The Pre-Portuguese Culture of Goa, paper by Prof. George Moraes

By Prof. George Moraes

Published in the Proceedings of the
International Goan Convention

Myra Tavares
Armand Rodrigues
Zulema de Souza
Al Mathias

Reproduced with permission of the Goan Overseas Association

Goa was aryanized when Chandragupta Maurya incorporated the West Coast of India in his province of Aparanta, and the impact of Magadhan Prakrit, the official Language of the strongest empire India has ever known, on the local Dravidian spoken in this part of the coast, resulted in the formation of Konkani, as was the case with other Aryan vernaculars. For, influenced by the Magadhan Prakrit, the Dravidian languages could not only hold their own but flourished beyond the Magadhan frontier.

After the Maurya Empire had passed its meridian in the second century B.C. its satrap in Aparanta made himself independent. A scion of the imperial Mauryas. the dynasty he founded ruled over the West Coast for well nigh four centuries from its capital Sopara, the Bombay of those days, now a suburban station.

The history of the dynasty is almost a blank. The records so far found disclose the names of only three of its kings, namely Suketavarvan(1) who ruled some time in the fourth or fifth century, Chandravarman(2) in the sixth century and Anarjitavarman(3)in the seventh, but furnish no clue as to their mutual relationship. The dates are approximate. They are fixed by comparing the style of the Nagari script in which these records are written with the stages in the evolution of this script, which may be dated fairly correctly. It is possible to infer from the places mentioned in these records and their find-spots that at its zenith the Western Maurya Kingdom comprised the Lata or South Gujarat. coastal Maharashtra, Goa, and half of the North Kanara district.

The Bhojas were a thorn in the side of the Western Mauryas for centuries. They are mentioned, to begin with in the edicts of Ashoka among the peoples serving the Maurya Empire in its frontier districts. And it fell to their lot to garrison its South-Western tip, consisting of part of the West Coast. On the decline of the Empire, the Bhoja Chief of the times made himself independent in his domain, following the example of the governor of Aparanta, and assumed the royal style of Maharaja as the latter had done. The records disclose the name of five of his successors – Devaraja' who ruled some time in the fourth century Simharaja(5) in the fifth Prithvimallavarman(6) and Asankitavarman(7) in the sixth and Kapalivannans in the seventh. From Chandrapurta, the present Chandor. their capital. the Bhojas extended their kingdom which at its widest extent included Goa and the districts of Ratnagiri and Kolaba to the north and half of the Kanara district to the south, besides, a part each of the Dharvar and Belgaum districts in the east across the ghats.

The Mauryas could not remain supine to the loss of their territory. After a long warfare, they succeeded in overpowering the Bhojas and bringing the entire West Coast under their rule. The Bhojas cease to appear in the annals of the West Coast so much so that when the Chalukyas of Badami resolved to annex it to their kingdom, they had to reckon with a sole power – the Mauryas. To them, in the picturesque words of a Chalukya record. Kirttivamma was a 'night of doom', but it was Pulikesi II that gave them the "coup de grace".

After the Chalukya interregnum, the Rashtrakutas who had thrown off the Chalukya yoke in the Konkan left it in the safekeeping of their loyal feudatories, the Northern and Southern Silaharas, while they themselves betook to the Deccan to stake their claim to imperial power. In his thought-provoking book on Goan Emigration (Goyancaranchi Goyambhaili Vasnuk) in Konkani, the notable Goan historian, the late Mr. Varde Valavlikar, holds that the Rashtrakutas who were proud of tracing their origin to Lattalapur, styling themselves .'Lattalapuravaradhishwaram' or boon Lords of Lattalapur, were Goans(cheddes)(9), identifying Lattalpur with Loutolim in Salcete. The identification seems more reasonable than with Latur in Andhra Pradesh as suggested by earlier historians. For one thing, the advance of the Rashtrakutas was from west to east and not vice versa as it would have been, if the latter identification were correct. For another, a Rashtrakuta is mentioned as an important individual in a record of the Maurya King Anirjitavarnan (seventh century)(10), and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the family gathered enough power in the course of years to be able to replace the Chalukyas.

The Silaharas ruled over South Konkan for about three centuries when they had to yield place to a new power that had risen in the hinterland, the Kadambas, and was casting covetous eyes on the famous maritime city of Chandrapura through which the regions behind the ghats carried on their overseas trade. The Kadambas ruled Goa for two and half centuries until its conquest by Mahmud Gavan on behalf of his Bahmani master. The Hindu rule was restored in Goa by Vijayanagar. The Sultan of Bijapur re-conquered it only to lose it to Albuquerque in 1510.

The people could Live a peaceful life in their village communities unaffected by these vicissitudes. In a typical village community, the cultivable land was divided into three classes: the highland, the land at a lower level where the settlers have their dwellings, clustered together in their respective wards for mutual protection. and the land at the lowest level which is the most fertile part of the village. This low land is carefully built up and enforced by embankments which prevents water from the village gushing into the cultivable part of the village, the so called Khazan area. From embankment to embankment the entire village is cultivated, the water from the stream nearby being regulated by small dykes and when necessary by larger ones at its mouth.

Self-sufficing and self-supporting and each with its own statute for the cultivation of the land in common, these tiny republics were left alone by the powers that be, who were content to receive from them a small portion of their produce and in exceptional circumstances a tax to overcome a grave crisis.

Composing the vangores or families of the original founders of the villages were the Gauncares and others admitted by the latter to share their status. The income from the properties of the village was ear- marked for the upkeep of worship and the payment for the essential services such as those of the barber, the blacksmith, the basket-maker and sorcerer. The clerk – who often was a gauncar himself-was held in high esteem and enjoyed the privilege of cultivating a choice field in the village while the priest and other servants received adequate payment.(10)

Buddhism was popular and held the field in the Konkan for twelve centuries. It had been brought to Sonaparanta, as Goa was then called, by a son of the soil, a direct disciple of the Buddha, Purna, in the fifth century B.C. The impression left on the psyche of the people by the enrapturing personality of the Buddha even when Buddhism, enfeebled by splitting into sects, was losing its hold, is well brought out by an inscription of the Bhoja King Asankitavannan (sixth century A.D.). It describes the Buddha as one "whose feet are licked by the rays of the shining jewels in the coronets of gods and demons", and "a reservoir of countless virtues". And significant in this connection is the epithet "affectionate without a motive", applied to him.(12) An added impetus was the profession of Buddhism by both the ruling houses. the Mauryas and the Bhojas, the people even in religious matters following in the footsteps of the rulers. Buddhism so profoundly affected their workday life that Bodhidharma. founder of the Zen School of Buddhism in China during the early part of the sixth century, hailed according to one account from this milieu, actually from a royal family ruling over the West Coast of South India. It has been suggested that he might have been a prince of the early Kadamba family. The suggestion, however, in untenable for the reason that the early Kadambas are not known to have come under the influence of Buddhism. And since the account puts emphasis on the South, he was connected rather with the family of the Bhojas than that of the Mauryas – that he was a Goan in other words.

With the emergence of Vajrayana, Buddhism lost its pristine purity. Its esoteric practices were regarded as immoral, and it went down in the eyes of the elite. Far worse with the inclusion of the Hindu gods in its pantheon it began to lose its identity. And before long a situation was reached in which the gods were the same and only the priests were different. The supersessions of the Buddha by Maitreya, Amitaba, Avalokiteshvra a misfortune. They lacked the character and personality of Sakyamuni.

With Sankara and Ramanuja, many saints and their disciples, Saivism and Vaishnivism, acquired an active priesthood. And while the forceful energies of Buddhism were declining the Brahman-Hinduist religion enjoyed a sort of revival. Hinduism and Jainism fame to be in the ascendant, obtaining greater patronage from the royalty and the people. It should be noted however, that Brahmans of the times were not of the same extraction as the present Brahmans of Goa. the Sarasvats, their gotras being different. The appearance of the Sarasvats in the Konkan for the first time is in the records of the Shilaharas (800 -1200) – holding eminent positions of ministers and the like. They suffer an eclipse during the Kadamba rule and subsequent period, but are seen as occupying a premier place in society during Portuguese rule with the epithet 'honrado' applied to them in the Jesuit letters. The advent of the Chaddos seems to have been coterminous with that of the Sarasvats, seeing that the village communities are for the most part shared by these two classes. Shenvi: the honorific of the Sarasvats, analysis of which had long remained a mystery,is now revealed by the discovery of two of their records. It corresponds to the epithets Dvivedi, Trivedi, and Chaturvedi usually borne by Brahmans, and means 'versed in the six vidyas'.(13)

There is some truth in the statement that all that is good and great in the East has gone into the building of temples. To this task of temple building the Shilahara and the Kadamba contribution was considerable. According to a missionary estimate of the seventeenth century, there were three hundred temples in Bardez alone, each village boasting five shrines dedicated to deities collectively known as Pamchadevata.(14) These shrines are all fallen prey to the ravages of time and vandal, but two temples managing to escape, each reveals a style developed under the respective aegis of the two dynasties that brought Goa under their rule during the pre- Portuguese period – the Shilaharas and the Kadambas.

It was reported recently that the Archeological Section of the Historical Archives of Goa had found the ruins of a temple at Kudnem village, and I was thrilled to read the further detail laconic though it was, that there is the curvilinear tower, rising above the edifice. The Shikhara crowning the Garbhagriha. the sanctum, is a distinguishing feature of the Shilahara temples, as exemplified by the beau ideal of the Shilahara temple architecture, the Saiva temple, built by King Mammuni in 1060 A.D. at Ambarnath, now a suburb of Bombay on the Central Railway beyond Kalyan. As behoving the Bombay region, the historic meeting place of nations, the temple is a harmonious blending of what distinguishes the Northern from the Southern styles, the curvilinear tower, the Shikhara of the Northern temple and the Mukhamandapa, the elongated porch surmounted by the vimana, a tube-like horizontal roof of the Southern ones, in whose shade, the Sukhanasi, the weary worshipper could stretch his legs after his orations.

The sanctum, a sunken square chamber, is reached by a flight of steps. In the middle of this chamber is a Linga, which is the cult object. Dr. H.D. Sankalia and Mr. A.V. Naik, who have written a learned article on this temple, find something unique in the image of Mahishasuramardini. She is generally represented in the Tribhanga pose (pose on three bends in the dance and in art). But here at Ambarnath "her Tribhanga form is dancing, vibrant with spirited action. and graceful with beautiful curves of the neck, back, arms and legs".(15)

I was so taken up by this splendid monument, a proud testimonial to the high watermark to which our art had attained during this period, that I thought it was worthy of a monograph. like those on the European Cathedrals, expatiating on its glories. I could not attempt the task myself. It was beyond me to solve the problems it set, specially the dance depicted in the frieze running round its walls, for the identification of which a knowledge of the folklore, which may still be surviving in the locality, is essential. It was also outside my province to form an estimate of the engineering skill of the builders. The prospective monograph, therefore, could only be cooperative work since these problems still remain to be solved, pace Dr. Sankalia's learned article, which appeared about this time (1939-40), the period of my interest in the temple.

The temple at Surla is typical of the Kadamba style in every detail. I have devoted a whole chapter in my Kadambakula to the evolution of the Kadamba style of temple architecture, contrasting it with the Pallava and the Chaluka architectures on the one hand and the Hoysala architecture on the other. The distinguishing feature of the Kadamba style is the tapering terraced tower, a perfect pyramid, the vigorous and purposeful line of each of these terraces attracting the eye even from a long distance. The Kadamba style would seem to have reached its perfection in the Sri Kamala Narayana Temple at Degamve (Northern Karnataka). It is a typical example of a temple built in this style which had come under the Hoysala influence. It was constructed by Tippoja, the architect of God Bankesvara at the command of Kamala Devi, the queen of the Goa Kadamba King Sivachitta, in the middle of the 12th century.

The temple is rectangular in shape and consists of three cells with the pillared hall running from North to South in front of the shrines on the west side. Each of these shrines is divided into two parts, the Garbhagriha and the Sukhanasi. The frames of the doorways of the Sukhanasi are carved with creepers. The pieced stone windows which surround the doorways are more ornamental than in any other Kadamba temple. The Garbhagihas have, as in other Kadamba temples, the dedicatory block with the image of Gaja-Lakshmi.

The first cell contains the image of Narayana. The second cell has the icon of Lakshmi-Narayana with Lakshmi seated on the lap of Vishnu. Garuda and Maruti are standing on either side of this image. The third cell bears the image of Kamala with two attendants on either side. The walls of the temple are adorned with niche having plasters surmounted by terraced pyramidal towers in the Kadamba style crowned with a Kalasha. On the parapets surrounding the Mukhamandapa. the following friezes are sculptured from top to bottom: 1) pillars with roaring lions between them 2) pyramidal towers surmounting these pillars and having dancing girls in various poses between them and 3) beautiful scroll work on top.
The ceiling has pendant lotuses – all of them artistic pieces of workmanship remarkable for richness of ornamentation and elaboration of details. (16)
The Surla temple is a poor specimen of the Kadamba style. It is however significant that it betrays Yadava influence, as pointed out by a devoted circle of students and scholars in a recent issue of Purabhilekh-Puratahra (Vol. IV, No. 1). The Yadavas were Marathas and their influence on the traditional temple-building is an instance in point of the rapid Marathisation of territory during their rule.
We are so far familiar with the curvilinear and pyramidal towers of our temples. The arch with the key stone, which had revolutionized architecture in the West, was introduced into India by the Muslims; and with the conquest of Goa by the Bahmanis and the Adilshahis, our architects learnt their use. The mosques that were built in Goa must have been modelled on their prototypes in Bijapur with all their distinctive features: the dome deposited on the lotus with pointed arches high above the prayer chambers, supporting it.

The ruling powers, the Shilaharas and the Kadambas, not to speak of the Mauryas and the Bhojas, adhered to an ideal summed up in the phrase dushta – nigraha – nigraha -sishta-paripalanam i.e. to restrain the evil and protect the good. People dwelt in harmony. without bickerings arising from religious differences, as the kings followed the policy of universal protection and took care not to pamper the denomination to which they themselves belonged or champion the cause of any new-fangled doctrine. There were persons professing Islam and Christianity in one or other of the Kadamba Kingdoms whose way of life must have been totally different from that of the Hindus. These were not only left free to worship in their mosques and tarasas, meaning churches, but they even rose high in government service. Ibn Batuta who passed through Goa in or about 342 testifies to the Christian presence in Goa, while a record of the Goa Kadamba King pays eloquent tribute to his Muslim governor of the city – Sadan -(Chhadama) to whose wise administration it owed a substantial part of its prosperity.

These Muslims, who were mostly Arabs, were mainly engaged in trade; and they enjoyed a high position in society thanks to the prosperity they brought to the state. In the inscriptions, for instance, of the Shilaharas of North Konkan, the nakhara or trade guild of these merchants called anjuman which appears in these records in its sanscritized form of Hanjumana – is ranked with the three vargas, namely the three higher orders of Hindu society. They are among the privileged ones – ministers, high government officers and heads of mathas – to be informed of an agreement entered into by certain merchants with Rattaraja, the Southern Shilaraha monarch. The Muslims enlisted themselves in the Goa Kadamba armies and when the latter invaded the north Shilahara kingdom they are said to hew taken active part in the devastation of the Shilahara territory.(17). They would thus appear to have built for themselves an almost impregnable position on the West Coast.

Some of these Muslims were owners of merchant fleets and it is not unlikely that the Goa Kadambas availed themselves of their expertise in navigation to build for themselves a powerful navy. Wood was plentiful in our mountain region and vessels of whatever kind could be easily constructed with the desirable material. They were thus able not only to hold their own in their kingdom but lord it over the neighbouring states 11 well. A maritime power, the Kadambas of Goa gave impetus to coastal as well as overseas shipping. With Goan ships bound for inland and foreign posts and ships from far and near visiting Goa, the latter became the entreport of the West Coast. The Kadambas who proudly styled themselves Paschima samudradhisvaras richly deserve this title. The Arab ascendancy in the art of navigation continued till the early years of the 16th century when it passed to the Portuguese. It is a happy coincidence that Vasco da Gama, the greatest seaman of the age, was led into Calicut by the greatest pilot of the times, Ibn Majid, forty-four of whose log books, full of information of the seas he navigated, have so far come to light.

It is one of the glories of the Kadamba monarchs that they all patronized learning with the result that many learned men nourished at their court. This was true even during the regime of the early Kadambas. The Halsi inscription of Harivarma while describing the attributes of his father, Ravivarma. avers that the latter supported holy and learned people "with the wealth he had amassed with just means". The Halsi inscription of the Goa Kadamba king Sivachitta, while speaking of his ancestor Jayakesi, asserts that the streets of his capital were filled with the palanquins of his pundits.918) They are inscription of other rulers, a fact which shows that they were not only patrons of scholars hot ware themselves men of academic distinction. Among the poets who flourished at the Goa Kadamba Court, the roll of honour is filled with the names of Chandrasuri of the Saligramiya gotra. Vyavaharapatra – kavi Vishvarupa, Kavinam Chakravarti Pandya and Raja Guru Padmaya Bhatta, Dharmadhikarana Madhusudhana Suri, Yajnesvara Sur Govindadeva, ddescribed as nirankushamati in kavita, and Annanayya.

What made the rise of these literateurs possible was the sound training imparted in the various educational agencies of the time, viz. agrahara. brahmapuri and matha. The most important of these agencies was the agrahara consisting of a community of learned Brahmans whose profound scholarship attracted students from far and near. Here education of an advanced type was dispensed in all branches of human knowledge. And it was here that people of diverse races and religions assembled. The agaharas may therefore be said to have constituted the real universities of medieval India, the studium generale or schools of universal learning.

The second agency that disseminated learning was the Brahmapuli which was a settlement of learned Brahmans in parts of towns and cities. It differed from the agrahara, for while the latter was a corporate body and formed a unit by itself, the Brahmapuri does not seem to have possessed these characteristics.

The third agency that played an important role in cultural life was the matha. It was a typical Indian monastery with monks, ascetics and students living within its precincts. It also served as a free boarding house.

In order to enable these institutions to carry on their work, they were richly endowed by kings and chieftains and philanthropic and wealthy citizens.(19)

For a long time Sanscrit was used for official purposes in Goa and throughout Konkan and Konkani like Marathi took centuries to develop. The first recorded instance of the former being employed for other than domestic purposes is in the imprecation against the revocation of a grant, the well- known ass curse, occurring in an early grant of the Sitahavas; whereas the first such instance of the latter is as late as the 14th century in the Konkani prayer of a cowgirl, finding expression, strangely enough, in the Marathi poet Namdeo.

It was long believed that there were hardly any writings to speak of in Konkani before the Christian missionaries applied themselves to the task and produced a sizable corpus of literature. But during a sojourn in Portugal, the late Dr. P.S.S. Pissurlencar fame upon several pieces of Hindi hagiograph in Konkani in the public library at Braga.(20) They were written in the Roman script, which would indicate their missionary provenance. For in their own writings, the missioners preferred Roman to the indigenous script current in Goa – Kandevi. This was the running hand of Old Kannada developed during the Kannada period, which was in use throughout Goa till the end of the nineteenth century. These pieces of writing were evidently intended for the use of the missioner. attempting to learn the language, and formed part of the Konkani literature nourishing in Goa since pre-Portuguese days. And indeed if it was necessary for Fr. Thomas Stephens to master Gnaneshvari and other Maathi classics before he could produce his best epic in the language, the Krista Purana, it stands to reason that he had to take similar pains for mastering the extant Konkani literature, to produce his other chef d'oeuve Doutrina Cristao, a compendium of Christian doctrines in Konkani. Pissurlencar however believed that the Konkani works he had discovered at Braga, were translations from Marathi for the use of the Christian missioners. But the latter studied both Marathi and Konkani and were not in need of Konkani translations of Marathi works. It would ether seem that they were meant for the use of the common people who could not read them in the original.

Agriculture was by and large the occupation of the people. Industries were few and far between, being confined to spinning, weaving, masonry, brass works, carpentry, jewelry iron works, basket-making and the extraction of oil. The trade in the country was mainly in the hands of three classes of leaders: indigenous, itinerant and foreign. There was a sprinkling of cities where trade and industry were regulated by guilds, each craft having a guild of its own, and merchants similarly organizing themselves after the commodities sold by them. The guilds acted as local banks and government treasuries and they fulfilled the duties of municipal self-government. For with them were invested the monies that were granted to temples and institutions of public utility by kings and wealthy citizens from the interest whereof they had to fulfill the terms of the grants.

The pre-Portuguese Culture, high though it was, was not without its defects. Society was so static that one born in a lower caste could not change it to improve his fortune. Its treatment of the outcastes was cruel and inhuman. In its eyes the lower orders, as the Manusmriti puts it, existed only "to serve meekly" the other classes, particularly the Brahmans, holding out hopes of promotion to higher ranks in subsequent births. It fails miserably if the treatment of women is made a measure of its excellence. The widows were compelled to burn at the stake of their dead husbands, and escaping were subjected to unheard indignities – shaving of the head and wearing of mean clothes. It denied them m- marriage, which drove a number into prostitution, as the same word standing for widow and prostitute in most Indian languages would show. It is no wonder that A.P Sharma writing on the position of women in a recent issue of the Times of India July 24, 1988) should have been forced to observe: looking back the modern Hindu feels intrigued and hurt, even baffled and shocked when he tries to make out why his great ancestors decided to use the accidents of sex and birth as the sole determinants of one's rank and function in the social system. To put it bluntly, one could say with sufficient justification and continuance of the Aryan patriarchate have been guilty of sexism and racism".

 References: 1. Bombay Gazatteer, Vol I, Pt.I, pg. 14. 2. Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. XXIII, pp. 11-12.  3. GS. Gaj "Baroda Plates of Maurya Anijitavarmand, year 9. Epigraphia Indica (hereinafter EI), Vol. XXXIII, pp. 293-96.  4. "Siroda Plates of Devaraja" EI Vol. XXIV, p. 144. 5. The Journal of The Karnataka University, Vol. III pp. 3-4; II JKU, Vol. VIII, p. 6. 6. EI, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 62-61. 7. EI, Vol. XXVIII, pp. 70-74; EI, XXI, pp. 576-n; EI, Vol. XXXI. p. 236. 8. EI Vol.XXVl,pp.339. 9. Varde Valavlikar, Goyankaranchi Goyam Bhaili Vasnuk. p. 27.  10  EI. Vol. XXXIII, p. 293. 11. D.D. Kosambi, "The  Village Communily in the Old Conquest of Goa".Journal of the University of Bombay, Vol. XV, No. 4 (1947).  12. EI, Vol. XXXI, p. 236. 13. Cf Moraes, Gerson da Cunha - Historian of Bombay. 14. Trindade, Paulo da, Conquista espiritual de Oriente, Pt. I, Ch. 55 (1681) Biviliteca Vatricana Vat, let. 1742. Microfilm in the possession of the author. 15. The Ambarnath Temple," Bulletin on The Deccan College Research Institute, Vol. 1(1939- 40), p. 172. 16. Cf. Moraes  The Kadambas..., pp. 312-13. 17. Ibid.. passim. 18. Ibid.,., 185. 19. Ibid., pp. 287-302 20. Pilssurlencar, "A proposito dos premeiros Livros Narata.." cited in Joseph, Vellnkar, A Cultural History of  Salcete (Goa), 1560-1685, p. 385 (unpublished thesis).  

Reproduced with permission of the Goan Overseas Association ~ Ontario