao (born 1874), the Father of Kannada short stories.
The above was only a small, if incredible, representative list of the most eminent personalities from this miniscule community of 22498 people. The community has produced countless journalists, editors, writers and scholars; educationists, teachers and professors (including University Vice-Chancellors and Deans); technologists, doctors and scientists; singers, musicians, actors and film directors; judges, lawyers, freedom-fighters, statesmen and diplomats; prominent IAS, IPS and Defense personnel; sportsmen; even businessmen, industrialists and bankers (i.e. MDs, Chairmen or GMs of Banks), and pioneers in many diverse fields.
We have not counted here the names of Chitrapur Saraswats eminent within the community, or within their own particular town, district, field or organization, since the list would be a long one and a little irrelevant here. Nor the names of eminent people married to Chitrapur Saraswats (e.g. Harindranath Chattopadhyay, Amol Palekar, Shriram Lagoo, Rohini Hattangadi, etc.): interestingly, while we have had a Chitrapur Saraswat Chief of Air Staff (Air Marshall L.M.Katre), there was a Chief of Army Staff (General P.P.Kumaramangalam) whose mother was a Chitrapur Saraswat, and a Chief of Naval Staff (Admiral Arun Prakash), whose wife’s mother was a Chitrapur Saraswat. And, finally, we have naturally not counted the names of eminent people from other (non-Chitrapur) Saraswat communities as it would be a knock-out list (including, among countless others, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Anupam Kher, P.L Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar, Sunil Gawaskar, Dilip Vensarkar, Sachin Tendulkar…): a few years ago, for example, at a single point of time, the Chairmen/MDs of 8 of the 21 Nationalised Banks were GSBs!
Our Special Language
The Konkani language is one of the most special languages spoken in India today. This is not just the biased view of a speaker of Konkani, it is a linguistic fact: Konkani is the only language in India which retains features, of the oldest Vedic Sanskrit, which are lost in all other modern Indian languages, and many of which were lost or diluted even in the later Classical Sanskrit language, such as the tones, a complicated morphological structure, and many items of vocabulary, and it has also retained certain features found in the languages in the Kashmir area. Its phonetic structure is such that none of the existing alphabets, neither Roman nor Devanagri, can adequately represent the features of the language. Jose Pereira, a well-known Mangalorean Catholic writer, has the following to say in his introduction to a book “Konkani self-taught” by Deorai Baindur: “There is a Standard Konkani in existence. Its elements are found scattered among the dialects of today, but chiefly in the speech of the Chitrapur Saraswats”. To be fair, the purest elements of the original Konkani are found in the dialects of both the Chitrapur Saraswats as well as the Gaud Saraswats of North and South Kanara. Here, we will see why Konkani is so special (taking Marathi for constant comparison).
The sound system of Konkani is very rich. While Marathi, for example, has six vowels, अ आ इ उ ए ओ, Konkani has eight vowels अ आ इ उ ए ओ अॅ ऑ. While Marathi has hrasva (short) and dirgha (long) forms of only three vowels अ इ उ, and the other three आ ए ओ are always dirgha (long), Konkani has short and long forms of all its eight vowels. The Kashmiri language also has a vowel system like Konkani. [Dirgha (long) vowels will be shown in this article by the colon, thus क is hrasva (short) and क: is dirgha (long)]
In Konkani (unlike in Marathi) every word ends in a vowel, and this includes non-Konkani words when used in the language. Thus Subrahmanyam, John, Jagjeet and Salim are Subrahmanyamu, Johnu, Jagjeetu and Salimu in Konkani, And icecream and Elizabeth are icecreama and Elizabetha.
But, the last vowel of every word (except for mono-syllabled words and negatives) is dropped in the middle of a sentence. Thus the Marathi sentence मला त्याच्या घरी जायचं होतं (I wanted to go to his house) is pronounced as it is, but the Konkani माक्का तागल्या घाःरा वच्चँ आशिलँ is actually pronounced माक्क् तागल् घाःर् वच्च् आशिलँ. It makes spoken grammar simpler: in the phrases मगलॉ च़ल्लॉ, मगलि च़ल्लि, मगलँ चेर्डु, मगलॅ च़ल्लॅ, मगल्यॉ च़ल्यॉ, मगलिं चेर्डुवं, the first word in all six phrases becomes मगल्. Konkani people themselves do not recognize this special feature of their language. But an observant office colleague of mine named Alka once grumbled irritatedly to me about how the Konkani ladies in her train group kept referring to her (when speaking among themselves in Konkani) as “Alk” rather than “Alka”!
Nasal vowels are missing in Marathi (except in tatsama Sanskrit words, and in the words जेंव्हा, केंव्हा, तेंव्हा, but even these three words are pronounced by most colloquial speakers without the nasal vowels) due to the influence of the languages to its south which have no nasal vowels. But Konkani, which originally came from the north, is full of nasal vowels, right from the basic words हां:वं and तूंवं. Note मात्ति (mud) versus मात्तिं (heads), and तॅ का:ळॅ आशिलॅ (they were black) versus तँ का:ळँ आशिलँ (it was black).
Another feature of Konkani is what is known as regressive vowel harmony. The vowels ऍ and ऑ change to ए and ओ when followed by उ or इ. Thus the feminine of घॉ:डॉ (horse) is घो:डि (mare), the plural of कॅ:ळँ (banana) is के:ळिं (bananas), the masculine of हॉ:ड (big) is हो:डु (big). Marathi does not have any such feature, but regressive vowel harmony is found in the Kashmiri language as well.
The most special feature of Konkani is the system of tonal accents, which were found in ancient languages like Vedic Sanskrit and Ancient Greek but were already lost even in Classical Sanskrit and post-classical Greek. Normally, all the syllables in a word are in the anudatta (low) tone, but one syllable in a word can be in the udatta (high) tone.
Note the difference in meaning due to the tones in the few examples given below. [The syllable in the high tone in every word is underlined]:
च़ो:रि (female thief) – च़ो:रि (theft)
ए:कि (one (fem.)) – ए:कि (unity)
भा:जि (fry) – भा:जि (vegetable dish)
पा:ळि (follow (rules, etc.)) – पा:ळि (turn)
वे:णि (offspring’s mother-in-law) – वे:णि (a flower hair-ornament)
वा:टि (grind) – वा:टि (a metal bowl)
वा:डि (serve food) – वा:डि (colony)
विनो:दु, प्रमो:दु (Vinod, Pramod) – विनो:दु, प्रमो:दु (short for Vinodini, Pramodini)
होळ्ळि (huge) – होळ्ळि (elder co-wife)
रा:मा:कै (to Ram also) – रा:मा:कै (than Ram)
दिउंचा:कै (even to give) – दिउंचा:कै (than/instead-of giving)
माक्षीचि (just behind) – माक्षीचि (the (fem) one behind)
घे:शि (worth taking) – घे:शि (you may take)
Just as the sound-system of Konkani is strikingly distinct from the sound-systems of other modern Indian languages, the morphological structure of Konkani is also strikingly distinct from the morphological structure of other modern Indian languages. Like Vedic Sanskrit, Konkani has a complicated inflectional morphological structure, while all other modern Indian languages have simple isolating-agglutinative morphological structures where all forms of the verb are formed by simply adding suffixes to a few (maximum four or five) base-forms of the verb. The following example of one single verb in Konkani (with Marathi and English equivalents) will make the matter clear. Note the continuous changes in the Konkani verb, in tone and vowel, and the merger of verb and suffix, as compared to the almost unchanging Marathi verb:
व्ह:रि – ने – take away.
व्ह:रा:ति – न्या – take away (pl.).
व्हर्ता:लॉ – ने-त असे, ने-ई – used to take away.
व्हर्ता – ने-तो – takes away.
व्हॅल्ले:लँ – ने-लं होतं – had taken away (neut.).
व्हॅल्लँ – ने-लं – took away (neut.).
व्हेल्ले:लि – ने-ली होती – had taken away (fem.).
व्हेल्लि – ने-ली – took away (fem.).
व्हो:र्नु – ने-ऊन – having taken away.
व्हो:रूक – ने-ण्यास, न्या-यला – to take away.
व्होर्चा:कै – ने-ण्या पेक्षा – than/instead-of taking away.
व्होर्का – ने-लं पाहिजे, न्या-वे – should take away.
व्हॉ:रॉ – ने-ऊ दे – let (him/her) take away.
Further, there is a distinction between strong and weak inflection in Konkani. See how two verbs, which have the same form in the present tense positive, change in the present negative and the past positive and past negative due to difference in degree of inflection:
वाड्ता (serves food, grows).
वा:ण्णा (does not serve food) – वाड्डना (does not grow).
वाळ्ळँ (served food) – वाड्लँ (grew).
वा:ण्णि (did not serve food) – वाड्डनि (did not grow).
Note also: while almost all languages form the negatives by simply placing a negative word along with the positive form, Konkani alone has distinctive inflected forms for the negatives (see particularly the past tense negative):
हा:ण्णा – आणत नाही – लाता नहीं – does not bring.
हा:ण्णि – आणलं नाही – लाया नहीं – did not bring.
हा:डश्ना – आणणार नाही – लायेगा नहीं – will not bring.
The vocabulary of Konkani also, in spite of plenty of mutual borrowing in its thousand year old association with Marathi (after the ancestral Konkani language moved from the Kashmir-Haryana area to the south well over a thousand years ago) is still very distinctive. Compare the Konkani verbs व:च, व्ह:रि, आप्प:डि, आप्प:इ, दँ:व, लँ:व, with the Marathi जा, ने, शिव, बोलव, उतर, चाट, and the Hindi जा, ले जा, छू, बुलाव, उतर, चाट.
We get, among other things, the following clues to the special connection of Konkani with Vedic Sanskrit:
Like Sanskrit (which uses the word वा), Konkani forms the interrogative by using the word वॅ. Thus:
तॉ वच़ूलॉ – तो गेला – he went.
तॉ वच़ूल् वॅ? – तो गेला का? – did he go?
Konkani alone has preserved some original Vedic words which are found in Indo-European (Aryan) languages outside India as well, where all other modern Indo-Aryan languages (except some minor languages of the Kashmir area) use later post-Vedic words not found in the Aryan languages outside India. Two examples will suffice:
All modern Indo-Aryan languages use words derived from the later post-Vedic Sanskrit word पानीयं for “water”. Konkani alone uses the word उद्दा:क derived from Vedic उद-क (related to Old Slavic voda, Old Prussian unda-n, Albanian uje, Ancient Greek hudo-r, Umbrian utu-r, English wate-r, Hittite wata-r, Sinhalese watu-ra, Gothic wato, etc). Only some minor languages of the Kashmir area preserve the word: Pashai उआर्क्, Kalasha उक्, Chitrali उग्.
All modern Indo-Aryan languages use words derived from the later post-Vedic Sanskrit word कुक्कुर for “dog”. Konkani alone uses the word सूणँ derived from Vedic श्वन् /शुनः (related to Old Prussian sunnis, Lithuanian šuo, Armenian šun, Hittite kun, Greek kuon, Tocharian ku, Old Irish cu, Latin can-is, Gothic hund-s, English hound). Only some languages of the Kashmir area preserve the word: Kashmiri हूनु, Gawarbati शुन, Shina शुन्, Pashai शुरिन्.
Only a few main ones among the peculiarities and specialities of the Konkani language have been given above – there are many more – and, though even that may have been a bit heavy for the average reader, one thing at least is very clear: our Konkani language is a very special, unique and distinctive language, and it has linguistic features connecting it to the Kashmir area and to the Vedic period.
Chitrapur Saraswat Culture
The Chitrapur Saraswat community is one of the very highly cultured communities in India. But the peculiarity of their culture must be noted: due to the close and warm relationship, over the centuries, with the great cultures of Maharashtra and Karnataka, a Chitrapur Saraswat regards Marathi and Kannada-Tulu culture as his own in many respects: for example, music, arts and crafts, and literature. Marathi natya-sangeet and the Yakshagana of Kanara are as much part of Chitrapur Saraswat culture as the Kannada compositions of Purandaradasa and Kanakdasa and the compositions of the Marathi saints, or the rich literary, folk and film traditions of the two states. Added to this is another strand of culture, English culture, particularly in respect of literature, due to the early trend of English education and the progressive nature of the community. To a true Chitrapur Saraswat, Konkani is his primary language, and Marathi, Kannada (even if he doesn’t know the language) and English are his secondary languages, and ditto for the culture.
In fact, the distinctive elements of Chitrapur Saraswat culture (it must be repeatedly noted that, in most respects, these distinctive elements are shared, with minor variations, with the Gaud Saraswats of both North and South Kanara) are basically based on their language and food, their way of life in the Kanaras and in Mumbai, and on the religio-cultural identity and traditions forged by the Chitrapur math from 1708 onwards.
What can warm the heart of a true Chitrapur Saraswat more than the sound of the Konkani language being spoken, with all its unique linguistic features and its rich stock of unique words and picturesque and evocative idioms and proverbs? What can make a true Chitrapur Saraswat’s mouth water more than the thought, smell or sight of special bhajyo, randayo and godshe items so dear to our community (refer Rasachandrika, that iconic cook-book of the community) like ambya sasama, amble ghashshi, alsandya ghashshi, karatya sukke, batatya sukke, gadzra godzzu, kakde kosambari, patrodya panna alvati, kairasu, chauchavu, kulta saara, avrya bendi, bhoplya bajji, ghosalya ambata, vali ambata, madgane, cheppi khiri, surnoli, shevai rassu, phansa pattolyo, sukrunde, bogdela, undio, appe, khotte, doddaka, etc., right down to the down-to-earth basic bhanap dishes like hot batatya songa or talasani and hot dali toya or kholmbo? What can fill a true Chitrapur Saraswat’s heart to overflowing with nostalgia and a sense of belonging than hearing a big gathering of people chanting the deepa-namaskar, or singing “Mangala Shubhakara Shankarage” or “Mangalam Shri Mahadevam” or “Shri Ganapa Gauri Kumaraka” in unison, or listening raptly to the various parts of the Ashtavadhan ceremony or other math poojas, or to the mhantis of Datta Jayanti, Gokul Ashtami, etc.?
Is all this rich culture slowly fading away? Increasingly, our new generations almost exclusively speak English or sometimes filmi Hindi rather than Konkani (let alone Kannada or Marathi), occasionally deigning to speak broken Konkani in weird accents. They increasingly prefer pizzas, burgers, chocolates and pastas, and “Chinese” dishes, while finding traditional Konkani delicacies passé. Math traditions are increasingly being given the go-by in community and even in math programs and ceremonies, and many of them may soon become extinct.
Is it time to attempt a grand revival of our language, culture and traditions? Or is it too late or impractical to do so? Or is it an irrelevant issue anyway, in this fast-paced, materialistic, modern world? A hundred years hence, will the Chitrapur Saraswat community be flourishing with a rich deeply-rooted identity, or will it only remain a distant, obscure memory? Only time will tell!