History of Saraswat Migrations

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migration map  Saraswats in India GSBs in Kerala


The history of Saraswats is a record of their struggle for existence and a chain of migrations, the longest and the most wide spread among any groups in India. Even after generations and centuries they preserve their culture and traditions intact. Their traditions are unique and tolerant that they worship Shakti, Shiva and Vaishnava deities as well.

Who are Gowda Saraswat Brahmins?

The Gowda Saraswat Brahmins claim their origin to the Brahmins who lived on the banks of the now extinct river Saraswati of Punjab. They derived their name from either the river Saraswati or from their spiritual leader Great Sage Saraswat Muni who lived on the banks of Saraswati. These Brahmins were one of the Pancha Gowda Brahmin groups who lived north of the Vindhyas. They belonged to Smarta tradition and primarily worshiped the five deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya and Ganesha. Throughout the course of history, the Saraswat Brahmins have migrated to a variety of locations and are found mostly in Western coast of India.

Brahmins in India

The Brahmins in India were divided into two major groups based on geographical origin of the people. The Brahmin groups that lived to the north of the Vindhyas were referred to as Gowda Brahmins, whereas the Brahmins who lived to the south of the Vindhyas were referred to as Dravida Brahmins. Each group was further divided into five sections according to the regions of their settlement.

The five (Pancha) Gowda Brahmin groups were Saraswats, Kanyakubjas, Gaudas, Utkals, and Maithilas. The five (pancha) Dravida Brahmin groups were Andhras, Maharashtras, Dravidas or Tamils, Karnata, and Kerala Brahmins.

As the southern brahmins had domiciled in the south for long, the Saraswats who came to the South newly were described by the local brahmins as Gowda Brahmins in general (because they belonged to Panch Gowda group) and thus the prefix Gowda was added to the Saraswats who were from the Saraswat region.

The origin

The exact origin of the Saraswat Brahmins is difficult to ascertain. The Saraswat Brahmins are mentioned in the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and even the Bhavisyottara Purana. According to Puranas, they are Aryan migrants from Central Asia who came to the Indian sub-continent through the Hindu-Kush mountains and the Khyber pass to south in about 2000-1500 B.C. Click to see location of settlements

Most of them settled along the banks of Saraswati river. There were more than 1200 such settlements of migrants. They settled to an agrarian life, supplemented by cattle grazing. These settlers came to be known as Saraswats. Education was of great importance to the Saraswats and so they taught their young the Sanskrit language and enlightened themselves from the Rig Veda. Although they spoke Sanskrit in public, they innovated a simplified version of Sanskrit called Brahmani which they spoke only at home. This language was the grass-root for the present day Konkani language. Over the years along the Saraswati, the Saraswats established the concept of Kuladevatas or family gods, and began worshipping them.

Saraswat MuniThey accepted the Great Sage Saraswat Muni (son of Rishi Dadichi), living on the banks of Saraswati as their Guru. There were about 60,000 (Shatsahasara) Brahmins who were his disciples. When a severe famine which lasted for about 12 years hit the region and the crops were not enough to feed everyone, the survival of the Saraswats was at stake. When they could find no apparent solution to their vexing problem, at the advice of their Guru who was pragmatic, they started to feed on fish from the Saraswati river for survival. Thus they became the only fish-eating Brahmins ever known. This settlement was in the land between the Saraswati and Drishadvati rivers.

A story: The fish eating habit of Saraswat Brahmins finds mention even in Ramanyana. Before performing Rajasuya yagna, Sree Rama asked Lakshmana to invite all the Brahmins for the yagna. Lakshmana invited everybody, except Gaud Saraswat Brahmins. When asked, Lakshmana explained that he observed them eating fish, which was considered non-vegetarian and therefore they could not be Brahmins. Sree 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 commited. Sree Rama instructed Lakshmana to invite Saraswat Brahmins to the Rajasuya Yagna.

The River Saraswati and Saraswat Desh

The mythological river Saraswati (named after the Goddess Saraswati), flowed in Northern India in the present Punjab and Rajasthan region, from the Himalayas to the western sea near Dwaraka in Gujarat. The vedas were composed mostly on her banks. The Rig Veda describes this river as the holiest, the purest and the grandest of rivers. The river has long since dried out because it flowed from the receding glaciers of the great ice age 10,000 years ago. The land between the rivers Saraswati and Dristhadvathi (near the present day Kurukshetra) was called the Saraswat Desh which was the homeland of Saraswats who are considered the fore-fathers of Saraswats of Goa, Kanara and Kerala. There is a strong belief that in Prayag, Allahabad, flowing under-ground Saraswati joins Ganga and Yamuna to form the Triveni sangam. It is also believed that the river changed its course over the centuries. A part of this mighty river became the small river Ghaggar and one of the tributaries of the Saraswati became the Sutlej, now a tributary of the Indus. Today's scientific evidences have proven the existence of the Saraswati river. click to know more about the mystery of Saraswati river...


The Migrations

First Migrations leaving the Saraswat Desh

Some calamity, it is believed, struck Saraswat Desh. Most historians suspect that after a few thousand years of flowing, the glacier began empty of its potential and the Saraswati began to dry out and became non-existent by 400 BC. The entire region started becoming arid and with no means of growing their crops, the Saraswats had no choice but to pack up and move. This period of history saw many civilizations abandoning their settlements. The migration happened not overnight but spread over centuries. The last of the exodus was in about 350 BC due to a wide spead famine which lasted for 12 years. The Saraswats migrated in three directions - mostly followed the river routes and migrated to the South-West (Sind), North (Kashmir), East (Bihar).

Migration to South and West

The migrations to south and west followed the course of the River Saraswati, went up to Dwaraka and by ship they sailed to Goa. For their stay in Dwaraka, these Gowda Saraswats are nicknamed as Dorkes also. Along the route, these migrants left small colonies behind, and these settlements have been referred to as Saraswat Tirthas in Mahabharata.

Migration to North and East

The second route of migration was from Punjab into Kashmir. The traditions of Saraswats of Kashmir asserts that all brahmins in Kashmir are Saraswats. They have some thirty two sub-sects in Jammu and Kashmir, and belongs to six classes and 133 gotras. In the 14th Century, the Muslim rulers of Kashmir commenced persecution of the Hindus. Saraswats left on a large scale, and only a few families remained in Kashmir. Many families both Brahmin and others were converted to Islam. Some of the families who had migrated southwards, returned to Kashmir when the circumstances became more favorable. A predominantly Hindu state had by that time, become a predominantly Muslim state. Kashmir was prey to revages of Afghanistan as well. These caused so much distress to the people that some prominent kashmiris appealed to the Sikh Chief Ranjit Singh for help and he succeeded in getting rid of the Afghans. The kashmiri Saraswats were Devi worshippers.

As the powerful Kshatriya kingdoms rose, a few Saraswats migrated to Indraprastha, Mathura, and Prayag, Kashi and other places. But as Kshatriyas fell with the rise of Buddhism, a few Saraswats migrated to Rajputana and Sind, married local girls and formed separate communities.

Those who migrated to Kashmir called themselves as Kashmiri Pandits, Sind-Sind Saraswats, Kutch-Kutchi Saraswats, Punjab-Punjab Saraswats, Rajasthan-Rajasthan Saraswats and Gomantak- Gowda Saraswats.

Migration to Bihar

The Saraswats who moved South East were mainly from the saraswat desh and they followed the Ganges and reached Trihotrapura or modern Tirhut in upper Bihar. This was in 400-350 BC. The major settlements were in Kanyakubja (Kanpur area), Magadha and Mithila. The Lichhavis were the ruling dynasty then, to be followed later by the Mauryas. With a strong ability to adapt, the Saraswats easily mingled with the locals, but did not try to compete with them in agriculture the major occupation in that area. Instead, they relied on their superior intellect and educational background to secure administrative positions in the Lichhavi Republic based at Vaishali. The Saraswats lived in this area during the reign of the Maurya and Pala dynasty. After the Pala kings, the kingdom was plundered repeatedly by hordes of Muslim invaders and local kings from central India.

Tirhut is the historic name of a tract in Bihar north of Ganges, about 55 km north of Patna. The geographical area known as Tirhut corresponds to the ancient region of Mithila. Today, Tirhut division is an administrative geographical unit of Bihar state with Muzaffarpur as the administrative headquarters and has four districts: Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Saran and Champaran.

Goodbye to Bihar

Life in Magadha became quite unbearable for the Saraswats, and so, around 1000 AD, almost 1500 years after they left the Saraswat desh, the Saraswats decided to move again. This time, however, they moved out mainly in two groups. One group (from Kanyakubja) moved east and settled in Bangla (now Bengal) where in the course of time they assimilated the Bengali culture. The striking similarities between some aspects of Bengali and Konkani languages and cultures probably bear witness to this historic link. Another group (from Mithila) moved southwards and reached the Godavari river, and then proceeded along the south bank towards the source of Godavari near Nasik. The great Rishi Agastya had his ashram in Panchavati near Nasik and Sri Rama from Ayodhya came to Panchavati along the banks of Godavari. The migrants also followed the same route and then moved into Go-rashtra which is Goa and thence to Gokarna Mandala in uttar kannada district, which was the southernmost settlement of ancient Aryans. Having migrated from Trihotrapura which was in Gauda Desh they prefixed Gowda and called themselves Gowda Saraswats. The migration from Bihar to Gomantak is recorded in the Sahyadri Khanda of Skanda Purana.

Goa was chosen mainly for its fertile soil and sea ports with flourishing overseas trade. Another reason for their migration into Konkan is the marital relationships between the Kadamba king Jayakeshi (1050-1080 AD) of Goa and a Saraswat king from Trihotra. Some historians believe that the king of Trihut sent ninety six families from ten gothras to the new land to propagate religion and philosophy at the request of the Kadamba King.


Saraswats in Goa         Goa chronological history 

The first migration (700 BC) to Goa by Saraswats was directly from the Saraswat river banks via Kutch and southwards mostly through sea routes. The three main groups who came to Goa were the Bhojas, the Chediyas and the Saraswats. These Saraswats in Goa immersed themselves into farming, fishing and trade. They were from the Bhargava and Angirasa clans and maintained connections with the Kutch, Sindh and Kashmiri Saraswats. Many from these areas migrated to Goa in this period in search of greener pastures. The Saraswat Brahmins worked in partnership with the local indigenous people, the Kunbi tribals who exist still today.

The second wave of immigrants were representatives of the Kaundinya, Vatshya and Kaushika gotras. They settled at Keloshi (Quelessam) and Kushasthal (Cortollim) and were named after those villages as Keloshikars and Kushasthalikars. They primarily sought professional careers in the fields of teaching, writing, and accounting. They established the Magarish temple at Kushathali and Santha Durga temple at Keloshi. From here they spread to other villages. The main deities which also came along with them were Mangirish, Mahadeo, Mahalaxmi, Mahalsa, Shantadurga, Nagesh, Saptakoteshwar besides many others. Gomantak region is dotted with so many Kuladevata Temples which testify this fact. All the saraswats in Goa at that time were Shavites.

The first group of Gowda Saraswat immigrants from Trihotrapura (around 1000 AD) settled in two different parts of the Gomantak region. Thirty families were grouped in one commune and sixty six in other. The first commune was known as Tiswadi meaning 30 villages (modern Tissuary), and the other Shashatis meaning 66 (modern salcette). The Tiswadi commune was migrants from Kanyakubja and Shashatis was from Mithila. There is a view that these settlements together were 96 and referred as Sahanavis (Saha means six and Navi means ninety) and later as Shenvis. These settlelers belonged to 10 Gotras - Bhardwaja, Koushika, Vatshya, Kaundinya, Kashyapa, Vasishtha, Jamdagni, Vishwamitra, Gautam and Atri. Once settled down, they continued in their traditional professions of administration and education. Those Saraswats who were intelligent and lucky got royal patronage and positions in governance in due course of time. But the opportunities in these familiar professions were limited in Goa at that time. So some enterprising Saraswats branched out into the practice of trading. The successes of these pioneering Saraswat traders encouraged many other Saraswats to whole-heartedly adopt trading as a main-stream profession.

There is another version of the story that, Sri Parasuram brought 96 families of the Panchagauda Brahmins from Trihotra (in Bihar) and settled them at Panchakrosha in Kushasthali of Goa. Such stories are also narrated about settlements of brahmins in Konkan Kanara Coast and Kerala. This is considered to be more mythology than history as Parasuram, the 6th incarnation of Vishnu, is a mythological figure and should have lived far earlier than the time of Saraswat migration. And most probably they arrived in Goa under the leadership of a strong personality named Parasuram.

Legends say that Lord Parasuram, shot an arrow from the Western Ghats in adjacent Konkan and the arrow (Baan) landed at the site of Benaulim town. Benaulim also known as Banavali about 40 km from Panaji and 2 km south of Colva is today a beach resort. Even if the legends are considered only as myths, today a temple of Parasuram exists in Painguinim village near Benaulim town of Canacona Taluka in South Goa.

Branching out of Goa

By the 10-11th centuries several Sasasthikar families migrated to Thane and Kalyan (in Maharashtra) and started sea trade. In the 12th century, some Sasasthikar families went south to Honovar, Bhaktal, Mangalore, Tellicherry and Calicut to setup trade. Around the same time some Kushathali saraswats went to Gokarn in Canara, purchased land and became landowners in large scale. Others who followed joined services under Sonde and Vijayanagar kings in Belgaum and Dharwad areas.

Conversion to Vaishnavism

The Saraswats in Goa originally believed in Smarta tradition. Shri Madhavacharya, founder of Dwaita philosophy, during his return journey from North India visited Goa in 1294. Attracted by his Dwaita philosophy, many Sasasthikar saraswats converted to Vaishnavism. The conversion formalities were completed by Padmanabha Tirtha, who was appointed head of Uttaradi Mutt. During his chathurmasya he converted large number of the saraswats residing in Sasasthi and Bardesh. His disciples converted Sasasthikars who had gone to Thane in North and Calicut in South. However, they did not discard their attachment to the Panchayatana, and the Shaiva gods. Many of their Kuladevatas are Shaivate (Nagesh, Ramanath) and also connected with Shakti (Shanteri Kamakshi, Mahalasa).



Due to migration and lack of communication facilities, the Saraswats settled in Goa lost contact with their roots. Being Brahmins, the Saraswats needed a spiritual leader, or Swami. In 740 A.D, at the request of the Saraswats of Gomantak, Swami Vivarananda of the Gaudapada tradition from Kashmir founded the Mutt at Kaushasthali and the whole Saraswat community in Goa and Konkan was the followers of this Mutt. This belonged to the Smarta tradition advocating Adwaitha philosophy and worshiped Shiva, Vishnu, Ganapathi, Shakthi and Surya.

The original Gaudapadacharya Mutt founded at Kushsthali, was destroyed during the Portuguese rule in Goa in 1564 AD. The 57th guru Vidyananda Saraswathi and his two successors stayed at Golvan in Ratnagiri and the 60th guru Ramananda Saraswati at Chindar. His successors Sadananda Saraswati and Bhavananda Saraswati stayed and attained samadhi at Varanasi and never visited Goa. The community members earlier approached Bhavananda Saraswati and pleaded with him to come back to Goa. Bhavananda Swamy (the 62nd Guru) sent his disciple Sachchidanandaswamy (the 63rd Guru) to revive the mutt in Goa. The Swamy stayed at Sonavade in Ratnagiri till the time the Mutt at Kavale was ready. The mutt headquarters was shifted to Kaivalyapura near Shantadurga temple in 1630 AD in the Sonde kingdom and is presently known as Kavale Mutt.

Bhavani Shankar
Bhavani Shankar

The Kavale Mutt is the oldest of the Mutts of Saraswats. The present pontiff is Swami Sivanda saraswati. The deity worshipped by the Mutt is Bhavani Shankar.

The Kavale Mutt is located at Ponda, Goa.


The rulers of Goa

The various dynasties that controlled Goa during the period were Hindus, the Scytho-parthians (2nd -4th century AD), the Abhiras, Batpura, and the Bhojas (4th - 6th century AD), the Chalukyas (from 6th - 8th century AD) and the Rashtrakutas of Malkhed (8th to 10th Century AD). This was followed by the Kadambas (1006 AD-1356 AD).

The Kadambas were unique because they were a local dynasty that slowly came to dominate the scene by forging alliances with their neighbors and overlords, the Chalukyas. They made Chandrapur (Chandor) their capital (937 AD to 1310 AD). They subsequently moved their capital to Govapuri on the banks of the Zuari river, the site of today's Goa Velha. The period of the Kadambas is considered to be the first golden age of Goa. The death of the last Chalukya king in 1198 weakened their alliance and this exposed Goa to the vulnerability to Muslim invasions that took place continuously after that.

The history of Saraswats again took a turn due to continued military attacks on Goa.

THE FIRST EXODUS FROM GOA (14th - 15th century)

The Saraswats enjoyed peace and prosperity in Goa for 400 years. In 1328, the army of Delhi Sultans (Tughluqs) following the military campaign by Alla-ud-din Khilji captured the Kadamba capital Chandrapur (Chandor or Chandargao) which included the Gomantak province and ransacked it. From 1352 to 1366 AD Gomantak was under the Khilji Rule. This Islamic conquest forced many GSBs to leave their homes and flee to Canara. In 1370 AD the Vijayanagara empire, a resurgent Hindu empire conquered the area and held on to Goa for nearly 100 years, during which its harbours became important centers of foreign trade.

Then in 1472, the Bahamani Muslims of Gulbarga attacked Goa. They destroyed many temples and forced the Hindus to get converted to Islam. To avoid these insults and religious persecution several Saraswat families moved to the neighborhood Kingdom of Sonde, more to Canara and a few to even far off Kochi in Malabar Coast. The migrants carried with them the images of their worshipped deities. Those Saraswats involved in farming and trading were less willing to abandon their farms and businesses. They stayed back in Goa and slowly rebuilt their lives as farmers and traders.

To North

Those families fled to northern Kudal desh in Ratnagiri district (Maharashtra) settled down in Lotli, Bardesh, Pedne, Rajapur, Balavali, Malwan, Vengurla etc. where they assimilated the local language and culture. Naturally, with this exodus to distant areas and settling there, these groups lost contacts among themselves which led to estrangement. In course of time, they came to be known by prefixing their new locality names. By the end of 14th century, atleast 6 distinct groups came into being and were known by their new locality names prefixing. They are: Sasashtikars, Shenavis, Bardeshkars, Pednekars, Lotlikars and Kudaldeshkars.

Most of those who fled to North settled in Rajapur Taluk of Ratnagiri District and came to be known as Rajapur Saraswats. The descendants of today have their surnames like Bandivadekar, Madkaikar, Borkar, Sakhalkar, Haldwanekar, Chimbalkar, Navelkar, Marathe, Lotlikar, Salwankar, Karlekar, Burake, Bhagav, Tendulkar, Patkar, Juvale, Dhonde, Shinkar, Shendre, Bokade, Takur, Gawade, Potkar, Askekar, Shenai, Gavalkar, Shembekar, Lanjolkar etc. which are the original local village names of Gomantak found there. Some families took up agriculture and some others who stayed in the town became traders.The Rajapur Saraswats continued their Smarta tradition and established temples of their Kuladevathas at Sakalkarwadi near Rajapur Town (Mukhyaprana), Kodvali village (Datta Mandir). The Gajanana Mandir is another important and beautiful temple situated 24 kms. away from Rajapur Town. The famous Shrine Nava Durge Temple at Bhalavali is an ancient temple administered by Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins. In later years these Saraswats migrated to Bombay and Pune and established themselves in trade and commerce. Rajapur Saraswats are followers of the Kavale Mutt.

To Kanara

Those migrated to Kanara were both Vaishnavas and Smartas. Among the Smartas were the Kushashthalis, Keloshikars and Kudaldeshkars, and among the Vaishnavas the Sasashtikars, Bardeskars and Pednekars.

The Vaishnava sect

The group of Saraswats migrated along the seashore were mainly Vaishnavas and acquired a reputation for trade and agriculture. There were large settlements at Mangalore and Bhatkal and smaller settlements at other coastal towns. Under the influence of Shri Narayana Tirtha (who was a Saraswat) of the Udupi Palimar Mutt during the 15th Century a seperate Mutt was founded for them in 1476 AD at Bhaktal. This Mutt was later shifted to Gokarn and then to Partagali in Goa and came to be known as Gokarn-Partagali Mutt. The Vaishnava Saraswats of Goa and most of those from North Kanara were its followers. Vira Vithala is the deity of the Mutt. Those from Kerala and South Kanara remained with the Uttaradhi Mutt.

Vira Vittala

The Gokarn-Pratagali Mutt for Vaishnava saraswats has Vira Vittala as the worshipped deity. After Swamy Jeevottam Tirtha the Mutt is also called Jeevotham Mutt. Present pontiff Vidhyadhiraj Teertha succeeded to the Peetha in 1973. The Mutt has its headquarters at Partagali, Poinginim, Canacona, Goa.

The Bhanaps and Chitrapur mutt

The group of Smarta Gowda Saraswats (mainly Kushasthalikar and Keloshikar families) who migrated to Karnatak at the time of the Muslim invasion in the 1400’s were mostly the educators and administrators. This migrant group moved a little inland to North and South Kanara. Their intelligence and generations-old experience as administrators, allowed some of them to secure prominent positions as accountants in the courts of the Hindu rulers of the time. One such Hindu king of the Keladi kingdom, was so impressed by the diligence and skills of his Saraswat accountant, that he decreed that each village in his kingdom, be administered by a Saraswat. Eventually these Saraswats took on the name of the village as their last name. Once they had migrated to the Kanara district, the Shenvis were not able to sustain their unity with the Saraswat Brahmins they had left behind in Goa. Eventhough they continued to believe in Smarta tradition, their connection with the Kavale mutt was cutoff since the Kavale mutt at Kushathali was destroyed in 1564 AD and Swamijis shifted to Varanasi and were not available locally.

Although the Saraswats were well respected as accountants, they were not readily recognized as true Brahmins by the local Brahmins (due to jealousy), accusing that the Saraswats have no spiritual guru in reality and complained to the King. So the King issued a decree stating that unless the community showed them their guru, heavy penalties would be imposed on them. Therefore, the Shenvis felt that it was necessary to seek a spiritual preceptor for their community. They pleaded with a Saraswat Sanyasi, Parijananasharma Swamy, visiting from North India, to become their Guru. He consented to guide the community and established a new Mutt for them in Gokarn in 1708 AD. The King of Nagar had his prejudices about the new guru. So he asked the Saraswats to get their Mathadhipati consented by the Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Sringeri mutt. Swami Parijnanashrama travelled to Sringeri to meet the Shankaracharya and the consent was granted. This firmly established Parijnanashram Swami as the guru of the community. In 1739 AD, the ruler Basavappa Nayaka II donated land in Gokarn to build a mutt in reverence to their primary deity, Shri Bhavanishankar.

His successor Shankarasharma Swamy travelled to Chitrapur and attained Samadhi there in 1757 AD. Another Mutt establishment was built in Chitrapur near Shirali in Uttara Kannada and it became headquarters of the Mutt. This group considered themselves as superior in intellect and cutoff the connection with other groups in Goa claiming that they are the decendents of Kashmiri Brahmins and eventually formed their own sub-sect, called the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins (also referred as Bhanaps after one of their popular caste members) and continued their Smarta tradition.

When the British ruled India, the Bhanaps took to English education earlier than others. Subsequently, they were able to obtain key jobs at the district offices and the Collector’s offices in Mangalore, Honavar and Karwar. They were also quickly employed as administrators in the Cotton and Textile export industry in Kumta, Hubli and Dharwad. Many Bhanaps made their way into the cosmopolitan city of Bombay by the late 1800's.

The worshipped deity of the Chitrapur Mutt is Bhavani Shankar. The present pontiff of the Mutt is Shrimad Sadyojat Shankarashram.

The Chitrapur saraswats follow Smarta tradition. The Chitrapur Mutt is located at Shirali, Uttar Kannada Dist.

To South by Sea

Many Saraswats (mainly traders) sailed south from Goa, along the Konkan coast and disembarked at several ports to start a fresh new life in places such as Ankola, Kumta, Honavar, Bhatkal, Gangoli, Basrur, Udupi, Mulki, Mangalore, Ullal, Calicut and even as far south as Cochin. This group became widely dispersed, living in villages and towns all along the Konkan coast.

THE SECOND EXODUS (16th century)

The Saraswats had migrated from Goa during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, but the exodus became thicker after the entry of the Portuguese from the 16th century. In 1510 A.D, Panaji was captured by the Portuguese general Alfonso Albuquerque from the Adil Shah dynasty of Bijapur, and the Portuguese rule was established. At first, the Portuguese did not interfere with the locals, although they banned the sati rite (burning of widows). They employed Hindus and engaged them in their armies, and they maintained good trade relations with the Hindu empire of Hampi.

Initially the Hindus were quite happy with the Portuguese rule as they were the ones who liberated Goa from the tyrannical Sultans. Gradually a steady influx of Christian priests to Goa began and started conversion to Christianity. The Christian priests were often escorted by Portuguese soldiers to ward off any cases of violence. Their first targets were the religious priests whom they tried to convert to Christianity. When met with very little success and encountered stubborn resistance to their activities, the Portuguese resorted to the use of force. The saraswats who were poor and belonged to lower strata got converted to christianity and the rich had the power to resist conversion and stayed back in Goa. Those belonged to the middle class who refused conversion had to flee.

The period from the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in Goa in 1542 AD was far more gruesome. His initial efforts to conversion achieved limited results. Hence he laid forward a set of new policies and coerced the Portuguese authorities to accept them. These policies sought not only converted 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. Goa at that period was literally tainted with the blood of ordinary helpless Hindus. The official figures show that 280 temples in Berdez and 300 temples in Salcette were destroyed. The Portuguese built churches in many places where the temples stood. In 1559 A. D, King Joao III of Portugal issued a decree threatening expulsion or execution of non-believers in Christianity. They were forced to eat beef. This was perhaps the worst of times seen by the Konkani people.

Having thrown the idols of their Kula Devatas (resident deities) into wells, thousands of Saraswath Brahmin families fled to interior Maharashtra and coastal Karnataka. About 12,000 families from the Sasashti District of Goa, mostly of Saraswats and including Vanis (Vaishyas), Kunbis (cultivators), Sonars (goldsmiths) and others fled by ships to the southern ports from Honavar to Kozhikode. Many settled down at these ports, which already contained Saraswat traders and spread into the interior. About 4,000 went north-east to settle down in Maharashtra and Indore, and others went south to settle in Karwar and South Kanara. It is said that once tensions died down, the Brahmin men alone traveled back to their native places and brought back their Kula Devatas. The families who escaped were never to see Goa again. The last of those who were expelled by the Portuguese from Goa landed in Calicut, Kerala but were driven out by the Zamorin. And so they went to Cochin and Travancore. This happened sometime in the year 1560 A. D.

Those settled in Karnataka and Kerala easily adapted to locale. In due course their Kokani became heavily mixed with local languages. By the end of 17th century there were at least two distinct groups - Kerala Konkanis (malayalam as the local language) and Mangalore Konkanis (Kannada as the local language).



The migration of GSBs to Kerala were mainly in two phases - in the 13th century (the exodus of 1294 AD) and subsequently in the 16th century (1560 AD).

Early settlements in Kerala

There are pieces of evidence to prove that stray members of the Saraswat community had their settlement in Cochin since the early part of 13th century A.D. Owing to certain religious disputes some Saraswats from Sasasti were forced to leave their native country Konkan with their idols in 1294 A.D. and traveling southward they came to the territory of His Highness the Raja of Cochin. They formed themselves into a community which they named "Konkanastha Mahajanam" and later came to be known as Konkanis. The Raja of cochin took them under his protection. An area of land was given to them and helped to build a Temple and also made arrangements for the conduct of festivals in the temple built by them. There still remains a plot of land in Cochin called Sastiparambu to commemorate the fact that the Saraswats of Cochin originally belonged to Sasasti (Salcette). In Sastiparambu, there is an old temple of Kuladevata Damodar.

Damodar temple at Sasti parambu

Sasti parambu

It is believed that they came to shore through the canal and put their belongings at the place now called Sasti parambu and went straight to the King. The Raja of Cochin permitted them to stay and also allotted an area of land now known as Cherlai. This was later renamed as Gosripuram.

The Canal

By 1360 AD there were about 150 families of Saraswats at Tellicherry and most of them were engaged in trade. Other settlements were at Kasargode, Kumbala, Manjeshwar and Hosdrug. In fact, Saraswats were already there when Vasco da Gama arrived Calicut in 1498 AD. The GSBs lived together amongst themselves in Agrahara throughout the State. When the King of Cochin excempted Saraswats from the levy of poll tax, they came in large numbers and settled at Cochin as traders. In fact, the 360 families of Saraswats that migrated to Cochin were the pick of the Goa saraswats and eventually became rich and powerful.

The local Namboothiri Brahmins did not recognise Saraswats as Brahmins and were not allowed inside the Kerala temples. This was mainly because many saraswats were fish eating and some of them came to Kerala by sea. In those days crossing the sea was considered inauspicious by the Brahmins. The GSBs started worshipping their Kuladevatas in homes and settlements, and wanted to establish own temples. The Kerala GSBs also gave up fish eating to establish as Brahmins. Patronized by prosperous GSBs, the first GSB temple in South Kerala was established at Cherai, near Cochin in 1563 AD.


Founding of the Kashi Mutt

Sudheendra Tirtha Swami
The senior Swamiji


Veda vyasa

All the Kerala Saraswats were Vaishnavas and were disciples of the Uttaradi Mutt of Jayatheerth. Vibhudendra Tirtha, one of the two disciples of Jayatheerth, established a Mutt at Kumbakonam and Gowda Saraswats of South Kanara and Kerala were transferred to this Mutt. The Cochin Saraswats invited their junior guru Sri Vijayindra Tirtha (who was a Saraswat Brahmin) of Kumbakonam Mutt to Cochin for Chathurmasya vrita in 1539–1540 and requested him to initiate a Saraswat boy among them to Sanyasa. In 1541, Sri Hanumantha Bhaktha was selected and taken to Kumbakonam. The new Sanyasin was named Yadavendra Thirtha who eventually became head of the new Kashi Mutt at Varanasi established in 1542 AD. The people of Cochin helped to buy land at Benaras for the Mutt. The worshipped deity of this Mutt is Shri Vedavyasa. In 1599 AD, Sri Sudhindra Tirtha of Kumbhakonam Mutt installed the idol of Venkateswara at Cochin Tirumala Temple. Gradually Saraswats in other parts of Kerala also installed images of Lord Venkateswara as the presiding deity in their temples and this deity is called Tirumala Devar.

The Kashi mutt has its headquarters at Brahma Ghat, Varanasi. It has branches and establishments at Prayag, Haridwar, Bhatkal, Basrur, Hemmady, Bantwal, Panambur (Suratkal), Manjeshwar, Rameshwaram, Karkala, Nayampalli near Udupi, Bhagamandala (Kodagu), Bandora (Goa), Pallipuram (Kerala), Manchakal, Naravi (near Belthangady), Alleppey, Konchady, Hangarakatte, Tirupathi, Bangalore and Calicut. The Kashi Mutt is also running schools to foster Sanskrit learning and train purohits at Karkal and Basrur.

The present senior swamiji had chosen a successor who was later replaced by another in 2002. This has led to some differences among the community members.


Major migration

The Saraswat migrations reached its peak during the second exodus from Goa (in 1560 AD). Many of them came to Calicut, but were not welcomed by the Ruler Samoothiri of Calicut. So they moved still southwards. The first batch settled in Cherai, the area between Azheekal and Elankunnapuzha in the Vypeen island. In 1565 AD the idol of Lord Varaha brought from Goa by the settlers was installed at Cherai. In search of trading opportunities, some moved along the sea coast and settled in places like Alleppey, Purakkad and Kayamkulam. However, the major concentration was in Cochin area. They called their place of settlement Gosripuram, which is derived from the word Goapuri. They belonged to the Madhwa cult and had links with the Kumbakonam mutt. The saraswats settled in Cochin setup temples of their Kuladevtas.

The social life of GSBs was inseperable from the temples and social exchanges with the locals was limited. Most of the new GSB settlers in Kerala were very poor. However they managed to get Royal patronage and free land for establishing their temples. Only a few (who migrated in the first phase, mainly traders in Cochin and Kasargod) were well off. They took control of the temples and the vast lands associated with it. The poor dispersed further in search of opportunities and doing petty business like pappad making and cooking. The GSBs thus belonged to 3 classes - businessmen, landlords and poor.

Venkateswara as presiding deity

Swami Vijayendra Tirtha of Kumbakonam mutt visited Cochin and performed Chaturmasa Vrita among the Gowda Saraswat Brahmin Community of Cochin. He had a miraculous idol of Venkateswara with him. Upon seeing the radiance of the idol, the community of Cochin under the leadership of Sri Mala Pai, requested the idol from the Swamiji. He agreed to hand over the idol in exchange for a heap of gold coins that would immerse the idol (Kanakabhisheka). A rent-free site was granted by the Prince of Cochin to build a temple. The Gosripuram temple was constructed and this Venkateswara idol was permanently installed in the Cochin temple as the main deity of Saraswats in 1599 AD. The Pratishtha was performed by Swami Sudheendra Tirtha, the disciple of Swami Vijayindra Tirtha. This idol has a major role in the events to come. click for origin of the Venkateswara idol.

Gradually saraswats residing in other parts of Kerala also installed the images of Venkateswara as presiding deity in their temples.

Major Events and Activities

In 1627 A.D, Vira Kerala Varma Raja of Cochin gave the Konkanis certain rights and privileges such as excemption from payment of Purushantharam or succession fee, permision to construct houses with bricks mortar and wood and also to conduct business from Cochin with foreign countries. This is considered as the magna carta of the Konkani community in Kerala. After this the Saraswats became supreme in trade and commerce. Again in 1648 A.D, the Raja of Cochin, Vira Kerala Varma, gave the community the civil and criminal powers to be exercised by them within the well-defined boundary of their settlement called ‘Sanketam’.  The Saraswats could secure all these privileges in Cochin because of their skill and ability as overseas traders.

During the second half of the 17 Century AD while the portuguese were dominating Cochin, the Dutch made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Fort at Cochin from the Portuguese. The Konkanis who rendered assistance to the Dutch were tortured by the Portuguese and their houses, markets and temple known as Cochin Tirumala Devaswom were plundered. The Konkanis left Cochin along with the Venkateswara idol to a place called Udayamperur and remained there till Jan 1663. When the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch, the Konkanis came back to Cochin and reconstructed the Cochin temple. The second Prathistha of Lord Venkatesvara was performed in the reconstructed temple at Cochin during the year 1719 AD. The consecration took place at the hands of Swami Devendra Tirtha, the sixth pontiff of Sree Kashi Mutt Samsthan.

While the Konkanies were at Udayamperur where they remained as refugees without shelter, they took a pledge to spread their habitation in sixteen places, eight in Cochin Kingdom and eight in Travancore area thereby building sixteen Tirumala Devaswoms and calling each place a gramam.

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. They secured this privilege because Konkanis 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 Saraswats competed with the Jaina traders and the Muslim Mopla traders on the West Coast in their overseas trade. The Europeans especially the Dutch and the Portuguese, who disliked the local Muslims for their close alliance with Arabs who were the rivals of these Europeans in oceanic trade, maintained special relations with the Saraswats in their commercial transactions. The Dutch who founded their factory at Cochin and monopolized the trade of the port relied on the Saraswats for securing goods like pepper, rice, forest products etc.

The Dutch had settled in Cochin at the full tide of Konkani predominance. The Dutch had given them the right to collect income from Mattancherry and Cherlai, to collect farms and customs of Amaravati and to conduct the affairs of Mattancherry and Cherlai and of Konkani temples. In the agreement made in 1772 with the Raja of Cochin, the Dutch had also stipulated that the Raja shall impose no new demand on the Konkanis that they shall have full liberty to complain to the Dutch Governor, if aggrieved, and that the Raja shall not interfere in any matters of the temple without the knowledge and consent of the Company.

The story of Kalaga Prabhu

Baba Prabhu was the foremost among the konkani merchants in Cochin. David Rahabi, a Jew business man and attorney in Malabar was close friend of the Prabhu and left his son young Ezechiel in charge of the Prabhus who had initiated the young jew to business. In 1752 Ezechiel Rahabi started partnership business with a prominent merchant Kalaga Prabhu. Unfortunately for Prabhu, he was indebted to Ezechiel and in 1770, Ezechiel took over a warehouse of Prabhu as part of payment of the debt without consulting the Prabhu. Kalaga Prabhu then approached the Governer, who ordered the Ezechiel to return the keys to Prabhu. The keys were returned and Ezechiel kept away from the disputed warehouse till Ezechiel was dead. On 11-11-1771, a sensational law suit began between the three sons of Ezechiel and Kalaga Prabhu. Kalaga Prabhu then entered into correspondence with the generals of Hyder Ali with the aim of humiliating the Raja of Cochin and the Jews of Cochin. The correspondence was detected in time and Kalaga Prabhu and his son Chorda Prabhu were caught and exiled with their families for life to Cape of Good Hope. This last known man of a great konkani family was the first Indian to settle in South Africa.

Kalaga Prabhu had earlier constructed a temple at Cherlai with granite stones. The temple was dedicated to Lord Siva and worshipped as Vasukewara which was later renamed as Keraleswara. It is believed that the linga of Siva was brought by him from the shores of Rameswaram.

After the exile, the Dutch sold at public auction all properties of Kalaga Prabhu including the Keraleswara temple. The temple and the property of Kalaga were purchased by one Nagaresa who entrusted the temple to the Raja of Cochin. However, the Raja of Cochin in 1790 handed over the management of the Keraleswara temple to Cochin Tirumala Devaswom.


Sakthan Thampuran & Persecution

In 1791, shortly after ascending throne the new Raja of Cochin, known in Cochin history as Sakthan Thampuran, demanded a contribution of jaggery from the Konkanies and made an injunction not to allow gathering of crops on Devaswom Kanam fields. On refusal, the Raja arrested a number of Konkani merchants and ordered them to pay customs to the king thereby violating the agreement which the Dutch had made in the year 1772. Letters were exchanged between the Raja of Cochin and the Dutch Governor, and the Dutch have determined to station a military detachement at Cherlai to protect them, and insisted on recall of Raja's guards stationed there. The relation of Konkanis with the Raja continued non-cordial. The also demanded 30,000 varahans from Cochin Tirumala Devaswom and that on refusal the trustees of the Devaswom were imprisoned. In order to get them released the Konkanies closed down all business establishments in Vypeen and Mattancherry as a protest against his high handedness.

On 12th October 1791 the leading merchants of the Konkani community were massacred including Devaresa Kini, Krishen, Goga Kamath, Manuku Shenoi and Nagendra. Again, the Raja of Cochin caused three overseers of Temple Tirumala Devasom to be put to death because they won't surrender to him any part of the treasure belonging to it, and also plundered the shops and carried away the merchant's property. The Duth on seeing the Raja's atrocities sent an army and attacked the King's Palace at Mattancherry, but were repulsed. The Raja plundered the temple of Tirumala belonging to the community and looted the wealth estimated at over Rs. 1,60,000 from the temple alone.

The king of Travancore was exceedingly angry to hear about the massacre. Both Devaresa and Nagendra, the sons of Ranga Pai, were his agents and between them took care of a great deal of his money. He intervened and urged the Dutch to take vengeance and to pay him a proper compensation. But the English (Mr. Powney, the English company's agent) in Travancore intervened, and the King had to withdraw from the dispute.


The exodus and the Tirumala deity  click for origin of the Venkateswara idol.

Tirumala devarThe persecuted Konkanies then fled in country boats to Thuravoor and Alleppey in Travancore state in 1792 A.D and presented their grievances to the Raja of Travancore thru Dewan Kesavadas who assured them that he would bring about their return to and stay at Cochin as before and in the interim allowed them to stay at Alleppey. They have also carried the Tirumala devar idol from Cochin with them. At Alleppey, they installed the Tirumala Devar, in the Agrasala of the Venkatachalapathy Temple (old tirumala temple) and worshiped. In 1852, as desired by the Travancore Maharaja, a separate temple was constructed at Anantha Narayana Puram (about 1 Km from the previous temple) and the deity was installed there. With the settlement of Cochin Konkanies at Alleppey, the place began to develop into a center of commerce. The konkanis built 'Pandikasala' and started doing extensive business. A new port of Alleppey came into being with better harbour facilities. The Tirumala deity was considered a good fortune for the area where it is located.

After the death of Sakthan Thampuran in 1805 AD, Raja Kerala Varma who succeded him took keen interest in the local GSB community and addressed their grievances. He was genuinely interested in Cochin GSBs demand to get the deity back to Cochin. He even addressed a letter to Col. Munro (1816 A.D) wherein he stated that "as the rheumatic and hermein disease which We have been suffering from, has grown more serious now and since no visible cure has been affected not withstanding that several physicians have treated the disease and, on consulting astrologers, it turns out that We have incurred the severest displeasure of the Cochin Tirumala Deity and that the disease will be cured if the Tirumala  Deity is returned to Cochin, consecration effected and the poojas commenced....". The Raja therefore requested Col. Munro to use his good offices for restoration of the image in question to Cochin; But the request was turned down by the then resident as a result of urgent representation of Travancore officers that the presence of the image was considered to be intimately connected with the prosperity of the Port of Alleppey.

The desperate Cochin Konkanies planned recovery of the deity by hook or crook. They master-minded a strategy to smuggle the idol from Alappuzha to Cochin. Ultimately the idol was clandestinely brought back to Cochin on the midnight of 7th Feb 1853 (just 10 months after it was installed in the new temple). It was taken out of the Alleppey Ananthanarayana puram Temple at night in a basket coverd by Naivedyam (the main Purohit dislodged the idol from its resting place in the Girbhagriha and hid it among his share of offerings) and carried to Cochin by country boat via Aroor, beyond which was the Cochin State. The people of Alleppey came to know about this only in the next morning by the time the idol was beyond the Travancore State boundary and could not do anything.

Since it was believed that the Raja of Cochin had his hand in the Robbery, the Maharaja of Travancore put in a lengthy complaint with the governor of Fort, St. George through the resident, Trivandrum for the restitution of the idol in question, and the whole matter was referred to the Hon. Court of Madras, and a long drawn out suit ensued between the two states, Cochin and Tranvancore. The Konkanies of Cochin got through all ordeals and finally the Idol was duly reinstated in the Cochin Temple itself.


The 20th century and Rise of middle class

In the early 20th century, the rich temple Devaswoms started schools near the temples at places like Cochin, Thuravoor, Alleppey etc. During and after the first world war, many GSBs doing petty business utilised the business opportunities and made quick bucks. They realised the benefits of literacy and educated their children. Basically good in Mathematics and Commerce many of these children managed to get jobs as teachers, clerks and accountants. The founding of Canara Bank (in 1910) and the Syndicate Bank (in 1925) by GSBs of Mangalore and Udupi, gave employment to most of the educated GSB youths of Kerala until the nationalisation of banks. This resulted in a steady improvement in the economic conditions and social status of the poor class. Majority of them became middle class by the sixties. From the concentrated pockets, they migrated to other towns and villages and became dispersed

The introduction of Kerala Land Reforms Act in 1963 relating to the fixation of ceiling on land holdings, the vesting of lands in excess of the ceiling in Government, abolition of tenancy system and assignment of proprietary right on land to the cultivating tenants changed the fate of the temples and many GSBs. The landlords lost much of their land and the vast lands attached to the temples were taken over by the government. With deteriorating income most of the temples (except a few) now struggle for existence.