Gowda Saraswats, popularly known as Konkanis in Kerala and three other communities came to the state from Goa when they had to suffer severe political, geographical and cultural invasion and persecution at the hands of the Portuguese royalty, soldiers and missionaries. By 16th century the invaders had got firm control in Goa and Karvar Island.
At that time Joao III (1521 – 1557) was the king of Portugal. He sent an order to his Vice Roy in Goa on the March 8, 1546. It reads; “Every Christian king should keep close to the heart the loyalty to the Christian faith and the fervor to grow it. I understand that idol worship goes on in our territories in India, even in the Goa, our head quarters there. This confidential information really do annoy me. Therefore, I hereby issue the order to find out such idols and demolish them. Declare severe punishments to those who make the idols with wood, stone or metals and those who bring them from somewhere. The punishment is applicable to those who burn camphor or agarbattis before the idols. Declare tough punishment for those who protect or help Brahmins, the declared enemies of Christianity. I will be happy only if these punishments are implemented sans any relaxation”.
The Viceroy took up the mission entrusted by his king. It followed brutal attacks and demolition of temples and killings of innocent Hindus. Hindus, irrespective of their castes, were forced to convert into Christianity. Those who refused had to undergo severe physical tortures or killing. The women were gang raped. The huge libraries of massive collection of precious books were set ablaze. Thousands of houses were razed. The invaders banned the wedding conducted according to Hindu rites. The poor Hindus made barges tying a few country boats together and held wedding in the sea during the middle of the night hence they protected their tradition! When the books were thrown to the fire, people started to chant the mantras in their houses behind the closed doors. But, the patrolling soldiers of the invading army overheard them and break opened the doors and killed the people. They constructed churches using the materials got from the sites of the demolished temples. Francis Xavier, the evangelist worked in Goa, wrote to the Portuguese King that Brahmins did not agree to conversion. If they had fallen in line other Hindu communities could have been converted easily. Accordingly Viceroy Constantino de Braganca ordered on April 2, 1560 that Brahmins should be expelled from Goa. If they do not leave the place their properties would be seized.
Francis Xavier and his colleagues used to steal children and baptise them. It proves in his letter penned in 1543 to his own organization “Society of Jesus”: “Almost three years are over since I left Portugal. The harvest is more than what I imagined as I baptised the children. By God’s grace, they will be more useful than their parents. Their aversion to idol worship is wonderful. They condemn their own parents. If idol worship takes place somewhere they come to us and inform. They abuse the worshippers until they stop.” Interestingly the same Francis Xavier was declared Saint by the Pope!
When the atrocities and persecution reached a state of absolute die or flee situation, the Gowda Saraswaths (GSB) left Goa. They took whatever belongings they could carry with them. The idols from the demolished temples and from their own houses were the most significant among them. Since the sea was the route they came to the southern places like Mangalapuram in Karnataka and coastal Kerala towns like Kassergode, Kannur, Kozhikkode, Kochi, Parur, Kollam, etc. But they were not alone. When they fled Goa and came to southern places, they were accompanied by three other communities with them – Vaishya Vaniyas, Saraswats and Kutumbis. While GSB society did the priestly job since they are Brahmins, Vaishya Vaniyas, also known as Maharashtra Vaishyas, did the job of Vaishyas, that is commerce and trading. Saraswaths are the goldsmiths. Kutumbis did the service for the other communities. Largest concentration of these communities in Kerala is in Kochi and surroundings. When they came to Kochi, the Maharaja of Kochi was very much campassionate to them. He gave them lands to build their temples. Brahmins, Vaishyas and Kutumbis constructed separate temples respectively. The king gave them all sorts of help for employment and business.
GSB community proved to be very much enterprising in Kerala. Majority of them got into one or other business. Now, GSB men and women are well known business people. They are in all sorts of business like vegetables, grains, stationery, sanitary, gold, diamonds, restaurants, perfumery, eatables, etc. They have contributed a lot to the realm of business in Kassergode, Kozhikode, Kochi, Alappuzha, Kollam, etc. This character of GSB community has contributed a lot to the mind set of the native Keralites in those towns. It gave inspiration to them to try their luck and talent in business; otherwise Keralites used to opt government jobs, service or professional jobs. It is a great contribution to the state hosted them.
GSB, Vaishyas, Saraswats and Kutumbis lead the life of well-knit societies. They maintain their tradition intact. They talk their own language, that is Konakani, in their house and whenever they meet some one belonging to their society. The way they maintain their temple, the style of their wedding, their upanayanam, rituals after the birth of a child and rituals after the death of a community member, etc. are unique in all respects. They still stick on to what their ancestors used to in Goa. GSB and Vaishaya communities take advice from their spiritual Gurus, full fledged monks, who are always accessible to the members of the community. Both Saraswaths and Kutumbis do not have spiritual Gurus.
The strength of the GSB community in Kerala is slightly below 100,000. But, they have got higher secondary schools in Alappuzha, Thuravoor, Kayamkulam (all belonging to Alappuzha Distirct), Manjeswaram in Kasseragod, District and Kochi. In Kochi and Thurvaoor they do have institute for Teachers’ Training Course also. GSB community has got a government-aided homoeopathy medical college in Chottanikkara, near Kochi. GSB launched the first ever private medical college in Kerala in 1960s. But, they had to hand over its management to the government of Kerala after some years, thanks to the disharmony within the management. Vaishya Vaniya society has got two primary schools in Kochi. Kutumbis do not have such institutions, but both Vaishyas and Kutumbis do have some temples in the places they live as communities. Kutumbi strength in the state is about 500,000 whereas Vaishya community is about 10,000. Saraswath strength is less than 300.
GSB community runs an ambitious research centre in Kochi which was launched with the wholehearted support of the former spiritual Guru, late Sri Sudheendratheertha Swamiji. Several PhD aspirants do researches there under the able guidance of Dr V Nithyananda Bhatt.
Lot of luminaries have come up from GSB community. Former RSS Akhil Bharatheeya Boudhik Pramukh and author of several scholarly books Sri Ranga Hariji, Padmashree laureates Dr K N Pai, veteran journalist T V R Shenoy and prominent Konkani writer Purushothama Mallya, Swami Ramadas aka Pappa Swamy (the Saint of Kanjangad), A D Hairsharma (one of the most prominent linguistic scholars in Malayalam and member of Kerala school syllabus setting council for several years), Swami Ananda Theerthan (revolutionary social reformer and disciple of Sree Narayana Gurudev), Kendra Sahithya Acadmey award winner Anantha Bhatt, A V Bhaskar (senior RSS pracharak and founder of Vidya Bharathi net work in Kerala) and Dr R K Shenoy are some of the prominent personalities belonging to GSB. Former NIA chief Radha Vinod Raju IPS belonged to Vaishay Vaniya community.
All the four communities who fled their native place for protecting their religion, culture and life are now totally assimilated in the Kerala community, but still keep their identity and uniqueness in tradition, style of life, etc. Kerala will be always grateful to them for their sterling contribution to the social, economic and academic growth of the state.
(Courtesy to “Govayile Matham Mattam – Kathayum Vyadhayum” (Conversion in Goa – Stories & Miseries), by Shri Ranga Hariji for some historical information produced in this article) n