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The Antiquity of Konkani

by Jyotsna Kamat

First Online: June 12, 2007
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017


Late V.N. Kudva M.A (Madras) B.A (cantab) CIE (1898-1961) was an exceptionally versatile person. He belonged to old Indian Civil service (I.C.S) a highly privileged service cadre in British India. He served in different fields His book ‘History of the Dakshinatya Saraswats' is an all time authoritative work for the study of Saraswat history and culture. He took immense pains over years, to collect material from different sources, all over the country. Unfortunately he could not see his book in print.

-Jyotsna Kamat

Here are some of the views of different scholars, expressed about antiquity of Konkani Language. Shri Kudva's own interpretation is illuminating and relevant though written more than forty-five years ago. Condensed from "History of Dakshinatya Saraswats" by V.N. Kudva, chapter XVIII, published by Samyukta Gowda Saraswata Sabha, Madras, 1972.

The Antiquity of Konkani Language

Konkani, called by the Portuguese as Lingua Brahmanika, Lingua Canarim or Canarina, Lingua Brahmana Goana and so forth is spoken by two and a half millions of people which shows that it must have been considerably popular as a language form the earliest times. While the main groups of people who speak it are the Saraswat Brahmans and the Roman Catholic Christians of Goa and Kanara, it is spoken by all communities from Rajapur in Ratnagiri district in the north to Karwar in North Kanara and the South West of Savantwadi State in the South including the Vanis (Vaishyas), Sonars (goldsmiths), Sutars (carpenters), Kasars (copper and brass-smiths), Gudigars (wood carvers), Kumbhars (potters), Guravs and Devlas (temple attendants), Bandia (bondsmen, domestic servants of the higher castes), Kunbis (agriculturists - see Kunubis), Sudirs (Shudras), Bhandaris (distillers) Kharvis (fishermen), Kalavants (dancing-girls) and Muslims like the Navaiyats, Kafis and Daldis. Even the Chitpavan and Karhada Brahmans and the Mahar (Harijans) in this area speak Konkani. It is the main language of Savantwadi where, as well as between Rajapur and Malawan in Ratnagiri district, it is known as Kudali. It is known as Malvand in Malwan Taluk.

Konkani is spoken by a large number of emigrants from Goa to Kanara and Kerala in the west coast. It is spoken by the higher caste Hindus and some of the lower castes on the coast of North Kanara from Karwar to Bhatkal and at Supa, Siddapur, Sirsi, Yellapur and Ankola in the interior. It is spoken on the coast and some interior parts of South Kanara; the majority of the people at Mangalore speak Konkani. There are large communities speaking Konkani at Tellicherry and Cochin in Kerala. It is spoken by many persons in Belgaum district, where it is known as Gomantaki or Bardeshkari. There are Konkani speaking communities in Dharwar district, Mysore and Coorg. During the days of the Maratha supremacy, many families emigrated from Goa and Swavantwadi to Gwalior, Harda, Indore and Baroda. There is a large community speaking Konkani and Kudali at Bombay.

Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar has stated that Konkani differed in many particulars from the main Marathi. The points of difference between Konkani and Marathi have been given in detail by Dr. G.A. Grierson, Dr. V.P. Chavan and Shri. S.S. Talmaki. Konkani has a larger percentage of Sanskrit words and has generally closer affinities with Sanskrit than Marathi. Dr. V.P. Chavan has noticed a number of words in Konkani which are found in Gujarati and not in Marathi. Dr. S.M. Katre says that there are a number of old Gujarati vocables preserved in Konkani, but not in modern Gujarati and that it would be interesting to investigate in great detail this fascinating subject. Konkani possesses the vowels 'a, i, u' short and long as well a ‘e,o,' short and long as in Behari and the Eastern Indo-Aryan languages but not indicated the Devanagari orthography as such. Konkani has preserved the older state of affairs in the termination ‘e' in the neutral plural derived from the Prakrit "aye". It is spoken with a nasal intonation which is characteristic of the people of the Konkan and which is not found in Marathi.

Konkani has been preserved in its purest form in the northern part of North Kanara which adjoins Goa. In many respects it resembles Gomantaki and has unusually few Portuguese words. As in Goa, it is spoken in somewhat prolonged and elongated sentences with a nasal pronunciation of vowels.

In Kanara, Konkani is inundated with Kannada words. It also contains a large number of Persian and some Arabic words as a result of the continuance of Persian, the court language of the Bijapur rulers. The language spoken by the Vaishnava Saraswats, who had settled down during an earlier period near the coast and maintained their trade connections with Goa, has retained many words spoken in Goa. The speech of the Smartha Saraswats, who spread out into the interior, has more Kannada words. The language of the Roman Catholic Christians, whose priests were recruited for a long time in Goa, has less Kannada words; they also use fewer Portuguese words than in Goa. It is striking by its broad vocalic sounds and the almost entire absence of nasal twangs and sing-song pronunciations.

The language spoken in Cochin contains a larger number of Goan words than in Kanara. They have borrowed some Malayalam words and speak with a Malayalam accent.

Konkani was written in Kannada script in Goa for a long time. During the rule of the Kadambas and the Chalukyas, the Kulkarnis (village accountants) maintained the local Konkani and Marathi records in Kannada script. A few of such specimens are available, particularly in the old records of the Mangeshi temple. It has been gradually replaced in Goa by Devanagari and Hemadpanthi Modi script. The Christians of Goa use the Roman script and the Kannada script is used in Kanara.

While the Christians have all along been very fond of Konkani and considered it as their own language, it has not unfortunately been the case with the Saraswats and other Hindus in Goa. Even prior to the Portuguese invasion, Marathi was gradually making inroads into Gomantak, as shown by the Marathi inscriptions of 1222 in Kannada script at Khandoli, and in Devanagiri script of 1324 at Valus in Satar Mahal and of 1335 in the Nagesh Temple at Bandivade. Late Prof. G.M. Moraes had called it ‘Kandevi' He had in his possession some leaves of old Konkani script. A large percentage of Konkani speakers has been conversant with literary Marathi through the literature of Maratha saints like Jnaneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram and Ramadas. With the destruction of whatever there was of old Konkani literature, well-known Saraswat writers like Tukaram Baba Varde, Maheshwara Bhatta Sukthankar, Sohirobanath Ambiye, Nyakswami, Acharya Dharmananda Kosambi, Bhatkal Appayya, Kaikini Shivayya (Shiva-Munishwar) and Nadghar Shanti Bai in Kanara wrote their important works in Marathi. Those who live in Malvan in Ratnagiri district and in Savantwadi and who used to speak a mixture of Konkani and Marathi have found it easy to change over to Marathi. The Gurus of the Kavale and Gokarn Maths wrote their rayasas to their disciples in Marathi. (Those of the Kashi and Chitrapur Maths do so in Konkani in Kannada, Malayalam and Devanagari scripts)

In spite of this, there are signs of revival of Konkani during the last few decades. A renaissance is slowly coming in and it is yet to be seen how far it will succeed. There has been a determined effort in Goa to raise the language to the rank of a literary medium. Many works of great literary merit have been written by the late Shri Vaman Raghunath Varde Valavalikar. A number of Konkani plays have been staged by the Christians and the Hindus in Bombay. It has been recognized as a separate language for broadcasting purposes by the All India Radio. It s inclusion in the VIIIth schedule of the constitution and declaration as state language of Goa, has provided boost for development of Konkani. But fascination for English has grown ten times, after Independence of India, which has further stunted even the spoken Konkani. Younger generation prefers the speak English in and out of home.

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