Goa, a melting-pot of many streams and ethnic stocks, by Frederick Noronha

FEATURE-GOA: Goa, a melting-pot of many streams and ethnic stocks


PANJIM, Aug 5: Goa is a virtual melting-pot, with people coming 
in from various streams and ethnic stocks at different points of 
time of the long and varied history of this small region, says a 
new book touching on the subject.

"The coastal society of Goa was more elastic and less rigid than 
that of the Deccan. The Brahmins of the Deccan Plateau looked 
down on the people of the coastal areas," says a recently 
published book by Dr. V.R.Mitragotri, titled the Socio Cultural 
History of Goa: From Bhojas to Vijayanagar.

In its study on Goan society, the book highlights the various 
communities that make up the patchwork quilt that is currently Goa.

Early settlers include the Gavdas, inhabitants of Ponda or Antruz 
and Tiswadi. They may have migrated from north-eastern India 
around the fourth century before current era. They belong to 
proto-Australoid stock.

Velips, found only in Canacona and Quepem, are other early 
settlers. Kumar Paiks or Kumar Panths were hunters and soldiers 
in the early period.  Many were recruited as soldiers in the 
Vijayanagara army, and tradition has it that they belonged to 
Gulbarga of Karnataka. 

Cobblers (chamars) and Maharas, despite their lowly status, were 
part of ancient and medieval society in Goa.

Mitragotri says that the Brahmins of Goa -- with priestly 
functions traditionally -- are subdivided into Saraswats, 
Karhades, Padhye Brahmins, Bhatt Prabhus and Kramavant Joshis.  

The Saraswats are known as Bamans while some of the other groups 
are referred to as Bhats. Chitpavans are found only in Sattari 
taluka, says the writer.

In Goa, the Garauvas are also a small community, based in Pernem, 
Salcete, Bardez, Tiswadi, Ponda, Sanguem and Canacona. References 
to them are found in inscriptions from the beginning of the 9th 
century in Kannada-speaking region.

"There are Gurav priests in the temples of Chandreshwar-Bhutnath, 
Mahalsa and Saptakoteshwar in Goa. Commonly Guravas were the 
priests in the shrines of the grama-devatas (village deities) 
scattered all over Goa," says the book.

Artisans such as gold-smiths, black-smiths, carpenters, sculptors 
working on stone and copper-smiths were called Panchala Brahmins. 
Belief has it that these Panchalas (along with the Saraswats) 
were brought in by the sage Parasurama around 2500 years before 
the current era to assist the priests in performing sacrifices.

Unlike in some other regions of India, in Goa the occupations of 
carpentry and black-smiths were combined. Being hereditary 
professions, usually one member of the family got engaged in 
carpentry and the other looked after smithy.

"Goa being a thickly forested region, there was no dearth of 
wood. The carpenters of Goa were expert in wood carving. They 
carved wooden pillars of the temples and decorative wood ceilings 
of temples," adds the author.

Mitragotri writes that that there is a concentration of 
carpenters in the villages of Moira in Bardez, Cuncolim, and 
Paiguinim of Canacona taluka. During the Inquisition, carpenters 
from the Old Conquests shifted to Sirsi, Honnavar and Bhatkal of 
nearby Karnataka, taking their skills there.

Kasars are the traditional copper-smiths, who once made bangles 
in copper but perhaps shifted over to glass bangles during the 
Bahamani period when these became popular. Village Kasarpal of 
Bicholim is believed to be named after them.

Kshatriya families, of the traditional warrior-class, show 
evidence of migrating from north-western India to the Deccan 
early in the current era. Vanis, or the local traders class, and 
merchants could have been engaged in trade and commerce in Goa as 
early as around the fifth century.

Kunbis are found in Sattari and Sanguem talukas. There is also 
some population in Tiswadi, Salcete, Bardez and Mormugao. 
Marriage among Kunbi families having the same totems are forbidden. 

Toddy-tappers in Goa were called Naik Bhandari, who were also 
navigators and farmers. Fishermen have been called gabit and 
boatmen known as kharvi. Gavdas working on saltpans have been 
called mitha-gavdas.

There were also profession-based castes like barbers, washermen 
(madival), oil-extractors, tailors, potters and cobblers.  Such 
professionals were paid a fixed quantity from the paddy crop 
during the harvest season, from comunidade land.

Saraswats have a larger population than any of the other Brahmin 
communities. Ancient Indian text, the Sahyadrikhand suggests that 
the original home of the Saraswats is Tirhut -- in today's north Bihar.

"Even after settling down in Goa, they had retained in their 
memory that they had migrated from elsewhere," says Mitragotri. 
But he points that there is "no agreement" among scholars about 
the original home of the Saraswats.

Mitragotri points to rivalry both within a caste and between 
different castes along Goa's long history.

"Many Saraswats left Goa after the invasion of Malik Kafur and 
fled to the neighbouring regions and, during the period of the 
religious persecution of the Portuguese also, the Saraswats 
migrated to Uttar Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and the North 
Konkani," he says.

Others also left Goa. Some Muslims from Goa might have migrated 
to Bhatkal and Honavar, and the Navayats of Bhatkal are 
descendants fo the Muslim community that once lived in Goa.

In addition the writer points to "conflict" between Saraswats and 
the Karhades, between gold-smiths and Vanis (Vaishyas) of 
Khandepar in Ponda taluka in past centuries. 

Even Catholics have adapted the traditional caste system to fit 
their society in some ways, though not all of the categories 
mentioned above are found among the Catholics in this state.(ENDS)