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Konkani: Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated: May 09, 2017 

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.

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 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.

 

Q Why the term Gouda Saraswats ?
A 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 .

 

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
See: The Christians of Karavali -- Kannada language article on the Konkani speaking Christians of Indian West Coast

 

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. Read my experiences at the 1999 Konkani Convention.

 

 

References:

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Konkani Potpourri

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