Concise history of the cochin GSB

We are Saraswaths. To bemore precise, Saraswath Brahmins. Descendents of Brahmins who once resided in the Saraswathi River valley. The Saraswathi River is surrounded by mystery even though the exact location and origins have been documented in a lot of historical documents including the VEDAS, the basis of the Indian culture and other texts like the Puranas. This e-book specifically aims to chart out the exact details of how our community came to bepresent in the present geographic locations spread throughout India from the banks of the great Vedic river.

The story of the Cochin GSBs would be very much incomplete and unclear without mentioning the importance of SHRI VENKATACHALAPATHI TEMPLE, Goshreepuram, Kochi and SHRI KASHIMATH SAMSTHAN, Hardwar in shaping the Samaj. The grace of SHRI VENKACHALAPATHI is evident in present status of the community which came to Cochin first in the 1360s following the military campaign by Alla-ud-din Khiljiand then again in AD 1560after escaping Portuguese Inquisition in Goa.

The author has referred a few selected books, the Internet and has collected information from people who have a credible knowledge of our history. Some of the books include “MARATHAKAPACCHA” which explains in detail the legend of SHRI VENKATACHALAPATHI residing in the SHRI VENKATACHALAPATHI TEMPLE, Goshreepuram, Kochi and some journals of “VENKATAVANI” published by the Cochin Thirumala Dewaswom, the governing body of the temple mentioned above.

The main idea behind this e-book is to provide a source of information on our origins, history, culture and customs aimed mainly at the youth (10-30 yrs). A better and more organized analysis will not only help our Samaj Bhandhavs take pride in our rich heritage but also inspire them to uphold our unique traditionsand live their life in accordance with the SHODASHA SAMSKARAs. Our ancestors through a very strict yet simple lifestyle have managed to preserve our identity during turbulent times and now it is up to our generation to follow their footsteps.

This book also contains some interesting trivia regarding our Samaj, our unique culture and customs, our language and some of the remarkable personalities who have made it big in their respective fields and brought name and fame not only for themselves but also for the Samaj.

This book has been written using information from a variety of sources and it is only natural that there may be some discrepancies and inaccurate data regarding some names and dates. Any such mistake is deeply regretted. The author insists that any mistake or any suggestionbe promptly reported to the following e-mail id. This will help improve the general quality of the book and help shed more light on our Samaj.

This book is published over the Internet because of many reasons. The book is free of cost and the individual must distribute the book to as many people he can. The individual, if he has some additional information regarding the subject may edit the e-book and mayfeel free upload another version of the same book on theInternet for the benefit of the entire Samaj.

Last but not least, the author would like to thank his friends and relatives who have helped him with the necessary material for the book. Without them this book would not have materialized.

BEGINNING IN THE NAME OF GURU AND THE LORD

||OM SHREE GURUBHYO NAMAH||

||OM SREE VENKATESHAYA NAMAH||

Chapter 1: The Saraswathi River and the Saraswaths

Saraswath Brahmins were a part of the Saraswath community which used to inhabit along the now nonexistentVedic river Saraswathi which once flowed through north India. They are Aryans without doubt and their history is common with the Aryan history till BC 3000 (supposed time of the Aryan invasion). These people settled along the banks of the Saraswathi River.

The Saraswathi River, meaning “she with life-giving fluid” (Sanskrit: saras “with life-giving fluid”, सरस्वतीनदी) is one of the chief Rig-Veda rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts (with entire hymns dedicated to Her, mentioned a total of 72 times in the Rig-Veda, appearing in all books except for book four).The Rig-Veda describes the Saraswathi as the “Best Mother, best of Rivers and best of Goddesses” and calls it “the Seventh, Mother of Floods” sárasvatī saptáthī síndhumāta. She is said to be flowing from the east to the west. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rig-Veda (10.75) contains the geographical enumeration of all important rivers from the Ganges in the east up to the Indus in the west in a strict geographical order), as “Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi, Shutudri” mentions the Saraswathi between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej(Shutudri) in the west. The goddess Saraswathi was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity and meaning.

The most prominent river of the early Rig-Veda is the Saraswathi, losing its prominence to the Indus in the late Rig-Veda. The reason for this is mostly ascribed to the movement of Vedic Aryans from out of their early seats in Gandhara (present day Kandahar in eastern Afghanistan) into the Indus valley. And as they used to move from one region from another, they used to name the new rivers with the corresponding names from their old region. This behavior has prompted historians to conclude that there could be two Saraswathirivers in accordance with the eastward expansion of the Aryans from Central Asia to India.This eastward migration from the Saraswathi in Afghanistan necessarily brought them into India.We should remember that Hinduism in Afghanistan dates back to the Vedic periodswhen the country shared a commonculture with India. Along with Buddhism and Zoroastrianism (Parsi religion), Hinduism was also practiced among the local people, who were a heterogeneous mix of Iranian, Nuristan and Indo-Aryanbackground. The Hindu Shah Kings who ruled Afghanistan until the 10th century were the descendants of Persian and Scythian converts to Hinduism. Afghanistan gradually converted to Islam with the advent of Islam in the 8th century. The Mahabharatamentions King Shakuni, brother of Ghandhari the mother of the Kauravas who was the ruler of Kandahar region in eastern Afghanistan(Notice the similarity between “Ghandhari” and “Kandahar”).

One inference is that the Early Vedic Saraswathi could be the present day Helmand River in Afghanistan, separated from the watershed of the Indus by the Sanglakh Range. Many of the rivers mentioned in the Rig-Veda are in Afghanistan, North-Western Frontier and other places.The Helmand historically bore the name Haraxvaiti, which is the Avestan form corresponding to SanskritSaraswathi. As in the Vedic Saraswathi, the Helmand River also flows from the east to the west.

The identity of the dried-up Ghagghar-Hakrawith the late Vedic and post-Vedic Saraswathi is widely accepted.The Ghagghar-HakraRiver is an intermittent river in India and Pakistan that flows only during the monsoon season.The Ghaggar is an intermittent river in India, flowing during the monsoon rains. It originates in the Shivalik Hills of Himachal Pradesh and flows through Punjab and Haryana to Rajasthan. The present-day SarsutiRiver originates in a sub-montane region (Ambala district) and joins the Ghaggar near Shatrana in Punjab.

With the help of a satellite picture, recently scientists traced the course of the Saraswathi. The Central Arid Zone Research Institute of Jodhpur has traced its course and said that the river dried up several centuries ago. From the Himalayan Mountains, the river passed through Haryana and Western U.P. and via Rajasthan she joined the Ocean at Kutch on the West Coast. The dried up Saraswathi was the present drain called Sarsuti near Kurukshetra and the Chautang torrent of today should be accepted as the Drishadvati of Rig-Vedic time. The survey also unearthed much other valuable information on the river’s course.

Figure 5: The Late Vedic Saraswathi Civilization

To trace the Gouda Saraswath Brahmins ancestry, one must begin with the story of the famous seer Saraswatha (who according to legend was born from the union the great sage Dadhichi and Saraswathi). When there was a famine in northern India and the Saraswathi River dried up, he continued to recite the Vedic texts by consuming the fish that the goddess Saraswathi had given to him.Later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmans as well as the Mahabharata mention that the Saraswathi dried up in a desert. The Brahmins of later generations who accepted fish as a part of their diet were often known to have referred to this story to justify their full-fledged status as Brahmins despite their acceptance of fish. The Vedic Brahmins were forced to emigrate to the West (Sind), North (Kashmir), East (along the Ganga in U.P., Bihar, Bengal) and to the South (Gujarat and the Konkan coast) as a result of this famine.

Figure 1: The present day geography of the ancient Saraswathi River valley

Gouda Saraswath Brahmins’ fish eating habit finds mention even in the Ramayana. Before performing Rajasuya Yagna, Shri Rama asked Lakshmana to invite all the Brahmins for the Yagna. Lakshmana invited everybody, except Gaud Saraswath Brahmins. When asked, Lakshmana explained that he observed them eating fish, which was considered non-vegetarian and therefore, they could not be Brahmins. Shri Rama was puzzled and asked Lakshmana to elaborate what he saw. Lakshmana explained how the Brahmins would catch the fish, separate the head and tail from the fish, then using Vedic mantras rejoined the head and tail. They would then release the fish in water. The fish would live again. The Brahmins ate the middle portion of the fish. Shri Rama was impressed. Since the Brahmins were not killing the fish, he felt that no sin was committed. Shri Rama instructed Lakshmana to invite Gaud Saraswath Brahmins to the Rajasuya Yagna.

Around 1000 BC, the river Saraswathi started vanishing underground and the people on its banks started migrating to other parts of India thus forming sub-communities. There are many sub-communities in Saraswaths, including:

  1. Gouda SaraswathBrahmins (Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala)
  2. Chitrapur Saraswaths
  3. Bhalavalikar/Rajapur Saraswath Brahmins(Rajapur & Bhalavali in Maharashtra)
  4. Kashmiri Saraswaths (Kashmiri Pundits in the Kashmir Valley)
  5. Punjabi Saraswaths/Punjabi Brahmins(Punjab, Haryana, HP, New Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, J&K, West Punjab, Sind and NWFP)
Figure 2: This shows the scattering of the Saraswaths throughout India
Sharada Peetha, an age old School of learning dedicated to Saraswathi was started by Kashmiri Saraswaths. It was located at Sharada Peetha now a few kilometers away from Muzzafarabad in POK. It was as famous as Takshashila and Nalanda. Today only the ruins remain testimony to the great structure

There are numerous stories how the name Gouda came to be associated with GSBs. One explanation is the old name for Bengal which was called “Gouda Desha” in the ancient times. This popular concept has led to the widespread belief that the present GSBs present in south India were originally from Bengal. In the Skandapurana, it is stated that RishiParashurama brought the Panchagauda Brahmins from Trihotra (Tirhut near Bengal) and settled them at Panchakrosha in Kushasthali of Goa. Since the acceptance of fish was also prevalent in the culture of many Bengali Brahmins and because of the apparent similarities between the languages of the two groups, many Gaud Saraswath Brahmin scholars suggested that their ancestors were from the same place, and they maintained some of their religious views while modifying others.

The other explanation is that the name Gouda derives its name from Swami Gaudapada of Kashmir. According to this theory, the GSBs came to South India via Kutch, Gujarat and then via the Arabian Sea through the port city of Dwarka. The tradition preserved by Saraswath Brahmins from Gujarat, recorded in the Baroda State Gazetteer (1923) can be quoted here: “The Saraswath is a very ancient Brahman tribe which still inhabits a tract in the north-west of India beyond Delhi, once watered by the famous Saraswathi River. It is said that they are descendants of Saraswathi Muni. They came from Punjab to Gujarat by way of Sind and Kutch with their Yajamanas, patrons, the, Luhanas, Bhansalis and Bhatias. In religion they are Shaiva and also worship the Goddess Saraswathi”. According to their view, one thing to be noted here is that the Saraswaths moved southwards from Gujarat mostly through sea routes, and did not come via Trihotra or Videha as described by some texts like the Skandapurana.

In fact, the Kula Devi of the Kings of Nepal is the Goddess “Shree Mahalasa Narayani” (a female form of the divine lord Vishnu), whose temple is now located in Mhardol in Goa.

All the Saraswaths are Rig-Vedicand were originally Smartha, following the Smartha Bhagavatha Sampradaya. Shiva, Vishnu, Ganapathi, Suryanarayana and Shakti are the gods together called as Panchayatana, being worshipped by this system. The Kavale Math supposed to have been founded originally about 740 A.D at Kutthali or Kaushasthali,which later shifted to Kavale,was the math of the whole community. Swami Vivarananda of the Gaudapada tradition from Kashmir is believed to have founded the Math originally. GuruGaudapada was the teacher of Govinda Bhagavatpada, who in turn had initiated Acharya Adi Shankara. From the 13th century onwards many Saraswaths accepted the Dvaita Vaishnava School propounded by Acharya Madhwa, but they did not discard their attachment to the Panchayatana, and the Shaiva gods.Many of their Kuladevatas are Shaiva (Nagesh, Ramanath) and also connected with Shakti (Shanteri Kamakshi, Mahalasa). Though they were initially attached to the Mathas at Udupi and Kumbhakonam, later two separate Vaishnava Mathas, the Gokarna-Partagali and the Kashi Math were founded.

Chapter 2: The Life in Gomanthaka (Goa)

According to legend it was the Great Sage Parashurama, who invited the Saraswaths to come and reside in the present age Goa, which was called Gomanthaka in the ancient times. It was also called asGovapuri or Aprant. The Arab sailors knew it as Sindaburor Sandabur, and the Portuguese as Goa.

It is said that Parashurama shot an arrow into the sea and the seabed rose up out of the sea where the arrow had landed. The new piece of land thus recovered came to be known as Konkan meaning “piece of earth” or “corner of earth” (Kona (corner) + kana (piece)).

Figure 2: The Sage holding the axe is Parashurama. If you analyze the Brahmins standing behind him, you can notice that they have anointed the sandalwood paste according to the Shaiva (Smartha) tradition. Also notice the Shiva Linga in the background.

The Saraswath Brahmins settled in three islands in the estuary of the Zuari and Mandovi rivers. The Saraswaths settled in three different groups which lent the name to the land based on the number of families settled there:Twelve(Barah) families in Bardesh(modern Bardez), Thirty(Tees) families in Tiswadiand sixty six(Sashasta) families in Sashti(modern Salcette). These three islands formed the ancient Gomanthaka.

Figure 3: The Political Map of Goa. Notice the above mentioned cities (Bardez, Salcette and Tiswadi) along the coast

While migrating from old to new places, the Saraswaths used to take along with them their “Kuldev” or “Kuldaivata” (Tutelary Deities), the deities which a set of families primarily worship. Their temples are built and maintained by these families, also called “Mahajanas” of their respective temple. The Kuladevatasof the GSBs are very different than that of any other Brahmin community. These Kuladevatas are not to be found all over India other than the Konkan. Even to this day a large number of the original Tutelary Deities are still present in Goa.

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So far only two movies in GSB Konkani have been produced:
1) Tapaswini and 2) Jana Mana

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In the good old days agraharas (settlements, Konkani:Keri) were founded to help the Brahmins to engage themselves in these six-fold duties by donating land grants to them and providing them houses. These agraharas were separate Brahmin settlement villages or streets of Brahmins called Brahmapuris. Such agraharas were found all over the country, and the lands granted were ‘sarvamanya‘ free from the commitment of revenue payment, or were subjected to a quit-rent or nominal revenue. Goa also had a number of such agraharas. The Brahmins who received such grants were called Mahajanas. Salgaon was an agrahara, the name derived from Shalagrama, Mashelfrom the word Mahashala and Madagaon also derived from Mathagrama as in Matha an institution where the teacher and the taught stayed together. It is also remarkable that a large portion of GSB settlements are similar to the agraharas. These organized dwellings have helped the Samaj to preserve their unique culture and customs without interference from outside forces.

The Mahajanas in the agraharas were learned in all branches of learning, and these were also specialized in Ayurveda, Pashuvaidya, Gajashastra, Ashwashastra, Astronomy, Astrology, Metallurgy, Botany etc. In those days, the Brahmins guided men of all professions in all areas. The agraharas were founded amidst groups of villages to serve as light to that particular group of village.

In the 3rd century BCE, Gomanthaka was a part of the Maurya Empire. It was later ruled by the Satavahana dynasty. Over the next few centuries it was ruled successively by the Silharas, the Kadambas and the Chalukyas of Kalyani (who controlled it from AD580-750). The Kadambas are credited with constructing the first settlement on the site of Old Goa in the middle of the 11th century.Goa was twice attacked by Muslims,once in 1328, when the army of Delhi Sultans (Tughluqs) following the military campaign by Alla-ud-din Khiljicaptured the Kadamba capital Chandrapur (Chandor or Chandargao) and ransacked it. This Islamic conquest forced many GSBs to leave their homes and flee to Kerala and Canara.

However in 1370 the Vijayanagara empire, a resurgent Hindu empire conquered the area. The Vijayanagara rulers held on to Goa for nearly 100 years, during which its harbors became important centers of foreign trade. By the time of the Vijayanagara rulers, the settlers in the agraharas had multiplied to such an extent that the lands granted to the families several centuries ago were insufficient to support all family members. Religious and Vedic learning could not support all to earn their livelihood.Thus many youngmen took trade and government service. They became village accountants, clerks, interpreters and even higher officials like Desai, ministers and administrators. There was ample scope for trade as Goa and the Konkan coast had many ports, and foreigners like the Arabs, Persians, Chinese, Phoenicians and later the Europeans could communicate with Saraswaths as they could learn the foreign language quickly.During this period Cochin, Cannanore (Kannur), Tellichery (Thalasherry), Kumble, Ullala, Mangalore, Mulki, Malpe (Udupi), Basrur, Gangoli, Bhatkal, Tadadi, Mirjan, Kumta, Honavar, Ankola, all major ports on the West Coast had Saraswaths dominating in the overseas trade. They were also playing a key role in political activities in the area.Not only the Saraswaths, but the entire South India prospered during their reign.

Goa was again conquered by the Bahmani Sultans of Gulbarga in 1472. The commotion created during this period again forced many GSBs to leave Goa and settle down in Kerala and other places on the Canara Coast. The Hindus in Goa during this period were very much unsatisfied at the autocratic and unsympathetic rule of the Bahmani Sultans.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and landed at Calicut. This started a steady stream of Portuguese sailors and traders to come to India through the newly discovered sea route. In 1510 Portuguese admiral Alfonso de Albuquerque attacked Goa at the behest of the local chieftain Thimayya(whom he had encountered at an island near Goa) and gained control of the region for a few weeks. After losing the city briefly to its former rulers for a period of 4 months, Albuquerque returned with a larger forceand captured the city, killing the Muslim inhabitants.Albuquerque and his successors left almost untouched the customs and constitutions of the thirty village communities on the island, only abolishing the rite of Sati (widow-burning).He intended it to be a colony and a naval base, as distinct from the fortified factories established in certain Indian seaports. Goa was made the new capital of the Portuguese Vice-Kingdom in Asia.

An exquisite and expensive variety of mango that Afonso de Albuquerque used to bring on his journeys to India, has been named in his honour, and is today sold throughout the world as Alphonso

Figure 4: Afonso de Albuquerque, the first Duke of Goa

Initially the Hindus were quite happy with the Portuguese rule as they were the ones who liberated Goa from the tyrannical Sultans. But gradually the real motive behind the Portuguese conquest began to unfold and terror gripped the Samaj. The news of Portuguese victory had reached Europe. Both the Pope and the Vatican were excited at the prospect of expanding the Christian Empire to the East. Goa would very well serve as the transit point in their journey from the West to the East as they had very well established their rule over the land and the Christian priests would be safe there. Gradually a steady influx of Christian prieststo Goa began and started proselytization (convert from one religion, belief to another) vigorously. These Christian priests were aptly escorted by Portuguese soldiers to ward off any cases of violence. They believed that by converting the native population to Christianity they could win their loyalty to the Portuguese rulers.

Their first targets were the religious priests whom they tried to convert to Christianity. They met with very little success. Encountered by stubborn resistance to their activities, they grew alarmed and resorted to the use of force to achieve their means. Their next step was to disrupt religious functions and activities. They banned many Hindu ceremonies from being conducted in the public. This intolerant attitude angered the native population and prompted many families to leave Goa fearing safety. The thing to be noted here is these took place before St. Francis Xavier set foot in Goa.

Figure 5: St. Francis Xavier

The period from the arrival of St. Francis Xavier inGoa in was far more gruesome.Born in 1506, he became one of the founding members of“Society of Jesus” when it was founded in Paris, 1534.In 1537, they traveled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted them to be ordained priests. He arrived in Goa in 1542. After a year in Goa, he went southward to the present day Tamil Nadu and started converting the poor, ignorant fisher folk in coastal districts of Kanyakumari to Thirunalveli. Upon hearing this, the Raja of the Vijayanagara Kingdom Ramaraya Vitthala sent a small group of soldiers to stop his advances. St. Xavier escaped to Kanyakumari and then traveled along the coastal districts of Kerala. Large sections among the Malayali fishermen were duly converted to Christianity. Arrogant at the unprecedented success in Kerala, he returned to the Portuguese base of Goa. Upon reaching there, he too got involved in converting people. But only a handful would oblige to follow the new religion. He was very unhappy with himself and theactivities of fellow preachers as they could not convert much people to Christianity.

Figure 3: This traces St.Xaviers’ travels to the East

Hence he laid forward a set of new policies and coerced the Portuguese authorities to accept them. These policies sought not only covert people to Christianity but also consecrated efforts to destroy the Hindu culture of that region. These new policies contained Draconian laws that prohibited new temples from being built and barred people from renovating old ones. The idols and other valuables from temples were looted and then converted to churches leaving the hapless Hindus in dire straits. Strict controls were placed on many customs and ceremonies. Weddings, Upanayanams and other social functions had to be organized clandestinely. People were barred from planting Tulsi plants in their front yards. The authorities were hell bent on interfering and curtailing each and every Hindu custom.  The atrocities committed by the priests in the name of God cannot be described by mere words. Goa at that period was literally tainted with the blood of ordinary helpless Hindus.

Many people either by active proselytizationand brainwashing or out of fear converted to Christianity. St. Xavier made these “New Christians” desecrate and destroy the same idols they used to worship till a few months back. In a letter written by him to his Superior in Europe he has stated, “I told the new Christians to demolish the shrines of the idols and saw to it that they crushed the images to dust,I could not express to you the consolation it gave me to watch the idols being destroyed by the very hands of those who recently used to worship”. Although he managed to convert a large number of non-Brahmins, a significant number of Brahmins including the GSBs took refuge in other parts. Some moved to Maharashtra while others moved along the western coast to Karnatakaand also to Kerala.St. Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, requested an Inquisition to be installed in Goa.

He died in 1552 in China after a decade of evangelism in Southern India and other parts of Asia. The apparent success of his policies in convertingpeople prompted the authorities to continue them. As if the people had not suffered enough, a Papal Bull initiated Inquisition in Goa 1560 triggering a massive exodus of GSBs from Goa. The Inquisition started the dark years for Hindus in Goa. Many converts were opportunistic “Rice Christians” who practiced their old religion along with Christianity. This was seen as a threat to the immaculateness of the Christian belief. Credible records show that in the year 1567 alone around 280 temples in Salcette district were destroyed and their belongings shared between the authorities and Jesuit priests.

While its ostensible aim was to preserve the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was used against the Hindus as an instrument of social control, as well as a method of confiscating victims’ property and enriching the Inquisitors. The Inquisition prosecuted non-converts who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites or interfered with Portuguese attempts to convert non-Christians to Catholicism. Religious courts were establishes across Goa by the Jesuit priests. People were told either to convert to Christianity or to

We should remember that these acts were not limited to Goa, India or Asia alone. Inquisition courts were established all over the world. In particular, in England people used to burn innocent women alive at stake alleging that they were witches and were responsible for some mishap or the other. Numerous illustrious scientists which defied Catholic laws including Galileo and Copernicus were also caught for heresy. They were either buried alive or burnt alive.

leave the territory.Any provocation or revolt against the rules or The Bible or the priests was ruthlessly suppressed. They were labeled Enemies of the Churchand heretics. There are numerous accounts of hundreds of nativesburied alive or burnt alive at stake.

It is a widely accepted fact that as many as 12000 Saraswath families and as many Vaishya (popularly called Vaniyanchi) and Kudumbi (Kunbi) families from the Salcette (Sashti) district alone fled Goa to safer areas away from Portuguese influence during the early 1560s. About 4000 families moved north towards Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh towards Indore. The rest came to Karnataka and settled along the coast. A large contingent of GSBs joined existing GSB settlement of Cochin. Many of the newcomers were poor who had left everything back. “Swadharme nidhanam shreyah” was the only motive that guided them. They had nothing to lose as long as they had their faith in Him.

Let me include another recorded incident.Around 1583, missionary activity in Cuncolim led first to small skirmishes and finally to the murder of some missionaries. The Portuguese authorities called the 16 chieftains of each ward (vado) of the Cuncolim village to the Assolna Fort, ostensibly to form a peace pact with the villagers. At the fort, the chieftains were slain, except for two who jumped from the fort into the Arabian Sea and presumably swam to Karwar. The villagers were left without their traditional leaders and the Portuguese began confiscating the land of the locals.

By mid-16th century, the area under occupation had expanded to most of present-day limits. Goa was granted the same civic privileges as Lisbon. In 1563 the governor even proposed to make Goa the seat of a parliament representing all parts of the Portuguese east but this was rejected by the king. Travelers marvelled at Goa Dourada (Golden Goa), and there was a Portuguese proverb “He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon“. Such was the prosperity and importance of Goa to the Portuguese Empire.

Chapter 3: The Story of the Cochin GSBs (Kochikkar)

The first GSB settlements along Kochi are said to have occurred in 1328 followingthe military onslaught of Delhi Sultanate and later the Bahmani Sultanate in 1350. Gradually more GSBs trickled into Cochin because of trading ties during Vijayanagara Empire. The Kerala district Gazetteer (Ernakulam 1965) states “The Gouda Saraswaths locally called Konkanis are immigrants from Goa the Southernmost part of Konkan. They are also known as Sasastikars as it is believed they belonged to Sashti (modern Salcette) in Goa”. The Gazetteer also informs that “Even today there is a plot of land in Mattancheri called Sashti Parambu to commemorate the fact that the Saraswaths of Cochin belonged originally to Sashti”. It is also stated in Madhwavijaya that Acharya Madhwa had visited the Anantheshwara temple at Manjeshwar during the 13th century, and the temple belonged to Saraswaths. These are pieces of evidence to prove that Saraswaths had migrated to the South from Goa even during the 13th and 14th centuries.The period from the late 13th century to late 18th century were the Golden years for Kochikkar. Kochi was the centre of Indian spice trade for many centuries. It was known to the Yavanas (Greeks) as well as Romans, Jews, Arabs, and Chinese since ancient times. Kochi rose to significance as a trading centre after the port at Kodungallur (Cranganore) was destroyed by massive flooding of the river Periyar in 1341.

A papal bull initiated the Goa Inquisition in 1560 triggering a massive exodus of GSBs from Goa. A large contingent of GSBs joined existing GSB settlement of Cochin. Many of the newcomers were poor. The present day Cherlai region where the majority of the Cochin GSBs reside and conduct their business, was provided by the generous Kochi Raja tax-free to the community for a rate of per 3.5 Kashu per feet (at that time 3.5 Kashu meant a small gold Coin) for the new arrives to set up homes. It included all the land between the four canals (on the East-canal adjacent to the Guest House, towards the South-canal adjacent to Y.N.P.Trust, on the West-canal near M.S.C.Bank (on the way to Amaravathy) and on the North-canal at Karippalam, adjacent to Sashtiparambu). The plot of land enclosed within the 4 canals was called the Sanketham of the GSBs. All revenue within the Sanketham would not come under the purview of the Royal Tax. During the bi-annual Kochi Aarat festival, the Palanquin or the Ratha carrying the Lord traverse only those areas within these 4 canals.The Cochin GSBs brought along with them the idol of Shri Venkatachalapathi for which they constructed a temple and installed the idol with all respect according to Vedic rites(now that idol is presently installed in the temple at Karanakodam in Ernakulam). They continued their religious duties with equal zeal as they had performed earlier. The Rajas of Kochi were generous toward the community due to their enterprising manner and their entrepreneurship skills.

The Arakkal Raja in North Malabar sought the help of a Saraswath merchant, Babani Shenoy, to save his overseas commercial interests and permitted the Saraswaths to open their commercial establishments called “Pandikaalas” in Kannur by gifting them extensive land in the town during the 17th century.

But the Saraswaths had to face many trials and tribulations in their new homes.The new arrives were called “Paradeshi Brahmins” and did not get social acceptance among the Namboothiri Brahmins of Keralawho denied them temple entry. This prompted the GSBs to live together amongst themselves in the agrahara (Keri) fashion throughout Kerala.All major GSBs temples were established in this period and were patronized by the prosperous GSBs. The first GSB temple in South Kerala was established at Cherai, near Cochin in 1563.

The ascendancy of the Dutch in Cochin saw GSBs emerge as one of the most important trading communities of Cochin. Theyplayed a key role in the emergence of Cochin as the international trade centre. Local rajas granted them privileges to encourage trade in their domain. With the advent of Europeans, Cochin GSBs quickly developed trade links with them.The Europeans especially the Dutch and the Portuguese disliked the local Muslims for their close alliance with Arabs who were their rivals in oceanic trade and thus maintained special relations with the Saraswaths for their commercial transactions.

The Dutch who founded their factory at Cochin and monopolized the trade of the port relied on the Saraswaths for securing goods like pepper, rice, forest products etc. According to the Grandavari records in Cochin Archives, the Dutch company had secured in 1663 the privilege of extra-territoriality for the Konkanis and Christians in the Cochin kingdom. The privilege permitted the Konkani and the local Christian subjects of the Cochin prince for trial of all suits filed by these people or against these people in the Courts of the Dutch Company. The Konkanis were saved from lot of harassment thus. They secured this privilege because they were the people whose help the Dutch needed most for their commercial transactions, and the local Christians because they were the co-religionists of the Dutch.The Saraswaths could secure all these privileges in Cochin because of their skill and ability as overseas traders.The history of the Cochin GSBs is closely inter-woven with the history of SHRI VENKATACHALAPATHY TEMPLEsituated in Goshreepuram, Kochi.

Not only in Cochin, but they exerted their firm grip on foreign trade in Kannur, coastal towns of South Canara and North Canara. Historical records mention a large number of Saraswath traders along coastal Karnataka. The Saraswaths there too prospered and contributed to establishment to several prominent GSB temples in their respective towns.

Chapter 4: The idol (Vigraha) of Shri Ventachalapathy in Goshreepuram

The SHRI VENKATACHALAPATHY TEMPLE situated in Goshreepuram, Kochi is one of the oldest and largest temple of GSBs anywhere in Kerala. The present idol at the temple in Kochi is very historic and has a very interesting story behind it.

The idol of Lord Venkateshwara can be traced back to Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire who ruled the kingdom during the late 15th century. It is said that the pious king used the frequently visit Venkatachalapathi Temple at Tirupathi. But later due to his declining health and old age, he could not visit the temple more often. And as a result, he became terribly sad. It is said that one day, Lord Venkatachalapathi appeared in his sleep and asked him not worry. Lord said to the King that a sculptor would come to his palace and would sculpt an idol for the King to worship. Subsequently a sculptor reached the Kings’ palace and asked for the necessary items for him to start his work. The King readily obliged and provided the sculptor with the required materials and a separate room for him to work. Once the sculptor started working, he would not come out of his room and remained inside. The King grew curious about the whole matter but dare not disrupt the sculptor. At last the King outgrew his patience and decided to open the room. Much to his amazement the sculptor was nowhere to be found, but inside the room was a magnificent idol of Lord Venkatachalapathi. Thus the idol is called SWAYAMBHOO (self-incarnated). It is widely believed that the Lord himself appeared as a sculptor before the King.

The King decided to construct a grand temple befitting the importance of the idol and to have it installed at an auspicious time (as instructed to him in his dreams, the idol was to be installed when they heard the sound of the heavenly drums). As fate would have it, some crows happened to fly over the royal drums with twigs in their beaks and the twigs accidentally dropped on the drums producing a sound, which was mistaken for the auspicious hour indicated by the Lord. The idol was duly consecrated at that hour which was inauspicious. Only later when the heavenly sound was heard, did the King realize the mistake. The grief stricken King was pacified by the Lord in his dream that He would remain with him till his death. After the demise of the king, a great fire broke out in the kingdom and the priest out of desperation to save the idol threw it into a dilapidated well.

As the legend has it, Swami Vijayindra Thirtha of Sree Kumbhakonam Mutt happened to traverse that region during one of his tours some years after the fire.It is said that Swamiji while performing the Sandhyavandan, noticed a serpent strangely trying to indicate some place with his hood. Swamiji followed these directions indicated by the snake and it led to the discovery ofthe well wherein the idol of the Lord was deposited. The Swamiji recovered the idol from the well and started worshipping the idol along with his other idols.During the course of His travels, Swami Vijayindra Thirtha happened to visit Cochin and performed Chaturmasya[1] Vrita among the Gouda Saraswath Brahmin Community of Cochin. Upon seeing the radiance of the idol, the GSB community of Cochin was captivated by its divine power and under the leadership of the wealthy patron Shri Mala Pai, requested the idol from the Swamiji.

At this time in history, the Cochin GSBs had established themselves as a very well off community through their trade ventures with the Dutch and had earned tremendous goodwill among other communities.

The Swamiji, wanting to test the strength and will of the people agreed to hand over the idol in exchange for a heap of gold coins that would immerse the idol. All the gold coins brought in by the wealthy Mala Pai could cover only the body of the idol and not its tip. Even though he kept on pouring more coins the weight of the idol was unmatched. That put him in a fix. It was presumed that the Lord did not want to stay at Cochin as a property of an individual. Mala Pai and some senior membersset out to collect as much gold as possible for securing the idol for the Samaj. Only gold coins and ornaments brought in from the home of every community member could cover the tip of the idol. The Swamiji was apparently pleased at the devotion and faith shown by the Samaj, handed over the idol to the Samaj. In a way the Swamiji had also tested the financial strength of the Samaj to make sure they had enough wealth to perform the appropriate ceremonies the idol deserved.The Swamiji also selected an appropriate Brahmacharya from the community for initiation into Sanyasa as the First Pontiff of Kashi Math. He was named Sudheendra Thirtha by the Swami and thus Kashi Math was born in Kochi. The First Prathishta was performed bySwami Vijayindra Thirtha of Sree Kumbhakonam Mutt and His ShishyaSwami Sudheendra Thirtha in the year A.D. 1599 (M.E 775) on a Chithra Pournami day.This explains the unbreakable devotion and faith of Cochin GSBs towards Shri Kashi Math. Lord Venkateshwara and the Gurus of Shri Kashi Math have provided an everlasting source of spiritual guidance for the Cochin GSBs.

The Cochin GSBs continue to worship the new idol along with their Kula Devathas. The period from 1600s to 1800s was the golden time for the GSBs of South Kerala as they played intermediaries between the inland produces and the Dutch merchants. Numerous entrepreneurs started new establishments and greatly contributed to the financial might of the community. Even when wealth began flowing in the community, the people never lost track of their culture and customs.

Chapter 5: TheSecond Prathistha of Shri Ventachalapathy in Goshreepuram

During the second half of the 17th century, the Dutch made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Fort at Cochin from the Portuguese. The Konkanis who were close and had rendered assistance to the Dutch were tortured by the Portuguese and their houses, markets and temple were plundered reminding many of the persecution the community faced in Goa.

The Konkanis to escape torture by the Portuguesehad to flee to a place called Udayamperur. They also took along with them the idols from the temple and installed them there for a brief period. But later on when the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch, the community breathed a sigh of relief as they could carry on their daily business unhindered.

The Konkanis left Udayamperur for Cochin and reconstructed the temple in a grander manner befitting the financial status of the community at that time. The second Prathistha of Lord Venkateshwara was performed in the reconstructed temple at Cochin during the year A.D. 1719. The consecration took place at the hands of Swami Devendra Thirtha, the sixth pontiff of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan.

Chapter 6: Influence of Shakthan Thampuran on the Community

After the defeat of the Portuguese by the hands of the Dutch, the members of the community continued to live without fear. But 60 years hence, terror struck the community in the form of Raja Rama Varma, popularly known as Shakthan Thampuran who assumed throne in A.D. 1790. He was indeed very critical of the GSBs unlike the earlier Rajas of Kochi who patronized the community in some way or the other. Social status of Cochin GSBs suffered immensely from this episode. This was the beginning of a long isolation of Cochin GSBs from the rest of the Kerala population.

Another factor quoted by many that led to the downfall of the community’s status during 1800s was the dominance of the English in foreign trade over the Dutch. The British did not have any commercial interest in Cochin as Dutch did, which inevitably led to the decline of Cochin as a commercial hub. The Cochin GSBs who were the middlemen between Europeans and Malayalees were thus deprived of their source of income.

After he took over, GSB wealth was systematically looted and plundered. All the wealth and success acquired by the community was wiped out clean. Starting with GSB enterprisesinMattancheri and Cherlai, he moved on to plunder ordinary homes and then the temple itself. Many prominent GSBs were killed.Ordinary people were left helpless. They had only one inspiration-To secure the idol of Lord Venkateshwara at all cost. It was indeed the grace of God and their unflinching devotion in Him that had saved the community during their turbulent times. All their energies were synergized to protect the idol.

One day as there was some speculation that the Raja had indeed planned an attack on the temple, the Samaj decided to leave Kochi with the idols at the earliest. The idols were distributed among groups who fled to different parts. The original idol of Lord Venkateshwara which was brought from Goa was safely installed at Karanakodam near Ernakulam by a group of people who fled Kochi. The other group with the custody of the idol given by the Swamiji first escaped to Fort Kochiand from there to Thuravoor (called Muttathu among the community).

The group first proceeded to Fort Kochi under the guise of the night and reached a bunglow which was occupied by a high ranking British official. Fort Kochi which was originally under the control of the Dutch was ceded to the British by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. The British official upon hearing the plight of the community offered them safety and allowed them to stay for the night. When dawn struck, the group bid adieu to the British Officer and proceeded south towards Thuravoor. At the time the group from Kochi arrived in Thuravoor there were already around 300 Saraswath families.

The news about the gruesome incidents in Kochi had already reached Thuravoor. The GSBs of Thuravoor cordially welcomed the group from Kochi and granted them an appropriate plot and other paraphernalia to carry on their worship of Lord Venkatachalapathi. Over the years, the place of Thuravoor too prospered by the grace of Lord Venkateshwara.

During the Cochin GSBs stay at Thuravoor, small skirmishes developed between Kochi and the Travancore Rajas. The stay of Cochin GSBs was no longer safe in Thuravoor. The safety of the idol was paramount to them above their own safety. They hence decided to proceed south towards the town of Alappuzha which was under the firm control of the Travancore Raja.

Chapter 7: Refuge in Alappuzha and the Grant for a new temple

The community which fled Kochi had at last reached a safe place in Alappuzha and was ever grateful to the Travancore Raja for granting them refuge. The idol of Lord Venkatachalapathi was first installed in the Western Agrashala of the Old Alappuzha Temple now known as Pazhaya Thirumala in S.L.Puramwith an assurance to bring about their return to Cochin once better atmosphere prevailed.The Raja allowed the new GSB members all the privileges to conduct the Poojas and worship the Lord without fear.

Meanwhile the GSBs who chose to stay back at Kochi were disturbed with the fact that their Lord was moving farther and farther from them. But they still had not abandoned their faith in Him. They ardently believed the Lord would return to His rightful place in Goshreepuram.They continued to observe all the festivals and conducted rites in praise of Lord. Many Cochin GSBs used to travel all way to visit the Old Temple even when facing hardships from the Kochi Raja. Such was the undying faith and devotion of the Cochin GSBs towards the Lord.

The presence of Lord Venkateshwara proved to be catalyst for Alappuzha’s growth as a major international trading centre and an important maritime port. The local GSB community played in important part in the establishment of many successful ventures, some of which exist to this day that led to the overall development of not only the Samaj but also the native population. The Travancore Raja now very much impressed at the community and wanting to keep them at Alappuzha, granted a plot to the communityfor building a new separate temple for Lord Venkateshwara.

The place where the new plot stood was aptly named “Anantha Narayana Puram” now referred to as A.N.Puram or Puthiya Thirumala. The Prathista at the new temple took place on a Medam day of M.E. 1028, A.D. 1852. Even as GSBs in Alappuzha were celebrating, the community at Cochin was sad but optimistic that the idol would return.After the death of Shakthan Thampuran, the Kochi Raja who succeeded him took realized the mistake his predecessor had made. He made peace with the local GSB communityand addressed their grievances. He was genuinely interested in Cochin GSBs demand and requested for the return of the idol from Alappuzha. But unfortunately, their genuine demands fell on deaf ears. The Travancore Raja did not want to part with the Lord whose presence had brought a turnaround in Alappuzha’s prospects as a major trade port. Now the Cochin GSBs were determined that they cannot the idol through fair means. They decided to bring back the idol by hook or crook. And they came about with a strategy to smuggle the idol from Alappuzha to Kochi which will be explained in the next chapter.

The Cochin GSBs were ever optimistic and began the work for building a new temple for Lord Venkateshwara. They laid the foundation for a new temple in Cherlaithe same day and the same auspicious time as the Lord was installed at His new abode in A.N.Puram in Alappuzha. They also started work a large block of teak wood for the construction of the new temple and offered it as Poornaprasada to the Lord. This was seen as a bad omen among the Alappuzha GSB community and a signal of an impending return of the Lord to Kochi.

Chapter 8: The Homecoming of Lord Venkateshwara

The new temple dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara started functioning in A.N.Puram. The Travancore raja fully aware the Cochin GSBs efforts to get back the idol deployed royal guards at all Gopuras (Entrances) of the temple to prevent any mishaps. Nine months later, the miracle happened.

One day in the Pazhaya Thirumala there assembled a large crowd of Cochin GSBs to worship their beloved Lord. Upon seeing such a large number of Cochin GSBs and very well knowing their determination, the authorities grew alarmed and asked for additional security throughout the temple and at the four Gopuras. Every person and every luggage entering or leaving the Gopuras was to be checked thoroughly.The undeterred Cochin GSBs performed many prayers and offerings before their Lord. They also conducted a grand Samaradhana in which every member of the community whether from Kochi or from Alappuzha participated in a spirit of devotion and bonhomie.

The ceremonies did not end there. That night there were other offerings and ceremonies for the Lord on behalf of the Cochin GSBs. After all the ceremonies including the MANGALARATHI were over, there was a PRASADAVITHARANA of Mulikappams among the assembled devotees.

Away from all the pomp and show in the temple, there was a carefully planned strategy in motion. The time was past midnight. Most of the people had left for their homes since most of the ceremonies had finished. Only very few devotees and some employees were remaining in the temple. The Melshanthi dislodged the idol from its resting place in the Girbhagriha and hid it among his share of offerings. The priests were entitled to a share of the total offering to the Lord. The share of the Melshanthi on that day amounted to 4 baskets of Mulikappams. He carefully hid the idol in one of the four baskets containing the Prasad. As he proceeded to go home, the guards stopped him at theentrance and started checking the baskets as per the orders given to them. As luck would have it, the idol was hidden in the 4th basket. The guards after finishing with the first 2 baskets were satisfied and gave the clearance for the other 2 baskets without checking them. Hence the idol was safely escorted to the outside. One could imagine the fate of the Melshanthi and his accomplices if the guards had checked all the baskets. Such was the risk taken by the Melshanthi to ensure the Lord returned to His rightful abode.His wife and family had already been escorted to Kochi 2 days prior to the Lord’s arrival.

Once outside the temple the Melshanthi together with the idol set sail for Kochi. The journey was in a special boat arranged and escorted by the Cochin GSBsand reachedCherlai via the Kochi backwaters. When the boat carrying the idol along with the entourage reached the canal on the east (the one adjacent to the Guest House) the whole community was thrilled beyond limits. The idol was received with a Gold Aarthi. Only then was the idol taken in a procession to the temple.

One can only imagine what the celebration must have been when the boatarrived. The Cochin GSBs erupted in joy, sang Bhajans in the Lord’s name, made offerings to the Lord. Ordinary people left their work and joined the procession bringing the idol to the temple. The whole town was in a festive mood.Just like the new-born Sri Krishna escaping Kamsa’s prison in a basket, Lord Venkateshwara too returned to His subjects. Truly, people who could witness that historic moment must have been really fortunate.

Next day when the Alappuzha A.N.Puram temple opened, the authorities found the Girbhagriha locked and the priest was nowhere in sight. Upon further enquiry in the priest’s home they could confirm that he had escaped to Kochi together with his family, but even then couldn’t find the keys to the Girbhagriha. Grasping the enormity of the situation and expecting the worst, they broke open the doors of the Girbhagriha and much to their despair found the seat of the Lord empty.

Chapter 9: The Legal Procedures adopted by Travancore

The Alappuzha GSB community felt betrayed and promptly reported about the smuggling of the idol to the Travancore Raja. The Raja was shocked and immediately dispatched his best administrators and police officers to A.N.Puram to overlook the legalities and find a solution.

The temple was flooded with devotees who had come upon hearing the terrible news. The Travancore Police started a thorough investigation into the matter. They questioned the employees, authorities and even laymen but couldn’t find any substantial proof.

Then the matters took the form of a Royal war with the Travancore Raja asking the Kochi Raja for a widespread search for the Idol. The Travancore Police searched many of the Konkani establishments and homes in Cherlai andeven the new temple which was incomplete at that time, but couldn’t find the idol. The Police were forced to return empty handed. But to placate the anger of the Travancore Raja and the GSBs of Alappuzha, a replica of the idol was made and aptly presented to the GSB community of Alappuzha.

When it was realized that even the Kochi Raja had a role in the midnight heist, a fierce legal battle followed between the two communities which went on for years with the active support of both the Rajas.

Chapter 10: The Third Prathista of Lord Venkateshwara at the New Temple

Nowthe idol firm in the hands of the Cochin GSB community, they installed the idol at the newly constructed temple at Cherlai. The third Prathista was performed by The Third Prathista of Lord Venkateshwara at the New Temple on a Friday-Vaishakha Thrayodhashi-Chithra Nakshathra-Saka Year1803-A.D. 1881 May-M.E. 1056 Medam 30.

The Prathistha Mahothsava was a grand function presided by the Swamijis of Shri Kashi Math and drew thousands of devotees from all the GSB settlements in and around Kochi. It was day which no person could ever forget.

There is a very touching incident associated with the Punaprathista which really stands out and istruly worth mentioning. As mentioned earlier, most of the construction of the temple took place simultaneously with the court case. The soil which was excavated for building the outer walkway lay surrounding the temple on the Rathavithi at about a height of 18ftand at a perimeter of . As the day of Prathista grew closer, people were in a fix regarding how to deal with such a large heap of sand. The Rathavithi would be used on the day of the Prathista, but there was no way how the all the sand could be moved on time to make way for the Rathayathra. Even by employing a large numbers of labourers, one could not move all of the sand in time for the Prathista. It literally was a race against time. The elders took a very bold and pragmatic decision to move the sand by themselves hoping to find enough volunteers within the community itself. This proved to be successful at last. All the community members lent their hand and participated in the mammoth exercise in a selfless manner, each according to his personal capacity.All the people together finally could accomplished the unthinkable. The Rathayathra could proceed without any obstacle. It was all made possible by the grace of Shri Venkatachalapathi.

In 1981, the community celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Third Prathistha which too was a grand function which would be fondly remembered. The main Gopura on the East was renovated and built on a larger scale. The work was completed in 1981. People who were involved with the renovation of the Gopura and other functions will very happily tell you the kind of unity and attachment among the members of the community during that period. All people including young boys, housewives to older people worked whole heartedly for the venture.

In 2007, the community celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Third Prathista.It was another occasion in which the organizational strength and the unity of the Cochin GSBs were in full swing. Each and every person in Kochi will fondly recall those days as if they just occurred yesterday.

Author: Manjunath Kamath


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3 comments

  1. Tirhut(Mithila) is present day North Bihar and and bordering Nepal. Fish is also eaten by Maithil Brahmins of Tirhut.

  2. The place THURAVOOR is different from MUTTOM.Both are in or near Chertallai in Alapuza(Alleppey) district of kerala. In Muttom/Chertalla as well as Thuravoor GSB temples are there The distance between these two temples may be around 25/30 kilometers only..

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