Konkani: Frequently Asked Questions
Last Updated: October 31, 2016
After publication of Kamat's History of the Konkani Language, we received a large number of
questions about Konkani and Konkanis (the Konkani speaking people). We could not answer
them individually, so we asked Dr. Jyotsna Kamat
to compile this FAQ.
||Where does the word Konkani come from ?
||"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.
||Why the term Saraswats ?
||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
Maharashtra (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.
||Why the term Gouda Saraswats ?
||Gowda (a.k.a. Goud, Gauda) 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
Shankara and came to be known as Gowda Saraswats.
Gouda is the name of the northwest region of ancient Bengal.
It is also name of the ancient city of that region known for higher
learning. Many great philosophers, poets, logicians hailed from that region .
||How come Konkani Brahmins eat fish ?
||Fish eating is probably due to their proximity to the
vast waters of Indian subcontinent. Like Bengali Brahmins (who are not
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
||What is Konkani faith ?
||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
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).
number of Konkanis today practice Islam, Roman Catholic and Protestant
See: The Christians of Karavali -- Kannada language article on the Konkani speaking Christians of Indian West Coast
||Whither Konkani Culture?
||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. Read my experiences at the 1999 Konkani Convention.