The Flight of Gods 3. Gaud Saraswat Saga

The Flight of Gods

by Mohan Pai



Goud Saraswat Brahmin community called the ‘Bamans’ in Goa is the largest Brahmin community in Goa that has dominated the Hindu religious and cultural scene in Goa.
The history of the GSBs goes back to several millenia and the history is hazy. According to some sources they migrated to Goa around 700 BC but some historians push back there settlement in Goa to around 2,500 BC.
With the advent of the Aryans, the original settlers – Gauddes, Kunbis, Mhars, Dhangars, Velips etc. were subjugated and treated as Shudras. The coastal society characterised by the administration of their lands within the village communities, the ‘Gaoponn’- belonging to and managed by the community. The GSBs assumed control of these institutions and established their hegemony over the economic resources and socio-ritual pratices of the society.
The GSBs claim their origin to the Vedic civilisation on the banks of Saraswati, now the extinct river of the Punjab and their name is derived from the river Saraswati. The exact origin of the GSBs is difficult to ascertain. According to the Puranas, they are Aryan migrants from the Central Asia who came to the Indian sub-continent through the Hindu-Kush mountains to the south in about 5,000-2,000 BC. Vedic texts mention that the Rigvedic people lived on the banks of the Saraswati. The Saraswat Brahmins are mentioned in the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the Bhavisyottara Purana, deriving their lineage from the great sage Saraswat Muni who lived on the banks of the river Saraswati.

Drained by seven rivers (Sapta Sindhu), the region of Brahmavarta is referred to as the cradle of Indian civilisation. This ancient civilisation of India had an extended period of development from 5,000 to 2,000 BC when a great period of drought seemed to have put an end to it. The river Saraswati also dried up during this period forcing the Vedic people to migrate to the east, the west and the south. The three main groups migrated to Goa were the Bhojas, the Chediyas (Chardos) and the Saraswats who are supposed to have come via Trihotra in Bihar. It is also claimed that they moved southward mostly through the sea routes on the west coast coming down via Sindh and Gujarat. They settled in Gomantak region of Keloshi (Qulossim) and Kushasthal (Cortallim). Thirty families were grouped into one commune and sixty in another. The first commune was known as Tiswadi meaning 30 villages, and the other Shasasthis meaning 66 (Salcette). Together the settlements which amounted to 96 and referred to as Sahanavis (meaning 96). The name Shenvis or Shenoy is probably derived from here.

LEGEND OF PARASHURAMThe mythical creation of Goa is ascribed to Lord Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of God Vishnu.
According to this legend in Goa, Lord Parashuram, the axe-wielding avatar of God Vishnu is the son of Jamadagni and Renuka. Jamadagni is murdered by the despotic Kshatriyas because he refuses to part with ‘Kamadhenu’, his wish-fullfilling cow. In revenge Lord Parashurama traverses the earth twenty one times and wipes out all the Kshatriyas. Parashuram, struck by remorse tries to expiate his sins by performing yagnyas during which he gifts away all his lands to Sage Kashyapa with no land even to build an hermitage for himself. Varuna, the Sea God comes to his rescue and offers him to gain as much land that he could span by shooting an arrow into the waters. Lord Parashuram goes to the highest peak in the Sahyadris and shoots an arrow into the sea. The spot where the arrow fell is the present day Banaulim (bana is arrow in Sanskrit and halli means village in Kannada). To his new reclaimed land in Goa Lord Parashuram brought 96 families of the Panchagouda Brahmins from Trihotra and settled them at Mathagrama (Madgaon), Kushasthali (Cortallim) and Kardalli (Keloshi). There still exists a ‘Mountain of Ash’ in Harmal of Pernem taluk which marks the site of Lord Parashuram’s Ashvamedha Yagnya.
There is a temple for Lord Parashurama at Poinguini village in Goa. It is one of the rare temples to Lord Parashurama. There are only two other places in India where the temples of Lord Parashuram exist: one at Parashuram Pethe near Chiplun in Maharashtra and the other in Payannur in Kerala.We see mention of GSBs in the inscriptions clearly from


A painting of Lord Parashuramat Parashuram temple in Poiguini


as early as the tenth century onward because of their names which are common among GSBs. They might have received grants and positions in the agraharas even earlier, but we are not in a position to identify. The names of Sangalya Pai and his son Anna Pai appear in Silhara copper plate of 997 AD in north Konkan. The Marcella plates of Goa Kadamba ruler Chatta or Shasta II dated 1038 AD mention the names of officers like Pradhana (Prime Minister) Shriya Pai, Dama Pai, Mav Pai, Mahalla (Mahalkar), Kallapai and Sanvigrahi (Foreign Minister) Mallapai. The first record of the Yadavas of Devgiri, the Sinner plates dated 1,000 AD mentions grants given to twenty one bragmins and donees include Maalpaiya, Dandapaiya, Bhikkapai, Vachach Pai – mostly GSBs.
AGRAHARASIn olden days agrahara or Brahmin settlements were founded by kings and rulers by donating land grants and providing them with houses so that they could engage themselves in their six-fold duties. The lands granted were ‘Sarvamanya’ – free from revenue payment. Brahmins did not till or cultivate these lands, but enjoyed a part of its products and earned their livelihood. Goa had hundreds of agraharas in which the Brahmin communities were settled. GSBs were invited by various rulers to settle down in Gomantak, beginning perhaps with the Satvahanas (2,000 years ago) to the Goa Kadambas in the tenth century.


The Brahmins who received such grants were called ‘mahajans’. Salgaon (from Shalagrama) was an agrahara; Marcella or Mashel (from Mahashala), Salvali, Saleli, Sal, Odshel (Hodli Shala) Madgaon or Mathashala etc. are some of the names which clearly indicate their being centres of learning or agraharas. Apart from performing religious functions, they also taught and guided the community in all its persuits like agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, etc. The Mahajans of the agraharas were learned men and specialised in Ayurveda, Pashuvaidya, astronomy, astrology, metallurgy, botany, etc.

The settlers of the agraharas, over a period, probably multiplied to such an extent that the lands granted to the families several centuries ago were insufficient to support the families and the young men of the family had to find other avenues like trade and government service. So they became merchants, village accountants, clerks, interpreters and even higher officials like the Desais, ministers and administrators as they were the literati and the community prospered.

The GSBs also brought with them their family deities and built their temples and also accepted the various local gramadevatas into Hinduism. The temples were built within or in the vicinity of the agraharas and became the prime religious and social centres for the local Communities.

Tom Pires, a Portugese apothecary, who came to India in 1514 after Albuquerque conquered Ilhas mentions in his writings that there was a very large Hindu population and he gives the following description which obviously is that of the Gauda Sarswat elite:“There are a great many heathens in the kingdom of Goa …Some of them very honoured men with large fortunes; and almost the whole kingdom lies in their hands, … Some of them are noblemen with many followers and lands of their own and are persons of great repute, and wealthy, and they live on their estates which are gay and fresh … They have beautiful temples of their own in this kingdom … There are some very honoured stocks among these Brahmins … These Brahmins are greatly revered throughout the country, particularly among the heathens… They are clever, prudent, learned in their religion. A Brahmin would not become a Mohammedan (even) if he were a king.”

By the middle of the sixteenth century all the villages in the “Old Conquest” had become Catholic. The Hindus remained only in the townships. There was an exodus of the Hindus. Thousands of families fled from the horrors to the areas outside the Portugese control to the northern Konkan and to the southern coast and settled down all along the coast in the towns of Karwar, Gokarna, Kumta, Honavar, Bhatkal, Kasargod, Calicut and Cochin.
The Hindu elite, mostly the Gaud Saraswats, who stayed behind earned profits through their collaboration with the Portugese and these profits were used by the Hindus for the reconstruction of the temples of the migrant deities outside the reach of the missionaries, in the Antruz Mahal in particular. The Portugese discovered that the Christian Goa was encircled in an arc by the resurrected Hindu temples towards which they had indirectly contributed and this rankled and frustrated the missionaries to no end.

For centuries, the Goud Saraswat Brahmins had established their economic hegemony over Goa through colonisation of the low-lying saline coastal lands. In the face of an aggressive proselyting European colonial power, with their grit and determination, they seem to have triumphed. Dispossessed of the lands that they had developed, the GSBs assumed a controlling position in the coastal trade and still played vital role in Goa’s economy. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, these same traders bailed out the Portugese Government by arranging finance when the Government coffers were empty.missionaries considerably abated and especially when Marquis de Pombal, the liberal Prime Minister came to power there was definite change in the policy towards the Hindus and he even banished the Jesuits. A number of Hindu families who had fled the old conquests returned during this period. But, by the 19th century, both the ruling country and the colony had become archaic survivors.

The Gaud Saraswat Brahmins in particular and other Hindu communities in Goa remained insulated from what was happening to their co-religionists in other parts of India. The Goan Hindu is therefore of relatively greater purity than Hindus elsewhere and have guarded zealously their religious rites, practices and of the observance of customs, rituals and festivals. At the same time, they were the ones who by their own grit and intelligence managed to survive the dark period of the inquisition by making themselves indispensable.

The Portugese would have continued this fanatical evangelism movement relentlessly till the total extermination of the non-Christians was achieved but for the rapid collapse of Portugal’s eastern commercial empire with its inevitable effect on Goa which faced moral and economic decadence and the initial religious zealotory.

Hindu Communities of GoaBRAHMINS
Among the other smaller groups of Brahmins are 1. Karhades 2. Padhyes 3. Bhattaprabhu and 4. Kramavant Joshis
Karhade Brahmins speak Marathi and were probably natives of Karad in Maharashtra. The Silaharas of Kolhapur as well as the Southern Silaharas and the Kadambas patronized Karhade Brahmins. Karhades claim that they were among the earliest Aryan migrants to Goa. Padheye Brahmins are believed to be a section of Karhade Brahmins. They also speak Marathi and their sttlements are mainly concentrated in Ponda taluka and they own large ‘Kulagars’ (betel-nut and coconut plantations). Bhattaprabhu community originally belongs to Bori and Siroda of Ponda taluka. Although there is a considerable similarity in the social conditions of Bhattaprabhu and Padheyes, unlike Karhades and Padheyes, Bhattaprabhus speak Konkani. Kramavant Brahmins is another small but separate group who mostly performed rituals after the death and hence they were called Kriyavant, a term corrupted to Kramavant.


Like the above groups of brahmins, the guravas is also a small community in Goa. Guravas were the worshippers of Lord Shiva. There are Gurava priests in the temples of Chandreshwae-Bhutanath, Saptakoteshwar and Mhalasa and were priests in the shrines of Gramadevatas scattered all over Goa.

The artisas such as gold-smiths, black-smiths, carpentars, sculptors (Shilpis and Stapatis), copper-smiths were called the Panchala Brahmins. It is believed that along with Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Panchala Brahmins were also brought to Goa by Lord Parashuram about 2,500 BC to assist the priests in performing sacrifices.

SHETS (Goldsmiths)
The Goldsmiths probably arrived in Goa during the Gaud Saraswat migration with other artisans. They call themselves Daividnya Brahmins and probably inherited their arts from the Bhojas. The local goldsmiths, Shets or Chalims as they are referred to in Portugese documents, constituted a powerful economic presence in the sixteenth century Goa, for the exquisite expertise of their craft which has earned them rich accolades at home and abroad. Some of them even went to Portugal and worked their for the king. The economic power that the Shets wielded during that time enabled them to live and work in Goa on their own terms, or emigrate with their religion in tact and claiming higher status in the early medieval period.

The other groups in this section included Sculpters (Stapathis) and Architects Carpenters and Blacksmiths whose work can be seen in the carved wooden pillars and decorative wood ceilings of Goa temples. After the Portugese atrocities, most of these groups migrated to Uttara Kannada region.

The Bhojas were the first rulers to have established an administrative machinery in Goa and they also controlled the piracy and gave impetus to increased commercial activity.
There is reference to Adityashreshti in Siroda copper plate of Devaraja. It is evident that merchants were engaged in trade and commerce as early as 400 AD in Goa and there were probably their settlements on the banks of the Mandovi and Zuari and the trade routes. Vanis were called Shresthis and the family name Shirsat may have originated from the word Shreshti. Vaishys come next to Kshatriyas in the four-fold division of the society (Chaturvarna).

Kshatriya families migrated from the North to the Deccan in pre-Christian and early Christian era. Some scholars consider Chardos of Goa to be Kshatriyas. Some scholars identify Marathas with Kshatriyas and they may have reached Goa during the period of the Badami Chalukyas. It is mentioned that Rashtrakutas and Silaharas were Marathas.

The Ranes claim their descent from the Rajputs of Rajputana. They were thesardesais or hereditary fiefholders of Sanquelim and Guilloilem, holding under their feudal sway, the territory of Sattari – the land of seventy villages.The Ranes have been well-known for their attempts to dislodge the Portugesefrom Goa. In all there were about fourteen rebellions out of which the most successful one was organised by Dipaji Rane.Kushtoba Rane is a well-known historical personality and an immortal hero of the folk and popular songs.

Gavades are known as “Mull Goenkar” or the original inhabitants of Goa and they form a large part of the rural population estimated to be around 3 lakhs.

Kunbi Woman

The Velip community is found mostly in the talukas of Canacona and Quepem. In comparison with the Gavades, they are fair and handsome. The Velips are credited with discovering the Linga of Mallikarjun and hence, the Velip acts as a priest for three months every year. Velips are generally forest dwellers and practiced the ‘Kumeri’ (burn and slash) method of shifting cultivation.

DHANGARS (Gavalys)

Gavalys originally came from Maharashtra and are mostly found in Sattari and Sanguem talukas. Dhangars are strictly a pastoral tribe.


Old traditions die hard – Syncretism

The Hindu practices or activities were very much part of the new converts. For example, the edicts publihed by Goa Inquisition in 1736, after over two centuries of Catholisism in Goa, list out 42 so-called Hindu pratices and customs which were prohibited through the edicts. As many of the prohibited customs still survive today, it is clear that the Inquisition was unable to shake off the Hindu quality of Goan Christianity. Goa has Brahmin and Chardos Christians and Christians of lower caste. The main fact remains is that the caste mechanism was in effect transferred in its essence to a casteless religion because of the transfer of classes with essentially the same productive relations. Caste appears to be a stronger source of bonding than religion.The syncretism has established a common meeting point between the Hindus and the Catholics in terms of devotion and ritualistic practices. Requests for miraculous cure, prasada (oracle), vows, offerings, temple feasts, etc. draw a section of the local Catholic community to Hindu temples. The umbrella festival of Cuncolim is a classic example when in the month of March, the image of Shanta Durga is brought by solid silver palanquin in a vast and colourful procession from Fatorpa to Cuncolim. Each umbrella is different and stands for one of the twelve Chardo clans from Cuncolim area. A large number of Catholics attend this event.In the villages of Cuncolim, Assolna, Velim, and Veroda, Catholic and Hindu Chardo clans openly cooperate as kin, standing against lower caste invasion of their traditional privileges. In this case, common religious belief in the goddess Shanta Durga strengthens the feeling of common kinship and history.


According to the Gazeteer of the erstwhile Union Territory, 1979, the Gavade belong to Astraloid race and were the first to settle in Goa even before the Dravidians and the Aryans. After the invasion of the Aryans, they adopted Hinduism as their religion, but continued their own form of worship and rituals.The Hindu Gavade worship Bali, Bhima and Mallikarjun.The Portugese forcibly converted some of them to Christianity in the 17th century. In 1928 the “Shuddhi” movement by Masurker Maharaj reconverted some of them to Hinduism and they are called Nav-Hindu Gavade. These reconvertees, unfortunately not accepted by either the Hindu or Christian Gavades, maintain a separate identity.

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